Influences That Shaped The Young Hitler.
Every generation has its great issue, and evolution-versus-religion was the issue of Hitler's youth. The ideas of Charles Darwin, in works like the Origin of Species, were some of the most revolutionary ideas to descend upon the earth. Many people began questioning their religious convictions. Although Darwinism had its adversaries, the discoveries made over subsequent years of the fossilized Archaeopteryx (half-reptile, half-bird) right down the road from Adolf's home near Solenhofen, Bavaria, convinced the majority of the intellectual community that Darwin was foolproof. Darwin's ideas, coupled with Spencer's ideas of the survival of the fittest, completely changed man's concepts concerning his origins and brought the world belief of an unchanging world controlled by God to its knees. No school of learning escaped Darwin's implications.
"At 10 a.m.," Hitler would later state, "the pupils attend a lesson in the catechism, at which the creation of the world is presented to them in accordance with the teachings of the Bible; and at 11 a.m. they attend a lesson in natural science, at which they are taught the theory of evolution. Yet the two doctrines are in complete contradiction. As a child, I suffered from this contradiction, and ran my head against a wall. Often I complained to one or another of my teachers against what I had been taught an hour before....1 One cannot teach at ten o'clock in the morning truths which one destroys in the eleven o'clock lesson."2
Unlike Hitler, most of the privileged around the world accepted Darwinism and his predecessors immediately. They came to see their own success as prevailing by virtue of the struggle for existence. Supported by the intellectuals, they came to believe that it was right for the strong and cunning to get the better of the weak and the meek. They believed one had to be tough, energetic, ruthless, egotistical and most of all practical. The consensus was that man was nothing but a social animal--similar to a wolf in a pack. As in a pack, it was necessary to bully and subdue the weaker for the general good. Intellectuals all over the world were soon advocating this "natural law." Even in the United States, educators like Francis A Walker (President of MIT, 1881-1897), William G Sumner (Professor at Yale, 1872-1909) and A Lawrence Lowell (President of Harvard, 1909-1933) advocated such views.
Long before Hitler began pounding his head against a wall, many intellectuals around the world had already begun to see Darwin in another light. Just as a superior species forces out an inferior one for its survival, they thought, man might be in the same situation. Were not some nations--people who shared a common history and language--superior to others? Nationality (which had been smoldering since the days of Joan of Arc and was used with such great effectiveness by the French and Napoleon) was now elevated to a place of great prominence.
Before Darwin, most people felt their first duty was to their religion. Devout religious zeal now began to take a back seat to devout national zeal. Men were told they could control their own destinies without God. Nationalism was stimulated, inflamed, and forced into the national conscious. It was emphasized by newspapers, preached from pulpits, sung in songs or national anthems, and glorified in poems and books.3 People were taught that their nation was special and had much to fear from those who looked and spoke differently.
Intellectuals representing minorities within large states or empires soon hopped on the bandwagon and pointed out that there were seventy nationalities in Europe but only twenty-seven states. They began stirring resentment against ruling "alien" governments. Poles, Hungarians, Serbs, Finns, Czechs, Slovaks, Irish, and other nationalities recklessly worked out schemes for their own independence or aggrandizement. By the time Hitler entered high school, the national view had become so prominent that many intellectuals advocated a "natural political map" based on the speech and race of its inhabitants. Each nation could then control its own destiny. Discontent seethed throughout Europe.
Since no state was willing to give up any lands under is dominion, many leaders favored driving out the "restless races or nations" within their borders. The Czars of Russia carried out a program of Russification and banned newspapers not written in Russian. Poles, Finns, Jews and other "nationalities or races" were expected to give up their customs and language. If they refused, they could either flee the country or be exterminated. Within the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy where Adolf lived, one of the largest roles played by the Hungarians was keeping the other nationalities in their place. One of the main unwritten agreements between the Austrians and the Hungarians was: "You rule your barbarians, and we'll take care of ours."
There were other leaders and intellectuals in Europe who had much bigger dreams than just crushing the restless minorities within their borders. They wanted to annex, by military force if necessary, bordering areas containing small numbers of their own nationalities. Since the leaders of each nation considered themselves "superior," the "inferior" peoples in conquered countries could adapt and benefit under their leadership. They saw their nations' interests as supreme, and annexations were even supported by economic arguments.4 With new conquered territories they surely would find a place in the sun. Many intellectuals wanted their country to take action--whether it was right or wrong. War, killing and dying were portrayed as necessary parts of a righteous and heroic struggle against alien nations. In Europe, there was no question that war would come, the only question was when.
Under such circumstances Europe became an armed camp. Nationalism offered unlimited quantities of troops. France, Germany, Austria, and Russia had hundreds of thousands of men constantly under arms while millions of trained older men stood in reserve. Expenditures for war materials increased drastically in all countries. Men were expected to lay down their lives for their nation as quickly and devoutly as any martyr had laid down his life for his God. Military leaders waited with the thought of getting the jump on their opponent if there was any sign of conflict.
In Germany, Darwin's ideas were picked up by professor and director of the zoological institute at Jena, Ernst Haeckel. Although he coined the term "ecology" and was the first to draw genealogical trees for animals and man, Haeckel was a fanatic exponent of Darwin. He believed that an all-out-struggle for existence would break out between nations and he wanted the Germans to be ready. Haeckel's advice on how to prepare for the coming wars was simple.
