Brigitte Hamann’s Hitler’s Vienna:
Part 2: The Nationalist Reaction
Racial Pioneers: Aryan Mystics, Pan-Germans, & Eugenicists
The Slavization of Austrian mass politics and the Judaization of its elites naturally invited a backlash from the state’s founding population, the Germans. This took various forms, especially the Right-wing ethno-nationalist subculture of the pan-Germans and the more pragmatic, anti-Semitic populism of the Christian-Socials.
Besides this however, it is noteworthy that in Darwin’s wake racial thinking was part of the general Zeitgeist, beyond narrow nationalist circles. “In their popularized form, race theories could be found in all of Vienna’s national newspapers” (204). Talk of human “breeding,” “master race,” and “inferior race” was widespread.
Nonetheless, nationalists went further than the mainstream. “As far as the issue of race was concerned, the Austrian Pan-Germans regarded themselves as pioneers” (205). One Pan-German writer drew eugenic conclusions: “If the federal government pursued a racial economy and gently annihilated those families with hereditary impairments, it would be possible to save a considerable part of the nine million kronen [spent on insane asylums] per annum!” (151-152).
Hamann quotes several mystical German thinkers who seem to have inspired Hitler. One was Guido von List, who wrote of the “Aryo-Germans” and parasitic Jewish “nomads,” and embraced the swastika as an ancient Aryan symbol. The Aryans (also called Indo-Europeans) were thought to have founded Persia and Greece (which was correct), but also Egypt, and were believed to have lost their identity by miscegenation with the natives.
Hitler took up these theories (preferring in general the term “Aryan” to “Nordic,” probably because the former excluded Jews while the latter might be taken to exclude some Germans), speaking in a 1920 speech of the Aryans who had evolved in the “incomparable ice deserts” of the north with “ethnic purity,” becoming “a race of giants in strength and health” (211).
List predicted that a “strong man from above,” a god-like hero, would come to enlighten the German people towards a religious nationalism (213). Hitler certainly often played the providential prophet, such as in his assertion that the Führer could make no ideological mistake and that he was “walking with the confidence of a sleepwalker the path Providence tells me to walk” (215). List urged loyalty to one’s people among his own ten commandments. Hitler urged ruthlessness in defense of one’s people as the highest morality: “if our people is saved, we have once again paved the way for morality” (212).
Hamann notes: “around 1900 the theories about eugenics and ‘maintaining pure blood’ of genuine Aryans and inferior mixed-breed races were so widespread that no one author can be determined as Hitler’s source” (221). Lanz von Liebenfels, wrote: “Everything that is good for the superior race is moral, and everything that is harmful, immoral” (218). He advocated polygamy for military heroes on eugenic grounds. Another, Hans Goldzier, argued: “If the individual’s or society’s way of life preserves and improves the species, it is good. Everything that doesn’t, is bad” (223).
“Degeneracy” was a fashionable Darwinian concept at the time. The pan-Germans defined the term thus: “Culturally, we have degeneration when the self is no longer aware of its root in the blood and soil of the people. Likewise, when a people’s drive for self-preservation is lacking, [. . .] a lack of sense of one’s own species” (84).
Hitler for his part would later tell his confidant Otto Wagener: “the elimination of the life that is not worth living is a consequence dictated by nature, which can be deduced from the purpose of human existence and the existence of all organisms in general” (224). And elsewhere: “If I do want to believe in a divine commandment, it can only be: preserving one’s species!” (368). Hitler however was a man of action rather than thought, later ranting in Mein Kampf against“antiquated folkish theoreticians” who embraced esotericism but did nothing for fear of communist violence (222).
Hitler also apparently embraced Hans Hörbiger’s world ice theory. This idea appeared to have few practical implications, but reflected, says Hamann:
Hitler’s tendency to view history in terms of eons, not to measure it on a human scale but according to cosmic laws governing human history, and finally, the illusion of building a “Thousand-Year Reich” with solid buildings meant to survive all catastrophes on earth — all this reveals that he was an eager disciple of Hörbiger and List: “Believe you me, all of National Socialism wouldn’t be worth a thing if it were limited to Germany and didn’t finalize the rule of the superior race over the whole world for at least 1,000 to 2,000 years.” (227)
One Christian-Social priest, Josef Scheicher, wrote a book called From the Year 1920, which presented a clear ethno-nationalist program for Austria-Hungary: Break-up along ethnic lines (the Germans giving up Czech Bohemia, Poland, Ruthenia . . .), physical removal of the Jews (with work still to be done to remove the troublesome crypto-Jews . . .), and the abolition of Parliament (294).
Political Role Models: Nationalists, Populists, & Anti-Semites
Vienna provided Hitler with political as well as ideological role models, politicians for whom Hamann presents very informative accounts.
First was Georg Ritter von Schönerer, the pan-German activist (who Hamann notes was also a famously generous leader of Austrian farmers). Hitler would have read Schönerer biography which was dedicated “To the German men in the Ostmark.” Among his slogans: “Through purity to unity!,” “People’s law supersedes federal law,” and “Not liberal, not clerical, but national” (239-240). The pan-Germans advocated breaking up the Dual Monarchy by shedding Hungary and the poorest Slavic provinces, maintaining German hegemony in the remaining territory.
