Untermensch (German pronunciation: [ˈʔʊntɐˌmɛnʃ], underman,
sub-man, subhuman; plural: Untermenschen) is a term that became
infamous when the Nazis used it to describe non-Aryan "inferior
people" often referred to as "the masses from the East", that is Jews,
Slavs – mainly ethnic Poles, Serbs, and later also
Belarusians and Russians. The term was also
applied to blacks and persons of color. Jewish people were to be
exterminated in the Holocaust, along with Romani people, and the
physically and mentally disabled. According to the Generalplan
Ost, the Slavic population of
East-Central Europe was to be reduced in
part through mass murder in the Holocaust, with a majority expelled to
Asia and used as slave labor in the Reich. These concepts were an
important part of the Nazi racial policy.
2 Nazi propaganda and policy
3 See also
5 Further reading
6 External links
Although usually incorrectly considered to have been coined by the
Nazis, the term "under man" was first used by American author and
Lothrop Stoddard in the title of his 1922 book 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). The German
Untermensch had been used earlier, but not in a racial sense, for
example in the 1899 novel
Der Stechlin by Theodor Fontane. Since most
writers who employed the term did not address the question of when and
how the word entered the German language,
Untermensch is usually
translated into English as "sub-human." The 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
Lothrop Stoddard has called the 'under man.'" ["...den
Lothrop Stoddard als 'Untermenschen' bezeichnete."] Quoting
Stoddard: "The Under-Man – the man who measures under the standards
of capacity and adaptability imposed by the social order in which he
It is possible that Stoddard constructed his "under man" as an
opposite to Friedrich Nietzsche's
Übermensch (superman) concept.
Stoddard does not 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 can be considered logical. For instance,
Theodor Fontane contrasts the Übermensch/Untermensch
word pair in chapter 33 of his novel Der Stechlin. Nietzsche used
Untermensch at least once in contrast to
Übermensch in Die fröhliche
Wissenschaft (1882); however, he did so in reference to semi-human
creatures in mythology, naming them alongside dwarfs, fairies,
centaurs and so on. Earlier examples of
Jean Paul using the term in his novel Hesperus (1795) in
reference to an
Orangutan (Chapter "8. Hundposttag").
Nazi propaganda and policy
A chart used to illustrate the Nazi
Nuremberg Laws introduced in 1935
In a speech in 1927 to the Bavarian regional parliament, the Nazi
propagandist Julius Streicher, publisher of Der Stürmer, used the
Untermensch referring to the communists of the German Bavarian
It happened at the time of the [Bavarian] Soviet Republic: When the
unleashed subhumans rambled murdering through the streets, the
deputies hid behind a chimney in the Bavarian parliament.
Nazis repeatedly used the term
Untermensch 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
by Heinrich Himmler. In the pamphlet "The SS as an Anti-Bolshevist
Fighting Organization", published in 1936, Himmler wrote:
We shall take care that never again in Germany, the heart of Europe,
Jewish-Bolshevistic revolution of subhumans be able to be
kindled either from within or through emissaries from
In his speech "Weltgefahr des Bolschewismus" ("World danger of
Bolshevism") in 1936,
Joseph Goebbels said that "subhumans exist in
every people as a leavening agent". At the 1935 Nazi party
congress rally at Nuremberg, Goebbels also declared that "Bolshevism
is the declaration of war by Jewish-led international subhumans
against culture itself."
Another example of the use of the term Untermensch, this time in
connection with anti-Soviet propaganda, is a brochure entitled "Der
Untermensch", edited by Himmler and distributed by the Race and
Settlement Head Office. SS-Obersturmführer Ludwig Pröscholdt, Jupp
Daehler and SS-Hauptamt-Schulungsamt Koenig are associated with its
production. Published in 1942 after the start of Operation
Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, it is around 50
pages long and consists for the most part of photos portraying the
enemy in an extremely negative way (see link below for the title
page). 3,860,995 copies were printed in the German language. It was
translated into Greek, French, Dutch, Danish, Bulgarian, Hungarian,
Czech and seven other languages. The pamphlet says the following:
Just as the night rises against the day, the light and dark are in
eternal conflict. So too, is the subhuman the greatest enemy of the
dominant species on earth, mankind. The subhuman is a biological
creature, crafted by nature, which has hands, legs, eyes and mouth,
even the semblance of a brain. Nevertheless, this terrible creature is
only a partial human being.
