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Alfred Rosenberg

Alfred Rosenberg at the Nuremberg trials
Alfred Rosenberg at the Nuremberg trials. Rosenberg is first from right, with Hans Frank (centre) and Alfred Jodl (left).

Alfred Rosenberg (January 12, 1893 Reval (nowadays Tallinn) - October 16, 1946) was an early and intellectually influential member of the Nazi party, who later held several important posts in the Nazi government. He is considered the main author of key Nazi ideological creeds, including its racial theory, persecution of the Jews, Lebensraum, abolition of the Treaty of Versailles, and opposition to "degenerate" modern art. He is also known for his rejection of Christianity. At Nuremberg he was tried, sentenced to death and executed by hanging as a war criminal.

Early career

Rosenberg was born to a family of Baltic Germans. His father was a wealthy merchant from Latvia, his mother from Reval (today's Tallinn, in Estonia, then part of the Russian Empire). He studied architecture at the Riga Polytechnical Institute and engineering at Moscow University, completing his Ph.D. studies in 1917. Buildings that he designed in this period still stand in the central part of Tallinn. During the Russian Revolution of 1917, he supported the counter-revolutionaries and, following their failure, Rosenberg emigrated to Germany in 1918 along with Max Scheubner-Richter who was something of a mentor to Rosenberg and his ideology. He arrived in Munich and contributed to Dietrich Eckart's publication, the Völkischer Beobachter (People's Observer). By this time, he was both an antisemite (influenced by Houston Stewart Chamberlain's book The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, one of the key proto-Nazi books of racial theory) and an anti-bolshevist as a result of his family's exile.

Rosenberg was one of the earliest members of the German Workers Party (later the National Socialist German Workers Party, better known as the NSDAP or the Nazi Party), joining in January 1919; Hitler did not join until October 1919. Rosenberg had also been a member of the Thule Society, with Eckart. Rosenberg became editor of the Völkischer Beobachter, the Nazi party newspaper, in 1921.

In 1923 after the failed Beer Hall Putsch and Hitler's subsequent imprisonment, Hitler appointed Rosenberg as a leader of the Nazi movement, a position he held until Hitler was released. Hitler remarked privately in later years that his choice of Rosenberg was strategic, based on Rosenberg's weak personality and lack of self-motivation. Hitler did not want the temporary leader of the Nazis to be a very popular or power-hungry man, as a person with either of the two qualities might not want to cede the party leadership after Hitler's release.

In 1929, Rosenberg founded the Militant League for German Culture. He later formed the Institute for the Study of the Jewish Question, dedicated to identifying and attacking "Jewish" influence in German culture and to recording the history of Judaism from an anti-Semitic perspective. He became a Reichstag Deputy in 1930 and published his book on racial theory The Myth of the Twentieth Century (Der Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts) which deals with key issues in the national socialist ideology, such as the Jewish question. It was intended as a sequel to Houston Stewart Chamberlain's book The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, one of the key proto-Nazi books of racial theory. Despite selling more than a million copies by 1945, its influence within Nazism is doubtful. It is often said to have been a book that was officially venerated within Nazism, but that few actually read beyond the first chapter or even found comprehensible. Hitler called it "stuff nobody can understand" and disapproved of its pseudo-religious tone.

More influential were Rosenberg's attitude towards Soviet Bolshevism. He persuaded Hitler of the threat of Communism and the supposed fragility of the Soviet political structure. "Jewish-Bolshevism" was accepted as a target for Nazism during the early 1920s.

He was named leader of the Nazi Party's foreign political office in 1933 but he played little practical part in the role. His visit to Britain in that year was designed to reassure the British that the Nazis would not be a threat, and to encourage links between the new regime and the British Empire. It was a notable failure. When Rosenberg laid a wreath bearing a Swastika at the tomb of the unknown soldier, a British war veteran threw it into the Thames. In January 1934 he was deputized by Hitler with responsibility for the spiritual and philosophical education of the Party and all related organizations.

