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The Church’s Responsibility for the Holocaust

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Emblem of the German Christians

Emblem of the German Christians

Today is 70 years since the Nazi death camp Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops, and it is also the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. We must never forget the horrible attrocities during the world war when approximately seven million Jews, Romas, disabled, homosexuals and others were brutally killed by the Nazi regime and their allies. And as Christians, we must never forget that many who participated in this called themselves Christians, and that parts of the church leadership supported Nazism – although there was a lot of Christian resistance as well.

A lot has been written about the religious views of Hitler himself, and it seems to be a bit self-contradictory and populistic – which isn’t too strange since he, after all, was a Nazi. I’ve heard several neo-Nazis and other racists today declare that they fight for “Christian values” while they also hate religion and, of course, revere pagan gods. This is obviously extremely paradoxical but could be explained by that for many racists religion is merely a suit, which importance is heavily subordinated the nationalist and racist values that one fights for. Hence, the Party Platform of NSDAP read in 1920:

“We demand the freedom of all religious confessions in the state, insofar as they do not jeopardize the state’s existence or conflict with the manners and moral sentiments of the Germanic race. The Party as such upholds the point of view of a positive Christianity without tying itself confessionally to any one confession. It combats the Jewish-materialistic spirit at home and abroad and is convinced that a permanent recovery of our people can only be achieved from within on the basis of the common good before individual good.”

The state-censored religion proposed here should be unacceptable to any descent Christian, but both Catholics and Protestants started to dance to the Nazi pipe after Hitler became dictator. Paul Althaus, one of Germany’s leading Lutheran theologians, wrote “Our Protestant churches have welcomed the turning point of 1933 as a gift and miracle of God”.

Already in the 1920’s, the Deutsche Christen movement arose and gained popularity parallell to the Nazi popularity, a Protestant group which emphasized nationalism, de-emphasized Christianity’s Jewish roots and argued for strict obedience to the governing authority, that is the Führer. Against this heretical movement was the Confession Church that favored Biblical Christianity instead of racism.

Concerning the Catholic Church and its relationship to Nazism, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum writes:

Catholic leaders were initially more suspicious of National Socialism than their Protestant counterparts. Nationalism was not as deeply embedded in the German Catholic Church, and the rabid anti-Catholicism of figures such as Alfred Rosenberg, a leading Nazi ideologue during the Nazi rise to power, raised early concerns among Catholic leaders in Germany and at the Vatican. […] Before 1933, in fact, some bishops prohibited Catholics in their dioceses from joining the Nazi Party. This ban was dropped after Hitler’s March 23, 1933, speech to the Reichstag in which he described Christianity as the “foundation” for German values.

Again, many Christians were devouted to save Jewish lives and argue against Nazism – saints like Sophie Scholl, Corrie Ten Boom and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. But we also see above that many Christians that were passionate about nationalism, racism and devotion to state authority, were also naturally passionate promoters of Nazism.

What can we learn from this? We see in Europe today how racist and xenophobic parties often refer to “Christian values” when arguing for that Muslims, Romas and other minorities should decrease in number. Almost daily, I meet Christians on the Internet who passionately argue for nationalism and that xenophobic parties who want to cut immigration are the most “Christian” parties. But they clearly aren’t. The racist nationalist isn’t interested in Biblical Christianity but in a diluted, Constantinian state church that talks about cultural heritage instead of radical discipleship and preaches what Bonhoeffer called cheap grace.

This is not the way of Jesus. He didn’t preach nationalism or racism. He preached the Kingdom of God and told us to love indiscriminately. He was a Middle Eastern Jew, not a white European. He is intrinsically anti-Nazi, and so should we be.

1 Comment

  1. suri says:

    There goes my hero… I have a book by Althaus that I like alot – The Theology of Martin Luther. Well, it is a good summary, and he wrote it after the war. May we invite him back after he got some sense in his head (did he) or should we be like Novatian (another of my “heroes”) and ban him?

    On the whole the church’s acceptance of Nazi-ideology is very scary, and we don’t need to look very far to see it here in Sweden too, then and now. Sometimes its hard to understand God’s forgiveness and patience. Why doesn’t He just intervene when people hurt people? And are we, who were not there, supposed or not supposed to forgive those who tresspassed against others?

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The author

Micael Grenholm, a Swedish charismactivist, apologist and author.

Micael Grenholm, a Swedish charismactivist, apologist and author.

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