Master race

"Herrenvolk" redirects here. For other uses, see Herrenvolk (disambiguation).
"Superior race" and "inferior race" redirect here. For other concepts of racial supremacy, see racial superiority.
For other uses, see Master race (disambiguation).
Arno Breker's 1939 neoclassical sculpture Die Partei (The Party), which flanked one of the entrances to the Albert Speer-designed Reich Chancellery in Berlin, that emphasizes Nordic racial characteristics.

The master race (German: die Herrenrasse,  das Herrenvolk ) was a concept in Nazi ideology in which the Nordic or Aryan races, which were thought to predominate among Germans and other northern European peoples, were deemed the highest in an assumed racial hierarchy.

The Nazi official Alfred Rosenberg believed that the Nordic race was descended from Proto-Aryans who he believed had prehistorically dwelt on the North German Plain and who had ultimately originated from the lost continent of Atlantis. The Nazis declared that the Nordics (now referred to as the Germanic peoples), were the true Aryans (ethnically the closest descendants of the Proto-Indo-Europeans) because they were much less racially mixed with peoples who were "non-native" to the European continent, than other Indo-European peoples, such as the Slavic peoples, the Romanic peoples, and the Indo-Iranian peoples. Based on this claim that the Nordic peoples were superior to all other races, the Nazis believed that they were entitled to expand territorially. This concept is known as Nordicism. The actual policy that was implemented by the Nazis resulted in the Aryan certificate, the one form of the official document that was required by the law for all citizens of the Reich was the "Lesser Aryan certificate" (Kleiner Ariernachweis) which could be obtained through an Ahnenpass which required the owner to trace his or her lineage through baptism, birth certificates or certified proof thereof that all grandparents were of "Aryan descent".

Along with Jews and Gypsies, the overwhelming majority of Slavs were defined as being non-Aryan Untermenschen, and were thus considered to be a danger to the "Aryan" or Germanic Übermenschen master race. According to the Nazi secret Hunger Plan and Generalplan Ost, the Slavic population was to be removed from East-Central Europe through expulsion, enslavement, starvation, and extermination, except for a small percentage who were deemed to be non-Slavic descendants of Germanic settlers, and thus suitable for Germanisation.

    Historical background

    The Übermensch (German) (English Overman or Superman) is a concept in the philosophy of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche—he posited the Übermensch as a goal for humanity to set for itself in his 1883 book Thus Spoke Zarathustra (German: Also Sprach Zarathustra). However, Nietzsche never developed the concept on racial grounds; the philosopher was not racist (nor an anti-semite). Instead, the Übermensch "seems to be the ideal aim of spiritual development more than a biological goal." Nazism distorted the real meaning behind the concept to fit its 'master race' view.

    Mendelian genetics was rediscovered in 1900, providing the basis of the genetic inheritance maps used by Nazi eugenicists to identify persons of the Jewish race. In relation to models of inheritance, race is treated by Nazi eugenicists not as a single gene inherited in a mendelian fashion, and is not based upon mendelian inheritance.

    By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was posited that the Indo-Europeans (then generally also referred to as Aryans) made up the highest branch of humanity because their civilization was the most technologically advanced. This reasoning simultaneously intertwined with Nordicism which proclaimed the "Nordic race" as the "purest" form of said Aryan race. Today, this view is regarded as scientific racism because it contradicts racial equality by positing that one race is superior to all other races.


    Eugenics came to play a prominent role in this racial thought as a way to improve and maintain the "purity" of the Aryan master race. Eugenics was a concept adhered to by many thinkers in the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s, such as Margaret Sanger,Marie Stopes, H. G. Wells, Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, Madison Grant,Émile Zola, George Bernard Shaw, John Maynard Keynes, John Harvey Kellogg, Linus Pauling and Sidney Webb.Aldous Huxley’s best-selling novel Brave New World, about a future society based on eugenics, was published in 1932. Human "dog and pony show" type events (organized by advocates of eugenics), where men and women appeared on stage in swimsuits in eugenic competitions (only Nordic Aryans were allowed to enter) to be evaluated for their physical and mental qualities as marriage partners were common throughout Europe and North America in the 1920s. The Nazis took this concept to a further extreme by establishing a program to systematically genetically enhance the Nordic Aryans themselves through a program of Nazi eugenics, based on the eugenics laws of the United States state of California, to create a super race.


