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Adolf Hitler in Color

Mein Kampf is fundamentally a text about nature. About what belongs in nature and what doesn’t belong in nature.

It describes nature as a conflict of races; everything else is incidental. The only things which truly exists in the human world are races, and the only thing they’re supposed to be doing is competing for land and resources.

In this text, the Jews figure not as a race — not as an inferior race, not as a superior race — but as something totally supernatural which has somehow come into the world and introduced evil.

The Jews have an ability which is, in effect, superhuman. They can do one thing that no one else can do, and that’s bring ways of thinking into the world.

So from Hitler’s point of view, the Jews are not actually subhuman. They’re more like superhuman, though that’s not quite right either. From Hitler’s point of view, and from the point of view of several leading Nazis, the Jews are not really human at all. They’re para-human: they only appear to be human, but are actually something else.

The evil that the Jews have introduced into the world — and this strikes me as very important — is ethical thinking. What the Jews have done which is so wrong, is to confuse our minds by introducing ideas which are not about racial struggle. They’ve introduced ethical life to the world.

So Hitler presents capitalism as Jewish; he presents communism as Jewish; he presents Christianity as Jewish.

Why? Because all of these ideas, different though they might seem, have the common feature that they allow people to see each other in non-racial terms. Whether I’m signing a contract with you, making a revolution with you, attending mass with you, it’s not race that matters. It’s some kind of other reciprocity.

Therefore Hitler could say, as he did say, that Saint Paul was basically the same person as Leon Trotsky…

Nature can only be pure if the Jews are gone, because Jews are the special, supernatural beings who make us something that we’re not.”

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Timothy Snyder, speaking in Krakow at the “Unimaginable” conference earlier this year. (He also touches on these themes around minute 20 in this 2013 talk at the Graduate Institute of Geneva.)

Snyder, who teaches history at Yale, has a new book out, Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Writing. I can highly recommend not only his talks like the one above, but his written work, which is dynamic and crisp, and shows a true mastering of the broad political, cultural, and military forces of the early 20th century. His last effort, the highly acclaimed, subversive history of the second world war Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin, has a place at the top of my shelf.

To get a condensed version of Snyder’s take on the ideology of the Reich, you can check out his article soon to be published in the New York Review of Books, “Hitler’s World”. In it, he gives depth to some of the concepts detailed above (Snyder has clearly been fixated on the project of clearing up Hitlerite ideology for some time). The following slice is among the most informative of the piece, and it lays bare the claims of those on both sides of the religious-atheist debate who try to claim the Führer as their opponents’ ally:

Hitler’s presentation of the Jewish threat revealed his particular amalgamation of religious and zoological ideas. If the Jew triumphs, Hitler wrote, “then his crown of victory will be the funeral wreath of the human species.” On the one hand, Hitler’s image of a universe without human beings accepted science’s verdict of an ancient planet on which humanity had evolved. After the Jewish victory, he wrote, “earth will once again wing its way through the universe entirely without humans, as was the case millions of years ago.” At the same time, as he made clear in the very same passage of My Struggle, this ancient earth of races and extermination was the Creation of God. “Therefore I believe myself to be acting according to the wishes of the Creator. Insofar as I restrain the Jew, I am defending the work of the Lord.”

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Timothy Snyder