The Russian Roots of Nazism: White Émigrés and the Making of National Socialism, 1917–1945
Cambridge University Press, 2005
With the near-universal demonization of the Third Reich, historians have developed a blind spot for the genesis of German anti-Semitism. Michael Kellogg, in his 2005 work The Russian Roots of Nazism, sheds a sharp light on this topic and points our attention eastward. He reveals how the post-World War I atrocities of the Soviet Union along with the presence of a large, vengeful, and politically active White émigré population in Weimar Germany played a critical role in developing National Socialist attitudes on Jews and Bolshevism. And in making this argument, he not only addresses the errors of other historians, but he also makes an indirect case for much of Nazism itself.
Kellogg’s work is crucial for several reasons, most prominent being the facts themselves. The interwar period in Germany, the Baltic states, and Ukraine were roiled in conflict, intrigue, revolution, and, most of all, uncertainty. It was an interesting time. More importantly, it was consequential. Any history that discloses previously unknown or overlooked events from that time and place will have value.
Kellogg also exhibits remarkable academic discipline by not taking sides in the political drama he unfolds. There is nothing tendentious about The Russian Roots of Nazism aside from its pointed historiography. This is good since it lets the facts speak for themselves. On the other hand, Kellogg’s avoidance of a broader political schema makes the book a bit of a slog. It’s not biased, but it’s not sexy, either. But Kellogg’s prose is tight and serviceable, and he offers concise summaries at the end of each chapter and at the end of the book for those who wish to skim.
The Russian Roots of Nazism can also be viewed as a strike against the anti-German racism of Jewish writers such as Daniel Goldhagen. In his 1996 work, Hitler’s Willing Executioners, Goldhagen accuses the Germans of being inherently racist, anti-Semitic, and “eliminationist.” This takes the extreme form of what’s known as the Sonderweg (special path) thesis, which posits the inevitability of the Third Reich, given the weakness of the German bourgeoisie. Kellogg demolishes this idea by uncovering the foreign influences of National Socialism during its formative years and also by portraying Adolf Hitler in his mid-thirties and other early-period Nazis as three-dimensional human beings rather than comic book villains.
Most importantly, Kellogg demonstrates how the Nazis may have had excellent reasons for their anti-Semitism and their anti-Bolshevism, thereby justifying much of what they did during the interwar period. This may not have been Kellogg’s intention. Regardless, by eschewing a political agenda and by relying so heavily upon National Socialist primary sources (rather than the mountain of secondary sources that condemn the Nazis), Kellogg leaves the door open for a revisionist, and much more positive, interpretation of National Socialism.
Our story may as well begin in German-occupied Ukraine in 1918. After Soviet Russia’s capitulation in the war, many disaffected Russian and Ukrainian officers began cooperating with their German counterparts, bonding over their shared sense of nationalism and their mutual hatred for the Bolsheviks. When the Germans abandoned Ukraine the following year, they took thousands of these so-called “White” officers with them, including some, such as Vladimir Biskupsky, Ivan Poltavets-Ostranitsa, Pavel Bermondt-Avalov, Fedor Vinberg, and Piotr Shabelsky-Bork, who would work closely with the Nazis in years to come. Shabelsky-Bork deserves special mention because he was the first to transfer the forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to the West, thereby unleashing one of the most famous conspiracy theories upon the world.
As the Ukrainian Biskupsky became a leader among the 600,000 White émigrés in Weimar Germany, he also became one of two de facto leaders of a secret, conspiratorial organization known as Aufbau (or, Reconstruction) which promoted a particularly urgent strain of apocalyptic anti-Semitism. Max von Scheubner-Richter, a Baltic German émigré from Latvia, was the other, and soon this organization had had great influence upon the nascent Nazi Party and Adolf Hitler himself. In fact, Scheubner-Richter grew quite close to Hitler and marched arm-in-arm with him during the failed 1923 Putsch in Munich where he was shot and killed. Thereafter, Hitler considered him a martyr for National Socialism.