    The modern concept of the master race in general derives from 19th-century racial theory, which posited a hierarchy of races based on darkness of skin color. This 19th-century concept was largely initially developed by Count Joseph Arthur De Gobineau. Gobineau's basic concept, as further refined and developed in Nazism, places the black Indigenous Australians and Equatorial Africans at the bottom of the hierarchy, while the white Northern and Western Europeans (consisting of Germans, Swedes, Icelanders, Norwegians, Danes, British, Irish, Dutch, Northern French, etc.) were at the top; tan skinned white Southern Europeans (consisting of the Southern French, Portuguese, Spaniards, Italians, Romanians, and Greeks, i.e., those of what is called the , which was regarded as another sub-race of the Caucasian race) in the upper middle ranks; and those of the Semitic race and Hamitic race (supposed sub-races of the Caucasian race) in the middle ranks (it was because the Jews, being Semites, were clever that they were so dangerous—they had their own plan for Jewish world domination, a conspiracy that had to be opposed by all thoughtful Aryans, declared the Nazis). Slavs such as Poles and Russians weren't considered Aryans; and those of the yellow Mongoloid race (including its offshoots the Malayan race, the American Indian race) and mixed-race people such as Eurasians, the bronze Mestizos, Mulattos, Afro-Asians, and Zambos in the lower middle ranks. However, the Japanese and Chinese were considered honorary Aryans.

    German warning in Nazi-occupied Poland 1939 - "No entrance for Poles!"

    In attempting to scientifically prove the racial inferiority of Slavs, German (and Austrian) racial scientists were forced to gloss over their findings which consistently found that Early Slavs were dolicocephalic and fair haired, i.e., "Nordic", while the South Slavic "Dinaric" sub-race was often viewed favourable. Nazis used the term "Slavic race", and considered Slavs to be non-Aryan The concept of a Slavic "Untermensch" went alongside the political goals, and was particularly aimed at Poles and Russians. Germany's ultimate goal was to realize their Drang nach Osten to conquer in Europe, Ukraine's "chernozem" (black earth) soil being a particularly desirable zone for colonization by the "Herrenvolk" (master race).

    In relation to the Nazis racial purity, author and historian Lucy Dawidowicz wrote:

    In the hierarchy of Nazi racism, the "Aryans" were the superior race, destined to rule the world after the destruction of their racial arch-foe, the Jews. The lesser races over whom the Germans would rule included the Slavs — Poles, Russians, Ukrainians. ... Hitler's racial policy with regard to the Slavs, to the extent that it was formulated, was "depopulation." The Slavs were to be prevented from procreating, except to provide the necessary continuing supply of slave laborers."

    'Master race' in the United States

    In the United States, the concept of 'master race' arose within the context of master-slave race relations in the slavery-based society of historical America – particularly in the South in the mid-19th century. It was based upon both the experience of slavery and the pseudo-scientific justifications for racial slavery, but also on the relations between whites in the South and North, particularly during the American Civil War.

    Benjamin W. Leigh, representing Virginia in the United States Senate, said in a speech of January 19, 1836:

    There has been in Virginia as earnest a desire to abolish slavery as exists any where at this day. It commenced with the Revolution, and many of our ablest and most influential men were active in recommending it, and in devising plans for the accomplishment of it. The Legislature encouraged and facilitated emancipation by the owners, and many slaves were so emancipated. The leaning of the courts of justice was always in favorem libertatis. This disposition continued until the impracticability of effecting a general emancipation, without incalculable mischief to the master race, and danger of utter destruction to the other, and the evils consequent on partial emancipations, became too obvious to the Legislature, and to the great majority of the people, to be longer disregarded.

    The Oxford English Dictionary records that William J. Grayson used the phrase "master race" in his poem The Hireling and the Slave (1855):

    For these great ends hath Heaven’s supreme command
    Brought the black savage from his native land,
    Trains for each purpose his barbarian mind,
    By slavery tamed, enlightened, and refined;
    Instructs him, from a master-race, to draw
    Wise modes of polity and forms of law,
    Imbues his soul with faith, his heart with love,
    Shapes all his life by dictates from above

    where the phrase denotes the relation between the white masters and negro slaves. By 1860 Virginian author George Fitzhugh was using the "challenging phrase "master race", which soon came to mean considerably more than the ordinary master-slave relationship". Fitzhugh, along with a number of southern writers, used the term to differentiate Southerners from Northerners, based on the dichotomy that Southerners were supposedly descendents of Normans / Cavaliers whereas Northerners were descendents of Anglo-Saxons / Puritans.

