Martin Luther and the Nazis

The Religion News Service (RNS) ran a lead article, “Berlin exhibit highlights how the Nazis exploited Martin Luther’s legacy,” documenting how Hitler and the Third Reich used Luther’s The Jews and Their Lies in their propaganda. RNS failed to mention that Luther’s program for the Jews was far more vicious than that of Hitler, at least during most of the Third Reich’s existence. Hitler wanted to expel the Jews. Luther wanted to destroy them. The article had other strategic omissions.

The article discusses various ways in which the Third Reich worked with Protestant leaders to further their militant anti-Semitic program. This program involved scapegoating the Jews as the ultimate source of all the people’s problems, and served as a rallying cry to unite the people behind their common enemy. However, no mention was made of Catholics, who made up nearly half of the German population.

That is because there was little need to persuade German Catholics. The Church was monolithic, and from the very start of the Third Reich, the Nazis had the support of the pope. They also had the support of Cardinal Pacelli, the future pope Pius XII, aka Hitler’s pope. Almost immediately, the Church signed a concordat with the Nazis. The pope disbanded Catholic political parties, which had a huge following, and at least implicitly threw his support behind the Nazis.

The Nazis had no need to cultivate Catholic militarism. The pope simply had his bishops exhort Catholic youth to be good soldiers, willing to lay down their lives for the Reich and the Führer. The Nazis didn’t need vicious propaganda to influence the Catholics. They had the pope and his minions.


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