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The "Greater Germanic Reich" was to be realised with the policies of Lebensraum, and the boundaries were to derive from the plans of the Generalplan Ost, the state administration, and the Schutzstaffel (SS), to include the Ural Mountains.[1]

Lebensraum About this sound listen  (German: “living space”) was a racist ideology that proposed the aggressive, territorial expansion of Germany. Originally a biology term for “habitat”, the publicists for the German Empire (1871–1918) introduced Lebensraum as a concept of nationalism that became a geopolitical goal of Imperial Germany in the First World War (1914–1918), as the Septemberprogramm (1914).[2] In the post-war Weimar Republic (1919–1933) the concept and the term were features of German ultra-nationalism; later, during the Nazi regime (1933–1945), Lebensraum was an ideological element of Nazism, which advocated Germany’s territorial expansion into Eastern Europe, justified by the need for agricultural land in order to maintain the town-and-country balance upon which depended the moral health of the German people.[3] In Mein Kampf (1928), the ideology of Nazism justified Lebensraum as a natural law, by way of which a healthy and vigorous people of superior race, possessed an inherent right to displace unhealthy and feeble peoples of inferior races; especially when the people of superior race faced overpopulation in their native territories.[4]

In practice, the Nazi policy of Lebensraum was to kill, deport, or enslave the Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, and other Slavic populations considered racially inferior to the Germans, and to repopulate said lands of Eastern Europe with Germanic people.[5][6][7] The populations of cities were to be exterminated by starvation, thus creating an agricultural surplus that would feed Germany, and thereby allow political replacement by and re-population with a German upper class.[5] The eugenics of Lebensraum explicitly assumed the racial superiority of Germans, because they are an Aryan race; a master race (Herrenvolk), who, by virtue of their superiority (physical, mental, genetic) had the right to displace any people they deemed to be of an inferior race (Untermenschen).[8] Sociologically, the Nazis insisted that the Lebensraum lands be developed as racially-homogeneous societies, to be realised by avoiding miscegenation, the intermixing of Germans with native peoples of an inferior race.[6] Therefore, in a territory designated as German Lebensraum, the racially inferior natives, by law, were subject either to being killed, deported, or enslaved by the Nazis.[6] In the course of the Second World War in Europe (1939–45), Germany supported similar lebensraum politics of their allies in Italy, Croatia, and Slovakia.[9]

Historically, the concept of a Germanic people with insufficient living space (Volk ohne Raum) predated Adolf Hitler's ideological application of Lebensraum to the national politics of Germany, in which the Nazi Party said that German territorial expansion was inevitable, because of the crisis-level overpopulation of the Weimar Republic, the smaller, post–WWI Germany designed by the Treaty of Versailles (1919); about which Hitler said: "We are overpopulated and cannot feed ourselves from our own resources".[10] Politically, Nazism proposed and justified territorial expansion as an inevitable, geopolitical necessity for Germany that would resolve overpopulation and provide the natural resources required for the well-being of the German people.[10]

Since the 1920s, the Nazi Party had espoused and advocated the eventual necessity of expanding Germany into the territory of Russia.[11] In that vein, Hitler and the Nazi Party also espoused acquiring Lebensraum lands from Poland.[12] Given the improved Russo–German political relations consequent to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (1939), in the pact's three-year period (1939–41), the Germans told the Russians that Nazi Germany had discarded plans to annex territories from the U.S.S.R., and that Germany would seek Lebensraum in central Africa.[13] About the international politics of Lebensraum, Hitler said that Germany sought the diplomatic settlement of claims for living space in Europe, which would require that the European powers cede territories claimed by Germany.[14]

Despite the façade of seeking diplomatic settlements to Germany’s claims for living space, the Third Reich prepared war for Lebensraum, because, by the late 1930s, Hitler had realised the militarisation of German society in preparation for Operation Barbarossa (22 June 1941), the eventual and “necessary” war between the peoples of Germany and of Russia.[15] In planning the destruction of Poland, by partition and annexation, Nazi Germany told the Polish Government that if war between Germany and the Soviet Union resulted in Germany taking Lebensraum from the Soviet Union, then Germany would allow Poland the right to annex parts of the Ukraine, whilst Germany annexed more Soviet territory — if Poland were to subordinate herself to Germany, and allow the German annexation of Polish territories. Aware that the proposal would immediately be rejected, Hitler nonetheless proposed that territorial-annexation settlement to the Polish diplomats who sought to forestall the German invasion of Poland (1 September 1939).[16][17][18]

