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LUTHER’S INFLUENCE ON HITLER’S ANTI-SEMITISM

Anti-Semitism is the act of expressing hostile views or taking hostile action against individuals or groups of Jewish people simply because they are Jewish. Martin Luther and Adolf Hitler were probably the two greatest examples of anti-Semitism that are connected. This paper aims to describe a brief biography of Luther and Hitler, describe Luther's anti-Semitism, and analyze how Luther influenced Hitler, making Luther partially responsible for the Holocaust, resulting in the murder of over six million Jews.


Martin Luther


After submitting his Ninety-five Theses in Wittenberg, Martin Luther triggered a reformation that impacted the whole of Christianity, Europe, and the world. Luther's protesting of the Catholic Church has made him regarded in Christian circles as a hero, and this is no surprise given the religious implications. In this section, a brief biography of Luther will be given.

“Martin Luther completed preparatory education at the Georgenschule in Eisenach before entering the University of Erfurt in 1501. He received his BA in 1502 and his MA in 1505.”[1]

According to his father's will, he began his studies in law, but after a near-death experience in a thunderstorm in 1505, he decided to turn himself into a monk. “During 1507–12, Luther experienced intense spiritual struggles as he sought to work out salvation by careful observance of the monastic rule, constant confession, and self-mortification.”[2]

[1] Rudolph W. Heinze, “Luther, Martin,” ed. Daniel J. Treier and Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic: A Division of Baker Publishing Group, 2017), 509.

[2] Rudolph W. Heinze, “Luther, Martin,”510.

 

The original perspective of Luther was that of God as an enraged judge who expected sinners to do things that earned them justification, otherwise known as "works-based righteousness."

During the course of preparing a university lecture, he was influenced by Johann von Staupitz, the vicariate general, who influenced him to alter his theology. He had a profound experience that is known to theologians as the "Tower Experience," since he said it occurred in the Augustinian Monastery's monastic tower.


“Scholars believe that Luther gradually progressed, moving from the Augustinian view of justification as a process initiated by God in which the sinner cooperated, to the belief that it was a forensic act in which Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the sinner.”[2]

As Luther was concerned, the Catholic church established that the pope may sell pardons, which would cancel either all or some punishment required for a person's sins. Many Christians were outraged by this practice.

“He thought that the sale of indulgences turned God’s forgiveness into an object that could be bought and sold rather than a divine gift to those who sincerely repented.”[3]


Another concern for Luther was: “Luther believed that Christians did not need a priest to interpret the Bible or to speak directly with God on their behalf.”[4]


The bottom line is that Luther did not believe a middle man could interpret the Bible and continue the conversation with God on his behalf, an opinion opposing at least the Catholic Church, but also Rabbinic Judaism. It is important to note that Luther was not always anti-Semitic when dealing with Jews.


At first, Jews did not appear to be paying attention to what appeared to be a dispute among Christians. However, “in 1523, Luther published a pamphlet entitled ‘That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew.’

[2] Rudolph W. Heinze, “Luther, Martin,”510. [3] Harold Evans, “A Convenient Hatred The History of Antisemitism” (Brookline, MA: Facing History & Ourselves, 2012), 117. [4] Harold Evans, “A Convenient Hatred The History of Antisemitism,” 117.

 

It was a response to attacks on his ideas. In the essay, he condemned the way the church treated Jews.”[1]

The Jewish community considered Luther to be a Judaizer, i.e., a Christian who had an affinity for the religious practices of the Jews. However, a closer examination of Luther's words would indicate that Luther viewed Jews similarly to how Christians viewed them during the First Crusade of 1096. The ultimate goal of his mission was to convert the Jews to Christianity. “By 1537, a disappointed Luther became convinced that most Jews had no intention of converting to Christianity.”[2]

According to Luther, there would be no justification on the part of the Church to tolerate Jews if their conversion to Christianity was not possible. Thus, he succeeded in persuading one of his most powerful allies, the prince of Saxony, to banish Jewish citizens from his region.

