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Lebensraum listen (help·info) (German for "habitat" or literally "living space") was an important component of Nazi ideology in Germany. The Nazis supported territorial expansionism to gain Lebensraum as being a law of nature for all healthy and vigorous peoples of superior races to displace people of inferior races; especially if the people of a superior race were facing overpopulation in their given territories. The German Nazi Party claimed that Germany inevitably needed to territorially expand because it was facing an overpopulation crisis within its Treaty of Versailles-designed boundaries that Adolf Hitler described: "We are overpopulated and cannot feed ourselves from our own resources". Thus expansion was justified as an inevitable necessity for Germany to pursue in order to end the country's overpopulation within existing confined territory, and provide resources necessary to its people's well-being. The idea of a Germanic people without sufficient space dates back to long before Adolf Hitler brought it to prominence.
It was the stated policy of the Nazis to kill, deport, or enslave the Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, and other Slavic populations, whom they considered inferior, and to repopulate the land with Germanic people. The entire urban population was to be exterminated by starvation, thus creating an agricultural surplus to feed Germany and allowing their replacement by a German upper class. The policy of Lebensraum implicitly assumed the superiority of Germans as members of an Aryan master race who by virtue of their superiority had the right to displace people deemed to be part of inferior races. The Nazis insisted that Lebensraum needed to be developed as racially homogeneous to avoid intermixing with peoples deemed to be part of inferior races. As such, peoples deemed to be part of inferior races living within territory selected to be Lebensraum were subject to expulsion or destruction. Nazi Germany also supported other nations' pursuing their own Lebensraum, including Fascist Italy.
The Nazi regime invoked a variety of precedents to justify the pursuit of Lebensraum. One was invoking the precedent of the United States. Hitler declared that the size of European states was "absurdly small in comparison to their weight of colonies, foreign trade, etc.," which he contrasted to "the American Union which possesses at its base its own continent and touches the rest of the earth only with its summit." Hitler noted that the colonization of the continental United States by Nordic peoples of Europe that had a large internal market, material reproduction, and fertile biological reproduction, provided the closest model to that of Lebensraum.
Through the Middle Ages, German population pressures led to settlement in Eastern Europe, a practice termed Ostsiedlung. The term Lebensraum in this sense was coined by Friedrich Ratzel in 1901, and was used as a slogan in Germany referring to the unification of the country and the acquisition of colonies, based on the British and French models and the westward expansion of the United States. Ratzel believed that the development of a people was primarily influenced by their geographical situation and that a people that successfully adapted to one location would proceed naturally to another. These thoughts can be seen in his studies of zoology and the study of adaptation. This expansion to fill available space, he claimed, was a natural and necessary feature of any healthy species.
Ratzel himself emphasised the need for overseas colonies, to which Germans ought to migrate, not for expansion inside Europe. Wanklyn (1961) argues that Ratzel's theory was designed to advance science, and that politicians distorted it for political goals. Thus the concept of Lebensraum was picked up and expanded by publicists of the day, including Karl Haushofer and General Friedrich von Bernhardi. In von Bernhardi's 1912 book Germany and the Next War, he expanded upon Ratzel's hypotheses and, for the first time, explicitly identified Eastern Europe as a source of new space. According to him, war, with the express purpose of achieving Lebensraum, was a distinct "biological necessity." As he explained with regard to the Latin and Slavic races, "Without war, inferior or decaying races would easily choke the growth of healthy budding elements." The quest for Lebensraum was more than just an attempt to resolve potential demographic problems: it was a necessary means of defending the German race against stagnation and degeneration.
During the first decade of the 20th century Imperial Germany colonised Southwest Africa and committed genocide against the local Herero and Nama peoples. Madley (2005) argues that the German experience in German South-West Africa was a crucial precursor to Nazi colonialism and genocide and that personal connections, literature and public debates served as conduits for communicating colonialist and genocidal ideas and methods from the colony to Germany.
