A common – and controversial – quote attributed to Adolf Hitler states: “To conquer a nation, first disarm its citizens.” This quote is often cited amid gun control debates. Did Hitler actually speak these words?
It’s unclear if Hitler spoke those exact words, but he did express the sentiment.
A variation of the quote often reads, “To conquer a nation, one must first disarm its citizens.”
A 2012 Newsday op-ed entitled, “Misinformation: Did Hitler say “one must first disarm citizens” to control a nation?” sought to dispel rumors that the quote originated from Hitler, offering its absence from internet searches as proof. While a direct citation does seem lacking, such absence neither confirms or denies the source of the quote. The original source cannot be found, Hitler or otherwise.
There are, however, verifiable Hitler statements which very closely echo the sentiment of the quote in question. These can be found in Hitler’s Table Talk, 1941-1944: Secret Conversations with the English translation copyrighted 1953 by Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
Consider this often-cited passage, from Part Three: 6 February – 7 September 1942:
The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subject races to possess arms. History shows that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by so doing. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the supply of arms to the underdogs is a sine qua non for the overthrow of any sovereignty. So let’s not have any native militia or native police.
There is another passage from the same book with perhaps an even closer resemblance to the quote in question. This quote is referenced on page xxxii of a preface of the 2008 edition from Enigma Books entitled “The Mind of Adolf Hitler” by H.R. Trevor-Roper. It isn’t clear whether this is a separate quote, or merely a different translation of the second sentence in the quote above. It states, “History teaches us that all master races have declined once they consented to arm the peoples they had conquered.”
The quote in question is often accompanied by a date of 1933, although occasionally other years are also used. Again, we have no evidence of the direct Hitler quote, so the year included cannot be verified either. If, however, the quote was derived from those included in the Table Talk passages, then the year should read 1942, not 1933.
During our research, a few readers suggested to us that the quote may have been originally spoken by Nazi Propaganda Minster Joseph Goebbels, but once again there have been fruitless attempts to find the quote directly attributed to him or anyone else.
We did find one suggestion which put a new spin on the quote above. This quote read, “To conquer a nation, one must first disarm its citizens by re-inventing their collective memory of the past,” and attributed to Goebbels. If this is in fact the sentiment of the actual quote, then “disarm” takes on an entirely new meaning. Finding original sources or citations for this variant has been elusive.
1938 Nazi Gun Laws
If one looks closely at the quotes above, the quote in question, and the 1938 Nazi gun laws, it becomes apparent that the quote is most likely aimed at restrictions placed upon Jews at the time. The use of the word “conquer” likely didn’t refer to those citizens with which Hitler identified, but of a population he wished to vanquish, and to remove their rights to bear arms. In fact, the 1938 German Weapons Act actually lowered the age upon which German citizens could own firearms, but essentially stripped Jews of any rights to own firearms.
The chart below from Google Trends shows that interest in the quote began in July 2012, peaked in January 2013, and subsided by April 2013. The quote received a slight surge in interest in late 2015, but at a much lower volume than the surge of 2012 and 2013.
We could find no evidence that the exact quote can be attributed to Adolf Hitler, nor could we disprove that he said it. If Hitler isn’t responsible for the exact quote, it’s possible that it was derived from words Hitler did speak, such as those cited above. It could also be the work of a very liberal translation, which is why finding an original source is so elusive.
It is likely that the context of the quote was directed specifically at Jews – perhaps as Hitler’s argument to remove their right to bear arms. History has shown that Hitler sought to conquer and disarm Jews, who were in fact banned from owning guns by Nazi laws passed in 1938, while Hitler’s own “master race” actually enjoyed more relaxed gun laws in the same legislation.
If you have any insight as to the origin of the quote in question, please drop us a comment below.
Updated December 7, 2015
Originally published December 2012