National Socialism stands or falls by its Weltanschauung. — Alfred Rosenberg
The ideas behind our programme do not oblige us to act like fools. — Adolf Hitler
It was Alfred Rosenberg's tragedy that he really believed in National Socialism. The pedantic certainty with which he saw himself as the scribe of a new gospel of salvation made him something of an oddity among the top leadership of the NSDAP, an object of covert smiles — the 'philosopher' of a movement whose philosophy almost always boiled down to power. Rosenberg himself never realized and certainly never admitted this, and so in the course of the years, as the idea of power itself visibly outweighed its ideological drapings, he came to be the forgotten disciple: scarcely taken seriously any longer, insolently overlooked and pushed around, a prop from the party's recruiting phase when ideology determined action. For a long time he failed to realize that the philosophy he so fervently advocated carried no weight, at least at the centres of power. With heavy consistency he treated the fool's paradise of his faith to the last as the political, social and religious answer to the problems of the time and saw in National Socialism, as he wrote in his 'confession' in the Nuremberg cell,
'the noblest idea to which a German could devote the strength he has been given'. (1)
The relation of National Socialism as a whole to its own ideology is difficult to unravel. It was not a programme exclusively determined by tactical considerations and aiming at success and power, which set itself up as an absolute and used ideological props whenever they served its purpose — as the formula has it, 'the revolution of nihilism' (2). On the other hand it cannot be interpreted as part of the history of ideas, isolated from its dependence upon the technique of gaining power. It was at one and the same time the practice of domination and a doctrine, inextricably interwoven together, and even, in the shameless admissions that have come down to us, a drive for power divorced from any other purpose. Hitler and his close associates always reveal themselves as at bottom the prisoners of their own prejudices. Just as National Socialism never absorbed any ideological motives without first inquiring into their value as aids to power, so its crucial manifestations of power are not to be understood without reference to an ideological motive, however fleeting and impalpable.
The leading National Socialists, in so far as they observed or even directed this interplay of ideology and power-seeking, always avoided committing themselves on the subject, emphasizing, like Goebbels for example, that in its totality National Socialism was indefinable, since it was 'subject to continual changes and transformations'.(3) Undoubtedly at its roots were certain views to which it remained indissolubly wedded, but with the exception of the idea of struggle and the maxims of the Fuhrer, there was scarcely any article in its creed that it would not have willingly abandoned or set aside at least temporarily for the sake of gaining or holding power. This tactical opportunism was reflected in the arbitrary way the rising movement took over the most diverse ideological elements, and its lack of loyalty towards ideas matched the calculating spirit in which they had been picked up. It had absorbed racial, anti-Semitic, biological and pan-German concepts along with others of an emotional pro-peasant, anti-civilization, militaristic and pseudo-religious nature. Among them flitted the shades of the German Romantics, Wagner, Nietzsche and Paul de Lagarde; the mood of the time was reflected in nationalist, monarchist, federalist and socialist ideas. Down to eccentric reformers like the new pagans and believers in the Garden of Eden, there was scarcely a trend of those years that did not, at least for a time, make its contribution to the conglomerate of National Socialist ideology.