Germany invoked precedents — geopolitical, historical, cultural — to legalistically justify their pursuit of Lebensraum beyond the borders of Germany.[19] Besides the historical examples of the British and French colonial empires, the Nazi goal of German territorial expansion was justified with the cultural example of Manifest Destiny (1845), the ideological justification for the colonisation, by the white people of the United States, of the “American frontier”, the inhabited North-American lands south of Canada and north of Mexico.[6] Hitler said that the geographic size of the European nation-states was “absurdly small in comparison to their weight of colonies, foreign trade, etc.”, which he contrasted to “the American Union, which possesses, at its base, its own continent, and touches the rest of the Earth only with its summit”; and that colonisation of the continental U.S., by the Nordic peoples of Europe, would create a nation possessed of a great, internal market, of a great capacity for material reproduction, and a fertile land fit for great biological reproduction; hence was North America the ideal Lebensraum proposed by Nazism.[19]


See also: Ostsiedlung
The German geographer and ethnographer Friedrich Ratzel (1844–1904) coined the word Lebensraum (1901) as a term of human geography, which the Nazis adopted as a by-word for the aggressive territorial expansion of Germany into the Greater Germanic Reich.
The Swedish political scientist Johan Rudolf Kjellén (1864–1922) interpreted Friedrich Ratzel's ethnogeographic term, Lebensraum as a geopolitical term, which the Nazis applied to justify German pre-emptive warfare.
German settlement in the East

Historically, the concept of a Germanic people with insufficient living space (Volk ohne Raum) predated Adolf Hitler's ideological application of Lebensraum to the national politics of Germany. Through the Middle Ages (1100–1453), the social, economic, and political pressures of overpopulation in the German states had led to their practice of Ostsiedlung, the settlement of Germanic peoples in Eastern Europe. In 1901, the ethnographer and geographer Friedrich Ratzel coined the word Lebensraum (“living space”), as a term of human geography, to describe physical geography, habitat as a factor that influences the human activities in the course of a people developing into a society.[20]

In the period between the First and the Second world wars (1919–39) German nationalists had adapted and adopted the term Lebensraum to their politics for the establishment of a Germanic colonial-empire like the British Empire, the French Empire, and the empire that the U.S. established with the west-ward expansion of the “American frontier”, which was advocated and justified by the ideology of Manifest Destiny (1845).[21] Ratzel said that the development of a people into a society was primarily influenced by their geographic situation (habitat), and that a society who successfully adapted to one geographic territory would naturally and logically expand the boundaries of their nation into another territory.[20] Yet, to resolve German overpopulation, Ratzel said that Imperial Germany (1871–1918) required overseas colonies to which surplus Germans ought to emigrate.[22]


In the event, Friedrich Ratzel’s metaphoric concept of society as an organism — which grows and shrinks in logical relation to its Lebensraum (habitat) — proved especially influential upon the Swedish political scientist and conservative politician Johan Rudolf Kjellén (1864–1922) who interpreted that biological metaphor as a geopolitical natural-law.[23] In the political monograph Schweden (1917; Sweden), Kjellén coined the terms geopolitik (the conditions and problems of a state that arise from its geographic territory),œcopolitik (the economic factors that affect the power of the state), and demopolitik (the social problems that arise from the racial composition of the state) to explain the political particulars to be considered for the successful administration and governing of a state. Moreover, he had great intellectual influence upon the politics of Imperial Germany, especially with Staten som livsform (1916; The State as a Life-form) an earlier political-science book read by the society of Imperial Germany, for whom the concept of geopolitik acquired an ideological definition unlike the original, human-geography definition.[24]

Kjellén’s geopolitical interpretation of the Lebensraum concept was adopted, expanded, and adapted to the politics of Germany, by the publicists of imperialism, such as the militarist General Friedrich von Bernhardi (1849–1930) and the political geographer and proponent of geopolitics Karl Ernst Haushofer (1869–1946). In Deutschland und der Nächste Krieg (1911; Germany and the Next War), General von Bernhardi developed Friedrich Ratzel’s Lebensraum concept as a racial struggle for living space; explicitly identified Eastern Europe as the source of a new, national habitat for the German people; and said that the next war [the Second World War] would be expressly for acquiring Lebensraum — all in fulfilment of the “biological necessity” to protect German racial supremacy. That vanquishing the Slavic and the Latin races was necessary, because “without war, inferior or decaying races would easily choke the growth of healthy, budding elements” of the German race — thus, the war for Lebensraum was a necessary means of defending Germany against cultural stagnation and the racial degeneracy of miscegenation.[25]

Racist ideology

In the national politics of Weimar Germany, the geopolitical usage of Lebensraum is credited to Karl Ernst Haushofer and his Institute of Geopolitics, in Munich, especially the ultra-nationalist interpretation to avenge military defeat in the First World War (1914–18), and reverse the dictates of the Treaty of Versailles (1919), which reduced Germany geographically, economically, and militarily. The politician Adolf Hitler said that the National Socialist (Nazi) geopolitics of ″inevitable expansion″ would reverse overpopulation, provide natural resources, and uphold German national honour.[10] In Mein Kampf (1928; My Struggle), Hitler presented his conception of Lebensraum as the philosophic basis for the Greater Germanic Reich who were destined to colonise Eastern Europe — especially the Ukraine in Soviet Russia — and so resolve the problems of overpopulation, and that the European states had to accede to his geopolitical demands.

