Lessons Learned: What Hitler said about the Jews before he came to power
19 October 2016
This article by historian Laurence Rees originally appeared in the Holocaust Education Trust and CST booklet ‘Lessons Learned? Reflections on Antisemitism and the Holocaust’. Read the full article in the booklet here.
Just what did Hitler think about the Jews when he was a young, struggling politician in the aftermath of the First World War, long before he came to power? It’s an important question to ask, especially in the light of recent political controversy about the Nazis and the Jews.
I have been researching what Hitler wrote and spoke about the Jews during this period for my forthcoming history of the Holocaust, and what the young Hitler said at the time is revealing. The first irrefutable evidence we have of Hitler’s views is contained in a letter he wrote, dated 16 September 1919, to a fellow soldier called Adolf Gemlich. Hitler, then just thirty years old, stated unequivocally who he felt was responsible for the suffering of the whole German nation. “There is living amongst us,” wrote Hitler, “a non-German, foreign race, unwilling and unable to sacrifice its characteristics… and which nonetheless possesses all the political rights that we ourselves have.” Moreover, he said, “Everything which makes men strive for higher things” was for this ‘race’ just “a means to an end, to the satisfaction of a lust for money and domination.” The adversary Hitler had identified was the Jew. And Hitler wrote that the ‘final aim’ of any German government had to be “the uncompromising removal of the Jews altogether.”