Lebensraum: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

About this sound Lebensraum (German for "habitat" or literally "living space") served as a major motivation for Nazi Germany's territorial aggression, was a reinterpretation of the by then century-old concept of Drang nach Osten. In his book Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler detailed his belief that the German people needed Lebensraum – for a Großdeutschland, land, and raw materials – and that it should be taken in the East. It was the stated policy of the Nazis to kill, deport, Germanise or enslave the Polish, and later also Russian and other Slavic populations, and to repopulate the land with reinrassig (racially pure) Germanic peoples. The entire urban population was to be exterminated by starvation, thus creating an agricultural surplus to feed Germany and allowing their replacement by a German upper class.



The idea of a Germanic people without sufficient space dates back to long before Adolf Hitler brought it to prominence. Through the middle ages, German population pressures led to settlement in Eastern Europe, a practice termed Ostsiedlung. The term Lebensraum in this sense was coined by Friedrich Ratzel in 1901, and was used as a slogan in Germany referring to the unification of the country and the acquisition of colonies, based on the English and French models.[1] Ratzel believed that the development of a people was primarily influenced by their geographical situation and that a people that successfully adapted to one location would proceed naturally to another. These thoughts can be seen in his studies of zoology and the study of adaptation[2]. This expansion to fill available space, he claimed, was a natural and necessary feature of any healthy species.[3]

Ratzel himself emphasized the need for overseas colonies, to which Germans ought to migrate, not for expansion inside Europe. Wanklyn, (1961) argues that Ratzel's theory was designed to advance science, and that politicians distorted it for political goals.[4] Thus Lebensraum was picked up and expanded by publicists of the day, including Karl Haushofer and General Friedrich von Bernhardi. In von Bernhardi's 1912 book Germany and the Next War, he expanded upon Ratzel's hypotheses and, for the first time, explicitly identified Eastern Europe as a source of new space. According to him, war, with the express purpose of achieving Lebensraum, was a distinct "biological necessity." As he explained with regard to the Latin and Slavic races, "Without war, inferior or decaying races would easily choke the growth of healthy budding elements." The quest for Lebensraum was more than just an attempt to resolve potential demographic problems: it was a necessary means of defending the German race against stagnation and degeneration."[5]

In September 1914, when victory in the World War seemed at hand, Berlin introduced a lebernausum plan for postwar peace terms. the concept of Lebensraum was endorsed secretly by the Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg and the rest of the German government as a war aim in World War I. Documents discovered by the German historian Fritz Fischer have suggested that in the event of a German victory, one policy under discussion by the German government as part of its Septemberprogramm was to annex a strip of Poland, and replace the population with Germans to set up a defensive barrier in the east. The popularion policy was never officially adopted nor put into effect[6]. The significance of Fischer's discovery, as the Australian historian John Moses has noted, is that the goal of winning lebensraum was already in German thinking long before 1933 and thus cannot be seen, as some German historians have argued, as solely Adolf Hitler's personal brain-child[7]. The "September plan" was a proposal that was under discussion but was never adopted and no movement of people was ever ordered. As historian Raffael Scheck concluded, "The government, finally, never committed itself to anything. It had ordered the September Program as an informal hearing in order to learn about the opinion of the economic and military elites."[8]

As the British historian A. J. P. Taylor noted in his 1963 foreword "Second Thoughts" to his 1961 book The Origins of the Second World War:

"It is equally obvious that Lebensraum always appeared as one element in these blueprints. This was not an original idea of Hitler's. It was commonplace at the time. Volk ohne Raum (People Without Space) for instance, by Hans Grimm sold much better than Mein Kampf when it was published in 1928. For that matter, plans for acquiring new territory were much aired in Germany during the First World War. It used to be thought that these were the plans of a few crack-pot theorisers or of extremist organisations. Now we know better. In 1961 a German professor [Fritz Fischer] reported the results of his investigations into German war aims. These were indeed a "blueprint for aggression" or as the professor called them "a grasp at world power": Belgium under German control, the French iron fields annexed to Germany, and, what is more, Poland and the Ukraine to be cleared of their inhabitants and resettled with Germans. These plans were not merely the work of the German General Staff. They were endorsed by the German Foreign Office and by the "good German", Bethmann Hollweg."[9]

