4.6.1 Ultranationalism and Crimes against Humanity 1

Should nations pursue national interest?

Big Idea:

  • How can ultranationalism lead to genocide?

A bomb that fell on Hiroshima fell on America too.
It fell on no city, no munition plants, no docks.

It erased no church, vaporized no public buildings reduced no man to his atomic elements.

But it fell, it fell. It burst. It shook the land. God have mercy on our children.

God have mercy on America.
-poem by Hermann Hagedom, from "The Bomb that Fell on America"

Atomic cloud over Hiroshima-August 6, 1945

Total War

Many people have called World War I the "Great War" or "the war to end all wars". In reality, the scale and destructiveness of World War II was much greater than that of World War I. The two wars were only twenty years apart, yet they were very different. World War II altered the nature of war.  It was the first "total war".

Total war means the enemy can best be defeated by attacking all aspects of a nation's existence (including soldiers, citizens, food, supplies, resources, and more). A nation's destruction reached unbelievable heights in this type of war.

The new machines of war multiplied the killing power of armies, while long-range bombers brought the war to cities far away from the front lines. Almost no one and no place were safe from the effects of war.

The photo (left) shows children in a suburb of London, England sitting on what remains of their home. From 1940 to 1941, Nazis dropped bombs at random over England in what was eventually called "The Blitz".

Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide

In addition to the term "total war", another feature of war was added in WWII, crimes against humanity. In the context of World War II, the definition of "crimes against humanity" is the

"murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against civilian populations, before or during the war; or persecutions on political, racial, or religious grounds".

Although the term "crimes against humanity" was first used after World War I to condemn the mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, after World War II, the charge of crimes against humanity was legally prosecuted on an international level. This prosecution charged surviving Nazi leaders and conspirators with the crime of genocide.

Genocide is defined as
(from Voices Into Action)

  • actions which are deliberate, with an intent to destroy (a whole or part of) a national, ethnic, political, racial, or cultural group,
  • killing members of a specific group,
  • causing serious bodily or mental harm to a specific group,
  • removing or limiting the basic conditions of life in an attempt to physically impact a specific group,
  • taking measures to impact births in a specific group, and
  • forcing transfers or the removal of children from a specific group.

Germany and Ultranationalism: Crimes Against Humanity

Under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, the Nazis took control of Germany and created a nation that pursued its interest with little or no regard for other nations. However, people often wonder how Germany in World War II (or other nations today) could pursue genocide.

Professor Gregory H. Stanton published a paper in 1996 which outlined the eight stages of genocide. View each of the tabs below to further your understanding of the stages Hitler and Germany's ultranationalism went through that led to crimes against humanity.

Download the Eight Stages of Genocide Notebook Organizer (Word, PDF, Google Doc), and take notes about what you read in the tabs below.

To "classify" means to put different groups into categories based on similarities and differences. When pursuing a policy of genocide, cultures often distinguish the targeted people through an "us" versus "them" perspective.

Hitler believed Germany lost WWI because the people had given up. Overwhelmed by the deprivations of war, the German people had led anti-war and anti-Kaiser protests, which resulted in the creation of the Republic of Germany. Hitler looked around for the source of this loss of will and focused on the actions of communists, Jewish people, and church leaders living in Germany. Hitler relied on the attitude of "us" versus "them" and the desire of the German people to regain pride and prestige to fuel his ultranationalism.

In 1933, in a carefully orchestrated political campaign using legitimate propaganda methods, Hitler came to power in an election. He blamed a fire in the Reichstag building, the German equivalent to Parliament, on communists, which resulted in fear and alarm of a communist take-over of Germany. This fear won over the support of the wealthy people and the industrialists who believed they could control him when he came to power.

Hitler's use of "us" versus "them" was also reinforced by the following actions and conclusions.

  • "True Germans" had not caused Germany's defeat. It was the "November Criminals" (communists, Jewish people, and church leaders). He called them traitors.
  • Hitler promoted the myth that Germany had been "stabbed in the back", which was reinforced by the exclusion from the Paris Peace Conference and the punishment levied by the Big Four in the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.
  • Resentment towards other European nations was encouraged.
  • Hatred for certain groups viewed as "outsiders", including Jews, Gypsies (the Roma), homosexuals, political opposition, and those deemed genetically or physically inferior grew.

To attach or associate a picture or easily recognizable image to the targeted group.

