What was that thing about “a noble and unique race”?

I was reviewing Frank Capra’s terrible 1943 war-propaganda series, Why We Fight, made by Frank Capra working for the United States Army (and often shown on television since then), and came across this alleged quote from Adolf Hitler:

That’s from 28:52 in the episode subtitled War Comes to America. It says: 

The Germans are a noble and unique race to whom the earth was given by the grace of God.


The key words there are “to whom the earth was given.” Obviously, this statement was supposed to lend credence to the claim that Adolf Hitler and Germany were intent on conquering the entire world (a persistent theme of Why We Fight). It is however not an accurate quote but an adaptation of a sentence from the translation of Mein Kampf published by Reynal and Hitchcock in 1941:

Both, yes, both Christian denominations regard with indifference this desecration and annihilation of a noble and unique race to whom the earth was given by the grace of God.[Mein Kampf, tr.New School for Social Research, p. 728]

This Reynal and Hitchcock edition boasted of being “unexpurgated,” so that readers might expect to find some statements offensive to non-Germans that were omitted in the authorized translation. Voilà! A shocking statement of intention to conquer the world, straight from Hitler himself!

But there is a problem. The translators of the Reynal and Hitchcock edition were a committee assembled at the New School for Social Research, a leftist institution that had received a large number of refugees from Germany and where there was presumably very little sympathy for Hitler’s ideas. It seems therefore a good idea to verify the accuracy of the translation.

When you go to the German text of Mein Kampf, you find this:

Beide, jawohl, beide christliche Konfessionen sehen dieser Entweihung und Zerstörung eines durch Gottes Gnade der Erde gegebenen edlen und einzigartigen Lebewesens gleichgültig zu.

The word for earth there is in the dative case, der Erde, which would normally be translated as to the earth or for the earth. It is impossible for a competent translator to make out of this “to whom the Earth was given,” since that would require die Erde, nominative case. The Reynal and Hitchcock translation has inverted the relationship between the thing given and the recipient of the thing.  James Murphy’s translation, published in March 1939, rendered the sentence as follows:

The two Christian denominations look on with indifference at the profanation and destruction of a noble and unique creature who was given to the world as a gift of God’s grace. [Mein Kampf, tr. Murphy, p. 429]

But really, Edgar Dugdale’s abridgement, the first English rendering of Mein Kampf, the authorized translation from 1933, was already perfectly good on this point:

The two Christian churches are looking on this pollution and destruction of a noble and unique existence, granted by God’s grace to this earth, with indifferent eyes. [Adolf Hitler, My Struggle, tr. Dugdale, p. 225]

The notion (which I have seen propagated on television) that the New School’s committee of translators was somehow more honest and more accurate in representing what Adolf Hitler said turns out to have been quite wrong, even compared to Edgar Dugdale’s authorized translation. 

I found a sentence with a similar concatenation of words in F. G. Klopstock’s prose summary of his Messiah, which Hitler probably read:

Jetzt blickt der Versöhner auf die Schaaren der Heiligen umher, die das Kreuz umgeben. Er verweilt am längsten bei den Seelen des zukünftigen menschlichen Geschlechts. Es war jetzt einer der großen Zeitpunkten gekommen, in welchen viel edlere Seelen der Erde gegeben werden. [Klopstock, Messias (zehnter Gesang)]

(Now the Conciliator glances around at the throngs of the holy that surround the cross. He dwells longest on the souls of the future human kind. One of the great moments in time had now arrived in which much nobler souls are given to the earth.)

While using a similar construction and some of the same words, Hitler replaces “much nobler souls” with “noble and unique life-essence” to describe the German folk, avoiding comparisons to other peoples in this context. The resonance between Hitler’s phrasing and Klopstock’s is very strong, and the meaning of der Erde gegeben is the same in bothThe resonance is confirmed with Hitler’s use of “by the grace of God.” He seems to be implying, perhaps subconsciously, an identification of the German people with the perpetuators of Jesus’ mission in the world — but he avoids saying that.*

To summarize, when we track down this alleged quote used in Why We Fight about how Hitler supposedly regards the Germans as entitled to rule the world, we find that it is a misrepresentation compounded (which is typical of alleged quotes appearing in Why We Fight), and that the original statement by Adolf Hitler, correctly understood, did not in any way support the notion that the film was trying to convey.


* According to the Table Talk, Hitler did not believe that Jesus was a Jew, although possibly a mischling. For his idealism Hitler regarded Jesus as most likely a son of one of the Gaulish veterans of the Roman Army settled by the Romans in Galilee. “Jesus fought against the materialism of his age, and, therefore, against the Jews.” Hitler makes the interesting, and seemingly valid, point that the Jews would not have turned over one of their own to be tried by a Roman court.

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