    In 1861, the Southern press bragged that Northern soldiers would "encounter a master race" and knowledge of this fact would cause Northern soldiers' "knees to tremble". The Richmond Whig in 1862 proclaimed that "the master race of this continent is found in the southern states", and in 1863 the Richmond Examiner stated that "there are slave races born to serve, master races born to govern"

    In the works of John H. Van Evrie, a Northern supporter of the Confederacy, the term was interchangeable with white supremacy, notably in White Supremacy and Negro Subordination, Or, Negroes a Subordinate Race and (so-called) slavery its normal condition (1861). In Subgeneation: the theory of the normal relations of the races; an answer to miscegenation (1864) Van Evrie created the words "subgen" to describe what he considered to be the "inferior races" and "subgeneation" to describe the ‘normal’ relation of such inferior races to whites, something which he considered to be the "very corner-stone of democracy"; but these words never entered the dictionary.


    Main article: Nordic race

    The origins of the Nazi version of the theory of the master race were in the 19th-century racial theories of Count Joseph Arthur De Gobineau, who argued that cultures degenerated when distinct races mixed. It was believed at this time that the peoples of Southern Europe were racially mixed with non-European Moors from across the , while the peoples of Northern Europe and Western Europe remained pure. Proponents of the Nordic theory further argued that Nordic peoples had developed an innate toughness and determination due to the harsh, challenging climate in which they evolved.

    The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer was one of the earliest proponents of a theory presenting a hierarchical racial model of history, attributing civilisational primacy to the "white races" who gained their sensitivity and intelligence by refinement in the rigorous north.

    The highest civilisation and culture, apart from the Ancient Indians and Egyptians, are found exclusively among the white races; and even with many dark peoples, the ruling caste or race is fairer in colour than the rest and has, therefore, evidently immigrated, for example, the Brahmins, the Incas, and the rulers of the South Sea Islands. All this is because necessity is the mother of invention because those tribes that emigrated early to the north and there gradually became white, had to develop all their intellectual powers and invent and perfect all the arts in their struggle with need, want and misery, which in their many forms were brought about by the climate. This they had to do in order to make up for the parsimony of nature and out of it all came their high civilisation.

    Despite this, he was adamantly against differing treatment of races, was fervently anti-slavery, and supported the abolitionist movement in the United States. He describes the treatment of "[our] innocent black brothers whom force and injustice have delivered into [the slave-master's] devilish clutches" as "belonging to the blackest pages of mankind's criminal record".

    Hans Frank, Hitler's personal lawyer, stated that Hitler carried a copy of Schopenhauer's book The World as Will and Representation with him wherever he went throughout World War I.

    Werner Goldberg, who was blond and blue-eyed, was used in Nazi recruitment posters as "The Ideal German Soldier."

    The postulated superiority of these people was said to make them born leaders, or a "master race". Other authors included Guido von List, his associate Lanz von Liebenfels, and the British racial theorist Houston Stewart Chamberlain, all of whom felt that the white race in general and Germanic peoples in particular were superior to others, and that given the purification of both the white race and the German people from the other races which were "polluting" them, a new millenarian age of Aryan god-men would arrive.

    Nazi policy stressed the superiority of the Germanic Ubermenschen (superhuman) Nordic race, a sub-race of the white Caucasian race European population defined by anthropometric models of racial difference. The Nordic race was said to comprise only the Germanic peoples: Scandinavians and the rest of the Nordic countries (Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, Icelanders, and Faroese), ethnic Germans (including Austrians, Banat Swabians, as well as Sudeten, Baltic and Volga Germans), Alemannic Swiss, Liechtensteiners, Luxembourgers, the Dutch, Flemings, Afrikaners, Frisians and the English.

