“Christianity is an invention of sick brains,” Adolf Hitler, 13 December 1941.
“So it’s not opportune to hurl ourselves now into a struggle with the Churches. The best thing is to let Christianity die a natural death,” Adolf Hitler, 14 October 1941.
When one looks at the atrocities committed under the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler and compares them to the teacher of universal love, Jesus of Nazareth, one might come to the immediate conclusion that the notion that Hitler was a Christian is absurd. Nevertheless, no small number of people hold such a view. Why do they think this, and is there any truth to it?
This question has been vexing me for years. I’ve done a lot of research, read a number of books, written a pretty large web site to try to get at the issue (which is by no means simple and clear cut). Frankly, this is an area where objectivity is a severe challenge. The argument has become one between the Christian apologists and the anti-Christian propagandists. That’s not much of a formula for truth.
At this point (after years of debate) I believe that the question, as it is posed in the title of this page is meaningless. It is more a reflection of an individual’s bias than an assertion of historical fact. I view Jesus as a gentle man who taught love of God and neighbor, who said to turn the other cheek and give of oneself sacrificially. If that belief is “Christian”, then no one–not the staunchest anti-Christian — could claim Hitler was a Christian. If on the other hand, one classifies Christianity as any view which is derived from the Christian story, no matter how faithful or how perverted–however logical or illogical (or pathological), then Hitler did consider himself an admirer of Jesus (perverted though his view was), although the religion we popularly call Christianity disgusted him.
If then the question is not a historical question but a reflection of the bias of the one who asks, what is the value of the question? In a word, the answer is “propaganda”. To assert the statement (using an iconoclastic definition of “Christian”) serves to denigrate Christianity through “guilt by association”. To deny the statement is to defend Christianity’s “good name” by refusing to let Hitler’s twisted view of Jesus to be associated with Christian “main stream” views.
So what started as an apologists answer to the question “Was Hitler a Christian?”, is now an exploration of Hitler’s religions thinking and the issue of Christian anti-Semitism in general. But if you want an answer to the question, then mine is: Not any kind we would call “Christian” today.
This essay presents information from authoritative sources, Hitler’s background, Hitler’s actions, Hitler’s own statements, and the conclusions of historians and his biographers. Documentation of sources referenced is provided as well as a reading list.
In preparing this essay, I consulted a published historian of modern Germany whom I had the privilege of meeting through the Internet. Many thanks to him for the suggestions of source material. The works by and about Albert Speer were suggested by another correspondent, and visits to the library and bookstores yielded additional sources.
After World War II, the Allies captured over 43 tons of Nazi documents. Available to historians are the testimonies and diaries of Hitler’s confidants, and even stenographic notes of his informal conversations—the detail available is unprecedented. Because of the sheer weight of evidence alone, it would appear that Hitler’s religious views could be determined without much trouble. So why is there any debate?
Although Germany was suffering from extreme social and economic hardships, I doubt they were as a whole any more brutal and evil than any other people. And while most modern people would consider following a “Hitler” unthinkable, many in Germany did follow the Nazis willingly (although Hitler’s party never received a majority vote in any free election and many followed out of fear). How did this happen? I think that the short answer is that we see the historical judgment of Hitler, but the Germans saw Nazi propaganda. We see largely documented facts and they saw “the big lie”. Hitler cynically used whatever he could to advance his own power. Kershaw’s book, The ‘Hitler Myth’, is particularly useful in this regard. Thus, to take, for example a public speech by Hitler as some sort of true view of the inner person is to fall for the lie just as many of Hitler’s contemporaries did. As Hitler himself privately put it in discussing Nazi relations with the Churches: “the main thing is to be clever in this matter and not to look for a struggle where it can be avoided.” [Hitler’s Table Talk, p. 59]
So whom do you trust? Diaries are great, but Hitler did not keep one. Hitler’s own autobiography, Mein Kampf, is known to misrepresent events. Convicted Nazi war criminals such as Albert Speer wrote their memoirs, but can we trust those who have a vested interest in the rehabilitation of their own reputations? Hitler’s speeches are discounted immediately since they were designed to manipulate rather than to inform. This study will rely on Mein Kampf, problematic as it is, a record of Hitler’s conversations with Hermann Rauschning in 1932-34 (Hitler Speaks), on a stenographic record of Hitler’s private conversations which were recorded beginning in 1942 under the direction of Hitler’s personal secretary, Martin Bormann, and published in 1953 under the title Hitler’s Table Talk and on the judgment of the historians who have studied Hitler.
Some further discussion of “Christian anti-Semitism” appears in my article on Luther and the Jews.
- Hitler’s Background
- Hitler’s Actions
- Hitler’s Statements
- Albert Speer
- Conclusions of Biographers and Historians
- The Psychology of Hitler
- Christianity and Racial Politics
- Contrasting Christian and Nazi Ethics
- Research Questions
- Appendix A – Misconceptions about Hitler
- Reading List
Despite trying to depict himself otherwise in Mein Kampf, Hitler’s youth was not one of privation, but one of the adequate means afforded to his father, a minor customs official. Hitler (born 1889) was confirmed a Roman Catholic at his mother’s wish on Whit Sunday 1904 at the Cathedral at Linz, one year following the death of his father. [Bullock, Alan, Hitler, A Study in Tyranny. Harper & Row, 1962, p. 26] According to Heiden [Der Fuehrer .p 632] Hitler still went to confession and communion in 1918.
Was Hitler’s anti-Semitism based on the Christian Bible? “There was nothing new in Hitler’s anti-Semitism; it was endemic in Vienna, and everything he ever said or wrote about the Jews is only a reflection of the anti-Semitic periodicals and pamphlets he read in Vienna before 1914”.[Bullock p. 39] Indeed, Hitler’s hatred of Jews was racial rather than religious in nature. “The Jews were responsible for bring negroes into the Rhineland with the ultimate idea of bastardizing the white race which they hate and thus lowering its cultural and political level so that the Jew might dominate.” [Hitler, Adolf, Mein Kampf, p. 273.] Since the 4th century, Christians were anti-Jewish; what is new is the concept of “scientific racism”. Anti-Jews want Jews to convert to Christianity; anti-Semites want them dead.
