June 8, 2011
Wiesenthal Center Gets Hitler’s First Anti-Semitic Screed
“An anti-Semitism based on reason must lead to systematic combatting and elimination of the privileges of the Jews… The ultimate objective [of such legislation] must be the irrevocable removal of Jews in general.”
So wrote a German soldier, recently discharged from a military hospital, in a lengthy letter, dated Sept. 16, 1919 and signed “Respectfully, Adolf Hitler.”
The apparent original of the letter, a major historical document as the future Fuehrer’s first written exposition of his anti-Jewish obsession, has been acquired by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and will go on display next month at its Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.
Rabbi Marvin Heir, dean and founder of the Wiesenthal Center, had an opportunity to purchase the document in 1988, but held off because he had doubts about its provenance and genuineness.
Since then, experts in Germany, Britain and the United States have generally concluded that the document is, indeed, the original version of the letter, written and signed by Hitler, although complete certainty might require chemical tests of the age and composition of the stationery.
At the time he wrote the letter, Hitler was an agent of a military propaganda unit in the Bavarian army in Munich, which was bitterly opposed to the newly established Weimar Republic as the perceived handiwork of socialists, Communists and Jews.
Hitler wrote the letter to a fellow soldier propagandist, named Adolf Gemlich, and the document is known as the Gemlich Letter.
In contrast to his later public rants, Hitler tried to explain his anti-Semitic worldview on a “rational” and “scientific” basis in the Gemlich Letter.
Thus, there has been some discussion among scholars whether Hitler’s reference to the “irrevocable removal of Jews” presages his later extermination campaign.
The German word for “removal” used by Hitler is “Entfernung,” which is more commonly translated as “distance” or withdrawal.” Taken in context, most experts believe that Hitler’s thinking at the time focused more on “segregation” or “expulsion,” than on a full-fledged Holocaust.
Yet his early anti-Semitism was horrendous enough.
“Anti-Semitism is too easily characterized as a mere emotional phenomenon,” he wrote. “And yet, this is incorrect. Anti-Semitism as a political movement may not and cannot be defined by emotional impulses, but by recognition of the facts.”
What are the “facts”? According to the letter, one is that “Jewry is absolutely a race and not a religious association.”
Throughout, Hitler never tires of the old stereotype of the Jew as a money-grubber bent on world domination. “Everything man strives after as a higher goal, be it religion, socialism, democracy, is to the Jew only means to an end, the way to satisfy his lust for gold and domination,” he wrote.
Analyzing the letter, UCLA Holocaust historian Saul Friedlander told the New York Times that “In his first written statement about the Jews, [Hitler] shows that [hatred of Jews] was the very core of his political passion.”