In September 1914, when victory in the Great War seemed at hand, Berlin introduced a Lebensraum plan for postwar peace terms. The concept of Lebensraum was endorsed secretly by the Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg and the rest of the German government as a war aim in World War I. Documents discovered by the German historian Fritz Fischer have suggested that in the event of a German victory, the policy under discussion by the German government as part of its Septemberprogramm was to annex a strip of Poland, and replace the population with Germans to set up a defensive barrier in the east. Similar proposals were made towards Lithuanians and settlement of Germans in Ukraine; the overall idea of German rule in Central and Eastern Europe during the First World War was to annex large areas and engage in ethnic cleansing (an idea which would later be adopted by Nazis), as German Empire lost the war the population policy wasn't enacted. The significance of Fischer's discovery, as the Australian historian John Moses has noted, is that the goal of winning Lebensraum was already in German thinking long before 1933 and thus cannot be seen, as some German historians have argued, as solely Adolf Hitler's personal brain-child. The "September plan" was a proposal that was under discussion but was never adopted and no movement of people was ever ordered. As historian Raffael Scheck concluded, "The government, finally, never committed itself to anything. It had ordered the September Programme as an informal hearing in order to learn about the opinion of the economic and military elites." In contrast the idea of annexing Polish territory and removing Polish population was officially discussed by all elements of German politics, military and industrial circles and widely supported; even members of SDP in general agreed with the idea
It is equally obvious that Lebensraum always appeared as one element in these blueprints. This was not an original idea of Hitler's. It was commonplace at the time. Volk ohne Raum (People Without Space) for instance, by Hans Grimm sold much better than Mein Kampf when it was published in 1928. For that matter, plans for acquiring new territory were much aired in Germany during the First World War. It used to be thought that these were the plans of a few crack-pot theorisers or of extremist organisations. Now we know better. In 1961 a German professor [Fritz Fischer] reported the results of his investigations into German war aims. These were indeed a "blueprint for aggression" or as the professor called them "a grasp at world power": Belgium under German control, the French iron fields annexed to Germany, and, what is more, Poland and the Ukraine to be cleared of their inhabitants and resettled with Germans. These plans were not merely the work of the German General Staff. They were endorsed by the German Foreign Office and by the "good German", Bethmann Hollweg.
The German Empire planned to annex territory in both Lithuania and Poland for direct colonisation by German colonists after the forcible removal of the Polish and Lithuanian population. As early as April 1915, the Polish Border Strip plan against Poland, which was first suggested by General Erich Ludendorff in 1914, was approved as a German war aim by the Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg. The German historian Andreas Hillgruber argued that the foreign policy of General Ludendorff, with its demand for lebensraum to be seized for Germany in Eastern Europe during World War I, was the prototype for German policy in World War II. Lebensraum almost became a reality in 1918 during World War I. The new Communist regime of Russia concluded the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany, ending Russian participation in the war in exchange for the surrender of huge swathes of land, including the Baltic territories, Belarus, Ukraine and the Caucasus. However, unrest at home and defeat on the Western Front forced Germany to abandon these favourable terms in favour of the Treaty of Versailles, by which the newly acquired eastern territories were agreed to sacrifice the land to Lithuania, Poland and new nations such as Estonia or Latvia, and a series of short-lived independent states in Ukraine.
The German historian Andreas Hillgruber argued the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was the prototype for Hitler's vision of a great empire for Germany in Eastern Europe. Hillgruber wrote that:
To understand later German history one must pay special attention to a consequence of the Eastern situation in the autumn of 1918 that has often been overlooked: the widely shared and strangely irrational misconceptions concerning the end of the war that found such currency in the Weimar period. These ideas were not informed, as they should have been, by an appreciation of the enemy's superiority in the West and the inevitable step-by-step retreat of the German Western Front before the massive influx of the Americans. Nor did they indicate any understanding of the catastrophic consequences for the Central Powers following the collapse of the Balkan front after Bulgaria's withdrawal from the war. They were instead largely determined by the fact that German troops, as "victors" held vast strategically and economically important areas of Russia.