Murder of Erich Klausener, the German leader of Catholic Action and other Catholic leaders by the SS. [Bullock, p. 305].
Hitler killed himself (a mortal sin).
Hitler was married to Eva Braun by a secular city official [Last Days of Hitler, p. 234]. He took no counsel from a clergyman before his death. [Last Days of Hitler, Ch. 6-7].
The Nazis removed Catholic nuns from all social service jobs.
This public speeches in this section are perhaps the least trustworthy of the lot and the reason for this is clear from the words of Hitler’s’ biographer Alan Bullock: “Astuteness; the ability to lie, twist, cheat and flatter; the elimination of sentimentality or loyalty in favor of ruthlessness were the qualities which enabled men to rise; above all, strength of will. Such were the principles which Hitler drew from his years in Vienna…He learned to lie with conviction and to dissemble with candor.” [Bullock, p. 36-7]
A good start on appreciating the unreliability of Hitler’s public statements is this letter from Hitler to the French fascist Hervé and published in the Nazi Völkischer Beobachter on October 26, 1930 [Heiden, Der Fuehrer, p. 414] :
I think I can assure you that there is no one in Germany who will not with all his heart approve any honest attempt at an improvement of relations between Germany and France. My own feelings force me to take the same attitude…. .The German people has the solemn intention of living in peace and friendship with all civilized nations and powers…. .And I regard the maintenance of peace in Europe as especially desirable and at the same time secured, if France and Germany, on the basis of equal sharing of natural human rights, arrive at a real inner understanding….The young Germany, that is led by me and that finds its expression in the National Socialist Movement, has only the most heartfelt desire for an understanding with other European nations.
That by the man who started World War II.
Regarding the outbreak of war in 1914, Hitler wrote:
“I am not ashamed to acknowledge today that I was carried away by the enthusiasm of the moment and that I sank down upon my knees and thanked Heaven out of the fullness of my heart for the favour of having been permitted to live in such a time. [Mein Kampf, p. 146-7]
Hitler in Munich, 1933:
“We are now met by the question: Do we wish to restore Germany to freedom and power? If ‘yes’, then the first thing to do is rescue it from the Jew who is ruining our country….We want to stir up a storm. Men must not sleep: they ought to know that a thunderstorm is coming up. We want to prevent our Germany from suffering, as Another did, the death upon the Cross.” [Bullock, p. 96]
“Another picture of the Nazi leader at this time is given by Kurt Ludecke [I knew Hitler, pp 171-2]. Ludecke had gone to visit Hitler in Munich at the end of September, and, after an evening spent in Hitler’s company at his Munich flat listening to him denounce the influence of Christianity, he accompanied him by car to a mass Hitler Youth demonstration in Potsdam.” [Bullock, p. 228]
A rather interesting quotation from a speech by Hitler from 1937:
“However weak the individual may be when compared with the omnipotence and will of Providence, yet at the moment when he acts as Providence would have him act he becomes immeasurably strong. Then there streams down upon him that force which has marked all greatness in the world’s history. And when I look back on the five years which lie behind us, then I feel that I am justified in saying: That has not been the work of man alone.'” [Bullock, p. 384-5]
This is perhaps a good time to renew our commitment to critical thinking by asking two questions: Is Hitler speaking his mind or trying to impress his audience? If Hitler believes in “Providence”, does he mean the Christian God or some mystical force of history or fate? Hitler also personified Nature:
Nature…puts living creatures on this globe and watches the free play of forces. She then confers the master’s right on her favorite child, the strongest in courage and industry…The stronger must dominate and not blend with the weaker, thus sacrificing his own greatness. Only the born weakling can view this as cruel. [Mein Kampf, pp 134-5, 285, 289]
Bullock goes on to say: “It was in this sense of mission that Hitler, a man who believed neither in God nor in conscience (‘a Jewish invention, a blemish like circumcision’), found both justification and absolution.”
National Socialism [Hitler declared] takes as the starting point of its views and its decisions neither the individual nor humanity. It puts consciously into the central point of its whole thinking the Volk. This Volk is for it a blood-conditioned entity which it sees the God-willed building-stone of human society. The individual is transitory, the Volk is permanent. [Speech at the Nazi Harvest Thanksgiving Celebrations at Bükenburg, 7 October 1933]
I believe that it was God’s will to send a youth from here into the Reich, to let him grow up, to raise him to be the leader of the nation so as to enable him to lead back his homeland into the Reich….In three days the Lord has smitten them….And to me the grace was given on the day of the betrayal to be able to unite my homeland [Austria] with the Reich….I would now give thanks to Him who let me return to my homeland in order than I might now lead it into my German Reich. Tomorrow, may every German recognize the hour, and measure its import and bow in humility before the Almighty who in a few weeks has wrought a miracle upon us. [Closing speech of the campaign at Vienna, 9 April 1938]
Under the direction of Martin Bormann, a stenographic record of Hitler’s conversations was made. This, published under the title Hitler’s Table Talk, shows that Christianity and the Jews were regular themes of Hitler’s conversation. Anti-Christian writers dismiss Table Talk out of hand, saying that Bormann was anti-Catholic (and by innuendo that the text is inauthentic). See further discussion on Table Talk later.
When National Socialism has ruled long enough, it will no longer be possible to conceive of a form of life different from ours. In the long run, National Socialism and religion will no longer be able to exist together. … No, it does not mean a war. The ideal solution would be to leave the religions to devour themselves, without persecutions. But in that case we must not replace the Church with something equivalent…The heaviest blow that ever struck humanity was the coming of Christianity. Bolshevism is Christianity’s illegitimate child. Both are inventions of the Jew. The deliberate lie in the matter of religion was introduced into the world by Christianity. [Hitler’s Table Talk, p. 6-7]
Christianity is a rebellion against natural law, a protest against nature. Taken to its logical extreme, Christianity would mean the systematic cultivation of the human failure. [p. 51]
[Regarding a concordat with the Churches] Firstly, in this way the authority of the State would be vitiated by the fact of the intervention of a third power concerning which it is impossible to say how long it would remain reliable. In the case of the Anglican Church, this objection does not arise, for England knows she can depend on her Church. But what about the Catholic Church? Wouldn’t we be running the risk of her one day going into reverse after having put herself at the service of the State solely in order to safeguard her power? If one day the State’s policy ceased to suit Rome or the clergy, the priests would turn against the State, as they are doing now. History provides examples that should make us careful.
