By Kate Daley-Bailey, Religion Bulletin
At the subconscious level, whether in cult or in life, man obeys the commands of the blood, as if in dreams or, according to natural insight, as a happy expression describes this harmony between nature and culture. But culture, with the growth of all subconscious activity and of expanding consciousness and knowledge, becomes more and more intellectual, and ultimately engenders not creative tension but, in fact, discord. In this way, reason and understanding are divorced from race and nature and released from the bonds of blood. The ensuing generation falls victim to the individualistic system of intellectual absolutes, and separates itself more and more from its natural environment, mixing itself with alien blood. It is through this desecration of the blood that personality, people, race and culture perish. –From Alfred Rosenberg’s The Myth of the 20th Century: An Evaluation of the Spiritual-Intellectual Confrontations of Our Age
Often referred to as Hitler’s theoretician or Hitler’s philosopher, Alfred Rosenberg codified much of the anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, and anti-Communist rhetoric which Hitler used to legitimize his political agenda. Rosenberg’s most significant text, The Myth of the 20th Century: An Evaluation of the Spiritual-Intellectual Confrontations of our Age, was revered, at least superficially, by the Reich as second only to Mein Kampf as embodying the mythical and ideological frame for Hitler’s Germany. According to Rosenberg, for races around the world, blood was fate. Physical, intellectual, and spiritual characteristics were the products of blood. According to Rosenberg, there was no redemption for the ‘lesser’ races… their blood made them the natural enemies of the Aryan Volk… their blood had sealed their fate.
One implication of this was that Jews were systematically targeted as an ethnic group, as a race… not just as a “religion.” Religious attitudes and cultural characteristics, according to Rosenberg, resulted from a people’s blood. There was no concerted effort by Nazi leaders to convert Jews to Christianity, because cultural assimilation was seen as part of the problem in Germany (note the cartoon, taken from The Myth of the Twentieth Century,featured above). Many individuals were executed for political dissidence or what was perceived as physical/psychological deviance (e.g., homosexuals, mentally disabled, those identified as ‘lesser races’). The Jews, as a race, however were assigned the role of enemy number one. According to Nazi racial science, race, signified by blood, was destiny. Susannah Heschel, in her controversial text The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany, notes that the Nazis obsession with ‘racial hygiene’ was predicated on their desire to “protect the body housing the Aryan spirit.” In order to prune the population and discourage miscegenation, the Nazi administration implemented forced emigration and when that failed it resorted to extermination.
If the fight had been against Judaism qua religion, converted Jews would have been (presumably) safe and the main agenda of Nazi power would have been conversion. And yet Rosenberg’s fatalistic claim that one’s blood is one’s fate, ironically, is undermined by his other statements here that culture and expanding knowledge lead to the divorce of reason from nature and confuse the commands of blood. According to this estimation, blood is fate but also blood can be confused by culture. Rosenberg, along with other Nazis, seems to desire an explanation for what he perceives as the (then) ‘degenerated’ state of the German population (which thus requires the racial cleansing), but also an explanation which also exculpates those who would do the cleansing, since the victim’s fate had already been decided by their own blood.
While the assessments regarding Jewish religious/racial identity might not be revelatory to readers, it was surprising to me when I first learned (as an undergraduate) that the Jews were targeted as a race and not, purely, as a religious group. My high school history courses extensively covered World War II and the Holocaust, and yet this glaring fact seemed to have been excluded. The American narrative of WWII and the Holocaust seems to have been constructed (consciously or less so) in ways that highlight religious as opposed to racial agenda of the Nazis. Perhaps America’s own violent racial history renders Americans less willing to view the Nazi genocide as racially motivated.