What was Hitler's Nazi policy towards Jesus

«Jesus cannot have been a Jew!»: How the Evangelical Church in the «Third Reich» offered itself to the Nazis

Christianity got in Hitler's way, not just because Jesus was Jewish. The Protestant Church reacted decisively: In 1939, the «Entjudungsinstitut» in Eisenach was given the task of liberating the faith and the church from everything Jewish. And after 1945 the story continued.

Christianity was founded by a Jew, the Christian religion is rooted in the Jewish. That is undeniable, and that is precisely why it was so unbearable for the National Socialists. Alfred Rosenberg, the leading ideologue of the NSDAP, recommended in 1930 that the Old Testament be abolished “once and for all”. In the beginning the party still professed a "positive Christianity", but it soon became clear that neo-pagan rituals should take the place of Christianity. In a small circle, Hitler let it be known that he wanted to "rot" the churches "like a fiery member".

How did the Protestant Church in Germany react? With determination: On May 6, 1939, the "Institute for Research and Elimination of Jewish Influence on German Church Life" was founded in Eisenach, Thuringia, an institute that has only recently become the subject of historical research. It was supported by eleven German Protestant regional churches that came together to finance the institute - without being forced by the Nazi state.

The aim of the institute was to eradicate everything that was somehow Jewish in order to bring the churches and Christianity into line with National Socialism. In the lead were the so-called German Christians, especially in Thuringia, who advocated that Christianity and National Socialism should be compatible with one another.

Away with everything Jewish

"The main reproach of the inner-party critics that Christianity is ultimately only a form of Judaism," says the Eisenach historian Jochen Birkenmeier, "was believed to be able to counteract the church through a consistent 'de-Judaization'." Jewish terms were removed from the New Testament, the Old Testament was almost completely removed. Jesus should not appear as a Jew, but as a sharp opponent of Judaism.

It was no coincidence that the institute was located in Eisenach of all places: a small town that, like the nearby Weimar der Klassiker, stood for the myth of German cultural tradition. In the early 13th century, Eisenach was home to the most famous Middle High German poets: Walther von der Vogelweide and Wolfram von Eschenbach.

But above all, Eisenach was the city of Martin Luther, who went to school here with foster parents and later, in 1521, was kept hidden in the Wartburg above the city as "Junker Jörg" and there in just eleven weeks the New Testament from the Greek into German.

Luther, the forerunner of Hitler

With this, Luther, according to the narrative of early German studies, created the early New High German written language, the visual power of which has an effect in Goethe's and Friedrich Nietzsche's language. To the romantic yearning of the 19th century, Luther appeared to be a national hero, a liberator from the tutelage of the Roman Inquisition and a pacemaker of German national sentiment.

The fact that Luther was also hostile to Jews was discovered again in the 19th century, and the German Christians of the 1930s were very welcome. In his late publication "Von den Juden und their Lügen" (1543), Luther demanded the expulsion of the Jews with brutal brutality and recommended the destruction of their houses, schools and synagogues.

With that he appeared as a kind of forerunner of Hitler. All Hitler had to do was complete what Luther had initiated. The (pseudo) scientific director of the institute, the theologian Walter Grundmann (1906–1976), saw in the “de-Judaization of the national community” a “legacy” of Luther fulfilled. Just as Luther fought Rome and the Pope, so Grundmann said it was now the task of his institute to fight “the salvation-historical reference to the history of the Old Testament” and thus to participate in the “great hour” that dawned among us is ».

Singing without Zebaoth

Grundmann achieved a wide response with his book "Jesus the Galileans". For Grundmann, it was necessary “that in all likelihood Jesus, since he could not have been a Jew due to his mental nature, was also not in terms of blood”. With numerous volunteers from all over the Reich, Grundmann created a "de-Judaized Bible" that made Jesus a staunch fighter against Judaism. Their first edition was quickly sold out. A "de-Judaized" hymnal followed. Jewish terms such as Zion, Mr. Zebaoth, Hosanna, even Hallelujah were dropped. “Everything that has breath / praise with Abraham's seed” quickly became “everything that has breath / agree with joy”.

But the institute's influence was limited. His employees were called up for military service, because the National Socialists gained the upper hand, who considered Christianity and National Socialism to be incompatible. The national newspaper "Weltkampf" announced in 1939: "We believe neither in an Aryan Christ nor in an Aryan Christianity."

Christianity appeared at this point as "Judaism for Europeans". Nevertheless - the work of the Dejudification Institute was a contribution of Protestantism to the annihilation of the European Jews. But this insight took hold very late. The decisive factor was the successful adjustment of the former actors after 1945, who now justified their de-Judaism institute as a defense of Christianity against National Socialism - or rather, they kept it completely secret.

It continues after the war

As in the political arena, old elites took on leadership roles in the church after the war, in both German states. The story of Walter Grundmann stands out as a particularly perfidious chapter, who shaped generations of pastors and church musicians in the years of the GDR as head of the Eisenach preachers' seminar.

Grundmann was one of the most widely read New Testament scholars in the GDR. His commentaries on the Gospels, which were also used in the Federal Republic for the training of Protestant pastors, appeared in the Evangelical Publishing House in Berlin. In these comments, Grundmann continued to emphasize a profound contrast between Judaism and Christianity.

That Grundmann had worked for the GDR State Security Service for fifteen years only became known after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was only after the Reformation anniversary in 2017 that the «Entjudungsinstitut» became the subject of an exhibition that had an impact on broad communication, which can be seen in the Luther House in Eisenach and is supported by the Evangelical Church in Central Germany (EKM) and a broad alliance of historians. But the background to the exhibition is up-to-date, as the curator Jochen Birkenmeier emphasizes: anti-Semitism is on the rise again, not only in Germany.

The exhibition «Exploration and Elimination. The Church Entjudungsinstitut 1939–1945 »can be seen in the Lutherhaus Eisenach until the end of December 2020.