The Nazi usages (propaganda, political, and official) of the term Lebensraum were explicitly racist, to justify the mystical right of the “racially superior” Germanic peoples (Herrenvolk) to fulfil their cultural destiny at the expense of “racially inferior” peoples (Untermenschen), such as the Slavs of Poland, Russia, the Ukraine, and the other non–Germanic peoples of “the East”.[26] Based upon Johan Rudolf Kjellén’s geopolitical interpretation of Friedrich Ratzel's human-geography term, the Nazi régime (1933–45) established Lebensraum as the racist rationale of the foreign policy by which they began the Second World War, on 1 September 1939, in effort to realise the Greater Germanic Reich at the expense of the societies of Eastern Europe.[24]

Lebensraum as nationalist ideology[edit]

Imperial Germany[edit]

Southwest Africa (1884–1915)[edit]

During the first decade of the 20th century Imperial Germany colonised Southwest Africa and committed genocide against the local Herero and Nama peoples. Madley (2005) argues that the German experience in German South-West Africa was a crucial precursor to Nazi colonialism and genocide and that personal connections, literature and public debates served as conduits for communicating colonialist and genocidal ideas and methods from the colony to Germany.[27]

The First World War (1914 – 1918)[edit]

The Septemberprogramm
German Territorial War Aims in the East (1914–1918): The Polish Border Strip of Lebensraum, and other strategies of Imperial Germany in the Eastern Front.

In September 1914, when German victory in the First World War appeared feasible, the government of Imperial Germany introduced the Septemberprogramm as an official war aim (Kriegsziel), which was secretly endorsed by Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg (1909–17), whereby, upon achieving battlefield victory, Germany would annex territories from western Poland to form the Polish Border Strip (Polnischer Grenzstreifen, ca. 30,000 km.2). Lebensraum would be realised by way of ethnic cleansing, the forcible removal of the native Slavic and Jewish populations, and the subsequent repopulation of the border strip with ethnic-German colonists; likewise, the colonisations of Lithuania and the Ukraine; yet military over-extension lost the war for Imperial Germany, and the Septemberprogramm went unrealised.[28]

In April 1915, Chancellor von Bettman-Hollweg authorised the Polish Border Strip plans in order to take advantage of the extensive territories in Eastern Europe that Germany had conquered and held since early in the war.[29] The decisive campaigns of Imperial Germany almost realised Lebensraum in the East, especially when Bolshevik Russia unilaterally withdrew as a combatant in the “Great War” among the European imperialist powers — the Triple Entente (the Russian Empire, the French Third Republic, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland) and the Central Powers (the German Empire, Austria–Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and the Kingdom of Bulgaria).

In March 1918, in effort to reform and modernise the Russian Empire (1721–1917) into a soviet republic, the Bolshevik government agreed to the strategically onerous, territorial cessions stipulated in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (1918), and Russia yielded to Germany much of the arable land of European Russia, the Baltic governorates, Belarus, the Ukraine, and the Caucasus region.[30] Despite such an extensive geopolitical victory, tactical defeat in the Western Front, strategic over-extension, and factional division in government compelled Imperial Germany to abandon the eastern European Lebensraum gained with the Brest-Litovsk Treaty (33 per cent of arable land, 30 per cent of industry, and 90 per cent of the coal mines of Russia) in favour of the peace-terms of the Treaty of Versailles (1919), and yielded those Russian lands to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and the Ukraine.

As a casus belli for the conquest and colonisation of Polish territories as living-space and defensive-border for the Imperial German Reich, the Septemberprogramm derived from a foreign policy initially proposed by General Erich Ludendorff, in 1914.[29] Twenty-five years later, Third Reich foreign policy resumed the cultural goal of the pursuit and realisation of German-living-space at the expense of non-German peoples in Eastern Europe with the September Campaign (1 September – 6 October 1939) that began the Second World War in Europe.[31] In Germany and the Two World Wars (1967), the German historian Andreas Hillgruber said that the territorial gains of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (1918) were the imperial prototype for Adolf Hitler's Greater German Empire in Eastern Europe:

Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, 5th Chancellor of Germany, 1909–17, was a proponent of German Lebensraum as a natural right of Imperial Germany.
To understand later German history, one must pay special attention to a consequence of the Eastern situation, in the autumn of 1918, that has often been overlooked: the widely-shared and strangely irrational misconceptions, concerning the end of the War, that found such currency in the Weimar period. These ideas were not informed, as they should have been, by an appreciation of the enemy's superiority in the West, and the inevitable, step-by-step retreat of the German Western Front, before the massive influx of the Americans. Nor did they indicate any understanding of the catastrophic consequences for the Central Powers, following the collapse of the Balkan front, after Bulgaria’s withdrawal from the War. They were, instead, largely determined by the fact that German troops, as “victors” held vast, strategically and economically important areas of Russia.