At the moment of the November 1918 ceasefire in the West, newspaper maps of the military situation showed German troops in Finland, holding a line from the Finnish fjords near Narva, down through Pskov-Orsha-Mogilev and the area south of Kursk, to the Don east of Rostov. Germany had thus secured the Ukraine. The Russian recognition of the Ukraine's separation exacted at Brest-Litovsk represented the key element in German efforts to keep Russia perpetually subservient. In addition, German troops held the Crimea and were stationed in smaller numbers in Transcaucasia. Even the unoccupied "rump" Russia appeared—with the conclusion of the German-Soviet Supplementary Treaty on 28 August 1918—to be in firm though indirect dependency on the Reich. Thus, Hitler's long-range aim, fixed in the 1920s, of erecting a German Eastern Imperium on the ruins of the Soviet Union was not simply a vision emanating from an abstract wish. In the Eastern sphere established in 1918, this goal had a concrete point of departure. The German Eastern Imperium had already been—if only for a short time—a reality.
The feeling that Germans were people without space (Volk ohne Raum) was greatly exploited among German nationalists who felt that the Treaty of Versailles were harsh on Germans, especially with the loss of German territories. Even German Eugenicists took up the nationalist slogan and came to believe that Germany was a Volk ohne Jugend (a people without youth). The desire for Lebensraum was a key tenet of several German nationalist and extremist groups in post-World War I Germany, most notably the Nazi Party under Adolf Hitler. As the American historian Gerhard Weinberg noted, German demands for territorial revision went beyond merely regaining land lost under the Treaty of Versailles, and instead embraced calls for the German conquest and colonization of all Eastern Europe, regardless of whether the land in question had belonged to Germany before 1918 or not Likewise, the British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper argued that the goal of overthrowing Versailles was only a prelude to seizing Lebensraum in Eastern Europe for Germany with no regard as to where Germany's 1914 frontiers had been. In Mein Kampf, Hitler was to write:
Without consideration of traditions and prejudices, Germany must find the courage to gather our people and their strength for an advance along the road that will lead this people from its present restricted living space to new land and soil, and hence also free it from the danger of vanishing from the earth or of serving others as a slave nation.
The National Socialist Movement must strive to eliminate the disproportion between our population and our area—viewing this latter as a source of food as well as a basis for power politics—between our historical past and the hopelessness of our present impotence.
This was to be the unvarying aim of foreign policy.
Even the decline in the birthrate from the 1880s, contradicting claims of a vigorous and growing race, could not damp down demands for Lebensraum.
The official German history of World War II was to conclude that the conquest of Lebensraum was for Hitler and the rest of the National Socialists the most important German foreign policy goal. At his first meeting with all of the leading Generals and Admirals of the Reich ("Empire") on February 3, 1933, Hitler spoke of "conquest of Lebensraum in the East and its ruthless Germanization" as his ultimate foreign policy objectives. For Hitler, the land which would provide sufficient Lebensraum for Germany was the Soviet Union, which for Hitler was both a nation that possessed vast and rich agricultural land and was inhabited by what Hitler saw as Slavic Untermenschen (sub-humans) ruled over by what he regarded as a gang of blood-thirsty, but grossly incompetent Jewish revolutionaries. These people were not Germanizable in his eyes; only the soil was.
Hitler had earlier in Mein Kampf rejected what previous German nationalists had viewed as Germanization:
Not only in Austria, however, but also in the Reich, these so-called national circles were, and still are, under the influence of similar erroneous ideas. Unfortunately, a policy towards Poland, whereby the East was to be Germanized, was demanded by many and was based on the same false reasoning. Here again it was believed that the Polish people could be Germanized by being compelled to use the German language. The result would have been fatal. A people of foreign race would have had to use the German language to express modes of thought that were foreign to the German, thus compromising by its own inferiority the dignity and nobility of our nation.