'We have picked our ideas from all the bushes along our life's path,' Hitler once declared, 'and we no longer know where they came from.' (4)
Not only the heterogeneous character of this philosophy, but also the varying weights of the individual elements and their greater or lesser importance to the fight for power, make it difficult to determine the relationship of National Socialism to its own ideology. Just as National Socialism's lack of unity and its inner inconsistency compel us to mark off the limits of its ideological value in the power struggle case by case, so we can do no more than outline the attitude of individual leaders towards individual ideological postulates. Goring's ideological indifference, for example, was strikingly distinct from Rosenberg's cranky adherence to the ideological letter, and Himmler's sentimentally exaggerated relation to ideology was in the greatest possible contrast to that of his subordinate Heydrich. Hans Frank stated:
'The formula: National Socialism is exclusively what So-and-So says or does, by which the representative who happened to be speaking meant himself, gradually replaced the assumptions of the party programme. Fundamentally there were as many "National Socialisms" as there were leaders.' (5)
Consequently the idea of power and purpose inevitably moved into the foreground, but underpinned by changing personal obsessions and resentments that were restricted only by unconditional obedience to the Fuhrer. This situation largely explains why the type of the strict believer was relatively rare in the top leadership. Those whose convictions were not moulded by a resolute will to success and capable of being activated in the direction of the aims set by Hitler were soon isolated. Put in a different way, National Socialism had room for every cynical contempt for ideology that was coupled with a will to power, but not for the ideological will that was coupled with contempt for power. Hitler expressed this situation in the words:
'National Socialism is a movement of the people, but in no circumstances a cult movement.'(6)
The fate of those of his followers who set faith above power emphatically confirmed this. If Alfred Rosenberg was the paradox of a leading National Socialist who felt obliged to maintain allegiance to his ideological premises with the utmost stubborn consistency, he is also the clearest demonstration of the ludicrous position of all serious-minded people within the movement. A note in his diary on 7th May 1940, evidently so important to him that he repeated it later elsewhere, makes his orthodox-convictions unmistakably clear and at the same time furnishes a key to his nature. The note repeats what he once told Walther Darre, who was trying to persuade him to take part in a struggle for power within the party.
'I told him,' writes Rosenberg, 'I would adopt a standpoint, irrespective of whether someone was for or against it, if I felt deeply that it was right for the movement. I would do that even if in the end I remained alone (7).
In fact, it was not merely 'in the end'. Again and again humiliated and passed over, he sought compensation in casting the contemptuous glance of the true believer on apostate former fellow-fighters who, hungry for power and booty, formed themselves into continually changing packs. His helpless foolishness rewarded with insultingly uninfluential positions, he was a prophet without honour in his own country and with even less outside it. Goebbels ironically called him
'Almost Rosenberg', because 'Rosenberg almost managed to become a scholar, a journalist, a politician, but only almost.'(8)
This phrase expressed the contempt of the adroit technician of power for a man whose cumbersome convictions forever stood in his own way. As he lost more and more power, Rosenberg shut himself up in his intellectual arrogance and stuck with increasing obstinacy to that over-riding 'philosophy' to which he devoted his narrow-minded loyalty until the end 'the noblest idea'. While, entrusted with tasks of ideological supervision, he guarded the heaven of racial bliss, other, tougher characters set about erecting those hells which Rosenberg later incredulously regarded as a falsification of the pure doctrine. If, as Wilhelm Raabe put it in a phrase which Rosenberg quotes in his last notes, the German spirit draws a third of its strength from philistinism, the German anti-spirit does so no less.
Originating from a petty-bourgeois background in Reval (Estonia), Rosenberg was one of the numerous expatriate Germans whose Germanity complex gave the rising NSDAP much of its character (9).
'The opponents of the National Socialist movement', we read in Richter's contemporary work on racial characteristics, 'insist on seeing a foreigner in Rosenberg, because of his Baltic origins; but anyone who looks at his skull with a trained eye will immediately recognize him as a Germanic man who can with every right claim his place in the ranks of Adolf Hitler. The clearly defined long skull tells us that we are dealing with a man of pure emotion and sensibility. But there is a certain pain in the overall expression of the eyes.'(10)
This character study, which unconsciously verges on irony, tends to reveal what it seeks to conceal; for in fact among the robust, tough followers of the period of the party's struggle, a type better represented by figures like Streicher, Dietrich Eckart or Rohm, Rosenberg was regarded from the outset as an outsider. He was made a 'foreigner', not by the movement's opponents, but by his own introverted temperament and by his fellow-fighters. A man in whose hands everything became difficult and complicated, he never found the uncomplicated practicality of Hitler's 'South German' followers, who were precisely the ones who set the movement's tone, and on occasion he remarked himself that he had hardly any friends in the party. (11) His one-sidedly ideological tendencies, which ran counter to the nature of the party old guard with their emphasis on activist self-assertion, increased the distance still further. He was 'the buffoon, the stuck-up crackpot ninny', the 'bohemian', as Max Amann said of his editor-in-chief on the Völkischer Beobachter, (12) when Rosenberg was accused of arrogance on account of what was no doubt really inhibition and intellectual prejudice.
