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Cover of the Nazi propaganda leaflet "Der Untermensch" ("The Subhuman"), 1942

Untermensch (German pronunciation: [ˈʔʊntɐˌmɛnʃ] (listen), lit.'underman', 'sub-man', 'subhuman'; plural: Untermenschen) is a Nazi term for non-Aryan people they deem as inferior, who were often referred to as "the masses from the East", that is Jews, Roma, and Slavs (mainly ethnic Poles, Ukrainians, Serbs, and later also Russians).[1][2][3] The term was also applied to "mulatto" and black people.[4] Jewish, Polish and Romani people, along with the physically and mentally disabled, as well as homosexuals and political dissidents, and on rare instances, POWs from Western Allied armies, were to be exterminated[5] in the Holocaust.[6][7] According to the Generalplan Ost, the Slavic population of East-Central Europe was to be reduced in part through mass murder in the Holocaust, with a majority expelled to Asia and used as slave labor in the Reich. These concepts were an important part of the Nazi racial policy.[8]


It is widely believed that the term "under man" was coined by the Nazis, but this belief is incorrect because the term "under man" was first used by the American author and Ku Klux Klan member Lothrop Stoddard in the title of his 1922 book The Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace of the Under-man.[9] Stoddard applies the term to those who he considers unable to function in civilization, which he generally (but not entirely) attributes to race. The Nazis later adopted it from the title of the book's German edition Der Kulturumsturz: Die Drohung des Untermenschen (1925).[10]

An Austro-Hungarian propaganda poster made during World War I which features the rhyming slogan "Serbia must die!" Such images were representative of the social attitudes underlying the concept of untermensch.[11]

The German word Untermensch had been used in earlier periods, but it had not been used in a racial sense, for example, it was used in the 1899 novel Der Stechlin by Theodor Fontane. Since most writers who employed the term did not address the question of when and how the word entered the German language, into English, Untermensch is usually translated as "subhuman". The leading Nazi who attributed the concept of the East-European "under man" to Stoddard was Alfred Rosenberg who, referring to Russian communists, wrote in his Der Mythus des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts (1930) that "this is the kind of human being that Lothrop Stoddard has called the 'under man.'" ["...den Lothrop Stoddard als 'Untermenschen' bezeichnete."][12] Quoting Stoddard: "The Under-Man – the man who measures under the standards of capacity and adaptability which is imposed by the social order in which he lives".

It is possible that Stoddard constructed his "under man" as an opposite of Friedrich Nietzsche's Übermensch (superman) concept. Stoddard does not explicitly say this, but he critically refers to the "superman" idea at the end of his book (p. 262).[9] Wordplays with Nietzsche's term seem to have been used repeatedly as early as the 19th century and, due to the German linguistic trait of being able to combine prefixes and roots almost at will in order to create new words, this development can be considered logical. For instance, German author Theodor Fontane contrasts the Übermensch/Untermensch word pair in chapter 33 of his novel Der Stechlin.[13] Nietzsche used Untermensch at least once in contrast to Übermensch in Die fröhliche Wissenschaft (1882).[14] Earlier examples of Untermensch include Romanticist Jean Paul using the term in his novel Hesperus (1795) in reference to an Orangutan (Chapter "8. Hundposttag").[15]

Nazi propaganda and policy[edit]

In a speech which he delivered to the Bavarian regional parliament in 1927, the Nazi propagandist Julius Streicher, publisher of Der Stürmer, used the term Untermensch referring to the communists of the German Bavarian Soviet Republic:

It happened at the time of the [Bavarian] Soviet Republic: When the unleashed subhumans rambled murdering through the streets, the deputies hid behind a chimney in the Bavarian parliament.[16]