Racial theories

Rosenberg was also the Nazi Party's chief racial theorist, in charge of building a human racial ladder that justified Hitler's policies. Rosenberg built on the works of Arthur de Gobineau, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, and Madison Grant, as well as the beliefs of Hitler. Rosenberg, lacking knowledge of anthropology, did not have the scientific resources over which Grant and others disposed, and thus chose to base his racial theories on philosophical ideas rather than scientific research. Rosenberg considered blacks as well as Jews to be at the very bottom of the ladder. At the very top was the white or Aryan race. Rosenberg promoted the Nordic theory which considered Nordic peoples to be the master race, superior to all others, including other Aryans. This master race included the Scandinavians (including Finns), Estonians, Baltic nations, Germans, Dutch (including the Flemish people of Belgium), and the British Isles. Rosenberg would reshape Nazi racial policy throughout the years, but it would always consist of White Supremacism, extreme German nationalism, and harsh anti-Semitism. Rosenberg was also an outspoken opponent of both male and female homosexuality, notably in his pamphlet "Der Sumpf" ("The Swamp"), viewing homosexuality (particularly lesbianism) as a hindrance to the expansion of the Nordic population.

Rosenberg's attitude towards the Slavs of Eastern Europe was more uncertain. Many Nazis, including Hitler himself, considered Slavs to be part of an inferior race to be subjugated, but Rosenberg suggested that they were also Aryans.

Religious theories

Rosenberg argued for a new "religion of the blood," based on the supposed innate promptings of the Nordic soul to defend its noble character against racial and cultural degeneration. He believed that this had been embodied in early Indo-European religions, notably ancient European (Celtic, Germanic, Baltic, Roman) paganism, Zoroastrianism and Vedic Hinduism. Unlike Himmler, he had less attachment to Buddhism. Following the ideas of Chamberlain, he condemned what he called "negative Christianity," the orthodox beliefs of Protestant and Catholic churches, arguing instead for a so-called "positive" Christianity based on Chamberlain's claim that Jesus was a member of a Nordic enclave resident in ancient Galilee who struggled against Judaism. For Rosenberg religious doctrine was not important, what mattered was that a belief should serve the interests of the Nordic race, connecting the individual to his racial nature.

Wartime activities

In 1940 Rosenberg was made head of the Hohe Schule (literally "high school"), the Centre of National Socialist Ideological and Educational Research. He created a "Special Task Force for Music" (Sonderstab Musik) to collect the best musical instruments and scores for use in a university to be built in Hitler's hometown of Linz, Austria. The orders given the Sonderstab Musik were to loot all forms of Jewish property in Germany and of those found in any country taken over by the German army and any musical instruments or scores were to be immediately shipped to Berlin.

Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories

Following the invasion of the USSR, Rosenberg was appointed head of the Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories. Alfred Meyer was his deputy and represented him at the Wannsee Conference. Another official of the Ministry, Georg Leibbrandt, also attended the conference, at Rosenberg's request.

Rosenberg had presented Hitler with his plan for the organization of the conquered Eastern territories, suggesting the establishment of new administrative districts, to replace the previously Soviet-controlled territories with new Reichskommissariats. These would be:

  • Ostland (Baltic countries and Belarus),
  • Ukraine (Ukraine and nearest territories),
  • Kaukasus (Caucasia area),
  • Moskau (Moscow metropolitan area and the rest of nearest Russian European areas)

Such suggestions were intended to encourage non-Russian nationalism and to promote German interests for the benefit of future Aryan generations, in accord with geopolitical "Lebensraum im Osten" plans. They would provide a buffer against Soviet expansion in preparation for the total eradication of Communism and Bolshevism by decisive pre-emptive military action.

Following these plans, when Wehrmacht forces invaded Soviet-controlled territory, they immediately implemented the first of the proposed Reichskomissariats of Ostland and Ukraine, under the leadership of Hinrich Lohse and Erich Koch respectively. The organization of these administrative territories led to conflict between Rosenberg and the SS over the treatment of Slavs under German occupation. Rosenberg was appalled at the displacement, enslavement, and sometimes Genocide of non-Jews in occupied Eastern countries. As Nazi Germany's chief racial theorist, Rosenberg considered Slavs, though lesser than Germans, to be Aryan. Rosenberg often complained to Hitler and Himmler about the treatment of non-Jewish occupied peoples. He made no complaints about the murders of Jews. At the Nuremberg Trials he claimed to be ignorant of the Holocaust, despite the fact that Leibbrandt and Meyer were present at the Wannsee conference.

Wartime propaganda efforts

Because the invasion of the USSR was essentially a war of conquest and extermination, German propaganda efforts designed to win over Russian opinion were patchy and inconsistent. Alfred Rosenberg was one of the few in the Nazi hierarchy who advocated a policy designed to encourage anti-Communist opinion.

Amongst other things, Rosenberg issued a series of posters announcing the end of the kolkhoz, the Soviet collective farms. He also issued an Agrarian Law in February 1942, anulling all Soviet legislation on farming, restoring family farms for those willing to collaborate with the occupiers. But decollectivisation conflicted with the wider demands of wartime food production, and Hermann Göring demanded that the kolkhoz be retained, save for a change of name. Hitler himself denounced the redistribution of land as "stupid".

