Dr Samuel Koehne recently participated in the workshop ‘Emotions and Memory: Humiliation and Dignity in Asian, Australian and European Memories of Violence’ at the University of Melbourne, speaking on ‘Hitler and the Uses of Humiliation’.
This was an international workshop that came out of the ARC Centre of Excellence that studies the History of Emotions, and the History and Memory Research Hub at the University of Melbourne.
Dr Koehne’s Abstract: Hitler and the Uses of Humiliation: Solace through ‘Racial Struggle
As we approach the centenary of the Nazi Party’s foundation (2019), it is easy to forget that the group began as an obscure organization. Indeed, the rise of the Nazi Party only makes sense in the context of Germany after WWI, including the pervasive sense that Germany had suffered an extraordinary humiliation and had been treated as a pariah state by the international community. This is well established, but what has not been fully considered is the way that Hitler used the emotions of this very recent and painful memory to promote and justify a radical racial ideology. Relying principally on Mein Kampf this paper argues that Germany’s “national humiliation” was absolutely essential to Hitler in attempting to convince people of a conspiracist world-view that simultaneously explained Germany’s defeat and provided what I have termed the “consolation of racism.” I argue that Hitler believed this humiliation was not unique, placing it in a larger context that portrayed Germany’s defeat as the latest example of “the Jews’” destroying an Aryan civilization that had lost a “consciousness of race.” This explained Germany’s loss in a way that also placed blame on an “enemy.” In conjunction with this, Hitler provided a racist consolation. Although Germany was humiliated he argued that Germans themselves retained an inherent dignity and superiority to other nations as exemplars of the “Aryan” race. What this paper ultimately demonstrates is that humiliation formed a powerful spark- point for ideas of betrayal and subterfuge that already existed in the German anti-Semitic movement.