A chart used to illustrate the Nazi Nuremberg Laws introduced in 1935

The Nazis repeatedly used the term Untermensch in writings and speeches which they directed against the Jews, the most notorious example of them was a 1942 SS publication with the title Der Untermensch, which contains an anti-semitic tirade sometimes considered to be an extract from a speech by Heinrich Himmler. In the pamphlet "The SS as an Anti-Bolshevist Fighting Organization", published in 1936, Himmler wrote:

We shall take care that never again in Germany, the heart of Europe, will the Jewish-Bolshevik revolution of subhumans be able to be kindled either from within or through emissaries from without.[17][18][19]

In his speech "Weltgefahr des Bolschewismus" ("World danger of Bolshevism") in 1936, Joseph Goebbels said that "subhumans exist in every people as a leavening agent".[20] At the 1935 Nazi party congress rally at Nuremberg, Goebbels also declared that "Bolshevism is the declaration of war by Jewish-led international subhumans against culture itself."[21]

Another example of the use of the term Untermensch, this time in connection with anti-Soviet propaganda, is a brochure entitled "Der Untermensch", edited by Himmler and distributed by the Race and Settlement Head Office. SS-Obersturmführer Ludwig Pröscholdt, Jupp Daehler and SS-Hauptamt-Schulungsamt Koenig are associated with its production.[4] Published in 1942 after the start of Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, it is around 50 pages long and consists for the most part of photos portraying the enemy in an extremely negative way (see link below for the title page). 3,860,995 copies were printed in the German language. It was translated into Greek, French, Dutch, Danish, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Czech and seven other languages. The pamphlet says the following:

Just as the night rises against the day, the light and dark are in eternal conflict. So too, is the subhuman the greatest enemy of the dominant species on earth, mankind. The subhuman is a biological creature, crafted by nature, which has hands, legs, eyes and mouth, even the semblance of a brain. Nevertheless, this terrible creature is only a partial human being.

Although it has features similar to a human, the subhuman is lower on the spiritual and psychological scale than any animal. Inside of this creature lies wild and unrestrained passions: an incessant need to destroy, filled with the most primitive desires, chaos and coldhearted villainy.

A subhuman and nothing more!

Not all of those who appear human are in fact so. Woe to him who forgets it!


Mulattoes and Finn-Asian barbarians, Gypsies and black skin savages all make up this modern underworld of subhumans that is always headed by the appearance of the eternal Jew.[4]

Sub-human types[edit]

The Nazis divided the people who they considered the sub-humans into different types; they placed priority on the extermination of the Jews, and the exploitation of others as slaves.[22]

Historian Robert Jan van Pelt writes that for the Nazis, "it was only a small step to a rhetoric pitting the European Mensch against the Soviet Untermensch, which had come to mean a Russian in the clutches of Judeo-Bolshevism."[23]

The Untermensch concept included Jews, Roma and Sinti (Gypsies), and Slavic peoples such as Poles, Ukrainians, Serbs and Russians.[8] Slavs were regarded as Untermenschen, barely fit for exploitation as slaves.[24][25] Hitler and Goebbels compared them to the "rabbit family" or to "stolid animals" that were "idle" and "disorganized" and spread like a "wave of filth".[26] However, some among the Slavs who happened to have Nordic racial features were deemed to have distant Germanic descent which meant partially "Aryan" origin, and if under 10 years old, they were to be Germanized (see: kidnapping of children by Nazi Germany).

The Nazis were utterly contemptuous of the Slavs, as even prior to World War II, Slavs – particularly the Poles – were deemed to be inferior to Germans and other Aryans. After Adolf Hitler gained political power in Germany, the concept of non-Aryan "sub-human slave-material" was developed and started to be used also towards other Slavic peoples.[27] Poles and Serbs were at the bottom of the Slavic "racial hierarchy" established by the Nazis. Soon after the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact expired, Russians also started to be seen as "subhumans". Similarly, Belarusians, Czechs, Slovaks, and Ukrainians were considered to be inferior.[28][29] Nonetheless, there were Slavs such as Bosniaks, Bulgarians, and Croats who collaborated with Nazi Germany that were still being perceived as not racially "pure" enough to reach the status of Germanic peoples, yet they were eventually considered ethnically better than other Slavs, mostly due to theories about these nations having a minimal amount of Slavic genes and considerable admixtures of Germanic and Turkic blood.[3][30]

