Here’s a rare recording of the German writer Thomas Mann, author of Buddenbrooks and The Magic Mountain, explaining what he sees as the real reason behind the systematic spreading of anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany.
It’s from an NBC radio address Mann gave on March 9, 1940, while he was living in California. Mann had gone into exile from Germany in 1933, shortly after Adolf Hitler was elected chancellor and began seizing dictatorial powers. The author had been an outspoken critic of the Nazi party since its emergence in the early twenties.
In 1930, a year after he received the Nobel Prize in Literature, Mann gave a high-profile “Address to the Germans: An Appeal to Reason,” in which he denounced the Nazis as barbarians. A Christian man married to a Jewish woman, Mann often spoke against the Nazi’s anti-Semitism, which he saw as part of a larger assault on the Mediterranean underpinnings of Western Civilization. In the radio address, Mann says:
The anti-semitism of today, the efficient though artificial anti-Semitism of our technical age, is no object in itself. It is nothing but a wrench to unscrew, bit by bit, the whole machinery of our civilization. Or, to use an up-to-date simile, Anti-Semitism is like a hand grenade tossed over the wall to work havoc and confusion in the camp of democracy. That is its real and main purpose.
Later in the speech, Mann argues that the Nazi attack on the Jews is “but a starting signal for a general drive against the foundations of Christianity, that humanitarian creed for which we are forever indebted to the people of the Holy Writ, originated in the old Mediterranean world. What we are witnessing today is nothing else than the ever recurrent revolt of unconquered pagan instincts, protesting against the restrictions imposed by the Ten Commandments.”
Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.
Note: An earlier version of this post appeared in our site in June 2013.