Although it has features similar to a human, the subhuman is lower on
the spiritual and psychological scale than any animal. Inside of this
creature lies wild and unrestrained passions: an incessant need to
destroy, filled with the most primitive desires, chaos and coldhearted
A subhuman and nothing more!
Not all of those who appear human are in fact so. Woe to him who
Mulattoes and Finn-Asian barbarians, Gipsies and black skin savages
all make up this modern underworld of subhumans that is always headed
by the appearance of the eternal Jew.
Nazis classified those they called the sub-humans into different
types; they placed priority on extermination of the Jews, and
exploitation of others as slaves.
Robert Jan van Pelt
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
Untermensch concept included Jews, Roma and Sinti (Gypsies), and
Slavic peoples such as Poles,
Serbs and Russians. The
regarded as Untermenschen, barely fit for exploitation as
slaves. Hitler and Goebbels compared them to the "rabbit
family" or to "stolid animals" that were "idle" and "disorganized" and
spread like a "wave of filth". However, some among the
happened to have Nordic racial features were deemed to have distant
Germanic descent which meant partially "Aryan" origin, and if under 10
years old, they were to be Germanized (see: kidnapping of children by
While the Nazis were inconsistent in the implementation of their
policy (mostly implementing the
Final Solution while implementing
Generalplan Ost), the democidal death toll was in tens of millions of
victims. It is related to the concept of "life unworthy of
life", a more specific term which originally referred to the severely
disabled who were involuntarily euthanised in Action T4, and was
eventually applied to the extermination of the Jews.
In the directive No. 1306 by Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment
Propaganda from October 24th 1939, the term "Untermensch" is used
in reference to Polish ethnicity and culture, as follows:
It must become clear to everybody in Germany, even to the last
milkmaid, that Polishness is equal to subhumanity. Poles,
Gypsies are on the same inferior level. This must be clearly outlined
[...] until every citizen of Germany has it encoded in his
subconsciousness that every Pole, whether a worker or intellectual,
should be treated like vermin".
Biology classes in Nazi Germany schools taught about differences
between the race of Nordic German "Übermenschen" and "ignoble" Jewish
and Slavic "subhumans". The view that
Slavs were subhuman was
widespread among the German masses, and chiefly applied to the Poles.
It continued to find support after the war.
During the war, Nazi propaganda instructed Wehrmacht officers told
their soldiers to target people described as "Jewish Bolshevik
subhumans" and that the war in the
Soviet Union was between the
Germans and the Jewish, Gypsies and Slavic Untermenschen.
During the Warsaw Uprising, Himmler ordered the destruction of the
Warsaw ghetto because according to him it allowed the "living space"
of 500,000 subhumans.
As a pragmatic way to solve military manpower shortages, the Nazis
used soldiers from some Slavic countries, firstly from the Reich's
allies Croatia and Bulgaria and also within occupied
territories. The concept of the
Slavs in particular being
Untermenschen served the Nazis' political goals; it was used to
justify their expansionist policy and especially their aggression
Poland and the
Soviet Union in order to achieve Lebensraum,
particularly in Ukraine. Early plans of the German Reich (summarized
as Generalplan Ost) envisioned the displacement, enslavement, and
elimination of no fewer than 50 million people, who were not
considered fit for Germanization, from territories it wanted to
conquer in Europe; Ukraine's chernozem ("black earth") soil was
considered a particularly desirable zone for colonization by the
Herrenvolk ("master race").
Nazi Germany portal
Genocides in Nazi Germany and occupied Europe
Holocaust in Poland
Nazi crimes against ethnic Poles
World War II persecution of Serbs
^ Revisiting the National Socialist Legacy: Coming to Terms With
Forced Labor, Expropriation, Compensation, and Restitution page 84
^ Gumkowski, Janusz; Leszczynski, Kazimierz; Robert, Edward
(translator) (1961). Hitler's Plans for Eastern Europe.
Nazi Occupation (First ed.). Polonia Pub. House. p. 219.
ASIN B0006BXJZ6. Archived from the original (Paperback) on 9
April 2011. Retrieved 12 March 2014. at Wayback machine.
^ Shirer, William L. (1960) The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New
York: Simon and Schuster. pp.937, 939. Quotes: "The
Jews and the
Slavic people were the Untermenschen – subhumans." (937); "[The]
obsession of the Germans with the idea that they were the master race
and that Slavic people must be their slaves was especially virulent in
regard to Russia. Erich Koch, the roughneck Reich Commissar for the
Ukraine, expressed it in a speech at Kiev on March 5, 1945.
