I think it's pretty common knowledge that Hitler viewed the Slavs as subhuman or 'untermenschen'; however; his attitude towards the Slavs as regards the conquests in Eastern Europe seem somewhat haphazard: he made alliances with existing or newly-created Slavic states (Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovakia) whilst others were not even given even puppet-state status (Poland, Russia). Now; Nazi policy in some cases as regards the Slavs sometimes hand waved various groups as 'not being really Slav'; for example in the case of Bulgaria, mention was made of the Bulgarian's origins as a Turkic people who later became slavicised and adopted a Slavic language, and a similar origin story was posited for the Croats, and thus Hitler could . It's also certainly true that the Poles, and Russians were particularly low-down as regards the hierarchy as regards the Nazi's attitudes towards the Slavs: both groups were part of the Nazis' genocidal policies in the east and both were denied their own, even puppet state.

So we can divide the policy of Hitler and the Nazis as regards the Slavic peoples threefold:

Those that were treated on a equal footing with Nazi Germany (and explained away by them 'not really being Slavs'):

  • Bulgaria
  • Croatia

Those that were given puppet-state status:

  • Slovakia
  • the Czechs
  • the Serbs
  • Montenegro

and those that were not even given puppet state status and were to be exterminated and/or 'germanised':

  • Russians
  • Poles

I realise that a lot of this was practicality and realpolitik on the part of Hitler, but; given his racist attitude towards the Slavs, why he would be seemingly so 'accommodating' to the Slavs in this respect. I'm particularly interested as to why the second group weren't treated in the same way as the third group (Poles and Russians)

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    Hitler's racial policy was based not on anything to do with biology, but rather on who he wanted to be friends with in foreign policy.
    – Semaphore
    Mar 2, 2018 at 12:47
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    @Semaphore - ...today. He'd often change it when his military targets changed.
    – T.E.D.
    Mar 2, 2018 at 12:57
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    The thing that set Poland and Russia aside from the others, mostly, is that they never surrendered to German rule, while the others did (at gunpoint, but still...) Hitler wanted Russia. Everything else was a sideshow. If they were willing to go over to his side, all the better...
    – DevSolar
    Mar 2, 2018 at 13:16
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    @Alex - Which is another way of saying he didn't actually have policies. He had things he wanted, and tried to get them using whatever arguments/rationalization he thought would help at the time. People trying to compile his words and actions into coherent "policies" are playing the wrong game.
    – T.E.D.
    Mar 2, 2018 at 15:43
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    You're forgetting that the german Reich had it's own slavs from the begining, long before Hitler did any conquests. Sorbs in Lusace, Silesians in Upper-Silesia, Cachoubs in West Prussia and Masurians in East Prussia all were german people speaking slavic dialects very close to Polish language, and I don't think they were targetted by the genocidal policies. Even many people speaking only German had Slavic roots or family names, especially in the east.
    – Bregalad
    Mar 2, 2018 at 15:57

6 Answers 6


Hitler's racial policy was based not on anything to do with biology, but rather on who he wanted to be friends with in foreign policy. Semaphore♦ 9 hours ago

...he didn't actually have policies. He had things he wanted, and tried to get them using whatever arguments/rationalization he thought would help at the time. People trying to compile his words and actions into coherent "policies" are playing the wrong game. – T.E.D.♦ 6 hours ago

Bingo. Racism at the national policy level is usually a tool to excuse a power grab or maintaining a power imbalance. It's a means of using othering to dehumanize and make illegitimate whomever is standing in the way, and to justify unjust actions to your population who wants to believe they're "the good guys" or "acting in self-defense". In that respect, it doesn't have to be logically consistent, just invoke emotions of fear, outrage, and moral superiority.

Poland was a target because of the problem of East Prussia. It was cut off from the rest of Germany after WWI by the need to give the newly recreated country of Poland access to the sea via the Danzig Corridor while also keeping the German ethnic conclave of East Prussia part of Germany. The predominantly Polish West Prussia (and other German territory) was given to Poland, along with other pieces of Germany. This was perceived by the Nazis as a great insult to Germany and reuniting East Prussia was one of their promises and policy goals.

Nazi German negotiations to gain rail and road access to Danzig and East Prussia failed. After watching Germany and the Soviets annex other countries through other similar seemingly reasonable negotiations, the Poles were loathe to enter any agreement which allowed more German access to Polish territory.

In addition, Poland was in the way of Hitler's ultimate goal: defeating the threat of the Soviet Union and colonizing Poland, Ukraine, and European Russia. The Soviet Union was seen as both a major military and ideological threat and opportunity for expansion. To the Nazis, Poland, Ukraine, and Russia were an area rich in resources to fuel greater Germany, and land for Germans to settle. Justifying oppressing and killing the existing population would be easier if they were viewed as sub-human, hostile, and backward.

