Rosenberg on Christianity
by Alfred Rosenberg (pictured)
from his Memoirs (1946)
WHAT [HITLER’S] OWN beliefs were he never told me in so many words. Once, at table, he said a high-placed Italian had asked him point-blank what his religious beliefs were. He had begged permission not to answer that question.
In his speeches Hitler frequently referred to Providence and the Almighty. I am certain that he was inwardly convinced of a fate predestined in its general outlines, but preferred not to formulate what parts compulsion and free will played. He became more and more convinced that Providence had entrusted him with a mission. This became noticeable upon his return from his incarceration in the Landsberg, and grew ever more evident after the Machtübernahme, until, toward the end of the war, it assumed positively painful proportions. This conviction that, as Bismarck had once been chosen to unite the northern Germans in one Reich, so he was chosen to bring the southern Germans (Austrians) into this Reich, was certainly deep-rooted in him.
As for the Christian concept of God, Hitler definitely rejected it in private conversations. That I know even though in the course of the years I heard only two or three pertinent remarks. Once he told me: “Look at the head of Zeus! What nobility and exaltation there are in those features!” About communion: “It is primitively religious to crush one’s God with one’s teeth.” He held against Gothic art that it symbolised everything dark and brain-beclouding. Later on he granted at least the impressiveness of the cathedral in Straßburg.
When, in the course of one of these conversations, I ventured the opinion that one could not destroy the churches, but could merely attempt to fill them gradually with new people, he replied: “That is a very wise thought!”
Fundamentally, as far as his attitude was concerned, Hitler had very definitely discounted churches and Christianity, although he fully acknowledged the importance of their initial appearance on earth, granted everyone the right to his own conviction, and supported the Wehrmacht in its religious and confessional demands. In fact, by setting up a Church Ministry and instituting a Protestant Bishop of the Reich, he even tried to give the strife-torn Evangelicals a chance to unite in one all-embracing social group. For this purpose he received in audience a delegation of Protestant bishops. Afterward he spoke of this meeting with utter contempt. “You would think,” he said at dinner one day, “that these gentlemen would understand that an audience with the Reich Chancellor is in a way a rather solemn affair. Instead they came garbed in their clerical robes, most of which were already a bit tacky with age, and the thing that was of the greatest importance for them was — their allowance! I’ll say this much for the Catholics: if they had come, they would have been more dignified.”…
At a big Munich handicraft exhibition a carved crucifix was on display along with many other objects. It was so painfully distorted, with stupid, popping eyes, that we considered it blasphemous. Hitler referred to it in one of his speeches, whereupon the authorities came to a similar conclusion and had it withdrawn. In other words, the young party, in spite of its freethinking, stood ready, if necessary, to fight all mockery — most often originating in Berlin — not only of national, but also of religious symbols. But this willingness to work hand in hand with religious circles, at least in some respects, was summarily rejected by them, not only at that time, but even more emphatically later on. This automatically led to a growing retaliatory enmity on the part of many of the followers of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. To us, however, it seemed as if the two churches missed an important moment in history.
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AT THE FOCAL POINT of all spiritual-psychological discussion stands Christianity, its personages, its relationship to the peoples and to the problems of our epoch. Was my attitude wrong, then, in the face of existing realities, in the face of the dignity inherent in durable historic figures? Or possibly even harmful, perhaps because existing social ties really should be preserved in these days of great fermentation, in contrast to my own persistent opposition to the churches and Christian dogma?
As indicated in the beginning, a certain heretical attitude grew up in me quite early, particularly during the confirmation lessons. But it received its strongest impetus, as was the case with so many others, from Houston Stewart Chamberlain’s Grundlagen des 19. Jahrhunderts (Foundations of the 19th century).
