Racism—not occasional prejudice but a worldview that posits the “biological” inferiority and superiority of different groups of humans—constituted a crucial component of Nazism. Yet while the Third Reich applied this set of ideas to the Jews—not to mention Africans, Slavs, Gypsies, and others—racial thinking alone does not explain what motivated the Holocaust, as Jeffrey Herf writes:
[R]acial anti-Semitism, with its elements of physical revulsion, sexual panic, and assumption of clear, easily recognizable physical differences, had obvious parallels with European and American racism toward Africans and, later, African-Americans. Like other forms of racism, including that of the slaveholding American South, this anti-Semitism associated [deficiencies] of inward character with specific physiological attributes. . . .
The core, [however], of the radical anti-Semitism that justified and accompanied the Holocaust was a conspiracy theory that ascribed not inferiority but [instead] enormous power to what it alleged was an international Jewish conspiracy that sought the destruction of the Nazi regime and the extermination of the German population. Its key component was prefigured in the infamous forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. . . .
The evidence of Nazi wartime propaganda indicates that the legend of a murderous international Jewish conspiracy—more than the biological obsessions about blood, race, and sex of the Nuremberg race laws [which imposed legal discrimination against German Jews in the 1930s]—lurked at the core of Nazi propaganda, and indeed constituted the distinctively genocidal component of Nazi ideology. The Nazis claimed that because “international Jewry” was waging a war of extermination against Germany, the Nazi regime had an obligation to “exterminate” and “annihilate” Europe’s Jews in self-defense. . . .
From the perspective of the Nazi leadership, “the war against the Jews” was not only the Holocaust. It was also the war against Britain, the Soviet Union, the United States, and their allies. . . . These were two components of a single battle-to-the-death between Germany and international Jewry. .