Secondly, there is also a question of principle. Trying to take a long view of things, it is conceivable that one could found anything durable on falsehood? When I think of our people’s future, I must look further than immediate advantages, even if these advantages were to last three hundred, five hundred years or more. I’m convinced that any pact with the Church can offer only a provisional benefit, for sooner or later the scientific spirit will disclose the harmful character of such a compromise. Thus the State will have based its existence on a foundation that one day will collapse.
An educated man retains the sense of the mysteries of nature and bows before the unknowable. An uneducated man, on the other hand, runs the risk of going over to atheism (which is a return to the state of the animal) as soon as her perceives that the State, in sheer opportunism, is making use of false ideas in the matter of religion, whilst in other fields it bases everything on pure science.
That’s why I’ve always kept the Party aloof from religious questions. I’ve thus prevented my Catholic and Protestant supporters from forming groups against one another, and inadvertently knocking each other out with the Bible and the sprinkler. So we never became involved with these Churches’ forms of worship. And if that has momentarily made my task a little more difficult, at least I’ve never run the risk of carrying grist to my opponent’s mill. The help we would have provisionally obtained from a concordat would have quickly become a burden on us. In any case, the main thing is to be clever in this matter and not to look for a struggle where it can be avoided.
Being weighed down by a superstitious past, men are afraid of things that can’t, or can’t yet, be explained–that is to say, of the unknown. If anyone has needs of a metaphysical nature, I can’t satisfy them with the Party’s programme. Time will go by until the moment when science can answer all the questions.
So it’s not opportune to hurl ourselves now into a struggle with the Churches. The best thing is to let Christianity die a natural death. A slow death has something comforting about it. The dogma of Christianity gets worn away before the advances of science. Religion will have to make more and more concessions. Gradually the myths crumble. All that’s left is to prove that in nature there is no frontier between the organic and the inorganic. When understanding of the universe has become widespread, when the majority of men know that the stars are not sources of light, but worlds, perhaps inhabited worlds like ours, then the Christian doctrine will be convicted of absurdity.
Originally, religion was merely a prop for human communities. It was a means, not an end in itself. It’s only gradually that it became transformed in this direction, with the object of maintaining the rule of the priests, who can love only to the detriment of society collectively….
Christianity, of course, has reached the peak of absurdity in this respect. And that’s why one day its structure will collapse. Science has already impregnated humanity. Consequently, the more Christianity clings to its dogmas, the quicker it will decline.
[Hitler’s Table Talk, pp 58-62]
The reason why the ancient world was so pure, light and serene was that it knew nothing of the two great scourges: the pox and Christianity. [Table Talk, p. 75]…The Jew who fraudulently introduced Christianity into the ancient world—in order to ruin it—re-opened the same breach in modern times, taking as his pretext the social question. Just as Saul became St. Paul, Mardochai has become Karl Marx. [p. 314]
The decisive falsification of Jesus’s doctrine was the work of St Paul….For the Galilean’s object was to liberate His country from Jewish oppression. He set Himself against Jewish capitalism, and that’s why the Jews liquidated Him….The Jews, by the way, regarded Him as the son of a whore and a Roman soldier. [Table Talk, p. 76] … Christ was an Aryan and St Paul used his doctrine to mobilize the criminal underworld and this organize a proto-Bolshevism…. Christianity is an invention of sick brains….The war will be over one day. I shall then consider that my life’s final task will be to solve the religious problem. [p. 142-4]
If it’s possible to buy the high dignitaries of the Church with money, let’s do it. And if one of them wanted to enjoy his life, and for this purpose put his hand into the till, for the love of Heaven let him be left in peace. The ones we have to fear are the ascetics, with rings under their eyes, and the fanatics.[Table Talk, p. 411]… I’ll make these damned parsons feel the power of the state in a way they would never have believed possible. For the moment I am just keeping my eye upon them: if I ever have the slightest suspicion that they are getting dangerous, I will shoot the lot of them. This filthy reptile raises its head whenever there is a sign of weakness in the State, and therefore it must be stamped on. We have no sort of use for a fairy story invented by the Jews. The fate of a few filthy lousy Jews and epileptics is not worth bothering about. [p. 625].
More citations from Hitler’s Table Talk are available.
In a footnote, Speer [p. 555] cites this from a speech by Hitler made June 26, 1944 to a group of industrialists (ellipses by Speer):
“I often feel that we will have to undergo all the trials the devil and hell can devise before we achieve Final Victory….I may be no pious churchgoer, but deep within me I am nevertheless a devout man. That is to say, I believe that he who fights valiantly obeying the laws which a god has established and who never capitulates but instead gathers his forces time after time and always pushes forward—such a man will not be abandoned by the Lawgiver. Rather he will ultimately receive the blessing of Providence. And that blessing has been imparted to all great spirits [!] in history.”
Albert Speer, Hitler’s favorite architect and Minister of Armaments for the Third Reich, was one of the convicted Nazi war criminals who escaped the gallows to serve a 20-year prison sentence. His best-selling memoirs provide a more intimate view of Hitler than the standard books such as Shirer and Bullock. Some claim that Speer says “Hitler remained a Christian until his death”…but the context shows otherwise.
