Livingstone Hitler comments 'inaccurate'

Ken Livingstone Image copyright Getty Images

Ken Livingstone's comments on Hitler and Zionism have attracted widespread comment and criticism.

Defending Labour MP Naz Shah from accusations of anti-Semitism during an interview on BBC Radio London, the former mayor of London said: "Let's remember that when Hitler won the election in 1932, his policy was that Jews should be moved to Israel."

But Mr Livingstone's version of history contained several errors, as Timothy Snyder, Yale University history professor and author of Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, explains below.

It is inconceivable that Hitler could have wanted to move Jews to Israel, because there was no such place in 1932.

Using the word "Israel" when what is meant was "the British mandate of Palestine" has the unfortunate consequence of stripping away the actual historical context and putting the words "Hitler" and "Israel" in the same sentence.

Hitler was not a supporter of Zionism.

He believed, on the contrary, that Zionism was one of many deliberately deceptive labels that Jews placed upon what he believed to be their endless striving for global power and the extermination of the human species.

'Categorically false'

From Hitler's point of view, Jews were precisely not normal human beings because they did not care about territory, but cared only about global domination.

"He was supporting Zionism" is categorically false and reveals a total and fundamental misunderstanding of what Hitler's anti-Semitism was all about.

Tens of thousands of German Jews did emigrate to Palestine before British policy made this all but impossible. And some German officials did take an interest in Zionism. But there was never a German policy to support Zionism or a future Israel.

On the contrary, the German orientation in the Middle East was to support Arab nationalism. The official German policy, enunciated clearly in 1937, was to oppose the creation of a State of Israel.

'Logically inconceivable'

Before, during and after 1932, Hitler referred to the Jews as a problem for the entire world, not simply for Germany.

When the Holocaust took place, the vast majority of Jews killed were people who lived beyond Germany.

Both in theory and in practice, Hitler's extermination of Jews was international, applied to millions of people. For this reason as well, it is logically inconceivable that his ideas could ever have been limited to sending German Jews to Palestine.

Well before 1932, in his book Mein Kampf, Hitler had made clear that the Jews were, in his view, a "spiritual pestilence" that had to be removed from the face of the earth in order to rescue the human species, the natural order of the planet, and God's creation.

It was not clear just how this could be carried out; but there is no sense in which the idea of deporting Jews to Palestine is sufficient to this vision.

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