This Day In History: October 16

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On October 16, 1946, Alfred Rosenberg, the primary fabricator and disseminator of Nazi ideology, is hanged as a war criminal.

Born in Estonia in 1893, Rosenberg studied architecture at the University of Moscow. After receiving his degree, he stayed in Russia through the early days of the Russian Revolution and may have even flirted with communism briefly. In 1919, he immigrated to Munich, and met up with Dietrich Eckart, the poet-turned-editor of the Voelkischer Beobachter, the propagandistic newspaper of the Nazi Party. Through Eckart, Rosenberg met Adolf Hitler and Rudolf Hess and joined the newly formed Nazi Party. Hitler replaced Eckart with Rosenberg as editor of the paper, so impressed was Hitler with the “intellectual” architect.

Rosenberg immediately began using the news organ to disseminate his racist philosophy, now also the official Nazi philosophy, which was cobbled together from the writings of two men extremely influential on Germany’s growing anti-Semitism, racism, and grandiose self-perception: Houston Stewart Chamberlain, an Englishman, and Count Joseph Arthur de Gobineau, a French diplomat, both of whom believed that the Aryan Germans were destined to be the masters of Europe.

When the 1923 Munich Beer Hall Putsch collapsed, and Hitler was thrown in jail, he turned the reins of the party over to Rosenberg, whom Hitler believed would prove feckless as a leader and thus no ultimate threat to his own authority. And there was nothing to fear-for the Nazi Party would be banned and dismissed as a laughingstock until Hitler took control again upon his release.

Rosenberg’s literary output continued as the Nazis fought for legitimacy and power. The Future Direction of a German Foreign Policy argued for the invasion and occupation of Poland and the Soviet Union. The Myth of the 20th Century laid out the convoluted notions of Nordic racial superiority once again, also describing in no uncertain terms who the enemies of a German-Nazi Europe were: “Russian Tartars” (that is, Slavs), and Semites, which included not merely Jews but all the Latin ethnic groups—as well as Christianity, especially the Roman Catholic Church. This “blueprint” for a “natural right” of conquest fueled Hitler’s already violent prejudices and megalomaniac character.

Rosenberg’s roles during the war included working, from his Office of Foreign Affairs, with Norwegian fascist Vidkun Quisling in the overthrow of Norway’s government. Rosenberg was also responsible for overseeing the transportation of stolen artworks from Vichy France to Germany.

At the Nuremberg trials, Rosenberg was found guilty of war crimes and ordered hanged.