The image is of the yellow Star of David. "Jude" is the German word for "Jew".
© Daniel Ullrich, Threedots,
Creative Commons
The Nazi Party used propaganda to indoctrinate the German people. The Party used fear and prejudices to help create extreme nationalism that eventually transformed to ultranationalism. Anti-Semitism had a long history in Europe and in many other parts of the world including Canada, which helped the Nazis further their agenda. Jewish stores had to have the yellow Star of David in the window, and it was mandatory for the Jewish people to wear the Star of David on their sleeve so it was visible at all times.

In addition, the Nazi government required the addition of a "Jewish" name after Jewish people's legal first name. Women used "Sara", and men used "Israel". Old passports were removed, and new passports were issued with the letter "J" stamped on them.

To "dehumanize" means to "remove the humanity" of another group. Examples of this include describing the targeted group as a disease, as animals, pests, insects, or as a cancer that needs to be removed.

Within the ultranationalist nation-state of Germany, Hitler and his supporters promoted hatred against groups, particularly aimed at the Jews. Posters and articles often depicted Jewish people with exaggerated physical features, as insects, or as other diseases. These depictions implied the Jewish people (or those deemed "outsiders") needed to be removed or exterminated.

Organizations (government groups, military, or other enforcement groups) carry out the policy of genocide. Often, the state uses separate groups to enforce such a policy in order to remove the responsibility and association of the genocide from those in power.

After the 1933 election that produced a substantial victory for Hitler and the Nazis party, Hitler succeeded in getting an Enabling Act passed, which allowed Hitler to make decisions and pass laws without the approval of the elected Reichstag. As a result, through legal means, Hitler had become the dictator of Germany. In this capacity, Hitler set out to implement his ideology based upon Lebensraum (living space), which included Aryan Supremacy, reversing the Treaty of Versailles, and self-sufficiency for Germany.

Hitler's actions taken to pursue his ideology included
  • the creation of the Sicherheitsdienst (SS), the intelligence agency and enforcers for the Nazi Party,
  • the creation of the Gestapo, the secret police for Nazi Germany's programs for Germany's militarization,
  • the Hitler Youth (a group of youth who recruited, trained, and indoctrinated other youth into upholding Nazi policies), and who harrassed, intimidated, or attacked those who did not join, and
  • neighborhood block watch or ghetto watch (groups responsible for supervising, organizing, and informing on the activities of their designated group, with information passed on to Nazi officials, regardless of whether the information was true or not).

To "polarize" means to divide or separate opposing sides in order to create conflict. Polarizing members of a society also means intimidating or removing people who have less extreme views. Groups who oppose or have the potential to oppose the genocide might be punished.

The 1938 Nuremberg Laws legalized extremely harsh restrictions on Jewish people. Jewish people were targeted for terror campaigns. Gradually, a climate of fear was created that crossed into hatred against anyone who was not considered to be Aryan.

was used to describe anyone who was considered racially inferior. In the same way as Jews, people who were considered to be untermensch were rounded up like cattle and taken away to camps.

Anti-Semite graffiti on a shop (1941)

The targeted group members are separated and recognized, usually by their ethnicity or religion. Targeted groups are often made to wear symbols. If they own businesses, property, or other resources, the dominant group takes these by force. The targeted group is then separated from the dominant group, and sent to ghettos, camps, or deserted regions.

In 1938, the Nuremburg Laws were passed based upon hate and anti-Semitism. Hitler used the Jews as scapegoats, and the people of Germany were seduced into following him.

Shortly after Hitler came to power, he began his attack against the Jews. Boycotts against Jewish-owned businesses were organized (photo, right), Jewish children were bullied, and friends and neighbours were paranoid of being turned in for the slightest infraction.

German people protest outside Jewish shops
© Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-14469,
Creative Commons

We often see the word "exterminate" when it comes to pests or insects. Since the targeted group is already dehumanized, the dominant group begins with the mass killing (or extermination) of the targeted group. Stage 7 has also been termed "ethnic cleansing".

(Click image to enlarge)
Ultranationalism led to the genocide of Jews as well as anyone considered untermensch in Nazi Germany. This has become known as the Holocaust. In this one word, the attempt to exterminate all Jews in Europe is encompassed. The Final Solution refers to the program begun by the Nazis to concentrate Jews in camps throughout Europe, and then kill them.

The map (left) shows the locations of the Nazi extermination camps (death camps), concentration camps, labor camps, prison camps, and ghettos. 

Jews were deported from all over Europe to six main extermination camps, Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Majdanek. These names have become forever synonymous with places of horror.

