Holocaust Memorial Day – The exploitation of religion

Armaments Minster Albert Speer describes how Hitler considered the church as something “that could be useful to him” and “indispensable to political life”. (Speer 1970: p148 ) It appears he did not want the church replaced by any “party religion” and he was opposed to the alternative mysticism (that was popular amongst some Nazis) that might take its place. However the Christianity that Hitler wanted to preserve, was one that leant to adapt to the political goals of National Socialism” (p149).

Instead the Church tried to oppose his plans and the Nazi party and SS instructed his followers to leave the Church. But even then Hitler appeared to want to maintain some ties by ordering Goering and Goebels to remain, as he did himself until his death.

Joseph Goebbels stated that “National Socialism preserved [the churches] from the assault of atheists and Bolsheviks” (in Steigman-Gall: p124) but only so that they could be exploited to serve their purposes:

“Nazism represented a sustained assault on fundamental Christian values, regardless of ant tactical obeisance to the purchase it had on most Germans. Compassion, humility or love of one’s neighbour were dismissed as humanitarian weaknesses by an organisation which regarded hardness, sacrifice and self-overcoming as positive virtues. The fact that this list included some secondary Christian virtues is no contradiction, but merely indicative of how the SS usurped Christian forms and values, stripping them down for anti-Christian ends. For having discredited the ‘immoral’ or ‘politicised’ clergy, a more diffuse religiosity still had its uses. Himmler’s prohibition of atheism as a declared option for SS men left them with the alternatives of Catholic, Protestant or ‘believer in God (Gottglaubig). This was deliberate. Atheism signified an egotistical belief that man was the measure of all things, and hence a refusal to acknowledge higher powers. In a word, it constituted a potential source of indiscipline.”

Burleigh, Michael (2000) p196-7

In one 1933 speech Hitler said that “To do justice to God and our own conscience, we have turned once more to the German Volk.” In another he said: “We were convinced that the people need and require this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out.”

The NSDAP Party Program stated:

“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. It’s difficult to maintain that Nazi ideology was atheistic when it explicitly endorsed and promoted Christianity in the party platform.

Communism and traditional socialism were both intensely hated by the Nazi party which argued that, as atheistic and Jewish ideologies, they threatened the future of both German and Christian civilisation. In this, most Christians in Germany and elsewhere agreed and this explains much of the Nazis popular support. (About.com):

“There may have been a time when even parties founded on the ecclesiastical basis were a necessity. At that time Liberalism was opposed to the Church, while Marxism was anti-religious. But that time is past. National Socialism neither opposes the Church nor is it anti-religious, but on the contrary, it stands on the ground of a real Christianity.

“The Church’s interests cannot fail to coincide with ours alike in our fight against the symptoms of degeneracy in the world of to-day, in our fight against the Bolshevist culture, against an atheistic movement, against criminality, and in our struggle for the consciousness of a community in our national life, for the conquest of hatred and disunion between the classes, for the conquest of civil war and unrest, of strife and discord. These are not anti-Christian, these are Christian principles.”

(Adolf Hitler, in a speech delivered at Koblenz, August 26, 1934. )

“The advantages of a personal and political nature that might arise from compromising with atheistic organizations would not outweigh the consequences which would become apparent in the destruction of general moral basic values. The national government regards the two Christian confessions as the weightiest factors for the maintenance of our nationality: their rights are not to be infringed.”

( Adolf Hitler, in a speech at Reichstag, Berlin, March 23, 1933; published in his My New Order )


Burleigh, Michael (2000) The Third Reich: A New History. Pan Books: London

Speer, Albert (1970) Inside the Third Reich. Macmillan: London

Steigmann-Gall, Richard (2003) The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity 1939-45. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge

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