Nazi Anti-Semitism: From Prejudice to the Holocaust

By Lerner, Saul | Shofar, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Nazi Anti-Semitism: From Prejudice to the Holocaust


Lerner, Saul, Shofar


Nazi Anti-Semitism: From Prejudice to the Holocaust, by Philippe Burrin, translated by Janet Lloyd. New York: The New Press, 2004. 154 pp. $21.95.

Philippe Burrin's Nazi Anti-Semitism: From Prejudice to the Holocaust is a brief, tightly reasoned collection of essays which is much less a detailed historical description and much more a richly developed and insightful analysis not only of Nazi antisemitism, but also of the antisemitism of Adolph Hitler and of the antisemitism of the German people. In these thoughtful essays, Burrin presents a comprehensive historical synthesis that shows how, during the period from World War I onward, a multi-dimensional antisemitism was gradually and ever more formidably built into the thinking of Hitler, the Nazis, and the Germans, until it became central to the German value system and the German self-image. In this synthesis, Burrin brings together the two streams of developing German thinking, with antisemitism at its heart, and the evolution of those German policy decisions that, starting in 1933, ultimately led directly to the Holocaust.

As he elaborated his argument, Burrin makes clear his view of the limitations of the functionalist position that the Holocaust was a response to German involvement in World War II and initial uncertainty on the part of the Nazis and Hitler regarding what to do with the Jews. This was an interpretation to which he came in his earlier book, Hitler and the Jews: The Genesis of the Holocaust (1994). In his latest volume, Hitler's thinking, the views and actions of the Nazis, and the deliberate, step-by-step successful effort of Hitler and the Nazis to condition the German people and impose Hitler's will on them through propaganda, through parades and pageantry, through his manipulation of images, through his activities and speeches, through the Hitler youth movement, through coercion, and through other means, Burrin builds a strong case for intentionalism, i.e., the view that from the beginning of his administration onward, Hitler intended to eliminate the Jews and, step by step, by his manipulation both of the thinking of the German people and by Nazi policies, orchestrated the sequence of events leading directly to the Holocaust and the genocide of the Jews. In the process, Burrin's broader and more inclusive perspective also illustrates the limitations of Daniel Goldhagen's view in Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (1996) that German eliminationist antisemitism caused the Holocaust.

Burrin began his study by tracing the development and discussing the nature of modern antisemitism. He argued that three types of antisemitism had emerged by the late 19th and early 20th centuries: (1) religious antisemitism, by which the Jews were viewed as religiously and culturally different from the Germans and were perceived as having an image contrary to the image of Germans; (2) national antisemitism, which saw the Jews as a threat to the German nation; and (3) racial antisemitism, that saw the Jews as a race apart and was a view that "ruled out both conversion and assimilation" (p. 23). These three types of antisemitism were mixed together to provide an image of the Jew that, characteristic by characteristic, was in fundamental contrast with the image of how the antisemite saw himself and that helped define the antisemite as the reverse of the very negative obverse of the image of the Jew. This is a perspective that may also be seen in George Mosse's book, Toward the Final Solution: A History of Modern Racism (1978, revised, 1995). Burrin argues that from 1918 onward, this negative perception of the Jew was increasingly expressed in Germany and antisemitism became ever-more strident.

German nationalism and religion were mixed together with the bitter aftermath of World War I, as many Germans blamed Jews for the outcome of the war and sought to purge German culture and religion of its Judaic origins through a return to belief in the tribal spirituality of Teutonic origins. …

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