Untermensch: 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

Untermensch (German for under man, sub-man, sub-human; plural: Untermenschen) is a term from Friedrich Nietzsches philosophy. The term was used as a contrast to the Übermensch "over-man" in his book Thus Spoke Zarathustra (German: Also Sprach Zarathustra. But the term became infamous when the Nazi racial ideology used it to describe "inferior people", especially "the masses from the East," that is Jews, Gypsies, Poles along with other Slavic people like the Russians, Serbs, Ukrainians, so-called Mischlings and anyone else who was not an "Aryan" according to the contemporary Nazi race terminology. The German word Mensch literally means human.



Although usually considered to have been coined by the Nazis themselves, the term "under man" in the above mentioned sense was actually first used by American author Lothrop Stoddard in the title of his 1922 pamphlet The Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace of the Under-man. It was later adopted by the Nazis from that book's German version Der Kulturumsturz: Die Drohung des Untermenschen (1925).[1] The German word "Untermensch" itself had been used earlier (not in a racial sense), e.g. in a 1899 novel by Theodor Fontane. Since most writers who employ the term do not address the question of when and how the word entered the German language (and therefore do not seem to be aware of Stoddard's original term "under man"), "Untermensch" is usually back-translated into English as "sub-human." A leading Nazi attributing the concept of the East-European "under man" to Stoddard is Alfred Rosenberg who, referring to Russian communists, wrote in his Der Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts (1930) that "this is the kind of human being that Lothrop Stoddard has called the 'under man.'" ["...den Lothrop Stoddard als 'Untermenschen' bezeichnete."][2] Quoting Stoddard: "The Under-Man -- the man who measures under the standards of capacity and adaptability imposed by the social order in which he lives.

However, it is possible that Stoddard constructed his "under man" as an antipode to Friedrich Nietzsche's Übermensch (or superman) concept. Stoddard doesn't say so explicitly, but he refers critically to the "superman" idea at the end of his book (p. 262). Wordplays with Nietzsche's term seem to have been used repeatedly as early as the 19th century and, due to the German linguistic trait of being able to combine prefixes and roots almost at will in order to create new words, this development was even somewhat logical. For instance, German author Theodor Fontane contrasts the Übermensch/Untermensch word pair in his novel Der Pharrt (1898, see Chapter 33). As a matter of fact, even Nietzsche himself used "Untermensch" at least once in contrast to "Übermensch" (Die fröhliche Wissenschaft [1882], 3rd book, Chapter 143) but this bears no resemblance to the Untermensch in later thought. Earlier examples of "Untermensch" include Romanticist Jean Paul using the term in his novel Hesperus (1795) in reference to an Orangutan (Chapter "8. Hundposttag").

Stoddard's book-long diatribe dealt with the recent takeover of power by the Bolsheviks in Russia, arguing that that country was now ruled by the most degenerate people on the Earth. He thought that the combination of the alleged inherent racial inferiority of Russian Slavs, the idiocy of a political creed that appealed to the vilest human instincts (e.g. jealousy towards the more gifted and the more affluent) and the supposed fact that the Communist Party's rank and file consisted of "born criminals" in the most conventional sense of the word necessitated a completely new term to describe this phenomenon: "the under man." In this sense, for Stoddard, the October Revolution was the battle cry for an upcoming, unavoidable clash of the civilized nations with the "masses of the east." If the white race was intent upon winning that confrontation with the "under man," so the message went, it had to turn away from ill-conceived liberal ideas and adopt drastic changes of policy instead, e.g. by introducing far-ranging eugenics programmes.[3]

The available literature on Nazi Germany would not support the claim that Stoddard's writings were more to the Nazis than a neat summary of racial, social, and political theories that already were or would soon become part and parcel of the Nazis' ideology.

Nazi propaganda and policy

The term "Untermensch" was utilized repeatedly in writings and speeches directed against the Jews, the most notorious example being a 1935 SS publication with the title "Der Untermensch" which contains an antisemitic tirade sometimes considered to be an extract from a speech held by Heinrich Himmler. In the pamphlet The SS as an Anti-Bolshevist Fighting Organization, Himmler wrote in 1936: We shall take care that never again in Germany, the heart of Europe, will the Jewish-Bolshevistic revolution of subhumans be able to be kindled either from within or through emissaries from without.[1]

Another example for using the term "Untermensch," this time in connection with anti-Soviet propaganda, is another brochure, again titled "Der Untermensch" and edited by Himmler. Published in 1942 after the start of Operation Barbarossa, it is around fifty pages long and consists for the most part of photos casting an extremely negative light on the enemy (see link below for the title page). Historian Robert Jan van Pelt writes that for the Nazis, "it was only a small step to a rhetoric pitting the European Mensch against the Soviet Untermensch, which had come to mean a Russian in the clutches of Judeo-Bolshevism."[4]

The Race and Settlement Head Office in 1942 distributed a pamphlet "The Sub-Human" to those responsible for that selection of which 3,860,995 copies were printed in the German language. It was also translated into Greek, French, Dutch, Danish, Bulgarian, Hungarian and Czech and seven other languages. The pamphlet states the following:

The sub-human, that biologically seemingly complete similar creation of nature with hands, feet and a kind of brain, with eyes and a mouth, is nevertheless a completely different, dreadful creature. He is only a rough copy of a human being, with human-like facial traits but nonetheless morally and mentally lower than any animal. Within this creature there is a fearful chaos of wild, uninhibited passions, nameless destructiveness, the most primitive desires, the nakedest vulgarity. Sub-human, otherwise nothing. For all that bear a human face are not equal. Woe to him who forgets it.

