De-Nazification and the German Christian Movement: An Brief Case Study from the Archives

Although the de-Nazification of the German Protestant Churches in post-War Germany is an area that warrants ongoing research, much of the extant scholarly material demonstrates that the theologians and pastors associated with the pro-Nazi German Christian movement (s) tended to minimize their active complicity in the Nazi regime. This was made possible to a large extent through the Allied powers allowing the church to conduct internal de-Nazification proceedings that were not subject to excessive outside scrutiny.[1]

While the temptation to generalize German Christian responses to de-Nazification proceedings should be avoided, it is possible to discern recurring themes throughout primary source material documenting the “rehabilitation” of the Protestant church after 1945. Mirroring broader responses to de-Nazification as “allied propaganda” or “victors justice,” many former German Christians expressed a combination of responses from “rationalization to silence and denial.”[2] Even those who were not allied with the German Christians could view de-Nazification as a punitive exercise in virtue signalling that did not take sufficient account of contextual and individual variables. 

In archival research for my Ph.D., I uncovered a document from the Bayern Landeskirchliches Archiv that demonstrates this dynamic rather well. Although brief, it shows that even Church leaders not directly implicated in German Christian activity could still view the de-Nazification process with suspicion and cynicism. The document, dated 24 September 1947, takes the form of a letter from a pastor named Dr. Adolf Hardte from Ortenburg, Lower Bavaria. Dr. Hardte appears to be in a leadership position within the region, and he has been tasked with providing evidence to the Evangelical Lutheran State Council in Munich of an unnamed individual’s suspected involvement with the German Christians. 

Although offering to fully comply with the request for evidence (which has been “demanded upon him”), Hardte nevertheless speaks of a “spitefully incited general reopening” of the “unfortunate” wounds of the Kirchenkampf. Hardte also points out that although he will engage in the process, he will do so with a view to providing a robust range of contextual information that was “excusatory and thus exonerating.” The remaining half of the letter is a request for additional clarification and documentation from the Church Council (Landeskirchenrat). The requests made here potentially reflect Hardte’s suspicion that the attempt to purge the church of former German Christian associates had taken on the quality of a witch hunt.  He questions, for example, what evidence there was that the Ortenburg region had 105 German Christian members and asks for written copies of de-Nazification evidentiary documents to be sent to him for review. 

It is impossible to comment on the specific circumstances of the alleged German Christian mentioned in this document, as we only hear the voice of Dr. Hardte. It may well be that the individual in question played an incidental role in German Christian activity. It bears reminding that the German Christians were a diverse group, both territorially and theologically. Some who attached themselves to the movement in its early years later disavowed this association due to its theological excesses. As such, affiliation with the movement should not necessarily be seen as indicative of a given individual’s theological stance over time. What can be said is that Hardte response to the de-Nazification of the churches demonstrates two traits that were disturbingly common in the post: minimization and justification. 

[1] Susannah Heschel, The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 243-44. For case study in the self-regulated de-Nazification of  Protestant churches in Saxony-Anhalt, see Luke Fenwick, “The Protestant Churches in Saxony-Anhalt in the Shadow of the German Christian Movement and National Socialism, 1945–1949.” Church History 82 (2013): 877–903. 

[2] Doris L. Bergen, “Storm Troopers of Christ: The German Christian Movement and the Ecclesiastical Final Solution,” in Betrayal: German Churches and the Holocaust, ed. Robert P. Ericksen and Susannah Heschel (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999), 63. 

Document owned and held at Landeskirchliches Archiv der Evangelisch-Lutherischen Kirche in Bayern LAELKB, LKR 0.2.0003- 336.
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German Anti-Semitism in Context Part 6: Houston Stewart Chamberlain

This will be my final instalment for this series. Thanks for reading, and a special thanks to those who got in contact!

Houston Stewart Chamberlain represents an important link between the völkisch anti-Semitism of the late 19th century and the ideology of Hitler and the Nazi party. Chamberlain is unique, however, in the fact that he is the only author surveyed in this chapter who was not a native German. Chamberlain’s experiences living in various European countries lends his work an international perspective through which he espoused the alleged superiority of the Germanic race over and above all others. For Chamberlain, the Aryan race was “physically and spiritually pre-eminent amongst all peoples; for this reason, they are by right lords of the world.”[1] Unsurprisingly, the Jews were to blame for the rampant cultural and racial degradation of Europe, and Chamberlain dedicated his life’s work to the propagation of anti-Semitic racial theory and philosophy. Aside from the immediate influence of his writings in the context of the 19th century, Chamberlain would go on to become a member of the Nazi party and enjoy a personal relationship with Hitler.

Chamberlain’s upbringing was marked by frequent moves throughout Europe. He did not settle in Germany until he was in his mid-twenties. Born in England in 1855 to a naval family of noble extract, the first few years of Chamberlain’s life were marked by the tragic death of his mother, whereupon he was sent to live with his aunt, Harriet, in Versailles, France. The subsequent years of Chamberlain’s life witnessed a series of back-and-forth moves between England and France. Although his father desired a military career for his son, Chamberlain’s own disposition was marked by an interest in science and the arts rather than the strict world of military discipline.[2] Reflecting on his early educational experiences and his fascination for the beauty of the natural world, Chamberlain noted that:

The starlight exerted an indescribable influence on me. The stars seemed closer to me, gentler, more worthy of trust, and more sympathetic—for that is the only word which describes my feelings—than any of the people around me in school. For the stars, I experienced true friendship.[3]  

It was during these turbulent years that Chamberlain felt a growing sense of isolation from English culture and society more broadly. He wrote that he had become “so completely un-English that the mere thought of England and the English makes me unhappy.”[4] Chamberlain’s growing disenchantment with the industrialisation process sweeping through Europe created an intellectual vacuum through which he became receptive to ideas that proposed solutions to the spiritual decline of the West. Chamberlain gave sustained expression to his discontent in 1895, when he diagnosed the “great armies of railways and newspapers” as divorcing humanity from its spiritual roots.[5] At this time Chamberlain became deeply influenced by the romantic critique of the industrial revolution and bemoaned the impacts of urbanisation, cultural homogenisation, and greed.[6] These anti-liberal views, though subtle in origin and slow in forming, were greatly enhanced by Chamberlain’s travels throughout Europe, in which he witnessed the impacts of industrial society first-hand.

Chamberlain’s anti-Semitic theories developed throughout his years spent in Geneva, where he studied under the scientist and racial theorist Carl Vogt. An outspoken critic of the British statesman Benjamin Disraeli, Chamberlain ascribed to Disraeli the introduction of “selfish class interest” into Britain.[7] As a result of Disraeli’s legitimisation of greed, Britain became marked by economic and social injustice. In a letter written to his family in 1881, Chamberlain complained of the extortionary Irish Land Bill as being formulated by “blood-sucking Jews”[8]—an early indication of the anti-Semitic rhetoric to come. The most decisive moment in Chamberlain’s philosophical development, however, came when he was exposed to the music of Richard Wagner. Chamberlain’s exposure to the demigod of German composers had the quality of a religious conversion and served to reorient Chamberlain’s future direction drastically.[9] In determining that the nation which produced Wagner was transparently superior to all others, Chamberlain became immersed in the world of German culture, language, and history. In a fervour of zealous enthusiasm for Wagner, Chamberlain founded the first Wagner society in Paris, but eventually left the French capital to live in Dresden.[10]

During his time in Dresden Chamberlain developed his philosophical writing, which was heavily inspired by the völkischideas of the day. His written works from this period include an in-depth treatment of the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and various philosophical treatises on the Aryan worldview.[11] Due to the influence of völkisch ideology, Chamberlain’s anti-Semitism grew steadily more pronounced during this time, as is exemplified in various letters to his family.[12]Another important step in the strengthening of Chamberlain’s völkisch convictions came when he was introduced to Cosima Wagner, who would in time consider the English-born Chamberlain as her surrogate son.[13] When Chamberlain eventually married Wagner’s daughter, his adoption into the esteemed circles of German culture was complete.

Chamberlain’s most important and enduring publication is the two volume 1899 text, The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century.[14] An eclectic work, Foundations traversed vast topical territory and subject matter, including forays into religion, the arts, politics, and history. One of the most distinct features of the work, however, was Chamberlain’s attempt to legitimise his own racial theories from a scientific perspective. Gutteridge details this aspect of Chamberlain’s argument and describes his use of various anthropological and biological arguments to convince readers that his own racist views were merely an expression of concrete scientific findings.[15] These theories were framed within the overarching narrative of Germany’s inexorable march forward toward a glorious future—a conviction which Chamberlain conveyed in a letter to Wilhelm II. “The future progress of mankind,” wrote Chamberlain, “depends on a powerful Germany extending far across the earth.”[16] Chamberlain’s support of German expansion was fuelled by an unleashed anti-Semitism, which was given new and forceful expression in the Foundations:

One does not need to have the authentic Hittite nose to be a Jew; the term Jew rather denotes a special way of thinking and feeling. A man can very soon become a Jew without being an Israelite; often it needs only to have frequent intercourse with Jews, to read Jewish newspapers, to accustom himself to Jewish philosophy, literature and art. On the other hand, it is senseless to call an Israelite a ‘Jew’, though his descent is beyond question, if he has succeeded in throwing off the fetters of Ezra and Nehemiah, and if the law of Moses has no place in his brain, and contempt of others no place in his heart.[17]

Such sentiments are representative of an emerging view of the Jews which understood “Jewishness” as an inherently spiritual “condition” which led to damaging character traits. Elsewhere in the Foundations Chamberlain appears to summarise his entire anti-Semitic outlook when he writes that “their existence is sin; their existence is a crime against the holy laws of life.”[18]

One might reasonably deduce that Chamberlain represented the type of anti-Semitism demonstrated by people like Dühring, especially in regard to Dühring’s dismissal of any possibility of Jewish conversion.[19] Yet despite the dismissive nature of Chamberlain’s vitriol, the door was left open, at least in a theoretical sense, for the Jew to become fully German.[20] In this respect, the theoretical framework of Chamberlain’s anti-Semitism more closely resembles that of Stoecker, who considered the conversion of Jews to be the ideal response to the Judenfrage.[21] It is noteworthy also that the Foundations contained theological arguments which were reflective of the way which the Aryan race was held to be sacred and God-ordained, while the Jews were demonic in nature. The Jewish “mission” to the world was therefore a manifestation of the will of Satan and was ultimately an attempt to control and defile the sacred Aryan race. Chamberlain, who claimed to be a believer in Jesus, also pre-empted the work of Nazi theologians in understanding Christ as being of non-Jewish extraction. Chamberlain’s thoughts on this topic are worth quoting, as his arguments concerning the racial origins of Jesus would resurface in the work of Nazi theologians:

Whoever makes the assertion that Christ was a Jew is either ignorant or insincere: ignorant when he confuses religion and race, insincere when he knows the history of Galilee and partly conceals, partly distorts the very entangled facts in favour of his religious prejudices or, it may be, to curry favour with the Jews. The probability that Christ was no Jew, that he had not a drop of genuinely Jewish blood in his veins was so great, that it was almost equivalent to a certainty.[22]

Chamberlain’s attempt to re-cast Christ as non-racial Jew was motivated by his core belief that the Jews were racially inferior and could therefore have no legitimate place in the foundations of pure Christianity.[23] Further evidence of Christ’s non-Jewish nature was to be found in his moral and ethical values, which Chamberlain perceived as reflecting an Aryan spirit. Christ’s ministry and personal character displayed a commitment to love, honour, compassion, and, most importantly, a complete absence of the materialism which was felt to reflect a fundamental character trait of the Jews.[24] The logical conclusion of Chamberlain’s assessment of the roots of the Christian faith was that genuine, German Christianity was founded on the revolutionary work of a de-Judaized Jesus. From a biblical perspective, this still left the problem of what to do about the apostle Paul. Pre-empting the work of Deutsche Christen theologians such as Walter Grundmann, Chamberlain attempted to explain the problem of the Jewish Paul by appealing to the apostle’s internally conflicted nature. After categorically denying that Paul was biologically a Jew,[25] Chamberlain described Paul’s inner life as a war between two souls: Jewish and non-Jewish.[26] Paul’s internal struggle between these warring souls could be seen as the paradigmatic struggle facing German Christianity in its attempts to cast off the exploitative and corrupt influence of Judaism.

Chamberlain’s direct influence on the Nazi party is significant, and his relationship with the Nazi leadership must be considered here. Like many Germans of the interwar era, Chamberlain was utterly devastated by the defeat of Germany in the First World War. Chamberlain blamed the catastrophic defeat on the backstabbing influence of international Judaism, and henceforth described the German nation as existing under the “supremacy of the Jews.”[27] In the early days of the Nazi party, Chamberlain observed a true leader of the people who had the fortitude and skill necessary to redeem Germany.[28] Chamberlain’s respect for the future dictator was returned in kind, with Hitler claiming to have been influenced by Chamberlain’s Foundations and wartime essays.[29] Chamberlain and Hitler were also united through their shared admiration of Richard Wagner, who provided much of the raw aesthetic and mythological material which was to be appropriated by the Nazi party.[30] A more explicit example of Chamberlain’s influence is found in the conversion experience of future Minister for Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, who agreed with Chamberlain’s assessment that the only way in which Germany could be saved was through the removal of the Jews.[31] During these interwar years Chamberlain maintained constant correspondence with influential figures in the German political and intellectual life, including Theodor Fritsch and the exiled Kaiser Wilhelm II. In 1923, Chamberlain was afforded the opportunity to meet with Hitler personally and was subsequently at Hitler’s side during the “German Day” celebrations in Bayreuth. Chamberlain’s personal endorsement of Hitler is reflected in a letter to the NSDAP leader, in which he attests to the deep affinity he felt with the Nazi cause.[32] Chamberlain’s support of Hitler and the Nazi party was a significant victory for the political newcomers in their attempts to solidify their own reputation amongst a cynical populace.

Chamberlain’s intellectual legacy and direct influence on Nazi ideology make him a particularly potent example of the link between 19th century anti-Semitic writers and the eventual legitimization of the Nazi party and its racial and ideological agenda. The Foundations was extremely important in formulating the notion of a non-Jewish Jesus and the racial inferiority of the Jews. Such an approach to theological revisionism would find its ultimate expression in the work of Grundmann and the Institute for the Elimination of Jewish Influence on German Church Life between 1939 and 1945. Chamberlain’s emphasis on race and biological theory is a clear forerunner of work undertaken in the sphere of Nazi eugenics, particularly in relation to the evolutionary motif of a “struggle for existence.”[33] The immediate and long-term impact of the Foundations, therefore, is itself enough to make Chamberlain the most important figure in forging a bond between 19th century anti-Semitic writers and the emergence of völkisch nationalism in the interwar years.