In conversation [a former National Socialist has reported] one had the impression that he was not listening properly at all. Every now and then he would purse his lips when critical remarks were made or attempt a supercilious smile, which naturally gained him the reputation of arrogant unamiability. Undoubtedly this was doing him an injustice, as was the accusation that he wished to be a dictator of opinion. He was merely so cramped within his acquired ideas and egocentric dreams of the Baltic noble, the English lord, the scientific genius of Copernican stamp, that he had entirely lost his, in any case, underdeveloped capacity for making contact and entering into conversation with other people.(13)
Fundamentally, therefore, it is hard to say what combination of circumstances led the heavy-blooded, pedantic architectural student and art master to see his vocation in politics at all, let alone in the NSDAP; and even his written statement at Nuremberg does little to clarify this disputed phase of his development. Manifestly it was originally neither the typical resentments of the 'German Balt', nor the desire to further a political vision of the future, but rather the result of chance; for on whatever else his account of his life may keep silent, it at least reveals a weakness in his character that allowed him to be led or driven almost exclusively by arbitrary external pressures. Even for his move to Germany in 1918 he could produce no more impressive explanation than his own irresolution: 'Life drew me and I followed it.' (14)
Rosenberg followed life to Munich, where to begin with he lived laboriously by taking odd jobs. He quickly found his way into Russian emigre circles and made contact with the Thule Society, a nationalist secret society with an occult tinge that practised a sectarian Aryan and Germanic cult — chiefly against a background of sinister horror stories and shabby 'revelations' about Jews, Freemasons and Bolsheviks — before becoming for a time the centre of counter-revolutionary activities in Bavaria. Both encounters left an indelible impression in the soft wax of Alfred Rosenberg's personality. Soon after his meeting with Hitler, arranged by Dietrich Eckart, and his entry into the party, he fostered emigre discontent through the Lebensraum idea, the basic foreign policy concept of the Hitler movement, while the impressions received in the Thule Society marked the direction and style of his secondary philosophical undertaking. The very titles of his first publications make this clear enough: 'The Tracks of the Jew Through the Ages' and 'Immorality in the Talmud' (1920), 'The Crime of Free-masonry' (1921), 'The Morass, or Plague in Russia' (1922). He was also one of the main disseminators of the famous forgery 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Jewish World Politics' (1923), which with all his naive-courageous readiness for self-committal he had republished in 1940. (15) In this and all his subsequent writings he revealed himself as a man of profound half-culture, acquainted with countless apocryphal sources and theories and all the cranky tract literature of pathological nationalist fanaticism, a reader who assimilated his mass of reading rapidly, uncritically, and inaccurately, so that the result was always in line with his preconceived opinions. His growing literary output, which brought him the over-valued status of 'chief ideologist' of the NSDAP, culminated in The Myth of the Twentieth Century in 1930 — according to a contemporary bibliography
'the most important book of National Socialism next to Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf. (16) It attempted to combine the mutually contradictory historical and emotional elements to which the movement owed its success into a systematic National Socialist philosophy. After the grandiose opening, 'Today world history must be written afresh', it interprets history in terms of race conflict, inspired by Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Gobineau and their followers, but also by a misconstrued Nietzsche:
A new interrelated, colourful picture of human and terrestrial history is beginning to reveal itself today if we reverently recognize that the conflict between blood and environment, between blood and blood, represents the ultimate phenomenon accessible to us, behind which it is not vouchsafed us to seek and investigate. But this realization immediately brings with it recognition of the fact that the struggles of blood and the dimly felt mysticism of living events do not represent two different things but one and the same thing in two different ways. Racial history is therefore natural history and the mysticism of the soul at one and the same time; but the history of the religion of the blood, conversely, is the great world story of the rise and downfall of peoples, their heroes and thinkers, their inventors and artists. (17)
