Nazi leader Adolf Hitler had an early awareness of the Armenian Genocide. One of his closest friends and advisors had been Max Erwin von Scheubner-Richter (1884-1923), who was German consul in Erzerum in 1915 and had documented the annihilation in several diplomatic reports. He would be killed literally at Hitler’s side during the Beer Hall putsch in Munich (October 1923).
Hitler’s first documented reference to Armenians as a people that had “degenerated” came a year before the ill-fated coup, in November 1922, in a secret meeting with Eduard Scharrer, a former consul-general from Stuttgart and publisher of the newspaper Münchner Neuest Nachrichten. According to Scharrer’s notes, Hitler said:
“A solution for the Jewish question must come. If it is solved reasonably, it will be best for both sides. But if it is not solved reasonably, there are only two possibilities: either the German Volk will degenerate to the level of the Armenians or the Levantines, or a bloody struggle will break out.”
Nine years later, Hitler gave two confidential interviews to Richard Breiting, editor of the Leipziger Neuester Nachrichten, a conservative newspaper, in May and June 1931. (Breiting, who was allowed to take short-hand notes, died in unclear circumstances, probably by the hand of the Gestapo, in 1937.) In the second interview, Hitler announced:
“We intend to introduce a great resettlement policy; we do not wish to go on treading on each other’s toes in Germany. In 1923 little Greece could resettle a million men. Think of the Biblical deportations and the massacres of the Middle Ages (Rosenberg refers to them) and remember the extermination of the Armenians. One eventually reaches the conclusion that masses of men are mere biological plasticine."
The third and most famous reference came on August 22, 1939, one week before the invasion in Poland and the beginning of World War II. Hitler gave two speeches to the supreme commanders and commanding generals at Obersalzberg, which lasted several hours. Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, chief of the German Abwehr (military intelligence), surreptitiously took notes. The paragraph, included in the second speech, said (Lochner’s translation):
“Our strength consists in our speed and in our brutality. Genghis Khan led millions of women and children to slaughter—with premeditation and a happy heart. History sees in him solely the founder of a state. It’s a matter of indifference to me what a weak western European civilization will say about me. I have issued the command—and I’ll have anybody who utters but one word of criticism executed by a firing squad—that our war aim does not consist in reaching certain lines, but in the physical destruction of the enemy. Accordingly, I have placed my death-head formation in readiness—for the present only in the East—with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space [Lebensraum] which we need. Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?"
A copy of the speech was transmitted to American journalist Louis P. Lochner, who published the English version in his book What About Germany? (1942), while the German original was published for the first time in an émigré German newspaper in Santiago de Chile, Deutsche Blätter, in 1944.
Doubts about the authenticity of this copy (two other sets of notes surfaced, which were introduced by the prosecution at the Nuremberg Trials, but did not contain the Armenian reference) have been frequently raised. The consistency of Hitler’s thinking between 1931 and 1939 and the logical deduction that there was no particular reason to manufacture the Armenian reference (Hitler’s thought and intent were clear, even if he had not used it) are enough evidence that the phrase was authentic. It remains a testament to the impunity of the Armenian Genocide in World War I that led to the Jewish Genocide in World War II.