Total extermination was not required only because Eastern Europe was regarded as having people of Aryan-Nordic descent, particularly among their leaders. Himmler declared that no drop of German blood would be lost or left behind to mingle with any "alien races". Nazi leadership viewed that the conquest of Eastern Europe was historically justified: in fact, it was the Slavs who took these lands from the native Goths by force, and thus Germany had the right to take them back.
In accordance with Nazi blood and soil beliefs, it was to be turned into an agricultural breadbasket for Germany, and its cities destroyed as hotbeds of Russianness and Communism. Even during the war itself, Hitler gave orders that Leningrad was to be razed with no consideration given for the survival and feeding of its population. This would also ensure that blockades, unlike those of World War I, would not produce starvation in Germany. The use of it to feed Germany was to help eliminate Slavs by starving millions to death. Industry would also die off in this region. The Wehrbauer, or soldier-peasants, settled there would maintain a fortified line that would prevent civilization from arising outside their settlements to threaten Germany. Plans for western Europe were less severe, as the Nazis needed local cooperation and the local industry with its workers; furthermore, the countries were regarded as more racially acceptable, the assortment of racial categories being boiled down by the average German to mean "East is bad and West is acceptable." Nevertheless, plans for the future included the annexation of the Scandinavian countries, and also Alsace and Lorraine; Belgium and northern France would follow, while Great Britain might be annexed or kept as a puppet state. Italy's withdrawal from the war led to the addition of northern Italy as part of the territory to be annexed.
In Hitler's view, the idea of restoring the 1914 borders of the Reich was absurd as those borders did not provide sufficient Lebensraum; only a foreign policy that aimed at the conquest of the proper quantity of Lebensraum would justify the necessary sacrifices that war entailed. In Hitler’s view, history was dominated by a merciless struggle between different “races” for survival, and “races” that possessed large amounts of territory were innately stronger than those that did not. Eberhard Jäckel has expressed a Primat der Außenpolitik (“primacy of foreign policy”) interpretation of German foreign policy as opposed to the Primat der Innenpolitik ("primacy of domestic politics") thesis favored by some left-wing historians such as Timothy Mason. Jäckel wrote that since Hitler regarded the conquest of Lebensraum as his most important project, and since that could only be accomplished through war, domestic policy comprised simply preparing the nation for the inevitable struggle for Lebensraum. The demand for Lebensraum was not just a Nazi dream. At the London Economic Conference of 1933, the head of the German delegation, the Economics Minister Dr. Alfred Hugenberg of the German National People's Party, put forth a programme of German colonial expansion in both Africa and Eastern Europe as the best way of ending the Great Depression, which created a major storm at the conference. For being indiscreet enough to advance the claim to Germany's lebensraum at a time when Germany was still more or less disarmed, Hugenberg was sacked from the German cabinet by Hitler.
There are, however, many historians such as Martin Broszat and Hans Mommsen who dismiss this "intentionalist" approach, and argue that the concept was actually an "ideological metaphor" in the early days of Nazism.
Nazi stances on the nature of Lebensraum adjusted and changed over time. Hitler in his early years as Nazi leader had claimed that he would be willing to accept friendly relations with Russia on the tactical condition that Russia agree to return to the borders established by the German-Russian peace agreement of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk signed by Vladimir Lenin of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic in 1918 which gave large territories held by Russia to German control in exchange for peace. Hitler in 1921 had commended the Brest Litovsk treaty as opening the possibility for restoration of relations between Germany and Russia. Hitler from 1921 to 1922 evoked rhetoric of both the achievement of Lebensraum involving the acceptance of a territorially reduced Russia as well as supporting Russian nationals in overthrowing the Bolshevik government and establishing a new Russian government. However Hitler's attitudes changed by the end of 1922, in which he then supported an alliance of Germany with Britain to destroy Russia. After Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the Nazi regime's stance towards an independent, territorially-reduced Russia was affected by pressure beginning in 1942 from the German Army on Hitler to endorse a Russian national liberation army led by Andrey Vlasov that officially sought to overthrow Josef Stalin and the communist regime and establish a new Russian state. Initially the proposal to support an anti-communist Russian army was met with outright rejection by Hitler, however by 1944 as Germany faced mounting losses on the Eastern Front, Vlasov's forces were recognized by Germany as an ally, particularly by Reichsfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler.