Two other White émigrés, Alfred Rosenberg, another Baltic German, and the Russian Fedor Vinberg, became leading theorists of National Socialism, with Rosenberg ultimately gaining the most stature in the Nazi Party. Publisher and early Hitler mentor Dietrich Eckart introduced Rosenberg to Hitler, and the men quickly grew to admire each other. When Hitler was imprisoned after the Munich Putsch, he appointed Rosenberg as his successor. By World War II, this émigré was so embedded in high-level Nazi operations that the Allies rewarded him at Nuremburg with a sentence of hanging.
Bavaria in the early 1920s was a unique petri dish of nationalist and anti-Semitic ideas and action. Stirred into the mix were the völkisch Germans. These were Aryan identitarians, Teutonic traditionalists, and Thule Society people who drew racialist ideas from the likes of Arthur Schopenhauer, Richard Wagner, and Houston Stewart Chamberlain. Many of these people were still smarting over the revolution of 1918, which forced the Kaiser to abdicate, and shared a distrust of Jews for their materialistic and “world-affirming” (that is, non-heroic, non-transcendent) behavior.
Add to this the White émigrés who brought with them not only The Protocols but the hyper-nationalist ideas of Fyodor Dostoevsky and Vladimir Solovev. A militaristic form of Christianity played into this as well, with the great Jew-Gentile struggle often being portrayed in Biblical terms. These were people who had witnessed firsthand Red atrocities during the October Revolution and the Russian Civil War and had experience in the Tsar’s army or in the reactionary organization, the Black Hundreds. It’s no wonder they blamed the Jews for upending their world. Their world had been upended, and they couldn’t help but notice how a disproportionate number of Bolsheviks were Jews, especially at the top.
The result was an explosive burst of national and anti-Jewish sentiment which culminated in 1933 when Adolf Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany. Kellogg repeatedly stresses that without the Whites who were more anti-Semitic and anti-Bolshevik than the Germans after World War I, the National Socialists would likely not have been as successful as they were. No so-called “far-Right” organization in Germany before the Nazis had garnered popular support. This does away with the notion that the Germans were somehow inherently anti-Semitic. Where Goldhagen insists that “German antisemitism was sui generis,” Kellogg demonstrates that it was the powerful gestalt of the German völkisch movement and the White fear and fascination with Jewish Bolshevism which was sui generis.
Hitler harbored standard socialist views well into 1919. Hitler’s former immediate commander on the Western Front in World War I, Aide-de-Camp Hans Mend, asserted that his earlier underling had exclaimed towards the end of 1918 in Munich, “Thank God that the kings’ crowns have fallen from the tree. Now we proletarians have something to say”. . .
Hitler only began to develop a detailed anti-Bolshevik, anti-Semitic ideology beginning in the second half of 1919 through his collaboration with Eckart and Rosenberg, who served as his early mentors. Mend confirmed Hitler’s rapid political lurch from the far left to the far right in postwar Munich. When he heard Hitler speak publicly at the beginning of 1920, he thought, “Adi has changed his colors, the red lad!” In addition to borrowing anti-Bolshevik, anti-Semitic ideas from Eckart and Rosenberg, Hitler soon learned far-right concepts that castigated “Jewish Bolshevism” from the Aufbau ideologues Scheubner-Richter and Vinberg as well.
The White émigrés from 1918 to 1923 lent a sense of Manichean urgency to the postwar German zeitgeist. It was, in effect, good versus evil, Christ versus Anti-Christ, and the slew of conspiracy theories emanating from the Aufbau circle painted this struggle in the starkest black and white. For example, one theory posited that Leon Trotsky was a Satanist who practiced Black Mass rituals in the Kremlin and prayed to the Devil for the defeat of the Whites. But this alliance was also practical. If the v ölkisch Germans and the émigré Whites didn’t have the exact same enemies, their shared ethnocentrism gave them similar goals. Whereas the Whites aimed to conquer the Soviet Union and remove the Jewish yoke from the Slavic peoples, the Germans needed to defy the Entente and overthrow the socialist, pro-Soviet Weimar government. There was quite of bit of overlap here, and Hitler’s Nazi Party approved of the White plan to invade the Soviet Union and liberate independent republics such as Russia and Ukraine. Hitler indeed had a great interest in Nazifying Ukraine, which Kellogg believes was the deciding factor behind his disastrous order for the Wehrmacht to strike south in August 1941 when it was a mere 200 miles from Moscow.Hitler only began to develop a detailed anti-Bolshevik, anti-Semitic ideology beginning in the second half of 1919 through his collaboration with Eckart and Rosenberg, who served as his early mentors. Mend confirmed Hitler’s rapid political lurch from the far left to the far right in postwar Munich. When he heard Hitler speak publicly at the beginning of 1920, he thought, “Adi has changed his colors, the red lad!” In addition to borrowing anti-Bolshevik, anti-Semitic ideas from Eckart and Rosenberg, Hitler soon learned far-right concepts that castigated “Jewish Bolshevism” from the Aufbau ideologues Scheubner-Richter and Vinberg as well.