The whole work, in its vehemence and attempted profundity, was based on emotional arguments like these, safeguarded against any objective, logical refutation. Consistently with this, Rosenberg evolved his theory that cultural and state-creating genius was peculiar to Nordic man, not by demonstrating the presence of Nordic blood in the peoples distinguished by such achievements, but by the opposite method, which is difficult to contest; wherever he saw an important culture-creating force at work, as in Greek antiquity, he took this as proof of his incontrovertible initial thesis. In his basic pessimism he saw Germanness, the priceless sediment in the bowl of Nordic blood, and thereby the whole world, as threatened by downfall and destruction. As a symptom of disintegration he lamented the 'psychic bastardisation of our people' and linked with it the 'loss of natural good sense' as well as of 'will-determined Nordic aesthetics'. (18) In a cosmic system of evaluation and devaluation he proclaimed the dissolution of the Christian-Syrian-liberal world idea and contrasted it with the new values which naturally required for their full development the acquisition of new Lebensraum. Action and struggle took the place of compassion and humanity, the 'beautiful' was contrasted with the 'good', 'love' was displaced by the masculine Germanic concept of 'honour', and all this in turn was placed under the heading of a blood-determined interpretation of existence:
Today a new faith is stirring: the myth of blood, the faith that along with blood we are defending the divine nature of man as a whole. The belief, incarnate with the most lucid knowledge, that Nordic blood represents that mystery which has replaced and overcome the old sacraments. (19)
It was basically from its assault upon Christianity and all that it stands for that The Myth of the Twentieth Century gained its reputation. In a 'catechism' of the National Socialist ideology which summarized the views expressed in the book, Rosenberg did emphasize that Christianity was 'ennobled solely by the fact that Germans have believed in it'; but this in no way diminished the resolute harshness of his declaration of war on Christianity. He wrote:
From education by the Church to education by Germanic value is a step of several generations. We are the transition from one education to the other. We are the conquerors of one era and the founders of a new — also religious — epoch. We bear a heavy and therefore a great destiny. To destroy images is something every revolution has been able to do. But to establish its cause upon nothing and yet not to burn all bridges behind it: that is the nobility of character of the National Socialist era.
The German people is not marked by original sin, but by original nobility. The place of Christian love has been taken by the National Socialist, Germanic idea of comradeship . . . which has already been symbolically expressed through the replacement of the rosary by the spade of labour (20).
The wearisome, declamatory mysticism that characterises The Myth of the Twentieth Century, as it does everything else the author published, evidently rather repelled his fellow-leaders; it certainly did not strengthen Rosenberg's position. Hitler found the book
'derivative, pastiche, illogical rubbish! Bad Chamberlain with a few additions!'
At the same time he assured the author that it was 'a very intelligent book'.(21) During the war he admitted, moreover, that he 'had read only very little of it', because it was 'written in too unintelligible a style', and attributed its great popularity solely to its attacks on the Catholic Church.(22) And while Goebbels dismissed it half in amusement, half angrily, as an 'ideological belch', the accused at the Nuremberg trial later stated without exception that they had never read the book.(23) Among the public too it found few readers, though thanks to a sales campaign using every trick of the trade it had run to 1,100,000 copies by 1944. Rosenberg's proud entry in his diary for 19 January 1940 that 'gradually hundreds of thousands have been inwardly revolutionized by my book'(24) was no doubt an expression of his need to compensate for an unsuccessful political career by convincing himself of his philosophical success.