The interminable discussions constantly carried on by European thinkers were a sign of inner truthfulness, that is, they were engaged in by genuine seekers of the truth. Nor is it important whether these people merely wanted to go back to the simple evangelical teachings, or whether, as scientists, they declined to accept the entire edifice of dogma. What is important and significant is their attitude as such, which ties the Albigensian Count de Foix to Luther, Goethe, and Lagarde. And even though Protestant believers, together with the Roman Church, have done their best to brush aside the following paragraphs as superficial rationalism, Copernicus’ discovery still spells the end of the creed.
The theological opponents of my Myth have attacked me with all the weapons of antiquated dialectics. They have discovered ten single errors; I would be more than happy to admit others. The work was conceived during a busy time of political strife without the aid of a comprehensive card index. So memory misled me in connection with some historical dates; and the description of one incident or the other may also permit of a different interpretation than the one I gave. Besides, I frequently used drastic adjectives that simply had to hurt. In my old age I half intended to revise my Myth, eliminating everything time-conditioned in order to strengthen its basic concept. But the more I search my heart, the less reason I can find for retracting anything.
Since then the problem of Christianity has interested me… On a hike I came to the Monastery Ettal and looked over its church. Under the cupola I saw all around me, in glass showcases, skeletons clad in brocade gowns. On the skulls, bishops’ mitres and abbots’ caps; rings on the bony fingers. I hardly trusted my eyes and asked myself whether I was in Europe or somewhere in Tibet or Africa. A few days later I looked over the church on the Fraueninsel (Woman’s Island) in the Chiemsee (Chiem Lake). Just as I passed a confessional, a blond peasant lad of about twenty, and more than six feet tall, fell on his knees next to me and propelled himself toward the confessional three feet away to start his whispering. And then I asked myself: Is that what you have turned a proud people into, that it no longer understands the indignity of such an act?
After I had left the monastery church at Ettal, I sat down at a wooden table in front of an inn across the road. Next to me sat a big, strong peasant with his little son whose nose hardly reached above the table top. The peasant drank his measure of beer, cut off huge pieces of sausage with his pocket knife, stuffed some of them into the boy’s mouth, and also gave him a few sips of the liquid bread of Bavaria. This powerful, earth-bound figure quieted me down a bit, but actually brought home to me what later became the content of my religious-philosophical treatise: the fateful interrelation between an Oriental cult of revelation, and the German peasantry. Two wars had brought them into contact — the first at the time of the peasant’s growth, the second, when his old gods lay dying — and both sides have attempted to create a union. The churches stirred Germanic ingredients into the acid of their own teachings, but they proved insoluble — harsh as the methods they used might be.
I have never used political power to undo my adversaries — though, after 1933, they made me the target of their harshest polemics. In my works I postulated that I was against all propaganda for leaving the Church, since Christianity is ennobled by the beliefs and the deaths of so many generations. Nobody can expect more tolerance.
Basically, the National Socialist movement was obliged to be tolerant; and each single individual could claim for himself the identical freedom of conscience which the churches apparently consider their exclusive property.
In 1933, Hitler concluded the concordat with the Vatican. Though personally not a participant, I considered this treaty completely justified. I always differentiated between spiritual battles among individuals or institutions and churches, and the attitude dictated by reasons of state. I studied the text of the concordat carefully and, because of my heretic way of thinking, occasionally shook my head; but eventually I came to the conclusion that this was, after all, just as much of a compromise as the four-power pact was, and as every foreign political treaty always will be.
I must confess, however, that I never bothered to learn in detail if and when the Führer broke this concordat, because I was aware of the fact that, after the initial overwhelming revolutionary surge had passed, bishops had begun a rather remarkable counter-propaganda campaign against the basic laws of the new Reich by way of sermons as well as Episcopal letters. That they sorely missed their worldly arm, the Centrist Party, was quite obvious. Thus I was not particularly inclined to believe that the Führer had planned from the very beginning to break an agreement which, after all, had been made quite cold-bloodedly. The concordat was primarily intended to help break through the foreign moral-political boycott ring, and it would have been positively idiotic to make this newly gained success illusionary by breaking the concordat itself, an act which merely would have added new opponents to those already so numerous.