There were also numerous Wehrmacht posters asking for assistance in the Bandenkrieg, the war against the Soviet partisans, though, once again, German policy had the effect of adding to their problems. Posters for "volunteer" labour, with inscriptions like "Come work with us to shorten the war", hid the appalling realities faced by Russian workers in Germany. Many people joined the partisans rather than risk being sent to an unknown fate in the west.

Another of Rosenberg's initiatives, the "Free Caucasus" campaign, was rather more successful, attracting various nationalities into the so-called Ostlegionen, though in the end this made little difference.

Trial and execution

Rosenberg was captured by Allied troops at the end of the war. He was tried at Nuremberg and found guilty of conspiracy to commit crimes against peace; planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression; war crimes; and crimes against humanity. He was sentenced to death and executed with other condemned co-defendants at Nuremberg on the morning of October 16, 1946.

Nazi Policy and Rosenberg's Views

Hitler was a leader oriented towards practical politics, whereas, for Rosenberg, religion and philosophy were key.

Rosenberg's influence in the National Socialist German Workers' Party is controversial. He was perceived as lacking the charisma and political skills of the other Nazi leaders, and was somewhat isolated. In some of his speeches Hitler appeared to be close to Rosenberg's views: rejecting traditional Christianity as a religion based on Jewish culture, preferring an ethnically and culturally pure "Race" whose destiny was supposed to be assigned to the German people by "Providence". In others, he adhered to the NSDAP's Party line, which advocated a "positive Christianity".

Hitler felt compelled to appeal to Christian voters as well, who in 1933 still made up a majority of the German population. After his assumption of power he moved to reassure the Protestant and Catholic churches that the party was not intending to reinstitute Germanic paganism. He placed himself in the position of being the man to save Christianity from utter destruction at the hands of the atheistic Communists of the Soviet Union.. This was especially true immediately before and after the elections of 1932; Hitler wanted to appear non-threatening to major Christian faiths and consolidate his power. Further, Hitler felt that Catholic-Protestant infighting had been a major factor in weakening the German state and allowing its dominance by foreign powers.

Some Nazi leaders, such as Martin Bormann, were anti-Christian and sympathetic to Rosenberg. Once in power, however, Hitler and most Nazi leaders sought to unify the Christian denominations in favor of "positive Christianity." They privately complained about Rosenberg's radical, openly anti-Christian views and did not support small neo-pagan groups, supported by the latter, seeking parity with Christianity. However, Goebbels and Hitler both agreed that after the Endsieg (Final Victory) the Reich Church should be pressed into evolving into a German social evolutionist organisation proclaiming the cult of race, blood and battle, instead of Redemption and the Ten Commandments of Moses, which they deemed outdated and "Jewish."

While Rosenberg knew that he had powerful enemies in Goering, Himmler, and Goebbels, he believed that he still maintained favor with Hitler to the end according to his autobiography which he wrote shortly before his execution.

Lieutenant-Colonel W.H. Dunn wrote a medical and psychiatric report on him in prison to evaluate him as a suicide risk:

He gave the impression of clinging to his own theories in a fanatical and unyielding fashion and to have been little influenced by the unfolding during the trial of the cruelty and crimes of the party. (Cecil, p.219)

Summarizing the unresolved conflict between the personal views of Rosenberg and the pragmatism of the Nazi elite:

The ruthless pursuit of Nazi aims turned out to mean not, as Rosenberg had hoped, the permeation of German life with the new ideology; it meant concentration of the combined resources of party and state on total war. (Cecil, p.160)

Family life

Rosenberg was married twice. He married his first wife, Hilda Leesmann, an ethnic Estonian, in 1915; after eight years of marriage, they divorced in 1923. He married his second wife, Hedwig Kramer, in 1925; the marriage lasted until his death. He and Kramer had two children; a son, who died in infancy, and a daughter, Irene; who was born in 1930. His daughter has refused contact with anyone seeking information about her father.


  • "I didn't say that the Jews are inferior. I didn't even maintain they are a race. I merely saw that the mixture of different cultures didn't work." (12 January 1946)
  • "We let 50,000 Jewish intellectuals get across the border. Just as I wanted Lebensraum for Germany, I thought Jews should have a Lebensraum for themselves - outside of Germany." (15 December 1945)
  • "No." (When asked if he had any last words. 16 October 1946)

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