Complicity in the Holocaust
In the spring of 1939, the leaders of the German Christian churches established the “Institute for Research into and Elimination of Jewish Influence in German Church Life”. It was officially opened in the Wartburg in Eisenach on May 6, 1939.
This anti-Semitic church institute’s mission was to eradicate Jewish influences on Christian church life systematically through “scholarly” research and to foster a specifically Germanic and German piety. Its aim was a new reception of the unadulterated Gospel by the people of the Third Reich, as Friedrich Werner, President of the Evangelical High Consistory in Berlin, announced in his opening address.
The institute’s scholarly direction was assumed by Walter Grundmann, Professor for “Völkisch Theology” at the University of Jena and a radical German Christian, who had already demanded the introduction of the “Aryan Paragraph” in the Protestant church in 1933 and denied that Jesus was a Jew.
In his opening lecture, “The Dejewification of Religious Life as the Mission of German Theology and the Church”, he outlined the institute’s research program, which constituted a dreadful conflation of academic theology and Nazi racial ideology. Around two hundred church leaders, pastors, professors and academic theologians were willing to collaborate with or support the institute.
The institute produced a “dejewified” New Testament entitled “Die Botschaft Gottes” (God’s Message), in which all references to the Old Testament were deleted in 1941. The catechism “Deutsche mit Gott” (Germans with God), which included a revised version of the Ten Commandments, was published that same year.
Rather than confining itself to “academic” theological and practical church work however, the institute cooperated closely with Nazi institutions such as the “Reich Institute for the History of the New Germany”, which maintained a “Jewish Question Research Department” in Munich, and the “Institute for the Study of the Jewish Question Frankfurt a. M.”. Walter Grundmann additionally delivered expert opinions dealing with the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” to the Reich Main Security Office.
Even though it was supported only by a minority of radical German Christians, it is alarming that such an institute was possible in the Protestant church at all. Over and above the Christian anti-Judaism of mainstream German Protestantism, it advocated the racial and biologistic anti-Semitism of the National Socialists.
Whereas nearly the entire Protestant church bore a share of responsibility for the ostracism and disenfranchisement of the Jews by remaining silent about the Nuremberg Laws and the November Pogrom as well as officially helping issue “certificates of Aryan descent”, the institute in Eisenach was guilty of complicity in the Holocaust.
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- ©Ev. Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte München, KK B-410:23