I am unable to give an opinion on the beginning of the controversy. Frank, who is sitting next to me in the prisoners’ dock, is of the opinion that it was probably due to our own negligence, since he himself had gone to Rome for this very reason. In all likelihood — as I am forced to conclude now — it was here that Heydrich’s Sicherheitspolizei (Security Police) intervened by following up Himmler’s personal investigations. How far Heydrich went I don’t know; but these Episcopal letters, following historical precedent, seemed to me no more than attempts on the part of a church no longer in power to stage a comeback in the guise of persecuted religion. Be that as it may, if Hitler concluded the concordat for reasons of state, he simply had to overlook, for the same reasons, attacks in letters, occasional speeches by bishops, and so on.
I had carefully refrained from interfering with the execution of the concordat, conscious of the fact that, as looked upon from the perspective of high political expediency, I was somewhat of a burden to the movement. True, I had given Hitler the manuscript of my Myth before it went to press, had clearly characterised the book in its introduction as a personal confession, and did not have it brought out by the publisher of the party, but rather by an affiliated house. However, it did have the effect of a bombshell on a heretofore completely secure Centrist Party. The Centrists knew full well that the Social Democrats had to rely on the prelates to remain in office. The German Nationalists, in turn, were hoping for a coming reorganisation of a bourgeois regime which, again, could be accomplished only with the aid of the Centrists. Thus both these parties were careful not to publicise either their atheistic or Protestant attitudes. This apparently securely balanced situation was rudely shaken by the Myth, particularly since I was no longer completely unknown; and such an open demand as this — for the right to freely express an opinion at variance with the one accepted by the Church — was considered nothing short of sacrilegious. No use going into further details; all I want to say here is that I understand completely why the Führer did not add me to his cabinet. He was right, in spite of his promise that I was to join the Auswärtige Amt as an Under-secretary of State, and to wait for developments from then on. In view of my position I never reminded the Führer of his promise.
When the Myth was published in October, 1930, it was greeted with enthusiastic applause on the one hand, and by extraordinary attacks on the other. In Catholic regions doubts arose even in the ranks of the party. I told everyone that freedom of the spirit embraced not only the Catholic and Protestant confessions, but also such confessions as I had made and pointed out in the personal, and thus non-party, aspects of the book. The situation was particularly difficult for some of the Catholic clergymen who were in accord with quite a few of the social demands of the party. This was especially true for good old Abbot Schachleitner. He called the attention of several party functionaries to the fact that, in his opinion, I was endangering our entire movement. Thereupon I wrote Hitler a letter asking him to ignore my person completely, and to dismiss me from the service of the party if this seemed desirable. He replied — if memory serves me correctly, on the same sheet of paper — that he wouldn’t think of it. Thus the book made its way through edition after edition. By 1944, a million copies had been distributed.
Hans Schemm was a teacher totally under the spell of Bayreuth’s music, and particularly, as I found out in 1924, of Parsifal. In 1933, he became Bavarian Secretary of Education, and started out on a consciously Christian course. His old motto, “Our politics are Germany, our religion is Christ,” was honourable; but in its official tone he went far beyond the tolerance agreed upon. However, I do want to emphasise here that I never quarrelled with Schemm, that I naturally granted him his freedom of conscience, just as I insisted upon the right to my own, and recognised that the new world we visualised could come into being only after a complete change of heart, something that certainly wasn’t a matter of years but of generations.