At the moment of the November 1918 ceasefire in the West, newspaper maps of the military situation showed German troops in Finland, holding a line from the Finnish fjords near Narva, down through PskovOrshaMogilev and the area south of Kursk, to the Don east of Rostov. Germany had thus secured the Ukraine. The Russian recognition of the Ukraine's separation, exacted at Brest–Litovsk, represented the key element in German efforts to keep Russia perpetually subservient. In addition, German troops held the Crimea, and were stationed, in smaller numbers, in Transcaucasia. Even the unoccupied “rump” Russia appeared — with the conclusion of the German–Soviet Supplementary Treaty, on 28 August 1918 — to be in firm, though indirect, dependency on the Reich. Thus, Hitler’s long-range aim, fixed in the 1920s, of erecting a German Eastern Imperium on the ruins of the Soviet Union was not simply a vision emanating from an abstract wish. In the Eastern sphere, established in 1918, this goal had a concrete point of departure. The German Eastern Imperium had already been — if only for a short time — a reality.[32]

In the event, the Septemberprogramm (1914) documents “Lebensraum in the East” as philosophically integral to Germanic culture throughout the history of Germany; and that Lebensraum is not a racialist philosophy particular to the 20th century.[33] As military strategy, the Septemberprogramm came to nought for being infeasible — too few soldiers to realise the plans — during a two-front war; politically, the Programm allowed the Imperial Government to learn the opinions of the nationalist, economic, and military élites of the German ruling class who finance and facilitate geopolitics.[34] Nationally, the annexation and ethnic cleansing of Poland for German Lebensraum was an official and a popular subject of “nationalism-as-national-security” endorsed by German society, including the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SDP).[35] In The Origins of the Second World War (1961), the British historian A. J. P. Taylor said that:

It is equally obvious that Lebensraum always appeared as one element in these blueprints. This was not an original idea of Hitler's. It was commonplace at the time. Volk ohne Raum (People Without Space), for instance, by Hans Grimm sold much better than Mein Kampf when it was published in 1928. For that matter, plans for acquiring new territory were much aired in Germany during the First World War. It used to be thought that these were the plans of a few crack-pot theorisers or of extremist organisations. Now we know better. In 1961, a German professor [Fritz Fischer] reported the results of his investigations into German war aims. These were indeed a ″blueprint for aggression″, or, as the professor called them, “a grasp at world power”: Belgium under German control, the French iron-fields annexed to Germany, and, what is more, Poland and the Ukraine to be cleared of their inhabitants and resettled with Germans. These plans were not merely the work of the German General Staff. They were endorsed by the German Foreign Office and by the “Good German”, [Chancellor] Bethmann–Hollweg.
— “Second Thoughts” (Foreword, 1963 Ed.) [36]

Fascist Italy[edit]

To the Fascist ideologist Giuseppe Bottai, Spazio Vitale (Vital Space) justified Italian colonialism in Europe and Africa.
Spazio Vitale

In the political philosophy of Italian Fascism (1922), territorial expansionism was justified with the concept of Spazio Vitale (Vital Space), defined as “that part of the globe over which extends either the vital requirements, or expansionary impetus, of a state with strong unitary organisation which seeks to satisfy its needs by expanding beyond its national boundaries”;[37] and ideologically corresponded to the German Lebensraum of Nazism.[38] As presented by Benito Mussolini, the colonial imperialism of Spazio Vitale required the cultural assimilation — not the genocide — of the peoples conquered in the course of establishing the Euro–African empire planned by the Fascists.

As a form of nationalism, Spazio Vitale presented the Italian race as the “custodian and bearer of superior civilisation” who import revolutionary fascism (the corporate state) to replace the “antiquated” political systems of the conquered nations, and so “civilise” (Italianise) the natives into colonies of Fascist Italy. The territorial extent of the empire realised by spazio vitale would include the basin of the Mediterranean Sea and Northern Africa, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean. The vital space of Italian Fascism would be in two parts, the piccolo spazio (small space) to be inhabited only by Italians, and the grande spazio (large space) to be inhabited by the Italian Colonial Empire.[39]

The Fascist ideologist Giuseppe Bottai, said that the historic mission of Spazio Vitale was like that of Ancient Rome (753 BC – AD 476), and that the new Rome — the Italian Colonial Empire — would “illuminate the world with their art, educate it with their knowledge, and give robust structure to their new territories with their administrative technique and ability”. That once under Roman rule and domination, the subjugated peoples would be permitted to retain their native languages and cultures within the Italian Colonial Empire (1869–1943).[38] (See: Mare Nostrum of Italian nationalism)

The Axis division of continental Asia[edit]

The division of continental Asia into three spheres of influence, by the Axis Powers, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan, at the 70th meridian east, in autumn of 1942.
Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany

On 15 December 1941, Imperial Japan (1868–1947) proposed to their ally Nazi Germany, and Chancellor Adolf Hitler accepted, a military convention for the territorial division of continental Asia by the three Axis powers — contingent upon the Nazi defeat of the USSR (1922–91) with Operation Barbarossa (June–December 1941).

