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The Russian Roots of Nazism


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 (ISBN-13: 9780511079498 | ISBN-10: 0511079494)


In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution of October 1917, anti-Bolshevik exiles from the former Russian Empire, known as “White émigrés,” contributed extensively to the making of German National Socialism. This book examines the formative political, financial, military, and ideological influences that White émigrés exerted on Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist movement. This study of White émigré contributions to Hitlerism demonstrates that National Socialism did not develop merely as a peculiarly German phenomenon. National Socialism arose in the early post-World War Ⅰ period (1918–1923) from an international radical right milieu in which embittered völkisch (nationalist/racist) Germans collaborated with vengeful White émigrés in an anti-Entente (Britain and France), anti-Weimar Republic, anti-Bolshevik, and anti-Semitic struggle.

   From 1920 to 1923, Hitler allied himself with a conspiratorial völkisch German/White émigré association headquartered in Munich, Aufbau: Wirtschafts-politische Vereinigung für den Osten (Reconstruction: Economic-Political Organization for the East), hereafter Aufbau. This secretive union sought to combat international Jewry and to overthrow both the German Weimar Republic and the Soviet Union in league with National Socialists. Aufbau contributed considerable sums of money to Hitler’s National Socialist movement. Moreover, early National Socialist ideology combined völkisch notions of Germanic racial and spiritual superiority with the apocalyptic White émigré Aufbau conspiracy theory in which Jews, who operated as a seamless web of conniving finance capitalists and murderous Bolsheviks, threatened to conquer the world and then to send it to perdition. Aufbau left a powerful anti-Bolshevik and anti-Semitic legacy to National Socialism after 1923 as well.

   Prominent White émigré Aufbau members who influenced Hitler’s political and military strategies as well as his anti-Bolshevik and anti-Semitic Weltanschauung (world-view) included First Lieutenant Max von Scheubner-Richter, General Vladimir Biskupskii, Colonel Ivan Poltavets-Ostranitsa, Lieutenant Piotr Shabelskii-Bork, Colonel Fedor Vinberg, and Alfred Rosenberg. Scheubner-Richter de facto led Aufbau until he was shot fatally while marching with Hitler and General Erich von Ludendorff during the disastrous Hitler/Ludendorff Putsch of November 1923. Hitler subsequently asserted that Scheubner-Richter alone of the “martyrs” of the failed undertaking had proved irreplaceable.1

   General Biskupskii acted as Scheubner-Richter’s invaluable partner at the head of Aufbau, and he later directed the White émigré community in the Third Reich.2 Poltavets-Ostranitsa led Aufbau’s Ukrainian section, and he sought to establish a National Socialist Ukraine.3 Shabelskii-Bork transferred The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an inflammatory forgery that influenced National Socialists and other anti-Semites around the world, from the Ukraine to Berlin for publication in German shortly after World War Ⅰ.4 Vinberg held detailed ideological discussions with Hitler, and he convinced the Führer that the Soviet Union represented a “Jewish dictatorship.”5

   Rosenberg has been largely overlooked in the historical literature despite his crucial contributions to National Socialism.6 The White émigré served as the leading National Socialist philosopher after Hitler himself. He collaborated with Dietrich Eckart, Hitler’s early mentor, in the newspaper Auf gut deutsch: Wochenschrift für Ordnung und Recht (In Plain German: Weekly for Law and Order). He de facto took over the editorship of the National Socialist periodical the Völkischer Beobachter (Völkisch Observer) from the ailing Eckart in 1923. He conceived a dire threat to the racially and spiritually superior Germans from a worldwide Jewish capitalist-Bolshevik conspiracy. He led the National Socialist Party during Hitler’s imprisonment following the Hitler/Ludendorff Putsch.7 Finally, he directed Germany’s rule over formerly Soviet areas in World War Ⅱ, and he participated in the atrocities of the Final Solution through his post as Reichsminister für die besetzten Ostgebiete (State Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories).8