Because there are clear ties between Chamberlain and Hitler, the temptation is to fall into the trap of an irrevocable link the two distinct eras of anti-Semitic activity. Yet this would be too simplistic a view in respect to the apparent decline of anti-Semitic feeling in the opening years of the 20th century. Gutteridge acknowledges a change in general feeling toward the Jews in the first decade of the new century and suggests that by 1910 the full assimilation of the Jews within German society was a distinct possibility.[34] At the very least, such historical trends defy recourse to a simplistic continuity between the eras. In addition, Chamberlain’s influence on Hitler and the Nazis must be seen through the broader trend of Nazi cultural appropriation, in which National Socialist ideologues actively sought to co-opt key figures of European intellectual and cultural history, with the sole purpose of strengthening their own appeal amongst German citizens.[35] In the final analysis, however, Chamberlain’s influence on specific Nazi-era concepts (e.g., the non-Jewish Jesus; the racial inferiority of the Jews) is undeniable, and this influence was supplemented through a personal relationship with Hitler which further solidified the perception that Nazism was perfecting the unrealised aims of 19th century anti-Semitism. For this reason, Chamberlain is unique amongst the authors surveyed in this chapter.


[1] See Houston Stewart Chamberlain, The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, trans. J. Lees, 2 vols. (London: John Lane, 1911), 1:542. 

[2] For a detailed biographical treatment of Chamberlain, see Lord Redesdale’s introduction to Chamberlain, Foundations, 1911.

[3] As quoted in Geoffrey G. Field, Evangelist of Race: The Germanic Vision of Houston Stewart Chamberlain (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981), 24.

[4] Field, Evangelist of Race, 32.

[5] Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Richard Wagner, trans. G. Ainslie Hight (London: J.M. Dent, 1900), 20.

[6] See George L. Mosses’s introduction to the 1968 edition of Houston Stewart Chamberlain, The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, trans. J. Lees, 2 vols. (New York: Howard Fertig, 1968).

[7] Field, Evangelist of Race, 80.

[8] Field, Evangelist of Race, 79.

[9] See Ian Buruma, Anglomania: A European Love Affair (New York: Vintage, 2000), 219.

[10] Wagner’s biographer John Chancellor would describe Chamberlain as an “evil intellectual genius” whose death in 1927 freed allowed the Bayreuth establishment to pursue a more liberal path. John Chancellor, Wagner (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1978), 283.

[11] See Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Immanuel Kant: Die Persönlichkeit als Einführung in das Werk (München: Bruckmann, 1905); cf. Arische Weltanschauung (München: Bruckmann, 1905).

[12] Field, Evangelist of Race, 90.

[13] Field, Evangelist of Race, 79; cf. Michael Biddiss, “History as Destiny: Gobineau, H.S. Chamberlain and Spengler,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 7 (1997): 80.  

[14] References in this thesis are taken from the 1911 English translation.

[15] See Gutteridge, Open Thy Mouth, 22–23.

[16] Field, Evangelist of Race, 360; cf. Konrad Heiden: Der Führer (London: Gollancz, 1945), 194.  

[17] See Houston Stewart Chamberlain, The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, 2 vols. (Munich: Bruckmann, 1906), 1:544–45, 574.

[18] See Houston Stewart Chamberlain, The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, 2 vols. (London: Lane, 1910), 1:391–92.

[19] Dühring had testified to the alleged corruption of Jewish character, describing it as “quite inflexible and self-seeking, the basest of cruelty, absolute shameless sensuality and most impudent hypocrisy” (Eugen Dühring, Der Ersatz der Religion durch Vollkommeneres und die Auscheidung alles Judentums durch den modernen Völkergeist [Karlsruhe: Reuther, 1883], 23).

[20] Steven E. Aschheim described Chamberlain as “humanizing” the Jew and allowing the possibility of the Jew to transcend his own Jewishness through immersion in German culture (Culture and Catastrophe: German and Jewish Confrontations with National Socialism and Other Crises [New York: New York University Press, 1996], 58–59).

[21] Adolf Stoecker considered himself to be advocating for a “mighty and irresistible mission to both the orthodox and the modern Jews” (Christlich-Sozial, 382).

[22] Chamberlain, Foundations, 1:211–12.

[23] See Susannah Heschel, “Was Jesus an Aryan? The Protestant Church and Anti-Semitic Propaganda,” in Betrayal: German Churches and the Holocaust, ed. Robert P. Ericksen and Susannah Heschel (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999), 77. 

[24] See George Lachmann Mosse, Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism (New York: Harper and Row, 1980), 106.

[25] Chamberlain, Foundations, 2:57.

[26] Gutteridge, Open Thy Mouth, 24.

[27] Field, Evangelist of Race, 401.

[28] Field, Evangelist of Race, 422.

[29] See Ian Kershaw, Hitler — 1889–1936: Hubris (New York: Norton, 1998), 151; cf. Field, Evangelist of Race, 452. 

[30] On the crucial role of Wagner’s aesthetics on the formation of Nazi ideology, see Hans Rudolf Vaget, “Wagnerian Self Fashioning: The Case of Adolf Hitler,” New German Critique 101 (2007): 95–114. 

[31] Richard J. Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich (London: Penguin, 2005), 204.

[32] William L. Shirer describes Chamberlain’s initial meeting with Hitler, in which the “hypnotic magnetism” of Hitler’s personality confirmed to the ageing philosopher the great destiny awaiting Germany under the leadership of the emerging Austrian politician. See William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (London: Arrow, 1998), 109. 

[33] On Chamberlain’s contribution to genetic and racial theory, and its subsequent influence on the Nazis, see Robert J. Richards, Was Hitler a Darwinian? Disputed Questions in the History of Evolutionary Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), 16–28.

[34] See Gutteridge, Open Thy Mouth, 26.

[35] The Nazi appropriation of English playwright William Shakespeare is a curious example of the lengths the Nazis would go to validate and normalise its own ideology. See Rodney Symington, The Nazi Appropriation of Shakespeare: Cultural Politics in the Third Reich (Lewiston: Edward Mellen, 2005).

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German Anti-Semitism in Context Part 5: Theodor Fritsch

In his analysis of Theodor Fritsch’s anti-Semitism, the historian Reginald Phelps makes the claim that the German politician and influential publisher was the most important anti-Semite before Hitler.[1] In this assessment Phelps is in general agreement with the majority of the extant literature, which identifies Fritsch as a key figure within the anti-Semitism of the late 19th century as well as a figurehead for the development of National Socialism.[2] Moshe Zimmermann refers to Fritsch as a “herald” of antisemitism in advance of Hitler, while Gutteridge notes that Fritsch was revered as a “supreme authority” by the Nazis.[3] Fritsch’s contributions to the politics of anti-Semitism are crucial for their practical import. His writings reveal a distinct preoccupation with blending theory with praxis—a point observed in the introduction to a 1934 edition of Fritsch’s Handbook on the Jewish Question.[4]  

Fritsch was born in the small Saxon village of Wiesenena on 28 October 1852. After leaving school, Fritsch completed an apprenticeship in casting and machine building, followed by extensive formal studies in the field of milling technology. Upon graduating Fritsch gained employment in Berlin as a technician and engineer. Displaying an early political drive and entrepreneurial spirit, Fritsch founded the Deutscher Müllerbund (German Miller’s League), which led to the establishment of a publishing house specialising in technical information related to the milling industry. As a member of these industrial associations Fritsch cultivated his own anti-Semitic views, using his influence to promote a discussion forum dealing with questions relating to the Jews. Seeking to extend the forum’s influence, Fritsch invited both de Lagarde and Friedrich Nietzsche to help increase the profile of the so-called Anti-Semitic Correspondence network. De Lagarde, unsurprisingly, expressed sympathy with the aims of the network, but in his approach of Nietzsche Fritsch miscalculated the great philosopher’s ambiguity toward the Jewish question.[5] Nietzsche’s response personally mocked Fritsch, de Lagarde, and their brand of virulent ant-Semitism:

These constant, absurd falsifications and rationalizations of vague concepts “germanic,” “semitic,” “aryan,” “Christian,” “German” — all of that could in the long run cause me to lose my temper and bring me out of the ironic benevolence with which I have hitherto observed the virtuous velleities and pharisaisms of modern Germans.[6]  

Undeterred, Fritsch went on to establish another publishing house—the Hammer-Verlag—whose sole purpose was the dissemination of anti-Semitic literature. Amongst the output of the Hammer-Verlag was a journal titled “The Hammer: Pages for German Common Sense.” The journal offered Fritsch a chance to share his views about the Jews, and although he sought out contributions by other anti-Semites of the day, by the 1920s he was the journal’s primary author.[7] Throughout this time Fritsch maintained frequent personal correspondence with friends and ideological sympathisers. Fritsch’s letters to fellow anti-Semitic publicist Wilhelm Marr sheds important light on his views about Judaism, the future of the anti-Semitic movement, and potential solutions to the Judenfrage. Of his anti-Semitic vision, Fritsch explains that he is “looking tirelessly for a lever with which to overturn the Jewish world.”[8] He continues by suggesting that the ultimate goal was not limited to dealing with the Judenfrage in Germany, but that it should be considered a question of universal importance:

The Jews are nowadays an object of envy for the majority of the people. Only when anti-Semitism achieves a resounding success will the whole world become anti-Semitic too, out of deep persuasion.[9]  

The disunity and mutual distrust amongst the many and varied anti-Semitic groups operating in Germany at the time was considered by Fritsch to be the most significant obstacle needing to be overcome if there was to be an effective solution to the Judenfrage:

Our poor and divided Anti-Semitic Party has lost so much face because of the disunity of its “leaders” who threw mud at each other. That has also caused doubts and mistrust from within, so that a new step along these lines will perhaps finish the party off.[10]

Fritsch’s political vision, therefore, sought to unite the disparate anti-Semitic groups within Germany under a single collective banner. To further this vision, he tried (and failed) to secure a seat in the Reichstag through his membership in the Anti-Semitic People’s Party. Despite these attempts at creating unity, leadership struggles still marred the effectiveness of the party. An ongoing rivalry with Otto Böckel resulted in a complex organisational structure which saw Böckel confined to leadership within his own state of Hesse, while on a national level a newly formed German Anti-Semitic Association (Deutsche Antisemitische Vereinigung) operated in-line with Fritsch’s desire to unite all common political groups operating in Germany at the time.

Fritsch’s activism had significant personal consequences by way of arrests for spreading blasphemy and hate speech. These charges were directly related to Fritsch’s extreme position on the place of the Old Testament within Christian theology, in which he argued that the arrival of Jesus replaced the need for any recourse to the God of the Jews.[11] This argument was an extension of his core belief that Jesus was a Galilean Aryan and could not have represented any fulfillment of Judaism. The charges brought against him were laid by the Central Union of German Citizens of the Jewish Faith, who maintained that Fritsch’s polemic against the God of the Old Testament was not only a gross insult to the Jewish faith but was incongruent with the God of the New Testament who was one and the same deity.[12] For Fritsch’s part, he dismissed such ideas by insisting that “the unfathomable opposition between Christian and Jewish doctrine … precludes any racial kinship.”[13]   

In 1887 Fritsch produced his most popular and controversial work, the Catechism for Anti-Semites (known from 1907 as the Handbook on the Jewish Question).[14] Fritsch published the initial version under a pseudonym, and his role was chiefly that of an editor as opposed to sole author. In the Handbook, Fritsch compiled a diverse range of anti-Semitic writings into a cohesive whole, with the express purpose of creating “a textbook, a pamphlet and an academic work of reference.”[15] Klautke notes that both the immediate impact and long-term influence of the work was considerable; it remained in print for forty-seven years and about 300,000 copies were circulated.[16] Its significance was reflected in its status as a quasi-Bible for the German anti-Semitic movement, in much the same way that Hitler’s Mein Kampf would become required reading for Nazi Party members. The work is divided into three sections. The first is a form of catechism, which was largely propagandistic in nature. It took the form of a series of questions and answers relating to the adverse effects of Jewish influence in Germany. The second section features a selection of writings and quotations by prominent European anti-Semites, both contemporary and historical. These include representative writings by Luther, Voltaire, and Wagner, and were included as a way of legitimising the immediate anti-Semitic zeitgeist. Also included in this section is reference to early written material which would eventually see publication in the infamous and discredited anti-Jewish work Protocols of the Elders of Zion.[17] The third section of the Handbook is a particularly notorious list of statistics “proving” the disproportionate influence of the Jews on German culture. Included in this section, and representative of the depth of Fritsch’s anti-Semitism, is a list of names and addresses of prominent Jews. Presumably, this feature of the Handbook was included to further public discrimination against Jewish citizens.

Of the writers and activists surveyed in this chapter, Fritsch is a key figure linking the anti-Semitism of the late 19th century with that of the emerging Nazi party. Much of the academic literature relating to Fritsch attests to his importance for both shaping Nazi ideology and facilitating opportunities for political networking. Klautke, for example, considers Fritsch’s key contribution to the development of National Socialism as helping to enable the socialisation of early party members through the creation of various societies which linked disparate anti-Semitic groups together.[18] Fritsch’s impact on the Nazi’s, however, extends beyond facilitating networking opportunities. Hitler stated that he read Fritsch’s Handbook during his time in Vienna, and referred to him as the altmeister (old master) of the Nazi movement.[19] The racial overtones in Fritsch’s anti-Semitism, including his conviction that the conversion of the Jews did not solve fundamental questions of character, clearly resonated with the more racially and biologically oriented ideology of the Nazis, and were reflective of the racially orientated anti-Semitism propagated by people like Dühring. The timing of Fritsch’s death in 1933—the year of Hitler’s election to the Chancellorship—functioned as a catalyst through which he entered Nazi mythology as a legendary figure in the history of the Judenfrage. Upon his passing Fritsch’s legacy was acknowledged by the likes of Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Göring, and various German streets were named after him. Fritsch was duly honoured at annual National Socialist gatherings and was immortalised through a permanent monument in Berlin-Zehlendorf.[20]

Despite this clear influence, however, some cautionary notes are warranted. While Fritsch was indeed significant for the development of Nazi ideology, he was considered something of an historical relic by the time Hitler rose to power. Leaving aside the esteem in which Fritsch was held by Hitler as a symbol of a kindred spirit, he derided him in Mein Kampf. Hitler viewed Fritsch’s Völkisch anti-Semitism as anachronistic and unable to meet the challenges of post-first World War Germany.[21] It is also noteworthy that Hitler considered the “old guard” of 19th century anti-Semitism as having failed in their mission to respond effectively to the Judenfrage, and for foolishly believing in a utopia without violent struggle.[22] In fact, the perceived “failure” of the völkisch anti-Semitic groups is a key contributor to Hitler’s own mass appeal, which was premised on the very notion of an historical failure to deal with the Judenfrage. To draw a straight line from Fritsch to the Nazis also overlooks Fritsch’s own conflicted relationship with the emerging National Socialists. Klautke notes that throughout the 1920s Fritsch’s membership of the German Völkisch Freedom Party (DVFP) meant that he considered the Nazis a rival organisation and their brand of anti-Semitism distasteful.[23]

In summarising Fritsch’s relevance for the emergence of Nazism, it is helpful to hold a degree of tension between his clear links with the early Nazis and the somewhat outdated nature of his völkisch anti-Semitism (at least in terms of Hitler’s assessment).[24] And while it would be irresponsible to diminish Fritsch’s influence on Nazi doctrine, this influence must not be ascribed with a power disproportionate to what it was in practice. Although it is true that Fritsch was both widely read and recognised by Nazi party members (including Hitler), by 1933 he had become little more than a relic of a bygone era, replaced by a combative and particularly ferocious hatred of the Jews that was unique in world history. Further, recent scholarship has questioned the widely accepted view that the Nazi party—and the Holocaust specifically—was the inevitable telos of late 19th century völkisch anti-Semitism. Samuel Koehne, for example, argues convincingly that despite an obvious continuity between völkisch ideology and Nazism, it is vital that the complexity of the historical situation is acknowledged, especially as this relates to the unfolding of anti-Semitism from the late 19th century until the advent of the Nazi-era. Koehne is right when he surmises that no matter what historical influences and legacies helped shaped Nazi self-identity, these were always subservient to Nazi policy, fuelled as these were by Hitler’s violently militaristic Weltanshauung.[25] In the final analysis, Fritsch’s major contribution to the history of German anti-Semitism is reflected in two key areas. First, his crass and outspoken propaganda against the Jews was particularly influential, as symbolised by the success of his Handbook of the Jewish Question. Most important, however, is the simple fact that Fritsch functioned as a link between the old and new eras of anti-Semitic philosophy within Germany, using his considerable influence to create social and ideological connections between 19th century anti-Semitism and the emerging ideology of the future Nazi party. 


