View Full Version : Betrayal of the German Christian churches, the Nazis, and the Holocaust

25th November 2010, 22:11
'n Stuk uit geskiedenis wat my al baie laat wonder het, (miskien ook vir jul) ek het bietjie navorsing gaan doen en ek deel dit met julle want ek vind dit baie insigewend. Ek verneem graag jul opinie.


Bron: Betrayal: German Churches and the Holocaust, by Robert P. Ericksen

The Nazis would not have been able to achieve what they did in Germany and Europe without the active assistance of millions of Christians. This, in turn, was achieved in large part by the assistance of German churches: whether through silent acquiescence or active participation, German churches helped make the Nazi control of Germany possible. Traditionally, German churches have been hailed for their resistance to Hitler, but the truth is ultimately quite different.

Understanding how the assistance of German churches helped the Nazis and what German Christians did to facilitate the Nazi conquest of Germany is key to understanding how Christian churches might be able to avoid something similar in the future. One contribution to this is Betrayal: German Churches and the Holocaust, edited by Robert P. Ericksen and Susannah Heschel. These essays cover the infamous German Christian movement, efforts to portray Jesus as Aryan rather than Jewish, the culpability even of major opponents of the Nazis, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and of course the actions of the Catholic Church.

Many German Christians had all but abandoned the idea of the Christian church as a supra-national community which transcended ethnicity, nationality, or geography. Instead, they regarded German Christianity as a divinely sanctioned religious movement which combined Christian doctrine and German character in a unique and desirable manner.

Thus when Nazis defended violent policies on the basis of nationalism, it was easy for church leaders to tell congregations that the tenets of the Christian faith were not being violated. Jews who had converted to Christianity, for example, were inferior and not “real” Christians as far as many were concerned.

The other major thrust is that the Nazis were far more Christian than most people realize. There was an undeniable presence of neo-pagan and anti-Christian beliefs among some prominent Nazis, but their beliefs were never officially endorsed and the Nazis always showed official support for Christian churches and Christian beliefs. The Christianity of Nazi leaders may have been unorthodox by most contemporary standards, but they were not out of place in Germany at the time.

There was resistance and dissent among some Christians in Germany, but this was the exception rather than the rule — and too often, “resistance” was to efforts by the Nazis to exert greater control over church activities, not to the mass murder of non-Aryans. An important question asked in the book is, what religious beliefs caused a few to resist but the vast majority to simply go along with the Nazis' agenda? There is no simple answer to the question, but a consistent theme throughout all the factors appears to be the degree to which people accepted the blending of nationalism and Christianity, state and church.

People supported whatever the Nazis did because they believed that Adolf Hitler was a gift to the German people from God. They believed that True Christianity must include basic Aryan values, while true German-ness must exhibit Christian (as opposed to Jewish) values. They believed that support for the nation and Volk required supporting Christianity, while supporting Christianity meant supporting the nation and Volk. German theology was to be as fully Nazified as the Nazi party was Christianized.

Sadly, matters haven’t improved as much as they should have. There are still theologians and pastors in Germany who treat Judaism as an inferior religion, and it was a long time before institutional churches even began to admit their responsibility for what happened under the Nazis.

Adolf Hitler & Christian Nationalism:
A popular image of the Nazis is that they were fundamentally anti-Christian while devout Christians were anti-Nazi. The truth is that German Christians supported the Nazis because they believed that Adolf Hitler was a gift to the German people from God. German Christianity was a divinely sanctioned religious movement which combined Christian doctrine and German character in a unique and desirable manner: True Christianity was German and True German-ness was Christian.

The NSDAP Party Program stated in part: “We demand freedom for all religious confessions in the state, insofar as they do not endanger its existence or conflict with the customs and moral sentiments of the Germanic race. The party as such represents the standpoint of a positive Christianity, without owing itself to a particular confession....” Positive Christianity adhered to basic orthodox doctrines and asserted that Christianity must make a practical, positive difference in people’s lives.Christian anti-Semitism:

Anti-Semitism was an important aspect of the Nazi state, but the Nazis didn’t invent it; instead, they drew upon centuries of Christian anti-Semitism and extensive anti-Semitic theology in Germany’s Christian community. The Nazis believed that Jewishness was more than just a religion (http://atheism.about.com/b/a/219462.htm), a position which was supported by religious leaders who supplied the Nazis with baptismal and marriage records to help identify converted Jews.

Christian anti-Communism:
Anti-communism was probably more fundamental to the Nazi ideology than anti-Semitism. Many Germans were frightened of communism and saw Hitler as their Christian salvation. The communist threat appeared very real because communists had taken over Russia at the end of World War I and briefly took control in Bavaria. The Nazi party was also intensely anti-socialist, in the sense that traditional socialism was derided as atheistic and Jewish.

Christian anti-Modernism:
Key to understanding Nazism’s popularity with Christians is the Nazi condemnation of everything modern (http://atheism.about.com/b/a/213704.htm). Germany after World War I was regarded as a godless, secular, materialistic republic which betrayed all of Germany’s traditional values and religious beliefs. Christians saw the social fabric of their community unravelling and the Nazis promised to restore order (http://atheism.about.com/b/a/213676.htm) by attacking godlessness, homosexuality, abortion, liberalism, prostitution, pornography, obscenity, and so forth.

Protestant Christianity & Nazism:
It is widely recognized that Protestants were more attracted to Nazism than Catholics. This wasn’t true everywhere in Germany, but we can’t ignore the fact that Protestants, not Catholics, produced a movement (German Christians) dedicated to blending Nazi ideology and Christian doctrine. Protestant women were especially attracted to Nazism because of its cultural conservatism and promotion of traditional female social roles. Nazism was non-denominational, but Protestants favored it.

Catholic Christianity & Nazism:
Early on, many Catholic leaders criticized Nazism; after 1933, criticism turned to support and praise. Commonalities between Nazism and Catholics (http://atheism.about.com/b/a/187289.htm) were anti-communism, anti-atheism, and anti-secularism. Catholic churches helped identify Jews for extermination. After the war, Catholic leaders helped former Nazis back into power (Nazis were better than socialists). The legacy of Catholicism from Nazi Germany is cooperation, not resistance; not a defense of principle but a defense of social power.

Christian Resistance to Nazism:
Too often, Christian “resistance” was to efforts to exert greater control over church activities. Christian churches were willing to tolerate widespread violence against Jews, military rearmament, invasions of foreign nations, banning labor unions, imprisonment of political dissenters, detention of people who had committed no crimes, sterilization of the handicapped, etc. This includes the Confessing Church. Why? Hitler was seen as someone restoring traditional values and morality to Germany.

Christianity in Private, Christianity in Public:
Did Hitler and the Nazis only appeal to Christianity as a political ploy and emphasize Christianity in public without intending to promote Christianity in reality? There is no evidence that Hitler and top Nazis only endorsed Christianity for public consumption. Private remarks on religion and Christianity were the same as public remarks, indicating that they believed what they said and intended to act as they claimed. The few Nazis who endorsed paganism did so publicly, without official support.
Adolf Hitler, Nazism, and the Problem of Christian Nationalism

Traditional evaluation of Christian complicity in the Holocaust and other Nazi crimes focuses on the degree to which Christians allowed themselves to be used for Nazi purposes, but this presupposes a distinction between Nazis and Christians which didn’t exist. Christians actively supported the Nazi agenda. Most Nazis were devout Christians and believed that Nazi philosophy was animated by Christian doctrine. Christians today find it implausible that their religion could have anything in common with Nazism, but they need to recognize that Christianity — including their own — is always conditioned by the culture around it. For Germans at the beginning of the 20th century, Christianity was often profoundly anti-Semitic and nationalistic. This was the same ground which the Nazis found so fertile for their own ideology — it would have been amazing had the two systems not found much in common and been unable to work together.

Nazi Christians didn’t abandon basic Christian doctrines, like the divinity of Jesus. Their oddest religious belief was a denial of the Jewishness of Jesus, but even today there are Christians in Germany who object when Jesus’ Jewishness is focused upon. Nazi Christians didn’t follow an idiosyncratic version of Christianity nor was it “infected” with hate and nationalism. Everything about Nazi Christianity already existed in German Christianity before the Nazis came on the scene.
The actions of Hitler and the Nazis were as “Christian” as those of people during the Crusades or the Inquisition. Some leading Nazis preferred a neo-pagan theistic religion over Christianity, but this was never officially endorsed by the Nazi Party or by Adolf Hitler. Christians may not like seeing Nazism as having anything to do with Christianity, but Germany saw itself as a fundamentally Christian nation and millions of Christians in Germany enthusiastically endorsed Hitler and the Nazi Party, in part because they saw both as embodiments of German and Christian ideals.

The relationship between Christianity and Nazism has long been a subject of debate. On the one hand, the principles of Christianity would seem to be opposed to Nazism and should cause Christians to fight it; on the other hand, millions of German Christians went along with Nazism and some even cooperated eagerly. What happened?

In fact, not all Christians in Germany actually believed that Nazism and Christianity contradicted one another. Many did, it is true, and many top Nazis also believed the two to be incompatible. There was, however, a large and committed group of Christians who regarded Nazi ideology as something of a modern fulfillment of Christian expectations. How and why this was so is the subject of Doris L. Bergen‘s fascinating book Twisted Cross: The German Christian Movement in the Third Reich.
Associate Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Bergen focuses on the “German Christians,” a movement of over a half million Germans all over the country who held key positions in the government or Protestant churches. They influenced the course of German policy as well as the development of Christian education and ministry within Germany, attempting to blend Nazism and Christianity into a unified whole.

How and why this occurred is a vital question that should be of great concern to religious believers generally and Christians in particular. As Bergen asks early on, “What is the value of religion, and in particular of Christianity, if it provides no defense against brutality and can even become a willing participant in genocide?” In fact, as Bergen herself explains, Christianity has always been a willing participant in the affairs of state, assisting those with power:

“The history of Christianity could be seen as a series of...accommodations and mergers, involving groups as divergent as the Roman imperial elites and the indigenous peoples of the Americas.”

Twisted Cross: The German Christian Movement in the Third Reich

It was not, however, a movement driven by a desire for personal, political, or social advancement. Because many Nazis leaders were contemptuous of the Christianity of the day, they did not always harbor positive feelings towards the German Christian movement. People who sought advancement could find a much easier route without promoting their connections to a Protestant church; those who did, did so out of devotion to a cause and a conviction about the righteousness of their goals.

How did they try to unite Christianity with Nazism?

First and perhaps most important, the German Christians strove to redefine the very nature of the Christian church itself. Instead of a universal community of believers, the idea of the Christian church was transformed so that it was partially dependent upon German notions of race and ethnicity — thus, the church became an expression not only of Christian doctrine but also German culture:

“The German Christian believed that God revealed himself to humanity not only in Scripture and through Jesus but in nature and history. Together the German Christian view of race, the visible versus invisible church, and revelation formed a mutually reinforcing system. By separating the earthly church from the universal community of believers, German Christians freed that church from any obligation to universality. By allowing for God’s revelation through nature, they could claim race was sanctified, part of a divine plan for human life.”

“[Within the people’s church, the German Christians] foresaw a hierarchy based on gender. The people’s church, German Christians insisted, would be a “manly” church that enshrined and promoted masculine qualities. With that stance, German Christians both expressed their view of proper gender relations and responded to attacks from denigrators. Nazi and neopagan critics accused Christianity of preaching weakness, humility, and defeatism, feminine traits antithetical to National Socialist values. In their efforts to defend against those charges, German Christians showed how they shared the principles of their attackers. True Christianity, they argued, was not feminine and weak but manly and hard.”

As disturbing as all of that might sound to the average Christian in America, even more disturbing should be just how similar the above sounds to what some American Christians promote. The second paragraph, describing the emphasis on a masculine Christianity ruled by men, has too many parallels in modern American Christianity to count.

The first paragraph contains equally disturbing parallels with American Christians who argue that God is revealed in American history: America is the shining city on the hill, the instrument of God’s will for the world, and as a consequence American Christianity is uniquely situated to bring God’s message to the world. The connections between hyper-nationalism and religion run very deep.
Although it is true that many important Nazis looked down upon attempts to fuse Christianity and Nazism, that doesn’t change the fact that they relied heavily on the help of German Christians. Nazi society was a racialized society: everything turned on what race you were, Aryan, non-Aryan, Jew, etc. This, however, required it to be known who was who, and that information was willingly supplied by German Christians who turned over baptism records so that the state could discover who was baptized when and how far back any Jewish blood might reach. The German Christian, then, helped make genocide possible.

http://0.tqn.com/d/atheism/1/G/D/W/bk_TwistedCross.gif (http://0.tqn.com/d/atheism/1/0/D/W/bk_TwistedCross.gif)Twisted Cross: The German Christian Movement in the Third Reich

And what happened after the war? Not all Christians in Germany were “German Christians” and after the war there were efforts to rebuild, not just the physical structures of society but also the spiritual structures of the church — with mixed results. There were certainly attempts to de-Nazify the pulpit, but the German Christians themselves were hardly apologetic: “After the demise of National Socialism, German Christians did not necessarily abandon their old ideas, but they restated those notions in the forms of self-justification and denial.”

Bergen‘s work provides very important insights into both the history of Nazi Germany as well as the nature of Christianity itself. There can’t be any question that Christians in Germany not only aided Nazism, but did so out of their religious convictions. Christianity, or any religion for that matter, is not inherently incompatible with great evils like those of Nazism. People who imagine themselves inoculated against evil because they are religious are not only fooling themselves, they’re actually leaving themselves open to committing crimes of their own.