Where did Nazis get their Nasty Ideas?

Priests salute Hitler at a Catholic youth rally in the Berlin-Neukölln stadium in August 1933.

If you believe Catholic Church leaders, you might easily imagine that the Nazis were a confederation of atheists and neo-pagans who forced their views on an unwilling populace. Catholic and Protestants alike fought bravely against their wicked ideas, often suffering martyrdom for their resistance.

The truth of course is very different. The Nazis were 95% Christian from top to bottom (99% if you include Deists) roughly one-third Catholic and two-thirds Protestant. The one influential exception was Himmler, who promoted neo-pagan ideas that were extremely unpopular with his Christian colleagues, and whom Christian apologists love to portray as typical of the Nazi leadership. The truth is that the overwhelming majority of Nazis were Christian. The political leadership, the generals, the SS, the Gestapo, the soldiers and sailors, the guards in the death Camps, the people who organized and carried out mass killings – all were overwhelmingly Christian. And of course 100% of Death Camp chaplains were Christian.

The close connection between Christian and Nazi ideas is highlighted by the fact that Christians Churches and the Nazis persecuted exactly the same groups: Jews, Romanies, homosexuals, religious dissenters, and political enemies. The best known, and largest of these groups, were the Jews. Anti-Semitism was an aspect of traditional Christianity that the Nazis embraced with particular enthusiasm.

Before the war Hitler had boasted to Bishop Berning of Osnabrüch that he would do nothing that the Church had not been doing for fifteen hundred years. And he kept his word. Below is a list of traditional Christians ideas and practices that Hitler’s Nazis copied from the Church:

  • Public humiliation of Jews
  • Yellow patches, the wearing of which was compulsory as a badge of shame
  • Forcing Jews to live in Ghettos – the word and the idea were both invented by the Catholic Church
  • Caricaturing Jews as rapacious and as dirty, disease-carrying, treacherous vermin
  • Civil disabilities, restricting marriage, property rights and public office
  • Anti-Semitic legislation (for example restricting guild memberships and occupations available to Jews). Some of the anti-Semitic Nazi legislation was copied directly from Catholic Church legislation.
  • The concept of favoured villages and towns being allowed to be Jüdenfrei (Free of Jews)
  • Orchestrating pogroms
  • Forced exile at the early stages of persecution.
  • Burning Jewish Books
  • Burning synagogues
  • Dispossession of property
  • Killing Jews, often en masse
  • Charging the families of executed Jews for the execution costs
  • The blood libel: encouraging the accusation that Jews sacrificed Christian children

In fact it is difficult to find any aspect of Nazi anti-Semitism that is not a direct copy of Church anti-Semitism. The Nazis merely industrialized what the Christian Church had been doing.

A couple of quotations to ram home the point:

“The Catholic Church considered the Jews pestilent for fifteen hundred years, put them in ghettos, etc, because it recognized the Jews for what they were …. I recognize the representatives of this race as pestilent for the state and for the Church …”
—Adolf Hitler, 26 April 1933

“Without centuries of Christian anti-Semitism, Hitler’s passionate hatred would never have been so fervently echoed.”
—Robert Runcie (1921-2000), Archbishop of Canterbury (1980-1991)

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