Meanings, Ambiguities and Intentions in German Antisemitism and the Holocaust, 1800–1945
  • Paul Lawrence Rose


The crucial problem of the continuity of German antisemitism from its 19th- century forms and contexts into the Nazi species and the Holocaust has, one might speculate, been confused by a great deal of recent writing on the subject.1 On the one hand, there has been the Goldhagen tendency to simplify the whole matter by drawing crudely superficial continuities between German 19th-century antisemitic rhetoric and 20th-century Nazi antisemitic policy; on the other hand, there have been the more sophisticated attempts to insist on a complete separation between Nazi antisemitism and what went before, as well as to deconstruct the traditional view that the Holocaust was the product of an intention dating back to the Nazi ideas of the early 1920s. The same goes for one of the fundamentally important issues in evaluating German antisemitism: Just how ‘German’ was German antisemitism? To what degree did it differ from other antisemitisms? Was there something specific and unique about German antisemitism that enabled it to produce the Holocaust? Here again, one finds a polemical split between those who find genocidal elements in other European antisemitisms, and those who suspect that there was indeed something special about German — or should one say Austrian and German? — antisemitism that made it capable of conceiving an antisemitic project of the immensity of the Holocaust and then carrying it out. I myself am inclined to this last view, but I do not think that it can stand unqualified. Other critical factors besides antisemitism must be taken into account if we are to understand in a historically valid way why it was that Germany was the state which implemented the Holocaust.


Jewish Identity German Culture Professional Historian Jewish Question Racial Hygiene 
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    I would like to draw attention to two previous illustrations of this approach which came belatedly to my knowledge. In their admirable analysis of early 19th century exterminationist fantasies R. Erb and W. Bergmann, Die Nachtseite der Judenemanzipation (Berlin: Metropol Verlag, 1989), pp.62f, the authors properly observe that they do not wish to draw an unbroken causal connection from these fantasies to the Nazi Final Solution, yet ‘once developed, representational complexes of ideas are not bounded by the context in which they originally emerged, but hold a potential to become actualized and politically exploitable in changed contextual constellations. Societies in which these words become culturally normalized thereby accept a measure of their original aggressivity that in times of crisis renders new societies hopelessly defenceless against more radical policies.’ (The German is rather abstract, but its meaning is important in a concrete way.)Google Scholar
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2001

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  • Paul Lawrence Rose

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