The other slavic states were either not in the way, or had acquiesced quietly. They were either seen as integrated into Greater Germany (Czechoslovakia), acquiesced to German threats (Bulgaria), allying with the winning side (Romania), or puppets to be exploited (Independent State of Croatia, Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia).

The situation in post-invasion Yugoslavia, with different factions of different ethnic groups fighting each other, and also with or against the Nazis, illustrates very well how ethnic perceptions are flexible to circumstances. Ethnic tensions there were exploited to have the population pacify themselves, particularly by exploiting Croatian ambitions and grievances to use them to suppress the other ethnic factions and "stabilize" the region releasing German troops to fight elsewhere. The opposite happened.


Very good question where the answer is AFAIK still open and I think you also pointed out the discrepancies well.

Some possible explanations:

  • Ideology (Lebensraum). As you can see in the wikipedia article, the main target for genocide and subjugation were in fact Poland and Russia (Generalplan Ost). The idea was influenced by the "Heartland" idea that conquering and holding Russia was a key point for world domination. Friedrich Ratzel adapted it to the "Lebensraum" ideology thinking that only conquering Russia could finally lead to German domination.

  • Austria-Hungary: If you take a peek at the map:

enter image description here
Mariusz Paździora, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY 3.0, 2008-01-01

you will see that the former Austria-Hungary contains apart from Austria and Hungary many of the countries and ethnicities which were independent later: Czech Republic, Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bosnia and parts of Romania including parts of Romania including Siebenbürgen (Transsylvania, yes, it really exists) which had a 10% German minority. Given that Austria-Hungary existed for a while, you had many people from several groups marrying together and the bureaucracy was not as well-groomed as in Germany where you could easily identify the people you want to identify.

  • Pragmatism for potential allies: The Soviet Union had produced much hatred during their control. The Holodomor in the Ukraine, the invasion of the Baltic States, the ousting of the Cossacks. The Cossacks for example fought partly for Germany under the lead of Pyotr Krasnov. After conquering the Baltic Republics the new German government under Alfred Rosenberg who was raised in Tallinn as part of German-Estonian family followed appeasement politics and Germanization for Baltic people. While strongly antisemitic (no problems with the genocide under his control) and a staunch anticommunist, he defended Slavs as Arians and had clashes with the SS. So like in Austria-Hungary, if a ethnicity was causing no problems and did not belong to the most hated groups (Jews, Russians, Poles), the Nazis were often quite pragmatic and accepted the population without further ado.

  • How races were judged were contradictory anyway. Another map: enter image description here Meyer's Konversationslexikon, Public Domain, 1885-1890

As you see, Slavs were then Arians (Caucasians) and Finnish people were Mongols. Also the racists had heated debates which ethnicity belong to which race. So it was not really a problem to "adjust" the race if it suits your interest.


With regards to Croatia, Hitler didn't consider them slavs. Many Croatians don't consider themselves Slavs. Croatia really has a history independent from the slavs. The entire debate about whether Croatia was a slavic country or whether they were more Italian or German affiliates was being fought over in a great civil war at the same time WWII but it's roots were much deeper than that. Croatia has a history dating back at least to the 7th century. It was associated with Charlemagne in the 900's. The kingdoms of Hungary and Austria dating from 1000-1100s. I've read essays which say early Croatia was a Greek or Roman city state and developed through trade with the West independently from the East. Tito and many slavs including some Croats believed Croatians were still slavs. Croatian nationalists believed they were traditionally closer aligned with Western Europe. The Croatian language, religion and culture being closer to the west. ( Language of Croatia shares many vocabulary words with Italian, at least in Dubrovnik ).

This area of Europe is where the Moslem, Orthodox and Catholic churches met and would squabble about for centuries. So claiming Croatia was slavic aligns one with the Orthodox Church and later the Communists and latter than that the Serbs. Claim they are independent aligns one with the Catholics and later fascist nationalists and of course Hitler. According to the CIA fact book Croatia to this day remains 86.3% Catholic. Same source, Serbia is 85% Orthodox. So it was kind of like where east meets west even in the middle ages and Hitler was sensitive to such boundaries.

I was in Dubrovnik just a few months ago and these debates are still going on. I have acquaintances on both sides. When I was there a Nationalist group had just put up several billboards of the Pope at the entrance of the neighborhood of the other group. Every time we drove by it comments were made, expressing the annoyance. They were all Catholics but in this case the overt Catholic symbolism is a sign of Croatian Nationalism. It's like the last 50 years had never occurred. Last time they fought about it was in the 1990's. So while most folks don't appreciate the nuances, it's still a touchy subject in that part of the world. The boundary lines between the groups are divided by neighborhoods and generations; and the families all inter-marry so it's a big mess.