The Whites contributed more than energy and ideas to the National Socialist cause before 1923. It also provided money and manpower. Many who marched during the doomed Munich Putsch were Whites, as were many of the soldiers who fought alongside the Germans against the Bolsheviks during the Latvian Intervention of 1919. Boris Brazol, a white émigré in the United States funneled much-needed funds from industrialist Henry Ford and worked closely with Scheubner-Richter. Brazol, notably, was a contributor to Ford’s anti-Semitic newspaper The Dearborn Independent and also translated Dostoevsky’s Diary of a Writer into English. More importantly, Kirill Romanov, exiled heir apparent to Tsardom in Russia, gave tremendous sums to the White-Nazi alliance. Many Whites supported his bid for power, and so did Hitler.
Sadly, many White émigrés opposed Kirill in favor of his cousin Nikolai who also aspired to Tsardom. The Nikolai faction, led by the émigré Nikolai Markov II, was Russian imperialist in nature and supported restoring Russia to its pre-1917 borders. Hitler and the Aufbau contingent preferred the more ethnocentric solution of petty nationalism in the defeated Soviet Union, with Russia, Ukraine, and other republics becoming independent entities. This impasse festered into acrimony and hatred among the Whites, and effectively prevented the invasion of the Soviet Union that they all so desperately wanted.
After the failed Putsch in 1923, White influence began to wane. Regardless, it never went away and, in some ways, enjoyed a resurgence in the 1930s with Alfred Rosenberg’s success in the Nazi Party. However, if there is a flaw to The Russian Roots of Nazism, in my mind, it’s that Kellogg fails to adequately address the issue of Lebensraum, or living space. He gives it minimal attention and quotes the famous passage in Mein Kampf Volume II (1926) in which Hitler insists the Germans “ . . . shift to the soil policy of the future” and “have in mind only Russia and her vassal border states.” Lebensraum, with its all imperial implications, clearly violates Aufbau ’s ethnocentric notions of Nazifying Ukraine for the sake of the Ukrainians.
Kellogg seems to think it adequate to demonstrate that Hitler fully developed his Lebensraum ideas only after the 1923 Putsch. Thus, Kellogg abides by his thesis of the Russian roots of Nazism, that is, of how White émigré thought influenced early — and not middle or late — National Socialism. But this is too easy. If Aufbau ideas were truly the roots of Nazism, then why did Hitler reverse some of these ideas by the late 1920s? Kellogg doesn’t quite tell us.
Overshadowing this, however, is Kellogg’s assertion that Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 after his 1939 non-aggression pact with Stalin in part because of the feverish anti-Bolshevism and anti-Semitism of the pre-Putsch White émigrés. The pact had devastated the Whites that were still living in Germany at that time. However,
[T]he cooperation between Hitler and Stalin that so discomfited Germany’s White émigré community did not last long. Hitler soon returned to his intense anti-Bolshevik roots, which he had largely developed during his close interaction with Aufbau in the early 1920s. Even while German armed forces were still engaged in the French campaign in June 1940, Hitler expressed his intention “to take action against the menace of the Soviet Union the moment our military position makes it at all possible.” He issued the first directive for the invasion of the Soviet Union in August 1940 under the telling name Aufbau Ost (Reconstruction East). In titling his planned Soviet campaign Aufbau Ost, Hitler demonstrated the lasting impression that Aufbau’s warnings against “Jewish Bolshevism” had made on his thinking.
Adding to this was how Rosenberg himself had urged Hitler to invade the Soviet Union as well.
