The idea of a Germanic people without sufficient space dates back long before Adolf Hitler brought it to prominence, however: the term Lebensraum was coined by Friedrich Ratzel in the late 19th century, when it was used as a slogan in Germany referring to the unification of the country and the acquisition of colonies, as per the English and French models. Ratzel believed the development of a people is primarily influenced by their geographical situation, and that a people that successfully adapted to one location would proceed naturally to another. This expansion to fill available space, he claimed, was a natural and necessary feature of any healthy species.
These beliefs were furthered by scholars of the day, including Karl Haushofer and Friedrich von Bernhardi. In von Bernhardi's 1912 book Germany and the Next War, he expanded upon Ratzel's hypotheses, and, for the first time, explicity identified Eastern Europe as a source of new space.
Hitler himself was attracted to these Pan-European ideals, but was initially unsure as to where the space should come from. Indeed, he admonished Germany's wartime government for supporting Austria-Hungary against Russia. By the time that Mein Kampf was published in 1926, though, Hitler had come to believe that Russia was, in fact, the direction in which Germany should expand. He had become suspicious of the links between the Bolshevik revolutionaries and the Jews, and decided that only through the elimination of the Eastern European Jewry could Germany acquire its living space.
The elements of the program outlined in Mein Kampf included 3 general ideas:
- idea of military expansion and force expulsion of the nations of Poland, Ukraine, Russia and other countries in order to prepare settlements for German people (both Reichsdeutsche and Volksdeutsche). The German historians underlined German claims to those countries.
- idea of supporting a high birth rate among the German women to increase the country's population.
- idea of selection of young German women and German soldiers in order to produce racially optimal Germanic material to replace soldiers killed in action. Implemented in institutions recalling brothels.
The attempts to implement the Lebensraum happened in Zamosc County and Wartheland (see Generalplan Ost). The biggest obstacle to implement the Lebensraum further was the fact, that by the end of 1942 the sixth army was defeated in Stalingrad. After the second big defeat in the tank battle at Kursk during July 1943 and the Invasion in Sicily, all further Lebensraum plans came to a halt.
The Lebensraum ideology was a major factor in Hitler's launching of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941. The Nazis hoped to turn large areas of Soviet territory into German settlement areas as part of a plan called Generalplan Ost.
Lebensraum is also the name of a contemporary play by playwright Israel Horovitz, in which the chancellor of Germany wakes up one night after a nightmare and decides to invite 6 million Jews to come live in Germany as restitution for the Holocaust.
- Hitler and 'Lebensraum' in the East By Jeremy Noakes