“By 1542, just three years before Luther’s death, the reformer published a new essay, ‘Concerning the Jews and Their Lies.’ In it, Luther asked what Christians should ‘do with this damned, rejected race of Jews.’[3]


Adolf Hitler


“Adolf Hitler was born on April 20, 1889, in Braunau Am Inn, Austria. His father, Alois Hitler (1837–1903), was an ambitious, successful official in the Austro-Hungarian customs service.” [4]Hitler’s mother was Klara Pölzl (1860–1907), and she was Alois’s third wife”[5]


Hitler's mother had already lost both his brothers and a sister to childhood diseases by the time he was born, and because he was her only son at the time, she had to spoil him since he was her only surviving child. A study of the family tree of Adolf Hitler reveals an extensive network of relationships that were embarrassing to Hitler, specifically during the period just before he was appointed Chancellor of Germany, including possible Jewish ancestry.

[1] Harold Evans, “A Convenient Hatred The History of Antisemitism,” 118. [2] Harold Evans, “A Convenient Hatred The History of Antisemitism,” 123. [3] Harold Evans, “A Convenient Hatred The History of Antisemitism,” 123. [4] David M Crowe, The Holocaust: Roots, History, and Aftermath (New York, NY: Routledge, 2018), 80. [5] David M Crowe, The Holocaust: Roots, History, and Aftermath, 80.

 

“The origin of the stories about Hitler’s Jewish roots go back to his paternal grandmother, Maria Anna Schikelgruber (1796–1847), who was unmarried when she gave birth to Hitler’s father in 1837.”[1]


When Hitler learned that he possibly had Jewish ancestry, it surprised him greatly.


"Hitler asked Hans Frank to investigate the rumors about his Jewish roots. According to Frank, three men were possibly Alois Hitler’s real father—Johann Georg Hiedler; his brother, Johann Nepomuk Hüttler/Hiedler (1807–1888); and a wealthy Graz Jew, Frankenberger. According to Frank, who wrote his account during the Nuremberg trials, Hitler’s grandmother, Maria, had worked for the Frankenberger family in Graz when Alois was conceived."[2]


In his statement, Hitler stated that Frankenberger was not the grandfather of him, according to his father and grandmother.

The problem was, however, that his grandparents were so poor that they had been able to manipulate Frankenberger into falsely believing he was the father of Alois so that they would receive monetary support.


Although Hitler's worries about blood-defiling were most probably derived from his family background, they nevertheless were based in part on suspicion about his Jewish ancestry as well as the illegitimacy of his father, not to mention the fact that Klara Pölzl, his mother, was a grandchild of one of Hitler's presumed fathers, Johann Nepomuk Hüttler/Hielder. Even though there are many mysteries surrounding Hitler's family, since this is a brief biography, it is vital to point out how Hitler rose to power.


[1] David M Crowe, The Holocaust: Roots, History, and Aftermath, 80. [2] David M Crowe, The Holocaust: Roots, History, and Aftermath, 82.

 

Having previously served in the German Army, but as an Austrian, Hitler entered the political arena after the First World War. The following facts should help in understanding Hitler's political entry:


"German Workers Party (DAP) was founded by Anton Drexler in January 1919 (a glorified debating society, complaining about the new German government.) The party is officially registered with the Army and in July 1919, Hitler (a young corporal) was sent to sit in on and report back on a DAP political meeting where Hitler is compelled by the party’s platform and sees it as a potential launching pad. Hitler becomes a central orator and propagandist for the DAP, in 1920 he renames the party the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers Party) to appeal to a broader cross-section of the German population."[1]


During his military service, Hitler developed his skills to become a public speaker, which was a critical part of his army speeches, especially on the topic of anti-Semitic hatred. He was so harsh in his criticism of Jews that one of his commanders took the initiative to soften his remarks to avoid provoking retaliation against Jews.


Hitler argued in the Fall of 1919 that Jews should be approached factually, not emotionally, when he was asked about his thoughts on the Jews by one of his officers. In his view, Jews are not a religion but a race.

His statement was, "Jews were driven by two things, power and money; as a result, they became 'a racial tuberculosis of the nations.'"[2]


Other significant events helped bring Hitler into power, including the Great Depression as well as the coalition government of Germany collapsing, which "Paul von Hindenburg (President of Weimar Republic, mostly a figurehead) employs Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution to give Chancellor Bruning ‘emergency decree power,’ this becomes the norm in Nazi Germany.”[3]


The key factor that brought Hitler into power was on August 2, 1934, when Hindenburg died, Hitler assumed power as President and Chancellor of Germany. It is important to note that these are only a few of the events that led to Hitler becoming Chancellor of the German Empire, but they were not all of them.