[1] See Reginald H. Phelps, “Theodor Fritsch und der Antisemitismus,” in Deutsche Rundschau 87 (1961): 443.

[2] Uwe Puschner, for example, has described Fritsch as “the figure-head of racial and völkischanti-Semitism” (Die völkische Bewegung im Kaiserreich. Sprache – Rasse – Religion [Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft,2001], 57].This view is echoed by Hans-Ulrich Wehler, who has referred to Fritsch as “a key-figure of anti-Semitism and one of the ancestors of National Socialism” (Deutsche Gesellschaftsgeschichte, 4 vols. [Munich: Beck, 1987–2003], 3:931).

[3] Moshe Zimmermann, “The Pre–1914 Origins of Hitler’s Antisemitism Revisited – A Response,” The Journal of Holocaust Research 34 (2020): 88; Richard Gutteridge, Open Thy Mouth for the Dumb: The German Evangelical Church and the Jews, 1879-1950 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1976), 341.  

[4] Theodor Fritsch, Handbuch der Judenfrage (Leipzig: Hammer, 1934), 5.

[5] See Ulrich Sieg, Deutschlands Prophet: Paul de Lagarde und die Ursprünge des modernen Antisemitismus (Munchen: Carl Hanser, 2007), 451–52. On Nietzsche’s complex relationship with Judaism, see Robert C. Holub, Nietzsche’s Jewish Problem: Between Anti-Semitism and Anti-Judaism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015).

[6] As quoted in Robert C. Holub, Nietzsche in the Nineteenth Century: Social Questions and Philosophical Interventions (Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press, 2018), 292.

[7] See Michael Bönisch, “Die “Hammer”-Bewegung,” in Handbuch zur völkischen Bewegung 1871–1918, ed.Uwe Puschner, Walter Schmitz, and Justus Ulbricht (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1995), 341–65.

[8] As quoted in Moshe Zimmermann, “Two Generations in the History of German Antisemitism: The Letters of Theodor Fritsch to Wilhelm Marr,” Leo Baeck Institute Year Book 23 (1978): 95–97.

[9] Excerpt taken from Fritsch’s correspondence with Marr on 8 May 1884. See “Theodor Fritsch to Wilhelm Marr on New Tactics for the Struggle Against the Jews, 1884–85,” GHDI, sec. I, 1 May 2019

[10] Letter to Marr dated 7 April 1885. See “Theodor Fritsch to Wilhelm Marr on New Tactics for the Struggle Against the Jews, 1884–85,” GHDI, sec. II, 1 May 2019

[11] See Rudolf Kittel, Judenfeindschaft oder Gotteslästerung? Ein gerichtl. Gutachten. Mit enem. Schlußwort: Die Juden und der gegenwärt Krieg (Leipzig: Wigand, 1914), 77.

[12] See Lukas Bormann, “Between Prophetic Critique and Raison D’état: Rudolf Kittel on German Jews During the Great War and on Old Testament Hebrews in Biblical Wars,” in The First World War and the Mobilization of Biblical Scholarship, ed. Andrew Mein, Nathan MacDonald and Matthew A. Collins (London: Bloomsbury, 2019), 54. 

[13] Theodor Fritsch, Der falsche Gott. Beweismaterial gegen Jahwe (Leipzig: Hammer, 1916), 228–31.

[14] Theodor Fritsch (writing as Thomas Frey), Antisemiten-Katechismus. Eine Zusammenstellung des wichtigsten Materials zum Verständnis der Judenfrage, 2nd ed. (Leipzig: Beyer, 1887).

[15] See Ebgert Klautke, “Theodor Fritsch:‘Godfather’ of German Antisemitism,” in Rebecca Haynes, In the Shadow of Hitler: Personalities of the Right in Central and Eastern Europe, ed. Rebecca Haynes and Martyn Rady (London: I.B. Tauris, 2011), 9.  

[16] Klautke, “Theodor Fritsch,” 9.

[17] See Norman Cohn, Die Protokolle der Weisen von Zion. Der Mythos der jüdischen Weltverschwörung, Mit einer kommentierten Bibliographie von Michael Hagemeister (Baden-Baden: Elster, 1997), 41.

[18] Klautke, Theodor Fritsch, 22.

[19] Massimo Ferrari Zumbini, Die Wurzeln des Bösen (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 2003), 322­–23, 340–43.

[20] See Puschner, Die völkische Bewegung, 57–58.

[21] Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (Munich: Zentralverlag Der NSDAP Franz Eher, 1941), 395–96.

[22] Hitler, Mein Kampf, 395–96.

[23] Klautke, Theodor Fritsch, 20.

[24] The German Church historian Klaus Scholder states that by 1918, Fritsch’s variety of völkisch philosophy had become “the affair of a handful of agitators” (The Churches and the Third Reich, 2 vols. [London: SCM, 1987], 1:76). 

[25] See Samuel Koehne, “Where the National Socialists a Völkisch Party? Paganism, Christianity, and the Nazi Christmas,” Central European History 47 (2014): 790.

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German Anti-Semitism in Context Part 4: Adolf Stoecker

The Church leader, preacher, and politician Adolf Stoecker (1835–1909) presents a challenge to those interested in the history of German anti-Semitism and its influence on the Nazi movement. On the one hand, Stoecker reflects negative attitudes toward the Jews which were hardly unique within the context of late 19th century Germany. A common interpretation is that he was motivated by a desire to see the Jews convert to Christianity, and as such his own position on the Jews has been considered somewhat “softer” in its approach than some of his more radical contemporaries.1 Unfortunately, this view overlooks the breadth of Stoecker’s position, which includes clear references to a racially informed anti-Semitism. His proclamations, many of which were expressed through speeches and sermons, cast doubt on his claims that he was only interested in cultural and religious reformation and not in inciting persecution or fanaticism.2 The complex dynamics of Stoecker’s anti-Semitism, therefore, must be considered when analysing his contribution to questions relating to the Church and state, and his subsequent impact on theologians within the German Christian Movement.  

Stoecker was born in the Saxon town of Halberstadt within the Kingdom of Prussia. A child of humble, working-class origins, Stoecker showed enough intellectual promise that he was eventually sent to Halberstadt University where he commenced his training to become a pastor.3 Stoecker quickly distinguished himself as a zealous defender of Lutheranism. Renowned for his oratorical and polemical skills, Stoecker earned the nickname the “second Luther” for his fierce fidelity to the theology of the great reformer.4 Upon ordination, Stoecker joined the Prussian army in the capacity of Chaplain and was quick to interpret the fortunes of war as acts of divine providence. In a sermon delivered to Prussian soldiers, Stoecker argued that their victory over France in the 1870 Siege of Metz was directly attributable to an act of God, stating that “from the Emperor to the common soldier, the German nation as a body was truly religiously moved.”5

As Stoecker’s star rose quickly across Germany, he soon published widely on a range of social and political issues.6 Stoecker was eventually appointed to the position of Court Chaplain under the reign of Emperor Wilhelm I. Despite his relatively low rank, Stoecker became influential due to his political and religious views, which the public interpreted as representative of the Emperor’s own position.7 One of Stoecker’s most important roles as court chaplain was to oppose the Social Democratic Party, which he loathed for its atheistic philosophy and inherent materialism.8 Fiercely nationalistic and committed to the health of the German Volk, Stoecker formed the Christian–Socialist Workers Party in 1878. A major philosophical foundation of the party was the strident belief that the Christian faith should be directly involved with national politics.9 For Stoecker, the concept of the separation of Church and State was anathema, and his heart for the spiritual and material wellbeing of Germany’s working classes was fuelled by his own Christian convictions and desire to implement social reform.

In his attempts toward these ends Stoecker was only marginally successful, owing in part to the perception that he did not address the material concerns of workers.10 Richard Gutteridge also notes that Stoecker’s pontificating was perceived as “condescending to the masses from the authoritative heights of royalty and nobility.”11 However, Stoecker’s political influence spread irrespective of a general cynicism toward his regal position, and his increase in standing was accompanied by an escalation in outspokenness in relation to Germany’s Jews. In offering a sustained polemic against the Jews, Stoecker tapped into a cultural environment already witnessing negative shifts in attitudes toward Judaism. In 1879 Stoecker launched his anti-Semitic campaign with a statement succinctly summarising his own position on the Judenfrage: “We Germans, out of cosmopolitan enthusiasm for the emancipation of Jews, are foolish enough to ruin our nation.”12 This assessment of the Jews as responsible for the corruption and downfall of the German nation struck a resonant chord with the public and formed the ideological platform for Stoecker’s future anti-Semitic work. 

As his theological proclamations grew more stridently nationalistic, Stoecker involved himself with some disturbing acts of anti-Semitic advocacy. In 1881 he presented von Bismarck with a petition stating the need for “the preservation of the German people from alien domination.”13 The petition received 250,000 signatures, including those of various members of the Christian clergy.14 Stoecker was also skilled at political networking and lobbying, which he successfully cultivated in the attempt to expand his party’s ideological and religious powerbase. The German Conservative Party (DVP) had itself cultivated close ties with Stoecker’s Christian Socialist Party, and as a result of this symbiotic relationship the Tivoli Programme was launched in 1892, the purpose of which was to campaign against the “aggressively pushy, demoralizing and subversive Jewish influence on the life of our people.”15 The rationale for the Tivoli programme appealed to those who had suffered a loss of status and power under the liberal and modernizing tendencies of von Bismarck’s Germany (e.g., the working classes). Because of this many found themselves eager to embrace the Jewish scapegoat provided to them via Stoecker and the Conservative Party.16   

Although much of Stoecker’s anti-Semitic statements, writings, and sermons relate primarily to the questions of culture, politics, and religion, it is possible to discern in his public pronouncements distinct strands of the biological and racial anti-Semitism which increased in influence in the latter part of the 19th century. These sentiments draw attention to the complex interplay between race and religion in Stoecker’s views on the Jews. In his public speeches, for example, Stoecker spoke of race as being an “important element in the Jewish question,” and that any reconciliation between the Jews and Germans would require a “sincere rebirth from the depths of the consciences of upright Israelites.”17

In considering the future direction of German religious, political, and cultural life, Stoecker again references the racial, evolutionary component of the Judenfrage when he references the Old Testament as representing a “lower stage” of revelatory development, and that it was now replaced by the far superior Volk Christianity of 19th century Germany.18 Jeremy Telman highlights the various ways in which Stoecker’s anti-Semitism represented a marked departure from the traditional forms of Christian anti-Semitism which had been a feature of German Protestantism since Luther. Telman states that “Stoecker understood the Jewish people as having certain racial traits, and he believed these traits, to the extent that such modern Jews had an influence on German life, endangered the purity of German culture.”19

In his study of the Nazi theologians’ appropriation of Luther, Christopher Probst references Stoecker as one of the key figures used by the Deutsche Christen to perpetuate the crude notion that its own theological revisionism was merely a new expression of a long anti-Semitic tradition within German intellectual life.20 Stoecker’s influence was such that it led the pastor Paúl le Seúr to regard him as an early prophet of National Socialism. Le Seúr views Stoecker as the model of faithfulness and loyalty, both for his political activism (including his anti-Semitism) and his unswerving faith in God. Thus, in Le Seúr’s view Stocker is a proto-typical National Socialist who is to be revered in the Third Reich as one of their ideological forebears.21

That the Nazi employment of Stoecker ignored his somewhat complicated relationship with Judaism (particularly in relation to his own hopes that Jews would fully integrate themselves in German cultural life, in part through conversion to Christianity) was an act of deliberate selectivity designed to limit balanced or otherwise nuanced references toward the Jews throughout history. The Nazis largely ignored, for example, Stoecker’s repeated claims to operate from a basis of political and social concern only.22 The National Socialist and SS member Johann von Leers argued in a 1934 reprint of Theodor Fritsch’s Handbuch der Judenfrage that despite Stoecker being anti-Semitic, he was not so in the sense that this term came to be understood in the National Socialist period.23

Major voices within the secondary literature emphasise Stoecker’s so-called moderation, with George Mosse suggesting that his anti-Semitism was qualitatively different than the crude “street corner variety” common to the late 19th century. Karl Kupisch points to examples of Stoecker denouncing both racial and religious anti-Semitism in various speeches and writings —evidence which apparently reinforces the idea that his sole concern was with fostering a Godly, orderly society.24 It remains clear, however, that Stoecker’s own contributions toward anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism are especially important considering 20th century developments under Nazism. Most significant for this thesis, Stoecker reintroduced the Judenfrage to the theological and ecclesial sphere in a new and powerful way. It was Stoecker who developed the link between Christianity and Völkisch ideology, describing the new faith as a “Christian Volk-consciousness.”25 Under the guiding hand of various Nazi theologians, the fusion of these two disparate philosophies led to a complete and utter distortion of the gospel in the Third Reich era. Stoecker’s position as a Christian preacher and member of the Imperial court was also important for the politicisation of anti-Semitism. If the Nazi party was able to capitalize on an already existing prejudice toward the Jews, then Stocker must be considered one of the most important historical figures in terms of both legitimizing anti-Semitism within the realms of theology and the ecclesia, and through the popularising of his ideology through his political proclamations.26

Not least, Stoecker’s championing of the cause of the lower-middle classes, as well as his scapegoating of the Jews as being responsible for their plight, was a position which would find a particularly vehement expression in the turbulent interwar years. This theme was so important to Nazi propaganda, in fact, that it was often included in instructions given to National Socialist German Worker’s Party (NSDAP) members who were scheduled to make speeches on behalf of the party. In a 1943 list of instructions for speakers presenting on Hitler’s birthday, special mention is made of the need to include a reference to Hitler’s combatting of the “Jewish seduction of the working class and its terrible results.”27 That Stoecker advanced a similar cause in the latter part of the 19th century is but one example of his enduring significance in establishing links between this earlier manifestation of anti-Semitism and its eventual expression in the Third Reich. Stoecker’s racial inferences in his public proclamations, while being far less explicit than those of de Lagarde or Dühring, are important reminders that Stoecker lived and worked in an era in which the Judenfrage was beginning to take on new and sinister implications. While Stoecker himself did not believe he was motivated by hatred toward the Jews, his speeches and writings gave Nazi ideologues the raw material necessary to establish its policies as congruent with the experience of Germany’s past. 