The German Empire planned to annex territory in both Lithuania and Poland for direct colonization by German colonists after forcible removal of Polish and Lithuanian population. As early as April 1915, the Polish Border Strip plan against Poland, which was first suggested by General Erich Ludendorff in 1914, was approved as a German war aim by the Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg. The German historian Andreas Hillgruber argued that the foreign policy of General Ludendorff, with its demand for lebensraum to be seized for Germany in Eastern Europe during World War I, was the prototype for German policy in World War II[10]. Lebensraum almost became a reality in 1918 during World War I. The new Communist regime of Russia concluded the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany, ending Russian participation in the war in exchange for the surrender of huge swathes of land, including the Baltic territories, Belarus, Ukraine, and the Caucasus.[11] However, unrest at home and defeat on the Western Front forced Germany to abandon these favorable terms in favor of the Treaty of Versailles, by which the newly acquired eastern territories were agreed to sacrifice the land to Lithuania, Poland, and new nations such as Estonia or Latvia, and a series of short-lived independent states in Ukraine.

The German historian Andreas Hillgruber argued the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was the prototype for Hitler's vision of a great empire for Germany in Eastern Europe. Hillgruber wrote that:

"To understand later German history one must pay special attention to a consquence of the Eastern situation in the autumn of 1918 that has often been overlooked: the widely shared and strangely irrational misconceptions concerning the end of the war that found such currency in the Weimar period. These ideas were not informed, as they should have been, by an appreciation of the enemy's superiority in the West and the inevitable step-by-step retreat of the German Western Front before the massive influx of the Americans. Nor did they indicate any understanding of the catastrophic consequences for the Central Powers following the collapse of the Balkan front after Bulgaria's withdrawal from the war. They were instead largely determined by the fact that German troops, as "victors" held vast strategically and economically important areas of Russia.

At the moment of the November 1918 ceasefire in the West, newspaper maps of the military situation showed German troops in Finland, holding a line from the Finnish fjords near Narva, down through Pskov-Orsha-Mogilev and the area south of Kursk, to the Don east of Rostov. Germnay had thus secured the Ukraine. The Russian recognition of the Ukraine's separation exacted at Brest-Litovsk repesented the key element in German efforts to keep Russia perpetually subservient. In addition, German troops held the Crimea and were stationed in smaller numbers in Transcaucasia. Even the unoccupied "rump" Russia appeared—with the conclusion of the German-Soviet Supplementary Treaty on August 28, 1918—to be in firm though indirect dependency on the Reich. Thus, Hitler's long-range aim, fixed in the 1920s, of erecting a German Eastern Imperium on the ruins of the Soviet Union was not simply a vision emanating from an abstract wish. In the Eastern sphere established in 1918, this goal had a concrete point of departure. The German Eastern Imperium had already been—if only for a short time—a reality"[12].

The desire for lebensraum was a key tenet of several nationalist and extremist groups in post-World War I Germany, notably the Nazi Party under Adolf Hitler. As the American historian Gerhard Weinberg noted, German demands for territorial revision went beyond merely regaining land lost under the Treaty of Versailles, and instead embraced calls for the German conquest and colonization of all Eastern Europe, regardless of whether the land in question had belonged to Germany before 1918 or not[13] Likewise, the British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper argued that the goal of overthrowing Versailles was only a prelude to seizing Lebensraum in Eastern Europe for Germany with no regard as to where Germany's 1914 frontiers had been[14]. In Mein Kampf, Hitler was to write:

"Without consideration of traditions and prejudices, 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.

The National Socialist Movement must strive to eliminate the disproportion between our population and our area—viewing this latter as a source of food as well as a basis for power politics—between our historical past and the hopelessness of our present impotence".[15]

The official German history of World War II was to conclude that the conquest of Lebensraum was for Hitler and the rest of the National Socialists the most important German foreign policy goal[16]. At his first meeting with all of the leading generals and admirals of the Reich on February 3, 1933, Hitler spoke of "conquest of Lebensraum in the East and its ruthless Germanization" as his ultimate foreign policy objectives[17]. For Hitler, the land which would provide sufficient Lebensraum for Germany was the Soviet Union, which for Hitler was both conveniently a nation that possessed vast and rich agricultural land and was inhabited by what Hitler saw as Slavic untermenschen (sub-humans) ruled over by what he regarded as a gang of blood-thirsty, but grossly incompetent Jewish revolutionaries[18]. In Hitler's view, the idea of restoring the 1914 borders of the Reich was absurd as those borders did not provide sufficient Lebensraum; only a foreign policy that aimed at the conquest of the proper quantity of Lebensraum would justify the necessary sacrifices that war entailed[19] In Hitler’s view, history was dominated by a merciless struggle between different “races” for survival, and “races” that possessed large amounts of territory were innately stronger then those that did not[20]. Eberhard Jäckel has expressed a Primat der Außenpolitik (“primacy of foreign policy”) interpration of German foreign policy as opposed to the Primat der Innenpolitik ("primacy of domestic politics") thesis favored by some left-wing historians such as Timothy Mason. Jäckel wrote that since Hitler regarded the conquest of Lebensraum as his most important project, and since that could only be accomplished through war, domestic policy comprised simply preparing the nation for the inevitable struggle for Lebensraum[21]

