Hitler as Religious Leader
Since Hitler saw himself as a Messiah with a divine mission to save Germany from the incarnate evil of "International Jewry," it is not surprising that he likened himself to Jesus. On one occasion during the 1920s, as he lashed about him with the whip he habitually carried, he said that "in driving out the Jews, I remind myself of Jesus in the temple." At another time he said, "Just like Christ, I have a duty to my own people...."
At a Christmas celebration in 1926 he thought it appropriate to compare his own historical importance favorably with that of Jesus. Christ had changed the dating of history; so would Hitler, for his final victory over the Jews would mark the beginning of a new age in the history of the world. "What Christ began," he observed, he, Hitler, "would complete." And in a speech on 10 February 1933 he parodied the Lord's Prayer in promising that under him a new kingdom would come on earth, and that his would be "the power and the glory, Amen." He added that if he did not fulfill his mission, "you should then crucify me."
He liked to remind his followers that a turning point in his life came in 1919, when he undertook his mission. He told an aide that during the preceding autumn, as he lay wounded in a military hospital, he had received a supernatural vision which commanded him to save Germany. And through the years he came back repeatedly to stress the importance of the year 1919. In a speech to the commanding generals of the Wehrmacht on 23 November 1939, he began two paragraphs with the same idea:
When I began my political work in 1919 I based it....
The first resolution was made in 1919 when, after long internal struggles, I became a politician and took up the battle against my enemy.
Manifestly the date was important to Hitler. He was at that time 30 years old -- the same age another Messiah is reported to have begun his mission to save mankind.
That he saw himself as the special agent of God and identified with Him was made manifest on many occasions:
I go the way that Providence dictates for me with all the assurance of a sleepwalker.
-- Speech of 14 March 1936, Munich
God has created this people and it has grown according to His will. And according to our will [nach unserem Willen] it shall remain and never shall it pass away.
-- Speech of 31 July 1937, Breslau
I believe that it was God's will that from here [Austria] a boy was sent into the Reich and that he grew up to become the leader of the nation.
-- Speech of 9 April 1938, Vienna
Hitler did not like to be told that the ways of God were not always revealed to him. On one occasion an aide noted that "God does not let people look at the cards He holds" [Der liebe Gott Lasst sich nicht in seine Karten sehen]. Hitler immediately broke forth into such a paroxysm of fury that he himself feared a heart attack. He gave orders that the aide never repeat the offensive phrase.
The feeling that he was being specially guided from on high grew more intense through the years. On 16 September 1935 he said, "What was denied to millions of men was given to us by Providence, and our work will be still remembered by the last members of posterity." In a speech in his hometown of Linz, 12 March 1938: "When I once departed from this city, I carried with me the very same confession of faith that fills me today ... If Providence once then called me from out of this city ... then Providence must thereby have given me a mission...."
His convictions were reinforced by miraculous escapes from assassination. After the failure of the bomb plot of 20 July 1944 he told a naval aide, "How the Almighty has stayed their [assassins'] hands once more. Don't you agree that I should consider it as a nod of Fate that it intends to preserve me for my assigned task." His valet remembers that Hitler was very calm, saying, "That is new proof that I have been selected from among other men by Providence to lead greater Germany to victory." And again, "Because I have been saved while others had to die, it is clearer than ever that the fate of Germany lies in my hands."
His version of human history was essentially one of religious mythology. He believed that a pure German people had lived in an early Garden of Eden. But this pure race had been attacked by the Devil, made incarnate in the form of the Jew. Indeed, he said explicitly that "the Jew is the personification of the Devil and of all evil." And thus he reached his conclusion that in fighting the Devil he was doing the work of Almighty God. In Hitler's theology, a different original sin replaced the one committed in the biblical Garden of Eden. "The mixture of the races is the original sin [Erdsunde] of this world," he claimed. "The sins against blood and race are the original sins of the world." He thought of World War II in eschatological terms, and saw himself as the commander of the forces of good standing at Armageddon and battling the forces of Satan. "Often it seems to me as if we are all being tested by the Devil and Satan, and we must pass through Hell together until we finally obtain ultimate victory."
He did not view the Party and the Reich merely as secular organizations. "I consider those who establish or destroy religion much greater than those who establish a State, to say nothing of founding a Party," he had written in Mein Kampf. And years later he told his followers, "We are not a movement, rather we are a religion."
The institutional pattern he used for creating his New Order was the Roman Catholic Church, which had so greatly impressed him. As a boy he had dreamed of being an abbot. When he became Fuhrer, however, he raised his sights and saw himself as a political Pope with an apostolic succession. He announced to a closed meeting of the faithful in the Brown House during 1930: "I hereby set forth for myself and my successors in the leadership of the Party the claim of political infallibility. I hope the world will grow as accustomed to that claim as it has to the claim of the Holy Father."
He also fancied himself as a religious leader of the non-Christian world he planned to conquer. "I'm going to become a religious figure. Soon I'll be the great chief of the Tartars. Already Arabs and Moroccans are mingling my name with their prayers."
Hitler saw striking parallels between his Ministry of Propaganda and Enlightenment and the Church's Congregation for the Propaganda of the Faith (Congregatio de Propaganda Fide). He remarked that his task was not to communicate knowledge "but holy conviction and unconditional faith." He viewed the 25 articles of his Party as "the dogma of our faith" and the "rock" upon which the Party was built. Hitler's proclamation of the "Thousand Year Reich" has religious resonance. He was also fond of speaking of the "inseparable Trinity" of State, Movement, and Volk. As the sign and symbol of his movement Hitler chose a special type of cross, and personally modified the design of this Hakenkreuz.