  1. Jeremy Telman summaries this view in “Adolf Stoecker: Anti-Semite with a Christian Mission,” Jewish History 9 (1995): 93–112 (93).
  2. See Richard Gutteridge, Open Thy Mouth for the Dumb! The German Evangelical Church and the Jews, 1879-1950 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1976), 5. Telman acknowledges the tendency of historians to overlook Stoecker’s sermons as a source of insight into his views on Judaism. See Telman, “Adolf Stoecker,” 99. The only explicit treatment of the content of Stoecker’s sermons is Hans Englemann, Kirche am Abgrund: Adolf Stoecker und seine antijudische Bewegung (Berlin: Selbstverlag Institut Kirche und Judentum, 1984), 71–77. 
  3. A more detailed overview of Stoecker’s biography can be found in Peter Pulzer, The Rise of Political Anti-Semitism in Germany and Austria (London: Peter Halban, 1988), 139–45. See also Dietrich von Oertzen, Adolf Stoecker: Lebensbild und Zeitgeschichte, 2 Bände (Berlin: Vaterländische Verlahs-und Kunstanstalt, 1910).
  4. See Harold Green, “Adolf Stoecker: Portrait of a Demagogue,” Politics & Policy 31 (2008): 108.
  5. As quoted in W.R. Ward, Theology, Sociology and Politics: The German Protestant Social Conscience 1890–1933 (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1979), 44–45. 
  6. Green, “Adolf Stoecker,” 108.
  7. Green, “Adolf Stoecker,” 108. 
  8. Gutteridge, Open Thy Mouth, 5.
  9. See Karl Kupisch, Adolf Stoecker, Hofsprediger und Volkstribum (Berlin: Haude & Spenersche, 1970), 80.  
  10. Richard S. Levy, “Our Demands on Modern Jewry,” in Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution, 2 vols., ed. Richard Levy (Santa Barbara: ABC–CLIO, 2005), 1:525. 
  11. Gutteridge, Open Thy Mouth, 5.
  12. See Adolf Stoecker, Christlich-Sozial. Reden und Aufsätze (Berlin: Velhagen & Klasing, 1885), 380. 
  13. Gutteridge, Open Thy Mouth, 6.
  14. Franz-Heinrich Phillip, “Protestantismus nach 1848,” in Kirche und Synagoge: Handbuch zer Geschichte von Christen und Juden. Darstellung mit Quellen, ed. Kark Heinrich Rengstorf and Seigfried von Kortzfleisch, 2 vols. (Munich: DTV, 1988), 2:299–300.  
  15. Felix Salomon, Die neuen Parteiprogramme mit den lezten der alten Parteien zusammengestellt, 2nd ed. (Leipzig: Teubner, 1919), 23. 
  16. For a review of the German Conservative political movement in the late 19th century, see Hans-Jurgen Puhle, “Conservatism in Modern German History,” Journal of Contemporary History 13 (1978): 689–720. 
  17. Adolf Stoecker, Reden und Aufsätze, ed. Reinhold Seeberg (Leipzig: Deichertsche, 1913), 143–44. Emphasis mine.
  18. Stoecker, Christlich-sozial, 360.
  19. Telman, “Adolf Stoecker,” 106.
  20. Christopher J. Probst, Demonizing the Jews: Luther and the Protestant Church in Nazi Germany (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012), 137. See also Holger Weitenhagen, Evangelisch und deutsch: Heinz Dungs und die Pressepolitik der Deutschen Christen (Bonn: Habelt/Rheinland, 2001), 473–74.  
  21. See the forward to Von Paúl Le Seúr, Adolf Stoecker: der Prophet des Dritten Reiches (Berlin: Hochweg, 1936). 
  22. Gutteridge, Open Thy Mouth, 9.
  23. Theodor Fritsch, Handbuch der Judenfrage (Leipzig: Hammer, 1934), 512. 
  24. Kupisch, Adolf Stoecker, 43–44.
  25. Walter Holsten argues that Stoecker was influenced more by Germanic ideology as opposed to the “pure Gospel.” If this is indeed true, it has important implications for the future direction of German Christianity. See Walter Holsten, “Walter Stoecker als Symptom seiner Zeit,” in Christen und Juden, ed. Wolf-Dieter Marsch and Karl Thieme (Mainz: Matthias-Grünewald, 1961), 200.  
  26. Gutteridge notes that Stoecker himself “boasted that he had converted the Jewish question from a matter of literary interest into a subject for debate in public meetings and thereby encouraged its political treatment” (Open Thy Mouth, 11). 
  27. Redner-Schnellinformation, Lieferung 55, 12 April 1943.

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German Anti-Semitism in Context Part 3: Eugen Dühring

The Prussian-born scholar Eugen Dühring (1833–1921) made important contributions to the fields of philosophy, economics, and politics. As something of a polymath, the breadth of Dühring’s written corpus includes treatments of topics as diverse as militarism, Marxism, mathematics, and literature. His scientific discoveries[1] and economic theories have, however, been overshadowed by his advocacy of racially based anti-Semitic theories, prompting Irving Louis Horowitz to describe him as “particularly ferocious in asserting that German culture must liberate itself from the Old and New Testaments alike.”[2] 

Relatively little is known of Dühring’s early years. Born in Prussia and of Swedish heritage, Dühring appears to have inherited his father’s commitment to the values of free and independent thought, especially in relation to religious questions.[3] A gifted student, Dühring was accepted as a boarder in several leading Prussian gymnasiums following the tragic death of his father. It was here that he pursued his interest in science and mathematics—subject areas which would occupy much of his future academic research. Dühring pursued further study in the field of law before the onset of serious vision problems which would later result in permanent blindness. Due to this development, Dühring decided on an academic career as a writer of scientific and philosophical works.[4] His experience within the academy was initially positive, with James Gay notes that Dühring’s lectures at the Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität were amongst the most popular throughout the 1870s.[5] Dühring’s career as a lecturer soon soured, however, after he was overlooked for a tenured professorship. This rejection resulted in Dühring’s increased bitterness toward the academy and his professional colleagues. Echoing the turbulent relationship between de Lagarde and his professional rivals, Dühring’s polemical campaign against his University colleagues led to his dismissal in 1877. From this point forward Dühring devoted himself to a life of private scholarship and writing.    

Throughout his career as a writer, Dühring’s eclectic work was marked by an unwavering commitment to the philosophy of positive materialism. Critical of many of the intellectuals of his own time, Dühring nevertheless held the work of French philosopher and sociologist Auguste Comte (1798–1857) in particularly high regard.[6] Comte’s major contribution to the history of ideas lies in his approach to the relationship between human society and the physical sciences. Comte adopted the view that the natural, physical world must be adequately grasped before questions of human existence and social evolution could be addressed.[7] Lester F. Ward summarises Comte’s position on the interpretation of the natural and social world when he writes that “the most important thing to determine was the natural order in which the sciences stand– not how they can be made to stand, but how they must stand, irrespective of the wishes of anyone.”[8] Having established the centrality of a detached, positivistic approach to scientific investigations, Comte’s work The Course in Positive Philosophy outlines his three-stage model for interpreting the sociological development of humanity.[9] These stages include the theological, the metaphysical, and the positive. Comte’s purpose was to offer a comprehensive system which explained the phenomenon of human development. The final stage—the positive—represents the culmination of the intellectual journey and is marked by a commitment to reason, rationality, and empirical science.[10] Although not uncritical of Comte’s work, Dühring shared the sociologist’s belief that the positivist, empirical method represented the pinnacle of human intellectual achievement. This core belief gave shape to Dühring’s own scholarly pursuits, which were in part aimed at tearing down the unnecessary myths and metaphysical traditions of the past.   

Dühring’s relevance for the study of Nazism lies chiefly in his contribution to anti-Semitic racial theory. Dühring began work on The Jewish Question: A Racial, Moral and Cultural Question with a World Historical Answer in the period after his dismissal from the University of Berlin, eventually publishing it in 1881.[11] The work itself is an extended exploration of the concept of an inherently negative Jewish character. It was one of the first anti-Semitic works to suggest that, as an ethnic group, the Jews all shared similar unsavoury aspects to their character which were permanent and fixed. Thus, in Dühring we have the beginnings of a biological, racial anti-Semitism that pitted the healthy, Aryan Germans against the corrupted Jews. These biological “traits” were evident, for example, in the German struggle for freedom from the exploitative economic measures being utilized by Jews. Woven into the very fabric of Jewish self-identity was a compulsive desire for world domination, and a sneaky, strategic process of eroding local culture through financial control was a chief tactic for achieving this end.[12]  

Dühring’s treatise was popular with readers and sold well, although the drastic measures it advocated for dealing with the Jewish question were met with resistance from the Deutsche Reform Partei, who felt Dühring’s approach to be too dogmatic and complex.[13] Yet despite reservations from some political sections of society, Die Judenfrage was an important step in advancing the idea that Jews and Germans were fundamentally incompatible, and that the only way for the German Volk to establish independence was to advocate for their separation. In advocating this position Dühring’s treatise would influence future intellectuals and politicians. In the 1890s Dühring’s influence inspired his supporters to form the Sozialitärer Bund (Socialist Confederation), an association which aimed to advocate for the implementation of Dühring’s political and racial ideas, including anti-Semitism.[14] Historians and researchers in the post-Second World War era have come to view Dühring as the first “proto-Nazi” due to the way in which the ideas set forth in Die Judenfrage would help shape future Nazi policy.[15]  

The structure of Die Judenfrage begins with Dühring’s attempt at documenting the emergence of the Jews and the problem of their alleged racial inferiority.[16] In the first chapter, Dühring acknowledges a new era in which fresh understandings of the Jews as a problem of race and genetics was “breaking through decisively”[17] despite the levelling instincts of religious influence:  

The basic understanding which sees the Jew not as a religion but as a racial tribe is already breaking through decisively. Only, it is still, to a certain degree, distorted by the mixture of religion in it. But it lies in the interest of a noble humanity, thus of a true humanity and culture, that this obscurantism of religion, which has up to now covered and protected the worst qualities of the Jews with its darkness, be fully removed so that the Jew may be revealed to us in his natural and inalienable constitution.[18] 

It is within this discussion that Dühring makes one of his more controversial claims, suggesting that even if all German Jews were miraculously converted to Christianity then Die Judenfrage would remain pertinent, as the question is no longer one of cultural assimilation but of fundamental racial differences which could not be reconciled through superficial shifts in cultural integration. Such a view represents a significant break with many other late 19th century writers such as Adolf Stoecker and von Treitschke, whom both acknowledged the theoretical possibility of Jewish conversion and assimilation.[19] Following his assessment of the phenomenon of European Judaism, Dühring develops his thesis through a further five chapters, each of which treats a different aspect of Die Judenfrage including the Jews relationship to science, the arts, politics, as well as an extended discussion of potential “solutions” to the perceived Jewish crisis facing Germany in the late 19th century. Within these closing chapters, Dühring advocates for a range of preventative and exclusionary measures against the Jews. Dühring, for example, suggests that Jewish wealth should be placed under the supervision of the state. Evoking the paranoia of an international Jewish conspiracy which sought to dominate the world through financial control, Dühring writes that “it can indeed be least tolerated that precisely a foreign race of the constitution of the Jews cross over the limits of natural private competence and exercise a commercial power over entire social groups which equals the sovereign rights of the states.”[20] Similar sentiments would be expressed several decades later in Adolf Hitler’s notorious manifesto Mein Kampf.[21]   

It is important to note that from a theological and ecclesial perspective, Die Judenfrage remains far more critical of Christianity than the work of other authors surveyed in this chapter. A central reason for this is Dühring’s positivism, which is by nature sceptical of forms of knowledge which lie outside the scope of empirical science. Opting to undertake his work independently of “church, state and scholarly guild,”[22] Dühring remained critical of the Church in its institutional forms throughout his academic career.[23] Aside from objections to faith based on its perceived clash with findings of modern science, Dühring’s central argument against the Church was that it accepted the revelatory nature of the Old Testament as a necessary element in its theological self-understanding. For Dühring, the acceptance of the Old Testament by the German churches was the gateway through which contemporary Jews were legitimised by Protestantism: the “Christian Church has accepted the Old Testament and therewith also the Jews, even if only in a subordinate position.”[24] 

Dühring found this acceptance confounding, not only in terms of the perilous issues facing Germans but also by virtue of the fact that he perceived that it was the Jews who murdered Christ.[25] It might be countered that the problem posed by the Jewish origins and character of the New Testament itself might be considered insurmountable for Dühring’s anti-Jewish hermeneutics, but it should be remembered that Dühring did not hold Christianity in high regard, and the attempt to reconcile the Jewishness of the New Testament with a German nationalistic Christianity was not a major focus of his work. Nevertheless, Dühring interpreted Jesus as a martyr figure whose mission was to reform “the Jews from themselves and from their bad characteristics.”[26] The stubbornness of the scribes and Pharisees in response to Jesus’s teachings was testament to the Jews’ intolerance and inability to reform outdated and repressive laws.[27] Dühring concluded that “what the Germanic peoples have made of Christianity through their own ways of perceiving and feeling is something better than that Jewish coloured original form of the same.”[28]   

Dühring’s significance for the study of the Third Reich period lies in his emphasis on the racial and biological character of the Jews, whom he felt where marked by fixed and permanent individual characteristics which presented a danger to the German nations.[29] When surveying the policy and propaganda output of the Third Reich, one does not need to delve too far into the material to find echoes of Dühring’s views on Judaism, and it is clear that Dühring’s work was especially important in advocating for racial segregation of Germans and the Jews. The segregationist Nuremberg Laws of 1935 are in no small way indebted to the pioneering work of Dühring, who so vehemently warned against “disharmonic ethnic mixing.”[30] Dühring is also important in that he articulates a unique position on the institutional Church. Unlike many contemporaneous writers, Dühring felt no particular loyalty or affection for the Christian Church and took it upon himself to critique its theological basis in Judaism. Unable to grasp how a faith with its roots in Judaism could effectively represent the people of Germany, Dühring presented his readers with a problem which was to haunt the Church in the post-first world war era, namely: how can one speak of a uniquely German Christianity without also legitimizing the role of the Jews in its formation? This challenge was to be taken up by future theologians of the Deutsche Christen. 


[1]  For a detailed review of Dühring’s scientific method, see J. Wisniak, “Karl Eugen Dühring: Scientist and Political Extremist,” Journal of Phase Equilibria 22 (2001): 616–21. 

[2] See Irving Louis Horowitz, “From Pariah People to Pariah Nation: Jews, Israelis and the Third World,” in Israel in the Third World, ed. Michael Curtis and Susan Aurelia Gitelson (New Jersey: Transaction, 1976), 363.  

