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  • Print publication year: 2003
  • Online publication date: June 2013

Introduction

Summary

Nazism owes nothing to any part of the Western tradition, be it German or not, Catholic or Protestant, Christian …

Hannah Arendt

We will not … be capable of ‘thinking the Shoah,’ albeit inadequately, if we divorce its genesis and its radical enormity from theological origins.

George Steiner

The 450th anniversary of Luther's birth fell only a few months after the Nazi Seizure of Power in 1933. The celebrations were conducted on a grand scale on behalf of both the Protestant Churches and the Nazi Party. One particular celebration took place in Königsberg, the provincial capital of East Prussia. Present for this event were the region's two highest representatives of the sacred and the secular: Landesbischof Friedrich Kessel and Gauleiter Erich Koch. Koch spoke on the propitious circumstances surrounding Luther's birthday. He implied that the Nazi Seizure of Power was an act of divine will, as it so closely preceded this special anniversary. He explicitly compared Hitler and Luther, claiming that both struggled in the name of belief, that both had the love and support of the German nation, and that the Nazis fought with Luther's spirit. Given the occasion, one might consider such a speech entirely predictable, especially because Nazis were eager to elicit support from what was still a very large churchgoing population in Germany. We might therefore disregard the speech as mere propaganda.