One popular myth about the rise of Hitler and the Holocaust is that the persecution of the Jews was fundamentally a Christian enterprise, the anti-Semitism of Luther trading its pen and cross for a rifle and swastika.
This view assumes that, since millions of Germans, many Christians, followed the fuhrer’s folly, their religion played a part in the murder of countless Jews and Dolf’s tyrannical vision of conquest that left much of Europe looking worse than usual.
You can flush this view down the chute with just a general look at Hitler’s rise to power and comparing the views he espoused with those of orthodox Christianity. But previously unavailable documents, reports prepared by the U.S. government for the Nuremberg war trials, further discredit this idea.
“The fragile, typewritten documents from the 1940s lay out the Nazi plan in grim detail,” writes Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Edward Colimore: “Take over the churches from within, using party sympathizers. Discredit, jail or kill Christian leaders. And re-indoctrinate the congregants. Give them a new faith – in Germany’s Third Reich.”
Hitler made certain the church was well under his thumb and in support of his crackpot racial dogmas. One group of Nazi ideologues who had infiltrated German churches went by the mundane moniker, “German Christians,” almost as if they were holding themselves aloft as the standard by which fellow Germans should judge true Christianity. They were no such thing, recommending as they did scrapping the entire Old Testament and including the insidious “Aryan Paragraph.”
The ideologues prevailed, and the churches voted into their confessions the paragraph, which barred from the pastorate any Jewish converts or those married to Jews. The misnamed German Christians argued, in radical disagreement with the Scriptures, that Jews could not be saved. Their goal, in short, was to undermine the Scriptures and doctrinal standards in favor of Nazi propaganda. The party line was to become the 28th book of the New Testament, the Gospel according to Adolf.
“A lot of people will say, ‘I didn’t realize that they were trying to convert Christians to a Nazi philosophy,’” observed Julie Seltzer Mandel, editor of the Nuremberg Project for the Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion. “They wanted to eliminate the Jews altogether, but they were also looking to eliminate Christianity.”
“Important leaders of the National Socialist party would have liked to meet this situation [church influence] by complete extirpation of Christianity and the substitution of a purely racial religion,” said one of the documents highlighted by the Nuremberg Project, a July 1945 report by the OSS (the wartime intelligence predecessor of the CIA). The report further points to the “systematic nature of the persecution” as “the best evidence now available as to the existence of an anti-Church plan.”
The report goes on to say, “Different steps in that persecution, such as the campaign for the suppression of denominational and youth organizations, the campaign against denominational schools, the defamation campaign against the clergy, started on the same day in the whole area of the Reich … and were supported by the entire regimented press, by Nazi Party meetings, by traveling party speakers.”
I’m not one to call Hitler a smarty, but the mini-mustachioed monster was no moron, either. He knew Christians would interfere with his plans if they were not hoodwinked first.
The Apostle Paul said Christians should obey the state whenever they can, yes, but Germany was moving into can’t territory, and fast. Christians have always held that obedience to God trumps obedience to the state. “We must never put any of man’s laws before the first commandment: ‘I am the Lord your God … you shall have no other gods before me,’” writes Gary DeMar in “Ruler of the Nations.” “Adherence to the first commandment protects us from those who would rewrite it to read, ‘I, the state, am your God. You shall have no other gods before me.’”
Likewise, writes theologian R.C. Sproul, “There are times when we not only may but must disobey earthly authorities. Whenever the earthly authority commands us to do something God forbids, or forbids us from doing something God commands, it is our duty to disobey the earthly authorities.”
Thus, while the proper Christian response to tyranny may not be a middle finger, it amounts to about as much.
One German theologian and pastor who embodied this refusal to bow the knee to Hitler was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, leader of the Confessional Church, an underground group defending the faith against Nazi corruptions. He was arrested and eventually hanged by the Nazis for his efforts to uphold the faith and undermine der fuhrer.
Of course, Hitler made appeals to Christianity to validate his views. In a predominately Christian country – if only culturally – you’ve got to make at least a few token gestures besides the back of your hand.
But many recognized them as only tokens and that the rest of Hitler’s vision was radically anti-Christian. Hitler had to corrupt as many as possible and eliminate the rest before their duty to disobey got in the way.
The megalomaniac required absolute loyalty to himself. He would share no room in the souls of men with God. Hitler’s plan was the establishment of the First Church of National Socialism, and since true Christianity would stand in the way, Hitler declared war on the church as well as the world.