[3] James Gay has offered the most thorough treatment of Dühring’s biography to date. See James Gay, “The Reformation in Eugen Dühring‘s Perspectives,” inThe Reformation as a Pre-Condition for Modern Capitalism, ed. Jürgen G. Backhaus (Berlin: Lit, 2010),112. Gay’s doctoral thesis is the most detailed study of Dühring to emerge in recent times. See James Gay, “The Blind Prometheus of German Social Science: Eugen Dühring as Philosopher, Economist and Social Critic (Ph.D. diss., University of Erfurt, 2012), 27–30. It should be noted, however, that Gay himself acknowledges the limitations of biographical information regarding Dühring, stating that the latter’s autobiographySache, leben und feinde: Als hauptwerk und schlüssel zu seinen sämmtlichen Schriften (Karlsruhe und Leipzig: Verlag von H. Reuther, 1882) is the primary resource (Gay, The Blind Prometheus, 27).  

[4] Dühring’s contributions to scientific theory include Kritische Geschichte der Nationalökonomie und des Sozialismus (Berlin: Grieben, 1871), Kritische Geschichte der allgemeinen Principien der Mechanik (Berlin: Verlag von Theobald Grieben, 1873) and Cursus der Philosophie (Leipzig: L. Heimann’s Verlag, 1875).   

[5] Gay, The Reformation, 112.  

[6] Gay, The Blind Prometheus, 108.  

[7] On the enduring influence of Comte’s positivistic philosophy, see Robert C. Scharff, Comte After Positivism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).   

[8] See Lester F. Ward, The Outlines of Sociology (Norwood, MA: Berwick & Smith, 1898, reprinted 1913), 6. 

[9] See Auguste Comte, Cours de philosophie positive, 6 vols. (Paris: Bachelier, 1830). 

[10] For a critical examination of Comte’s three-stage model, see L.T. Hobhouse, “The Law of Three Stages,” The Sociological Review 1 (1908): 262–79. 

[11] Eugen Dühring, Die Judenfrage: Racen-, Sitten- und Culturfrage. Mit einer weltgeschichtlichen Antwort (Karlshrue und Leipzig: Reuther, 1881).   

[12] Weaver Santaniello, Nietzsche, God and the Jews: His Critique of Judeo-Christianity in Relation to the Nazi Myth (New York: State University Press, 1994), 101.  

[13] Gay, The Blind Prometheus, 244.

[14] The guiding principles of the Sozialitärer Bund are found in the first edition of its journal, “Socialitärer Bund,” Der Moderne Völkergeist 1 (1894): 7.  

[15] See Weaver Santaniello, “A Post-Holocaust Re-Examination of Nietzsche and the Jews: Vis-A-Vis Christendom and Nazism,” in Nietzsche and Jewish Culture, ed. Jacob Golomb (London: Routledge, 1997), 22; cf. Dirk R. Johnson, Nietzsche’s Anti-Darwinism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 117.

[16] The following quotations and references are taken from the only extant English translation of Die Judenfrage, which appeared in 1997 and was translated by Alexander Jacob. See Eugen Dühring, Eugen Dühring on the Jews, trans. Alexander Jacob (Brighton: Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1997). 

[17] Dühring, On the Jews, 56.  

[18] Dühring, On the Jews, 57.  

[19] Dühring’s view here is also at variance with the early Martin Luther, who wrote of the Jews: “If we really want to help them, we must be guided in our dealings with them not by Papal law but by the law of Christian love. We must receive them cordially and permit them to trade and work with us, that they may have occasion and opportunity to hear our Christian teaching and witness our Christian life. If some of them should prove stiff-necked, what of it? After all, we ourselves are not all good Christians either.” (“That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew,” trans. Walter I. Brandt, in Luther’s Works [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1962], 200–1, 229). Luther’s later anti-Semitism must be seen in the light of his early expectation that the Jews would convert to Christianity and thus contribute to the German nation.    

[20] Dühring, On the Jews, 174.  

[21] On the Jewish attempt at influencing state politics, Hitler remarks that “in circles concerned with the executive administration of the State, where the officials generally have only a minimum of historical sense, the Jew is able to impose his infamous deception with comparative ease (Mein Kampf, trans. James Murphy, 2 vols. [London: Hurst and Blackett, 1942], 1:173). 

[22] As quoted in Institut für Marxismus-Leninismus beim ZK der SED, Dokumente und Materialien zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung (Berlin: Dietz, 1957), 107–8.  

[23] Gay, The Blind Prometheus, 28.  

[24] Dühring, On the Jews, 147.  

[25] Dühring, On the Jews, 146–47.  

[26] Dühring, On the Jews, 88.  

[27] Dühring, On the Jews, 88–89. 

[28] Dühring, On the Jews, 79.  

[29] The crude 1940 Nazi propaganda film Der ewige Jude (The Eternal Jew) further developed the theme of a fixed, permanent Jewish nature. A sinister goal of this film was to educate ordinary Germans about the destructive nature of the Jews, and thus further Jewish persecution. For an analysis of the historical sources used as the ideological platform for the film, see Stig Hornshoj-Moller, “Der Ewige Jude”: Quellenkritische Analyse eines antisemitischen Propagandafilms (Gottingen: Institute fur den Wissenschaftlichen Film, 1995).  

[30] Dühring, Cursus der Philosophie, 390.  

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German Anti-Semitism in Context Part 2: Heinrich von Treitschke

In his posthumous work Politik, the famed German historian and political commentator Heinrich von Treitschke (1834–1896) wrote that those preaching the doctrine of eternal peace did not understand the essence of the Aryan life.[1] The true German spirit, argued von Treitschke, was represented not through turning the other cheek but through the image of the war hero who valiantly overcame all attempts to contain his spirit in the mediocrity of the age and instead strove for glory and majesty. Von Treitschke’s writings extol the moral virtue of war as an inevitable element in the struggle for national greatness, and in so doing offer a justification for military conflict as an ongoing necessity in the struggle for German colonization. Within this militarised environment the weak states would be swept away under the unstoppable force of German heroism and in their place would lie a transformed Germany marked by racial purity and nationalistic vigour. It is von Treitschke’s twin emphases on social Darwinism and anti-Semitism which make him a particularly important figure in relation to the study of the Third Reich period, upon which he was a notable influence.[2] As a distinguished professor, von Treitschke is also important in establishing the academic credibility of anti-Semitism within bourgeois society. 

The son of a Saxon general, von Treitschke studied history and politics at the Universities of Leipzig and Bonn under the mentorship of the esteemed German historian Friedrich Christoph Dahlmann. Von Treitschke eventually achieved the academic title of Privatdozent and went on to teach History at the Universities of Freiburg, Keil, Heidelberg, and Berlin.[3] Von Treitschke’s personality and breadth of historical knowledge ensured he was popular with students, who were often mesmerized by the passion and stridency of his political views and were known to burst spontaneously into approving applause at the end of a political monologue.[4] A vehement critic of German liberalism, von Treitschke was initially reserved in his anti-Semitism. Like many in the German intelligentsia, von Treitschke found the obscene rhetoric of contemporary anti-Semitic intellectuals undignified. He remained for a time disapproving of anti-Jewish discrimination, fearing that it would lead to their ostracization from wider German society. For von Treitschke, the isolation of certain ethnic and religious groups threatened the ongoing process of unification under the banner of a shared German identity and would prevent Jews from acquiring the “joyful feeling of national pride.”[5] Theoretically, von Treitschke appeared to accept that the Jews could be considered legitimate Germans, making him somewhat more nuanced than other anti-Semitic intellectuals of the time.[6]

Yet these indications of an early tolerance toward the Jews were to harden throughout the 1870s. Throughout this decade von Treitschke’s own feelings toward the Jews became infected with the paranoia of the day. Within von Treitschke’s increasingly radicalised thought, liberalism was identified as the ideological tool being used by the Jews to undermine national strength and unity. He became suspicious of the Jewish “clan” mentality which would have a “negative, dissolving” influence on the national struggle for a united Germany.[7] Furthermore, von Treitschke’s polemic against the Jews began to reflect distinctly racial themes. This is revealed in his concern that the physical proximity of the Jews to the healthy Germans was have a deleterious effect: “Whenever he finds his life sullied by the filth of Judaism,” von Treitschke remarked, “the German must turn from it, and learn to speak the truth boldly.”[8]

Von Treitschke promoted his opinions through his classroom lectures, his involvement in national politics,[9] and his writing. Of his published works, the most infamous is an anti-Semitic pamphlet published in the Preußische Jahrbücher (Prussian Yearbooks), of which he was an editor. The original article first appeared in January 1880 and was supplemented by two later articles, eventually being published together as Ein Wort über unser Judenthum (A Word about Our Jews). The pamphlet begins with von Treitschke’s response to the rising tide of anti-Semitism within German society, the character of which is described as a repulsive, violent uprising of “mob instinct.”[10] Despite the nature of this anti-Semitism being at significant variance with the more refined tastes of a University Professor, von Treitschke understood this new form of virulent anti-Semitism as ultimately grounded in truth. Von Treitschke’s immediate grievance lies in his response to the seemingly unstoppable immigration of Eastern European Jews into German territory. Dismissing the French and English for their lack of insight into the immigration problem facing Germany, von Treitschke poses a question to his readers which forms the crux of his anti-Semitic position: how were Germans to assimilate this “alien nation?” In one of his most infamous quotations, von Treitschke describes the immigration question as a national crisis and the negative reaction of ordinary Germans toward this “barbarian” invasion inevitable:

Year after year over our Eastern frontier, from the inexhaustible Polish cradle there comes, forcing their way in, a host of pushful, trouser-selling youths whose children and children’s children are one day to dominate Germany’s stock-exchanges and newspapers; the invasion increases visibly, and ever more serious becomes the problem as to how we can ever manage their alien Volkstum with ours … the Jews are our misfortune.[11]

As von Treitschke understood it, the solution to the seemingly irreconcilable clash of cultures was for the Jews themselves to become more tolerant of German culture. Echoing de Lagarde’s mantra that the task was to “become a German and nothing but a German,”[12] von Treitschke understood fidelity to national identity as overriding all other cultural or ethnic distinctions.[13] Unlike de Lagarde, however, von Treitschke did not consider himself anti-Semitic in a strictly racial sense, although he was certainly capable of using rhetoric congruent with biologically informed anti-Semitism. Rather, he saw his own views as having been shaped by the immediate context of mass immigration and potential cultural collapse.[14] Allowing for a degree of inherent anti-Jewishness which had been a feature within Europe for centuries,[15] von Treitschke’s polemic appears less about race and more about cultural integration.[16]

Critical reception to Ein Wort über unser Judenthum was divided. Von Treitschke enjoyed popular support from within various student groups (e.g., Burschenschafften) and ideological sympathizers, but his rhetoric alienated those who found his anti-Semitic pronouncements unnecessarily inflammatory. A Berlin University colleague named Theodor Mommsen became a vocal opponent of von Treitschke’s provocative approach to the Jewish question and was a reminder that the academy itself was by no means uniform in its position on the Jews. Widely respected for his five-volume The History of Rome, Mommsen accused von Treitschke of pandering to the supporters of more extreme forms of anti-Semitism. He argued instead for a more considered and temperate view based on historical precedent.[17] While Mommsen’s own anti-Semitism is evident,[18] he nevertheless conceded that there were ethnic Germans who also displayed the anti-social and undesirable traits of which he presumed the Jews were most guilty. Further, Mommsen argued that von Treitschke’s depiction of a mass flood of Eastern European Jews into Germany was simply not true, and that the alleged immigration issue was invented as a propaganda tool. In response to Mommsen’s umbrage von Treitschke maintained his original position with even greater steadfastness, suggesting that the Jews were attempting to create a parallel nation within Germany and that the only responsible course of action for ordinary Germans was to respond to this subversion with passionate activism:

Whoever wants to be considered a man will never cease to toil for the unity of Germany. A heart glowing with passion, a mind cold and clear, a sober assessment of the prevailing power factors—this is the only fitting attitude for the patriot of a nation which is struggling for its very existence … An arduous task of political education still lies before us.[19]  

Where did the Christian Church fit into von Treitschke’s understanding of the “Jewish question” and the need for national reform? Unlike de Lagarde, von Treitschke assumed an inalienable link between the German reformation and nationalistic ideology, seeing Luther as the ideal Germanic-German who was legitimized by God to lead the nation.[20]For von Treitschke, the spirit of the Reformation and the nationalistic impulse were sacred and represented two different manifestations of the same holy ideals. The close bond between reformed Christianity and the German Volk made it nearly impossible to consider the possibility of a Jewish–German identity. Such an idea was an affront to the glorious history of German civilization, which struggled throughout numerous wars and battles to establish its autonomy.[21] To become fully German meant that one should shed the old wineskin of Judaism and embrace the Christianity of the Volk. This reiterates von Treitschke’s view that, where possible, the conversion of Jews to German Christianity should be actively encouraged to foster national unity. The issue of the Jewish origins of Christianity was resolved through von Treitschke refusal to acknowledge the ongoing legitimacy of Judaism as an integral component of Christian theology:

Every young spiritual power that defeated the older one is itself the offspring of its enemy. The greatness of the Christian doctrine now lies in the fact that, although it emerged from Judaism, it overcame Semitism became a global church.[22]

These exercises in uncritical theologizing would serve as a template for many scholars within the Third Reich era who took it upon themselves to proclaim that Jesus Christ was Aryan and that the advent of Gentile Christianity represented the spiritual negation of Judaism.   

Irrespective of such proclamations, von Treitschke was generally more concerned with the realm of realpolitik than he was in articulating a theological justification for anti-Semitism.[23] Nevertheless, a knowledge of von Treitschke’s immediate and long-term impact is vital for our understanding of the nature of the Church and anti-Semitism within the Third Reich period. There are three important reasons for this. First, von Treitschke is responsible for popularising the idea that the Jews represented a threat to German culture. This was achieved in his long-enduring maxim that the Jews were Germany’s “misfortune.”[24] This particular phrase resounded in popular culture throughout the following decades and was eventually co-opted by Nazi publisher Julius Streicher as the slogan of his notorious, hate-filled newspaper Der Stürmer.[25] Second, von Treitschke’s belief in the honour and necessity of war as a means of achieving national goals was a philosophical concept which was to receive increasing acceptance throughout the following century. The increasing militarization of German society throughout the Nazi-era[26] is a testament to the strength of the legacy left by von Treitschke, who once nihilistically proclaimed that “God will see to it that war always recurs as a drastic medicine for the human race.”[27] Such bleak and violent worldviews would become an actuality in the devastating racial and expansionist policies of the Third Reich. Third, von Treitschke played an instrumental role in lending credibility to the pursuit of academically informed anti-Semitism, even if this may not have been his primary goal. It was the anti-Semitic work of von Treitschke which inspired the formation of the Verein deustcher Studenten (Union of German Students) in 1881, whose purpose was to explore further the Jewish question in relation to Germanic identity and culture. The development of such groups is a testament to the resurgence of conservative nationalist ideology in the 1880s, and von Treitschke’s esteem as a credible, well-respected scholar helped legitimize the Jewish question as one of vital academic concern.[28] This approach was a further step in the project of establishing the Jewish question as one of necessity for all Germans, not just those with an interest in politics. 