[1] Jen Rosner, (April 3, 2022), Slide 7. [2] David M Crowe, The Holocaust: Roots, History, and Aftermath, 92. [3] Jen Rosner, (April 3, 2022), Slide 9.

 

Luther’s Anti-Semitism

It was briefly mentioned earlier in this paper that Martin Luther could no longer tolerate the Jews due to his failed mission to convert them to Christianity. Consequently, he wrote a controversial anti-Semitic essay called "Concerning the Jews and Their Lies."


To properly understand how Luther influenced Hitler, it is important to share some disturbing quotes from this vile piece of literature by Luther to showcase how Luther influenced Hitler.

The first quote to share says “For the present, I will be content if they confess, as they must confess, that the wicked Jews cannot be God's people and that their lineage, circumcision, and the law of Moses cannot help them.”[1]


This was slander by Luther since Paul states in Romans 11:29 "The gifts are irrevocable, no matter how they have been received."

Moreover, Yeshua confirms in Matthew 5:17-19 “That the Torah has not been abolished,” so this would also refute Luther's claim.


Another disturbing quote was:

"They have been bloodthirsty bloodhounds and murderers of all Christendom for more than fourteen hundred years in their intentions, and would undoubtedly prefer to be such with their deeds. They have been accused of poisoning water and wells, kidnapping children, piercing them through with an awl, hacking them in pieces, and in that way secretly cooling their wrath with the blood of Christians, for all which they have often been condemned with death and fire."[2]


However, Luther said the following that was far and the most disturbing quote:

"Burndown their synagogues, forbid all that I enumerated earlier, force them to work, and deal harshly with them, as Moses did in the wilderness, slaying three thousand lest the whole people perish. They surely do not know what they are doing; moreover, as people possessed, they do not wish to know it, hear it, or learn it. Therefore, it would be wrong to be merciful and confirm them in their conduct. If this does not help we must drive them out like mad dogs, so that we do not become partakers of their abominable blasphemy and all their other vices and thus merit God’s wrath and be damned with them. I have done my duty. Now let everyone see to his. I am exonerated."

[1] Martin Luther, “On the Jews and Their Lies,” n.d., 20. [2] Jarrett Carty, “Martin Luther’s Anti-Judaism and Its Political Significance,” Antisemitism Studies 3, no. 2 (2019): 321, https://doi.org/10.2979/antistud.3.2.06.

 

Likely, Luther had no understanding of the Second Greatest Commandment that commanded him to love others as himself (Matthew 22:38; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27).

This is evident in the horrific literature he wrote about the Jewish people which is so detestable. Is it any wonder that Hitler was so influenced by the anti-Semitic ways of Martin Luther that led him to become the greatest dictator of all time?

The next section of this paper will examine the connection between Luther and Hitler.


Luther’s Influence on Hitler


“Hitler did not achieve most of his political and military goals, but on the Jewish question, he succeeded remarkably.”[1]

The prevalence of his anti-Semitic rhetoric can probably be attributed in part to Christian theology's persistent anti-Jewish assertions connected to the doctrines and traditions of the Christian churches.


Additionally, it is worth mentioning that “In the Nazi treatment of the Jews and its ideological stance, Luther’s intentions, after centuries, are being fulfilled.”[2]


Moreover, “Protestants were eager to make the occasion of Luther’s 450th birthday in 1933 a day of national renewal and rededication.”[3]


Many considered it to be fortuitous that the occasion of this important anniversary of the Reformation leader occurs during Hitler's first year in power.

[1] Suzanah Heshel, The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010), 6. [2] Suzanah Heshel, The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany, 6. [3] Dean Garrett Stroud, Preaching in Hitler's Shadow: Sermons of Resistance in the Third Reich (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2013), 35.

 

Moreover, it should be emphasized that: “Luther was far more than a religious figure; he was a German hero whose heroism and Germanic traits both Hitler and the Nazis were eager to promote. Hitler had already singled out Luther, along with Frederick the Great and Richard Wagner, as one of the three great figures in history that had combined grand vision with political realities.”[1]


As a result, Luther-Hitler associations gained wide acceptance in Nazi Germany, which enabled Protestants to have a sense of belonging in the new Reich as well as satisfying Nazi appeals that followed a longstanding tradition of German heritage. In response, it is necessary to examine if Hitler acted on any of Luther's observations in "Concerning the Jews and Their Lies."