For by this time it had long been evident that Rosenberg had little or no political influence and no voice in the real decisions. His original ambition, which was not merely ideological but at least equally directed towards foreign policy, had brought him during the so-called time of struggle into the top leadership as Hitler's adviser on foreign affairs and chairman of the NSDAP's committee on foreign policy. After the unsuccessful putsch of November 1923, Hitler actually put him in charge of the movement, but only, as Rosenberg rightly surmised, to hasten its disintegration and thus ensure a favourable starting-point for his own recapture of the leadership.(25) With the beginning of the seizure of power Rosenberg found himself being pushed aside; it did not need the painfully unsuccessful trip to England, which was intended to demonstrate his claim to leadership in foreign affairs, to undermine the position which he had laboriously built up for himself. His rigidity of principle, which saw the movement's ideological heritage as being in constant danger, made him an inflexible opponent of all tactical compromise, such as Hitler's compromise with the Church in spring 1933. No doubt he was also disqualified by his positively neurotic ideological suspiciousness, which scented the conspiratorial activity of Jews, Marxists, Freemasons or Jesuits behind every movement of opposition. Thus at the beginning of the 1930s he was
'seriously of the opinion that the Chancellor [Bruning], as the emissary of the Vatican, had only one task: by his policy of emergency regulations and the consequent inevitable impoverishment of ever-widening circles of the population to deliver up Protestant North Germany to Communism, in order by the purgatory of this affliction to leave it ripe for a second counter-revolution with the restoration of the Catholic princely houses'.(26)
The world of his ideas was dominated by a pandemonium of dark powers, which he saw as being in full assault on the 'world of light'. Behind all obscure movements in the present, whether economic, financial or merely organisational, he surmised the spectral operations of demons, the activities of priests, or the cabalistic work of the Devil. When he asked who were the men secretly behind a newspaper and was told
'No one', he declared with utter conviction, 'There is always someone in the background.'(27)
Rarely has there been a clearer example than Rosenberg of modern man's tendency, brilliantly exploited by Hitler himself, to blame anonymous powers for his helplessness and his fear of life; and the obstinacy with which Rosenberg sought to mobilize ancient bloodlust against these imagined powers merely reveals his essential ineffectiveness of character.
Rosenberg was soon outdone by his more adroit rivals in the struggles for power at the top of the movement, and forced into the thankless role of the man who has continually to point to merits and rights recognized earlier, and this was due not only to their greater ruthlessness but also to his own narrow-mindedness. He pursued Goebbels, Ribbentrop and Ley with deep and earnest hatred after they had forced their way into departments for which, as the ideological high priest, he considered himself alone competent. He was a jealous, intolerable grumbler who could play the part of a particularly fanatic racist or, if circumstances demanded, of a mouthpiece for Jewish interests.(28) He set his heart on taking over the foreign ministry in any cabinet formed by Hitler. Consequently he never got over the fact that he was passed over in 1933 and, apart from functions connected with ideology and political education, was entrusted solely with the Foreign Department of the NSDAP. In spite of all the activities upon which he immediately embarked, in spite of all his quarrels with the German Foreign Office over the scope of his authority, his department had little to do but look after foreign visitors, and Goring stated in Nuremberg that it 'was never once listened to in matters concerning foreign policy'.