    The Nazi racial theorist Hans F. K. Günther first defined "Nordic thought" in his programmatic book Der Nordische Gedanke unter den Deutschen. The fact that Germans were not purely Nordic was acknowledged by Günther in his book Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes (1922) ("Racial Science of the German People"), in which he described the German people as being made up of all five of his European racial categories: Nordic, Mediterranean, Dinaric, Alpine, and East Baltic. Most official Nazi comments on the Nordic race were based on Günther's works, and Alfred Rosenberg presented Günther with a medal for his work in anthropology.

    Although the physical ideal of these racial theorists was typically the tall, fair-haired and light-eyed Nordic individual, such theorists accepted the fact that a considerable variety of hair and eye colour existed within the racial categories they recognised. For example, Adolf Hitler and many Nazi officials had dark hair and were still considered members of the Aryan race under Nazi racial doctrine, because the determination of an individual's racial type depended on a preponderance of many characteristics in an individual rather than on just one defining feature.

    Hitler and Himmler planned to use the SS as the basis for the racial "regeneration" of Europe following the final victory of Nazism. The SS was to be a racial elite chosen on the basis of "pure" Nordic qualities.

    Giuseppe Sergi (1841–1936) was an Italian anthropologist of the early twentieth century, best known for his opposition to Nordicism in his books on the racial identity of ancient Mediterranean peoples. His concept of the Mediterranean race became important to the modelling of racial difference in the early twentieth century.

    Aryanism and Nazism

    Main articles: Aryan race, Nazism and race and Racial policy of Nazi Germany
    See also: Aryanisation and The Myth of the Twentieth Century

    The term Aryan derives from the Sanskrit word (ā́rya), which derived from arya, the original Indo-Iranian autonym. Also, the word Iran is the Persian word for land/place of the Aryan (see also Iranian peoples).

    Following the ideas of Gobineau and others, the Nazi theorist Alfred Rosenberg determined that these people, who, he claimed, were originally from Atlantis, were a dynamic warrior people who dwelt in northern climates on the North German Plain in prehistoric times , from which they migrated southeast by riding their chariots, eventually reaching Ukraine, Iran, and then India. They were supposed to be the ancestors of the ancient Germanic tribes, who shared their warrior values. Rosenberg claimed that Christianity was an alien Semitic slave-morality which was inappropriate for the warrior Aryan master race and he thus supported a melange of aspects of Hindu Vedic and Zoroastrian teachings (both of these religions having been organised by Aryans), along with pre-Christian European Odinistic paganism, which he also considered distinctively Aryan in character.

    In Nazi Germany, the Nuremberg Race Laws of 1935 forbade sexual relations and marriage between an "Aryan" and a "non-Aryan" in order to maintain the purity of the Aryan race. Such relations became a punishable crime known as Rassenschande or "racial shame". The League of German Girls was particularly regarded as instructing girls to avoid Rassenschande, which was treated with particular importance for young females. Aryans found guilty of this crime could face incarceration in a concentration camp, while non-Aryans could face the death penalty. The Nazis recognized the Germanic people as the master race, and several policies were implemented in order to improve and maintain the Germanic-Nordic ubermenschen Aryan "master race", including the practice of eugenics. In order to eliminate "defective" citizens, the T-4 Euthanasia Program was administered by Karl Brandt in order to rid the country of the intellectually disabled or those born with genetic deficiencies, as well as those deemed racially inferior. Additionally, a programme of compulsory sterilisation was undertaken which resulted in forced operations being performed on hundreds of thousands of individuals. Many of these policies are generally seen as being related to what eventually became known as the Holocaust.

    The Nazis also undertook measures to increase the number of Nordics in Germany. The Lebensborn program was only open to German women who fit the Nordic profile. During the Nazi occupation of Poland, the Nazis took young Nordic-looking Polish children who were classified as being descended from ethnic German settlers in order to determine whether or not they were "racially valuable". If that were the case, the young children were taken back to these Lebensborn houses so they could be raised as Germans.

    In Nazi Germany there existed an official document, which certified that its owner was Aryan, the so-called Aryan certificate that could be obtained by citizens of other countries. It states in the section Racial Tenet (Rassegrundsatz):

    "In line with national socialist thinking which does full justice to all other peoples, there is never the expression of superior or inferior, but alien racial admixtures."

