NAZI Religion

religion in NAZI Germany
Figure 1.-- While the NAZIs adopted a wide range of policies to undermind traditional religion, they did not ban the mainline denominations or close churches. This would have been disruptive in a country as thoroughly Christian as Germany. Where Germany was headed can be seen in the SS. Here a SS corporal is being marries in a ceremony officiated by his commnder, probably around 1935. Note that the boys are wearing sailor suits rather thzn their Hitler Youth uniforms. It is possible that they were not HJ members as it was not yet mandatory and one boy looks younger than 10 years old. Source: Library of Congress, 242-HB-4244. Click on the image for a fuller discussion.

While the NAZIs adopted a wide range of policies to undermind traditional religion, they did not ban the mainline denominations or close churches. This would have been disruptive in a country as thoroughly Christian as Germany. And especially after launchiung the War, Hitler wanted nothing that would disrupt the war effort. There were those planning a new NAZI religion for Germany and this would have occured had the NAZIs won the War. Hitler and other leading NAZIs were contemptuos of Christianity, viewing it as a religion for weaklings. The NAZIs rejected beatiudes like "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." [Matthew 5:5] This was not what they wanted young people taught. Along with other radical social plans, the Nazis postponed a major acrion against religion until after they had won the War. The term being discussed in NAZI circles was the “coordination” (Gleichschaltung) of church life. Whether the churches would have been purges or restricted in various ways or completely eliminated, we can now only speculate about. SS Reichführer Himmler was one of greatest enemies of Christianity in the NAZI heirarchy. Thus trends in the SS provide us an insiught on NAZI plans for the maineline Christian churfches. Himmler strongly promoted his SS men to break with the church. He wanted SS members who he saw as an elite knighthood of the Reich along with their families to leave the church, As for marriage, he favored a “marriage consecration” (Eheweihe) rather than a church wedding. Thiis was one of many pseudo-Germanic Teutonic rituals that Himmler wanted to replsace traditional Christian rituals. Where Germany was headed can be seen in the SS. We see secular SS weddings outside of churches without clerical officiating. SS weddings were offiated by the men's commnders. And we see baptisms being replaced with a name giving ceremomy in front of an altar with Hitler's portrait. Many families would have wanted Christian cremonies, especially the middle class families from which SS-men came. I am not sure to what extent these ceremonies were required, but it is where Germany was headed if the NAZIs had won.

NAZI Assault on Religion

The NAZIs adopted a wide range of policies to undermind traditional religion. Hitler and the NAZIs initiated an assault both on traditional Christian values, but religions institutions as well. The NAZI assault on Judism is best known. But here the focus were the Jews themselves and not the religion. One religion seen in more positive terms was Islam, in part because it was helful in the effort against Jews. It was Christianity that suffered most from the NAZIs, primarily because it posed the greatest danger to the NAZIs. Sects like the 7th Day Adventists were attacked because they opposed military conscriptiom. The mainstream church that suffered the greatest was the Catholics. Despite signing a Concordant with the Vatican in 1933, the NAZIs steadily undermined the power and influence of the Church in Germany and arrested many priests.

NAZI Contempt

Hitler and other leading NAZIs were contemptuos of Christianity, viewing it as a religion for weaklings. The NAZIs rejected beatiudes like "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." [Matthew 5:5] This was not what they wanted young people taught. Along with other radical social plans, the Nazis postponed a major acrion against religion until after they had won the War.

Hesitanion to Ban

Despitethe contempt of Hitler and other top NAZIs, the NAZIs stopped short of sactually banning the mainline denominations or closing churches. This would have been disruptive in a country as thoroughly Christian as Germany. Germany was arguably the most deeply Christian of all Wuropean countries. And especially after launching the War, Hitler wanted nothing that would disrupt the war effort. Nor was there any attempt to launch a Soviet style atheism campaign. Part of NAZI legitmacy was to protect the country from Bolshevick athesm. Thus the NAZIs coud hardly institute a atheism campaign of their owm. Atheism contained another issue that caused the NAZIs to hesitate. One element of NAZIs was that the Greek credo 'that man was a meaure of all things' which essentially came to define Western civiization. This suggests a recognition of higher powers. This kind of thought did not lead to the highly desciplined cadre the NAZIs sought. [Himmler, 1935] SS men for example were not allowed to be atheists. They had to register as Parotestant, Catholic, or believer in God (Gottglaubig).

