Otto Baumgarten (1858–1934), a professor of practical theology at the University of Kiel, was one of the first Protestant theologians to study the “völkisch movement” intensively.
The liberal theologian was a member of the executive committee of the German Democratic Party and the executive board of the Society for Defense against Anti-Semitism. German patriotism, liberal Protestantism and Enlightenment values were the lodestars of his thought and deeds. He saw all three challenged by anti-Semitism. Baumgarten argued against anti-Semitism with Christian theology, which was nonetheless combined with a special esteem for Germanness and criticism of the legalistic Jewish religion and the notion of a racial difference.
The Society for Defense sent his book “Kreuz und Hakenkreuz” (Cross and Swastika) published in 1926 to a large number of Protestant theologians. In it, Baumgarten disputed the völkisch anti-Semites extensively, while granting them thoroughly noble motives all the same. Nonetheless, the cross and swastika were mutually exclusive according to Christian understanding because all Christians must face examination by the Word from the Cross, whereas the attitude of the venerators of the Swastika was characterized by self-righteousness at the expense of the Jews. Baumgarten saw Hitler as a fool filled with sentiment and chauvinism.
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