The division of continental Asia into spheres of influence (military, political, economic), by the Axis Powers, was to be realised with a north-to-south demarcation at the 70th meridian east (70° east longitude), traversing and bisecting continental Asia from the Arctic estuary of the Ob River, in western Siberia, to the city of Khost, in eastern Afghanistan, and to the Indian Ocean, west of the city of Rajkot, in Gujarat state, India.

Once realised, that longitudinal demarcation would have divided the Lebensraum of Nazi Germany and the Spazio Vitale (Vital Space) of Fascist Italy (1922–43) to the west, and the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere of Imperial Japan to the east of the 70th meridian, and so established a tripartite world ruled by varieties of capitalist fascism.[40]

Lebensraum as Nazi ideology[edit]

The inter-war period (1919–39)[edit]

In 1919, the aftermath of the First World War (1914–18) had greatly aroused the feelings of wounded national identity of the Germans, feelings that they were a people without space (Volk ohne Raum), which was a cultural sentiment greatly exploited by nationalist parties, especially the right-wing Nazi Party (National Socialist Workers' Party), who said that the terms of the Treaty of Versailles (1919) were especially harsh to Germany — impoverishing the nation with punitive financial-terms of war reparations, reducing the armed services, and the loss of much national territory.[41] In the national politics of the Weimar Republic (1919–33), the German Eugenicists took up the nationalist, political slogan of Volk ohne Raum, and matched it with the racial slogan Volk ohne Jugend (a People without Youth), a cultural proposition that ignored the declining German birth-rate (since the 1880s) and contradicted the popular belief that the “German race” was a vigorous and growing people. Despite each slogan (political and racial) being contradicted by the reality of such demographic facts, the nationalists' demands for Lebensraum proved to be ideologically valid politics in Weimar Germany.[42][43]

In the political autobiography, Mein Kampf (1926–28), Adolf Hitler presented the racist philosophy of Lebensraum that the national Socialists advocated for Germany.

In the twenty-year, inter-war period, between the First (1914–18) and the Second (1939–45) world wars, Lebensraum for Germany was the principal tenet of the extremist nationalism that characterised the party politics of Weimar Germany. The Nazis, led by Adolf Hitler, demanded not only the geographic reversion of Germany’s post-war borders (to recuperate territory lost per the Treaty of Versailles), but demanded the German conquest and colonisation of Eastern Europe (whether or not those lands were German before 1918).[44] To that end, Hitler said that flouting the Treaty of Versailles was required for Germany to obtain needed Lebensraum in Eastern Europe.[45] In Mein Kampf (1928), Hitler explained that achieving Lebensraum required political will:

Without consideration of traditions and prejudices, Germany must find the courage to gather our people, and their strength, for an advance along the road that will lead this people from its present, restricted living-space to new land and soil; and hence also free it from the danger of vanishing from the earth or of serving others as a slave nation. The National Socialist Movement must strive to eliminate the disproportion between our population and our area — viewing this latter as a source of food as well as a basis for power politics — between our historical past and the hopelessness of our present impotence.[46]

Therefore, Lebensraum was the principal, foreign-policy goal of the Nazi Party and the German Third Reich (1933–45); thus Hitler rejected the restoration of the pre-war borders of Germany as an inadequate half-measure towards reducing national overpopulation.[47] From that perspective, Hitler gave his opinion about the true nature of national borders:

The German borders of 1914 were borders that represented something as unfinished as peoples' borders always are. The division of territory on Earth is always the momentary result of a struggle and an evolution that is in no way finished, but that naturally continues to progress. It is dumb to simply take borders, from any given year in the history of a people, and establish it as a political goal.[48]

The Second World War (1939–45)[edit]

Main article: Heim ins Reich
Origin of German colonisers in annexed Polish territories. Set in action "Heim ins Reich"
The Nuremberg Laws (1935) of Nazi Germany employed scientific racism to exclude Jews from mainstream society. People with four German grandparents (white circles) were classified as of "German blood," whilst Jews, having three or more Jewish grandparents (black circles, top-row right), were classified as Mischling, of "Mixed blood".
To achieve Lebensraum in the Eastern Europe, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler and Gen. Andrey Vlasov, of the Russian Liberation Army, joined forces to rid Russia of Communism and Jewish Bolshevism.
Foreign-policy prime directive

