Did Martin Luther influence Nazi anti-Semitism?

 

October 31 marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation started by Martin Luther (1498-1501) who many scholars maintain inspired Nazi anti-Semitism. The October 1, 2017 article in Florida’s Sun Sentinel newspaper on Luther includes the following disturbing paragraph. “‘It is clear that Martin Luther himself was an anti-Semite by the end of his life,’ says [Jochen] Birkenmeier [research director and curator of the Luther house museum in Eisenach, Germany], adding that many of Luther’s writings were used to justify the actions of the Third Reich. We can’t deny this side of Martin Luther, nor do we want to.”

The recent 2017 film “Martin Luther: The Idea that Changed the World” acknowledges Luther’s anti-Semitism, but contrary to Birkenmeier, it states that today’s Lutheran Church rejects this view of its founder. Luther is portrayed in the film suffering at times because of depression. He was also bothered from an early age by the conviction that he was a sinner and would be punished by God for his sins. He felt that all people, even when they act properly, are still sinners, that they are born in sin. As a young man, he could not figure out how to rid himself of sins. He would lash himself in the hope that the beatings would remove his sins, fasted often, and went to confessions more than any other person and spent more time in the confessional than anyone else. But, he felt that these acts did not remove the sins.

The October 30, 2017 article in The New Yorker by Joan Acocella describes Luther’s “severe pschospiritual crisis.” He suffered from “cold sweats, nausea, constipation, crushing headaches, ringing in his ears, together with depression, anxiety, and a general feeling that, as he put it, the angel of Satan was beating him with his fist.”

As he grew older, he developed a solution to his unrelenting pains that helped him grow to despise Jews. He felt that if a person had faith in Jesus, the person’s sins would be erased. His idea is based on the writings of the first century Paul that acts do not save a person. Paul wrote in Romans 3:28, “We hold that a person is justified by faith without the works prescribed by [Jewish] laws.” In Hebrews 11:6, Paul states that people do not please God unless they have faith. They must “believe that he is, and he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Luther felt that one can spend one’s life doing all kinds of good deeds and this will not satisfy God.

Paul’s view that only faith saves a person, not good deeds, is contradicted in the New Testament by James 2:24, “You see that a person is justified by works and not faith alone.” What did Luther do with James? Luther dismissed James. In his 1545 Preface to the New Testament, he called The Letter of James “an epistle of straw,” a document that should not be part of the New Testament. Since Jews did not have this faith, it is no surprise that Luther developed a vehement dislike of Jews.

In her New Yorker article, Acocella reveals that scholars agree that the story of the thirty-three-year-old monk Luther hammering 95 theses on the door of a Wittenberg, Germany church on October 31 1517 never happened, and she writes that Luther influenced Nazi anti-Semitism resulting in the murder of six million Jews.

She recognizes that the Germans during the time of Luther disliked Jews, but she quotes the scholar Heinz Schilling that Luther “despised them dementedly, ecstatically.” Luther, the scholar wrote, imagined the Devil stuffing the Jews’ orifices with fifth. “He stuffs and squirts them so full, that it overflows and swims out of every place, pure Devil’s filth, yes, it tastes so good to their hearts, and they guzzle it like sows.” When Judas “hanged himself [after the death of Jesus] so that his guts ripped, and as happens to those who are hanged, his bladder burst, then Jews had their golden cans and silver bowls ready, to catch the Judas piss…and afterwards together they ate the shit.” Luther recommended that synagogues should be burned down and Jewish houses destroyed. He preached that Christians have no moral responsibilities to Jews.

Thus, like many others, William Montgomery McGovern wrote in his 1941 book “From Luther to Hitler,” Luther laid the groundwork for the slaughter of six million Jews.

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