[1] Heinrich Von Treitschke, Politics, 2 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1916), 1:65–68, 2:597–99. 

[2] Christopher J. Probst, Demonizing the Jews: Luther and the Protestant Church in Nazi Germany (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012), 23, 181; Götz Aly, Why the Germans? Why the Jews? Envy, Race Hatred, and the Prehistory of the Holocaust, trans. Jefferson Chase (New York: Metropolitan, 2014), 128; Richard Gutteridge, Open Thy Mouth for the Dumb! The German Evangelical Church and the Jews 1879–1950 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1976), 20; S.K. Padover, “Treitschke: Forerunner of Hitlerism,” Pacific Historical Review 4 (1935): 161–70.

[3] For a biographical summary of von Treitschke’s early life, see H.W.C. Davis, The Political Thought of Heinrich von Treitschke (London: Constable and Company, 1914), 1–9.   

[4] Andreas Dorpalen, Heinrich von Treitschke (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957), 46, 277. 

[5] Heinrich von Treitschke, Deutsche Kämpfe. Neue Folge: Schriften zur Tagespolitik, ed. Erich Liesegang (Leipzig: Hirzel, 1896), 21–28, 62–63, 136–38. 

[6] Gutteridge, Open Thy Mouth, 12. Walter Boelich, ed. Der Berliner Antisemitismussreit (Frankfurt: Insel, 1965), 10. The complexities of von Treitschke’s anti-Semitism can be contrasted with the more extreme views of teacher and activist Bernhard Förster, who described the Jews as a parasite on the German body. See Hannu Salmi, “Die Sucht Nach Dem Germanischen Ideal,” Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft, 6 (1994): 485–96. 

[7] Walter Gurian, “Antisemitism in Modern Germany,” in Essays on Antisemitism, ed. Koppel S. Pinson (New York: Horney, 1946), 230. 

[8] See P.G.J. Pulzer, The Rise of Political Anti-Semitism in Germany and Austria (New York: Wiley, 1964), 250. 

[9] Von Treitschke was a member of the German Reichstag from 1871 to 1884, although his influence was limited due to his almost total deafness. 

[10] Boehlich, Der Berliner Antisemitismussreit, 9.

[11] Boehlich, Der Berliner Antisemitismussreit, 9, 13. 

[12] Universitätsarchiv Göttingen, Lagarde 150:1160. 

[13] For an extended discussion on von Treitschke’s views on Jewish ethnic and religious conversion, see George Y. Kohler, “German Spirit and Holy Ghost-Treitschke’s Call for Conversion of German Jewry,” Modern Judaism: A Journal of Jewish Ideas and Experience 30 (2010): 172–95. 

[14] In reflecting on the raucous agitation of contemporary antisemitic protests, von Treitschke wrote that it was a “natural reaction of the Germanic national feeling against an alien element which has usurped too much space in our life.” See Marcel Stoetzler, The State, the Nation and the Jews: Liberalism and the Antisemitism Dispute in Bismarck’s Germany (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008), 37–38. 

[15] For a thorough treatment of the history of anti-Semitism in Europe, see especially William I. Brustein, Roots of Hate: Anti-Semitism in Europe before the Holocaust (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

[16] Gutteridge maintains that von Treitschke did not, in fact, consider himself anti-Semitic. See Gutteridge, Open Thy Mouth, 15. 

[17] See Hans Liebeschütz, “Treitschke and Mommsen on Jewry and Judaism,” LBI Year Book VII (1962): 153–82. 

[18] In The History of Rome, Mommsen describes the ancient Jews as an element of “national decomposition,” a claim he repeated about the contemporary Jewish question (Theodor Mommsen, The History of Rome, 5 vols. [London: Macmillan, 1905], 5:419). See also: Gutteridge, Open Thy Mouth, 15.   

[19] Heinrich von Treitschke, Historische und Politische Aufsätze (Leipzig: Hirzel, 1865), 513.  

[20] In the arrival of Luther, von Treitschke saw the German people as becoming a “new Israel.” Luther represented the salvation of the German people and their liberation from the tyranny of the Roman Church. See Heinrich von Treitschke, History of Germany in the Nineteenth Century, trans. Eden and Cedar Paul, 7 vols. (New York: McBride, Nast & Company, 1915), 1:4. See also Clemens Vollnhals, “Nationalprotestantische Traditionen und das euphorische Aufbruchserlebnis der Kirchen im Jahr 1933,” in Christlicher Antisemitismus im 20. Jahrhundert: Der Tübinger Theologe und “Judenforscher” Gerhard Kittel, ed. Manfred Gailus and Clemens Vollnhals (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 2020), 47.    

[21] Boehlich, Der Berliner Antisemitismussreit, 79–92. 

[22] As quoted in Boehlich, Der Berliner Antisemitismusstreit, 89–9. On von Treitschke’s disavowal of the Old Testament, Kohler argues that von Treitschke believed that true Christianity had overcome Judaism, and that its holy literature had been purged of all Semitic influence (“German Spirit and Holy Ghost,” 177). 

[23] On von Treitschke’s understanding of Realpolitik, see Karl H. Metz, “The Politics of Conflict: Heinrich von Treitschke and the Idea of ‘Realpolitik,’” History of Political Thought 3 (1982): 269–84.

[24] Von Treitschke, Der Berliner Antisemitismussreit, 9, 13.

[25] Gutteridge, Open Thy Mouth, 17. 

[26] For a perceptive review of Nazi militarisation of German public life, see Albert Salomon, “The Spirit of the Soldier and Nazi Militarism,” Social Research 9 (1942): 82–103.  

[27] Heinrich von Treitschke, Politik (Leipzig: Hirzel, 1899–1900), 76.

[28] The scholarly legitimization of anti-Semitism was a process rather than an instantaneous event. Gutteridge writes that in the initial stages it was “a shock to the intelligent public that anti-Semitism had won a foothold in Berlin University, and that anti-Jewish propaganda was now being disseminated from so distinguished a professorial chair as well as from the pulpit and the political platform” (Open Thy Mouth, 15).   

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German Anti-Semitism in Context Part 1: Paul de Lagarde

Welcome to the first in my new series, which aims to introduce readers to some key figures responsible for the development of anti-Semitic philosophy and ideology in late-19th century Germany.

Each of these authors, intellectuals, and activists played a role in shaping the anti-Semitic climate of the late 19th century and beyond. In many cases, their influence extended into the National Socialist era in a direct way, as in case of Theodor Fristch and Houston Stewart Chamberlain. In others, this influence was indirect, and felt primarily through the appropriation of their written works by Nazi ideologues. In this first instalment I profile the life and work of the cantankerous scholar Paul de Lagarde, whose vision for a new Germanic religion was fueled by an anti-Semitism with distinctly racial overtones.

Paul de Lagarde’s Germanic Volk Religion

The respected 19th century German orientalist Paul de Lagarde once claimed to sum up the national mood when he wrote that the German people “do not want the Jews to be allowed to live together with them.” Giving expression to an emotional and psychological anxiety that was all too eager to indulge in scapegoating, de Lagarde blamed the Jews for all manner of national ills. Chief amongst these complaints was his firm conviction that the Jews were parasitical in nature and were thus draining the lifeforce from Germany. For de Lagarde, the ongoing presence of Jews was undermining the purity of racial and spiritual strength of the German Volk. “Every Jew,” he wrote, “is proof of the enfeeblement of our national life and the worthlessness of what we call the Christian religion.” De Lagarde’s anti-Semitism was a foundational element in his vision for a mystical, romanticised German religion that would signal a return to the “primeval voice of nature.”[1] He represents a particularly unique voice in the lexicon of late-19th century conservative intellectuals for both the harshness of his anti-Semitism as well as his call for a new religion to form the basis of a new state.[2]  

The trajectory of de Lagarde’s life offers insight into the formation of his often-contradictory intellectual views as well as the stridency of his personality. Born in Berlin as Paul Bötticher in 1827, de Lagarde’s early years were marred by tragedy and difficulty. His mother died during his birth, leaving him to be raised by his strict disciplinarian father. The emotional isolation of this experience resulted in an increasing sense of loneliness and homeless, which in turn corresponded with the formation of a personality marked by stubbornness, arrogance, and an embedded sense of being at war with a cold and careless world. In 1854, the twenty-seven-year-old was officially adopted by his maternal great-Aunt, an event which finally conferred a longed-for sense of legitimacy and which represented the possibility of a new beginning free from the oppressive and stifling presence of his father. As a symbol of his fresh start, the surname Bötticher was officially changed to de Lagarde.[3]

De Lagarde’s intellectual development reflected something of the uncertainty and difficulty of his upbringing. De Lagarde studied philosophy, theology, and languages at the University of Berlin, receiving his first doctorate in philosophical studies in 1849. De Lagarde earned a second doctorate from the University of Halle in 1851, after which he received a scholarship from the King of Prussia to study oriental manuscripts at the British Museum Library. Fully expecting to merge seamlessly from his studies into a professional academic career, de Lagarde’s expectations were dashed as he found the transition difficult and without quick success. Part of this difficulty can be ascribed to de Lagarde’s cantankerous and belligerent streaks, which generated conflicts with professional colleagues and those within the academy.[4] From a practical perspective, his perceived rejection by the academic elite meant de Lagarde was forced to seek alternate means of employment. He eventually decided to settle for a role as a preparatory schoolteacher, with his scholarly projects being relegated to a hobby status. Only a few select articles were admitted for publication during this time. This period in de Lagarde’s life, however, is vital for understanding the vehemency of his later work. De Lagarde’s experiences of rejection, both within his family home and by the academic community, created the conditions necessary for political dogmatism and scapegoating.

Despite a reluctant acknowledgment of the honourable role of the Prussian statesman von Bismarck in securing the unification of the German states in 1871, de Lagarde strongly believed that von Bismarck had neglected to acknowledge and deal with the increasing dominance of the Jews within Germany society, a theme which would occupy much of de Lagarde’s future polemical writings. De Lagarde eventually secured a professorship at the University of Göttingen in 1869, taking over from the orientalist and theologian Heinrich Ewald. Yet even his entry into the academic world was marred by feelings of rejection and inadequacy, which according to Bernhard Maier manifested in “histrionic self-dramatization.”[5]  Ewald had resented de Lagarde, possibly on account of his own forced retirement from the University. This toxic dynamic enhanced de Lagarde’s own sense of academic fraudulence and illegitimacy and a corresponding rise in polarising and combative behaviour can be observed. Throughout his tenure as Professor, de Lagarde managed to offend and ostracise many of his professional colleagues, and he became known as something of a notoriously difficult personality, even if a degree of respect was allowed for his important translations of various Syriac and Aramaic texts.[6] As Professor, he was viewed with reservations by his students, who described him as having a hysterical streak and a propensity to speak in broad terms about subjects with which he had no professional experience.[7] His reputation for rudeness, stubbornness, and dishonesty meant that his experience with academic life was largely lonely, and de Lagarde appeared to have internalised his loneliness as a symbol of his own righteousness and exceptionality amidst a climate of mediocrity. De Lagarde’s aloofness within the academy was attested to by Göttingen university student Theodor Nöldeke, who spoke of de Lagarde’s commitment to a lofty romantic idealism, which was considered a somewhat passé attribute in a scholarly discipline (Oriental linguistic studies) dedicated to the rigors of the scientific method.[8] In coming years, it was the romantic ideal which would prove the most powerful of de Lagarde competing drives, and his credibility as an Oriental scholar was to soon superseded by his outspoken political commentary.

Nöldeke observed in de Lagarde a “burning ambition which has never been satisfied,” and it is perhaps his insatiable need for recognition and professional expansion which led the Orientalist to consider channelling his scholarly abilities toward the political sphere. Assuming the role of frustrated cultural Prophet, de Lagarde began expressing his loathing of the current state of German culture and politics, which he felt was heading toward an imminent collapse of apocalyptic proportions. The Kaiserreich and its Prussian emperor King Wilhelm I represented for de Lagarde a fundamental betrayal of Germanic identity. Instead of advocating for the autonomy and distinctiveness of the German Volk, it had instead become a mere federal state under the control of Prussia. Such political shifts threatened to level cultural distinctiveness and replace it with an enforced pan-European homogeneity. The remedy to the cultural calamity facing Germany was to identify and attack the source of the menace and advocate for a cultural rebirth similar in concept to the theological notion of being born again (cf. John 3). The ultimate goal, de Lagarde articulated, was for each individual“to become a German and nothing but a German.”[9]

Under the corrupted political conditions of the Kaiserreich, the process of individual Germanisation was certainly not inevitable, even for naturalised Germans who had been endowed by Providence with an inner “drive toward truth.”[10] What was required was a fresh commitment to the German Volk as the primary lens through which all other aspects of life were viewed. According to de Lagarde, the dual threat of Judaism and Liberalism represented the internally destructive forces through which the spirit of the German Volk was being eradicated in pursuit of profit, materialism, and superficiality. De Lagarde blamed Jews for inventing the stock market as a deliberate way of enslaving the world and demonising the lower and middle classes, who were capitalism’s inevitable victims. In language evocative of the racial anti-Semitism of Hitler’s National Socialism, de Lagarde described the Jews as a bacterium that could not be negotiated away. The only possible solution was extermination.[11]

De Lagarde’s most significant work is Deutsche Schriften (German Writings), which is an eclectic collection of essays documenting his bold transformation from a linguistic theorist to a political and religious commentator. First appearing in 1879 and running to five editions by 1920, de Lagarde’s overarching purpose here was to advocate for a cultural rebirth which would see the disparate elements of religion, politics, culture, and history united under the banner of a re-awakened German national identity. The assertive reclamation of national identity was a necessary reaction to the loss of nationhood that was a result of the failed experiment of Jewish orchestrated liberalism which had plunged Germany into a materialistic nihilism. Mourning the loss of national autonomy and spiritual vibrancy, de Lagarde saw the contemporary crisis reflected in the educational deficits of German youth, who lacked a firm understanding of German literature and culture, and who had become infected with the plague of boredom.[12] The condition of German youth reflected broader materialism and nihilistic moral decay, in which the rampant individualism of von Bismarck’s liberal agenda diminished the concept of a collective national purpose and responsibility.[13] The liberal fragmentation of life into segments of specialisation meant that there was no concept of an overarching vision or Weltanschauungg. Instead of a shared commitment to co-create the Germany of the future, the spirit of liberalism had fostered national inertia, in which each individual understood themselves as a self-contained universe with no obligations toward anything other than the pursuit of one’s own interests.[14] For de Lagarde, the individual only acted correctly when, in a spirit of idealism, one acts “out of inner needs against his own advantage, his own comfort, and against the world surrounding him.”[15] In these brief words lay the heart of de Lagarde’s nationalistic idealism: the German individual must relinquish self-interest to usher in a new era of German autonomy and distinctiveness.

