shocking story has been revealed: Adolf Hitler was not a Christian
after all. Instead, he hoped to destroy Christianity. This news
flash comes courtesy of a group of students at Rutgers University
School of Law at Camden, who have posted
papers on a website detailing Hitler's desire to eradicate Christianity.
The documents are from the archives of Gen. William J. Donovan and
were originally prepared for the International Military Tribunal
at Nuremberg, so we can safely assume they are authentic.
To be sure,
Hitler's antagonism toward Christianity will not be news to everyone.
That its central figure hails from a Jewish family did not set well
with him, and its teachings of universal love ran contrary to his
violent precepts. Yet one could easily get the impression, these
days, that Hitler believed himself to be something of an altar boy
on a mission for God.
project's editor, for example, seems to have been taken a bit by
surprise. Julie Seltzer Mandel told the Philadelphia Enquirer
that "When people think about the Holocaust, they think about
the crimes against Jews, but here's a different perspective."
The Nazis, she says, "wanted to eliminate the Jews altogether,
but they were also looking to eliminate Christianity."
That will unsettle those who have been taught that Hitler was a
Christian of some stripe and indeed, by some accountings,
an enthusiastic Catholic. Bill Clinton, for example, said at the
1999 National Prayer Breakfast that "I do believe that even
though Adolf Hitler preached a perverted form of Christianity, God
did not want him to prevail." Meanwhile, at the United States
Memorial Holocaust Museum, a film portrayed Hitler as an overzealous
son of Rome. "Enter Adolf Hitler," the narrator intoned,
"Austrian born and baptized a Catholic." Hitler's mission:
"In defending myself against the Jews," he is quoted as
saying, "I am acting for the Lord. The difference between the
Church and me is that I am finishing the job."
That film was
altered after protests by, among others, conservative Jewish writers.
But the same message crops up elsewhere. Soon after the September
11 attacks, a spokeswoman for the Freedom From Religion organization
pronounced Hitler a Catholic. In 1999, Maureen Dowd included Hitler
as yet another Christian zealot. According to Dowd, "History
teaches that when religion is injected into politics the
Crusades, Henry VIII, Salem, Father Coughlin, Hitler, Kosovo
indeed a baptized Catholic, but his rejection of the faith was profound.
"My pedagogy is strict," he once explained. "I want
a powerful, masterly, cruel and fearless youth... There must be
nothing weak or tender about them. The freedom and dignity of the
wild beast must shine from their eyes... That is how I will root
out a thousand years of human domestication."
of course, was in large part due to the influence of Christianity.
Hitler was blunter still on other occasions. "It is through
the peasantry that we shall really be able to destroy Christianity,"
he said in 1933, "because there is in them a true religion
rooted in nature and blood." His countrymen would have to choose:
"One is either a Christian or a German. You can't be both."
Indeed, he understood all too well that Christianity, in the long
run, was his enemy. "Pure Christianity the Christianity
of the catacombs is concerned with translating the Christian
doctrine into fact. It leads simply to the annihilation of mankind.
It is merely wholehearted Bolshevism, under a tinsel of metaphysics."
Switch a few words around and you'd think you were listening to
Joseph Stalin. And like Stalin, Hitler believed history was on his
side: "Do you really believe the masses will ever be Christian
again? Nonsense. Never again. The tale is finished... but we can
hasten matters. The parsons will be made to dig their own graves."
was to come true in a frightful number of cases. Polish Christians
felt the full force of the persecution, as historian John Morley
reminds us. "In Poland, both Jews and Christians were objects
of Nazi oppression and manipulation." The clergy were a chief
target: "In West Prussia, out of 690 parish priests, at least
two-thirds were arrested, and the remainder escaped only by fleeing
from their parishes. After a month's imprisonment, no less than
214 of these priests were executed... by the end of 1940 only twenty
priests were left in their parishes about three percent of
the number of parish priests in the pre-war era." The toll
of murdered Polish priests would rise into the thousands; their
Protestant counterparts (though a much smaller group) fared no better,
with many members of the clergy perishing in the camps.
The Rutgers site's presentation is entitled "The Nazi Master
Plan: The Persecution of the Christian Churches," and it notes
a deep hatred of Christianity throughout the higher echelons. "Important
leaders of the National Socialist party would have liked to meet
this situation [church influence] by complete extirpation of Christianity
and the substitution of a purely racial religion." Their assault
was massive: "Different steps in that persecution, such as
the campaign for the suppression of denominational and youth organizations,
the campaign against denominational schools, the defamation campaign
against the clergy, started on the same day in the whole area of
the Reich... and were supported by the entire regimented press,
by Nazi Party meetings, by traveling party speakers."
None of which
is to suggest that Christians were uniformly opposed to Hitler,
or that some did not actually embrace the Reich. The lesson from
Rutgers, however, is that Hitler was no altar boy, acting on behalf
of the Christian faith. Indeed, his hope was to be its undertaker
which was another of his profound miscalculations, and should
not be forgotten today.