Speer carefully cultivated an image during his war crimes trial designed to keep him from the gallows. His strategy was to present himself as Hitler’s blind follower who chose not to know what was “really going on”. To make such a view credible, Speer portrays Hitler as a very likeable fellow (repeated in his memoirs). These are some of the relevant things Speer said, with a bit more context than the brief remark above:
Amid his political associates in Berlin, Hitler made harsh pronouncements against the church, but in the presence of the women he adopted a milder tone—one of the instances where he adapted his remarks to his surroundings. [Speer, Albert, Inside the Third Reich, Bonanza Books, New York, p. 95]
“The church is certainly necessary for the people. It is a strong conservative element,” he might say at one time or another in this private circle. However, he conceived of the church as a instrument that could be useful to him…”Through me the Evangelical [Protestant] Church could become the established church, as in England.” … Undoubtedly, he continued, the church would learn to adapt the political goals of National Socialism in the long run, as it had always adapted in the course of history. [Speer, p. 95]
Around 1937, when Hitler heard that at the instigation of the party and the SS vast numbers of his followers had left the church because it was obstinately opposing his plans, he nevertheless ordered his chief associates, above all Goering and Goebbels, to remain members of the church. He too would remain a member of the Catholic Church, he said, although he had no real attachment to it. And in fact he remained in the church until his suicide. [Speer, p. 95-96]
Hitler usually concluded this historical speculation by remarking “You see, it’s been our misfortune to have the wrong religion. Why didn’t we have the religion of the Japanese, who regard sacrifice for the Fatherland as the highest good? The Mohammedan religion too would have been much more compatible to us than Christianity. Why did it have to be Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness? [Speer, p. 96]
This phenomenal confidence in victory in a period of repeated defeats cannot, however, be explained on the grounds of [Hitler’s] energy alone….I can only explain Hitler’s rigid attitude on the grounds that he made himself believe in his ultimate victory. In a sense he was worshiping himself. He was forever holding up to himself a mirror in which he saw not only himself but the confirmation of his mission by divine Providence. His religion was based on the “lucky break” which must necessarily come his way; he method was to reinforce himself by autosuggestion. The more events drove him into a corner, the more obstinately he opposed to them his certainty about the intentions of Fate. Naturally, he also soberly understood the military facts. But he transmuted them by his own faith and regarded even defeat as a secret guarantee, offered by Providence, of the coming victory. Sometimes he could realize the hopelessness of a situation, but he could not be shaken in his expectation that at the last moment Fate would suddenly turn the tide in his favor. If there was any fundamental insanity in Hitler, it was this unshakable belief in his lucky star. He was by nature a religious man, but his capacity for belief had been perverted into belief in himself. [Speer, p. 357]
Speer died in 1981.
“Hans Küng is the most prominent Catholic theologian living today, respected by thinkers of all denominations. He is well known around the world and has been Professor of Dogmatic and Ecumenical Studies at the University of Tübingen, Germany, as well as Visiting Professor at Chicago University and at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. He holds honorary degrees from several American universities and has lectured at various universities in Europe, America and Asia.” [Hans Küng, On Being a Christian, Image Books Doubleday, New York, 1976, cover notes]
“the great figures of terror in our century—Hitler, Stalin and their deputies—were programmatic anti-Christians” [Küng, p. 30]
“…we cannot make Jesus a guerrilla fighter, a rebel, a political agitator and revolutionary or turn his message of God’s kingdom into a program of politico-social action, unless we distort and reinterpret all the Gospel accounts, make a completely one-sided choice of sources, irresponsibly and arbitrarily work with isolated texts…and largely ignore Jesus’ message as a whole…Even though it is as much the fashion today to speak of Jesus, the rebel, the revolutionary, as it was in Hitler’s time to speak of Jesus the fighter, the leader the military commander, or in sermons of the First World War of Jesus the hero and patriot, it must be made unmistakably clear—for Jesus’ own sake, regardless of the spirit of the age—that he was neither a supporter of the system nor a politico-social revolutionary. [Küng, p. 187]
Alan Bullock is a journalist and biographer of Adolf Hitler.
Hitler had been brought up as a Catholic and was impressed by the organization and power of the Church. Its hierarchical structure, its skill in dealing with human nature and the unalterable character of its Creed, were all features from which he claimed to have learned. For the Protestant clergy he had nothing but contempt: ‘They are insignificant little people, submissive as dogs, and they sweat with embarrassment when you talk to them. They have neither a religion they can take seriously nor a great position to defend like Rome.’ [Conversation with Rauschning on 7 April 1933; Hitler Speaks, p. 62] It was ‘the great position’ of the Church that he respected, the fact that it lasted for so many centuries; towards its teaching he showed the sharpest hostility. In Hitler’s eyes Christianity was a religion fit only for slaves; he detested its ethics in particular. Its teaching, he declared, was a rebellion against the natural law of selection by struggle, and the survival of the fittest. ‘Taken to its logical extreme, Christianity would mean the systematic cultivation of the human failure.’ [Hitler’s Table Talk, London 1953, p. 57] From political considerations he restrained his anti-clericalism, seeing clearly the dangers of strengthening the Church by persecution. For this reason he was more circumspect than some of his followers, like Rosenberg and Bormann, in attacking the Church publicly. But, once the war was over, he promised himself, he would root out and destroy the influence of the Christian Churches. ‘The evil that is gnawing at our vitals,’ he remarked in February 1942, ‘is our priests, of both creeds. I can’t at present give them the answer they’ve been asking for but…it’s all written down in my big book. The time will come when I’ll settle my account with them… They’ll hear from me all right. I shan’t let myself be hampered with judicial scruples.’ [Hitler’s Table Talk, p. 304]
…The truth is that, in matters of religion at least, Hitler was a rationalist and a materialist. ‘The dogma of Christianity,’ he declared in one of his wartime conversations,
gets worn away before the advances of science….Gradually the myths crumble. All that is left is to prove that in nature there is no frontier between the organic and the inorganic. When understanding of the universe has become widespread, when the majority of men know the stars are not sources of light, but worlds, perhaps inhabited worlds like ours, then the Christian doctrine will be convicted of absurdity….The man who lives in communion with nature necessarily finds himself in opposition to the Churches, and that why they’re heading for ruin—for science is bound to win. [Hitler’s Table Talk, pp. 59-61]
[Bullock, p. 387-88]
Konrad Heiden (historian)
Heiden is an interesting source, writing as a contemporary of the Third Reich. However, he writes without the benefit of the documentary evidence captured by the Allies and without the testimony of the Nuremberg war crimes trials.
