Understanding the Nazi Idea of Volksgemeinschaft

Hitler climbing stairs surrounded by Nazis with a crowd in the background
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The Volksgemeinschaft was a central element in Nazi thinking, although it has proved difficult for historians to determine whether this was an ideology or just a nebulous concept built from propaganda displays. Essentially the Volksgemeinschaft was a new German society which rejected old religions, ideologies, and class divisions, instead forming a united German identity based around ideas of race, struggle, and state leadership.

The Racist State

The aim was the creation of the Volk, a nation or people made up of the most superior of the human races. This concept was derived from a simplistic corruption of Darwinian and relied on Social Darwinism, the idea that humanity was composed of different races, and these competed with one another for dominance: only the best race would lead after a survival of the fittest. Naturally the Nazis thought they were the Herrenvolk—Master Race—and they considered themselves to be pure Aryans; every other race was inferior, with some like Slavs, Romany, and Jews at the bottom of the ladder, and while the Aryans had to be kept pure, the bottom could be exploited, hated and eventually liquidated. The Volksgemeinschaft was thus inherently racist and contributed greatly to the Nazi’s attempts at mass extermination.

The Nazi State

The Volksgemeinschaft didn’t just exclude different races, as competing ideologies were also rejected. The Volk was to be a one party state where the leader—currently Hitler—was accorded unquestioning obedience from his citizens, who handed over their freedoms in exchange for—in theory—their part in a smoothly functioning machine. ‘Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer’: one people, one empire, one leader. Rival ideas like democracy, liberalism or—especially repugnant to the Nazis—communism was rejected, and many of their leaders arrested and imprisoned. Christianity, despite being promised protection from Hitler, also had no place in the Volk, as it was a rival to the central state and a successful Nazi government would have brought it to an end.

Blood and Soil

Once the Volksgemeinschaft had pure members of its master race, it needed things for them to do, and the solution was to be found in an idealistic interpretation of German history. Everyone in the Volk was to work together for the common good but to do it in accordance with mythical German values which portrayed the classic noble German as a land working peasant giving the state their blood and their toil. "Blut und Boden," Blood and Soil, was a classic summary of this view. Obviously, the Volk had a large urban population, with many industrial workers, but their tasks were compared to and portrayed as part of this grand tradition. Of course "traditional German values" went hand in hand with the subjugation of women’s interests, widely restricting them to being mothers.

The Volksgemeinschaft was never written about or explained in the same way as rival ideas like communism, and may simply have been a highly successful propaganda tool rather than anything the Nazi leaders genuinely believed in. Equally, members of German society did, in places, show a commitment to the creation of the Volk. Consequently, we aren't really sure to what extent the Volk was a practical reality rather than a theory, but Volksgemeinschaft does show quite clearly that Hitler wasn't a socialist or a communist, and instead pushed a race-based ideology. To what extent would it have been enacted if the Nazi state had been successful? The removal of races the Nazis considered lesser had begun, as had the march into living space to be turned into the pastoral ideal. It's possible it would have been put entirely in place, but would almost certainly have varied by region as the power games of the Nazi leaders reached a head.

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Wilde, Robert. "Understanding the Nazi Idea of Volksgemeinschaft." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/what-was-volksgemeinschaft-1221370. Wilde, Robert. (2020, August 28). Understanding the Nazi Idea of Volksgemeinschaft. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-was-volksgemeinschaft-1221370 Wilde, Robert. "Understanding the Nazi Idea of Volksgemeinschaft." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-was-volksgemeinschaft-1221370 (accessed June 7, 2023).