The term “anti-Semitism,” first coined in 1879 by German writer Wilhelm Marr who wanted a scientific-sounding euphemism for Judenhass, or Jew-hatred, purported to explain why Jews should be reviled as defined by race. Adopting an extreme version of anti-Semitism, Nazi propaganda depicted Jews not only as an inferior race but as a demonic one, whose threat could only be eradicated by complete elimination from the Greater Third Reich, envisioned to encompass all of Europe including Britain and the Soviet Union. Admittedly, Nazi racist ideology differed from previous anti-Jewish tradition, termed the world’s “oldest hatred,” but Hitler needed to build on that tradition in order for his virulent brand of racism to gain popular acceptance. Two thousand years of Christian anti-Judaism (based on religion), not only spawned anti-Semitism (based on race), but spawned Nazi anti-Semitism.
Early in his political career, in 1923, Hitler proclaimed: “The Jew is a race, but not human.” His particularly toxic brand of anti-Semitism, shamelessly laced with religiosity, is evident in Mein Kampf, his autobiography and political manifesto, first published in 1925, when he declared that “elimination of Jews from Europe” was his “sacred” mission. Additionally, he wrote, inter alia:
“Today, I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.” “What we have to fight for. . . is the freedom and independence of the fatherland, so that our people may be enabled to fulfill the mission assigned to it by the Creator.”
“… the founder of Christianity made no secret indeed of his estimation of the Jewish people. When He found it necessary, He drove those enemies of the human race out of the Temple of God.”
In speeches, he proclaimed,inter alia :
“The National Government regards the two Christian confessions (Catholic and Protestant) as factors essential to the soul of the German people. It will respect the contracts (concordats) they have made with the various regions. It declares its determination to leave their rights intact. In the schools, the government will protect the rightful influence of the Christian bodies. We hold the spiritual forces of Christianity to be indispensable elements in the moral uplift of most of the German people. We hope to develop friendly relations with the Holy See.”
“The Government of the Reich regards Christianity as the unshakable foundation of the morals and moral code of the nation… The rights of the churches will not be diminished.”
“National Socialism has always affirmed that it is determined to take the Christian Churches under the protection of the State. For their part the churches cannot for a second doubt that they need the protection of the State, and that only through the State can they be enabled to fulfill their religious mission. Indeed, the churches demand this protection from the State.”
“The Church’s interests cannot fail to coincide with ours alike in our fight against the symptoms of degeneracy in the world of today, in our fight against the Bolshevist culture, against an atheistic movement, against criminality, and in our struggle for the consciousness of a community in our national life, for the conquest of hatred and disunion between the classes, for the conquest of civil war and unrest, of strife and discord. These are not anti-Christian, these are Christian principles.”
“I believe today that I am acting in the sense of the Almighty Creator. By warding off the Jews, I am fighting for the Lord’s work.”
“Providence has caused me to be Catholic, and I know therefore how to handle this Church.”
“I believe that it was God’s will to send a youth from here (Austria) into the Reich, to let him grow up, to raise him to be the leader of the nation so as to enable him to lead back his homeland into the Reich. In three days the Lord has smitten them. And to me the grace was given on the day of the betrayal to be able to unite my homeland (Austria) with the Reich. I would now give thanks to Him who let me return to my homeland in order than I might now lead it into my German Reich. Tomorrow, may every German recognize the hour, and measure its import and bow in humility before the Almighty who in a few weeks has wrought a miracle upon us.”
In April, 1933, little more than two months after his appointment as chancellor, Hitler met with two German Catholic clergymen, Bishop Wilhelm Berning of Osnabruck and Monsignor Steinman, advising them that his Jewish policy would mirror the Church’s treatment of Jews over the centuries. To illustrate, he reminded them that the Church regarded Jews as dangerous and confined them in ghettos. He then boasted that his Jewish measures would do Christianity a great service. Bishop Berning and Monsignor Steinmann later described their discussion with him as cordial and to the point.
Professor Robert Ericksen of Pacific Lutheran University terms three German Christian scholars — Paul Althaus, Gerhard Kittel, and Emanuel Hirsch —“Hitler’s Theologians.”
Paul Althaus, author of The German Hour of the Churches, referred to Hitler’s rise to power as “a gift and miracle of God;” to 1933 as “the year of Grace, an Easter moment;” and to Nazi Germany as “the new Israel.” Favorably comparing Hitler to Martin Luther and to Jesus himself, Althaus advocated that German Christians become “Nationalistic Christians,” congregants of a new Nazified “Reich Church,” the Deutsche Christen (“German Christian”) Church.
Gerhard Kittel, editor of the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, was an apologist for anti-Semitism. Kittel argued that Judaism and Christianity were perverted by modernism and secularism. He advocated for removal of Jews from German society because, among other reasons, their “over representation” in the professions, was a threat to societal well-being. Kittel distinguished Old Testament ancient Jews, who were good, from modern secular Jews, who were evil. Persecution of modern secular Jews, therefore, was justifiable. He blamed liberals for the Jewish problem because they tolerated Jews.
Emanuel Hirsch, Dean of Theology at Goettingen University, viewed the advent of Nazism as Germany’s “rebirth as a nation,” and the “sunrise of divine goodness.” He compared the new German society to the “resurrection of Christ.” His theology integrated the romantic concept of the German Volk (People) with Christianity.
On the issue of German receptivity to Nazi anti-Semitism, Donald Niewyk, professor emeritus of history at Southern Methodist University, in a study entitled, German anti-Semitism and the Road to the Final Solution, has written: “For the vast majority of those supporters of (the Nazi regime), for whom the ‘Jewish problem’ was anything but central, Nazi Jew-baiting seemed nothing dramatically out of the ordinary. The old anti-Semitism had created a climate in which the ‘new anti-Semitism’ was, at the very least, acceptable to millions of Germans.”
It should be noted that the Holy See (Vatican) disputes the premise that Christian anti-Judaism spawned Nazi anti-Semitism. In its official response to the Holocaust, the Commission for Religious Relations with Jews (“We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah,” published in 1998), the Holy See, during the pontificate of John Paul II, asserted, “The Shoah was the work of a thoroughly modern neo-pagan regime. Its anti-Semitism had its roots outside of Christianity…”
(The photo above is from an anti-Semitic children’s book by Ernst Hiemer, entitled Der Giftpilz. “The Poison Mushroom,” (Nuremberg, Stürmerverlag, 1938) The caption under the photo reads,”Why the Jews Let Themselves be Baptized: “Baptism didn’t make a Gentile out of him…”)