Untermensch (German for underman, sub-man, subhuman; plural: Untermenschen) is a term that became infamous when the Nazis used it to describe "inferior people" often referred to as "the masses from the East," that is Jews, Roma, and Slavs (including Poles, Serbs, Belarusians, Russians, and Rusyns). The term was also applied to Asians, blacks, and persons of color. Jewish people were to be exterminated in the Holocaust, while the Slavs in Generalplan Ost were to be mostly deported to Siberia or Germanized. While the Nazis were inconsistent in the implementation of their policy, its genocidal death toll was in tens of millions of victims.
Although usually incorrectly considered to have been coined by the Nazis, the term "under man" in the above-mentioned sense was first used by American author Lothrop Stoddard in the title of his 1922 pamphlet The Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace of the Under-man. It was later adopted by the Nazis from that book's German version Der Kulturumsturz: Die Drohung des Untermenschen (1925). The German word "Untermensch" itself had been used earlier, but not in a racial sense, for example 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, "Untermensch" is usually translated into English as "sub-human." The leading Nazi attributing the concept of the East-European "under man" to Stoddard is Alfred Rosenberg who, referring to Russian communists, wrote in his Der Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts (1930) that "this is the kind of human being that Lothrop Stoddard has called the 'under man.'" ["...den Lothrop Stoddard als 'Untermenschen' bezeichnete."] Quoting Stoddard: "The Under-Man – the man who measures under the standards of capacity and adaptability imposed by the social order in which he lives.
It is possible that Stoddard constructed his "under man" as an opposite to Friedrich Nietzsche's Übermensch (superman) concept. Stoddard doesn't say so explicitly, but he refers critically to the "superman" idea at the end of his book (p. 262). 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 was even somewhat logical. For instance, German author Theodor Fontane contrasts the Übermensch/Untermensch word pair in chapter 33 of his novel Der StechlinAs a matter of fact, even Nietzsche himself used "Untermensch" at least once in contrast to "Übermensch" in Die fröhliche Wissenschaft (1882); however, he did so in reference to semi-human creatures in mythology, naming them alongside dwarves, fairies, centaurs and so on. Earlier examples of "Untermensch" include Romanticist Jean Paul using the term in his novel Hesperus (1795) in reference to an Orangutan (Chapter "8. Hundposttag").
Nazi propaganda and policy
In a speech in 1927 to the Bavarian regional parliament 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.
The term "Untermensch" was used repeatedly in writings and speeches directed against the Jews, the most notorious example being a 1935 SS publication with the title "Der Untermensch", which contains an antisemitic 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-Bolshevistic revolution of subhumans be able to be kindled either from within or through emissaries from without.
Another example of the use of the term "Untermensch", this time in connection with anti-Soviet propaganda, is a brochure, again titled "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. Published in 1942 after the start of Operation Barbarossa, it is around fifty pages long and consists for the most part of photos casting an extremely negative light on the enemy (see link below for the title page). 3,860,995 copies were printed in the German language. It was also translated into Greek, French, Dutch, Danish, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Czech and seven other languages. The pamphlet states 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, Gipsies and black skin savages all make up this modern underworld of subhumans that is always headed by the appearance of the eternal Jew.
For Nazis the sub-humans were classified into different types; and while Jews were to be exterminated as a priority, whereas other sub-humans could be exploited as slaves.
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."
The Untermensch concept included Jews, Roma and Sinti (Gypsies), and Slavic peoples such as Poles, Serbs, Russians, Czechs, and Slovaks. The Slavs were regarded as "Untermenschen", barely fit for exploitation as slaves. 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".
Biology classes in Nazi Germany schools taught about differences between the race of Nordic German "Übermenschen" and "ignoble" Jewish and Slavic "subhumans".
The view that Slavs were subhuman was widespread among the German masses, and chiefly applied to the Poles; it continued to find support even after the war.
As a pragmatic way to solve military manpower shortages, the Nazis utilized soldiers from some Slavic countries, firstly from the Reich's allies Croatia and Bulgaria and also within occupied territories. 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) envisaged the displacement, enslavement, 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" ("master race").
