Was Martin Luther an Anti-Semite?
So reads the headline of an article in Christian Post, an evangelical publication (here). It’s amazing that anyone could wonder whether the author of The Jews and their Lies was an anti-Semite. But being an evangelical is purely matter of belief. Knowledge has nothing to do with it. But it is surprising that this was the topic of a debate in a conference. Ignorance is both broad and deep.
The author of the article, Michael Brown, is a former Jew turned evangelical. Much of his criticism is on target. But he could have been clearer that Luther’s original tolerance of Jews was solely based on his assumption that he could easily convert them. When he discovered that Jews disputed his claims, and challenged his knowledge of Scripture, Luther reverted to the anti-Semitism of the Catholic Church, and soon exceeded it.
Mr. Brown charges that Hitler used Luther as a model: “Tragically, Adolph Hitler thought that Luther was a genius who figured out how dangerous the Jewish people were. And the date that many historians mark as the beginning of the Holocaust, Nov. 9, 1938, was the day that Hitler put Luther's advice into practice, setting on fire and vandalizing Jewish synagogues, shops, and homes.” I think he got this wrong. Hitler was raised a good Catholic, and I don’t think he was much influenced by Luther. Contrary to Luther’s program, at first Hitler just wanted to deport the Jews. Only after this proved to be impossible did he develop his "final solution" of genocide.
I note that the Catholic Church always viewed Hitler as a good Catholic. Pope Pius XII would eventually excommunicate all Communists, but only after his hopes for Hitler solving the Communist problem were dashed. Pius XII refused to even consider excommunicating Hitler, even after his ally Mussolini suggested it. Such is the divinely inspired morality of the Catholic Church.
News on Catholic Persecutions
I knew that the Catholic Church made it nearly impossible for Jews to live in the Papal States. The Church locked Jews inside a squalid ghetto with insufficient food, banned most professions, prohibited the ownership of property, etc. But new archeological discoveries (here) show the Church also persecuted the dead. They prohibited new headstones and even destroyed existing ones.
This model of anti-Semitism had greater influence on Hitler than Luther's. Hitler’s main “theologian” was Alfred Rosenberg, whose theories had nothing to do with either Luther or the Catholic Church.