Thursday, June 4, 2009

Ten righteous men

This morning Cranach refers me to some reflections about Christianity and the Nazis. It is widely believed that the Nazi genocide of the Jews was a result of Christian anti-Semitism. There is no doubt that religious anti-Semitism prepared the way, and that many of those who engaged in and collaborated with the Holocaust were influenced by that perversion of Christian doctrine. But just as important, and for the Nazi ideologues much more important, was an anti-Christian paganism combined with pseudo-scientific ideas about race, resulting not only in the persecution and murder of those "races" considered inferior or evil, but also those "Aryans" who were "useless" — the handicapped, insane, or mentally retarded. At the center of of the Nazi racial project were the SS, commanded by Heinrich Himmler. Uwe Siemon-Netto:
“There’s no doubt about Himmler’s anticommunism and anti-Semitism; he wiped out both groups mercilessly,” writes historian Peter Longerich, “but basically he was much more engrossed with Christianity. The conflict with the Christian world, in which he grew up, was of truly existential significance to him.”

According to Longerich, Himmler considered it his life’s calling to coalesce the fight against Christians with his idea of resurrecting the lost world of (pagan) Germania. While anti-Semitism and anticommunism were core elements of Hitler’s entire National Socialist movement, de-Christianization linked to re-Germanization “was the quintessential task of the SS in Himmler’s mind,” Longerich writes in his 1,000-word tome (Longerich, Peter. Heinrich Himmler, Biographie. Munich: Siedler Verlag, 2008; 275).

.... Himmler saw Christianity as an “alien, Asiatic” imposition on the Germanic world. ....

Himmler too loathed the Christian virtue of neighborly love, Longerich reports: “The principle of Christian compassion stands in the way of his (Himmler’s) insistence on an uncompromising treatment of ‘sub-humans.’” Himmler strove to “replace Christian principles with Germanic virtues, such as toughness, as a precondition to persevere in the struggle against sub-humans and win the future.” He added, “We live in the era of the ultimate showdown with Christianity” (280).
These observations were inspired by Siemon-Netto's recent viewing of Valkyrie, the Tom Cruise film about the July 20 Plot led by Claus von Stauffenberg. I too recently watched it for the first time on DVD. Since I was a teenager I've read everything I could find about the German Resistance to Hitler and the Nazis, hoping to find something redemptive about that period of German history. The film tells one of those stories — the plot that came closest to success. Siemon-Netto notes that several of the conspirators were motivated by their faith and an unwillingness to tolerate the crimes of the regime:
“It was in reaction to reports about the mass murder of Jews…that Stauffenberg first mentioned the need for Hitler’s overthrow, that was in April of 1942,” historian Peter Hoffmann of McGill University in Montreal told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung; at about the same time, Gen. Henning von Tresckow argued that unless the military killed Hitler, “we ourselves will become accomplices” (in the murder of the Jews). Hoffmann, the premier specialist on the German Resistance, counseled Valkyrie scriptwriters McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander free of charge. ....

“Most of the men involved in the 1944 plot were committed Christians,” Smith College historian Klemens von Klemperer, another leading expert on the German resistance, told this writer more than two decades ago. Some were ardent Roman Catholics like Stauffenberg, others Protestants like Carl Goerdeler, whose self-proclaimed motto was omnia restaurare in Christo (restoring everything in Christ).

...Bryan Singer managed [to] drive home one significant point made by one of the plotters early in his film. In the book of Genesis, God promised to spare Sodom if ten righteous men were to be found in that depraved place (Genesis 1:32). Sodom could not come up with those ten righteous men; Germany did. This, to Singer’s credit, ... Valkyrie has made abundantly clear. ....
Update 6/5: In a short review of Richard J. Evans' The Third Reich at War, Albert Mohler provides this quotation about Hitler's attitude toward Christianity:
Hitler’s hostility to Christianity reached new heights, or depths, during the war. It was a frequent theme of his mealtime monologues. After the war was over and victory assured, he said in 1942, the Concordat he had signed with the Catholic Church in 1933 would be formally abrogated and the Church would be dealt with like any other non-Nazi voluntary association. The Third Reich ‘would not tolerate the intervention of any foreign influence’ such as the Pope, and the Papal Nuncio would eventually have to go back to Rome. Priests, he said, were ‘black bugs’, ‘abortions in cassocks’. Hitler emphasized again and again his belief that Nazism was a secular ideology founded on modern science. Science, he declared, would easily destroy the last remaining vestiges of superstition. ‘Put a small telescope in a village, and you destroy a world of superstitions.’ ‘The best thing,’ he declared on 14 October 1941, ‘is to let Christianity die a natural death. A slow death has something comforting about it. The dogma of Christianity gets worn away before the advances of science.’ He was particularly critical of what he saw as its violation of the law of natural selection and the survival of the fittest. ‘Taken to its logical extreme, Christianity would mean the systematic cultivation of human failure.’ It was indelibly Jewish in origin and character. ‘Christianity is a prototype of Bolshevism: the mobilization by the Jew of the masses of slaves with the object of undermining society.’ Christianity was a drug, a kind of sickness: ‘Let’s be the only people who are immunized against the disease.’ ‘In the long run,’ he concluded, ‘National Socialism and religion will no longer be able to exist together.’ He would not persecute the Churches: they would simply wither away. ‘But in that case we must not replace the Church by something equivalent. That would be terrifying!’ The future was Nazi, and the future would be secular.
The Center for Lutheran Theology and Public Life: Christian Charity, the Nazis’ Final Foe, Completely Portable Pleasure -- The Annual Summer Reading List

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