Why the Führer permitted the Heydrichs to change our course by brute force, until pressure and counter-pressure were no longer distinguishable from each other, is a question which only the future may answer. True, there were reasons aplenty for defending our political and spiritual positions. I am not even thinking of the Centre’s participation in the November revolution, nor of the separatist activities indulged in by the head of the party, Prelate Doctor Kaas. Actually I was much more upset by some of their public utterances, since these characterised the very essence of their entire attitude. At the Catholic Day at Constance, in 1923, it was said: “Nationalism is the greatest heresy of our times,” a statement which was later frequently repeated — at a time when Polish supernationalism was directed in the most vicious fashion against Germany — primarily by Catholic priests. Another one came from Doctor Moenius, the editor of the General Review, a newspaper distributed in Bavarian schools, who wrote in his pamphlet, “Paris, the heart of France: Catholicism will break the backbone of all Nationalism” — a deliberate lie, considering Poland and Spain.
What bearing this had on Germany was made clear by his dictum that the Catholic segment of the population was located like a pole in the flesh of the nation, and would make the formation of a nationalistic state completely unthinkable. In this atmosphere Abbot Schachleitner (who, in spite of his complete Catholic integrity, was a National Socialist Gauleiter [provincial leader]) was forbidden to preach and read the mass; the deceased Catholic Gmeinder was denied a religious burial. In 1933, Cardinal Faulhaber cancelled the interdict against Schachleitner who, in the meantime, had become a veritable focal point of veneration and who, after reading his first mass, was solemnly escorted home from his church by Storm trooper men. The Folkish Observer published his picture, and also published the directives for Bavarian teachers by Schemm to preserve the Christian spirit in their teachings.
Joseph Wagner, Gauleiter of Bochum, and his family, were ardent Catholics who violently rejected my opinions on religion. Actually, as I learned, he was all for reducing my book to pulp. For my part, I left Wagner thoroughly alone, and had absolutely no feeling of satisfaction when, for reasons unknown to me, he was later dismissed from his post under circumstances which proved that Hitler was already on a dangerous road. Before some sort of Reichsleiter (Reich leaders’) or Gauleiter (provincial leaders’) conference, he read a letter of Wagner’s (or of his wife’s) in which he (or she) forbade their daughter to marry an S.S.-Leader because he wasn’t a good enough Catholic. Hitler declared that, in spite of all his tolerance, he would not permit such intolerance. He dismissed Wagner from his post, leaving to further investigation the decision as to whether he should be permitted to remain a member of the party. That, to me, seemed a dubious procedure. The outcome of the investigation, carried on by six Gauleiter, was said to have been favourable to Wagner because Himmler had supposedly misinformed the Führer. So had Röver. Ley, with his eternal, whining motto “The Führer is always right,” was reported to have declared that the investigation was dragging on too long anyway, that the letter had been no more than a subterfuge, that the Führer had the right to appoint or dismiss as he pleased, and so on. Röver refused to convict. But the entire affair, though unknown to me in detail, was altogether unpleasant. Wagner, I believe, remained in the party and was assigned to some other post.
One man with whom I was always on comradely terms was the Gauleiter of Westphalia-North, Doctor Alfred Meyer, captain during the First World War, prisoner of war in France, labourer, and clerk in his native city. A National Socialist since 1923, he was the first National Socialist alderman in his Westphalian home town. Not the heavy-set, broad-shouldered type, but a man of medium height, slender, dark-haired, with quiet blue eyes behind glasses. A cautious, thoughtful person who, although firm, never went to extremes, and who certainly led his Gau (province) exemplarily. It was his misfortune that his district was also the home of one of our bitterest enemies, Bishop Klemens August Count von Galen. Count van Galen, the future Cardinal, who died in 1946, shortly after he assumed the office conferred upon him in appreciation of his war against us, was one of those strong personalities whose choice of an ecclesiastical career had been due not only to tradition but also to the hope that he might rule some day. In Münster each stone reminded him of one of his ancestors who had ground every damned heretic under his heel and who was such a great warrior that even Louis XIV spoke of him with respect. This Prince of the Church was by no means quiet and scholarly, but enraged over the fact that he could no longer command bodies as well as souls. Following the old tried-and-true method, he began to complain about persecution.