We are the Master Race and must govern hard but just ... I will draw
the very last out of this country. I did not come to spread bliss ...
The population must work, work, and work again [...] We are a master
race, which must remember that the lowliest German worker is racially
and biologically a thousand times more valuable than the population
[of the Ukraine]. (emphasis added)
^ a b c Reichsführer-SS (1942). Der
Untermensch "The subhuman".
Berlin: SS Office. Retrieved 12 March 2014.
^ Snyder, T. (2011). Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin.
Vintage. pp. 144–5, 188. ISBN 978-0-465-00239-9.
^ Mineau, André (2004). Operation Barbarossa: Ideology and Ethics
Against Human Dignity. Amsterdam; New York: Rodopi. p. 180.
^ <Simone Gigliotti, Berel Lang. The Holocaust: A Reader. Malden,
Massachusetts, USA; Oxford, England, UK; Carlton, Victoria, Australia:
Blackwell Publishing, 2005. p. 14
^ a b c "Hitler's Plans for Eastern Europe". Northeastern University.
Archived from the original on 27 May 2012. Retrieved 10 July
^ a b Stoddard, Lothrop (1922). The Revolt Against Civilization: The
Menace of the Under Man. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
^ Losurdo, Domenico (2004). Translated by Marella & Jon Morris.
"Toward a Critique of the
Category of Totalitarianism" (PDF, 0.2 MB).
Historical Materialism. Brill. 12 (2): 25–55, here p. 50.
doi:10.1163/1569206041551663. ISSN 1465-4466.
^ Rosenberg, Alfred (1930). Der Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts: Eine
Wertung der seelischgeistigen Gestaltungskämpfe unserer Zeit [The
Myth of the Twentieth Century] (in German). Munich:
Hoheneichen-Verlag. p. 214.
^ Fontane, Theodor (1898). "Der Stechlin: 33. Kapitel". Der Stechlin
[The Stechlin] (in German). ISBN 978-3-86640-258-4. Jetzt hat man
statt des wirklichen Menschen den sogenannten Übermenschen etabliert;
eigentlich gibt es aber bloß noch Untermenschen, und mitunter sind es
gerade die, die man durchaus zu einem ›Über‹ machen will. (Now
one has established instead of the real human the so-called
superhuman; but actually only subhumans are left, and sometimes they
are the very ones that are tried to be declared as 'super'.)
^ Nietzsche, Friedrich (1882). "Kapitel 143: Größter Nutzen des
Die fröhliche Wissenschaft
Die fröhliche Wissenschaft [The Gay Science] (in
German). 3rd book. Chemnitz: Ernst Schmeitzner. Die Erfindung von
Göttern, Heroen und Übermenschen aller Art, sowie von Neben- und
Untermenschen, von Zwergen, Feen, Zentauren, Satyrn, Dämonen und
Teufeln war die unschätzbare Vorübung zur Rechtfertigung der
Selbstsucht und Selbstherrlichkeit des einzelnen [...]. (The invention
of gods, heroes, and overmen of all kinds, as well as near-men and
undermen, of dwarfs, fairies, centaurs, satyrs, demons and devils was
the inestimable preliminary exercise for the justification of the
egoism and sovereignty of the individual [...]) [From the translation
by Walter Kaufmann]
Jean Paul (1795). "8. Hundposttag". Hesperus oder 45 Hundposttage
(in German). Obgleich Leute aus der großen und größten Welt, wie
der Unter-Mensch, der Urangutang, im 25sten Jahre ausgelebt und
ausgestorben haben – vielleicht sind deswegen die Könige in manchen
Ländern schon im 14ten Jahre mündig –, so hatte doch Jenner sein
Leben nicht so weit zurückdatiert und war wirklich älter als mancher
Jüngling. (Although people from the great world and the greatest
have, like the sub-man, the orang-outang, lived out and died out in
their twenty-fifth year, — for which reason, perhaps, in many
countries kings are placed under guardianship as early as their
fourteenth, — nevertheless January had not ante-dated his life so
far, and was really older than many a youth.) [From the translation by
Charles T. Brooks]
^ "Kampf dem Weltfeind", Stürmer publishing house, Nuremberg, 1938,
05/25/1927, speech in the Bavarian regional parliament, German: "Es
war zur Zeit der Räteherrschaft. Als das losgelassene
Untermenschentum mordend durch die Straßen zog, da versteckten sich
Abgeordnete hinter einem Kamin im bayerischen Landtag."