In order to forge a strategic alliance with the Independent State of Croatia – a puppet state created after the invasion of Yugoslavia and the Kingdom of Bulgaria, the Nazis deviated from a strict interpretation of their racial ideology, and Croats were officially described as "more Germanic than Slav", a notion supported by Croatia's fascist (Ustashe) dictator Ante Pavelić who maintained that the "Croats were descendants of the ancient Goths" and "had the Panslav idea forced upon them as something artificial".[31][32] However the Nazis continued to classify Croats as a "subhuman" in spite of the alliance.[33] Hitler also deemed the Bulgarians to be "Turkoman" in origin.[32]

This poster (from around 1938) reads: "60,000 Reichsmark is what this person suffering from a hereditary defect costs the People's community during his lifetime. Fellow citizen, that is your money too. Read '[A] New People', the monthly magazine of the Bureau for Race Politics of the NSDAP."

While the Nazis were inconsistent in the implementation of their policy – for instance, mostly implementing the Final Solution while also implementing Generalplan Ost – the democidal death toll was in the range of tens of millions of victims.[34][35] It is related to the concept of "life unworthy of life", a more specific term which originally referred to the severely disabled who were involuntarily euthanised in Aktion T4, and was eventually applied to the extermination of the Jews. That policy of euthanasia started officially on 1 September 1939 when Hitler signed an edict to the effect, and carbon monoxide was first used to murder disabled patients. The same gas was used in the death camps such as Treblinka, although they used engine exhaust gases to achieve the same end. In directive No. 1306 by Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda from 24 October 1939, the term "Untermensch" is used in reference to Polish ethnicity and culture, as follows:

It must become clear to everybody in Germany, even to the last milkmaid, that Polishness is equal to subhumanity. Poles, Jews and Gypsies are on the same inferior level. This must be clearly outlined [...] until every citizen of Germany has it encoded in his subconsciousness that every Pole, whether a farm worker or intellectual, should be treated like vermin.[36][37]

Biology classes in Nazi Germany schools taught about differences between the race of Nordic German "Übermenschen" and "ignoble" Jewish and Slavic "subhumans".[38] The view that Slavs were subhuman was widespread among the German masses, and chiefly applied to the Poles. It continued to find support after the war.[39]

During the war, Nazi propaganda instructed Wehrmacht officers to tell their soldiers to target people who it considered "Jewish Bolshevik subhumans" and it also stated that the war in the Soviet Union was being waged between the Germans and the Jewish, Gypsies and Slavic Untermenschen.[40][41]

During the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Himmler ordered the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto because according to him it allowed the "living space" of 500,000 subhumans.[42][43][clarification needed]

