The Holocaust
The Holocaust

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The Holocaust

2.1 Anti-Semitism and Hitler

Anti-Semitism was a major feature in Hitler's addresses to the men, and this led to him being consulted by his superiors on ‘the Jewish question’. The consultation led, on 16 September 1919, to his first recorded written statement on the matter. This looked forward to the removal of rights from the Jews and, eventually, to ‘the removal of the Jews altogether’ (quoted in Ian Kershaw, Hitler, 1889–1936: Hubris, 1998, p.125). With hindsight it is tempting, and perhaps satisfying, to draw a line from Hitler's attitudes in 1919 to the death camps – but does such an ‘intentionalist’ perspective provide a satisfactory explanation for developments and contingencies over twenty-five years?

An analysis of Hitler's writings and speeches from the origins of the Nazi Party through to the outbreak of World War II suggests that he shifted his language to suit changing audiences and changing priorities. From late 1922 and through 1923, for example, ferocious anti-Semitism gave way to extreme anti-Marxism with little or no reference to, or linkage of this with, Jewry. Ian Kershaw (The Hitler Myth, 1987, p.231) has suggested that this was part of a conscious attempt to appeal to a wider audience; anti-Marxism had a bigger appeal than anti-Semitism. Verbal attacks on the Jews were not a main theme of the electoral campaigns of the early 1930s, and even after the Nazis had achieved power Hitler avoided personal association with attacks on Jews, though he publicly supported ‘legal’ discriminatory measures.

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