The practical implementation of the Lebensraum concept began in 1939 with Germany's occupation of Poland. The forcible displacement of Polish nationals from Reichsgau Wartheland was conducted from mid 1940, first across the border to the colonial district of General Government (see: Action Saybusch), and after the attack on the USSR, to Polenlager camps and other ghettoized villages. Between 1940 and 1944, around 50,000 Poles were forcibly removed from annexed territories. In 1941, the German leadership decided that in ten to 20 years, the Polish territories under German occupation were to be cleared entirely of ethnic Poles and resettled by German-speaking colonists from Bukovina, Eastern Galicia and Volhynia. Ethnic Poles were being evicted so abruptly that when colonists arrived, they found half-eaten meals on tables and unmade beds vacated by small children. Ethnic Germans from the Baltic States were racially evaluated, with the highest rating being O Ost-Falle, the best classification, to be settled in the Eastern Wall. Colonisation incorporated 350,000 such "ethnic Germans" and 1.7 million Poles deemed Germanizable, including between one and two hundred thousand children who had been taken from their parents, plus about 400,000 German settlers from the "Old Reich".
Later, the ideology was also a major factor in Hitler's launching of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941. The Nazis hoped to turn large areas of Soviet territory into German settlement areas as part of Generalplan Ost. Developing these ideas, Nazi theorist Alfred Rosenberg proposed that the Nazi administrative organization in lands to be conquered from the Soviets be based upon the following Reichskommissariate:
|Ostland||The Baltic States, Belarus and adjacent parts of Western Russia.|
|Ukraine||The Ukraine, minus East Galicia and Romanian-controlled Transnistria, but extended eastward up to the Volga river.|
|Moskowien||The Moscow metropolitan area and most of adjacent European Russia, with the exclusion of Karelia and the Kola peninsula, promised to Finland in 1941.|
|Kaukasus||The Caucasus region.|
The Reichskommissariat territories would extend up to the European frontier at the Urals. They were to have been early stages in the displacement and dispossession of Russian and other Slav people and their replacement with German settlers, following the Nazi Lebensraum im Osten plans. When German forces entered Soviet territory, they promptly organized occupation regimes in the first two territories—the Reichskomissariats of Ostland and Ukraine. The defeat of the Sixth Army at the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942, followed by defeat in the Battle of Kursk in July 1943 and the Allied landings in Sicily put an end to the plans' implementation.
Historians debate whether Hitler's position on Lebensraum was part of a larger program of world domination (the so-called "globalist" position) or a more modest "continentalist" approach, by which Hitler would have been satisfied with the conquest of Eastern Europe. Nor are the two positions necessarily contradictory, given the idea of a broader Stufenplan, or "plan in stages," which many such as Klaus Hildebrand and Andreas Hillgruber argue lay behind the regime's actions. Historian Ian Kershaw suggests just such a compromise, claiming that while the concept was originally abstract and undeveloped, it took on new meaning with the invasion of the Soviet Union. He goes on to note that even within the Nazi regime, there were differences of opinion about the meaning of Lebensraum, citing Rainer Zitelmann, who distinguishes between the near-mystical fascination with a return to an idyllic agrarian society (for which land was a necessity) as advocated by Darré and Himmler, and an industrial state, envisioned by Hitler, which would be reliant on raw materials and forced labor.
What seems certain is that echoes of lost territorial opportunities in Europe, such as the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, played an important role in the Hitlerian vision for the distant future:
The acquisition of new soil for the settlement of the excess population possesses an infinite number of advantages, particularly if we turn from the present to the future ... It must be said that such a territorial policy cannot be fulfilled in the Cameroons, but today almost exclusively in Europe.