As a pragmatic way to solve military manpower shortages, the Nazis used soldiers from some Slavic countries, firstly from the Reich's allies Croatia and Slovakia[44] as well as within occupied territories.[45] The concept of the Slavs in particular being Untermenschen served the Nazis' political goals; it was used to justify their expansionist policy and especially their aggression against Poland and the Soviet Union in order to achieve Lebensraum, particularly in Ukraine. Early plans of the German Reich (summarized as Generalplan Ost) envisioned the ethnic cleansing and elimination of no fewer than 50 million people, who were not considered fit for Germanization, from territories it wanted to conquer in Europe; Ukraine's chernozem ("black earth") soil was considered a particularly desirable zone for colonization by the Herrenvolk.[8]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Theron, Charl (21 September 2018). On the Wrong Foot: A Marketing Look at Ukraine in Crisis. ISBN 9781546297888.
  2. ^ Connelly, John (March 1999). "Nazis and Slavs: From Racial Theory to Racist Practice". Central European History. Cambridge University Press. 32 (1): 1–33. doi:10.1017/S0008938900020628. PMID 20077627. S2CID 41052845.
  3. ^ a b Gumkowski, Janusz; Leszczynski, Kazimierz; Robert, Edward (1961). Hitler's Plans for Eastern Europe. Poland Under Nazi Occupation (First ed.). Polonia Pub. House. p. 219. ASIN B0006BXJZ6. Archived from the original (Paperback) on 9 April 2011. Retrieved 12 March 2014. The category of sub-human (Untermensch) included Slavic peoples (Poles, Russians, Serbs, etc.) Gypsies and Jews.
  4. ^ a b c Reichsführer-SS (1942). Der Untermensch "The subhuman". Berlin: SS Office. Retrieved 12 March 2014.
  5. ^ Snyder, Timothy (2011) Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin London:Vintage. pp.144-5, 188 ISBN 978-0-09-955179-9
  6. ^ Mineau, André (2004). Operation Barbarossa: Ideology and Ethics Against Human Dignity. Amsterdam; New York: Rodopi. p.180. ISBN 90-420-1633-7
  7. ^ Gigliotti, Simone and Lang, Berel (2005) The Holocaust: A Reader London:Blackwell Publishing. p.14
  8. ^ a b c "Hitler's Plans for Eastern Europe". Northeastern University. Archived from the original on 27 May 2012. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  9. ^ a b Stoddard, Lothrop (1922). The Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace of the Under Man. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
  10. ^ Losurdo, Domenico (2004). Translated by Marella & Jon Morris. "Toward a Critique of the Category of Totalitarianism" (PDF, 0.2 MB). Historical Materialism. Brill. 12 (2): 25–55, here p. 50. doi:10.1163/1569206041551663. ISSN 1465-4466.
  11. ^ Paterson, Tony (7 April 2014). "A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Austro-Hungarian army executes civilians in Serbia". The Independent. Archived from the original on 21 April 2014. Retrieved 22 December 2021. Anti-Serb propaganda postcards on sale in the Austrian capital depicted Serbs as backward "Untermenschen" or "Sub humans" – a term later used by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis to describe Jews and Slavs. Some advocated that Serbs should be boiled alive in cauldrons or stuck on forks and eaten.
  12. ^ Rosenberg, Alfred (1930). Der Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts: Eine Wertung der seelischgeistigen Gestaltungskämpfe unserer Zeit [The Myth of the Twentieth Century] (in German). Munich: Hoheneichen-Verlag. p. 214. Archived from the original on 4 November 2012. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
  13. ^ Fontane, Theodor (1898). "Der Stechlin: 33. Kapitel". Der Stechlin [The Stechlin] (in German). ISBN 978-3-86640-258-4. Jetzt hat man statt des wirklichen Menschen den sogenannten Übermenschen etabliert; eigentlich gibt es aber bloß noch Untermenschen, und mitunter sind es gerade die, die man durchaus zu einem ›Über‹ machen will. (Now one has established instead of the real human the so-called superhuman; but actually only subhumans are left, and sometimes they are the very ones that are tried to be declared as 'super'.)
  14. ^ Nietzsche, Friedrich (1882). "Kapitel 143: Größter Nutzen des Polytheismus". Die fröhliche Wissenschaft [The Gay Science] (in German). Vol. 3rd book. Chemnitz: Ernst Schmeitzner. Die Erfindung von Göttern, Heroen und Übermenschen aller Art, sowie von Neben- und Untermenschen, von Zwergen, Feen, Zentauren, Satyrn, Dämonen und Teufeln war die unschätzbare Vorübung zur Rechtfertigung der Selbstsucht und Selbstherrlichkeit des einzelnen [...]. (The invention of gods, heroes, and overmen of all kinds, as well as near-men and undermen, of dwarfs, fairies, centaurs, satyrs, demons and devils was the inestimable preliminary exercise for the justification of the egoism and sovereignty of the individual [...]) [From the translation by Walter Kaufmann]