The conquest of living space for Germany was the foremost foreign-policy goal of the Nazis towards establishing the Greater Germanic Reich that was to last a thousand years.[49] On 3 February 1933, at his initial meeting with the generals and admirals of the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler said that the conquest of Lebensraum in Eastern Europe, and its ruthless Germanisation, were the ultimate geopolitical objectives of Reich foreign policy.[50] That the USSR was the country to provide sufficient Lebensraum for the Germans, because it possessed much agricultural land, and was inhabited by Slavic Untermenschen (sub-humans) ruled by Jewish Bolshevism.[51] The racism of Hitler's Lebensraum philosophy allowed only the Germanisation of the soil and the land, but not of the native peoples, who were to be destroyed, by slave labour and starvation.[52] In his political autobiography, Mein Kampf (1926), Hitler rejected the idea that peoples racially inferior to the Germans might be Germanised:

Not only in Austria, however, but also in the Reich, these so-called national circles were, and still are, under the influence of similar erroneous ideas. Unfortunately, a policy towards Poland, whereby the East was to be Germanized, was demanded by many, and was based on the same false reasoning. Here, again, it was believed that the Polish people could be Germanized, by being compelled to use the German language. The result would have been [culturally] fatal. A people of foreign race would have had to use the German language to express modes of thought that were foreign to the German, thus compromising, by its own inferiority, the dignity and nobility of our nation.[53]
Politics of racism

In the worldview of Adolf Hitler, the idea of restoring the 1914 borders of the German Reich (Imperial Germany, 1871–1918) was absurd, because those national borders did not provide sufficient Lebensraum for the German population; that only a foreign policy for the geopolitical conquest of the proper amount of Lebensraum would justify the necessary sacrifices entailed by war.[54] That history was dominated by a merciless struggle for survival among the different “races” of mankind; and that the “races” who possessed a great national territory were innately stronger than those races who possessed a small national territory — which the Germanic Aryan race can take by natural right.[55]

Extermination of the native populations of the countries of Eastern Europe was not always necessary, because the Racial policy of Nazi Germany regarded some Eastern European peoples as being of Aryan-Nordic stock, especially the local leaders.[56] As official policy, Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler said that no drop of German blood would be lost or left behind to mingle with any "alien races".[57] The racist perspectives of official policy for the establishment of German Lebensraum allowed the Nazi leaders to launch unilateral war of aggression (Blitzkrieg) against the countries of Eastern Europe, ideologically justified as historical recuperation of the Oium (|lands) that the Slavs had conquered from the native Ostrogoths.[58]


Informed by the blood and soil (Blut und Boden) beliefs of ethnic identity — a philosophic basis of Lebensraum — Nazi policy required destroying the USSR for the lands of Russia to become the granary of Germany. The Germanisation of Russia required the destruction of the cities, in effort to vanquish Russianness, Communism, and Jewish Bolshevism.[59] To that effect, Hitler ordered the Siege of Leningrad, to raze the city and destroy the native Russian population.[60] Geopolitically, the establishment of German Lebensraum in the east of Europe would thwart blockades, like those occurred in the First World War, which starved the people of Germany.[61] Moreover, using Eastern Europe to feed Germany also was intended to exterminate millions of Slavs, by slave labour and starvation.[62] When deprived of producers, a workforce, and customers, native industry would cease and disappear from the Germanised region, which then became agricultural land for settlers from Nazi Germany.[62]

The Germanised lands of eastern Europe would be settled by the Wehrbauer, a soldier-peasant who was to maintain a fortified line of defence, which would prevent non–Aryan (Slavic) civilisation from arising to threaten the Greater Germanic Reich.[63] Plans for the Germanisation of western Europe were less severe, as the Nazis needed the collaboration of the local political and business establishments, especially that of local industry and their skilled workers. Moreover, Nazi racial policies considered the populations of western Europe more racially acceptable to Aryan standards of “racial purity”. In practice, the number and assortment of Nazi racial categories indicated that "East is bad and West is acceptable"; thus, a person's “race” was a matter of life or death in a country under Nazi occupation.[64]

The racist ideology of Lebensraum also comprised the northern European countries of Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway, Sweden), because of the North German racial stock of those peoples; in continental Europe, Alsace and Lorraine, Belgium, and northern France; and Great Britain would either be annexed or made a puppet state.[65] Moreover, the poor military performance of the Italian armed forces forced Fascist Italy's withdrawal from the war in 1943, which then made northern Italy a territory to be annexed to the Greater Germanic Reich.[66]