Those deemed as unfit, elderly, mothers and children, and ill or disabled were killed quickly in gas chambers, while those considered fit were worked to death.
Women in Auschwitz
Holocaust Museum
To deny is to cover up, lie, or hide the evidence of the genocide. This can be done by hiding the mass killings through the digging of large graves, intimidating or killing witnesses, and even blaming the targeted group for the genocide.
During and after World War II, collaborators and Nazi government officials attempted to hide evidence of the genocide through the following means.

  • The Holocaust was a state-wide secret in Germany. Orders were rarely written down, and verbal orders took place mostly at the highest levels of government.
  • The few existing documents that detailed the genocide were classified, handled only by top government officials, and they were destroyed after the orders had been carried out.
  • Actions taken in the pursuit of genocide typically had code names or nicknames, such as "resettlement" or "special treatment".
  • Misinformation: In 1944, the Nazis allowed the Red Cross to visit the Theresienstadt ghetto. The visit lasted only six hours, during which time the Nazis orchestrated an elaborate hoax of apparent living conditions for the Jews in the ghetto, including pretty gardens, painted houses, bustling cafes and theatres. Jews were threatened with additional punishment if they did not behave or provide positive feedback about the ghetto. This hoax was one of many measures taken to undermine international opinion about Nazi policies towards the Jews.
  • Evidence of the mass graves and locations of mass shootings throughout Germany, Poland, Soviet Union (Russia), and Serbia were destroyed through cremation.
  • Members of the SS Squad (the protective squad that enforced Nazi terror) were directed by Reich Leader Heinrich Himmler to keep the mass murder a secret.
verview" target="_blank" class="">The Nuremberg Trials (held in Nuremberg, Germany) were a series of 13 trials that charged Nazi Party officials, military officers, and other collaborators with crimes against humanity. These trials were important for the following reasons.

  1. The International Military Tribunal (IMT) was established in 1945. This tribunal was the first of its kind as it utilized the joint court to address crimes that impacted the international community.
  2. The Charter of the International Military Tribunal was created. The charter defined  the crimes charged in the Nuremberg Trials.

The charges during the Nuremberg Trials included (fromThe Holocaust Encyclopedia)
  • conspiracy to commit crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity,
  • crimes against peace,
  • war crimes, and
  • crimes against humanity.

These trials marked the first time an international court dealt with genocide and other crimes against humanity.

Digging Deeper

View the resources below, and add point-form notes to the 4.6.1 Notebook Organizer. What are the lasting legacies ultranationalism leaves on people, on families, on nations? How do we learn from these legacies?

© Copyright Holder, Elie Wiesel, Creative Commons
Elie Wiesel was only 15 years old (left) when he (along with his family) were taken from Sighet, Transylvania to Auschwitz. Wiesel, a concentration camp survivor and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, wrote the book Night detailing his experiences in the Holocaust.

"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest."
-Elie Wiesel, 1986
Open this Photo Essay to view Wiesel's hometown, as well as to learn how the Final Solution affected just one of thousands of towns in Europe.

Eventually, the Allies defeated Nazi Germany and put an end to World War II and the Holocaust. The horrors of the Final Solution uncovered by the Allies after the war caused nations to seek prosecution for those involved in committing crimes against humanity. Although Hitler and many of his main supporters escaped justice by committing suicide, many of his colleagues were put on trial for their crimes and were found guilty. They were punished for their crimes against humanity, but for six million Jews this punishment came too late.

Watch the videos below, and reflect on the following question. What legacies did the Holocaust leave? Add your ideas about the legacies left by the Holocaust to your notes (in point-form).

"A Holocaust Survivor Recalls the Day He Was Liberated"
"Why didn't people fight back?"

"Holocaust survivor and former UN judge shares his story"
"Understanding the Roots of Hate"

Gas Chamber — Majdanek Concentration Camp
Holocaust Museum
Did you know there are groups of people who continue to deny the Holocaust and other genocides ever happened? How does this denial impact the legacies left by ultranationalism?

Go to your textbook, Understanding Nationalism, and read
  • pages 154 to 156,
  • "Shoah - The Holocaust" (pages 160 to 161), and
  • "The Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - 1945" (page 162).

These pages will further your understanding of ultranationalism and crimes against humanity.

Download the 4.6.1. Notebook Organizer (Word, PDF, Google Doc) and take notes about what you have read and viewed.  When you are done, return here to continue.