This concept included Jews, Roma (Gypsies), non-Europeans (but the number of black Africans for example was too small in 1940s Europe) and some of the Slavic peoples (named as Ukrainians, Poles, Russians, Serbs and Czechoslovaks).[2] The Nazis acknowledged that some of sub-humans have had ancestors of Aryan-Nordic descent-such people were to be exterminated to eliminate the leadership class among "inferior races", and children of suitable racially were to be kidnapped for Germanisation. Massacres in Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, and Poland, especially in Warsaw, made evident how Slavs were treated as inferior by the Germans.

However, the "Untermensch" policy toward Slavic peoples was far from consistent. The Jasenovac concentration camp in Croatia, operated by Croatian fascists called Ustase, for example, exterminated hundreds of thousands of Serbs alongside tens of thousands of Jews and Gypsies and a few thousand Croat political dissidents. However, as close relatives of Serbs, the Slavic Croats not only formed units within the SS and other German battalions, but were a part of the Axis alliance. In effect, Hitler's intent was to cull the numbers of Slavic peoples, who both then and now were the most numerous of the European peoples. The "Untermensch" policy made the execution of such policy more effective, by purporting "quasi-scientific" impetus, so such inconsistent application of the policy was logical, as the Nazis did not seek complete destruction of the Slavic peoples, whom they saw as a valuable source of slave labour for the post-war Reich.

Nazi anthropologists attempted to scientifically prove the inherent 'inferiority' of the Slavs. However, they were forced to gloss over their findings which consistently found that Early Slavs were dolicocephalic and fair haired, ie "Nordic"[5][6], not to mention the large proportion of Slavic ancestry in Hitler's native Austria. The concept of the Slavic people being "Untermensch" in particular served the Nazis as justification for their genocidal policies and especially their aggression against Poland and the Soviet Union in order to conquer Lebensraum, particularly in Ukraine. Early plans of the German Reich (summarized as Generalplan Ost) envisaged the displacement, enslavement, and elimination of no less than 50 million people who were not considered fit for Germanization from territories it wanted to conquer in Eastern Europe, Ukraine's "chornozem" (black earth) soil being a particularly desirable zone for colonization by the "herrenvolk.".[3] See also Genocides in Nazi Germany and occupied Europe.

Cultural aftermath

The racist thesis of Untermensch found its way into English vocabulary as the term sub-human to describe real or alleged inhuman treatment of people.[7][8]

Modern uses

The term is also used in modern times by extreme-right wing white supremacist groups across Germany and throughout the US and rest of Europe. When used, while Jews are the main victim of choice, it also commonly refers non-whites and homosexuals, in a derogative manner. The term is still considered highly offensive.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Domenico Losurdo, “Toward a Critique of the Category of Totalitarianism”, Historical Materialism 12.2 (April 2004), p.25-55, here p.50.
  2. ^ Alfred Rosenberg, Der Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts: Eine Wertung der seelischgeistigen Gestaltungskämpfe unserer Zeit, München: Hoheneichen, 1930, here p.214.
  3. ^ Lothrop Stoddard, The Revolt against Civilization: The Menace of the Under Man, New York: C. Sribner's Sons, 1922.
  4. ^ Robert Jan van Pelt, "From Architect's Promise to Inmate's Perdition," Modernism/Modernity 1.1 (1994), p. 80-120, here p.97.
  5. ^ From Kossina to Bromley. Ethnogenesis in Slavic Archaeology. Florin Curta. Pg 206. .. the local Slavs of the prehistoric period, as seen from the archaeological evidence, were fair haired people with elongated skulls
  6. ^ Carleton S Coon. The Races of Europe. Chapter VI, section 7 "Iron Age Peoples. "The evidence of literary sources makes the Slavs of nordic stature and pigmentation, that of osteology makes them the same in the metrical and morphological sense"
  7. ^ James J. Weingartner “Trophies of War: U.S. Troops and the Mutilation of Japanese War Dead, 1941–1945” Pacific Historical Review (1992) p. 55
  8. ^ Niall Fergusson, "Prisoner Taking and Prisoner Killing in the Age of Total War: Towards a Political Economy of Military Defeat", War in History, 2004, 11 (2): p.182

External links

  • Der Untermensch propaganda poster published by the SS.
  • Hitler's plans for Eastern Europe
  • [4] This is an example of the term "Untermensch" being used in the context of the Nazi eugenics programme. The table suggests that "inferior" people (unmarried and married criminals, parents whose children have learning disabilities) have more children than "superior" people (ordinary Germans, academics). Note that the heading (including the awkward German) is the subtitle of the German version of Lothrop Stoddard's book!


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

Wikipedia has an article on:





From German Untermensch, from unter, “under, below” + Mensch, “person, human”.


  • (RP) IPA: /ˈʊntəmɛnʃ/




Untermensch (plural Untermenschen)

  1. (derogatory) An inferior person; a subhuman.

Usage notes

  • As the races whom the Nazis persecuted were often collectively referred to as Untermenschen, this term is consequently strongly associated with the Nazis and their ideology.




From unter, "under, below" + Mensch, "person, human".


  • (RP) IPA:ˈʊntɐmɛnʃ


Untermensch (plural Untermenschen)

  1. (derogatory) An inferior person; a subhuman.

Usage notes

  • As the races whom the Nazis persecuted were often collectively referred to as Untermenschen, this term is consequently strongly associated with the Nazis and their ideology.


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