These [National Socialists] were concerned with more than power; many were out for more than advantages. They wanted their life to have a new meaning, their existence in society a purpose; their value for their own people was the one thing that gave their careers on earth any value. To many, and not always the worst among them, only faith in their fatherland had retained any meaning, their own nation had become God; if they hesitated openly to declare themselves religious unbelievers, Hitler had provided them with a suitable formula: ‘We know two Gods: one in heaven and another on earth; the second is Germany.’ But ‘we’ are Germany, Hitler had said on another occasion, and ‘we’ meant ‘I.’ And so there were people who prayed to Hitler, perhaps without realizing that this was prayer. [Der Fuehrer by Konrad Heiden, pp 631]
It was at this time  that [Hitler] began to believe in his own God-given mission. It was no accident that—in his own words—he ‘learned from the Bible with boundless love how our Lord and Savior seized his whip,’ and marched on Jerusalem. Was not he himself armed with a heavy crocodile whip, marching through the streets of his beloved Munich, which he sometimes called the ‘Mecca’ of National Socialism? A short time previous, it is true, he had admitted in a chastened mood to his friend Georg Schott: ‘All of us are nothing but little Saint Johns. I am waiting for a Christ.’ But the period of modesty was drawing to a close. Were not all the signs by which Heaven customarily announces its prophets being fulfilled in him? The fanatical faith of the disciples, the rejoicing of the masses, the hostility or contempt of those in high places—and now wasn’t he going through a sort of Golgotha? His Golgotha, to be sure, was nothing more impressive than the month in prison which he wished so fervently to avoid; but before going in, he took leave of his people with the words: ‘Two thousand years ago the mob of Jerusalem dragged a man to execution in just this way.’
Hitler, introduced as a speaker, explains how Judah tried to conquer the world; first with the help of the Ten Commandments; then (this was only hinted rather shamefacedly) by Christianity; finally through Marxism and Bolshevism; for Hitler and Eckart had no doubt that Lenin was a Jew. [Der Fuehrer, p. 280]
A metaphysical line runs through [Mein Kampf], not always easy to find amid all the vulgar vilification and barren, long-winded meditations; here a man seeks for God and discovers himself. This is exactly what happened to Soloviev’s Antichrist; he too, like Hitler, had written in his thirty-third year, a book in which he claimed to be the Savior. [Der Fuehrer, p. 281].
A page with extensive additional remarks from Heiden has been prepared.
Ian Hershaw – Historian
Kershaw’s fine book The ‘Hitler Myth’ presents an in-depth study of German public opinion and how it was manipulated by Nazi propaganda. This book also has an excellent list of sources. An excerpt follows:
Apart from the organized sectors of the working class, the Nazis had greatest difficulty, as is well known, in penetrating the Catholic sub-culture, where the dominant image of Hitler provided by Catholic ‘opinion leaders’ was equally negative. The main attack was levelled at the anti-Christian essence of the Nazi Movement and of its leader’s philosophy. Publications sought to demonstrate that Hitler’s ideas stood in direct contradiction to the teaching of the Christian catechism. Especially in Bavaria, where Catholicism was dominant and extreme anti-Marxism widespread, he and his Movement were seen as a variant of ‘godless Bolshevism’-an association which was frequently to recur after 1933 during the ‘Church struggle’. Though Catholic anti-Nazi polemics generally concentrated on attacking the anti-religious, and especially anti-Catholic, thrust of Nazism, some publications did offer a devastating assault on the entire Nazi doctrine. Hitler’s brutality, contempt for human rights, warmongering, and elevation of force to a principle of political behaviour, were all castigated in Catholic publications of the early 1930s. One Catholic weekly above all, Der Gerade Weg, published in Munich under the editorship of Dr Fritz Gerlich-murdered in Dachau in 1934-and Fr. Ingbert Naab, kept up a relentless assault on Hitler, describing him in September 1932, at a time when, despite his open show of solidarity with five of his SA men who had been condemned to death for the brutal murder of a communist in Potempa, the Centre Party was involved in negotiations with the Nazis, as ‘the incarnation of evil’.
A few months earlier, the alleged hostility of Hitler to the Church had played a key role in persuading the Catholic parties to support the Protestant, and ‘pious’, Hindenburg in the election for the Reich Presidency. … They were equally concerned to attack and debunk the neo-pagan deification and mythologizing of Hitler. One speaker told of a woman who had erected an altar in her house with a picture of Hitler in place of the monstrance, and declared that he could simply not understand the German people for letting itself be led astray by such a charlatan: ‘Hitler has succeeded in organizing the idiots, and only idiots, hysterics, and fools to go the NSDAP.’ His election, he prophesied, would bring irreparable harm and destruction to Germany.
Hitler was himself well aware of the need to counter his anti-Christian image if his Party were to break through in Catholic areas. He was keen even in the early 1920s not to antagonize unnecessarily the Catholic Church. And during the rise to power the NSDAP made particular efforts-largely in vain-in Catholic areas such as the Rhineland and Bavaria to emphasize its ‘positive Christianity’, to deny the slur that it was an anti-religious party, and to claim that National Socialism alone could provide the Church with a barrier against Marxism.” In 1930 Hitler felt compelled to distance himself from Alfred Rosenberg, one of the leading Party ideologues, whose book The Myth of the 20th Century had cemented his reputation as the dominant representative of the ‘new heathenism’ and prominent ‘hate figure’ of the Catholic Church. And speaking before a mass gathering in the Catholic stronghold of Bavaria in April 1932, Hitler told his audience that while north German Protestants had labeled him a hireling of Rome and south German Catholics a pagan worshipper of Woden, he was merely of the opinion-here playing to some widespread anti-clerical sentiments-that priests in Germany, just as was the case in Italy, should end their political activities and confine themselves to denominational matters and pastoral duties: what the Pope had admitted in Italy, he concluded, could not be sinful in Germany. In fact, he was at pains to stress, he himself was deeply religious, the ‘spiritual distress’ of the German people even greater than its economic misery, and the toleration of over fourteen million anti-religious atheistic Marxists in Germany highly regrettable.