  15. ^ Paul, Jean (1795). "8. Hundposttag". Hesperus oder 45 Hundposttage (in German). Obgleich Leute aus der großen und größten Welt, wie der Unter-Mensch, der Urangutang, im 25sten Jahre ausgelebt und ausgestorben haben – vielleicht sind deswegen die Könige in manchen Ländern schon im 14ten Jahre mündig –, so hatte doch Jenner sein Leben nicht so weit zurückdatiert und war wirklich älter als mancher Jüngling. (Although people from the great world and the greatest have, like the sub-man, the orang-outang, lived out and died out in their twenty-fifth year, — for which reason, perhaps, in many countries kings are placed under guardianship as early as their fourteenth, — nevertheless January had not ante-dated his life so far, and was really older than many a youth.) [From the translation by Charles T. Brooks]
  16. ^ "Kampf dem Weltfeind", Stürmer publishing house, Nuremberg, 1938, 05/25/1927, speech in the Bavarian regional parliament, German: "Es war zur Zeit der Räteherrschaft. Als das losgelassene Untermenschentum mordend durch die Straßen zog, da versteckten sich Abgeordnete hinter einem Kamin im bayerischen Landtag."
  17. ^ Himmler, Heinrich (1936). Die Schutzstaffel als antibolschewistische Kampforganisation [The SS as an Anti-bolshevist Fighting Organization] (in German). Munich: Franz Eher Nachfolger. Wir werden dafür sorgen, daß niemals mehr in Deutschland, dem Herzen Europas, von innen oder durch Emissäre von außen her die jüdisch-bolschewistische Revolution des Untermenschen entfacht werden kann.
  18. ^ Office of United States Chief of Counsel For Prosecution of Axis Criminality (1946). "Chapter XV: Criminality of Groups and Organizations – 5. Die Schutzstaffeln". Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression (PDF, 46.2 MB). Vol. II. Washington, D.C.: USGPO. p. 220. OCLC 315871222.
  19. ^ Stein, Stuart D. (8 January 1999). "The Schutzstaffeln (SS) – The Nuremberg Charges, Part I". Web Genocide Documentation Centre. University of the West of England. Archived from the original on 17 August 2010. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  20. ^ Paul Meier-Benneckenstein, Deutsche Hochschule für Politik Titel: Dokumente der Deutschen Politik, Volume 4, Junker und Dünnhaupt Verlag, Berlin, 2. ed., 1937; speech held on 10 September 1936; In German: "... das Untermenschentum, das in jedem Volke als Hefe vorhanden ist ...".
  21. ^ Goebbels speech at the 1935 Nuremberg Rally
  22. ^ Quality of Life: The New Medical Dilemma, edited by James J. Walter, Thomas Anthony Shannon, page 63
  23. ^ van Pelt, Robert-Jan (January 1994). "Auschwitz: From Architect's Promise to Inmate's Perdition". Modernism/Modernity. 1 (1): 80–120, here p. 97. doi:10.1353/mod.1994.0013. ISSN 1071-6068. S2CID 145199283.
  24. ^ Longerich, Peter (2010). Holocaust: The Nazi Persecution and Murder of the Jews. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. p. 241. ISBN 978-0-19-280436-5.
  25. ^ Huer, Jon (2012). Call from the Cave: Our Cruel Nature and Quest for Power. Lanham, Maryland: Hamilton Books. p. 278. ISBN 978-0-7618-6015-0. The Nazis considered any human being in the "east", usually the Slavs, as "sub-human", only fit for slavery to the Germans.
  26. ^ Sealing Their Fate (Large Print 16pt) by David Downing, page 49
  27. ^ Timm, Annette F. (2010) The Politics of Fertility in Twentieth-Century Berlin. London: Cambridge University Press. p.188 ISBN 9780521195393
  28. ^ Oliver Rathkolb (2002). Revisiting the National Socialist Legacy: Coming to Terms With Forced Labor, Expropriation, Compensation, and Restitution. Transaction Publishers. p. 84. ISBN 978-1-4128-3323-3. Being Slavs the Russians, Ukrainians, Poles and Serbs were only slightly above the Jews in the ravial hierarchy.
  29. ^ Theron, Charl (21 September 2018). On the Wrong Foot: A Marketing Look at Ukraine in Crisis. ISBN 9781546297888.
  30. ^ Shirer, William L. (1960) The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York: Simon and Schuster. pp.937, 939. Quotes: "The Jews and the Slavic people were the Untermenschen – subhumans." (937); "[The] obsession of the Germans with the idea that they were the master race and that Slavic people must be their slaves was especially virulent in regard to Russia. Erich Koch, the roughneck Reich Commissar for the Ukraine, expressed it in a speech at Kiev on 5 March 1943.

