On January 4, 2017, news broke that four young Chicagoans kidnapped an 18-year-old, special needs teenager. The kidnappers bound and gagged their victim, beat and stabbed him, and forced him to drink from a toilet. The torturers streamed their acts live on Facebook. The assailants were black. The victim was white.
Within twenty-four hours, the meme #blmkidnapping "became one of the top five Twitter trends."
Those insisting on this connection made the following arguments. "Black lives matter" implied that white lives don't matter; BLM rhetoric, including "pigs in a blanket fry 'em like bacon" and the persistent "Hands up don't shoot" false narrative motivated multiple killings of innocent police officers. Lenient responses to riots in Ferguson and Baltimore signaled that elected officials were handing thugs a carte blanche. In short, Black Lives Matter was responsible for this heinous crime.
Police said that there was no proven link between the crime and BLM.
Two things are clear: only dispassionate investigation can establish causation, and people with an agenda are eager to link notorious behavior with groups they wish to stigmatize.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum reports that anti-Semitism has plagued the world for two thousand years. The two-thousand-year limit identifies anti-Semitism, and, by extension, Nazism, with Christianity. The USHMM links Nazism to Christian theology. "Early Christian thought held Jews collectively responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. This religious teaching became embedded in both Catholic and Protestant theology during the first millennium, with terrible consequences for Jews," the museum states.
Dabru Emet is a September 10, 2000 statement signed by over 220 Jewish rabbis and scholars. Dabru Emet states, "Without the long history of Christian anti-Judaism and Christian violence against Jews, Nazi ideology could not have taken hold nor could it have been carried out."
Auschwitz survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel said that the Nazis "had been reared under Christianity … that showed that there was no barrier in Christianity preventing the killers from doing their evil."
I do not believe that Nazi ideology and Nazi mass murder were dependent on or inspired by Christianity. I believe that Nazism could have arisen in a Europe without Christianity.
Suppose Greco-Roman Paganism dominated the European continent until 1933. Or suppose the Reconquista and Charles Martel failed, and Islam came to dominate Europe. I believe that Nazism could have claimed the same victims, in the same ways, in a hypothetical Pagan Europe or Muslim Europe.
In 1918, a virulent strain of influenza swept the world, killing three to five percent of the world population. Having had a cold or measles or any other disease beforehand had no impact on mortality; this particular strain of flu killed healthy, young adults. Nazism is comparable to the 1918 strain of influenza. Nazism's virulence was not dependent on or facilitated by previous societal plagues.
The reasons why I do not believe that Nazism was a Christian phenomenon are below.
I. Nazism alone is necessary and sufficient support for Nazi crimes. Nazism was not only not Christian, it was Neo-Pagan, Nationalist and Social Darwinist, and overtly anti-Christian.
Martin Luther's 1543 "On the Jews and their Lies" is a very anti-Jewish document. Does it make sense to link it, or other hateful products by Christians, to Nazi crimes against Jews?
Consider the following. Luther condemned Catholicism in equally inflammatory terms. Examples follow.
"Yesterday I burned the devilish work of the Pope, and I wish that it was the Pope that was consumed. If you do not separate from Rome, there is no salvation for your souls … the author of this Bull is Antichrist: I curse it as a blasphemy against the Son of God… I trust that every person who accepts this Bull will suffer the torments of hell … This priest of the Mass and the papacy is nothing but a work of Satan … Nothing in the whole world is to be hated and loathed so much as the hypocritical shows of this priesthood, its Masses, its worship, its piety, its religion. It is better to be a pimp or robber than one of these priests … Papist and ass are one and the same thing … their tongues ought to be torn out through the back of their necks, and nailed to the gallows … It were better that every bishop were murdered … And we would smile did it happen. All who contribute body, goods … that the rule of the bishops may be destroyed are God's dear children and true Christians … these Cardinals, these Popes, and that whole abomination of the Romish Sodom … why do we not wash our hands in their blood?"
Luther also raged against rebellious peasants, stating that "anyone who is killed fighting on the side of the rulers may be a true martyr in the eyes of God." As for peasants, nobles should "dash them to pieces, strangle them and stab them, just as one is compelled to kill a mad dog."
We know that in Luther's time nobles killed an estimated 100,000 peasants. We know that Protestants went on to kill Catholics in Germany, as did the Nazis.
Do we assume that Luther's work is the cause of these killings?
I do not. I think that the nobles killed peasants for the same reasons that the rich and the powerful have always murdered the poor – because it is in their interests to do so. I do not assume that, for example, Nazis established a priest's barracks at Dachau because of Luther's anti-Catholic ravings.
Is there an unbroken trail between Luther and Nazism? Israeli scholar Alex Bein wrote, "sufficient scholarly research is lacking in this area … There has not been, as far as I know, a scholarly study of the influence of Luther's portrayal of the Jews which considers all aspects of the question."
Theologian and historian Johannes Wallmann argues that "On the Jews and their Lies" was ignored by 18th and 19th century anti-Semites, and that other works took precedence. Andreas Eisenmenger's 1711 book "Judaism Unmasked" consisted largely of inflammatory passages from the Talmud and other Jewish writings. It was and remains an influential anti-Semitic work, and it never mentioned Martin Luther. Duke University's Hans Hillerbrand, a scholar of the Reformation, writes that the "larger peculiarities of German history" are better explanations of anti-Semitism.
Nazis did exploit Luther's famous name in their pursuit of a course of action they decided on without reference to Luther. An example can be found in the career of Julius Streicher.
In 1919, Streicher helped to found the Deutschsozialistische Partei a nationalist, anti-Catholic, and anti-Semitic party. In 1921 he joined the Nazi party. In 1923, he began publishing Der Sturmer, an anti-Semitic and also an anti-Catholic newspaper. In 1937, Streicher was given a copy of "The Jews and their Lies" for his birthday. Many authors cite this as Streicher's first encounter with Luther's work. Note: Streicher was 52 at the time. He had been a leading German anti-Semite for at least 18 years. He had been publishing the most notorious anti-Semitic newspaper in history for 14 years. And he had never heard of "The Jews and their Lies." This anecdote calls into question the insistence that Nazis took their marching orders from Martin Luther.
Nazism's true intellectual roots begin in the late 18th and early 19th century, with Johann Gottfried Herder.
Herder advanced nationalism. Nationalists would attribute supernatural qualities to ethnicity. Ethnic identity, the soil where one was born, one's genetic relationship to others of the same ethnic group, the flora and fauna of one's birth region, all had supernatural power. Ethics were to be based on ethnicity.
Jesus defined Christian ethics in Luke 10:25-37: Love God with all your heart; love your neighbor as you love yourself. Your neighbor is the Samaritan – the person utterly apart from you. This is a universalist ethic. It emphasizes the brotherhood of all humanity, established in Genesis, when God created one set of parents, Adam and Eve, for the entire human race. Pope Pius XI articulated Christianity's incompatibility with nationalism in the papal encyclical, "Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio." "True love of country" must not be "debased to the condition of an extreme nationalism, when we forget that all men are our brothers … that other nations have an equal right with us both to life and to prosperity."
Nationalism rejected universalism. "The savage who loves himself, his wife, and his child with quiet joy and glows with limited activity for his tribe as for his own life is a more genuine being than that cultured shade who is enchanted by the shadow of his whole species," Herder wrote. One must love one's own tribe, not the "whole species" of humanity. Herder continues:
"No greater injury can be inflicted on a nation than to be robbed of her national character, the peculiarity of her spirit and her language … Read Tacitus: 'The tribes of Germany, who never degrade themselves by mingling with others, form a peculiar, unadulterated, original nation, which is its own archetype. Even their physical development is universally uniform.'"