Throughout Deustche Schriften de Lagarde offers a sustained criticism of the Church, which he felt had become yet another casualty in the Jewish-liberal war on the German Volk. For de Lagarde, the corruption of the Church necessitated its own cultural-religious rebirth so that it could better represent the völkisch Germany of the future. The Church could only be the true Church if it was divorced from its Jewish origins and subservient to the national interest. True Christianity had not yet been realised in the German nation due to the corruption of its institutions, which had inevitably fallen victim to the liberal zeitgeist. Additionally, the very essence of Christianity had been distorted and its dogmas and doctrinal positions infected with Jewish poison. In an 1873 essay titled “On the Relationship of the German State to Theology, Church and Religion: An Attempt to Guide Non-Theologians,” de Lagarde argued that the very basis of Protestantism and Catholicism was compromised due to the corruptive Jewish influence of the apostle Paul.[16] De Lagarde’s harsh criticism of the apostle is worth quoting at some length:

Paul has brought the Old Testament to us in the Church, and through its influence the gospel has been ruined- as far as this is possible. Paul has blessed us with Pharisaic exegesis, which proves anything from anything…Paul has brought us the Jewish sacrificial theory, and everything connected with it. The whole Jewish view of history has been foisted on us by him. He did this against the vigorous opposition of the early Church which, Jewish though it was, thought less Jewishly than did Paul, and who at least did not consider sophisticated Jewishness to be a Gospel sent from God.[17]

De Lagarde’s novel theological reasoning was at significant variance with traditional interpretations, and his dismissal of Paul’s role as a Jewish expositor of the gospel necessitates a disavowal of the significance of the Old Testament in shaping Christian identity. De Lagarde also accused the Church of propagating theological views that had little or no scriptural precedent, including the Trinity and infant baptism. Indeed, so controversial were de Lagarde’s theological positions that Swiss theologian Walter Nigg concluded that the Orientalist cannot have been viewed as anything other than an outsider amongst the Christianity of his time. His revisionist theological agenda and outspoken criticisms of the institutional Church had by necessity opened him up to the charge of heresy.[18] In such radical approaches to theological questions de Lagarde betrayed his own indebtedness to the philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte, who had blamed Paul for the “degeneration of Christianity,”[19] and who accused the Jews of all manner of cultural ills. It was to Fichte’s fierce nationalism that the Nazi party would appeal over a century later to legitimize its congruency with the great German intellectual tradition.[20]

If the traditional understanding of Christianity as having Jewish origins was false, how did de Lagarde conceive of the true nature of Jesus? What did the de-Judaized Jesus look like, and what did he require of humanity? The answer, at least in part, was to conceive of Jesus not in theological and doctrinal categories but as a cosmic energy or life force that inspires feelings of awe, reverence, and mystery. The cosmic Christ cannot be explained through abstract appeals to dubious dogmatic positions but instead must be believed in through an unwavering faith and a commitment to godly action in the here and now. Through the act of creation God instituted the immutable structures of life,[21] and each nation and culture are set apart to fulfill their own unique destiny. The fall represented the entry of evil into the cosmos, which de Lagarde referred to as a dark spirit marching through the world. This evil interrupted the natural order of creation and represented chaos, confusion, and corruption.[22] In this respect the Jews were to be considered as the bearers of God’s holy wrath against evil as they lacked a homeland and were cursed to aimlessly wander the earth.  

The arrival of the gospel in the person of Jesus should not be considered synonymous with “Christianity,” but instead stood quite apart from the phenomena of the institutionalised Church. In its true form, the gospel was an exposition by a religious genius (Jesus) on the laws of the life of the Spirit.[23] In glorifying the death and resurrection Christianity had located its centre of faith in an ancient historical event rather than in the enduring, eternal truths of Jesus’s teaching. De Lagarde, predictably, blamed Paul for this travesty. Paul had infused the gospel with the spirit of Phariseeism and had arrogantly avoided the remaining disciples in pursuit of his own missionary agenda.[24] Ultimately, it was the emphasis on Christ’s ethical and moral teaching which was important for de Lagarde, and this is because it offered clear answers questions about how to best respond the to the challenges of the age. In this sense, Lagarde’s limited Christological understanding reflects the pioneering work of 12th century French abbot Peter Aberlard, whose interpretation of the atonement emphasised the moral aspects of Jesus’s mission.[25] It was the element of praxis within Jesus’s teaching that enabled scholars like de Lagarde to draw inspiration for their own attempts at overthrowing the oppressive and unjust forces of the day (i.e., Judaism and Liberalism). Just as Jesus had subverted the political and religious forces of his time with a call to become born again, so too should individual Germans resist the evil forces of liberalism a become reborn into a true German nation.  

De Lagarde’s political philosophy and theological views offer a striking insight into the role of context as the driving force of his vision for Germany. Observing the climate around him, de Lagarde determined that the liberalism of the von Bismarck era was ultimately fuelled by the external menace of international Jewry. Each segment of public life was corrupted and in need of reform, with educational institutions being particularly notorious co-conspirators in the nation’s downfall. The Church, too, was playing an important part in this process, but was envisaged by de Lagarde as instrumental in shaping a shared Germanic national religion of the future, even though he concurrently felt a disgust at the shallowness of contemporary Protestantism. As has been shown, de Lagarde was by no means universally popular, especially within the academy. His arrogance, insecurity, and bitterness meant that those who encountered him often found his personality nauseating and the extremity of his racist views off-putting.[26] Nevertheless, he was a potent voice amongst a new breed of theologians, philosophers, and political commentators whom each sought a national rebirth free from the destructive forces of Jewish-fuelled liberalism.

The ideological legacy left by de Lagarde was exploited by future National Socialists who were able to appeal to historical congruency to legitimise their own philosophy.[27] An important qualification to this influence has been pointed out by Vincent Viaene, who suggests that de Lagarde’s political and religious philosophy did not hold to the same social-Darwinist assumptions that fuelled Nazi ideology.[28] Nor was de Lagarde’s philosophy inherently nihilistic in the way it conceived of the world. This meant that his solutions to the crisis of “cultural despair” tended to be more constructive when compared to a Nazi cosmology, which understood life as a continuous struggle between the strong and the weak. Being something of an intellectual anathema in his own time, biographer Robert Lougee further points out that the Nazi appropriation of de Lagarde lacked the spiritual depth and warmth that he was occasionally capable of displaying.[29] Instead of being interpreted as a direct influence on the emergence of conversative fascist politics, then, de Lagarde is best viewed as a virulent anti-Semite who captured a mood of discontent and offered a constructive set of proposals to restore the true spiritual foundations of the German Volk. In so doing, he helped foster a longing for cultural redemption which was to be seized upon by the National Socialists in the coming century. 


[1] Paul de Lagarde, Lebensbild und Auswahl, ed. Klara Boesch (Augsburg: Bärenreiter, 1924), 52. See also George L. Mosse, “The Mystical Origins of National Socialism,” Journal of the History of Ideas 22 (1961): 81–96.

[2] Fritz Stern, Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise of the Germanic Ideology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974), 51.

[3] Bernhard Maier, William Robertson Smith: His Life, His Work and His Times (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009), 114.

[4] See Richard S. Levy, ed., Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution, 2 vols. (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2005), 409.

[5] Maier, William Roberts Smith, 115.

[6] Maier, William Robertson Smith, 115.

[7] Maier, William Roberts Smith, 115.

[8] A letter dated 18 February 1883 from Theodor Nöldeke to William R. Smith outlines Nöldeke’s observations about the character of Lagarde. This letter is held by Cambridge University Library in a wider collection of correspondence relating to William R. Smith (CUL 7449 D 511).

[9] See Thomas L. Gertzen, “To Become a German and Nothing but a German…”: The Role of Paul de Lagarde in the Conversion of Egyptologist Georg Steindorff,” The Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook 60 (2015): 279–89. 

[10] Stern, Politics, 61–63.

[11] Stern, Politics, 73,

[12] Paul de Lagarde, “Liberalism, Education and the Jews,” in Deutsche Schrifften: Gesammtausgabe letzter Hand, 5th ed. (Göttingen: Becker & Eidner, 1920)

[13] See Robert W. Lougee, Paul de Lagarde, 1827–1891: A Study of Radical Conservatism in Germany (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962), 260–61.

[14] Stern, Politics, 65.

[15] De Lagarde, Deutsche Schriften, 408.

[16] See Klaus Scholder, The Churches and the Third Reich, 2 vols. (London: SCM, 1987), 1:81–82

[17] De Lagarde, Deutsche Schriften, 62. 

[18] Walter Nigg, Geschichte des religiösen Liberalismus. Entstehung, Blütezeit, Ausklang (Zürich: Niehans, 1937), 286–88.

[19] See Fichte’s thirteenth lecture in “Die Grundzüge des gegenwärtigen Zeitalters,” in Fichtes Werke Band VII: Zur Politik, Moral ind Philosophie der Geschichte, ed. I.H. Fichte (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1971), 190.

[20] Fichte’s nationalistic ideology is outlined in his “Addresses to the German Nation,” in which he describes the German nation as “sufficiently united in itself by a common language and a common way of thinking, and sharply enough severed from the other peoples.” See the thirteenth address in Johann Gottfried Fichte, Addresses to the German Nation: Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought, ed. Gregory Moore (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

[21] A theological position that would be more fully developed in the interwar and Third Reich era by Lutheran theologian Paul Althaus.

[22] Paul de Lagarde, Mittheilungen, 4 vols. (Göttingen: Dietrichsche verlagsbuchhandlung, 1884), 2:75.

[23] Paul de Lagarde, Über das Verhältnis de Deutschenen Staates zu Theologie, Kirche und Religion. Ein Versuch, nicht Theologen zu orientieren (Göttingen: Dietrichsche verlagsbuchhandlung, 1873), 69.  

[24] De Lagarde, Über das Verhältnis, 67.

[25] Abelard’s atonement theory is set out in Peter Abelard, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, trans. Steven R. Cartwright (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2011).

[26] Despite a familiarity with de Lagarde’s written works, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche found the racist element of the growing völkisch movement troubling and sought to distance himself from it. See Robert. C. Holub, Nietzsche’s Jewish Problem: Between Anti-Semitism and Anti-Judaism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016), 178.

[27] This is particularly evident in the ideology of Alfred Rosenberg. See Steven E. Aschheim, Culture and Catastrophe: German and Jewish Confrontations with National Socialism and Other Crises (London: MacMillan, 1996), 61–4.   

[28] Vincent Viaene, “Paul de Lagarde: A Nineteenth-Century “Radical” Conservative — and Precursor of National Socialism?” European History Quarterly 26 (1996):527-557.

[29] Lougee, Paul de Lagarde, 288.

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The “National Socialist Bible” of 1940: An Experiment in Contextualization

The so-called “Nazi Bible” of 1940 was an experiment in theological revision undertaken by scholars attached to the Institute for the Study and Elimination of Jewish Influence on German Church Life. The Institute, based in the Thüringian town of Eisenach, emerged in 1939 as a centre for research into the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. This relationship was of paramount concern within the climate of National Socialism, as many within the Nazi hierarchy believed Christianity to be irreconcilable with the national feeling due to its Jewish origins.[1] Anxious to free Christianity from the “stain” of its Jewish foundations, the Nazi-supporting Institute’s research was understood as an effort toward religious liberation. It also had the secondary aim of transforming the corporate experience of the German church through its production of a “Nazified” catechism and hymnal. 

The Institute cloaked its activities under the veneer of objective, academic “research.” As Susannah Heschel observes in her seminal work on the topic, a recurring motif in the literature produced by the Institute was the concept of an “Aryan” Jesus. Using the very best tools in critical biblical scholarship —tools that were largely developed within the German theological tradition— established scholars such as Walter Grundmann produced monographs, pamphlets, and conferences that expanded on the theme of the racial origins of Jesus and the Germanic foundations of Christianity. An important example of this is Grundmann’s 1940 text Jesus the Galilean and Judaism, in which he suggests that the diverse ethnic Galilean region in the 1st century casts significant doubt on whether Jesus was of Jewish descent.[2]

In contrast to its protestations toward neutral objectivity, the Institute’s research methodology was in praxis guided by a priori ideological commitments. These commitments held that National Socialism, and the person of Adolf Hitler in particular, were divine revelations of God for the age. These beliefs had been clearly expressed in the proclamations of Nazi–supporting theologians in the pre–War period, such as Julius Kuptsch’s conviction that Hitler and Jesus shared an “essential kindredness.”[3] Prior to 1939, many of the Institute’s scholars had been attached to the Thüringian branch of the German Christian movement (the Kirchenbewegung Deutsche Christen, hereafter ‘KDC’).[4] The KDC faction was especially radical in their devotion to National Socialism, and its members displayed a willingness to forego many elements of Christian tradition and theology out of sympathetic deference to the totalizing claims of Nazi Weltanschauung. Future leaders of the Institute, such as its director Siegfried Leffler and Walter Grundmann, would have their origins in the KDC, and it was through their organizational efforts that the Institute would eventually come to fruition.[5]

As a major project of the Institute, the “Nazi Bible” was an attempt to contemporize scripture in a way that would harmonize Christianity with the central tenets of Nazi ideology. Titled Die Botschaft Gottes (The Message of God, hereafter ‘BG’),[6] it confined itself to the New Testament —the Old Testament being relegated to a relic of unenlightened Jewish history. What is offered in the final product is a de-Judaized version of various New Testament texts which loosely follow the progression of the gospels. These are supplemented with a compilation of material taken from the epistles, followed by a section on the early church.   

Several intriguing (and disturbing) editorial and hermeneutical principles can be discerned through careful analysis of the content in the BG (an online version can be found here). The question of what New Testament material has been deemed worthy of inclusion is paramount and highlights the editorial team’s boldness in placing themselves in the role of judge as to what counted as authoritative scripture and what should be discarded. Unsurprisingly, any aspect of the gospels that accentuated the Jewish background of Jesus was deemed unsuitable and was simply omitted from the final version (i.e., Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew’s Gospel). Other translations of key biblical texts use various literary flourishes and embellishments to accentuate Jesus’ clash with Judaism, although these can often be subtle. One interesting example pertains to the BG’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus teaches his hearers that their righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees (Matt 5:20). In the BG’s version the text reads:

I tell you: If your behaviour is not better than

that of pharisees and scribes, you

will not enter God’s kingdom![7]  

The interesting thing in this example is that the use of “behaviour” as a replacement for righteousness diminishes the theological import of the teaching and bypasses the deeper theological link between fidelity to the law and spiritual righteousness. What is left is ethical instruction divorced from its Jewish context, which is of course precisely what the editors were trying to achieve throughout the BG. 

The Christology that emerges from within the BG tends to emphasize the humanity of Jesus over his divinity. This undoubtedly stems from the Institute’s broader tendency to locate the primary significance of Jesus’ mission in his protest against Judaism. This element of the Institute’s theology can be glimpsed in the BG’s interpretation of the miracle stories. Grundmann had openly acknowledged that the miracles narratives could no longer be reconciled with scientific truth,[8] and instead, the BG emphasizes the role of the miraculous as a polemical device that offers little more than a statement as to Jesus’ supremacy over the religious traditions that had come before him. Many of the miracle narratives are retained, but they occur in quick succession as if to bombard the reader with an overwhelming sense of Jesus’ strength and power. It is also noteworthy that themes of personal responsibility and submission to appropriate channels of authority are accented, as in the BG’s translation of the interaction between Jesus and Gentile centurion (Matt 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10).[9] Finally, there is some evidence that the Institute’s Christology was informed by a broader German philosophical tradition that understood the divine as a representation of historical progress and the totality of human consciousness. This is revealed in its translation of the famous prologue at the commencement of the Gospel of John. Here the Logos has been substituted for what appears to be a Hegelian reference to the “eternal spirit” (ewige Geist)[10] Although this may appear to be a minor change, it has broad theological implications — especially when one considers how the language of “spirit” was utilized by German Christians during this time. 

