I have been reading through William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany. The earliest copyright is 1959 (published a year after Pius XII’s death and four years before Rolf Hochhuth’s “The Deputy” which started the black legend against Pius). I am struck by how much he blames Luther and subsequent Protestantism on the rise of Nazi Germany. He lists that Luther’s bitter antisemitism is rivaled only by the Nazi era. Also, Luther’s teachings on the relation of church to the state, according to Shirer, made Germany ripe for the kind of totalitarian government adopted by the Nazis.
Here is a quote that I have transcribed from an audio book I am listening to:
“It is difficult to understand the behavior of most German Protestants during the time of Nazi Germany without understanding two things: their history and the influence of Martin Luther. To avoid any misunderstanding, it might be well to point out here that the author is a Protestant. The great founder of Protestantism was both a passionate antisemit and a verocious believer in absolute obedience to political authority. He wanted Germany ride of the Jews, and when they were sent away, he advised that they be deprived of all their cash, jewels, silver and gold. That their synagogs be schools set on fire, that their houses be broken up and destroyed, that they be but out from under roof and stable like the Gypsee, in misery and captivity and they incessantly complain to God about us. Advice that was literally followed four centuries later by Goring and Hitler.”
In the only popular revolt of Germany, the Peasant Uprising of 1525, Luther advised the princes to adopt the most ruthless measures against the “mad dogs” as he described the German peasants. Here as in his utterances against the Jews, Luther employed a coarseness and brutality of language unequaled in German history until the Nazi time. The influence of this towering figure extended down the generations in Germany. Especially among the protestants…apart from Tzarist Russia, in no country had the clergy become so politically servile to the state as did the German Protestant clergy. The Protestant clergy opposed the Weimar Republic, mostly because it drew its support from the Catholics and the socialists… Most of the Protestant pastors welcomed the advent of Hitler to the Chancellorship in 1933."
It just amazes me that this train of thought seems absolutely non-existent after Shirer’s work, but at the same time Catholicism has been so bitterly attacked. Perhaps it is the very fragmented nature of Protestantism that makes it impossible for many of them to express any shame or remorse over what happened in Germany. “It wasn’t my church, etc…” It is only on account of the cohesive nature of Catholicism that we, in a corporate and collective way, can express shame that we did not do more to stop the Nazi rise to power, or do more for the Jews and those exterminated in the Nazi death camps or forced sterilization.
Are there any Protestant books that look on this period of history with the same level of conscience searching as can be found in Catholic book stores or as demonstrated by subsequent Popes? This is not an attack on Protestantism. I am truly interested to see if my impression is wrong.