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The Political Function of Anti-Semitism in German Nationalism

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Anti-Semitism in Germany was widespread during the Nineteenth century. However, this contempt and hatred against the Jewish people was prevalent in most of Europe even before the last century as it was characterized by the notorious Dreyfus affair. In Germany, anti-Semitism was so intolerant and brutal during the reign of Nazis led by Adolf Hitler. A close analysis of the historical trend of Anti-Semitism in Germany would reveal that politics had played a significant role in bringing about and fueling German nationalism. What then is the political function of anti-Semitism in German nationalism?

From Luther to Hitler

In Germany, anti-Jews sentiments were evident since the Reformation (Levy 593). Even before it reached Germany in the last century, Jewish superstitions were already prevalent in Europe through biased religious views and the concept of Social Darwinism (Blackbourn 328) popularized by the great thinkers during in Eighteenth Century. Before anti-Semitism became a political trend in Germany, anti-Semitic views were visible since Martin Luther’s establishment of the protestant Church.

Some of the writings of Luther were directed against the Jews. For example, Luther actively embarked on a campaign that was aimed at prohibiting the Jews from engaging in business. There were those who suggested that Luther had influenced the Nazis in integrating politics and anti-Semitism during the socialist party’s reign. According to Siemon-Netto (17), Hitler’s Nazism merely revived the anti-Semitic writings of Luther. Berger (28) also argued that Luther’s anti-Jew sentiments served as a crucial factor of Germany national identity and culture.

By looking at historical trends, a relation between Luther’s anti-Semitic hatred and Hitler’s anti-Semitism is evident. Dawidowics (23) argued that both Hitler and Luther were trying to popularize Jewish superstitions.  In her writings, Dawidowicz suggested that there were glaring similarities between the writings of Luther and the anti-Semitic arguments of Hitler during the Nazi period. Apart from the anti-Semitic influences of religion, Johann Gottlieb Fichte also fueled the intensifying anti-Jewish emotions and views in Germany, arguing that the Jews were not entitled to equality, in reaction to the advocacy during the French revolution (Mack 6). This means that Jewish superstitions were advanced and stirred by both religionists and thinkers during the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries, which saw the rise of anti-Semitism in Germany.

Jews and Politics

Anti-Jewish sentiments played a significant role in Germany under the defunct Weimar Republic. The political opponents of the regime during that period used anti-Semitism to trigger the union between the populists and conservatives who vied for the country’s political control. During the Weimar period, the Jewish people were a dominant force in the intellectual, cultural, political and social life of the German society. This Jewish domination was used to identify the Jews with the Weimar government. Critics and strong political opponents of the Weimar regime often scathingly dubbed the regime as ‘Judenrepublik,” referring to the strong force of the Jews in government affairs (Ginsberg 42). Political enemies of the beleaguered government observed that they could use the Jewish people in attacking the Weimar republic.

In the late 1920s, the Nazis were already gaining political power by forming a strong political base. The Nazis were able to effectively gain the support of the working class since at that time Germany was beleaguered by financial crisis and hyperinflation as a result of its defeat in the First World War. The Nazi party looked at the Jews as a visible target and capitalized on the emotions of the angry workers. The rise of the Nazi party saw the intensifying anti-Semitism in Germany.

The well-synchronized propaganda against the Jews was clearly aimed at bolstering sense of nationalism and patriotism among the German people. As Hitler and his Nazi party rose to power in the socialist Germany, anti-Semitic sentiments were showing its political shade. Hitler and his party-mates mainly focused their propaganda on the Jewish people and on the issue of race, as they treated social and economic reforms as virtually immaterial issues. Thus, the political function of anti-Semitic views in German patriotism during the Nazi period was summed up by the following comment of Hitler—“There are no revolutions except racial revolutions: there cannot be a political, economic or social revolution” (Ginsberg 43).

Anti-Semitism served a political role for the Nazi party in building a formidable alliance of upper-middle-lower and working classes against the Weimar republic, which they painted as a Jewish dominated government. Since the Germany’s economic was heading for its inevitable collapse during the Weimar regime, the Nazi party led by Hitler succeeded in overthrowing the government. However, Jewish superstition did not end with the demise of the Weimar regime. What happened next was the well-programmed, well-synchronized racist propaganda aimed against the Jews.

Jews and nationalism

Anti-Semitism indeed served as both social and political glue that bound the German people during the period of the Nazi regime. Hitler and his chief propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels use Jewish superstitions to bolster the anger of their countrymen to revolt against the Jews scattered across the world. The Nazi party used their political and propaganda strategy that toppled the Weimar regime in winning the Germans’ support to their agenda to annihilate the Jewish race. According to Ginsberg (44), anti-Jewish sentiments were overly used by past regimes in Europe in trying to boost patriotism and nationalism.