Does the question remain whether it is possible to claim that Hitler delivered on Luther's promise more than 450 years after Luther made it?

In On the Jews and Their Lies, Luther would infamously advocate that the princes of the empire burn synagogues and schools, raze all Jewish homes, destroy all Jewish books, forbid Rabbis to teach, abolish any provisions for safe passage, and confiscate all currency and property in Jewish possession.”[2]


Many of these horrific acts did take place in Nazi Germany. According to Dr. Michael Brown, “When the Nazis decided to burn the sacred religious books of Judaism, they were only doing what professing Christians did centuries before.”[3]


This is evident that Hitler and the Nazis burned the books just as Luther suggested. Moreover, “Kristallnacht pogrom of November 9–10, 1938. Hitler’s regime benefited in numerous ways from this putatively spontaneous but carefully coordinated attack on Jews, Jewish property, and sites of Jewish worship and communal life. Impatient Nazis satisfied their thirst for violent action.”[4]

[1] Dean Garrett Stroud, Preaching in Hitler's Shadow: Sermons of Resistance in the Third Reich, 36. [2] Jarrett Carty, Martin Luther’s Anti-Judaism and Its Political Significance, 323. [3] Michael L. Brown, Our Hands Are Stained with Blood: The Tragic Story of the Church and the Jewish People (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, Inc., 2019), 148.

[4] Albert S. Lindemann and Richard S. Levy, Antisemitism: A History (Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010), 203.

 

These horrendous acts by the Nazis, burning down Jewish property as well as synagogues, was nothing short of what Luther suggested.

On the Jews and Their Lies must then be seen in relation to his [Luther’s] views on the scope of temporal government, and its obligations to curb blasphemy. For Luther, temporal governments were to adopt these measures to protect the lives and property of their subjects—to protect society Jews would have to be restricted and tightly policed.”[2]


When it came to dealing with and policing Jews, what was the government's solution? It was a simple solution for the government, and resulted in imprisonment, torture, mass murder, and concentration camps.

“During World War II, under Hitler’s leadership, Germans and their accomplices around Europe murdered six million Jews. They destroyed Jewish communities that dated back to ancient Rome and almost completely eliminated the Jewish presence from Amsterdam to Athens, Zagreb to Zhytomyr.”[3]

This is a brief list of a few of the connections between Luther and Hitler, but it is important to keep in mind that this section did not encompass all of the connections between Luther and Hitler.


Conclusion


As previously stated in the introduction, anti-Semitism is defined as the act of expressing hostile views or taking hostile action against individuals or groups of Jews on the basis solely of their religion.

Martin Luther and Adolf Hitler represent two of the greatest examples of antisemitism that are connected.

The purpose of this paper was to provide a brief biography of Luther and Hitler, describe Luther's anti-Semitism, and examine how Luther influenced Hitler, thereby making Luther partially responsible for the Holocaust, which resulted in the death of over six million Jews.

[2] Jarrett Carty, “Martin Luther’s Anti-Judaism and Its Political Significance,” 336. [3] Albert S. Lindemann and Richard S. Levy, Antisemitism: A History, 196.

 

Bibliography


Brown, Michael L. Our Hands Are Stained with Blood: The Tragic Story of the Church and the Jewish People. Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, Inc., 2019.


Carty, Jarrett. “Martin Luther’s Anti-Judaism and Its Political Significance.” Antisemitism Studies 3, no. 2 (2019): 317-342. https://doi.org/10.2979/antistud.3.2.06.


Crowe, David M. The Holocaust: Roots, History, and Aftermath. New York, NY: Routledge, 2018.


Evans, Harold. A Convenient Hatred the History of Antisemitism. Brookline, MA: Facing History & Ourselves, 2012.


Heshel, Suzanah. The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010.


Lindemann, Albert S., and Richard S. Levy. Antisemitism: A History. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010.


Luther, Martin. “On the Jews and Their Lies.”, n.d., 1-77.


Rosner, Jen. “The Rise of Adolf Hitler.” BIBH6320 - Antisemitism and the Holocaust. PowerPoint Lecture, April 3, 2022.


Stroud, Dean Garrett. Preaching in Hitler's Shadow: Sermons of Resistance in the Third Reich. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2013.


Treier, Daniel J., and Walter A. Elwell. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2017.

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