    For the Greater Aryan certificate people had to prove that reaching back to January 1, 1800 "none of their paternal nor their maternal ancestors had Jewish or colored blood" (SS officers had to prove this reaching back to 1750).

    Mediterranean race

    Main article:

    The fact that the is responsible for the most important of ancient western civilisations was a problem for the promoters of Nordic superiority. According to Giuseppe Sergi, the Mediterranean race was the "greatest race of the world" and was singularly responsible for the most accomplished civilisations of ancient times, including those of Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt, Greece, Phoenicia, Carthage, and Rome. The Mediterranean race was also a major influence to the outside world in the modern era: Portugal established the first global empire in history, during the 16th century, followed contemporary by Spain, setting both nations in the highest dominion of political and economics powers in Europe. Portugal and Spain are also responsible for being the first nations in discovering and colonising the Americas by its conquistadors.

    C. G. Seligman also stated that "it must, I think, be recognised that the Mediterranean race has actually more achievements to its credit than any other race, since it is responsible for by far the greater part of Mediterranean civilisation, certainly before 1000 BC (and probably much later), and so shaped not only the Aegean cultures, but those of Western as well as the greater part of Eastern Mediterranean lands, while the culture of their near relatives, the Hamitic pre-dynastic Egyptians, formed the basis of that of Egypt."

    The Nazis explained this away by claiming that the elite warriors of the aristocracy of Ancient Greece, of Ancient Rome, and of the Spanish Empire and Portuguese Empire were Nordic Aryans who had migrated south. However, they did admit that those of the Mediterranean race in general and notably such geniuses of the Mediterranean race as Dante Alighieri, Michelangelo, Andrea Palladio, Galileo Galilei, Enrico Fermi and Leonardo da Vinci tended to be more creative than Nordics.

    Master race in fiction

    Aryan master race ideology was common throughout the educated and literate strata of the Western world until after World War II. Such theories were commonplace in early-20th century fantasy literature.

    In the 1920s and 1930s, the original Buck Rogers stories and newspaper cartoons, Buck Rogers, in his adventures in the 25th century that take place on Earth, fights for Aryan-Americans from the liberated zone around Niagara, New York, against the Red Mongol Empire, a Chinese empire of the future which rules most of North America.

    In the 1930s, both educational and storybooks for children in Germany taught their readers about the master race. In the Sun Koh science fiction series where Koh says things like "My forefathers were Aryan". In a story about Atlantis, Koh says, "If our Atlantis once again rises out of the sea, then we will get from there the blond, steel-hard men with the pure blood and will create with them the master race, which will finally rule the earth." The German writer Michael Ende, who was born in 1929 and grew up reading such books, wrote his classic novel Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver in the 1950s, as a way of opposing the Nazi propaganda he was taught. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writer Julia Voss wrote a book on Jim Button, uncovering the Ende's many references to Nazi symbols. Voss shows how Ende upends the Nazi belief that Atlantis was the original home of the Aryan race by creating his own submerged city and making it rise, but not to restore Aryan master-race rule over the earth, rather it becomes a multi-racial paradise with Jim Button, who is black, as its king.

    In the 1948 film Rope by Alfred Hitchcock, one of the central characters, Brandon Shaw, is a firm believer in the master race ideology.

    In Doctor Who, the Doctor's frequent enemies, the Daleks, consider themselves a master race who must purge the universe of all others; Terry Nation explicitly modeled them on the Nazis. In the 2009 special The End of Time, when the Master transforms the entire human race into copies of himself, he claims that there is no human race, but only "the Master race".

    In the Harry Potter series, while the parallels were not originally intentional, there is much similarity between Voldemort's Pureblood ideology and the Master Race ideology of the Nazis, with wizards being "pure" and anyone with Muggle (non-wizard) blood being considered "half-blood" or "mudblood", a word treated the same way a racial slur would be treated in the real world (Neo-Nazis call non-white people mud people).



    • Longerich, Peter (2010). Holocaust: The Nazi Persecution and Murder of the Jews. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-280436-5. 
    • Snyder, Timothy (2010). Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-00239-9. 
    • Yenne, Bill (2010). Hitler's Master of the Dark Arts: Himmler's Black Knights and the Occult Origins of the SS. Minneapolis: Zenith. ISBN 978-0-7603-3778-3.