Archival material courtesy of the Landeskirchenarchiv in Eisenach.

Staff at the Landeskirchenarchiv in Eisenach have been kind enough to send me some primary source material relating to the planning and administrative phases of the BG in the lead–up to its release. These documents reveal efforts on the part of the BG’s working group to have the final version endorsed and promoted by the German Bible Society — a strategy that would undoubtedly have aided the Institute in promoting the BG to audiences it may not otherwise have been able to reach. An endorsement from the Bible Society would have been deeply symbolic, as it would likely have served to reassure those who viewed the Institute’s theology as too radical to be accepted within mainstream German Protestantism. It is unclear to me from the documents presented whether this endorsement was received, although statements from correspondence between the Institute and Bible Society Committee members indicate that the latter held reservations about distributing such a text. 

That the Institute felt comfortable approaching the German Bible Society for distribution reveals the extent to which they believed their project operated within the boundaries of both responsible research practice and acceptable theology. This may strike contemporary interpreters as absurd given its clear ideological bias, but on this point, it is worth considering what kind of document the BG really was. Although it presented itself as a faithful translation of scripture to be used in the ecclesial life of German churches, in a truer sense it was an early example of what theologians might refer to today as contextual theology. One reason (and there are many compelling reasons to interpret the BG in this way) for this is because a similar language of oppression and liberation is shared in the rhetoric of the German Christians and later contextual theologies that seek to cast off the shackles of foreign influences. For theologians such as Siegfried Leffler, Wolf Meyer-Erlach, and Walter Grundmann, the German nation required liberation from those forces that had long oppressed its Volk and hampered its cultural flourishing. Whether this was true or not is largely irrelevant; for the purposes of constructing a theological methodology, what mattered was that they believed it to be true and so had acted on this impulse. In short, the BG was a document that aimed to set German believers free from accumulated religious baggage (i.e., Judaism) that had distorted the “real” meaning of Christianity. Through this translation, it was hoped that ordinary Germans would re-engage with Christianity in a way that made sense of their unique experience in history.   

While the Institute’s theology may appear to negate any claim to be operating within the Christian sphere due to the moral violations and political oppression it supported, both history and ethics are rarely so neatly defined. It remains a perplexing aspect of German Christian history — and indeed of National Socialism generally— that its supporters believed and acted in good conscience.[11] When judging the legacy of Die Botschaft Gottes and its manifest distortions, we do well to do so in a spirit of humility, for it is often in the pursuit of noble moral and ethical goals that we are most liable to lapse into violence. 


[1] A powerful example of this can be found in Martin Bormann’s ‘Circular on the Relationship of National Socialism and Christianity.’ An English translation can be found in John S. Conway, The Nazi Persecution of the Churches 1933–1945 (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2001 [orig. 1968]), 383–86.  

[2] Walter Grundmann, Jesus der Galiläer und das Judentum (Leipzig: Georg Wigand, 1940). A reprint was offered in the following year, bringing the total number of copies to five thousand.  

[3] Julius Kuptsch, Im Dritten Reich zur Dritten Kirche (Leipzig: Adolf Keil, 1933), 30-31. 

[4] On the history of the KDC, see Oliver Arnhold, “Entjudung” – Kirche im Abgrund: Die Thüringer Kirchenbewegung Deutsche Christen 1928–1939 und das “Institut zur Erforschung und Beseitigung des jüdischen Einflusses auf des deutsche kirchliche Leben” 1939–1945 (Berlin: Institut Kirche und Judentum, 2010. In English, see James A. Zabel, Nazism and the Pastors: A Study of the Ideas of Three Deutsche Christen Groups (Missoula: Scholars Press, 1976), 171–218. 

[5] Significant literature dealing with the origins and activities of the Institute include Susannah Heschel, The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008); Oliver Arnhold, “Entjudung” von Theology und Kirche: Das Eisenacher “Institut our Erforschung und Beseitigung des jüdischen Einflusses auf des deutsche kirchliche Leben” 1939-1945 (Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2020); Dirk Schuster, Die Lehre vom “arischen” Christentum. Das wissenschaftliche Selbstverständnis im Eisenacher “Entjudungsinstitut” (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2017).

[6] Institut zur Erforschung und Beseitigung des jüdischen Einflusses auf des deutsche kirchliche Leben, Die Botschaft Gottes (Leipzig: Georg Wigand, 1940). 

[7] BG, 23. 

[8] Walter Grundmann, “Unsere Arbeit am Neuen Testament. Grundsätzliche Bemerkungen zu dem vom ‘Institut zur Erforschung des jüdischen Einfluess auf das deutsche kirchliche Leben’ herausgegebenen Volkstestament,” Verbandsmitteilungen 1 (1939): 13.  

[9] BG, 35. 

[10] BG, 99. 

[11] On this theme, see Claudia Koonz, The Nazi Conscience (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press, 2003). 

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Hitler and Christianity: Some Trends in Interpretation

A question was recently put to me by a reader who was curious to hear my thoughts on whether Hitler should be considered a “Christian” or an “atheist.” What had spurred this on was this reader’s consideration of the somewhat ambiguous topic of “Positive Christianity” — the allegedly Aryanized form of Christian doctrine that was to have served as National Socialism’s official form of religion. 

Issues surrounding Hitler’s views on the person of Jesus Christ and the institution of the church are frequently obscured by prior ideological or religious commitments. On the one hand are those who have sought to restore the integrity of Christianity in light of accusations that it played an important historic role in the justification for anti-Semitism. This process of reconstruction required identifying occasions where Nazi ideology was opposed to the normative framework of Christian ethics. The suggestion was that the outcomes of Nazi policy were so clearly at odds with Christian moral teaching that both Hitler and the National Socialists more broadly could not be seen as “Christian” in any meaningful sense. This hermeneutical approach tended also to accentuate the völkisch, pagan, and esoteric elements of some aspects of Nazi philosophy as evidence of its radical break with Christianity. Blame for the violent excesses of Nazism could then be dispersed amongst various contributing elements, thus diffusing the culpability of the Christian tradition within German religious history.  

This was a major trend in scholarship in the decades following the war, and there was much that could be cited as evidence to support this interpretation. The Nazi persecution of the churches, which intensified in some areas throughout the 1930s, was considered representative of their general disdain toward Christianity. John S. Conway’s book on the topic remains a useful account of this aspect of Nazi policy. Hitler’s private conversations as revealed in the diaries of Joseph Goebbels and Albert Speer also point to the dictator’s fundamental loathing for the church, clergy, and internal doctrinal squabbling. In his diaries for 1942-43, Goebbels would additionally reflect Hitler’s post-war plans for the abolition of the churches, in which the Nazis would exact their vengeance for ecclesiastical failure to offer united support to National Socialism. Speer, too, would recount an occasion in which Hitler suggested that the appearance of Christianity in Germany was a historical misfortune. Finally, the alleged occult foundations of Nazi ideology, which have been documented by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, were often perceived as a distorting influence on Germanic religion. A familiar refrain in this regard was that the worship of volk and race that was a feature of many esoteric ideologues and preached by Hitler replaced the proper worship of God. A Lutheran understanding of sin would have prevented recourse to a national mythology that understood the German volk (racially conceived) in divine terms. 

The original 25 point NSDAP program of 1920.
Point 24 of the program advocated “the standpoint of positive Christianity.”

The scholarly tide turned in the late 1980s and continues to the present day. In terms of the study of Nazism and the churches, the focus now is on exploring the links between theology and anti-Semitism as they have been expressed throughout major strands of German intellectual, political, and cultural history. There is now less importance placed on protecting the reputation of the church from their involvement in the Third Reich through movements like the German Christians (Deutsche Christen). Aside from the role of institutional Christianity in facilitating Nazism, it is often pointed out that there is evidence too of Hitler’s high regard for Christianity and the person of Jesus Christ. Positive references to Jesus can be found in Mein Kampf and many of his early speeches, in which the historical figure of Jesus was extolled for his fearless polemic against Judaism. Curiously, Hitler (along with Goebbels) was one of the few Nazi leaders to retain their membership of the church at a time when other leaders (such as the Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler and party ideologue Alfred Rosenberg) were actively encouraging the renunciation of denominational affiliation. Some have pointed to Hitler’s regard for the Catholic church as a symbol of enduring institutional power as evidence of his favourable disposition toward Christianity. These factors can be construed as pointing towards a degree of sympathy between Hitler and Christianity that has been too easy to dismiss. 

In response, others have suggested that any positive reference to Jesus or Christianity showed by Hitler was mere political manipulation. Hitler knew that he could not achieve power without the support of the churches, and his proclamations endorsing the church as the backbone of German society should be seen in the light of his attempts to convince voters and consolidate power. There is truth to this, but I do not think it warrants the conclusion that Hitler was a religious cynic or firm atheist (itself a popular way for some Christian apologists to deal with the problem of Nazism). Yet nor was Hitler a Christian. While there is much in Hitler’s rhetoric that points to some belief in the transcendent, I suggest that this was more in line with a German philosophical tradition (primarily, Idealism) that viewed the concepts of the will and the collective human spirit in metaphysical terms. This would help explain his somewhat vague language of “providence”, which need not reference a Christian God —or indeed any God— but might simply point to a Hegelian understanding of history as moving toward a higher teleological purpose. 

Further Reading

Bergen, Doris L. Twisted Cross: The German Christian Movement in the Third Reich. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007. 

Buesnel, Ryan, “Positive Christianity: Theological Rationales and Legacies,” Religion Compass (2020),

Conway, John S. The Nazi Persecution of the Churches, 1933-1945. Vancouver: Regent College, 2001 (original 1968). 

Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas. The Occult Roots of Nazism: Secret Aryan Cults and their Influence on Nazi Ideology. London: Tauris Parke, 2004. 

Heschel, Susannah. The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010. 

Koehne, Samuel, “Nazi Germany as a Christian State: The “Protestant Experience” of 1933 in Württemberg,” Central European History 46/1 (2013): 97-123. 

Lochner, Louis Paul. (ed). The Goebbels Diaries, 1942-1943. New York: Doubleday, 1948. 

Scholder, Klaus. The Churches and the Third Reich, 2 vols. London: SCM, 1988. 

Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich. London: Phoenix, 1995. 

Steigmann-Gall, Richard. The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919-1945. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. 

Ullrich, Volker, Hitler: A Biography, 2 vols. London: Vintage, 2017.   

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Chuck deGroat and the Narcissistic Congregation

I have recently had the opportunity to read Chuck deGroat’s confronting book When Narcissism Comes to Church: Healing Your Community From Emotional and Spiritual Abuse (1). DeGroat’s purpose in this study is twofold: first, he explores the how and the why of narcissistic abuse within churches, and in pursuit of this goal he draws on his experience working with perpetrators and victims as he seeks to understand the complex dynamics involved. A secondary aim of the book is to provide readers with the knowledge and insights necessary to prevent narcissistic abuse before it occurs in congregational contexts.  Throughout his timely work, deGroat does a fine job of describing the devastation wrought by narcissistic leaders within the church whilst simultaneously extending a measure of gracious understanding to narcissists themselves. 

One of the few weaknesses of the book, however, is that it largely absolves congregations from complicity in fostering narcissistic churches (the title itself assumes that narcissism will always come from “without”). Perhaps this is hyper-criticism on my part, and I suspect that any study aiming to penetrate the complex and often hidden world of congregational dynamics would require its own volume (or two!). Yet it is a point worthy of being made. In the wake of narcissistic abuse from a church leader, it is often said that their hellish mixture of charisma, manipulation, and deceptive conduct had the effect of “fooling” innocent parishioners —thus absolving the congregation of any complicity. The cunning minister was perceived as being able to capitalize on a pervasive sense of blissful ignorance on the part of the congregation, whose goodwill toward the leader left them powerless to resist their evil machinations.

While the above scenario is an all-too-common reality, the dynamics involved in the relationship between narcissistic leadership and church congregations are likely to be more nuanced than they first appear. It is perhaps rather too reductive to assume that in all cases of narcissistic abuse within the church it is the result of a sole individual (i.e., a pastor or other leader) manipulating a whole congregation for her or his selfish benefit. That this can happen is clear, but one suspects that a range of enabling factors are at play that helps shape the ecclesial environment in which narcissism emerges. 

Within the church context, I suggest that the problem of narcissistic abuse in leadership often has its origins in the expectations of congregations toward their leaders and that these expectations can reflect narcissistic longings. Most often, these expectations relate to an uncritical desire for self-preservation and a need to protect/enhance the institutional image. These expectations are then thrust upon the leader, whose job it is to realize these goals on behalf of the congregation. 

This dynamic can help foster an environment whereby the leader feels themselves to be solely responsible for the “success” of “failure” (whatever these words precisely mean) of the church’s missional outcomes. It is easy to see how when times are good this dynamic can generate a sense of grandiosity and self-reliance in the mind of the minister or pastor. Perceiving themselves as an instrumental factor in the church’s success, the leader retreats into an internal sense of their utmost necessity, which is often reinforced by the congregation’s eagerness to celebrate and affirm the giftedness of the leader. Conversely, when the minister is perceived as “failing” the church (i.e., through declining numbers or decreased offerings), then the blame can frequently be placed at the foot of the minister without any concurrent examination about how congregational dynamics may have played a contributing part. 

In both of these scenarios, the tendency of the congregations to outsource responsibility for the plight of the church to the “professional” leader can have disastrous consequences. Furthermore, it reflects an underlying sense of entitlement and avoidance of shared responsibility that reflect narcissistic traits. That these occur on a collective rather than individual-level does nothing, in my view, to lessen their impact. On this point, I was reminded of the justifications offered by many ordinary Germans in the post-war period who, keen to distance themselves from complicity in Nazism, chose instead to lay the fault solely at the feet of Adolf Hitler. It was Hitler, they alleged, who had “fooled” and “hypnotized” an entire nation of people who would have otherwise disapproved of such terrible excesses. Their guilt was that they had not discerned sooner what was truly happening. The reality, as we now know, was far more damning.     

I conclude that any assessment of narcissism within churches should remain cognizant of the potential for an institutional form of narcissistic behaviour that operates behind a veneer of culture and tradition. While it is certainly the case that many church leaders possess an uncanny ability to manipulate congregations using a mixture of fear, charm, and power, this is often enabled by a group dynamic that confers upon leaders’ unrealistic expectations based on dubious notions of what it means to be “successful” in the marketplace of contemporary church life. 


Chuck deGroat, When Narcissism Comes to Church: Healing Your Community From Emotional and Spiritual Abuse (InterVarsity, 2020).

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