For political expediency, the Nazis continually modified their racist politics towards non–German peoples, and so continually redefined the ideological meaning of Lebensraum, in order to collaborate with non–Aryan peoples, in service to Reich foreign policy. Early in his career as leader of the Nazis, Adolf Hitler said he would accept friendly relations with the USSR, on condition that the Soviet government re-establish the disadvantageous borders of European Russia, which were demarcated in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (1918), which made possible the restoration of Russo–German diplomatic relations.[67]

In the 1921–22 period, Hitler said that German Lebensraum might be achieved with a smaller USSR, created by sponsoring anti-communist Russians in deposing the Communist government of the Bolsheviks; however, by the end of 1922, Hitler changed his opinion when there arose the possibility of an Anglo–German geopolitical alliance to destroy the USSR.[67] Yet, once Operation Barbarossa (1941) launched the invasion of the USSR, the strategic stance of the Nazi régime towards a smaller, independent Russia was affected by political pressure from the German Army, who asked Hitler, the supreme military commander, to endorse the creation and integration, to Wehrmacht operations in Russia, of the anti–Communist Russian Liberation Army (ROA); an organisation of defectors, led by General Andrey Vlasov, who meant to depose the régime of Josef Stalin and the Russian Communist Party.[68] Initially, Hitler rejected the idea of sponsoring the Slavic, anti-communist army; yet, by 1944, as the German army continually lost battles and territory to the Red Army, the leaders of the Third Reich, especially Reichsfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler, recognised the political, ideological, and military value of the collaborationist Russian Liberation Army in fighting Jewish Bolshevism.[69]

The Nazi establishment of German Lebensraum required the expulsion of the Poles from Poland, such as their expulsion from the Reichsgau Wartheland in 1939.
Germanisation of Poland: SS Obergruppenführer Arthur Greiser welcomes the millionth Eastern European Volksdeutcher to be resettled in annexed Polish territories, March 1944.

Nazi Germany's implementation of Lebensraum policy began in 1939, with the Occupation of Poland (1939-1945). From mid–1940, the ethnic cleansing (forcible removal) of Poles from the Reichsgau Wartheland initially occurred across the border, to the General Government (a colonial political entity ostensibly autonomous of the Reich), then, after the invasion of the USSR, the displaced Polish populations were jailed in Polenlager (Pole-storage camps) in Silesia and sent to villages designated as ghettoes. In four years (1940–44) of Germanisation, the Nazis forcibly removed some 50,000 Poles from the Polish territories annexed to the Greater German Reich.[70][71] (see: Action Saybusch)

In 1941, the Reich decided that within two decades, by the year 1961, Poland would have been emptied of Poles and re-populated with ethnic-German colonists from Bukovina, Eastern Galicia, and Volhynia.[72] The ruthless Germanisation Hitler required for Lebensraum was attested in the reports of Wehrbauer (soldier-peasant) colonists' assigned to ethnically-cleansed Poland — of finding half-eaten meals at table and unmade beds in the houses given them by the Nazis.[73] Baltic Germans from Estonia and Latvia were evaluated for racial purity; those classified to the highest category, Ost-Falle, were resettled in the Eastern Wall.[74]

In the event, the Nazi annexation and colonisation of Poland to the Third Reich incorporated 350,000 ethnic Germans, 1.7 million Poles (deemed racially worthy of Germanisation), approximately 200,000 kidnapped Polish children (deemed racially worthy of rearing as "German"), and approximately 400,000 Germans from the Old Reich.[75]

As part of the secret Generalplan Ost (Master Plan East) for establishing Lebensraum in Central Europe and in Eastern Europe, the Germanisation of Russia began with Operation Barbarossa (June – September 1941) for the Nazi colonisation of European Russia as the granary of Germany.[76] For those Slavic lands, the Nazi theorist and ideologue Alfred Rosenberg proposed administrative organisation by the Reichskommissariate, countries consolidated into colonial realms ruled by a commissar:

Reichskommisariat name Countries comprehended
Ostland The Baltic States, Belarus, and western Russia.
Ukraine The Ukraine (minus East Galicia) and the Romanian-controlled Transnistria Governorate, extended eastwards to the River Volga.
Moskowien The Moscow metropolis and European Russia, exclusive of Karelia and the Kola peninsula, which the Nazi's promised to Finland in 1941.
Kaukasus The Caucasus.

The early stages of Lebensraum im Osten (Lebensraum in the East) featured the ethnic-cleansing of Russians and other Slavs (Galicians, Karelians, Ukrainians, et al.) from their lands, and the consolidation of their countries into the Reichskommissariat administration that extended to the Ural Mountains, the geographic frontier of Europe and frontier Asia. To manage the ethnic, racial, and political populations of the USSR, the German Army promptly organised collaborationist (anti-communist, puppet governments) in the Reichskomissariat Ostland (1941–45) and the Reichskommissariat Ukraine (1941–44). Nonetheless, despite the initial, strategic successes of Operation Barbarossa, in counter-attack, the Red Army's defeats of the German Army at the Battle of Stalingrad (August 1942 –February 1943) and at the Battle of Kursk (July – August 1943) in Russia, added to the Allied Operation Husky (July – August 1943) in Sicily, thwarted the implementation of Nazi Lebensraum in the east of Europe.