    We are the Master Race and must govern hard but just ... I will draw the very last out of this country. I did not come to spread bliss ... The population must work, work, and work again [...] We are a master race, which must remember that the lowliest German worker is racially and biologically a thousand times more valuable than the population [of the Ukraine]. (emphasis added)

  31. ^ Rich, Norman (1974) Hitler's War Aims: the Establishment of the New Order. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. p.276-7.
  32. ^ a b Hitler, Adolf and Weinberg, Gerhard (2007) Hitler's Table Talk, 1941-1944: His Private Conversations. Enigma Books. p.356. Quoting Hitler: "For example to label the Bulgarians as Slavs is pure nonsense; originally they were Turkomans."
  33. ^ Norman Davies. Europe at War 1939–1945: No Simple Victory. Pan Macmillan, 2008. Pp. 167, 209.
  34. ^ Rees, L (1997) The Nazis: A Warning from History, BBC Books, P126
  35. ^ Mazower, M (2008) Hitler's Empire: How the Nazis Ruled Europe, Penguin Press P197
  36. ^ Wegner, Bernt (1997) [1991]. From Peace to War: Germany, Soviet Russia, and the World, 1939-1941. Berghahn Books. p. 50. ISBN 978-1-57181-882-9.
  37. ^ Ceran, Tomasz (2015). The History of a Forgotten German Camp: Nazi Ideology and Genocide at Szmalcówka. I.B.Tauris. p. 24. ISBN 978-0-85773-553-9.
  38. ^ Hitler Youth, 1922–1945: An Illustrated History by Jean-Denis Lepage, page 91
  39. ^ Native Realm: A Search for Self Definition by Czeslaw Milosz, page 132
  40. ^ Richard J. Evans, In Hitler's Shadow (1999), pp. 59–60
  41. ^ Michael Burleigh, The Third Reich: A New History (2000), p. 512
  42. ^ "The Warsaw Ghetto: Himmler Orders the Destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto".
  43. ^ Yits?a? Arad; Yisrael Gutman; Abraham Margaliot (1999). Documents on the Holocaust: Selected Sources on the Destruction of the Jews of Germany and Austria, Poland, and the Soviet Union. U of Nebraska Press. p. 292. ISBN 0-8032-1050-7.
  44. ^ According to Nazi policy, the Croats were considered more "Germanic than Slavic"; this claim was supported by Croatia's fascist dictator Ante Pavelić, who maintained the view that the Croatians were the descendants of the ancient Goths along with the view that they "had the Pan-Slav idea forced upon them as something artificial".
    Rich, Norman (1974). Hitler's War Aims: the Establishment of the New Order, p. 276–277. W. W. Norton & Company Inc., New York.
  45. ^ Norman Davies. Europe at War 1939–1945: No Simple Victory. Pp. 167, 209.

Further reading

External links[edit]