(29) His ambition therefore turned vigorously in compensation to the aesthetic programme outlined in The Myth of the Twentieth Century. In 1929, well before the party came to power, he had set up the 'Kampfbund fur Deutsche Kultur '(Fighting League for German Culture) with a view to the establishment of racially orientated criteria of beauty from which his offensive against the 'bastardized mestizoism' of so-called degenerate art could be carried on without restraint and with all the resources of the state behind it. From now on the assumptions and stylistic principles of 'the art of the national community' were dictated by a narrow-minded zeal in whose petty-bourgeois nationalist scales of values Durer's 'Hare', or, as the then director of the Folkwang Museum declared, the 'Steel Helmet', appeared as the unsurpassable expression of 'inspired' or great German art. (30) Entirely in keeping with this, one of the new cultural officials celebrated 'the thunder of cannon at Sedan and Mozart's Eine Kleine Nacktmusik as 'expressions of the same cultural capacity of the Germans', while Professor Ewald Geissler declared that only art that was easy to remember could prove its 'Germanness'.(31) The call for the 'great destruction of the images throughout the German land', which had been heard for years,(32) now reached its height in the demand that 'all productions showing cosmopolitan and Bolshevist symptoms shall be removed from German museums and collections' and burnt; 'the names of all those artists who have been swept along by the flood of Marxism and Bolshevism must never be mentioned again in public'; for here 'we must proceed according to Old Testament morality: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth'.(33) And while the Reich Centre for the Advancement of German Literature, presided over by Rosenberg, operating later with 1,400 editors, imposed the dictatorship of the taste of the man in the street on literature as well, the new folk aesthetic was popularized by the National Socialist Cultural Community, also under Rosenberg's direction, in pronouncements of pathetic narrow-mindedness and banality. (34)
Rosenberg's boast that he possessed 'sovereignty over the judgement of all intellectual institutions'(35) did not allow him to forget what he had lost in the process. The personal documents he left behind are dominated by the marks of a deeply humiliated sense of his own worth: by bitterness, envy, persecution mania and an almost unparalleled vanity. Thus he confides in his diary that on the occasion of his visit to Brunswick the whole town 'was in joyful mood as never before';declares 'the whole youth of the movement swears by me',or notes 'with inner satisfaction that my struggle for the soul and outlook of the party has already fundamentally triumphed'.
Elsewhere he congratulates himself that his Myth is the 'success of the century' and sees all the forces of the Catholic Church mobilized against it by Rome:
'The evil Cardinal Faulhaber spoke in Munich and among other things venomously attacked my book; since they do not yet dare to kick the Fuhrer, they are trying to run down his most dangerous colleague. The man will not go unanswered.' (36)
He avidly wrote down every casual compliment paid him by Hitler. In his notes written in Nuremberg he still happily recalled the mysterious accord the two of them had attained at certain times,(37) and through which he felt raised up from the horde of fellow-suitors for the Fuhrer's favour. It may have been some satisfaction to him to observe that his bitterest rival, Goebbels, missed the opportunity of the last word in their long-drawn-out quarrel. He stated in retrospect, with pedantic finality:
Hitler naturally knew that I had a deeper understanding of art and culture than Goebbels, indeed, that the latter was scarcely able to see below the surface. Nevertheless he left to that man the direction of this sphere of German life which he loved so passionately. Because as I later had only too often to tell myself, the latter was able to surround the Fuhrer with an environment such as I would never have created. He fed the theatrical element in the Fuhrer.(38)
But immediately back comes the feeling of having been slighted.
In the evenings the Fuhrer often used to invite this man or that for a long fireside discussion. Apart from the usual guests at his table, Goebbels, Ley and some others were favoured in this respect I can say nothing on this subject as I was not once invited.(39)
Rosenberg's bitterest disappointment, however, came in spring 1938, when Hitler, in appointing a new Foreign Minister, once more passed him over in favour of the despised careerist Ribbentrop. His worst premonitions were confirmed in summer 1939 when Ribbentrop concluded the Moscow Pact, the political advantages of which did not offset its ideological lack of principle in his eyes, especially as he doubted whether the clash with Poland was inevitable.
'History will perhaps one day make clear', he wrote, 'whether the situation that had arisen had to arise'.