The colossal Assembly Hall planned for his new capital of Germania should be seen as a secular cathedral rather than a civic building. The dome was to be large enough to encompass the Dome of St. Peter's seven times -- a favorite number. As Albert Speer has noted, "It was basically a hall of worship ... without such cult significance the motivation for Hitler's main structure would have been senseless and unintelligible."
In reminiscing about the institutions and ideas that had influenced him, Hitler said that he had learned a great deal from Marxist terrorism, from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and from the Freemasons. But, he concluded, "Above all, I have learned from the Jesuit order." Certainly the oath of direct obedience to the Fuhrer was strikingly reminiscent of the special oath that Jesuits swear to the Pope. Moreover, Hitler spoke of his elite SS, who wore the sacred symbol and dressed in black, as his Society of Jesus. He also ordered SS officers to study the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola for training in the rigid discipline of the faith.
The close parallel between commitment to God and the sacred oath of allegiance to Hitler is seen in a description of public oath-taking recorded in the Nazi newspaper Westdeutscher Beobachter:
Yesterday witnessed the profession of the religion of the blood in all its imposing reality ... whoever has sworn his oath of allegiance to Hitler has pledged himself unto death to this sublime idea.
The bolts of excommunication and anathema which Hitler hurled against nonbelievers and heretics were not unlike those of a Gregory VII:
Woe to them who do not believe. These people have sinned ... sinned against all of life ... it is a miracle of faith that Germany has been saved. Today more than ever it is the duty of the Party to remember this National Socialist confession of faith [Glaubensbekenntnis] and to bear it forward as our holy [heiliges] sign of our battle and our victory.
The Nazis, like the Catholics, had their prophets, saints, and martyrs. The Fuhrer sanctified his disciples who fell during the Beer Hall Putsch when he said, in dedicating their memorial, that their death would bring forth "a true belief in the resurrection of their people ... the blood that they shed becomes the baptismal water of the Third Reich."
Hitler's holy reliquary was the Brown House, containing the sacred Blood Flag which had been borne by the martyrs of 9 November 1923. It was Hitler and Hitler alone who could perform the priestly ritual of touching the Blood Flag to the standards of the Brown Shirts.
Hitler substituted Nazi high holy days for traditional religious holidays. The Nazi holidays included 30 January, the day he came to power in the year he referred to as "the holy year of our Lord 1933," and 20 April, his own birthday and the day when the Hitler Youth were confirmed in their faith. The holiest day, and the one which served as a kind of Nazi Good Friday, was 9 November, celebrated as the Blood Witness [Blutzeuge] of the movement.
Hitler also provided the holy scriptures for his new religion and Mein Kampf, instead of the Bible, took the place of honor in the homes of thousands of German families. With a lack of humor typical of the regime, the Nazis chose this title to replace the prayer book as the appropriate wedding gift for young couples.
The parallel between Hitler and the Messiah was made explicit in German schools. On 16 March 1934 children wrote out the following dictation approved by Hitler's Ministry of Enlightenment and Propaganda:
Jesus and Hitler. As Jesus freed men from sin and Hell, so Hitler freed the German people from destruction. Jesus and Hitler were persecuted, but while Jesus was crucified Hitler was raised to the Chancellorship ... Jesus strove for Heaven, Hitler for the German earth.
The League of German Girls developed a new version of the Lord's Prayer which was a supplication not only for the Fuhrer but to him as a deity:
Adolf Hitler, you are our great Leader. Thy name makes the enemy tremble. Thy Third Reich comes, thy will alone is law upon earth. Let us hear daily thy voice and order us by thy leadership for we will obey to the end even with our lives. We praise thee! Heil Hitler!
And smaller children were taught to use this grace before meals:
Fuhrer, my Fuhrer, sent to me from God, protect and maintain me throughout my life. Thou who hast saved Germany from deepest need, I thank thee today for my daily bread. Remain at my side and never leave me, Fuhrer, my Fuhrer, my faith, my light. Heil my Fuhrer!
Hitler's disciples seem to have been less successful in their efforts to popularize these new words for the favorite Christmas hymn of the German people:
Silent night! Holy night! All is calm. All is bright. Only the Chancellor steadfast in fight Watches o'er Germany by day and by night Always caring for us.
Silent night! Holy night! All is calm. All is bright. Adolf Hitler is Germany's wealth, Brings us greatness, favor and health. Oh, give us Germans all power!
In public speech and private soliloquy, and in ways in which he may not have been aware, Hitler himself spoke the very words of Christ and the scriptures. In talking to his Brown Shirts on 30 January 1936 he echoed the words of Jesus to his disciples as recorded in St. John's Gospel, saying, "I have come to know thee. Who thou art, thou art through me and all I am through thee." He reminded one of his disciples that "I have come to Germany not to bring peace but a sword." In public speech in Graz in 1938 he used the words of Jesus as recorded by Matthew when he announced that Almighty God had created the Nation, "and what the Lord has joined together let not Man set asunder."
He was particularly prone to Biblical quotations when talking to his Hitler Youth. On 5 September 1934 he told them, "You are flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood." In 1932 he advised them either to be "hot or cold, but lukewarm should be damned and spewed from your mouth." The phrasing is too close to the New Testament to be coincidental. The Book of Revelations (3:15-16) reads:
I know thy words. Thou art neither cold nor hot; I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth.
He was fond of calling for a faith that could move mountains, saying on 31 January 1935, "If you had not had faith, who could have led thee? Faith can remove mountains, can free also nations." And in May of the same year, speaking about faith, he reminded the faithful, "It is the strength which in the end can remove mountains of resistance!"
During one of his last suppers with his followers when he invited them to partake of their Leader's body by eating blood sausage made from his own blood, was he not saying, "Take, eat: this is my body which is broken for you..."?
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