   The overall cohesion of this book is aided by the fortunate circumstance that a surprisingly stable core group of White émigré adventurers repeatedly conspired with völkisch German colleagues, including National Socialists, in various anti-Bolshevik and anti-Weimar Republic schemes from 1918 to 1923. Moreover, with the notable exceptions of Scheubner-Richter, who was killed in 1923, and Vinberg, who moved to Paris the same year, this central group of Aufbau White émigrés, including Biskupskii, Poltavets-Ostranitsa, Shabelskii-Bork, Rosenberg, and others who will be introduced below, went on to serve the National Socialist cause after Hitler came to power in Germany in January 1933.

   Failure represents a recurrent theme in this work. Far right movements in the Russian Empire and Imperial Germany attained only a small fraction of the political influence that they desired and which has subsequently been attributed to them. The principal White émigré figures in this book’s primary period of consideration, 1917 to 1923, proved three-time losers. They fell short in various anti-Bolshevik undertakings in the course of the Russian Civil War. They regrouped in East-Elbian Germany only to undergo a severe setback when the far right Kapp Putsch collapsed in March 1920. They reorganized once again in Bavaria only to suffer near-catastrophic defeat and even death in the Hitler/Ludendorff Putsch of November 1923. White émigré fortunes did improve considerably after Hitler’s ascension to power. With the utter military defeat of the Third Reich in World War Ⅱ, however, White émigré aspirations of toppling the Soviet Union in league with National Socialist Germany disappeared.

   Using the word “Russian” in conjunction with the exiles from the collapsed Russian Empire who most shaped National Socialism’s genesis and development proves problematic given the extreme complexity of multi-ethnic Imperial Russia.9 Many of these refugees from the East came from Baltic German or Ukrainian ethnic backgrounds, but they had belonged to the Russian Empire politically. Numerous Baltic German and Ukrainian expatriates had resented the Imperial Russian state. I refer to right-wing exiles from the former Russian Empire who opposed the “Red” Bolsheviks, or Majority Social Democrats, as “White émigrés.” This term is employed in Russian academic circles. Former subjects of Imperial Russia who fought the Bolsheviks became known as “Whites” since Bolshevik leaders insulted their foes by calling them this in the early part of the Russian Civil War. The Bolsheviks wished to associate their enemies with the reactionary Bourbon Dynasty that had ruled France after Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s defeat and exile in 1815.10

   The significance of substantial White émigré influences on Hitler’s Weltanschauung has become more apparent since Brigitte Hamann convincingly argued in her 1996 work, Hitlers Wien: Lehrjahre eines Diktators (Hitler’s Vienna: Apprentice Years of a Dictator), that Hitler was not yet anti-Semitic during his “hunger years” in Vienna from 1908 to 1913. He even defended the Jews in intense political arguments with those who denounced them.11 Hamann’s book refutes the earlier historical consensus which had contended that Hitler developed an acutely anti-Semitic world-view during his time in Vienna.12

   Further indications of the relatively late development of Hitler’s far right political ideas exist. Hitler’s correspondence and private writings from World War Ⅰ (1914–1918) lack anti-Semitic passages.13 Hitler’s comrades during World War Ⅰ did not detect anti-Semitic views among his beliefs.14 Moreover, according to Aide-de-Camp Hans Mend, Hitler’s immediate commanding officer on the Western Front in World War Ⅰ, Hitler occasionally praised Jews, and he exhibited socialist leanings. He often held “rabble-rousing speeches” in which he called himself a representative of the “class-conscious proletariat.”15 Hitler only began to crystallize his virulent anti-Bolshevik, anti-Semitic Weltanschauung in Munich in late 1919 in the context of intercultural collaboration between alienated völkisch Germans and radical White émigrés.