- Aryan certificate
- Generalplan Ost
- Genocides in Nazi Germany and occupied Europe
- The Holocaust in Poland
- Nazi crimes against ethnic Poles
- Nuremberg Laws
- Racial hygiene
- World War II persecution of Serbs
- Revisiting the National Socialist Legacy: Coming to Terms With Forced Labor, Expropriation, Compensation, and Restitution page 84 Oliver Rathkolb
- Gumkowski, Janusz; Leszczynski, Kazimierz; Robert, Edward (translator) (1961). Hitler's Plans for Eastern Europe (Paperback). Poland Under Nazi Occupation (First ed.) (Polonia Pub. House). p. 219. ASIN B0006BXJZ6. Retrieved March 12, 2014. at Wayback machine.
- Reichsführer-SS (1942). Der Untermensch "The subhuman". Berlin: SS Office. Retrieved March 12, 2014. Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team. "Der Untermensch "The subhuman"". Holocaust Research Project www.HolocaustResearchProject.org. Retrieved March 12, 2014.
- Snyder, T (2011) Bloodlands, Europe between Hitler and Stalin, Vintage, P144-5, 188
- "Hitler's Plans for Eastern Europe". Northeastern University.
- Rees, L (1997) The Nazis, a warning from history, BBC Books, P126
- Mazower, M (2008) Hitler's Empire: How the Nazis Ruled Europe, Penguin Press P197
- Stoddard, Lothrop (1922). The Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace of the Under Man. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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'.)
- Nietzsche, Friedrich (1882). "Kapitel 143: Größter Nutzen des Polytheismus". Die fröhliche Wissenschaft [The Gay Science] (in German). 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]
- Jean Paul (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]
- "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."
- 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.
- Office of United States Chief of Counsel For Prosecution of Axis Criminality (1946). "Chapter XV: Criminality of Groups and Organizations – 5. Die Schutzstaffeln". (PDF, 46.2 MB). Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression. Volume II. Washington, D.C.: USGPO. p. 220. OCLC 315871222 http://www.loc.gov/rr/frd/Military_Law/pdf/NT_Nazi_Vol-II.pdf. Missing or empty
- Stein, Stuart D (8 January 1999). "The Schutzstaffeln (SS) – The Nuremberg Charges, Part I". Web Genocide Documentation Centre. University of the West of England. Retrieved 2010-07-10.
- 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 10th of September 1936; In German: "... das Untermenschentum, das in jedem Volke als Hefe vorhanden ist ...".
- Quality of Life: The New Medical Dilemma, edited by James J. Walter, Thomas Anthony Shannon page 63
- Pelt, Robert-Jan van (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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Sealing Their Fate (Large Print 16pt) by David Downing page 49
- Hitler Youth, 1922–1945: An Illustrated History by Jean-Denis Lepage, page 91
- Native Realm: A Search for Self Definition by Czeslaw Milosz page 132
- According to Nazi policy the Croats were classified as more "Germanic than Slavic"; this was supported by the Croatia's fascist dictator Ante Pavelić, who maintained that the Croatians were descendants of the ancient Goths and "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. 276-7. W. W. Norton & Company Inc., New York.
- Norman Davies. Europe at War 1939–1945: No Simple Victory. Pp. 167, 209.
- Lukas, Dr. Richard (1986, 1997, 2012). The Forgotten Holocaust: Poles Under Nazi Occupation 1939-1944. New York: University of Kentucky Press/Hippocrene Books,. ISBN 0-7818-0901-0. Check date values in:
|Look up untermensch in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- Der Untermensch propaganda poster published by the SS.
- Hitler's plans for Eastern Europe
- "Die Drohung des Untermenschen" This is an example of the term "Untermensch" being used in the context of the Nazi eugenics programme. The table suggests that "inferior" people (unmarried and married criminals, parents whose children have learning disabilities) have more children than "superior" people (ordinary Germans, academics). Note that the heading is the subtitle of the German version of Lothrop Stoddard's book.
- Der Untermensch: the Nazi pamphlet