World War II: Race--The Axis

SS racial examinations
Figure 1.--We have seen two explanations of this photograph. One that German boys are being given physical examinations by SS doctors. The purpose is racial screening and certification to ensure that they are not Jewish or have some other impediment to being considered Aryan. Identifying handicaps was another aspect of this screening. We do not have a lot of information on these screening. We do not know, for example, if all German children were screened like this. The boys look to be about 10 years old. This may have been a requirement before being accepted into the Hitler Youth at age 10. This may have been carried out at the schools. The photograph is undated, but was probably taken in the late-1930s. We are skeptical about this explanation as we have not read accounts of such SS screenings in Germany/ Two is that the SS here is screening Polish boys who have been picked up as part of the SS Lebensborn program. This seems to be the most likely explanation becuse we know that vlarge numbers of Polish cjildren were picked up by the SS and subjected to SS screenings. We are not sure who the person in the flat cap was. He is clearly not anyone associated with the HJ, or SS. Source: Süddeutscher Verlag.

Racism was a key aspect of World War II. Racism was a primary factor within in the Axis military alliance. World War as conceived by Adolf Hitler was a racist war. Hitler clearly conceptualizes a great conflict against Jews and the only slightly more preverable Slavs. The Jews Hitler believed had to be purged from German life. This process evolved into the Holocaust. Aa least some of the Slavs would be allowed to survive because slave labor was needed for the new Reich. And Hitler saw the war as not a German war, but an Aryan war. For this reason, the people of the Nordic countries, the Neterlands, and the British would fit into the new Aryan nation. Hitler was frustated at the beginning of the War because he found himself fighting the British and allied with the Soviets. What he wanted of course was to be allied with the British and fighting the Soviets which he saw the worst possible combination of Jewish Bolshevicks overseeing the Slavic masses. Not all the people in Germany and racially compatable countries were acceptable to Hitler. Gyneology became big business in Germany. To enter the SS one had to prove an Aryan ancestry back centuries. Had the NAZIs won the War, the SS would have evolved as a new aristocracy in Germany. The Japanese also had highly racist attitudes which showed in their treatment of Koreans, Chinese, and other subject peoples. Japanese attrocities are less publicized, but resulted in the deaths of even more people than fell victim to NAZI racist policies. Italy was less affected by racist notions. Italian Fascism rather emphasized Italian nationalism and cultureal identity, but Italy proved to be a largely ineffectual military partner in the Axis war effort. Racism was not, however, limited to the Axis.

Germany

World War as conceived by Adolf Hitler was a racist war. Race was not just an aspect of Hitler's world view, it was the dominant factor. Hitler clearly conceptualizes a great conflict against Jews and the only slightly more preverable Slavs. The Jews Hitler believed had to be purged from German life. This proved to be more complicated that the NAZIs may have at first anticipated. One complication was the number of Jews in the military. [Rigg] This process of purging Jews from German life evolved into the Holocaust. It raises the military question of the impact on the NAZI war effort. It may have helped the NAZIs seize power, but it also helped the Allies build the atomic bomb. Refugee scientists, many Jewish, played a major role in Manhattan Project. This could have been used on Germany had Allied operations in Europe proved less succesful than they did. The war against the Slavs was the culmination of a millennium-long conflict between Germans and Slavs--the Drang nach Osten. There was a degree of intermingling with Germans settling in the east (the Volga Germans and other Volks Deutsch). At the same time, the Slavs had expanded westward and there enclaves in Germany (the Sorbs). Historians often stress Hitler's hated of Communism. This is true, but his racial antipathy toward the Slaves was as least as important if not more important. Hitlerls vision was to allow at least some of the Slavs would be allowed to survive because slave labor was needed for the new Reich. And Hitler saw the war as not a German war, but an Aryan war. For this reason, the people of the Nordic countries, the Neterlands, and the British would fit into the new Aryan nation. Hitler was frustated at the beginning of the War because he found himself fighting the British and allied with the Soviets. What he wanted of course was to be allied with the British and fighting the Soviets which he saw as the worst possible combination of Jewish Bolshevicks overseeing the Slavic masses. Not all the people in Germany and racially compatable countries were acceptable to Hitler. Geneology became big business in Germany. To enter the SS one had to prove an Aryan ancestry back centuries. Had the NAZIs won the War, the SS would have evolved as a new aristocracy in Germany.

Italy

Italy was less affected by racist notions. Italian Fascism rather emphasized Italian nationalism and cultureal identity, but Italy proved to be a largely ineffectual military partner in the Axis war effort. Mussolini and Italian Fascists in the early years endorsed neither racism or anti-Semitism. There were Jews who supported Mussolini and were involved in the Fascist Party. Mussolini even rediculed Hitler's racist bombast. This gradually changed as Italy fell into the NAZI orbit, especially after Italian military failure reduced Italy to a junior partner. One scholar claims that it was not just the NAZI influence. He writes, "It would be wrong to reduce Italy's turn toward racism simply to a necessary accommodation to Germany, once Mussolini decided on the alliance with Hitler. By the mid-1930s, the fascist regime had entered a serious legitimation crisis. Growing social unrest followed a decline in living conditions occasioned by the Depression as well as the failure of syndical reform and corporatist initiatives." [Adler] Thus NAZI-style anti-Semuitism became useful for Mussolini and the Fascists.

Japan

The Japanese also had highly racist attitudes which showed in their treatment of Koreans, Chinese, and other subject peoples. Japanese attrocities are less publicized, but resulted in the deaths of even more people than fell victim to NAZI racist policies. Japan began its coloianlist expansion with the Sino-Japanese War (1895). The military gradually expanded its political role, especially after World war I. The military in the 1930s seized control of the Japanese Government, this was symbolized by the appointment of Gerneral Tojo as primeminister (1941). Virulently racist beliefs were common place in Japan. This is one reason the Japanese reacted so strongly to American/European efforts to limit naval contruction at the Washington Naval Talks (1921). Japanese racist attitudes were not just expressed toward Europeans. They also saw Chinese, Koreans, Ainu, and other Asians as inferiors. Japanese policies after the Menji resoration were aimed at moderizing Japan economically. As aresult, Japan by the 1930s was the most advansed industrial power in Asia. That industrial base allowed Japan to dominate Asian countrie, including Japan. Many Japanese saw there predominant situation as a result of their racial superiority. These racist attitudes were a factor in the terrible attrocities committed by the Japanese during the War. It certainly affected their treatment of POWs and interned civilians.

Sources

Adler, Franklin Hugh. "Racial Theories in Fascist Italy (review)" Holocaust and Genocide Studies Vol.18, Number 1, Spring 2004, pp. 127-130.

Rigg, Bryan Mark. Hitler's Jewish Soldiers: The Untold Story of Nazi Racial Laws and Men of Jewish Descent in the German Military (Modern War Studies, 2004).











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Created: 8:15 PM 11/15/2006
Last updated: 12:48 AM 12/11/2011