^ Himmler, Heinrich (1936). Die
Schutzstaffel als antibolschewistische
Kampforganisation [The SS as an Anti-bolshevist Fighting Organization]
(in German). Munich: Franz Eher Nachfolger. Wir werden dafür sorgen,
daß niemals mehr in Deutschland, dem Herzen Europas, von innen oder
durch Emissäre von außen her die jüdisch-bolschewistische
Revolution des Untermenschen entfacht werden kann.
^ Office of United States Chief of Counsel For Prosecution of Axis
Criminality (1946). "Chapter XV: Criminality of Groups and
Organizations – 5. Die Schutzstaffeln". Nazi Conspiracy and
Aggression (PDF, 46.2 MB). Volume II. Washington, D.C.: USGPO.
p. 220. OCLC 315871222.
^ Stein, Stuart D (8 January 1999). "The Schutzstaffeln (SS) – The
Nuremberg Charges, Part I". Web Genocide Documentation Centre.
University of the West of England. Archived from the original on 17
August 2010. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
^ Paul Meier-Benneckenstein, Deutsche Hochschule für Politik Titel:
Dokumente der Deutschen Politik, Volume 4, Junker und Dünnhaupt
Verlag, Berlin, 2. ed., 1937; speech held on 10 September 1936; In
German: "... das Untermenschentum, das in jedem Volke als Hefe
vorhanden ist ...".
^ Goebbels speech at the 1935 Nuremberg Rally
^ Quality of Life: The New Medical Dilemma, edited by James J. Walter,
Thomas Anthony Shannon, page 63
^ Pelt, Robert-Jan van (January 1994). "Auschwitz: From Architect's
Promise to Inmate's Perdition". Modernism/Modernity. 1 (1): 80–120,
here p. 97. doi:10.1353/mod.1994.0013. ISSN 1071-6068.
^ Longerich, Peter (2010). Holocaust: The Nazi Persecution and Murder
of the Jews. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. p. 241.
^ Huer, Jon (2012). Call from the Cave: Our Cruel Nature and Quest for
Power. Lanham, Maryland: Hamilton Books. p. 278.
ISBN 978-0-7618-6015-0. The Nazis considered any human being in
the "east", usually the Slavs, as "sub-human", only fit for slavery to
^ Sealing Their Fate (Large Print 16pt) by David Downing, page 49
^ Rees, L (1997) "The Nazis, a warning from history," BBC Books, P126
^ Mazower, M (2008) Hitler's Empire: How the Nazis Ruled Europe,
Penguin Press P197
^ Wegner, Bernt (1997) . From Peace to War: Germany, Soviet
Russia, and the World, 1939-1941. Berghahn Books. p. 50.
^ Ceran, Tomasz (2015). The History of a Forgotten German Camp: Nazi
Ideology and Genocide at Szmalcówka. I.B.Tauris. p. 24.
^ Hitler Youth, 1922–1945: An Illustrated History by Jean-Denis
Lepage, page 91
^ Native Realm: A Search for Self Definition by Czeslaw Milosz, page
^ Richard J. Evans, In Hitler's Shadow (1999), pp. 59-60
^ Michael Burleigh, The Third Reich: A New History (2000), p. 512
^ "The Warsaw Ghetto: Himmler Orders the Destruction of the Warsaw
^ Yits?a? Arad; Yisrael Gutman; Abraham Margaliot (1999). Documents on
the Holocaust: Selected Sources on the Destruction of the
Germany and Austria, Poland, and the Soviet Union. U of Nebraska
Press. p. 292. ISBN 0-8032-1050-7.
^ According to Nazi policy the Croats were classified as more
"Germanic than Slavic"; this was supported by Croatia's fascist
dictator Ante Pavelić, who maintained that the Croatians were
descendants of the ancient
Goths and "had the Pan-Slav idea forced
upon them as something artificial".
Rich, Norman (1974). Hitler's War Aims: the Establishment of the New
Order, p. 276-7. W. W. Norton & Company Inc., New York.
^ Norman Davies. Europe at War 1939–1945: No Simple Victory. Pp.
Lukas, Dr. Richard (1986). The Forgotten Holocaust:
Poles Under Nazi
Occupation 1939-1944. New York: University of Kentucky
Press/Hippocrene Books,. ISBN 0-7818-0901-0.
Look up untermensch in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Untermensch propaganda poster published by the SS.
Hitler's plans for Eastern Europe at
Archive.is (archived 2012-05-27)
"Die Drohung des Untermenschen" 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 is the subtitle of the German
version of Lothrop Stoddard's book.
Der Untermensch: the N