Idea of ‘Lebensraum’
Between 1921 and 1925 Adolf Hitler developed the belief that Germany required Lebensraum (‘living space’) in order to survive. The conviction that this living space could be gained only in the east, and specifically from Russia, formed the core of this idea, and shaped his policy after his take-over of power in Germany in 1933. So where did he get this idea from? And why did he envisage his country’s future living space lying in the east?
The term Lebensraum was coined by the German geographer, Friedrich Ratzel (1844-1904). During the last two decades of the 19th century, Ratzel developed a theory according to which the development of all species, including humans, is primarily determined by their adaptation to geographic circumstances.
Above all, Ratzel considered species migration as the crucial factor in social adaptation and cultural change. Species that successfully adapted to one location, he thought, would spread naturally to others. Indeed, he went on to argue that, in order to remain healthy, species must continually expand the amount of space they occupy, for migration is a natural feature of all species, an expression of their need for living space.
This process also applied to humans, who operate collectively in the form of ‘peoples’ (Völker), with one Völk effectively conquering another. However, according to Ratzel, such expansion could be successful only if the conquering nation ‘colonised’ the new territory, and by ‘colonisation’ he meant the establishment of peasant farms by the new occupiers.