Each tiny incident of these revolutionary times was put under a glaring spotlight. That a new generation, following the dictates of its own conscience, might think and act differently, was blasphemy to him. Completely without a sense of humour, he faced a new world with gnashing teeth. When I was advertised in 1935 as one of the speakers at a Gau conference, he wrote a letter to the president of that Gau demanding that my speech be forbidden, since it would result in the persecution of Christians. That was indeed an impudent challenge, but at least it threw light on his real attitude — an attitude which, if given power, is utterly unwilling to honour any other opinion but its own, and invariably calls upon the worldly arm of the Church to annihilate heretics, atheists, and so on. The Church, after all, is not so completely innocent of blame for what has happened in Germany. Unfortunately, the Himmler-Heydrich police answered this challenge, as has become clear in the meantime, in a most unworthy manner.
On a trip to the Bretagne, I felt the desire to go even farther south, to the country of the Albigenses. The struggles and fate of this huge sect of the Cathars had always interested me and, on closer acquaintance, moved me deeply. It was a queer movement, combining the religious desire for freedom of will and character which was essentially West Gothic, with the late Iranian mysticism that had reached France by way of Italy after the crusaders had come in contact with the Orient. Since the Cathars — that is, the pure ones — wanted to remain Christians, they chose from among the various epistles that of John. Against the religion of the worldly power of the Church of Peter they upheld the teachings of the Baraclete, the Merciful Saviour and God of Mercy. They rejected the Old Testament, avoided the use of any and all Jewish names — a significant attitude, different from that of the later Calvinists and Puritans who also searched for the pure teachings — and shunned even the name of Mary. The crucifix to them appeared an unworthy symbol since, they claimed, nobody would venerate the rope with which a human being, even though he be a martyr, had been hanged. They dedicated themselves to charity and taught religious tolerance, but did eventually introduce a certain social order with various religious ranks and deacons, and the saving consecration (CONSOLAMENTVM) by the laying on of hands.
The former military chaplain, Müller, was appointed Reich Bishop. He had originally been a chaplain in the navy, and had later joined General Blomberg in East Prussia when the latter was military commander of that district. This appointment was, in a manner of speaking, a vote of confidence for the army. To be sure, it soon became dubious whether or not he was the right person for the job. Little known, personally, he considered orthodox religious circles the opposition, and was later, without actually being demoted, treated rather shabbily by Church Secretary Kerrl.
Finally, the Führer himself definitely forbade any further attempts to help the Protestants organise, and simply let things drift. To bring about any sort of religious reform is one thing he never attempted. He always insisted that politics and the founding of religious organisations were two entirely different things. Besides, he added, our movement is too closely identified with the smell of beer and the rowdyism of tavern brawls. Nor can anyone breed a reformer by speeches and articles. If one exists, he will certainly call public attention to himself by growling and thundering.
At that time it was by no means true that the Wehrmacht was being seduced spiritually and religiously by the party, something that came about much later (under Himmler and Heydrich), and a goal toward which Bormann, as is obvious today, always steered. Thanks to influences already mentioned, the situation was actually just the reverse. It was primarily the matter of Sunday church attendance that caused such bad blood, and which, handled as it was, left an unpleasant taste in my mouth.
Those who later complained, perhaps with some justification, about religious intolerance, considered it their undeniable prerogative to order soldiers to attend church even though they were no longer communicants. That was considered part of their duties as soldiers. Beliefs at variance with those of the two official confessions were not recognised, and anyone who protested against this attitude in the name of the very religious freedom that had once been upheld by the Protestants themselves, was subjected to all kinds of chicanery.