Planning Gleichschaltung

There were those planning a new NAZI religion for Germany and this would have occured had the NAZIs won the War. The term being discussed in NAZI circles was the “coordination” (Gleichschaltung) of church life. Whether the churches would have been purges or restricted in various ways or completely eliminated, we can now only speculate about.

Transition

The transition to the new NAZI religion was already underways by the time of the War. Very early in the NAZI era the NAZIs began developing rituals as well as holidys. They were faced with the established religions and as discussed above, these religions were confronted and undermined in different ways. An aspect of the transition was to trandform the important national holidays, including the religious holidays into NAZI holidays. This was not an easy process, but was well underway by the time of the War. We note articles in Party publications about how to to transform the existing holidays to NAZI holidays. Most German holidays had religious foundations. This of ourse included Christmas, the most important of all German holiday celebrations. An example is an article "New Meanings for "Inherited" Customs?etitled". The most important German holiday was Weihnacht (Christmas) which conviently does not use Christ's name. The author suggests that the content and meaning of holidays, even, Christmas can revised, making them over as NAZI holidays. And we begin to see the results of this approsach. An important German tradition is advent cards and calendars. Duting the War, Advent calenders appear without any religious content. The NAZIs by the time of the War had soweakened the churches that they were unable to resist the transition in progress. We note efforts by athetist groups in the West to oppose events like public Chritmas parades or Christmas parties or even Christmas greetings. This has aroused vigorous public debate. No siuch debate was permitted in NAZI Germany ewhjich would have compolicated the transition..

SS Religious Ceremonies

SS Reichführer Himmler was one of greatest enemies of Christianity in the NAZI heirarchy. Thus trends in the SS provide us an insiught on NAZI plans for the mainline Christian churches. Himmler strongly promoted his SS men to break with the church, but did not insist on it. He wanted SS members who he saw as an elite knighthood of the Reich along with their families to leave the church, but not to become atheists. As for marriage, he favored a “marriage consecration” (Eheweihe) rather than a church wedding. Thiis was one of many pseudo-Germanic Teutonic rituals that Himmler wanted to replsace traditional Christian rituals. Where Germany was headed can be seen in the SS. We see secular SS weddings outside of churches without clerical officiating. SS weddings were offiated by the men's commnders. And we see baptisms being replaced with a name giving ceremomy in front of an altar with Hitler's portrait. Many families would have wanted Christian cremonies, especially the middle class families from which SS-men came. I am not sure to what extent these ceremonies were required, but it is where Germany was headed if the NAZIs had won.

NAZI Religious Concepts

The central concept in the NAZI Hitler cult was that he was a man sent by providence to save Germany. It was an idea that in earlir years would have been seen as blasphemous. As the central concepts of the New Testament such as compoassion, humility, turn the other cheek, humanitariamism, and loving one's neigbhbor were seen as weakness in a dangeous world threatening the German nation. Rather Hitler wanted a German people shaped by uncompromising hardness and harshness. Hitler explained what he wanted, "The weak must be chiselled away. I want young men and women who can suffer pain. A young German must be as swift as a greyhound, as tough as leather, and as hard as Krupp's steel."

Sources

Himmler speech, 1935. Quoted in Smith and Peterson, eds. Heinrich Himmler, Geheimreden , pp. 85-86.

Kremer, Hannes. "Neuwertung 'überlieferter' Brauchformen?" (New Meanings for "Inherited" Customs?), Die neue Gemeinschaft 3 (1937), pp. 3005 a-c.









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Created: 9:07 AM 5/24/2010
Last updated: 3:15 AM 11/14/2015