Despite these disdainers, the negative image of ‘neo-heathenism’, which the NSDAP could not shake off; undoubtedly played a considerable role in bolstering the high level of relative immunity to Nazism which prevailed before 1933 in Catholic circles. Even after the disappearance of the Catholic press in the early years of the Third Reich, Catholic clergy were able to sustain the image through their own subtle ‘propaganda’ methods-greatly assisted by the often crude assaults of the Nazis themselves in the ‘Church struggle’-and it remained throughout the Third Reich an important basis of the alienation of the Catholic population from the regime and of forms of partial opposition to Nazism in the Catholic subculture. Even so, the notion that there might be some authoritarian, patriotic, anti-Marxist, residual ‘good’ in Nazism, that ‘National Socialism, notwithstanding everything, might succeed some day in eliminating from its programme and its activities all that which conflicted in principle and practice with Catholicism’, offered the opening for the volte-face which Catholic bishops were prepared to make following Hitler’s avowals of tolerance and support for the Church in March 1933 and the potential, too, for driving a wedge between ‘the god-fearing statesman’ Hitler and the anti-Christian Party radicals, especially Rosenberg. [pp 24-37]
The sagging morale and worsening of mood in the second half of 1941 was not solely determined by the changing fortunes on the eastern Front. Events at home were also playing their part. The gathering force of worrying rumor about the killing in asylums of mentally sick and incurably ill patients was one factor which, especially but not solely among practising Christians, was giving rise to grave concern and threatening to alienate support for the regime. In August 1941, news of the courageous open denunciation of the ‘euthanasia action’ by Bishop Galen of Münster spread rapidly and seems to have persuaded Hitler to halt the killing, at least inside the Reich itself. Some reports by the Nazi authorities on the unrest which had arisen claimed that it was having an impact on confidence in Hitler himself. It may even have been the case–a suggestion emanating, admittedly, from a piece of post-war testimony–that the Reich Propaganda Ministry deliberately started off a rumour that the Führer, on discovering what was taking place (in an ‘action’ which, in reality, he himself had authorized in writing), had given the order to halt it immediately. According to this interpretation, the protection of the ‘Führer myth’–of the legend that Hitler was kept in the dark about the misdeeds of the regime, and acted promptly on learning of them–was a crucial component in bringing the ‘euthanasia action’ to an end.
Opinion in Catholic parts of the Reich in particular was greatly influenced by the new wave of attacks on the position of the Church which had been in spring 1941 and gathered momentum during the summer and autumn. They appear to have been initiated by the head of the Party Chancellery, Martin Bormann, probably under pressure at Gau level, for whom the apparent strengthening of the Church’s hold over the population during the war was a notable provocation. New measures against the Church–including the confiscation of monastic property, further restrictions on provision of religious instruction and on publications, the removal of the last nuns from any form of social or education work, and interference with holy days and with the form of school prayers–where guaranteed to stir up antagonism and unrest in Catholic regions. [pp. 176-177]
I wanted to include an excerpt from the wartime
A Psychological Analysis of Adolph Hitler: His Life and Legend
Walter C. Langer
Office of Strategic Services
A link to the web copy is in the references below. As I have said, Hitler had some religious belief structure, but it had him as the center, not someone else. This is discussed in the OSS study briefly in the following citation:
As time went on, it became clearer that he. was thinking of himself as the Messiah and that it was he who was destined to lead Germany to glory. His references to the Bible became more frequent and the movement began to take on a religious atmosphere. Comparisons between Christ and himself became more numerous and found their way into his conversation and speeches. For example, he would say:
“When I came to Berlin a few weeks ago and looked at the traffic in the Kurfuerstendamm, the luxury, the perversion, the iniquity, the wanton display, and the Jewish materialism disgusted me so thoroughly, that I was almost beside myself. I nearly imagined myself to be Jesus Christ when He came to His Father’s temple and found it taken by the money-changers. I can well imagine how He felt when He seized a whip and scourged them out.” (905)
During his speech, according to Hanfstangl, he swung his whip around violently as though to drive out the Jews and the forces of darkness, the enemies of Germany and German honor. Dietrich Eckart, who discovered Hitler as a possible leader and had witnessed this performance, said later, “When a man gets to the point of identifying himself with Jesus Christ, then he is ripe for an insane asylum.” The identification in all this was not with Jesus Christ, the Crucified, but with Jesus Christ, the furious, lashing the crowds.
As a matter of fact, Hitler has very little admiration for Christ, the Crucified. Although he was brought up a Catholic, and received Communion, during the war, he severed his connection with the Church directly afterwards. This kind of Christ he considers soft and weak and unsuitable as a German Messiah.
The latter must be hard and brutal if he is to save Germany and lead it to its destiny.
“My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Saviour as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by only a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned me to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love, as a Christian and as a man, I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord rose at last in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was the fight for the world against the Jewish poison.” (M.N.O. 26)
And to Rauschning he once referred to “the Jewish Christ-creed with its effeminate, pity-ethics”.
It is not clear from the evidence whether the new State religion was part of Hitler’s plan or whether developments were such that it became feasible. It is true that Rosenberg had long advocated such a move, but there is no evidence that Hitler was inclined to take such a drastic step until after he had come to power. It is possible that he felt he needed the power before he could initiate such a change, or it may be that his series of successes were so startling that the people spontaneously adopted a religious attitude towards him which made the move more or less obvious. In any case, he has accepted this God-like role without any hesitation or embarrassment.
While not part of this page’s topic, it might be useful to offer some side notes on the relationship between Christianity and racist politics, and in particular anti-Semitic politics. For an extensive treatment, I recommend Barkun’s book, Religion and the Racist Right.