Since most of the National Socialists were not church members, the reactivated reactionary officers who, as a matter of fact, really owed their promotions exclusively to the National Socialists, found revenge for their former political defeats by meting out particularly harsh treatment for our young men who had joined the Wehrmacht so enthusiastically. This attitude was perpetuated even during the 20s by openly snubbing these young men whenever their name came up for promotion. I received many complaints, all of which I passed on to Hess. In due time, and with great difficulty, we finally enforced a ruling that nobody was to be coerced into attending church. In retaliation, we learned the soldiers in question were made to scrub floors and perform other unpleasant duties. And in spite of an order forbidding these good Christians to persist in their chicanery, we kept on getting complaints. This was one of the causes of many future conflicts, as well as the springboard for Bormann’s counteroffensive which eventually deprived the Wehrmacht of almost all right to any spiritual supervision of its members, an attitude quite as narrow-minded as that of the officers themselves.
The only point of view completely in accord with National Socialist theories would have been that of allowing every individual to seek and find religious consolation wherever he chose. Nobody should be forced to look for it among the existing confessions. To uphold his own religious beliefs is up to the individual; neither political nor police power must ever be used for or against any given conviction. Adolf Hitler always supported this dictum and, as Field Marshal Keitel told me, rejected all of Bormann’s attempts to interfere. The confessional staff of the Wehrmacht was to be kept intact at whatever strength was required, a rule that was observed to the very end.
An officer in whom I recognised an attitude in accordance with the finest Prussian tradition, a man I saw quite frequently, was the future General Field Marshal Hans von Kluge. I had met him during some of my visits to Westphalia. He was a medium-sized, erect man, with a high forehead, slightly curved nose, cold blue eyes. He was reserved and generally sparing of words, but especially so with me.
I knew, of course, that I wasn’t held in particularly high esteem by the officer corps; indeed, I could hardly expect anything else from such a religion-conditioned group. My Myth had met with considerable disapproval. I know, for example, that copies of the collective attack made against me by the Roman Church (it was entitled Studieste) had been sent by the various bishoprics to all higher military posts in an effort to do away with me scientifically.
But I want to make it clear, once and for all, that I never used my political position to prosecute those theological adversaries of mine.
At the end of 1939, the Führer accepted the suggestion that he give me a directive, addressed to party, state and Wehrmacht, to bring about and secure a unification of National Socialist philosophy.
Odd characters had attached themselves to our various branches, and the Reich Ministry of Education vacillated considerably. I wanted to bring about a firm though non-sectarian attitude. My appointment had been agreed upon.
Then, suddenly, the Führer told me that Mussolini wanted to come into the war after all, and had asked him to do nothing at the moment that might aggravate the Church. My assuming office at this critical time would cause a great deal of disquiet. I agreed that under the circumstances my appointment would naturally have to be postponed. Much would have been different if Hitler had also used these reasons of state in connection with others who merited such treatment much more than I did. But since his feeling for Göbbels and Himmler was stronger than it was for me, these two were able to do the most unbelievable things without being restrained. Here, in this purely human soil, is the root of Adolf Hitler’s great sins of omission which resulted in such ghastly consequences — that indefinable element of inconsistency, muddle-headedness, negligence and, in the long run, injustice that so frequently nullified his own considerations, plans, and activities.
What the police did was narrow-minded, sectarian, occasionally indecent. However, some day the churches themselves will be examined to determine whether their own behaviour since 1918 has been in accordance with what a great fate expected of them. Now that National Socialism lies prostrate, they have a new opportunity to gain respect and influence through active Christian charity, thus becoming a unifying force.
Until then, any philosophical discussion must needs be relegated to the background. No matter what the respective spiritual positions may be, today, after the collapse, the time for a final showdown between opposing philosophies has certainly not yet arrived. In their condemnation of a police regime, the churches ought to be careful not to condemn Himmler on such general charges as those our enemies fell back upon. In view of their own past, caution should be the watchword. Great philosophical changes need many generations to turn them into pulsating life. And even our present acres of death will someday bloom again.
From the Memoirs of Alfred Rosenberg (1946) via Solar General