The pan-Germans were ethnic anti-Semites. Schönerer argued: “It is the duty of the Nordic man, who has ripened under a colder sky, to eliminate the parasitic races” (241). One anti-Semitic slogan: “Jewish or Christian, it’s only race, and nothing else, that’s the disgrace” (242). Schönerer achieved early success in 1884 by attacking “the monarchy’s most powerful Jew, Baron Rothschild, the main shareholder of the Emperor Ferdinand Northern Railway” (242). This led to Rothschild’s highly profitable monopoly having to pay higher fees to the city of Vienna. Schönerer’s party had an Aryan Clause excluding Jews.
Schönerer was called “Führer” by his followers and advocated “a new religion of Germandom” (243). He replaced Austrian greetings like “Servus” and “Prost” with the old Germanic “Heil.” His “most spectacular successes” were his campaigns against the Jewish-liberal press, with an appeal to the emperor that became proverbial: “Your Majesty, deliver the people from the yoke of the Jewish press!” (246). He was jailed for physically attacking journalists, but the people of Vienna sided with him.
Hitler evidently learned much from Schönerer, and said so in Mein Kampf, but disagreed with his sectarianism and radical anti-Catholic stance as impractical (even though Hitler himself was personally contemptuous of the clergy and apparently idolized Luther). The Pan-German papers such as the Alldeutsches Tagblatt were read only by a small group of people, but proved influential:
The Pan-German papers had a small printrun and were distributed only among the innermost circle of party members and sympathizers. The public took hardly any notice of them, and the large [Jewish] Viennese newspapers mentioned them only to hold them to ridicule. (129)
Hitler would of course in Mein Kampf fault Vienna’s Jewish-liberal press precisely for this behavior. Concerning the Alldeutsches Tagblatt: “Only the fact that young Hitler habitually perused this obscure little paper while he was living in Vienna imbued it with some unexpected significance after the fact” (251).
This was an unequal cultural struggle of memes between the Jewish-liberal press and the German nationalist minority. The latter used the means at their disposal: “[T]he pan-Germans loved corroborating their arguments by hard-to-check quotes, on stickers as well as postcards and calendars” (74). These sorts of tactics were also used in Hitler’s hometown, with predictable results: “When these sayings reappeared on doors and windows of Jewish shops in Linz, Linz’s Austrian Israelite Union retaliated on October 16, 1907, by pressing criminal charges” (22). Furthermore:
There were canes with Eastern Jews’ heads as knobs, “Jew biters cigarette tips” with pictures of Schönerer for 20 kreuzer, which, however, cost “25 kreuzer for Jews, Jew lackeys, and dirty swine.” Particularly efficient were cheap stickers with anti-Semitic sayings. Once Schönerer bought forty thousand such coupons all at once and had them distributed in the city, on mailboxes, the doors of Jewish shops, billboard posts — and sometimes even the latest newspapers in the cafes. However, the police removed the coupons, because posting them was illegal. (245)
There were also other nationalist role models. Franz Stein, who formed German nationalist trade unions, gave Hitler a model for trying to steal back the workers from Marxist Social Democracy. Karl Hermann Wolf was opposed to the Czechs and advocated a “people’s community.”
As significant as Schönerer was Karl Lueger, the extremely popular mayor of Vienna. He built magnificent edifices and public services, including gasworks, power, transport, waterworks, slaughterhouses, breweries, mortuary services, and banks (the latter to undermine the monopolistic Jewish banks). In his private Table Talk in the 1940s, Hitler would still recall Lueger’s talking points about being able to provide services, without raising taxes, through municipal companies.
Lueger also clearly provided a model of how a popular politician could successfully fight a hostile political establishment and Jewish media. He attacked the liberal press as “Jewish” and luxuriated in the fact that the people did not follow the papers’ line. Lueger and his Christian-Socials would rail against “money and stock exchange Jews,” “press Jews,” “ink Jews” (intellectuals), “Jew protection corps” (Social Democracy), “beggar Jews” (Eastern), Jewish art, and women’s liberation (286). His party once advocated: “agreement between all Aryan-Christian nations in order to establish a majority in the Reichsrat which will allow to pass laws on the elimination of equal rights for Jews, on the confiscation of Jewish property, and the expulsion of the Jews” (286).
One Christian-Social paper asserted: “they are Jews and therefore insensitive to our national feeling, which is why they couldn’t care less whether Czechs or Germans rule the roost in Vienna” (317). One parliamentarian made an oft-quoted boast: “someone should give him a ship on which all Jews could be packed together; he would steer it into the open sea, sink it, and as long as it was sure that the last Jew was drowning, go down with them himself in order to do the world the greatest service imaginable” (287).
Lueger was elected mayor in 1895 but faced massive opposition:
There was a storm of protest against this election, on the part of the Liberals. The Neue Freie Presse warned that under Mayor Lueger, Vienna would be “the only large city in the world carrying the stigma of an anti-Semitic administration.”