With unconcealed horror he noted that
'the Soviets are said already to have selected a delegation to the Nuremberg Party Rally' and huffily registered Ribbentrop's remark on his return from Moscow, that 'the Russians were very nice; among them he had felt as though in the midst of old party comrades'.(40)
Summing up, he concluded:
I have the feeling that this Moscow Pact will at some time or other exact vengeance upon National Socialism. That was not a step taken out of a free decision but an act imposed by a difficult situation, a petition on the part of one revolution to the head of another, the overcoming of which has been the ideal held up to inspire a twenty-year struggle. How can we still speak of the salvation and reformation of Europe, when we have to ask Europe's destroyer for help? (41)
The Moscow Pact struck a decisive blow against Rosenberg's naive loyalty to his Fuhrer, maintained till then in spite of all humiliations. Thenceforth he believed that the backbone had been torn out of National Socialism and Hitler himself had apostatized to the camp of the opportunists who betrayed an epoch-making cause to the needs of day-to-day politics. Deeply wounded by National Socialist realities, he henceforth withdrew more and more into his confused world of National Socialist ideas, lonely but with his feelings intact. At the beginning of 1940, at his own suggestion, he was appointed by Hitler 'Representative of the Fuhrer for the Furtherance of the National Socialist View', and in the same year he actually succeeded in what he referred to with satisfaction as an 'historical' act of foreign policy, by arranging an ominous personal contact between a leading Norwegian 'National Socialist' named Quisling and the German government. But successes like this merely raised his self-esteem, not his prestige. Again and again he had to remind people of his identity; his burning ambition was ultimately stronger than his readiness to rest content with the role of doctrinal guardian. After the French campaign he asked Hitler's permission to search the libraries and archives, as well as 'ownerless Jewish cultural property', for valuable material, a task which, by means of 'Reichsleiter Rosenberg's Temporary Staff', he extended to cover blatant robbery.(42) For the first time, long after his rivals in the leadership, the theorist and 'philosopher' found himself in a position to practise his extremism, which till then had remained purely literary; he devoted himself to his task with a ruthlessness in which euphoria at suddenly finding himself in a position to give orders combined vigorously with the aggressions left over from his disappointment in the field of foreign affairs. At bottom, however, this activity too was already part of his retreat from executive politics; for the expropriated material notably 55,000 books, was earmarked for the so-called Higher Schools, the post-war 'central institutions for National Socialist research, teaching and education', of which he was preparing not only the curricula and administration but also — with models of grandiose bad taste — architecture. Here he believed that he was dedicating himself to pure doctrine, unsullied by compromise and tactical concessions, and instead of the real exercise of power, which had been refused him, assuming unrestricted dominion over the spirit.(43)
In these circumstances even the outbreak of the war with Russia could not heal what was broken within him. It was true that appointment as Reich Minister for the occupied Eastern regions restored to him the feeling of being indispensable as a political specialist which he had so long missed; but he was soon forced to recognize that his appointment was purely formal, made no doubt partly because of his Baltic origins and partly to avoid further troublesome claims. His powers were pathetically limited from the outset. Goring as General Supervisor of the Four-Year Plan, Himmler as Special Commissioner in the Army Operational Zone, Chief of Police and Reichsfuhrer of the SS as well as Reich Commissar for the Consolidation of German National Identity (Volkstum) and responsible for resettlement measures, Sauckel as Commissioner for the Labour Force, and finally the Wehrmacht High Command: all these ate away his authority to the point where little was left but the title. Since he rejected Hitler's primitive and short-sighted ideas for the Eastern Region, his subordinates Hinrich Lohse and Erich Koch were soon able to push to the fore. Koch built up in the Ukraine a grandiose and bloody slave state far closer to the spirit of Hitler's Eastern policy than Rosenberg's lone efforts to win over the population by such things as the elimination of the kolkhozes and the preservation of some degree of self-government. In the stubborn conflicts that ensued he remained alone or was a pawn in the game for tougher and cleverer rivals, and his appeals, ignored by Hitler, were increasingly lost in the void. Soon the rival authorities no longer bothered to inform him of their measures or plans; Hinrich Lohse was even able to propose to Hitler the dissolution of the Ministry for the East to which he himself was answerable (44) — the Ostministerium, or 'Chaostministerium' (Ministry of Chaos), as Goebbels aptly called it in view of Rosenberg's clumsiness in organization and handling of power. Rosenberg, the Minister of Propaganda declared, reminded him of a 'monarch with neither country nor subjects',(45) and in truth the function of his office was becoming visibly reduced to writing pleas which no one read, memoranda which were circulated only within his own office,protests which no one took notice of any more: a forgotten man at the head of a forgotten institution. Despised, tricked and ridiculed, finally in autumn 1944 he resigned. Even then he failed, of course, to find the right words for the slights he had suffered and, presumably, his indignation; the only note he could strike was one of demoralized ill-humour, behind which the feelings of an indissoluble attachment to the Fuhrer were clearly visible. In his letter of resignation of 12th October 1944 he wrote:
I beg you, my Fuhrer, to tell me whether you still require my services; since I have not been able to report to you orally, but the problems of the East are being brought to you and discussed with you by various parties, in view of this development I must yield to the assumption that perhaps you no longer consider my activities necessary (46).