Since Darwin had shown that only the fittest of species survive and dominate, Haeckel concluded that the state must have complete superiority over the individual if the Germans were to survive in their unsettle world. Since Darwin and others had shown that cells and creatures in a swarm, herd, pack, or flock will sacrifice themselves for the good of the whole, Haeckel concluded that the individual could be sacrificed for the good of the state. Darwin showed that to produce the best and fittest, struggle is natural and necessary, so Haeckel concluded that nothing must prevent wars which ensured the elimination or enslavement of inferior races. Haeckel believed that to achieve the goal of dominance, the Germans must be biologically superior to other races. To assure that the German race should not be weakened he advocated that only pure Germans be allowed to breed. He believed in racial hygiene and advocated either sterilizing or eliminating criminals, defectives, imbeciles, and malcontents. He advocated silencing anyone who disagreed with such measures including priests.
Haeckel's books, including the English versions, were written for a popular audience and went through many editions. Shortly before Adolf Hitler entered high school, Haeckel published one book (Eng. Trans: The Riddle of the Universe) which sold over a half million copies. A few years later the German Monistic League was founded on the basis of Haeckel's teachings and promoted evolution as a philosophy of life.
German schools, like schools in all the great nations of Europe, had a tendency to foster race-consciousness--in the sense that the Germans were the best of people. (As an example, German students were taught that the reason the North won America's Civil War was because of the large numbers of Germans living in the north. Adolf grew up believing that "Germans ... put Lincoln firmly in the saddle."5 ) As with other world powers, there was little pacifism in German textbooks and militancy was always glorified. Students were reminded of the successes of their nation and the glories of their military and leaders. After looking at Britain with its colonies all over the world, and America and Russia with their great expansions westward, German school children were taught that they too had a right to expand beyond the borders of Germany and Austria.
Like the English who cheerfully shouldered their task of leading and civilizing the world, many Austrians saw their mission as leading and civilizing the non-Germans within their Empire. Like the Italians who dreamed of a revived Rome and the Germans who dreamed of a Greater Germany, they dreamed of a greater Austrian Empire. Due to his service with the Austrian royal government, one of these dreamers was Adolf's father. Adolf, on the other hand, saw things from a different point of view.
The Hapsburgs of Austria dominated over 40,000,000 restless people representing "many races and nationalities."6 Because of the many embittered quarrels and conflicts, a surging nationalism or racial consciousness seized many of the various peoples. For long periods it was impossible to accomplish anything in the country's parliament unless the government made outright concessions to "unreliable races"--Italians, Romanians, Slavs (Czechs, Poles, Serbs, Slovaks, Croats, Slovenes, Ukrainians) and others. Many of the nine million Germans of Austria (and the three million who lived in other parts of the Dual Monarchy) believed themselves to be a minority in not only population but influence in their own country,. Adolf would later tell an acquaintances that the first important political impression of his youth was how nearly all his fellow pupils in Linz felt that immigration of non-Germans into Austria should stop.7 Many among the upper classes were seized with a sense of foreboding and felt they were being swamped by "alien races." They began to grumble that the monarchy was ignoring the danger and demanded a tighter control over the other nationalities or races. On the other hand, the majority of Austrians, ordinary people for the most part, gained little in substance from the Empire. Many of them longed for Austria to break away from the empire and form a union with Germany.
Germany had recently become the chief industrial power on the continent and was well on her way to rivaling both England and the United States as a great nation. Germany's success and her ambition in establishing colonies around the world had awakened German loyalties in many Austrians, including the young Adolf.
To many Austrian school boys, Germany's leaders, especially Bismarck who had welded Germany together 30 years before, were heroes. Bismarck had such an appeal that it was actually made a crime in Austria to possess a sketch of him. Talk of union with Germany however, could not be stilled. In September 1902, when Adolf was thirteen, his headmaster gave a speech marking the fiftieth anniversary of the schools foundation. Within the speech he paid tribute to the idea of all Germans living within the same realm.8
Adolf and his classmates soon sensed where the majority of their teachers' loyalties lay. They took the punishment that was required for making sketches of Bismarck, greeting one another with the German "Heil," singing German patriotic songs or wearing a cornflower as a symbol of loyalty to the Prussian house of Hohenzollern. They relished any German victory in the Pacific, Africa or any other part of the world. Like many of his classmates Adolf was developing into a German nationalist. He and his friends, like the intellectuals who favored a natural political map, believed that all Germans should be united under one flag.
Many Germans, especially in the rural sections of Austria, began rebelling against their government. "Home to the Reich," which meant union with Germany, was their battle cry. Their banner was a black, red and gold flag which sometimes at its center contained an axial cross cut in four places--a stylized Swastika.
Although the Austrian government did its best to build pride in their country, Sunday after Sunday, German youths, seeking union with Germany and encouraged in part by their professors, marched and in some cases fought on the streets in the German provincial cities of the Austrian empire. In Linz, not far from where Adolf lived, they paraded across the Haupt Platz and down Land Strasse. Hitler would later write that he also wore the black, red and gold colors and was beaten for it. The attempts to stifle student enthusiasm, actually heightened the yearning among young German nationalists for direct or military union with Germany.
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1 Hitler, Secret Conversations 105
2 Ibid 324
3 Wells 782
4 Ashworth 149-50
5 Hitler, Secret Conversations 636
6 Grolier Society Vol. II 217
7 Speer 98
8 Jetzinger 65