Some time ago I got into a discussion with a fellow blogger about Martin Luther, the founder of the Protestant Reformation and a notorious anti-Semite. I was amazed to find that anyone would defend Marin Luther, a man who urged his followers to kill without mercy, let alone that Luther would be regarded as a "good man." If Luther was so good, then he must have gone to Heaven, right? And if Luther gets in, why not his best known protege, Adolf Hitler?
In 1543, Luther wrote his infamous tract On the Jews and Their Lies, as vile a peice of hate speech as you will find. Previously, Luther had written That Jesus Christ was born a Jew, in which Luther advocated kindness toward the Jews, but only with the aim of converting them to Christianity: what he called Judenmission. However when he realized that the Jews were not going to convert, he turned on them. He advocated stripping the Jews of their property, burning their synagogues and holy books and in the end, killing them. Luther urged his followers to commit murder saying "We are at fault in not slaying them."
For 400 years, Christian preachers continued to echo Luther's words. It was this preaching of hatred that set the stage for the Holocaust and explains why Hitler's ideas won such easy acceptance in Germany and elsewhere. Nazis displayed Luther's tome at the Nuremberg rallies and held Kristallnacht on Luther's birthday in 1938. The Lutheran church would distance itself from its founder saying "It is imperative for the Lutheran Church, which knows itself to be
indebted to the work and tradition of Martin Luther, to take seriously
also his anti-Jewish utterances, to acknowledge their theological
function, and to reflect on their consequences. It has to distance
itself from every expression of anti-Judaism in Lutheran theology." But that was in 1998, more than 50 years AFTER the Holocaust.
Adolf Hitler was indebted to the writings of Martin Luther and felt that Luther was a great man.
Adolf Hitler was born on April 20th, 1889. He was the illegitimate child of Alois Hitler and Klara Pölzl. Klara was related to Alois, his half neice, and the couple needed to receive a special dispensation from the Vatican in order to marry. Finally, the dispensation was granted and Klara became Alois' third wife. But since young Adolf was born prior to the marriage, he was Adolf Schicklgruber (his mother's maiden name, they all married a LOT) until he was 39. Alois would not consent to him his bastard son his surname.
Hitler was raised in a religous household. He was baptized in the Roman Catholic church in Austria, attended school at a monastery and became an altar boy. Writing in Mein Kampf, he recalls how he wanted to become a priest. “I had
excellent opportunity to intoxicate myself with the solemn splendor of the
brilliant church festivals. As was only natural, the abbot seemed to me, as the
village priest had once seemed to my father, the highest and most desirable
ideal.” Throughout most of his life he maintained close ties to the church and in fact received support from the church.
Archbishop Cesare Orsenigo, the papal nuncio in Berlin, came to Hitler's birthday party in 1939, under instructions from Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, who would become Pope Pius XII, and the celebration of Hitler's birhtday by the church became a tradition. Cardinal Bertram
of Berlin was instructed to send “warmest congratulations to the Fuhrer in the name of the
bishops and the dioceses in Germany with “fervent prayers which the Catholics of
Germany are sending to heaven on their altars.” (Source: Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII, by John Cornwell) But there are well documented photos of meetings between Hitler and representatives of various churches well after the Holocaust began.
Hitler reciprocated. He would say “The National Socialist
State professes its allegiance to positive Christianity. It will be its honest
endeavor to protect both the great Christian Confessions in their rights, to
secure them from interference with their doctrines, and in their
duties to constitute a harmony with the views and the exigencies of the State of
today.” Hitler opposed abortion, was anti-homosexual and enforced religous teachings in German schools. He was widely regarded as a model Christian leader...except for that little genocide thing. But maybe that wasn't considered so bad.
There is Biblical support for genocide in the Bible. The first recorded genocide in chronicled in Samuel as follows:
"2 Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to
Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. 3
Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have.
Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, and infant, ox and
sheep, camel and donkey." (1 Sam. 15:2-3). Saul the first king of the Israelites is deposed because he fails to follow orders.
Hitler had a lot of support in his war of extermination. Father Charles Coughlin was a radio preacher in the US, based out of Michigan. Millions of people tuned into his broadcasts. In a rally in the Bronx, New York in 1938, Coughlin said "When we get through with the Jews in America, they'll think the treatment they received in Germany was nothing." (By the way, my parents were living in the Bronx at that time, think how terrifying that must have been.) In all fairness, many Catholics opposed Coughlin, but he had the support of Detroit Bishop Michael Gallagher and there was a concern that if the church silenced Coughlin, he would lead a schism. The sense was that the lives of the Jews were not worth risking a drop in membership.
Until the end of World War II, anti-Semitism was tolerated by the Christian churches, if not felt to be a Christian duty. So maybe Hitler and Luther are hanging out in Heaven with all the other religous haters.