Today, Herder said, "The tribes of Germany have been degraded by mingling with others." This mingling, Herder warned, rendered Germans "misshapen and cast down."
The Brothers Grimm took up Herder's call and published their wildly successful and influential Kinder- und Hausmarchen – often translated as Grimm's Fairy Tales. They claimed that their folklore was a key to the German nation, soil, and soul. Jacob Grimm wrote that myth "is properest to that nation with whose gods it closely coalesces." Get in touch with Germany's folklore; get in touch with German nature and earth, and get in touch with old, Germanic Gods.
The Grimms insisted that their folklore had no foreign impurities. Although "combinations" caused by "peaceful intercourse or war" might produce "gain," "language" did best when pure of foreign interference. The Grimms wanted to be able to present "purely German fare"; "nothing is as edifying or as likely to bring more joy than the products of the Fatherland." "Long lines of Teutonic peoples" were required for the production of the best "poesie"; "blendings with foreign peoples" "disintegrated" poesie and drove it to "extinction."
The Grimms' nationalism sounded neo-Pagan when they wrote, "Nations hold fast by prescription: we shall never understand their tradition, their superstition, unless we spread under it a bed on still heathen soil."
Moralists protested Grimm's Fairy Tales. The tales were sadistic and violent. Heroes achieved not through Christian virtues, but through selfish deceits and betrayals. The Grimms wrote that Nature's and the nation's morality was best. "Nature itself is our best witness, for she has let these flowers and leaves grow in these colors and shapes; whoever fails to find them right for certain needs, unknown to nature, can pass right by them, but ought not to demand that they therefore be colored and cut in a different fashion … Everything that is natural can also be healthy ... we do not intend to praise these tales or even to defend them against opposing views: their very existence suffices to protect them. Whatever has succeeded in bringing so much pleasure so often, and has at the same time moved and instructed, has its own inner justification and must have flowed from the eternal wellspring that bedews all life." Because they were natural and because they were German, the Grimms' folklore was a proper guide to behavior: "we wanted ... that the book serve as a manual of manners."
Other German cultural leaders, including composer Richard Wagner, joined in celebration of Germany's ancestral, pre-Christian deities. Wagner dramatized German folklore of gods and heroes in his lengthy operas. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche announced that "God is dead" and harkened back to pre-Christian, Pagan, Homeric Greece's "aristocratic values" in opposition to Christianity's alleged "slave morality." Nietzsche described the ubermensch, sometimes translated as superman, who created new values after the death of God.
In Chicago in 1924, after months of careful planning, two young friends, Leopold and Loeb, lured an innocent 14-year-old boy, Bobby Franks, into their car. Loeb struck Franks in the head with a chisel, and then suffocated him. The killers cited Nietzsche as inspiration. Leopold wrote that "A superman ... is, on account of certain superior qualities inherent in him, exempted from the ordinary laws which govern men. He is not liable for anything he may do." Leopold and Loeb had killed a boy simply for the fun of it, and claimed their status as Nietzschean supermen as justification.
Herder, the Grimms, Nietzsche, etc, were not Nazis. The Nazis, though, cherry-picked aspects of their work to support the Nazi edifice. In 1934, Hans Dahmen published "The National Idea from Herder to Hitler." Dahmen wrote, "From Herder to Hitler – that is the fate-laden path of the German spirit."
Nazis made greater use of the Grimms than of Herder. "Nazi ideologues enshrined the Kinder- und Hausmarchen as virtually a sacred text, a special expression of the spirit of the Volk" writes Elizabeth Dalton. Grimm's Fairy Tales were included in Hitler Youth training. "The German author Günther Birkenfeld saw in the fairytales the answer to 'how the German people were able to perpetrate the atrocities of Belsen and Auschwitz.'" "A British major, TJ Leonard, even said the fairytales had helped Germans teach their children 'all the varieties of barbarousness,' making it easy for them to fit into the 'role of the hangman.'" Scholar Louis L. Snyder, who witnessed Nazism's rise, wrote that Grimm's Fairy Tales indoctrinated Germans in "respect for the leader and the hero, veneration of courage and the military spirit, acceptance without protest of cruelty, violence, and atrocity, fear of and hatred for the outsider, and virulent anti-Semitism." Allies banned the Grimms after the war.
Hitler said that "Whoever wishes to understand National Socialist Germany must know Wagner." Wagner's original manuscripts of his scores were presented to Hitler as a fiftieth birthday gift. When the war turned against Germany, Wagner's grandchildren begged Hitler to return the scores. Hitler clung stubbornly to the manuscripts of his volkish hero. He took Wagner's scores with him to his bunker. The scores were lost and are presumed destroyed.
Hitler had himself photographed gazing at a bust of Nietzsche. "Hitler as Nobody Knows Him," a bestselling propaganda pamphlet captioned this photo as "The Führer before the bust of the German philosopher whose ideas have fertilized two great popular movements: the National Socialist of Germany and the Fascist of Italy." Nazism adopted Nietzsche's term "ubermensch," the superman who created new values after the death of God. Nazis also used the mirror term "untermensch," the inferior human who did not deserve life.
Nationalism and neo-Paganism would combine with another cultural strand: social Darwinism. Superficially, nationalism, neo-Paganism and social Darwinism are very different. The first two are clearly supernatural and social Darwinism is inspired by science without reference to gods or magic. They share three important characteristics, though, all three of which Nazism adopted: the death of the Judeo-Christian God, high value placed on one's own genetic kin, and a struggle-to-the-death-based morality that exalts winners and disdains losers. In his 1930 book "The Myth of the Twentieth Century," Nazi theorist Alfred Rosenberg declared the "collapse" of all that had come before and a "new dawn" and a "new faith" a "new light" a "new mission:" "blood and blood, race and race, folk and folk." "That is the task of our century; to create a new human type out of a new view of life."
Charles Darwin published "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life" in 1859. As Richard Dawkins said, "Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist." Another author, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, wrote that "If God does not exist, everything is permitted." Within a few decades, influential authors had co-opted Darwinism and developed Social Darwinism and its attendant phenomena, eugenics and scientific racism. God was dead, and everything was permitted, including murder of the unfit, as long as that everything preserved favored races in the struggle for life.
Scientific racist authors like Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard made it very clear that the universalist values of the Judeo-Christian God were dead. Christianity had hobbled mankind in keeping undesirables alive, Stoddard, Grant, and others insisted. Christianity might seem to be compassionate, but it really wasn't, because it merely extended human suffering by cultivating the lives of inferior humans. Atheist science now cleared the path for true progress. True progress would entail the "elimination of the unfit."
Hitler called Madison Grant's 1916 book "The Passing of the Great Race" his "Bible." Stoddard titled his 1922 book "The Revolt against Civilization: The Menace of the Under Man." Under man in German is untermensch, the mirror, inferior image of the Nietzschean ubermensch or superman. Stoddard visited Nazi Germany in 1939-40. He witnessed a eugenics court in action. He reported that it was "weeding out the worst strains in the Germanic stock in a scientific and truly humanitarian way."
SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler outlined the Nazi ethical system in several speeches. The quotes, below, span the Nazi ethical spectrum:
the violent relegation to the dustbin of any Good-Samaritan-style compassion for ethnic others,
the new understanding of ethnic others as animals to be exploited or disease to be extirpated,
the deification of Nature,
the emphasis on struggle as a good,
the valuation of winners and the murderous disdain for losers,
the championing of one's own ethnicity,
the finding of transcendence in offspring and ancestors, to replace the Christian transcendence to be found in God, heaven, hell, or the soul's immortality,
and the upholding of a genocidal killer as society's ethical hero.
"In Poland in weather forty degrees below zero, where we had to haul away thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, where we had to have the toughness – you should hear this but also forget it again immediately – to shoot thousands of leading Poles … The proud soldier says, 'My God, why do I have to do that, this ridiculous job here!' – It is much easier to go into combat with a company than to suppress an obstructive population of low cultural level, or to carry out executions, or to haul away people, or to evict crying and hysterical women …
You have to consider the work of the S. D. man or of the man of the Security Police as a vital part of our whole work just like the fact that you can carry arms. You are the men to be envied because … if a unit achieves fame …it can be decorated. It's much more difficult in other positions… in this silent, compulsion work, this silent activity…
We will have to deal with Christianity in a tougher way than hitherto. We must settle accounts with this Christianity, this greatest of plagues that could have happened to us in our history, which has weakened us in every conflict. If our generation does not do it then it would I think drag on for a long time. We must overcome it within ourselves … We shall once again have to find a new scale of values for our people: the scale of the macrocosm and the microcosm, the starry sky above us and the world in us, the world that we see in the microscope.
Man is nothing special at all … He has no idea how a fly is constructed – however unpleasant, it is a miracle – or how a blossom is constructed. He must once again look with deep reverence into this world. Then he will acquire the right sense of proportion about what is above us, about how we are woven into this cycle …
Then, on a different plane, something else must happen: we must once again be rooted in our ancestors and grandchildren, in this eternal chain and eternal sequence … By rooting our people in a deep ideological awareness of ancestors and grandchildren we must once more persuade them that they must have sons … everything that we do must be justifiable vis-à-vis the clan, our ancestors. If we do not secure this moral foundation which is the deepest and best because the most natural, we will not be able to overcome Christianity on this plane and create the Germanic Reich which will be a blessing for the earth. That is our mission as a nation on this earth. For thousands of years it has been the mission of this blond race to rule the earth and again and again to bring it happiness and culture…
One basic principle must be the absolute rule for the S.S. men. We must be honest, decent, loyal, and comradely to members of our own blood and nobody else. What happens to a Russian and a Czech does not interest me in the least. What the nations can offer in the way of good blood of our type we will take, if necessary by kidnapping their children and raising them here with us.
Whether nations live in prosperity or starve to death interests me only in so far as we need them as slaves for our culture: otherwise it is of no interest to me. Whether ten thousand Russian females fall down from exhaustion while digging an anti-tank ditch interests me only in so far as the anti-tank ditch for Germany is finished. We shall never be tough and heartless where it is not necessary, that is clear.
We, Germans, who are the only people in the world who have a decent attitude towards animals, will also assume a decent attitude towards these human animals. But it is a crime against our blood to worry about them and give them ideals, thus causing our sons and grandsons to have a more difficult time with them. When somebody comes up to me and says: 'I cannot dig the anti-tank ditch with women and children, it is inhuman, for it would kill them,' then I have to say: 'You are the murderer of your own blood, because if the anti-tank ditch is not dug German soldiers will die, and they are the sons of German mothers. They are our own blood....' Our concern, our duty, is our people and our blood. We can be indifferent to everything else. I wish the S.S. to adopt this attitude towards the problem of all foreign, non-Germanic peoples, especially Russians …
We have the moral right, we had the duty to our people to do it, to kill … we exterminated the bacillus, we don't want to become sick and die from the same bacillus.
I will never see it happen, that even one bit of putrefaction comes in contact with us, or takes root in us. On the contrary, where it might try to take root, we will burn it out together. But altogether we can say: We have carried out this most difficult task for the love of our people. And we have taken on no defect within us, in our soul, or in our character."
II. Nazis themselves repeatedly and vehemently established that Nazism was not only not Christian, but anti-Christian.
I frequently stumble across photos depicting Nazis' expressing their disdain for Catholics, as I did the other day. These two images depict Nazi Stormtroopers in Stuttgart on August 8, 1935. Their truck's sign caricatures Nazism's enemies. Of the nine images on the truck, three are Catholics.
By 1937, 12,000 Catholic priests had been persecuted by the Nazi regime. The Dachau concentration camp established a priests' barracks for clergy in 1940. Catholic presses were closed. Catholic dissidents were murdered during the 1934 Night of the Long Knives. In 1935, seven hundred pastors of the Confessing Church were arrested. Catholic schools were disbanded. During the war, almost twenty percent of Polish priests were murdered. I include photos of such murders. There are two pictures of Polish priests who were mass murdered in Bydgoszcz, Poland. There is one photo of Father Piotr Sosnowski before his murder.
Nazism's long-term goal was to eliminate Christianity (see here.)
III. A perfect storm of historical circumstances facilitated the Nazis' application of their worldview.
Reading the history that lead up to Nazi Germany, one reflects that it would have been almost impossible for some cataclysm not to have taken place. Without precipitating events, Hitler would have remained an anonymous eccentric.
Given WW II, we tend to forget what a shattering experience WW I was. WW I was among the deadliest events in history. Men died stupidly, fighting to gain patches of trench-scarred earth, only to lose the same patch by nightfall. Innovations, poison gas and airplanes, were used in warfare and shocked combatants and civilians. Military and civilian casualties added up to 38 million.
Germany was saddled with the punitive Versailles treaty. It saw its former despised colony, Poland, achieve nation status, at its own expense of territory. Soviet Russia terrified the world with advancing Communism. Christians were under assault in Russia. Mass murder and other persecutions made Christians feel unsafe and ready to fight a war to protect themselves. The Great Depression hit a mere eleven years after the end of the war. Germany's Weimar Republic was chaotic. Germans felt shamed and afraid. The "stab in the back" theory said that Germans didn't lose the war on the battlefield, but through domestic betrayal by communists, Jews, and Catholics – the "November Criminals." Hitler promised a return to greatness. Even with all this, it was only after the Reichstag Fire that the Nazis received a majority of the vote.
We need to heed this lesson: if you push people too far, there is a backlash. As long as we scapegoat Christianity, we avoid learning this important lesson.
IV. While fighting a losing war on three fronts, Nazism exerted tremendous effort to brainwash Germans.
Nazism exerted tremendous effort to indoctrinate the youth, to make the youth different than their parents vis-à-vis Jews and other untermenschen. Hitler Youth membership was mandatory. Hitler said, "These boys and girls enter our organizations [at] ten … after four years of the Young Folk they go on to the Hitler Youth, where we have them for another four years … And even if they are still not complete National Socialists, they go to Labor Service and are smoothed out there for another six, seven months … And whatever class consciousness or social status might still be left … the Wehrmacht will take care of that."
Hitler Youth were encouraged to inform on their parents. "We were promised a reward of money if we denounced our parents or our neighbours - what they said or did ... We were told: your real father is the Führer, and being his children you will be the chosen ones, the heroes of the future." Parents, for their part, noted how different their children were becoming. "Parents ... were alarmed by the gradual brutalisation of manners, impoverishment of vocabulary and rejection of traditional values ... Their children became strangers, contemptuous of monarchy or religion, and perpetually barking and shouting like pint-sized Prussian sergeant-majors."
Alfons Heck, a former Hitler Youth member, said, "The experience of the Hitler Youth in Nazi Germany constitutes a massive case of child abuse. Out of millions of basically innocent children, Hitler and his regime succeeded in creating potential monsters. Could it happen again today? Of course it can. Children are like empty vessels."
Indoctrination worked through every channel – visual, auditory, kinesthetic – to replace Christianity with Nazism. The swastika, not a Eucharist, occupied the center of a monstrance. Hitler Youth convened on Sunday mornings, making church attendance impossible. Nazis said grace and professed a creed to Hitler. "Silent Night's" lyrics were co-opted: "Silent night holy night. Adolf Hitler is Germany's wealth, brings us greatness favor and health. Oh, give us Germans all power!" Speer's cathedral of light replaced a church structure.
One of Hitler's closest allies, one of the most powerful men in the Third Reich, was not a priest, or a general – he was a novelist. Joseph Goebbels was at Hitler's side right up to the end, when Goebbels committed suicide shortly after Hitler. Goebbels' job was never to fire a gun or preach a sermon. His job was to brainwash Germans into accepting Nazism.
Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda was not primarily theological. It was Nazi – that is, it was focused on race, biology, and struggle. The most notorious Nazi propaganda film, "The Eternal Jew," identifies Jews as a non-Germanic people who, like rats, parasitize German society, and who, like rats, must be eliminated for the greater good. There is no reflection of either concept in core Christian theology. Jews are not a different species, and there is no moral justification for eliminating them.
"Jud Suss" depicts Jews as middleman minorities who mediate between a corrupt ruler and an oppressed populace. Jews raise taxes, for example, to strangle the citizenry and fatten the ruler. "Jud Suss" was a very successful film, so much so that it was used before troops were sent into "aktions" against Jews. Mind: the Nazis' single most successful propaganda film used middleman minority justifications for genocide, not theological justifications. The Jew in "Jud Suss" is not a deicide – he is a middleman.
"Jud Suss" was based on the bestselling novel of the same name. A fact anyone accusing Christianity of being the basis of Nazism should keep in mind: "Jud Suss" was written by a Jewish author, Lion Feuchtwanger, as a plea against anti-Semitism. Not only was Feuchtwanger a Jew, but he was a critic and a target of Adolf Hitler! Yes, Nazism could take a novel written by a Jew as a protest against anti-Semitism and as an appeal for sympathy to Jews and twist it into one of the most effective pieces of anti-Semitic propaganda ever made. Even all this propaganda did not adequately prepare Germans to be genocidal. Einsatzgruppen complained about the shootings; they were demoralizing. The men turned to drink to make the killing possible. Gas was introduced as a way to depersonalize genocide and to assuage guilt. Even that was a challenge – dealing with the dead bodies was also traumatic. Sonderkommando were one solution. The condemned themselves would process the dead bodies. These prisoners, in turn, would eventually be killed and replacements put in place.
If "two thousand years of hate" had prepped Germans to be genocidal against Jews, the Nazis' exertions at indoctrination would not have been necessary. Nazi genocide was facilitated by Nazi decapitation of society, terrorizing of anyone who would offer resistance, and rewards for those who cooperated. They pulled off this social engineering in a society already traumatized by cataclysmic war, incomprehensible defeat, international humiliation, financial impoverishment, rampant conspiracy theories, and while facing a very real threat: advancing Soviet Communism. By facing these facts about Nazism, we learn what we need to forfend a repeat of such social engineering. By fobbing Nazism off on "two thousand years of hate" we sacrifice the chance to learn necessary lessons about evil people's manipulation.
V. Nazis were diabolically clever at carrying out their evil goals.
Adolf Hitler did not announce that he planned to round up six million Jews and murder them, and invite non-Jewish Germans to applaud this. That would not have worked. The Nazis advanced slyly and cruelly. They disguised their most vile crimes behind euphemisms like "deportation to the east." In retrospect it's easy to see that they were lying. Not so at the time (see below about how shocked people were by Nazism).
I used to feel much more judgmental of Germans. After campaign 2016, I understand better. Candidate Donald Trump circulated two anti-Semitic images of Hillary Clinton. He tweeted a Mussolini quote. Three times he declined to denounce endorsements from the KKK. And yet millions of Americans voted for him, including people I liked and respected. Trump's adviser, Kellyanne Conway, explained that voters "were being told constantly … make this [offensive act] the deal-breaker once and for all.' … and yet they voted the way voters have always voted: on things that affect them, not things that offend them."
Similarly, Germans focused on Hitler as a savior figure. A Nazi who served in the SA and the Wehrmacht once said to me, "People have Hitler all wrong. It wasn't about hating Jews. It was about loving Germany." Clearly, Hitler was about hating Jews, but this German, a young man before the war, focused on what he wanted to focus on – the fantasy of Hitler as a savior.
For decades after the war, surviving top Nazi Albert Speer, in public and in private, contorted more than an Olympic gymnast when dancing around what he knew and when he knew it. Goebbels' 105-year-old secretary, Brunhilde Pomsel says, "I know no one ever believes us nowadays – everyone thinks we knew everything. We knew nothing, it was all kept well secret." She believed that her friend, Eva Lowenthal, and other Jews, had been sent to resettle the Sudetenland. In 2005, Pomsel researched Eva's fate – Eva had been murdered in Auschwitz. In 1970, after his arrest, journalist Gitta Sereny confronted Sobibor and Treblinka commandant Franz Stangl with his guilt. He had been in complete denial. He said he had nothing against Jews, and that he was just doing a job. In response to Sereny, Stangl finally said, "In reality I share the guilt." Nineteen hours later, Stangl dropped dead of a heart attack. How could he have not known he was guilty? He was running a death camp! Pomsel says, "the whole country was as if under a kind of a spell." If Pomsel and Stangl are telling the truth, they were not anti-Semitic. They were weak tools manipulated by anti-Semitic fanatics. The Nazis had expertly manipulated an entire society.
Those aware enough to see through Nazi lies in real time and articulate resistance were suppressed. Germans who resisted were arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and often killed. The USHMM reports that "by the end of July 1933, almost 27,000 people – virtually all of them political prisoners – were incarcerated" in Nazi concentration camps. "No one ever knows when it will be his turn to be beaten, or for what he must be beaten" reported one 18-year-old in the Oranienburg concentration camp. "Those who are beaten up in the camp usually do not say a word because they dare not, but at night you can hear the groans and the sobbing." By the end of 1933, 100,000 Germans had been arrested. Literature professor Victor Klemperer wrote, "A man's garden was dug up. There was supposed to be a machine gun in it. But nothing was found. To squeeze a confession, they beat him. His corpse … had boot marks on the stomach and fist-sized holes in the back. The official cause of death? Dysentery." (Source: "Third Reich: The Rise and Fall" documentary here.)
Nazis practiced societal decapitation, terrorism, and divide-and-conquer. Populations were pacified with random killings. One Corporal Sommer recounted how his commander pacified Italian villages.
"In every place we got to the order was the same … 'Get rid of twenty so we will have some peace and quiet here and they won't get any stupid ideas!' Before we knew it we had offed fifty. It was easy to round them up. We just said, come here, and got them all into the marketplace and he came along with his machine gun and da-da-da-da … 'Excellent!' He called the Italians 'pigs.'"
VI. We must not ignore scholarship to chase a Christophobic agenda.
The Milgram Experiment, the Stanford Prison Experiment by Philip Zimbardo, and Jane Elliott's Blue Eyes / Brown Eyes exercise demonstrate the conditions that can facilitate atrocity. Each of these experiments suggest that normal people, under the right conditions, can behave in a destructive manner toward relative strangers, without any prompting by previous conditioning via stereotyping.
Zimbardo's prison experiment had a real life echo in the 2004 abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib. Lynndie England was a West Virginia girl who dreamed of being a storm chaser. Her appearance on the world stage as a sexual tormenter of defenseless Iraqi prisoners so strongly paralleled the Zimbardo experiment that Zimbardo testified in an Abu Ghraib trial. In understanding genocide, we would benefit from paying more attention to scholars like Zimbardo.
VII. That Nazism was a shock suggests that it was not an inevitable culmination of previous history.
It's a dizzying – reading memoirs written about the period before Hitler took power. Again and again, Jews report feeling utterly at home in Germany, feeling German and part of the nation, report that Germany is known worldwide for its modern, tolerant, advanced society. Leon Weliczker Wells was a Sonderkommando who testified at both the Nuremberg and Eichmann trials. He wrote, "The belief that German culture was superior continued even to the time when Germany occupied Poland in 1939 … I remember when the Jews spoke among themselves about the future under the Nazi regime: 'Under the Germans it couldn't be so bad as the press wants us to believe because they are the leading civilized nation.' Our main worry was that under the Russians we might be sent to Siberia."
Sigmund Freud was urged to leave Vienna. He replied, "The Nazis? I'm not afraid of them." His "true enemy" was "religion, the Catholic Church." Freud had sent fan mail to Mussolini, calling him "a hero of culture."
There were tens of thousands of Mischlinge in Germany, that is people of mixed German and Jewish ancestry. Mischlinge were so well-integrated that a hundred and fifty thousand Mischlinge served in the Wehrmacht. Each German has "his decent Jew," Himmler said. Even Hitler, who spared the life of Eduard Bloch, a Jewish physician who had treated his mother, Klara, for breast cancer.
The world's obliviousness to how far Germany had strayed from its tolerant, civilized roots is nowhere as shockingly depicted than in the Auschwitz memoir, "Five Chimneys." Author Olga Lengyel, a Catholic, reports that as late as 1944, she chose to go to Auschwitz with her husband, who was arrested by the Germans. Her husband could have gone alone; she volunteered to accompany him, and her parents and her sons volunteered to accompany her. She was so convinced of German benignity that even in Auschwitz itself, she gave the guard information that guaranteed her son's death. Her mother and sons were killed in the gas chambers. "I cannot acquit myself of the charge that I am, in part, responsible for the destruction of my own parents and of my two young sons. The world understands that I could not have known, but in my heart the terrible feeling persists that I could have, I might have, saved them."
Polish underground soldier Jan Karski brought his eyewitness account of the Holocaust to Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and US Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter. Karski was met with dismissive disbelief. Frankfurter was born and grew up in Vienna. He was the third Jew to serve on the Supreme Court. Of Karski, he said, "I could not believe him."
If two thousand years of Christian anti-Semitism inevitably resulted in the Holocaust, surely people as knowledgeable as Felix Frankfurter, Olga Lengyal, and uncountable others would have seen it coming. They didn't. That's because the Holocaust was not a natural, inevitable result of German or Christian historical development.
VIII. Mass atrocity took place during the Nazi era that had no relation to Nazism, Christianity, or Jews. While those mass murders were taking place, the world was as impotent to stop them as it was when Jews were being killed.
Some insist, "Only two thousand years of Christian hate can explain Nazi atrocities" and "Only two thousand years of Christian hate can explain how the world stood by and did nothing."
The 1932-33 Holodomor in Ukraine – a famine orchestrated by Stalin – claimed between 2.5 and 7.5 million Ukrainian lives. Most of these were Christian peasants. The world did not intervene. Rather, prominent authors George Bernard Shaw, Walter Duranty, and Louis Fischer denied the famine. Duranty, writing in the New York Times, won a Pulitzer Prize for his denial.
About the Japanese 1937-38 Rape of Nanking, Iris Chang wrote, "One historian has estimated that if the dead from Nanking were to link hands, they would stretch from Nanking to the city of Hangchow, spanning a distance of some two hundred miles. Their blood would weigh twelve hundred tons, and their bodies would fill twenty-five hundred rail road cars. Stacked on top of each other, these bodies would reach the height of a seventy-four-story building."
Chang struggled to bring this story to the world. "To forget a holocaust is to kill twice," she said, quoting Elie Wiesel. The pressure of telling this story to an audience of the deaf and amnesiac was too much for Chang. She killed herself.
During the war, the Japanese committed war crimes that were every bit as horrific as the war crimes committed by the Nazis. In reference to the Japanese, Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said, "Imagine hundreds of Mengeles." I will not attempt to illustrate this point with examples because the material is too disturbing. Interested parties can research Unit 731. Warning: be prepared for nightmares. No medieval Christian sermon played any role in facilitating the hell on earth Buddhist and Shinto Japan created.
Until the actual outbreak of WW II, Stalin was more murderous than Hitler. "Indeed, it was Stalin, not Hitler, who initiated the first ethnic killing campaigns in interwar Europe," writes Timothy Snyder. Stalin's campaigns were against Poles. In Stalin's "'Polish Operation' that began in August 1937, 111,091 people accused of espionage for Poland were shot. In all, 682,691 people were killed during the Great Terror, to which might be added a few hundred thousand more Soviet citizens shot in smaller actions … Nazi Germany began to kill on the Soviet scale only after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in the summer of 1939 and the joint German-Soviet invasion of Poland that September. About 200,000 Polish civilians were killed between 1939 and 1941, with each regime responsible for about half of those deaths" writes Snyder.
No medieval Christian sermon taught the Nazis or the Soviets to murder Catholic Poles with such abandon. The world did not intervene.
Though no group suffered as much as a percent of population as did Jews, non-Jews were subject to every atrocity that Nazis subjected Jews to. Non-Jews were also exiled, tortured, subject to medical experimentation, and mass murdered. Handicapped people were the first and last group to be mass murdered as part of a Nazi program. Soviet POWs were the first to be murdered using Zyklon B. Poles were murdered by being rounded up and shot by Einsatzgruppen. Romani and Sinti, aka Gypsies, lost 25% of their population. They were and are majority Christian.
IX. Even the most inflammatory anti-Jewish statements in the New Testament are nothing like Nazism, and the New Testament's overall message is one of love. Jews are identified as God's chosen people and the source of mankind's salvation. Christians have struggled for centuries to defuse hateful interpretations of scripture.
The New Testament does contain passages that are problematical. The worst is Matthew 25:27, "Let his blood be on us and our children," where those calling for Jesus' death accept responsibility for that death. Theologian Pieter van der Horst calls John 8:44 "the most anti-Semitic verse in the New Testament." Jesus is debating with Pharisees. The Pharisees suggest that Jesus was illegitimate – that is, a bastard. Jesus retorts that their father is the devil.
Shocking as they are, both of these verses are in keeping with the Bible as a whole. The Old Testament prophets voiced murderous condemnations of Jews. For a typical example, see Jeremiah 44, where God condemns some Jews for not listening to him and obeying false Gods. He promises disobedient Jews humiliating and thorough destruction.
The problem is that Christians, who began as Jews themselves, rapidly became something other than Jews, and the anti-Jewish passages in the New Testament took on a new meaning that they did not have when they were written by Jews following a Jewish tradition of self-criticism.
Anti-Jewish passages in the New Testament must be re-interpreted, and they have been by Christian leaders for centuries. This process begins in the New Testament itself. Matthew and Luke present genealogies that inescapably identify Jesus as a Jew. In John, frequently called the most anti-Jewish Gospel, Jesus unequivocally asserts that "Salvation comes from Jews" (4:22). Jesus refers to Jews as the children of God, and non-Jews as, metaphorically, dogs (Matthew 15:26). God loves and has a special place for Jewish people and hatred for or violence against Jews is unacceptable (Romans 9-11). The 1566 Council of Trent rejected the deicide charge against Jews. "Men of all ranks and conditions were gathered together against the lord." "Our sins" crucified Christ and "guilt seems more enormous in us than in the Jews."
Nowhere in the New Testament are Christians commanded to hurt or kill anyone. Rather, Christians are to love their neighbor as they love themselves, to bless and pray for even those who persecute them. Christians accept the Jewish Bible in full as authoritative scripture. In it, murder is a serious crime from which there is no escape, as established in Genesis 4: 10-11. The Bible's approach to killing is utterly opposite to the Nazi approach.
Christian anti-Judaism is not genocidal. That difference is more than academic. Jews lived and prospered in Christian Europe for centuries. Yes, there were expulsions and upheavals – as there were for all populations in Europe.
For example, the original Prussians, a Pagan, Baltic people, were eliminated by Germanic people who moved into Prussian territory, killed or assimilated them, and took their name. In tenth century Cordoba lived almost 14,000 Slavic slaves, many of them sex slaves or eunuchs, marketed by Jews and sold to Muslims. The Knights Templar were crushed through torture and murder when their international banking empire proved a threat to royalty. Christian Constantinople was destroyed by Christian Crusaders; its territory would eventually be lost to Islam. An estimated million or more Irish people died during the Great Potato Famine, over a million emigrated. Protestant England's policies contributed to the drop of the Irish population from 8.2 to 6.5 million in ten years. Russia's nineteenth-century elimination of the Circassians from their homeland is aptly called a genocide.
During and after WW II, millions of ethnic Poles were murdered in or exiled from the Kresy, territory that was excised from Poland and ethnically cleansed. Jews did participate in betraying Poles to Soviets. After WW II over twelve million Germans were expelled from Eastern Europe.
Real understanding of expulsions and massacres of Jews in Christian Europe comes when we place these events in the above context. Expulsions and massacres of any people are always the result of complex historical circumstances. We do not, for example, seek to understand the Tokugawa shogunate's use of torture to wipe out Christianity in seventeenth-century Japan as an expression of "Buddhist intolerance." Rather, we look to the event's historical and economic context.
Anyone attempting to explain away contemporary tensions between Polish Catholics, Jews, and Muslims by invoking the enslavement of Slavs in Muslim Spain would be dismissed as guilty of a bigoted essentializing – that is, of positing an exploitative Jewish "essence" that transcends the passage of time and historical circumstance.
English Protestants and Catholic Crusaders didn't destroy fellow Christians because of anything the Bible says. They did so for economic and power reasons. In the same way that we must understand economic and political context to make sense of the siege of Constantinople in 1204, we must understand economic and political context to understand the history of Jews in Europe, and not write off any bad thing that happened to Jews as the inevitable result of Christian theology – for the simple reason that it is contrary to Christian theology to kill, expel, or massacre. If those killing and massacring are not following theological precepts, we must seek other data to understand.
Too, hate is not the whole story.
When, in the 11th century, Christians massacred Jews in the Rhineland, the bishops of Mainz, Speyer, and Worms attempted to protect Jews. Popes, over the course of hundreds of years, repeatedly condemned blood libel. In his anthology "Stranger in Our Midst," Harold B. Segel excerpts philosemitic Polish literature stretching across centuries. Poland invited Jews when they were expelled from other countries. It promised, and delivered to Jews rights of self-rule and religious freedom. Polish peasants admired and befriended Jews, as documented by scholar Anna-Maria Orla Bukowska. Polish Catholics revered Jewish tzaddiks – wonder-working holy men. Polish authors created Jewish heroes in seminal works.
Christian Europe produced the Rothschilds, Moses Montefiore, Freud, Einstein, Marx, IB Singer, Helena Rubenstein, Mendelssohn. Achievement levels are equally high in the mostly Christian United States. There is no comparable level of acceptance and achievement to be found among Jews in Yemen or Morocco or Ethiopia. There was something good about Christian Europe for Jews.
Humanists and atheists in Europe also struggled for the emancipation of all people, regardless of their ethnicity or religion. That trend for universal emancipation and dignity was especially strong in Germany.
Telling a story in which all Jews do in Christian Europe is suffer, and where Jews are the only people who suffer, where Christians only hate and hurt Jews, and no one else, and where no Christian has any Jewish friends, and no Jew has any Christian allies, distorts history. Some Christians sometimes loved and protected Jews. Some Christians sometimes hated and hurt Jews. Writing off all the hate and hurt as the fruit of Christian theology renders the love and comradeship incomprehensible. We need to ask, "What happened?" about both the bad times and the good times to fully understand both.
X. The frequently cited "two thousand years of Christian anti-Semitism" is a misnomer.
In his book "Bearing False Witness," Rodney Stark points out that those who insist that anti-Semitism has been temporally and geographically coterminous with Christianity can easily be proven wrong. Anti-Jewish persecutions predate Christianity, and Christians for many centuries were a minority sect without the power to persecute anyone. Western Christians did not murderously persecute Jews in any historically significant way until the eleventh century when "the conflict with Islam boiled over" this "changed perceptions of religious threats." When anti-Jewish violence broke out, popes condemned it and bishops and knights protected Jews. In short, anti-Semitism is not essential to Christianity; rather, it is a phenomenon dependent on external factors.
XI. The insistence that "two thousand years of Christian anti-Semitism paved the way for the Holocaust" is based on a complete misunderstanding of stereotyping, and this misunderstanding of stereotyping is as threatening to Jews and Judaism as it is to Christians and Christianity.
Often those wishing to make the case that Christianity is the root cause of Nazism cite hideous things that Christians have said over the centuries about Jews.
This conclusion is based on a complete misunderstanding of stereotyping. All people stereotype their neighbors, and these stereotypes are often vicious. If stereotyping were rationale or inspiration enough for genocide, we'd all be genocidal. But we are not. Again, we must ask, what happened?
The conflation of stereotyping, a universal human activity, with genocide or other crime is as damaging to Jews as it is to Christians.
Jews, like everyone else, stereotype their others of choice – non Jews. "Shiksa," a Yiddish word for a non-Jewish woman, is variously translated as "vermin," "cockroach," and "object of loathing." "Goyishe kop," or gentile head, means stupid. "Shikker iz der Goy" conveys that non-Jews are drunks. The Talmud depicts Jesus boiling in excrement.
In America, recent years have seen many high profile financial crimes committed by Jews including Bernie Madoff, Michael Milken, Ivan Boesky, Marc Rich and George Soros. In Poland, Jews like Józef Różański, Jakub Berman and Helena Wolińska-Brus played a disproportionate role in the Communist occupiers' defaming, torturing, and murdering of wartime heroes like Witold Pilecki and Emil August Fieldorf.
Those wishing to exploit these crimes to indict all Jews cite Talmudic quotes that allegedly encourage Jews to deceive and destroy non-Jews. One such notorious quote, "The best of gentiles, kill."
I reject the arguments of those who insist that the Talmud's teachings are necessary and sufficient motivation for criminals. Jews have been prominent in financial crimes in recent years, and in the Communist Party in Poland, thanks to complex historical factors. Jews have also been prominent in philanthropy and in fighting for Poland's freedom. Non-Jews have also committed financial crimes and most Communists in Poland were not Jewish. The Talmud does emphasize philanthropy. The Talmud is a lengthy work that includes universalist teachings as well as particularist ones.
Wikipedia currently (as of January 28, 2017) identifies Julius Streicher as a Roman Catholic and Piotr Smietanski as a Jew. Streicher was vehemently anti-Catholic. This identification is false. Piotr Smietanski was a Communist executioner. He was not Jewish. This identification is also false. Both identifications are made, one must guess, for reasons of stereotyping and propaganda. Smietanski executed Polish patriots on behalf of Soviet overlords – so he must be Jewish. Streicher hated Jews, so he must be Catholic.
XII. The assertion that pre-Nazi anti-Judaism or anti-Semitism was identical to Nazism is false. We know of pre-Nazi anti-Semites or anti-Jewish persons who resisted the Nazis at the risk, and the cost, of their lives.
We know of cases where people said bad things about Jews and also resisted the Nazis, at the risk, and the cost, of their lives. That's because saying critical things is not the same as committing, or even supporting, genocide.
Jan Mosdorf was a member of the National Radical Camp, an anti-Semitic movement in interwar Poland. In 1938, he publicly declared that though he was a nationalist, he was not a Nazi. The Nazis imprisoned him in Auschwitz. There, he organized a group to help Jews. He was denounced and executed.
Cardinal August Hlond delivered possibly the single most notorious anti-Jewish statement by a Prince of the Church. His 1936 pastoral letter condemned Jews for publishing pornography, practicing usury, and dealing in prostitution. The Cahiers du Témoignage Chrétien was a French Catholic underground publication that urged people to aid Jews and resist Germans. It quoted Pope Pius XI who said, "spiritually, we are all Semites." This publication relied on Hlond's eyewitness accounts of Nazi genocide of Jews in occupied Poland. Hlond condemned the Vatican for its "silence" on what the Nazis were doing to Poland. Himmler ordered Hlond's arrest. The Gestapo offered him a chance for power and freedom, if only he would urge Poles to unite with Germans in their fight against their common enemy, the Soviet Union. Hlond declined to cooperate.
Hlond's wartime resistance of the Nazis, at the risk of his own life, is consistent with the entirety of his message. Christians must "honor and love Jews as human beings and neighbors," Hlond wrote. Hlond opposed violence against and expulsions of Jews, "I warn against that moral stance, imported from abroad, that is basically and ruthlessly anti-Jewish … one is forbidden to assault, beat up, maim, or slander Jews." Anyone arguing that Hlond's 1936 letter inspired violence against Jews must explain why his stand against violence was not adhered to by those under his influence.
Zofia Kossak-Szczucka was a Polish Catholic author. She identified herself as anti-Jewish in an underground pamphlet. She co-founded Zygota, the only group in occupied Europe devoted to rescuing Jews from Nazism. She was arrested and sent to Auschwitz.
Henryk Opiatowski was the Catholic priest in Bransk, Poland, in 1943. He aided Jews. For this, Nazis dragged him out of his home in his underwear, and beat him publicly, promising, "We will crucify you, like your Christ," before killing him. Father Opiatowski's village of Bransk was later pilloried in a PBS special entitled "Shtetl" that depicted it as a typically backward, anti-Semitic Polish town.
Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish priest. He oversaw many publications, some of which published anti-Jewish material, though he himself did not author nor was he aware of that material. His lack of awareness does not exonerate him – it was a sin of omission.
Kolbe was arrested and abused by Nazis. He experienced firsthand how dangerous Nazis were. He was released. In spite of his previous experience, he defied Nazi edicts and aided 2,000 Jews at his monastery. Kolbe was arrested again and sent to Auschwitz, where he was murdered. Auschwitz survivor Sigmund Gorson testified to Kolbe's character.
"He knew I was a Jewish boy. That made no difference. His heart was bigger than persons – that is, whether they were Jewish, Catholic or whatever. He loved everyone. He dispensed love and nothing but love. For one thing, he gave away so much of his meager rations that to me it was a miracle he could live. Now it is easy to be nice, to be charitable, to be humble, when times are good and peace prevails. For someone to be as Father Kolbe was in that time and place – I can only say the way he was is beyond words. I am a Jew by my heritage as the son of a Jewish mother, and I am of the Jewish faith and very proud of it. And not only did I love Maximilian Kolbe very, very much at Auschwitz, where he befriended me, but I will love him until the last moments of my life."
XIII. Lengthy periods of stereotyping is not a necessary precursor to genocide.
The Cambodian auto-genocide caused the death of 25 % of Cambodia's population in four years. Cambodians murdered other Cambodians. Cambodia was a majority Buddhist country; Cambodians wiped out Buddhist monks and temples. This was not a stereotyping group X destroying stereotyped group Y. This was the self tearing out its own heart. The Rwandan genocide is said to be the quickest in history. Neighbor killed neighbor with machetes, at the urging of radio broadcasts. No two thousand years of hate prepared Rwandans for this hell. They created hell with stunning speed and no rehearsal.
Scholar Christy Turner uncovered evidence of a genocide-by-cannibalism of the Anaszi by invading Toltecs. This genocide of one group of Native Americans by another group of Native Americans took place long before Columbus arrived in the Americas. Turner was excoriated for his publications. Only white Christians could do something so awful, so this genocide never happened, critics insisted. In any case, the Toltecs were new invaders and could not have been stereotyping the Anasazi for two thousand previous years.
XIV. Christians did stop Nazism.
Largely Christian troops gave their lives to end Nazism. They were inspired by Christian ideals, such as the value of all human life. The crosses at Normandy are one testimony to this.
Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma were a Catholic, peasant, Polish couple. They had six children. In Jozef Ulma's Bible, the following words are underlined in red:
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself … But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him."
When the Nazis arrived in Markowa, the Ulma village, they announced that anyone who helped a Jew would be killed, as would all family members. Jozef and Wiktoria helped Markowa's Jews. Nazis murdered Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma and their six children. Wiktoria was pregnant at the time; some count seven children murdered. The Jews the Ulmas helped were also murdered.
XV. Non-Christians have committed catastrophic massacres of Jews.
The three-thousand-year-old Merneptah Stele is the first recorded written reference to Jews. The Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah brags, "Israel is laid waste and his seed is not." In 722 BC, Assyrians eliminated ten of the twelve tribes of Israel, giving rise to various "Ten Lost Tribes" myths. In 70 AD, Roman Pagans drove Jews out of Jerusalem and into diaspora, ending Temple Judaism and beginning rabbinical Judaism, and contributed to a massive drop in the world population of Jews, a population drop from which Jews did not recover for centuries. Israeli demographer Sergio DellaPergola estimates that the world Jewish population dropped by 75 % in this period. Roman Pagans renamed Judea "Palestine" in order to erase even the memory of Jews ever having lived there.
The stereotype that Jews faced no discrimination in Muslim lands, but only in Christian ones, is false. Bernard Lewis writes, "The myth was invented by Jews in 19th century Europe as a reproach to Christians." In 1066 Muslim mobs in Grenada crucified Jewish vizier Joseph ibn Naghrel and massacred the city's Jewish population. Beginning in the 1940s, Muslim nations drove their Jewish populations out. An estimated 850,000 Jews were affected. The Muslim world is all but Judenrein and attacks by Muslims on Jews make neighborhoods in France and England increasingly unsafe for Jews. In contemporary America, the most extreme anti-Semitism comes from the Left, which is also prominently Christophobic.
Yes, non-Christian populations can mistreat Jews in historically significant ways.
XVI. Our discussion of anti-Semitism must mature past Christophobic exploitation.
The European Wars of Religion lasted between 1524 and 1648. Death toll estimates range between six and twelve million. The website Necrometrics names The Thirty Years War number seventeen in its list of the Top Twenty Worst Things People Have Done to Each Other. Herbert Langer claims that these wars reduced Europe's population by 25%. "It took Germany almost a hundred years to recover demographically from the war" (Source). These wars included the 1572 St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, in which Catholic mobs mass-murdered Protestants. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "So many Lyonese corpses drifted down the Rhône to Arles that, for three months, the Arlesians did not want to drink the river water." Not all disapproved of this massacre. Spain's Catholic monarch, Philip II , when told of the massacre, "laughed for the only time on record."
[Naked Soviet prisoners of war in Mauthausen Concentration Camp, Unknown date.]
And Protestants warred on fellow Protestants, "The penalties enjoined by the Town Council of Zurich [for Anabaptists] were 'drowning, burning, or beheading,' … 'It is our will,' the Council proclaimed, 'that wherever they be found, whether singly or in companies, they shall be drowned to death, and that none of them shall be spared" (Source).
Today Protestants and Catholics live side by side. They attend each other's services and schools. They are visually indistinguishable. They intermarry. No sane Protestant or Catholic fears being harmed by a Protestant or a Catholic in a religious war.
No serious historian attempts to explain the European Wars of Religion by referring to mass in Latin, or the marriage of priests – that is, no serious historian attempts to explain this carnage using theology. Rather, when we attempt to understand this horror, we look to the kind of complex forces that always inspire conflict: economics and power relations. Historian Henri Daniel-Rops writes, "Right from the beginning, Luther's spiritual revolt had let loose material greed. The German rulers, the Scandinavian monarchs and Henry VIII of England had all taken advantage of the break from papal tutelage to appropriate both the wealth and the control of their respective Churches." Will Durant quotes Philip Melanchthon, Luther's contemporary. "They do not care in the least about religion; they are only anxious to get dominion into their hands, to be free from the control of bishops … Under cover of the Gospel, the princes were only intent on the plunder of the Churches."
Protestants and Catholics murdered each other because the powerful used theological differences to gain territory and money and settle old scores. Henry VIII, a former "defender of the faith," destroyed libraries, sacked monasteries, and plunged his country into turmoil so he could escape papal sanction, divorce Catherine of Aragon, and marry Anne Boleyn.
We need to apply the same level of sophistication to our discussion of European Christians' anti-Semitism.
The United States is one of the most religious, and most Christian, countries in the world. Jews have lived in the United States for three hundred years and have experienced minimal discrimination compared to what they experienced in Europe during the same period. Why did Christian Europe persecute Jews when Christian America did not do so, to the same extent?
Edna Bonacich's Middleman Minority theory does work that the theological explanation for Nazism does not. This theory has been expanded on by Amy Chua, in "World On Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability," and by Thomas Sowell.
Thanks to complicated historical forces in the first century, Jews became the world's prototypical "Middleman Minority." (For a very brief introduction to this history, see minutes two through ten of this video.) They filled this role not just in Christian Europe, but in Muslim lands as well. In systems so rigid they may as well be caste systems, peasants occupy the bottom, nobles occupy the top, and Jews mediate, financially and legally, between the two. This position offers opportunities for wealth and power, but also resentment and murderous rage. Jews remain distinct culturally – with separate dress, language, and foodways – and remain easy to target when the going gets rough. When their noble protectors are disempowered, Jews are vulnerable.
Nazism's primary victims were Jews, Gypsies, Poles, Russians, communists, handicapped people, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, and resisters. All of these people were victimized for the same reasons, reasons that do not refer to Christian scripture.
Jews, Poles, and Russians were all defined as untermenschen in Darwinian competition with Germans for territory and resources. Jews, Catholics, Gypsies, communists and Jehovah's Witnesses were all seen as living in Germany but owing loyalty to an international community that superseded their loyalty to the German polity. Handicapped people were untermenschen whose very existence threatened the master race. Jews and Gypsies were easiest to eliminate first because there were relatively few of them, and they were easily identifiable by a differing appearance, clothing, or language. Divide and conquer, lies and threats facilitated their mass murder. Nazis planned to do to the Poles what they were doing to the Jews. There were too many Poles to eliminate right away, so Poland was merely decapitated and virtually enslaved. Generalplan Ost called for Poland to be cleared of ethnic Poles within ten years. Nazis began this mass murder of Slavs during the war. Daniel Goldhagen writes that in less than eight months of 1941-42, Nazis murdered 2.8 million Soviet POWs, mainly by starvation. The Nazis murdered more Soviet POWs than Jews in 1941. It was only when Nazis realized that they could use Slavs for labor to replace men fighting at the front that this slaughter was slowed. Nazis were opportunists who constantly jiggered their killing machine depending on whom was easiest to slaughter first. That Jewish Sonderkommando, for example, were allowed to live longer than other Jews was no sign that Nazis didn't intend to kill all Jews eventually. Nazis merely allowed the Sonderkommando to live longer because it was convenient to Nazis. The same can be said of the Poles who were allowed to live – they would be eliminated at the Nazis' convenience. In "Jews, God, and History," Max Dimont reports that, at the end of the war, Russian concentration camp liberators discovered that the Nazis had enough Zyklon B stockpiled to kill twenty million people.
I wish Christianity had had the power to elevate more people to a higher ethical standard. It didn't. Christians drove the Atlantic Slave Trade. Christians beat their wives. Christians raped altar boys. Christians murdered Jews. But those Christians who did murder Jews did not do so because of Christian scripture. They did so because of other factors we owe it to past and potentially future victims to understand. There is no Christian scriptural command to murder Jews or anyone else. As the Ulmas knew, as many who rest beneath Normandy's crosses knew, Christian scripture commands us to love even the Samaritan as we love ourselves.
Some Christians did listen to Christian scripture, and ended the Atlantic Slave Trade, lead the Suffrage movement, publicized the sex abuse crisis, rescued Jews and fought and died to defeat Nazism. Those Christians, and the scripture that inspired them, deserve nothing less than the truth.
Danusha V. Goska, PhD has lived and worked in Africa, Asia, Europe, and on both coasts, and in the heartland, of America. Her writing has been awarded the New Jersey State Council on the Arts Grant and the Eva Kagan Kans Award. Her essay "Political Paralysis" appears in the book "The Impossible Will Take a Little While." Her memoir "Save Send Delete" tells the true story of her debate about God, and love affair, with a prominent atheist. Julie Davis named "Save Send Delete" one of the ten best books of the year.
Goska's book "Bieganski: The Brute Polak Stereotype" won the PAHA Halecki Award. The Shofar Journal of Jewish Studies called it "Groundbreaking." American Jewish History said that Bieganski points out that the Brute Polak stereotype "gives the illusion of absolving those who failed in their own test of humanity" during the Holocaust. The book has been the subject of cover stories in the highly respected "Tygodnik Powszechny" and the "Polish American Journal."
Goska has been an invited speaker at Brandeis, Georgetown, the University of Wisconsin, Madison, at Krakow's Galicia Jewish Museum as part of the world famous Jewish Culture Festival, and in American synagogues, churches, libraries and universities. She has appeared on WABC's longest-running talk show, "Religion on the Line," hosted by Rabbi Joseph Potasnik and Deacon Kevin McCormack.
Thank you for sharing this excellent and stimulating composition! I found it to be a well-constructed counter-foil to intellectual laziness which relies on soundbyte " it's us versus them" dichotomies all too often accepted as sufficient argument in modern discourse. The rise of National Socialism and other forms of totalitarianism cannot be summarily chalked up to a set of theological principles whose paramount commandments include to love your neighbor. As you so eloquently illustrate, the trope that NAZI-ism was a natural by-product of Christian thought does an injustice to those who suffered or tried to counter that ideology. The piece is timely, as well, as it also highlights some of the early tactics/ trends in German society which appear to be becoming de rigeur once again in many countries: the illusion of patriotism to hide undermining of basic national values, suspicion of 'the other', the glorification of success at any price, and the rejection of compassion.
Dr Karaczun, thank you for your comment. I especially like your summary of the way current politics seems to be turning back toward the sort of politics that were pervasive during the years of Nazism.
Dr M Karaczun your comment is so erudite I feel humbled just to read it. Thank you.
Great writing here. In an age of sound-bites, this is food for thought. And thanks to John Guzlowski for posting this.
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