There are, however, many historians such as Martin Broszat and Hans Mommsen who dismiss this "intentionalist" approach, and argue that the concept was actually an "ideological metaphor" in the early days of Nazism.[22]


The practical implementation of the Lebensraum concept began in 1939 with Germany's occupation of Poland. Later, the ideology was also a major factor in Hitler's launching of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941. The Nazis hoped to turn large areas of Soviet territory into German settlement areas as part of Generalplan Ost.[23] Developing these ideas, Nazi theorist Alfred Rosenberg proposed that the Nazi administrative organization in lands to be conquered from the Soviets be based upon the following Reichskommissariats:

Name Area
Ostland Baltic States, Belarus and eastern Poland
Ukraine Ukraine and adjacent territories
Kaukasus Caucasus
Moskau the Moscow metropolitan area and adjacent European Russia

The Reichskommissariat territories would extend up to the European frontier at the Urals. They were to have been early stages in the displacement and dispossession of Russian and other Slav people and their replacement with German settlers, following the Nazi Lebensraum im Osten plans. When German forces entered Soviet territory, they promptly organized occupation regimes in the first two territories—the Reichskomissariats of Ostland and Ukraine. The defeat of the Sixth Army at the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942, followed by defeat in the Battle of Kursk in July 1943 and the Allied landings in Sicily put an end to the plans' implementation.

Historical perspective

In his book Mein Kampf, Hitler notes that history is an open-ended struggle, and links the concept of Lebensraum with his own brand of racism and social Darwinism. Nevertheless, historians debate whether Hitler's position on Lebensraum was part of a larger program of world domination (the so-called "globalist" position) or a more modest "continentalist" approach, by which Hitler would have sufficed with the conquest of Eastern Europe. Nor are the two positions necessarily contradictory, given the idea of a broader Stufenplan, or "plan in stages," which many such as Klaus Hildebrand and the late Andreas Hillgruber argue lay behind the regime's actions.[24] Historian Ian Kershaw suggests just such a compromise, claiming that while the concept was originally abstract and undeveloped, it took on new meaning with the invasion of the Soviet Union.[25] He goes on to note that even within the Nazi regime, there were differences of opinion about the meaning of Lebensraum, citing Rainer Zitelmann, who distinguishes between the near-mystical fascination with a return to an idyllic agrarian society (for which land was a necessity) as advocated by Darré and Himmler, and an industrial state, envisioned by Hitler, which would be reliant on raw materials and forced labor.[26]

What seems certain is that echoes of lost territorial opportunities in Europe, such as the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, played an important role in the Hitlerian vision for the distant future:

The acquisition of new soil for the settlement of the excess population possesses an infinite number of advantages, particularly if we turn from the present to the future ... It must be said that such a territorial policy cannot be fulfilled in the Cameroons, but today almost exclusively in Europe.[27]

Racism is not a necessary aspect of expansionist politics in general, nor was the original use of the term "Lebensraum". However, under Hitler, the term came to signify a specific, racist kind of expansionism. Karl Haushofer was an acquaintance of Rudolf Hess, Hitler's deputy. Haushofer had limited influence on Hitler's ideals. "Haushofer primarily provided the academic and scientific support for the expansion of the Third Reich [28]." Haushofer ideas can be described by the expansion of heavily populated countries having the right to expand and gain land from less populated countries. This was his adaptation of Ratzel's Lebensraum [29].

In an era when the earth is gradually being divided up among states, some of which embrace almost entire continents, we cannot speak of a world power in connection with a formation whose political mother country is limited to the absurd area of five hundred thousand square kilometers.[30] ... Without consideration of traditions and prejudices, 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.[31] ... 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 entire area those advantages which lie in its unified magnitude.[32]

See also

Empire of Japan:


  1. ^ Woodruff D. Smith, "Friedrich Ratzel and the Origins of Lebensraum," German Studies Review, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Feb., 1980), pp. 51-68 in JSTOR
  2. ^ Wanklyn, Harriet. Friedrich Ratzel: A Biographical Memoir and Bibliography. London: Cambridge University Press, 1961.
  3. ^ For an overview of Ratzel's views, see Harriet Wanklyn, Friedrich Ratzel: A Biographical Memoir and Bibliography. Cambridge University Press: 1961. ASIN B000KT4J8K. Their impact on Nazi ideology, and their intersection with colonialism and economic imperialism in the Imperial German era is described by Smith, Woodruff, D., The Ideological Origins of Nazi Imperialism, Oxford University Press, 1986. ISBN 0195047419.
  4. ^ Wanklyn, (1961) pp 36-40
  5. ^ See Evans, Richard J., The Coming of the Third Reich, Penguin Press, 2004, p. 35. ISBN 1594200041.
  6. ^ Carsten, F.L Review of Griff nach der Weltmacht pages 751-753 from English Historical Review, Volume 78, Issue #309, October 1963 of pages 752-753
  7. ^ Moses, John "The Fischer Controversy" pages 328-329 from Modern Germany An Encyclopedia of History, People and Culture, 1871-1990, Volume 1, edited by Dieter Buse and Juergen Doerr, Garland Publishing: New York, 1998 page 328
  8. ^ See Raffael Scheck, Germany 1871-1945: A Concise History (2008)
  9. ^ Taylor, A.J.P. The Origins of the Second World War, London: Hamish Hamiltion, 1976 page 23.
  10. ^ Hillgruber, Andreas Germany and the Two World Wars, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981 pages 41-47
  11. ^ Spartacus Educational: Treaty of Brest Litovsk.
  12. ^ Hillgruber, Andreas Germany and the Two World Wars, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981 pages 46-47.
  13. ^ Weinberg, Gerhard The Foreign Policy of Hitler's Germany Diplomatic Revolution in Europe 1933–1936, Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1970 pages 166–168
  14. ^ Trevor-Roper, Hugh "Hitler's War Aims" pages 235-250 from Aspects of the Third Reich edited by H.W. Koch, Macmillan Press: London, United Kingdom, 1985 pages 242-245
  15. ^ Hitler, Adolf, Mein Kampf, Houghton Mifflin, 1971, p. 646. ISBN 0385078016.
  16. ^ Messerschmidt, Manfred “Foreign Policy and Preparation for War” from Germany and the Second World War, Volume I, Clarednon Press: Oxford, United Kingdom, 1990 pages 551-554
  17. ^ Weinberg, Gerhard The Foreign Policy of Hitler's Germany Diplomatic Revolution in Europe, Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1970 pages 26-27
  18. ^ Weinberg, Gerhard The Foreign Policy of Hitler's Germany Diplomatic Revolution in Europe, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970 pages 12-13
  19. ^ Weinberg, Gerhard The Foreign Policy of Hitler's Germany Diplomatic Revolution in Europe Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970 pages 6-7
  20. ^ Jäckel, Eberhard Hitler's World View A Blueprint for Power Harvard University Press: Cambridge, United States of America, 1981 pages 34-35
  21. ^ Jäckel, Eberhard Hitler's World View, Harvard University Press: Cambridge, United States of America, 1981 pages 94-95
  22. ^ See, for instance, Kershaw, Ian, The Nazi Dictatorship: Problems & Perspectives of Interpretation, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 76–79. ISBN 0340760281.
  23. ^ Madajczyk, Czesław. "Die Besatzungssysteme der Achsenmächte. Versuch einer komparatistischen Analyse." Studia Historiae Oeconomicae vol. 14 (1980): pp. 105-122, quoted in Uerbesch, Gerd R. and Rolf-Dieter Müller, Hitler's War in the East, 1941-1945: A Critical Assessment Berghahn Books, 2008 (review ed.). ISBN 1845455010.
  24. ^ Kershaw, pp. 134–137.
  25. ^ Kershaw, pp. 154–155.
  26. ^ Kershaw, pp. 244–245.
  27. ^ Hitler, p. 138.
  28. ^ Rosenberg, Matt. "Geopolitics." About.com. 2008. About.com. 1 Nov 2008 <http://geography.about.com/od/politicalgeography/a/geopolitics.htm>.
  29. ^ Rosenberg, Matt. "Geopolitics." About.com. 2008. About.com. 1 Nov 2008 <http://geography.about.com/od/politicalgeography/a/geopolitics.htm>.
  30. ^ Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf; Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1971, page 644
  31. ^ Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, page 646.
  32. ^ Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, page 653.

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




German Lebensraum: habitat or living space.




Lebensraum (uncountable)

  1. Space in which to live, as sought by the expanding populations of militaristic states such as Nazi Germany.


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address