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    Ahm, the Croatian language so much different than ? the Serbian? Looks more like dialectal variations and only nationalists emphasising these small differences. Mar 2, 2018 at 21:33
  • Where I was in Dubrovnik Croatian language contained a lot of Italian words where as Serbian does not. That's what I was referring too. To me that was a big difference in the languages.
    – user27618
    Mar 3, 2018 at 17:27
  • Do you mean 17th century? Neither Austria nor Hungary did exist in the 7th century.
    – 0range
    Mar 3, 2018 at 18:20

I can only comment on one aspect of this, which is occupied Poland. Though this may be illustrative more generally. This subject is discussed in detail by the BBC documentary series 'The Nazis: A Warning from History', which investigates the rise and fall of Nazi Germany.

The crux is this: Nazi Germany's administration was mostly anarchic, and Hitler didn't care. Hitler's Berlin office (which he rarely visited) had multiple rooms which received letters from Nazi officials and adoring fans. Different people occupied each room and each one replied to letters. These responses were indeed official documents which effectively stated Nazi policy, and implied Hitler's personal approval. But he again rarely attended these offices and was likely unaware of most of the letters he received and responses his office gave.

Timothy Snyder goes further, suggesting in his book 'Black Earth' that Nazi policy in occupied Poland and Ukraine was a deliberate attempt to allow 'racial anarchism' to prevail by creating regions of lawlessness. This interpretation does seem consistent with other incidents of Nazi anarchy, and, he argues, ideologically consistent with Mein Kampf. Snyder claims that Hitler wasn't just an exceptional anti-Semite or nationalist, but that his ideology was fundamentally different and can only be explained with such terms as racial anarchism.

So with this in mind, we get to the question of occupied Poland. Poland was divided into three regions governed by different men. Albert Forster, Arthur Greiser, and Hans Frank. Hitler instructed these men that they were to deal with the Polish question as they deemed fit, and he would not question how this was done.

Greiser and Frank implemented genocide, while Forster 'Germanised' most of the local population of the northern district. Forster's plan achieved results quickly, but annoyed Greiser and Himmler. Himmler wrote to Forster, chastising him for such a reckless policy, and that 'just one drop' of non-Aryan blood would contaminate the whole race. Forster merely responded that if Himmler had an issue, he should take it to Hitler. Hitler, however, true to his word, didn't ask questions and delighted in the speed of Forster's Germanisation policy.

The autonomy granted to these three men resulted in absurd tragedies, where one half a family who lived in the north overnight became German citizens who sent their children to Hitler youth camps... and the other half living in the south were earmarked as undesirables and sent to death camps to be exterminated.

It is thus possible to explain the bizarre outcomes of Nazi policy as the logical conclusion of an ideology which is, and whose leadership was, fundamentally anarchic.


Not a complete answer by any means, but... Hitler was recovering from poison gas when WWI ended and it was always his grievance against the Jews that they had "sold out" Germany and caused their defeat.

But sharing blames with Jews in Hitler's mind, a factor in Germany's swift surrender was the German navy's at least partially Communist-inspired Kiel mutiny. Hitler, for this, or for other reasons, hated the Bolsheviks - Russians in practice - and a lot of the violence in the runup to the 1933 elections had to do with Communist-vs-Nazi clashes. That and fear of Communism was sold to the industrial barons.

Communism essentially meant Russia at the time.

Add to that his fantasies about Teutonic Knights heading East and all things racial and well, there are plenty of reasons he'd hate Russians. On the other hand, Germany had a number of allies in the Eastern European states, so he preferred to be more moderate.

  • Ironically... Russian Communism was CREATED by Kaiser Germany as a way to weaken the Russian empire and knock it out of the war! May 10, 2019 at 18:58
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    @sofageneral Created, no. Supported and financed, yes.
    – Schwern
    May 12, 2019 at 5:01

I think that "worse" treatment of Poland and Russia was mostly from political issues, not directly by ethnicity.

Hitler hated communism so he wanted to conquer communist Russia which is quite obvious for "why Russia".

When it comes to Poland - Poland was on the east side from Hitler's perspective but it wasn't communist. But it was good for him to conquer each country at his way to Russia. Poland was on his way from geographical point of view.

Besides this - Hitler found a point to look at in Polish society - minorities. At past Poland had very big Jew community - and Hitler assumed to kill Jews.

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    Several Nazi-German figures were said to have a big hatred of Poles, independent of Jews.
    – jjack
    Mar 2, 2018 at 17:30
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    Poland was hated in Germany mainly because most territory lost by the German Reich with the treary of Versailles went to Poland, only smaller parts went to (in decreasing order) France, Denmark, Lithuania, Belgium and Czechoslovakia. Also Germany first lost Poznania and part of West-Prussia to Poland in 1919, and THEN lost part of upper silesia in 1921, which raged German nationalists a second time against Poland.
    – Bregalad
    Mar 9, 2018 at 7:34

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