Kellogg’s most valuable and revolutionary contribution to our understanding of this time involves his admirable academic restraint. Rarely does he pass judgment on his subjects, and certainly never during the 1918-1923 period on which his book mostly focuses — except in the few cases in which certain émigrés committed crimes such as embezzlement. Yes, in the last few pages, Kellogg rightly deplores the mass murder and extermination of Jews at the hand of Hitler — although, interestingly, he very rarely uses the term “Holocaust.” Rosenberg, who served as the State Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories during the war, greatly facilitated these horrific actions. But note how Kellogg insists on placing these actions within the larger context of Soviet atrocities from decades prior:
Rosenberg viewed his genocidal anti-Semitic actions in the occupied East as retaliation for the depredations of “Jewish Bolshevism.” The November 18, 1941 press release dealing with Rosenberg’s public assumption of the State Minister post stressed that the White émigré had entered politics since “he wanted to protect the German people from the same fate that he had lived through in Moscow.”
And what were these depredations?
In Mein Kampf, Hitler again treated the “Jewish Bolshevik” annihilation of the nationalist Russian intelligentsia. He drew upon Aufbau and Eckartian thought to describe a ruthless Jewish drive for world domination. With the stage set for the “last great revolution,” Hitler argued:
The democratic people’s Jew becomes the blood-Jew and tyrant over people. In a few years he tries to exterminate the national intelligentsia and by robbing the peoples of their natural intellectual leadership makes them ripe for the slave’s lot of permanent subjugation.
He further asserted, “The most frightful example of this kind is offered by Russia, where [the Jew] killed or starved about thirty million people with positively fanatical savagery, in part amid inhuman tortures.”
Kellogg later quotes Mein Kampf, demonstrating how Hitler “combined völkisch German and anti-Bolshevik, anti-Semitic White émigré beliefs” when stating of “the Jew” that
[H]is ultimate goal is denationalization, the muddled half-breeding of the other peoples, the lowering of the racial level of the most superior, as well as the domination of this racial mush through the extermination of the völkisch intelligentsias and their replacement by the members of his own people.
Now, is any of this true? Kellogg doesn’t say — indeed, it’s not his job to say. And we should be thankful for that. A Goldhagian approach, however, would be to dismiss it all as anti-Semitic lies and canards (just like The Protocols!) and smear anyone swayed by them as being irredeemably racist and anti-Semitic.
But with enough research under our belt from historians such as Robert Conquest, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Kevin MacDonald, and others, we now know that Hitler and the White émigrés were much closer to the truth than not. Tens of millions were starved or murdered in the Soviet Union during the 1920s and 1930s, and millions more died in the Great Terror and the Gulag Archipelago. From such authors, we have also learned that a disproportionate amount of the Soviet leadership in all facets of its military and government was indeed Jewish. Soviet Jews as a bloc remained enthusiastic for the Soviet Union even when it was committing its greatest atrocities. Lenin himself (as reported by Yuri Slezkine in The Jewish Century) attributed much of the success of the October Revolution to the Jews:
The fact that there were many Jewish intelligentsia members in the Russian cities was of great importance to the revolution. They put an end to the general sabotage that we were confronted with after the October Revolution. . . . The Jewish elements were mobilized . . . and thus saved the revolution at a difficult time. It was only thanks to this pool of a rational and literate labor force that we succeeded in taking over the state apparatus.
The Whites and the Nazis may have somewhat exaggerated Soviet crimes and often entertained fanciful conspiracy theories, but they were not wrong in linking Bolshevism to Jews and believing that the Soviet Union posed a dire threat to the West. By not shutting the door on such an interpretation of history, Kellogg indirectly allows the reader to develop a revisionist view of the Nazis as protectors rather than destroyers of civilization. Of course, it’s extremely difficult to justify Nazi atrocities during World War II (and Kellogg does no such thing), but after we read The Russian Roots of Nazism we learn that it was even more difficult to justify the Soviet atrocities which were greater, took place beforehand, and caused millions of Whites to emigrate westward to begin with.
The Whites knew this and they made sure the Nazi knew this. And thanks to Michael Kellogg, we know it too.