To everyone’s surprise, Emperor Franz Josef withheld his required endorsement of the election. (282)
The emperor would veto Lueger’s taking office after no less than four successful elections before finally relenting.
Lueger was a talented “people’s tribune.” Hamann quotes one observer on his speeches: “If a thinking person read them, he couldn’t help smiling . . . Yet if a thinking person listened when Lueger was talking, then being a thinking person was of no avail at all, then one’s own thoughts disappeared, then one was grabbed by an elementary force, and carried along defenselessly” (285).
Once in office however, Lueger was pragmatic. Unlike Schönerer, he accepted the Hapsburg state, advocated Germanization of immigrants to Vienna, and accepted baptized Jews. His anti-Semitism was opportunistic, saying before Hermann Göring: “I determine who’s a Jew” (290). Hamann however laments that the impact of his discourse was “devastating” and “infected for decades the masses” with “old prejudices” (290). Hitler criticized Lueger’s approach for “lull[ing] people into security” (291).
Hamann argues Lueger’s influence was considerable: “It is impossible to overlook the parallels between Lueger’s political style and that of Reich chancellor Hitler” (377). Both Lueger and Hitler had a similar mass appeal with women.
Hitler would give high praise to Schönerer and Lueger in Mein Kampf and urge that they be studied carefully. They were both officially celebrated by the Third Reich when Hitler returned as a conquering hero in Austria in 1938.
Hamann argues, persuasively, that Hitler, with his voracious reading of newspapers and books, pieced together his world-view and ideology as a “mosaic” made up from the arguments and factoids he amassed in large part from Vienna’s German nationalist subculture. She concludes:
Hitler took along a great deal of detailed knowledge, facts and figures, whether it was the length and width of the Danube, the Ring Boulevard architects’ years of birth and death, detailed designs of historical buildings with exact measurements, the works of Wagner, tricky details of stagecraft, the battle plans of Königgrätz, or Germanic heroic legends — but also the Schönerians’ “Heil” greeing, the List disciples’ swastika, the Germanic cult, the idea of breeding, as well as Karl Iro’s proposal to control the Gypsies by tattooing numbers on their lower arms, and many other things.
Yet, it was fragments of his readings with which he left Vienna in 1913, a grab-bag that was preserved inside an excellent memory. It was only in Germany that all these pieces fell into place, as in a magnetic field, to form a weltanschauung on the basis of ethnic anti-Semitism.
Hitler the politician appeared in public expressly not with a party program but as the leader of a movement, as a herald of his weltanschauung. [. . .]
He thus made National Socialism an aggressive community of faith with the goal of Germanic world rule by a strong Aryan race whose basis was to be formed by selective breeding and to be purified through the elimination of “non-German elements.” Thirty years after Vienna’s fin-de-siècle, the confused ideas of German-folkish sectarians combined with one political power in a Germany that was shaken by crises. It was a combination that turned into a dangerous ammunition which wreaked havoc on the world. (405-406)
Hitler, of course, was not alone in the playing out of the catastrophe that was the twentieth century for Europe. Equally, Hitler’s teachers cannot be held accountable for the mistakes of their notoriously willful student. But perhaps this is an invitation for today’s metapolitical writers and culture-warriors, preparing the ground of the next ideological and political revolution, to take their work all the more seriously.
1. Hamann does seem to overstate the case for List’s influence. For example, she takes Clause 4 of the NSDAP program, excluding Jews, as evidence Hitler read List, whereas it seems to me this anti-Semitic policy could have been drawn from any number of sources.
2. If memory serves, I recall that William Shirer in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, supposedly the reference book on the subject, portrayed Hitler as the raper and destroyer of Austria, going so far to eliminate her very name by replacing it with “Ostmark.” Yet apparently this name was the long-standing one used by Austrian German nationalists. I also remember that two other striking things from book (which I read years ago): 1) Hitler simply is described as a “German nationalist” (I thought: What is so satanic or incomprehensible or uncommon about that?). 2) Shirer countered Hitler’s claim that the Sudetenland should “return” to the Reich as false, given that it had never been part of Prussia or Bismarck’s Reich. This seemed like a piece of hair-splitting sophistry to me even then: the Sudetenland’s inhabitants considered themselves Germans, they had been part of Austria-Hungary (with Austria then becoming of the German Reich), and had been part of the Holy Roman Empire (the “First Reich”). These kinds of pseudo-rebuttals, in fact non sequiturs, appear to be de rigueur in mainstream Hitler studies.
3. I understand that such proposals for secession of the founding people are becoming more and more common in the United States of America.
4. It goes without saying that Jewish newspapers and organizations themselves would have taken the lead in spreading such “stigma.”
5. This included the film Vienna 1910, glorifying Lueger, but upsetting some Schönerians.
6. Hamann may be overstating her case here. She does not actually show a connection between Austrian proposals to tattoo nomadic Gypsies and later tattooing of concentration camp inmates, although there might well be.
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