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10-08-2015, 16:58

Hitler and Nazi Germany

As Mussolini began to lay the foundations of his fascist state in Italy, a young admirer was harboring similar dreams in Germany. Born on April 20, 1889, Adolf Hitler was the son of an Austrian customs official. He had done poorly in secondary school and eventually made his way to Vienna to become an artist. Through careful observation of the political scene, Hitler became an avid German nationalist who learned from his experience in mass politics in Austria how political parties could use propaganda and terror effectively. But it was only after World War I, during which he had served as a soldier on the Western Front, that Hitler became actively involved in politics. By then, he had become convinced that the cause of German defeat had been the Jews, for whom he now developed a fervent hatred. Anti-Semitism, of course, was not new to European civilization. Since the Middle Ages, Jews had been portrayed as the murderers of Christ and were often subjected to mob violence and official persecution. Their rights were restricted, and they were physically separated from Christians in residential quarters known as ghettos. By the nineteenth century, as a result of the ideals of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, Jews were increasingly granted legal equality in many European countries. Nevertheless, Jews were not completely accepted, and this ambivalence was apparent throughout Europe. Nowhere in Europe were Jews more visible than in Germany and the German-speaking areas of Austria- Hungary. During the nineteenth century, many Jews in both countries had left the ghetto and become assimilated into the surrounding Christian population. Some entered what had previously been the closed world of politics and the professions. Many Jews became successful as bankers, lawyers, scientists, scholars, journalists, and stage performers. In 1880, for example, Jews made up 10 percent of the population of Vienna but accounted for 39 percent of its medical students and 23 percent of its law students. All too often, such achievements provoked envy and distrust. During the last two decades of the century, conservatives in Germany and Austria founded right-wing parties that used dislike of Jews to win the votes of traditional lower-middle-class groups who felt threatened by changing times. Such parties also played on the rising sentiment of racism in German society. Spurred by social Darwinist ideas that nations, like the human species, were engaged in a brutal struggle for survival, rabid German nationalists promoted the concept of the Volk (nation, people, or race) as an underlying idea in German history since the medieval era. Portraying the German people as the successors of the pure “Aryan” race, the true and original creators of Western culture, nationalist groups called for Germany to take the lead in a desperate struggle to fight for European civilization and save it from the destructive assaults of such allegedly lower races as Jews, blacks, and Asians.