   Debate on modern German history has dealt with an idea that gained momentum in the 1960s, namely that of a pernicious German Sonderweg (special path). According to the Sonderweg theory, bourgeois Germans brought about a historical deviation through their weakness that ultimately led to the Third Reich and its crimes.16 The German historian Ernst Nolte attacked the Sonderweg thesis in his 1987 work, Der europäische Bürgerkrieg 1917–1945: Nationalsozialismus und Bolschewismus (The European Civil War 1917–1945: National Socialism and Bolshevism). He maintained that National Socialism fundamentally represented a reaction against Bolshevism.17

   In the Historikerstreit (Historians’ Debate) in the second half of the 1980s, most scholars rejected Nolte’s ideas of causation.18 The majority of the historians involved in the Historikerstreit affirmed the horrific singularity of National Socialism in general and the Holocaust in particular.19 In the 1990s, the American scholar Daniel Goldhagen sparked a second Historikerstreit by reintroducing an extreme version of the Sonderweg theory in his book Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust.20 He placed allegedly unparalleled “eliminationist” German anti-Semitism at the center of his historical schema.21 German academics in particular attacked Goldhagen’s ideas as dangerously simplistic.22

   The positions of Goldhagen and Nolte represent opposing views of German and foreign influences on National Socialism. In Hitler’s Willing Executioners, Goldhagen argues for the peculiarly German nature of National Socialism and the Holocaust. He emphasizes what he terms the “eliminationist mind-set” of “German antisemitism” to the exclusion of virtually all other factors. He asserts that it is “not essential to discuss German antisemitism comparatively.” He nevertheless concludes, “No other European country came close” to equaling Germany’s anti-Semitism. “The unmatched volume and the vitriolic and murderous substance of German antisemitic literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries alone indicate that German antisemitism was sui generis.”23 Goldhagen thus avoids a sufficient comparative analysis in his treatment of supposedly unequaled German anti-Semitism.

   Nolte, on the other hand, stresses the crucial influence of the Bolshevik seizure and consolidation of power in Russia on the National Socialist movement. He is known for arguing that scholars must “historicize” the Final Solution by comparing it with other mass slaughters, most notably those committed under Soviet rule.24 In The European Civil War 1917–1945, Nolte argues that resistance to Bolshevism formed National Socialism’s “most fundamental point.” He downplays the importance of German anti-Semitism in the genesis and development of National Socialism. He argues that National Socialism’s essence existed “neither in criminal tendencies nor in anti-Semitic obsessions.” Rather, the “fear and hate-filled relation to Communism was in fact the moving center of Hitler’s feelings and of Hitler’s ideology.” Nolte further stresses: “Bolshevism was both nightmare and example for National Socialism.”

   In the conclusion of his work, Nolte provocatively asserts that by holding the Jews responsible for the menace of Bolshevism, Hitler and Reichsführer SS (State Leader SS) Heinrich Himmler “carried the original Bolshevik concept of destruction to a new dimension.” Nolte further maintains: “The Gulag Archipelago is more original than Auschwitz and . . . a causal nexus exists between them.”25 Nolte’s views contain merit in that National Socialists fiercely resisted Bolshevism at the same time that it awed them. Nolte’s arguments, however, can lead one to consider National Socialism’s Final Solution as a mere reaction to foreign developments.

   While I tend more towards Nolte’s views than those of Goldhagen, I defend a middle position between Goldhagen’s German-specific explanation of National Socialism’s murderous development and Nolte’s Bolshevik-centered analysis of National Socialism’s crimes. National Socialism had both German and Russian roots. The National Socialist movement developed primarily as a synthesis of radical right German and Russian movements and ideas. National Socialism arose out of a radical right post-World War Ⅰ Munich milieu of vengeful völkisch Germans and rancorous White émigrés. Several of the latter despised Bolshevism and yet admired the determination of its leaders as well as its practices of subversion followed by strict centralization, thorough militarization, and the ruthless elimination of political enemies.

   I stress Aufbau’s pivotal role in guiding National Socialists and White émigrés in a joint anti-Entente, anti-Weimar Republic, anti-Bolshevik, and anti-Semitic struggle. While National Socialism developed largely in the framework of the völkisch movement, White émigré Aufbau members significantly influenced Hitler’s political, military, and ideological views. Aufbau shaped early National Socialist strategies for combating both the Weimar Republic and the Soviet Union. The conspiratorial organization under Scheubner-Richter, who served as Hitler’s close counselor and foreign policy advisor, sought to form an international alliance headed by nationalist and even National Socialist Germans and Russians (actually Russians, Ukrainians, and Baltic peoples) against the Entente, the Weimar Republic, and “Jewish Bolshevism.” Aufbau goaded a doomed putsch against the Weimar Republic under Hitler and Ludendorff. Finally, Aufbau warned the early National Socialist movement that “Jewish Bolshevism” posed an apocalyptic danger that threatened to engulf Germany, Europe, and even the entire world.

   This book improves a weakness in historical inquiry, as previous works on White émigré influences on National Socialism remain few and far between. In his groundbreaking 1939 book, L’Apocalypse de notre temps: Les dessous de la propagande allemande d’après des documents inédits (The Apocalypse of Our Times: The Hidden Side of German Propaganda According to Unpublished Documents), Henri Rollin stressed that “Hitlerism” represented a form of “anti-Soviet counter-revolution” which employed the “myth of a mysterious Jewish-Masonic-Bolshevik plot.” Rollin investigated the National Socialist belief, which was taken primarily from White émigré views, that a vast Jewish-Masonic conspiracy had provoked World War Ⅰ, toppled the Russian, German, and Austro-Hungarian Empires, and unleashed Bolshevism after undermining the existing order through the insidious spread of liberal ideas. German forces promptly destroyed Rollin’s work in 1940 after they occupied France, and the book has remained in obscurity ever since.26

   Almost thirty years passed before Walter Laqueur noted the lack of historical research on White émigré contributions to National Socialism in his book Russia and Germany: A Century of Conflict. Laqueur remarked: “In the search for the origins of German National Socialism some highly abstruse and improbable influences have been prominently featured, but the more tangible and substantial impact of refugees from Russia has usually been overlooked.” Laqueur argued that historians of the National Socialist movement had generally been neither interested in White émigré influences nor qualified to analyze them, while the post-Hitler/Ludendorff Putsch development of National Socialism overshadowed earlier National Socialist–White émigré collaboration. Laqueur’s book performed a valuable service by drawing attention to National Socialist–White émigré interaction. Laqueur’s work nonetheless offered a relatively superficial overview of White émigré contributions to National Socialism, largely because of the research constraints of the Cold War period.27

   Since the 1960s, a few historians have addressed National Socialist–White émigré collaboration, including Norman Cohn in his work Warrant for Genocide: The Myth of the Jewish World-Conspiracy and the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Robert Williams in his book Culture in Exile: Russian Émigrés in Germany, 1881–1941, and the editor Karl Schlögel in his anthology Russische Emigration in Deutschland 1918 bis 1941: Leben im europäischen Bürgerkrieg (The Russian Émigré Community in Germany 1918 to 1941: Life in the European Civil War). Cohn’s work examines the fabrication and dissemination of the notorious anti-Semitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion from Russia to Germany, where they influenced National Socialists.28 A German expert on the Protocols, Michael Hagemeister, has recently challenged Cohn’s conclusion that the Imperial Russian Okhrana (Secret Police) in Paris fabricated the Protocols.29 We will return to this theme in Chapter Two.

   The books of Williams and Schlögel serve as valuable reference works on White émigré matters in general, but they do not focus on White émigré influences on National Socialism. Williams does briefly address White émigré contributions to National Socialism. He notes: “With the Third Reich came the new anti-Semitic virulence of the Nazis nurtured by the extreme right wing Russians and Balts who had discovered Hitler in Munich in the early 1920s.” William’s book does not, however, examine the alliance between National Socialists and many White émigrés in detail.30 Schlögel’s work serves as a useful reference book on White émigrés, but it treats White émigré influences on National Socialism as an ancillary topic.31

   Among Russian historians, only Rafael Ganelin has examined the ideological contributions of White émigrés to National Socialism substantially. He has noted that many right-wing exiles from the former Russian Empire believed that Jewish finance capitalism had supported the Bolshevik Revolution. This view became part of National Socialist ideology. Ganelin did not undertake large amounts of primary research. His most important essay, “Russian Black Hundreds and German National Socialism,” relies primarily upon secondary Western publications.32

   A relatively detailed work examining White émigré influences on National Socialism only appeared in 1998 with the publication of Johannes Baur’s Die russische Kolonie in München 1900–1945: Deutsch–russische Beziehungen im 20. Jahrhundert (The Russian Colony in Munich 1900–1945: German–Russian Relations in the Twentieth Century). Baur asserts that White émigrés influenced Hitler’s conception of the Bolshevik Revolution. Moreover, the “anti-Semitic prophets of the emigration” helped to form National Socialist ideology by combining extreme anti-Bolshevism with anti-Semitism. These White émigrés exhibited the “intention to destroy entire segments of the population and peoples.” Baur nonetheless minimizes the extent of the “interaction between the Munich segment of the Russian monarchical right with the National Socialists.” He maintains that the cooperation between these two groups was limited to a short period of time, with ideological and political differences extant from the beginning.33

   Ideological and power-political divergences certainly existed between early National Socialists and Bavarian-based White émigrés. Members of both sides sought to use the other for their own purposes. Nonetheless, despite inevitable divergences as found in any cross-cultural collaboration, many National Socialists and White émigrés possessed substantial common ground. They launched a joint struggle against what they regarded as nefarious international Jews who manipulated both predatory finance capitalism in the West and bloody Bolshevism in the East. Four Aufbau members from the same Riga fraternity in Imperial Russia in particular bridged the gap between National Socialists and White émigrés, as they belonged to both groups: Scheubner-Richter, Arno Schickedanz, Otto von Kursell, and Rosenberg.

   Given the expanded research opportunities of the post-Cold War epoch, historians need to emphasize Russian influences on National Socialism more. Archival materials housed in Moscow that have only recently become available to historians in particular necessitate a reevaluation of White émigré contributions to National Socialism. During the summer of 1945, Soviet occupying forces in German Lower Silesia discovered vast German archives as well as great amounts of documents that the Germans had seized from occupied countries, most notably France and Poland. The entire archival collection was transported to Moscow, where it was stored in secrecy from the public and even from workers in other Soviet archives.34 While Soviet authorities returned some of these records to East Germany during the Cold War, most of the seized archival collection remained under wraps in Moscow.

   Russian authorities only admitted to possessing files looted from Germany and declassified them in 1991 after the Soviet Union had collapsed. Historians were allowed to investigate the huge archival collection at the Center for the Preservation of Historical-Documentary Collections, which had become part of the Russian State Military Archives by the time I examined materials there in 1999–2001.35 I was temporarily denied access to the former Center in March 2001, likely as part of the chilled American–Russian relations that arose after the February 2001 arrest of the FBI operative Robert Hanssen as a double agent for both the Soviets and the Russians.36

   In its heyday, the former Center contained large amounts of files dealing with National Socialist–White émigré collaboration, including reports from Hitler’s Geheime Staatspolizei (Secret State Police, commonly known as the Gestapo) and the Reichskommissar für die Überwachung der öffentlichen Ordnung (State Commissioner for the Supervision of Public Order), the secret intelligence office of the Weimar Republic that reported on political developments and observed foreigners in Germany.37 Regrettably, many State Commissioner files, most likely including one devoted specifically to Aufbau, have long been housed at the Sluzhba vneshnoi razvetki (Foreign Intelligence Service), where historians are not allowed to examine them. As a further hindrance, Russian authorities “temporarily” transferred the remaining State Commissioner documents there during the summer of 2001, fortunately after I had examined them thoroughly. I believe that I am the last Western scholar to investigate these valuable materials.

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