Lebensraum: Hitler's Search for More German Living Space

Hitler's policy of eastern expansion

German propaganda card designed to justify the expansion of Germany on the basis of Lebensraum.

Michael Nicholson / Corbis via Getty Images

The geopolitical concept of Lebensraum (German for "living space") was the idea that land expansion was essential to the survival of a people. Although the term was originally used to support colonialism, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler adapted the concept of Lebensraum to support his quest for German expansion to the east.

Key Takeaways: Lebensraum

In Nazi ideology, Lebensraum meant the expansion of Germany to the east in search of a unity between the German Volk and the land (the Nazi concept of Blood and Soil).

The Nazi-modified theory of Lebensraum became Germany's foreign policy during the Third Reich.

Who Came up With the Idea of Lebensraum?

The concept of Lebensraum originated with German geographer and ethnographer Friedrich Ratzel (1844–1904), who studied how humans reacted to their environment and were especially interested in human migration. In 1901 Ratzel published an essay called "Der Lebensraum" ("The Living Space"), in which he posited that all peoples (as well as animals and plants) needed to expand their living space in order to survive.

Many in Germany believed Ratzel's concept of Lebensraum supported their interest in establishing colonies, following the examples of the British and French empires. Hitler, on the other hand, took it a step further.

Hitler's Lebensraum

In general, Hitler agreed with the concept of expansion to allow the German Volk (people) to survive. As he wrote in his book, Mein Kampf:

"[W]ithout consideration of 'traditions' and prejudices, it [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."
— Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf 

However, rather than adding colonies to make Germany larger, Hitler wanted to enlarge Germany within Europe.

"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 total area those advantages which lie in its unified magnitude."
— Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

Adding living space was believed to strengthen Germany by helping solve internal problems, make it militarily stronger, and help make Germany become economically self-sufficient by adding food and other raw material sources.

Hitler looked eastward for Germany's expansion in Europe. It was in this view that Hitler added a racist element to Lebensraum. By stating that the Soviet Union was run by Jews (after the Russian Revolution), Hitler concluded Germany had a right to take Russian land.

"For centuries Russia drew nourishment from this Germanic nucleus of its upper leading strata. Today it can be regarded as almost totally exterminated and extinguished. It has been replaced by the Jew. Impossible as it is for the Russian by himself to shake off the yoke of the Jew by his own resources, it is equally impossible for the Jew to maintain the mighty empire forever. He himself is no element of organization, but a ferment of decomposition. The Persian empire in the east is ripe for collapse. And the end of Jewish rule in Russia will also be the end of Russia as a state."
— Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

Hitler was clear in his book Mein Kampf that the concept of Lebensraum was essential to his ideology. In 1926, another important book about Lebensraum was published—Hans Grimm's book Volk ohne Raum ("A People without Space"). This book became a classic on Germany's need for space and the book's title soon became a popular National Socialist slogan.

Sources

  • Bankier, David. "Lebensraum." Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. Israel Gutman (ed.) New York: Macmillan Library Reference, 1990.
  • Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1971.
  • Zentner, Christian and Friedmann Bedürftig (eds.). The Encyclopedia of the Third Reich. New York: Da Capo Press, 1991.