It seems that he was not spared the final humiliation; for there is no sign that this appeal was ever answered by Hitler. Rosenberg was no longer a force to be reckoned with.
He never really had been, and it was his personal misfortune always to have stood above his station, however low it may have been. In his clumsy handling of power, his laborious German tendency to complication and his superstition he was not only hopelessly inferior to all his rivals, but in no way was he the figure of a modern totalitarian leader. He was a follower, material for the technicians of irrational modern social religion to work upon. If, in a phrase of Pareto's, the art of ruling consists in exploiting emotions instead of wasting time on vainly attempting to destroy them, this was precisely what he never understood in his excited missionary zeal. Goebbels mocked the ideologue who believed
'that when a member of a U-boat crew comes filthy and oily from the engine room, what he reaches for in preference to anything is a copy of The Myth of the Twentieth Century';(47)
in his warped pseudo-intellectuality Rosenberg did believe this, or at least wanted to. The world as a Walpurgis Night of dark powers and himself in the midst of it, conscious of his mission and unconquerable, side by side with the Fuhrer holding the sword in front of the Holy Grail — in such images he sought and found the heroic compensation he needed; this was the real content of the Weltanschauung that sprang from his sickly and distorted personality.
He was infinitely over-valued, especially as to his 'evil influence'. The American military doctor and psychiatrist in the Nuremberg prison, Douglas M. Kelley, called him brutal and cruel; that is certainly wrong.(48) It would be much more accurate to say that he was intolerant and given to the petty bullying that is a sign of inferiority. Like many intellectuals of his time he was a lover of old-fashioned stupidities, only he had the opportunity to proclaim them solemnly in public places and gain currency for them, even if greatly restricted. But this remained pure theory with him. He did not think things out to their logical conclusions, like so many who expressed a literary contempt for reason and humanity and mused upon folk truths in fashionable intellectual twilight. Very little in his hazy constructions, which defy translation into any practical programme, entered the real world of the National Socialist dictatorship, beyond the restricted areas placed under his personal influence. True, the accusation against him in the Nuremberg court-room related not to what he had thought but to what he had done. But everything he did was rather that which was done in his name, because he was incapable, either personally or in administrative technique, of living up to his own unfortunate predilection for executive activity. He remained 'Almost Rosenberg'. The evidence before the Nuremberg court, which unequivocally proves that he knew about and indirectly took part in the measures for the extermination of the Jews, makes his horror over Auschwitz and Theresienstadt highly incredible. But if it was genuine, so certainly was the dull-wittedness with which he lied his way out of it, speaking of a 'great disease of National Socialism', a temporary degeneration for which he blamed above all Goebbels, Himmler, Bormann and officials like Erich Koch.(49) To the end he never realized that the injustices of National Socialism were inherent in it, that the terrible practice grew in the soil of a terrible theory. Within this broader framework, ideology and reality ultimately did correspond. And if Rosenberg, shortly before his death, expressed the hope that the idea of National Socialism would never be forgotten and would be 'reborn from a new generation steeled by suffering', this too merely indicates that he never grasped the largely false nature of totalitarian ideologies, which as they lose the external power in which they embody themselves also lose their power over men's minds.(50)
Thus no one so mistook the character and significance of National Socialist ideology as this man who considered himself one of its founders and authoritative exponents. The final sentence in the notes written in his Nuremberg cell admits, characteristically, his inability
'to understand all that in its deepest meaning.'(51)
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