Racism is not a necessary aspect of expansionist politics in general, nor was the original use of the term "Lebensraum". However, under Hitler, the term came to signify a specific, racist kind of expansionism. Karl Haushofer was an acquaintance of Rudolf Hess, Hitler's deputy. Haushofer had limited influence on Hitler's ideals. "Haushofer primarily provided the academic and scientific support for the expansion of the Third Reich." Haushofer ideas can be described by the expansion of heavily populated countries having the right to expand and gain land from less populated countries. This was his adaptation of Ratzel's Lebensraum.
In an era when the earth is gradually being divided up among states, some of which embrace almost entire continents, we cannot speak of a world power in connection with a formation whose political mother country is limited to the absurd area of five hundred thousand square kilometers. ... Without consideration of traditions and prejudices, Germany must find the courage to gather our people and their strength for an advance along the road that will lead this people from its present restricted living space to new land and soil, and hence also free it from the danger of vanishing from the earth or of serving others as a slave nation. ... For it is not in colonial acquisitions that we must see the solution of this problem, but exclusively in the acquisition of a territory for settlement, which will enhance the area of the mother country, and hence not only keep the new settlers in the most intimate community with the land of their origin, but secure for the entire area those advantages which lie in its unified magnitude.
In Italian fascist thought, a similar concept was used to justify territorial expansion. However, the spazio vitale of Mussolini was not based on the genocide of the subjugated nations, but presented the Italian race as a "custodian and bearer of superior civilization", whose mission was to export the fascist revolution and "civilize" the territories conquered. The defeated nations would be subjected to Roman rule and protection, but were to keep their own languages and cultures. Fascist ideologist Giuseppe Bottai likened this historic mission to the deeds of the ancient Romans, stating that the new Italians will "illuminate the world with their art, educate it with their knowledge, and give robust structure to their new territories with their administrative technique and ability".
The territorial extent of the Italian spazio vitale was to cover the Mediterranean as a whole (Mare Nostrum) and Northern Africa from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean. It was to be divided into piccolo spazio ("small space"), which was to be inhabited only by Italians, and grande spazio ("large space") inhabited by other nations under Italian domination.
In December 1941, Japan proposed a territorial arrangement concerning how the Axis powers would divide the Asian continent after a complete defeat of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany: a north-south demarcation line at 70° east longitude, running southwards through the Ob River's Arctic estuary, southwards to just east of Khost in Afghanistan and heading into the Indian Ocean just west of Rajkot in India, splitting Germany's Lebensraum and Italy's spazio vitale areas to the west of it, and Japan's Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere to the east of it. Hitler found this proposal acceptable and approved it in full.
The term "lebensraum" has been applied to many post-war nations. The spread of global capitalism by the United States has been called an "American Lebensraum," and has been criticized as a form of economic and cultural imperialism. Tsering Shakya has written that the People's Republic of China's policies in Tibet have also been compared with lebensraum. In 1954, Nasser's Arab nationalism were linked with domestic circumstances that necessitated rulers seeking 'lebensraum' beyond the Egyptian borders. Radical nationalism in Egyptian writings has been attributed to the influence of historical Germany, and Italy, with the concept of lebensraum affecting writings on Egyptian-Sudanese relations. The term has also been linked to Israel, both in its actions during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and later to its settlement policies in the Palestinian territories. Efraim Eitam, an Israeli government minister under Prime minister Ariel Sharon, explicitly used the concept of Lebensraum as the basis for his arguments that all Israeli Arabs and Palestinians should be persuaded or forced to leave Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
In a different context, the idea of living space has been invoked by the architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner when analysing Baroque architecture. In a BBC radio talk in 1973 ("Is there an English Baroque?") Pevsner spoke of "mighty forms which don’t allow each other enough living space" at St John's, Smith Square, in Westminster, and of "King Charles’s Block at Greenwich, with giant pilasters rising right from the ground and windows deprived of living space by the pilasters".
Empire of Japan: