Demonizing the Jews: Luther and the Protestant Church in Nazi Germany
This innovative new work demonstrates that a significant minority of pastors, bishops, and theologians of varying theological and church-political persuasions utilized Martin Luther’s writings about Jews and Judaism with considerable effectiveness to reinforce the anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism already present in substantial degrees among Protestants in Nazi Germany.
Scholarship on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust has typically viewed anti-Semitism as a modern, racially-based phenomenon. Anti-Judaism, on the other hand, has regularly been regarded as a pre-modern, religiously-based hatred of Jews. In this book, Christopher J. Probst, demonstrates that anti-Semitism pre-dates the modern era and anti-Judaism survived into and flourished during the Nazi era.
Following historian Gavin Langmuir, Probst argues that the traditional distinction between anti-Judaism as "theological" hostility and anti-Semitism as "racial" animus is not empirically demonstrable and thus should be abandoned. Instead, it is irrational thought that characterizes anti-Semitism; nonrational (symbolic) thought, the kind found in art and affirmations of belief, characterizes anti-Judaism. This schema helps us to comprehend with greater clarity how the nature of theological discourse shaped German Protestant approaches to the "Jewish Question."
The carefully situated case studies presented in the book demonstrate that a significant minority of pastors, bishops, and theologians of varying theological and church-political persuasions utilized Luther’s writings about Jews and Judaism with considerable effectiveness to reinforce the cultural anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism already present in significant degrees among Protestants in Nazi Germany.
With material from Luther’s writings forming an important part of their intellectual arsenal, many German Protestant theologians and clergy seized upon old ideas and overlaid them with more up-to-date connotations. Such anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism thus circulated widely through the largest theological confession in Germany. Thousands had access to such potent literature, much of which contained material that resembled Nazi ideology aimed at dehumanizing Jews, who died by the millions in Hitler’s Third Reich.