Alfred Rosenberg and Nazi racial theory
Posted by Matthew McCusker on 14 August 2013
We have previously discussed the development of Hitler’s eugenic ideology in his manifesto Mein Kampf. In this post we will consider the influence of another leading Nazi race theorist on the eugenic policies of the ‘Third Reich.’
Alfred Rosenberg was born on 12th January 1893 to a Baltic German family in Reval (now Tallinn, Estonia but then part of the Russian Empire). The Baltic Germans formed, for seven hundred years, the political and cultural elite in what is now Latvia and Estonia despite being a small minority of the population. This background no doubt laid the foundations for his later conviction of the intrinsic superiority, adaptability and creative potential of Germanic peoples.
Like many other Baltic Germans, Rosenberg left for Germany during the chaos following the 1917 revolution in Russia. He became an early member of the German Workers Party, joining eight months before Adolf Hitler. In 1923 he became editor of the party newspaper Völkischer Beobachter and led the party during Hitler’s imprisonment following the failure of the Munich ‘Beer Hall Putsch’. Rosenberg was one of the leading creators and exponents of Nazi racial theories.
His most influential book was The Myth of the Twentieth Century which he intended to be a sequel to Houston Stewart Chamberlain’s famous work, The Foundation of the Nineteenth Century, which itself had been one of the most influential of numerous works purporting to give an ‘historical’ narrative of the rise of the ‘Aryan’ race. Chamberlain’s book was praised by men such as George Bernard Shaw who wrote that it was "a masterpiece of really scientific history" (Fabian News, June 1911). A more accurate assessment was given by Theodore Roosevelt who wrote that there could be "few books of such pretensions more ludicrously unsound" (History as Literature, 1913).
Rosenberg also traced the pseudo-history of the ‘Aryan race’ and created a detailed narrative of human history as a struggle between superior and inferior races. Societies decline, argued Rosenberg, when the ‘Aryan blood’ is diluted through breeding with lower races. However, he was confident that a new understanding of the importance of race was now asserting itself and that both Christianity and post-Christian ideologies would have to give way before worship of ‘the blood’.
"Today," he wrote "a new faith is awakening - the Myth of the Blood, the belief that the divine being of mankind generally is to be defended with the blood. The faith embodied by the fullest realization, that the Nordic blood constitutes that mystery which has supplanted and overwhelmed the old sacraments."
It was perhaps Rosenberg who, more than any other, fulfilled the prophecy of Sir Francis Galton that eugenics would become a new religion.
"To awaken the racial soul to life," wrote Rosenberg, "means to recognise its highest value, and, under its dominance, to allot to other values their organic position in the State, in art, and in religion. That is the task of our century; to create a new human type out of a new view of life."
Like Adolf Hitler he called for an increase in the German population and the conquest of 'Lebensraum' to achieve the necessary land and resources. He considered that moral standards, such as monogamy, might have to be overlooked if immorality increased population growth.
"All else is secondary to that which will produce healthy German stock ... Standards which are good and orderly in peaceful eras can become fatal in times of a struggle for destiny, and bring about decline. The future German Reich will evaluate this entire question from a new viewpoint and create corresponding life forms."
The process of creating new ‘life forms’ was essential if mankind was going to survive and prosper and Rosenberg outlined ways in which this could be achieved, including:
- Severe penalties for Germans who committed miscegenation with ‘non-Aryans’.
- The creation of a new ruling elite who exemplified the ideal racial type.
- The eventual displacement of the Catholic Church and the Protestant denominations in Germany by a new religion based on worship of race.
- The use of education to inculcate children into the new ideology.
Rosenberg was well-placed to help bring about these aims as he was made Commissar for Supervision of Intellectual and Ideological Education of the NSDAP in 1934. In 1939 he was also made Leader of the Foreign Policy Office of the NSDAP and finally in 1941 he added the office of Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories to his other responsibilities. The centrality of Rosenberg to the Nazi project from its earliest days illustrates the centrality of eugenics to the Nazi ideology.
One of the most striking assertions in The Myth is that ‘Nordic man’ must "ensure that Blacks no longer exist in his states. Neither can he permit any Yellow men, Mulattos or Jews in his state." All these peoples, wrote Rosenberg, should be resettled. It was at the Wannsee Conference in 1942 that leading Nazis decided that the regime should pursue a programme of genocide to bring about the ‘final solution’ of the Jewish problem. Rosenberg was represented at the conference by his deputy Alfred Mayer, though at the Nuremberg trials he denied knowledge of the genocide that took place.
A psychiatrist who examined him before the trial remarked that:
"He gave the impression of clinging to his own theories in a fanatical and unyielding fashion and to have been little influenced by the unfolding during the trial of the cruelty and crimes of the party."
The Nuremberg Tribunal found Alfred Rosenberg guilty of Conspiracy, Crimes against Peace, War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity. He was executed on 16th October 1946 along with other leading members of the Nazi regime.