One interesting quotation from Shirer, however, bears including here:
…But it may be said…that this towering but erratic genius [Martin Luther, the Saxon peasant who became an Augustinian monk and launched the German Reformation], this savage anti-Semite and hater of Rome, who combined in his tempestuous character so many of the best and the worst qualities of the German—the coarseness, the boisterousness, the fanaticism, the intolerance, the violence, but also the honesty, the simplicity, the self-scrutiny, the passion for learning and for music and for poetry and for righteousness in the eyes of God—left a mark on the life of the Germans, for both good and bad, more indelible, more fateful, than was wrought by any other single individual before or since. Through his sermons and his magnificent translation of the Bible, Luther created the modern German language, aroused in the people not only a new Protestant vision of Christianity but a fervent German nationalism and taught them, at least in religion, the supremacy of the individual conscience. But tragically for them, Luther’s siding with the princes in the peasant risings, which he had largely inspired, and his passion for political autocracy ensured a mindless and provincial political absolutism which reduced the vast majority of the German people to poverty, to a horrible torpor and a demeaning subservience. Even worse perhaps, it helped to perpetuate and indeed to sharpen the hopeless divisions not only between classes but also between the various dynastic and political groupings of the German people. It doomed for centuries the unification of Germany. [Shirer, p. 134-5]
Since the above quotation is rather an aside from Shirer, it’s hard to tell whether this is only an opinion or the result of study. In one way, the remark seems self-contradictory in that it credits Luther with both the idea of the “supremacy of the individual conscience” and at the same time a “mindless absolutism”. One would do well to read Shirer’s entire Chapter 4 “The Mind of Hitler and Roots of the Third Reich”. But in this chapter, it appears that the immediate source for anti-Semitism for the Nazis was the work of H.S. Chamberlain rather than Luther.
[Material added April 1999]
Since writing the above I have come across additional material which suggests that Hitler was at least aware of Luther’s anti-Semitism and that the Nazis used Luther as justification. The horrific attack on Jews and Jewish businesses which came to be know as Kristallnacht was perpetrated on Luther’s birthday.
In 1994, the Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (the largest US Lutheran body) adopted a Declaration to the Jewish Community which said in part:
…we who bear his name and heritage must with pain acknowledge also Luther’s anti-Judaic diatribes and the violent recommendations of his later writings against the Jews. As did many of Luther’s own companions in the sixteenth century, we reject this violent invective, and yet more do we express our deep and abiding sorrow over its tragic effects on subsequent generations. In concert with the Lutheran World Federation, we particularly deplore the appropriation of Luther’s words by modern anti-Semites for the teaching of hatred toward Judaism or toward the Jewish people in our day.
The full text is available on the ELCA web site.
…Among the most courageous demonstrations of opposition during the war were the sermons preached by the Catholic Bishop of Münster and the Protestant Pastor Dr Niemöller. Nazi zealots, like Bormann, regarded the Churches with a venomous hostility, while Catholic priests as well as Protestant pastors were active in the anti-Nazi opposition. Neither the Catholic nor the Evangelical Church, however, as institutions, felt it possible to take up an attitude of open opposition to the régime. [Bullock, p.734].
And so with this mention of the preservation of the species and of the race in Mein Kampf we come to the second principle consideration: Hitler’s Weltanschauung, his view of life, which some historians, especially in England, have seen as a crude form of Darwinism but which in reality, as we shall see has its roots deep in German history and thought. Like Darwin but also like a whole array of German philosophers, historians, kings, generals and statesmen, Hitler saw all life as an eternal struggle and the world as a jungle where the fittest survived and the strongest ruled—a “world where one creature feeds on the other and where the death of the weaker implies the life of the stronger”. [Shirer, p. 128]
A meeting of the leaders of the German Confessing Church was held in the town of Barmen and a declaration was issued denying Hitler’s claim to supremacy in their lives. This document, which seems rather mild to us today, was a courageous statement during the Third Reich.
- Jesus Christ, as he is testified to us in the Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God, whom we are to hear, whom we are to trust and obey in life and in death.
- We repudiate the false teaching that the church can and must recognize yet other happenings and powers, images and truths as divine revelation alongside this one Word of God, as a source of her preaching…
- Just as Jesus Christ is the pledge of the forgiveness of our sins, just so—and with the same earnestness—is he also God’s mighty claim on our whole life; in him we encounter a joyous liberation from the godless claims of this world to free and thankful service to his creatures. We repudiate the false teaching that there are areas of our life in which we belong not to Jesus but to another lord, areas in which we do not need justification and sanctification through him…
- The Christian church is the community of brethren, in which Jesus Christ presently works in the word and sacraments through the Holy Spirit. With her faith as well as her obedience, with her message as well as her ordinances, she has to witness in the midst that she is alone, that she lives and wishes to live only by his comfort and his counsel in expectation of his appearance. We repudiate the false teaching that the church can turn over the form of her message and ordinances at will or according to some dominant theological and political convictions…
- The various offices in the church establish no rule of one over the other but the exercise of the service entrusted and commanded to the whole congregation. We repudiate the false teaching that the church can and may, apart from this ministry, set up special leaders (Fuehrer) equipped with powers to rule…
- The Bible tells us that according to divine arrangement the state has responsibility to provide for justice and peace in the yet unredeemed world, in which the church also stands, according to the measure of human insight and human possibility, by the threat and use of force. The church recognizes with thanks and reverence toward God the benevolence of this, his provision. She reminds men of God’s Kingdom, God’s commandment and righteousness, and thereby the responsibility of rulers and ruled. She trusts and obeys the power of the word, through which God maintains all things. We repudiate the false teaching that the state can and should expand beyond its special responsibility to become the single and total order of human life, and also thereby fulfill the commission of the church. We repudiate the false teaching that the church can and should expand beyond its special responsibility to take on the characteristics, functions and dignities of the state, and thereby become itself an organ of the state…
- The commission of the church, in which her freedom is founded, consists in this place: in place of Christ and thus in the service of his own word and work, to extend through word and sacrament the message of the free grace of God to all people. We repudiate the false teaching that the church, in human self- esteem, can put the word and work of the Lord in the service of some wishes, purposes and plans of other, chosen according to desire…
It is an established historical fact that Hitler was baptized a Roman Catholic and confirmed at age 15, and that Hitler never formally and publicly left the Catholic Church.
