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Antisemitism: Special Two-Part Presentation Browse

Robert P. Ericksen: Theologians

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Transcript

When Hitler came to power, German theologians largely accepted, in fact, enthusiastically accepted, the rise of Hitler, as did most of the Protestant church leaders. They were almost all nationalistic conservatives, who were against democracy as a liberal invention, who resented World War I and the defeat of Germany, who believed that Germany had every right to build up its strength and its military ability to take back what was rightfully German. And although they may not have admired Hitler, and thought of him as crude, I think, they believed that Hitler was the person best suited to lead Germany to that new strength. Now in addition to that, we get to the question of Jews, and those German theologians almost all accepted the basic Christian position that Jews were being punished by God, that they had made mistakes, that everything which happened to them that was negative they deserved, and that furthermore there was a Judenfrage in Germany, a Jewish question in which Jews were threatening true German culture by being too leftist, by being culturally avant-garde, by questioning the traditional values of Germany, by advocating democracy, because of course that was a good thing for Jews who suddenly had representation under the values of democracy that were introduced in the Weimar Republic. So in all those ways those German theologians were prepared to oppose Jews and accept the Nazi ideology that opposed Jews. The extraordinary range of antisemitic stereotypes that Gerhard Kittel, a major Christian theologian, applied toward Jews, was simply part of that Protestant world in the 1930s and 1940s, and I can only assume that the pastors who studied under Gerhard Kittel and others of his like and went to teach and preach in their congregations, preached a message that was very hostile to Jews and essentially willing to accept a harsh treatment of Jews because after all, Jews were a problem, and they had brought it on themselves.

—Robert P. Ericksen

Professor of History, Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, Washington; 2003 Charles H. Revson Fellow, Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, USHMM; Member, Committee on Church Relations and the Holocaust, USHMC

"When Hitler came to power, German theologians largely accepted, in fact, enthusiastically accepted, the rise of Hitler, as did most of the Protestant church leaders"