On the other hand, political propaganda played a crucial role in instilling nationalism and patriotism in the minds and hearts of the German people. The Nazis utilized media and educational institutions in spreading anti-Semitic views and sentiments across the German nation. For example, Goebbels made strong instruction to Germany’s film-makers to produce cinematic works containing anti-Semitic messages. Propaganda movies produced by Nazi film-makers were visible before the war for the purpose of unifying a scattered mass into believing that the action of their Nazi government was justifiable and for the glory of their nation. In his personal diary, Goebbels wrote the following lines—“It’s a life-and-death struggle between the Aryan race and the Jewish bacillus. No other government and no other regime would have the strength for such a global solution as this. Here, once again, the Fuhrer is the undismayed champion of a radical solution, which is made necessary by existing conditions and is therefore inexorable” (Welch 254).

Because of this, propaganda films and educational institutions were used by the Nazi party to indoctrinate the German masses about the need for what Goebbels described as radical solution in dealing with the Jews. This political propaganda method certainly appealed to the emotion of the German masses, hence triggering their sense of country and nationalism.

The socialist government of Germany under Hitler did not only rely on anti-Semitism in gaining the country’s sense of nationalism, as contempt of the Jewish race was likely to have a part in the German’s crisis of principles and ethics. However, Goebbels in most of his speeches tried to dismiss that the annihilation of the Jewish people from the face of the planet did not involved a question of conscience or ethics, but a question of State security ((Welch 255). In fact, Goebbels even likened the Jews to insects that devastate crops, thus they must be annihilated since they pose danger to the German nation.

Indeed, these Nazi pronouncements galvanized the entire German nation into action, as it believed that it must deal with a potent threat to national security. By painting that the Jews were a threat to national security, the Nazi party was able to gain the support and sense of patriotism of their people to defend their motherland against state enemies. Welch argued that the main intent of all those anti-Jews Nazi propaganda was to strengthen and underpin such views and sentiments and to unite the German nation into the desired contemplation and action. Indeed, the Jewish people served as a good scapegoat for Germany’s severe political, social and economic problems.


Without pumping anti-Semitic sentiments, the socialist Nazis would have not been able to instill sense nationalism and patriotism in the hearts and minds of their people. However, despite the fact that the anti-Semitic rule of the Nazis ended with the fall of Hitler and his men in World War II, there remains anti-Jewish sentiments in Germany, particularly in the eastern part, today. According to Haury, a number of non-government organizations gathered evidence of significant level of anti-Semitic trends in East Germany. These anti-Jewish sentiments consisted of graffiti and vandalism directed against Jewish memorial parks and established institutions. This means that anti-Semitic views and dogmas still remain up to these days, although their origin cannot be traced to the purpose of reestablishing German patriotism and sense of country.

The role of anti-Semitism in most of German history was political, and it was effectively utilized to gain the patriotic support of the German people to desired socialist thoughts and actions. Moreover, anti-Jewish views were able to fuse the otherwise incongruent and diverse adversaries of a government and to reinforce the harmony and distinctiveness of a regime’s diverse political allies.

Certainly, anti-Semitic campaigns can also help to frighten and threaten a government’s critics and oppositions, which include both Jews and other groups that can be associated with the Jewish race. Even before the brutal role of Hitler, anti-Semitism was seen as an important component in nation-building. This is because if the people were led to believe that the Jews were a threat to their state security and national identity; their sense of nationalism would compel or encourage them to defend their motherland against an invisible opponent.

Works Cited:

Blackbourn, David. History of Germany, 1780-1918: The Long Nineteenth Century. London:

Wiley-Blackwell, 2003

Berger, Ronald. Fathoming the Holocaust: A Social Problems Approach. New York: Aldine

De Gruyter, 2002

Dawidowicz, Lucy. The War Against the Jews. Ohio: Bantam, 1986

Ginsberg, Benjamin. The Fatal Embrace: Jews and the State. Chicago: University of Chicago

Press, 1993

Haury, Thomas. “Current Anti-Semitism in East Germany.” 17 August 2007. Jerusalem

Center for Public Affairs. 17 June 2009 <http://www.jcpa.org/JCPA/Templates/ShowPage.asp?DBID=1&LNGID=1&TMID=111&FID=381&PID=470&IID=1612>

Levy, Richard. Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution.

Oxford: ABC-CLIO, 2005

Mack, Michael. German Idealism and the Jew. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003

Welch, David. Propaganda and the German Cinema. London: I.B. Tauris, 2001

Siemon-Netto, Uwe. The Fabricated Luther: Refuting Nazi Connections and Other Modern

Myths. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing, 2007

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