Historical retroperspective[edit]

The scale of Lebensraum
The geopolitician Karl Haushofer (left) provided the Nazis with the rationalisations (intellectual, academic, scientific) for Lebensraum, transmitted to Chancellor Adolf Hitler, by way of Rudolf Hess (right), who was Haushofer's student.

The scope of the enterprise and the scale of the territories invaded and conquered for Germanisation by the Third Reich, indicated two ideological purposes for Lebensraum, and their relation to the geopolitical purposes of the Nazis: (i) a program of global conquest, begun in Central Europe; and (ii) a program of continental European conquest, limited to Eastern Europe. From the strategic perspectives of the Stufenplan ("Plan in Stages"), the global- and continental- interpretations of Nazi Lebensraum are feasible, and neither exclusive of each other, nor counter to Hitler’s foreign-policy goals for the Third Reich.[77]

Among themselves, within the Reich régime proper, the Nazis held different definitions of Lebensraum, such as the idyllic, agrarian society that required much arable land, advocated by the blood-and-soil ideologist Richard Walther Darré and Reichsfüher-SS Heinrich Himmler; and the urban, industrial state, that required raw materials and slaves, advocated by Adolf Hitler.[78] In the event, Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia, in summer 1941, required a compromise of concept, purpose and execution to realise Hitler’s conception of Lebensraum in the Slavic lands of Eastern Europe.[79]

Further information: Nazi foreign policy debate
The ideology of Lebensraum

Racism usually is not a concept integral to the ideology of territorial expansionism; nor to the original meaning of the term Lebensraum (“biological habitat”), as defined by the ethnographer and geographer Friedrich Ratzel. Nonetheless, National Socialism (Nazism), the ideology of the Third Reich established racism —specifically anti-Semitism — as a philosophic basis of Lebensraum-as-geopolitics; which Adolf Hitler presented as Nazi racist ideology in his political autobiography Mein Kampf (1926–28).

Moreover, the geopolitical interpretations of national living-space of the academic Karl Haushofer (a teacher of Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy), provided Adolf Hitler with the intellectual, academic, and scientific rationalisations that justified the territorial expansion of Germany, by the natural right of the German Aryan race, to expand into, occupy, and exploit the lands of other countries, regardless of the native populations.[80] In Mein Kampf, Hitler explained Germany’s territorial needs:

In an era when the Earth is gradually being divided up among states, some of which embrace almost entire continents, we cannot speak of a world power in connection with a formation whose political mother country is limited to the absurd area of five hundred thousand square kilometers.[81] Without consideration of traditions and prejudices, Germany must find the courage to gather our people, and their strength, for an advance along the road that will lead this people from its present, restricted living space to new land and soil, and, hence, also free it from the danger of vanishing from the earth, or of serving others as a slave nation.[82] For it is not in colonial acquisitions that we must see the solution of this problem, but exclusively in the acquisition of a territory for settlement, which will enhance the area of the mother country, and hence not only keep the new settlers in the most intimate community with the land of their origin, but secure for the entire area those advantages which lie in its unified magnitude.[83]

Contemporary usages[edit]

Since the end of the Second World War (1939–45), the term "Lebensraum" has been applied to the expansionism (territorial and economic) of countries throughout the world.


The Tibetan intellectual Tsering Shakya said that the policies of the People's Republic of China that rationalise and justify the incorporation of Tibet into the People's Republic of China are a form of Chinese Communist Lebensraum.[84][85]


In 1954, Gamal Abdel Nasser's Arab nationalism were linked with domestic circumstances that necessitated rulers seeking "lebensraum" beyond the Egyptian borders. Radical nationalism in Egyptian writings has been attributed to the influence of historical Germany, and Italy, with the concept of Lebensraum affecting writings on Egyptian-Sudanese relations.[86][87]


The term Lebensraum is applied to Israel's territorial actions in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war[88][89] and in the policies for Israeli settlement of the Palestinian territories.[90][91][92][93][94] Efraim Eitam, an Israeli government minister under Prime minister Ariel Sharon, used the term Lebensraum as the conceptual basis for his statements that all Arab citizens of Israel (Israeli Arabs) and all Palestinians should either be persuaded or forced to leave Israel and the Palestinian Territories.[95]

The U.S.

The world-wide establishment of capitalism, by means of economic globalization by the U.S. has been called the “American Lebensraum”, which is criticised as a neocolonialism and as cultural imperialism.[96][97]

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]