Why did the Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany want to exterminate European Jews? Was it just rabid insanity, or was there a rationale, a logic, to the Nazi murder of six million Jews and countless other Europeans?
The much-praised 2010 history best-seller “Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin” by Timothy Snyder offers an explanation. Hitler and Stalin each killed millions of Europeans in pursuit of their political dreams. What were those dreams, and how was mass murder the common path they ended up on to get there?
Stalin’s rationale for mass murder has been better analyzed and reported. His nascent Communist revolution in Russia was surrounded by hostile capitalist forces. The Marxist theory of international workers revolution proved wrong, at least to the extent of offering any defense for the Bolsheviks in Russia.
So Stalin embraced the new theory of socialism in one country, which required rapid industrialization to produce armaments for the defense of the workers state in the Soviet Union. That required an agricultural base to produce food for the urban working class. If the peasants couldn’t produce enough food for both themselves and the urban working class, the peasants had to be sacrificed.
Collectivization of agriculture in the Ukraine, the breadbasket of the Soviet Union, was a disaster. This resulted in confiscation of crops for the cities, and massive famine and death of millions of peasants, including execution of all who opposed, resisted or even questioned collectivization of Soviet agriculture.
Did Hitler have a rationale for mass murder, too? As explained by Timothy Snyder, Hitler was a student of history and admired America’s rapid industrialization and growth, which he attributed to a vast, diverse continental empire and agricultural base.
So Hitler’s plan was for Germany to emulate the United States, first by seizing large tracts of productive land by pushing the indigenous populations out. If those natives could not be pushed out, they were to be killed. And then slave labor was to be employed to produce the food necessary to support industrialization and militarization, just as the United States had done.
Nazi ideology embraced virulent European anti-semitism, but not originally with the intent to exterminate the Jews. Nazi planners hoped to deport European Jews to the remote island of Madagascar, or alternatively after the defeat of Stalin’s Soviet Union, to push Europe’s Jews east of the Ural mountains into Soviet Asia.
Britain’s surprising resistance to the Nazi conquest of continental Europe meant that the Royal Navy kept control of the seas, preventing deportations to Madagascar. Russia’s surprising resistance against the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union meant that deportations east of the Urals wouldn’t work either.
Plan B then was to kill Europe’s Jews, the greatest concentration of whom were in central Europe under German occupation, along with any other perceived obstacles to German occupation and exploitation of the conquered lands.
New scholarship supports Hitler’s understanding of how the American republic came to industrialize and prosper through expulsion of indigenous people and, especially, through the institution of slavery, which is now understood to have been central to America’s economic development.
As Edgar E. Baptist concludes in his 2014 analysis of American slavery “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism”, “(C)ommodification and suffering and forced labor of African-Americans is what made the United States powerful and rich.” The book has been praised for taking “apart the myths that our society has created to make us more comfortable with our slave-owning past.”
So Hitler’s model was in fact the U.S.A.