Hitler considered himself religious, but had only contempt for organized religion and the teachings of the church about Jesus. Hitler had his own private view of Jesus, that of an economic revolutionary and Jew hater. So in some twisted sense Hitler thought he was acting in the tradition of Jesus. If the question is, “can someone read the New Testament and then go off and do horribly bad things?” then the answer is yes. If the question is “was Hitler in the tradition of mainstream Christianity” then the answer is no.
The problem of saying “Hitler was a Christian” when by “Christian” is meant something totally different from normal usage and historical context, is that the sentence ceases to mean anything. One might as well have said “Hitler was a Zorb” because the last word is meaningless. The only “value” in saying “Hitler was a Christian” with an iconoclastic meaning for “Christian” is as a tool of anti-Christian propaganda towards the end of misleading people.
What was the role of Father Bernhard Stempfle, former member of the Hieronymite order, anti-Semitic journalist and editor of part of Mein Kampf? [Shirer, p. 127] Stempfle was killed under orders from Hitler. [Der Fuehrer, p. 771]
Note: Heiden’s 1944 description of Hitler’s early life seems to have been a source for Bullock (or they both used the same source).
The credibility of Hitler’s Table Talk is crucial to the discussion about the mind of Hitler. Some anti-Christians dismiss it out of hand because the editor was a rabid anti-Catholic. [I find it ironic to see an argument made “All rabid anti-Christians are unreliable and fabricate evidence to further their cause. Bormann was a rabid Anti-Catholic. Therefore Bormann fabricated evidence.”]
One web argument against Table Talk is on the No Belief’s web site. That site makes these basic arguments: 1) Table Talk was unreliable because it was filtered by Bormann, 2) it doesn’t matter anyway because Hitler never disavows Jesus or his [not sure whether this means Jesus or Hitler] Christianity and 3) Table Talk reflects thoughts that do not occur in Hitler’s other private or public conversations.
It is one thing to say that Bormann “edited” or “filtered” what Hitler said. It is another thing to say that Bormann fabricated out of thin air long sections of anti-Christian rhetoric. What are Bormann’s motives for such a fabrication of a document not meant for public consumption? The only reasonable one I can think of is to make the document more “accurate” by making sure what was written coincided with Bormann’s personal understanding of who Hitler was and what he thought. If that is the case, wholesale fabrication makes no sense, although deletion of some hypothetical pro-religious remark is possible. If someone could cite someone with some credentials who concludes that Table Talk is bogus, I’d be willing to reconsider the argument.
The second argument is largely dealt with elsewhere in this paper. I included on these pages everything I found on a religious topic in Table Talk. The reader is encouraged to draw their own conclusions about what Hitler did and did not say.
Finally, the assertion that Table Talk reflects thoughts that “do not occur in Hitler’s other private…conversations” is just false. I cite Ludecke.
In addition to the historical sources I consulted, one hears things on the net. This appendix discusses some of these statements:
“Hitler was a failed Jesuit student.”
The speaker is confusing Hitler with Stalin perhaps. Stalin did study for the priesthood. Hitler considered a clerical vocation as a teenager, but never pursued it.
“Hitler confessed his Christianity over and over again in his diary.”
The published “Hitler Diary” was a notorious forgery. No authentic Hitler diary exists.
“The Nazi Party was founded in a Church.”
The Nazi Party was founded in a tavern, but after Hitler took power in 1933, a massive celebration was held at the tomb of Fredrick the Great (in the Potsdam Garrison Church). Hitler himself was remarkably absent from the religious services held preceding the ceremony. This celebration seems to be the source of the misconception. In 1941 Hitler himself commented on the event:
What a happy inspiration, to have kept the clergy out of the Party! On the 21st March 1933, at Potsdam, the question was raised: with the Church, or without the Church? I conquered the State despite the malediction pronounced on us by both creeds. On that day, we went directly to the tomb of the kings whilst the others were visiting religious services. [Hitler’s Table Talk, p. 145]
Michael Barkun, Religion and the Racist Right: The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1994. *
Alan Bullock, Hitler, a Study in Tyranny. Harper & Row, 1962. *
Gerhard Falk, The Jew in Christian Theology, McFarland & Company, Jefferson, North Carolina and London, 1992. *
Joachim C Fest, Hitler. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973. +
Konrad Heiden, Der Fuehrer: Hitler’s Rise to Power, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1944.*
Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Houton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1971. +
Adolf Hitler, Hitler’s Table Talk, London, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1953. Note, this book is also published under the title: Hitler’s Secret Conversations, New York, Farrar, Straus & Young, 1953. *
Geffrey B. Kelly and F. Burton Nelson, A Testament to Freedom: The Essential Writings of Deitrich Bonhoeffer, “Editor’s Introduction”, pp 15-44, Harper Collins, San Francisco, 1990. +
Ian Kershaw, The ‘Hitler Myth’, Oxford University Press, 1987. *
Kohn, The Mind of Germany
Warren B. Morris, Jr., The Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany
Mosse, The Crisis of German Ideology
Hermann Rauschning, Hitler Speaks (London 1939)
Matthias Schmidt, Albert Speer: The End of a Myth, St. Martin’s Press, 1984. *
William L. Shirer, The rise and fall of the Third Reich: a history of Nazi Germany, Simon and Schuster, 1960. +
Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich : memoirs. Bonanza Books ; Distributed by Crown Publishers, 1982, c1970. *
Stern, The Politics of Cultural Despair
John Toland, Adolf Hitler, 2 Vols., Doubleday and Company, 1976. (There is also an abridged edition.)+
H. R. Trevor-Roper, The Last Days of Hitler, 3rd ed, Collier Books, New York, 1962.*
For additional related information on Christianity in the Third Reich see the soc.religion.christian FAQ on Hitler. For a psychological analysis of Hitler by the OSS, see A PSYCHOLOGICAL ANALYSIS OF ADOLPH HITLER HIS LIFE AND LEGEND. Another site dealing with the psychology of Hitler is Did Hitler Know about the Holocaust.
Thanks to one of the Internet readers of this page for bringing to my attention an extensive web site that comes to opposite conclusions from mine. This site is called, “Hitler’s Christianity”. This is an advocacy site. I caution the reader that some of the material on this is site is taken out of context, and what appears to be one thing is just the opposite upon examination.