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Journal of Contemporary History Copyright 2007 SAGE Publications, Los Angeles, London, New Delhi

and Singapore, Vol 42(2), 185211. ISSN 00220094.

DOI: 10.1177/0022009407075560

Richard Steigmann-Gall

Christianity and the Nazi Movement:

A Response

When I first began to research on the topic of nazi conceptions of Christianity,

I understood the revisionist potential of my findings. The archives brought
forth some surprising discoveries, which I knew would probably be taken as
controversial by many, and which would elicit strong counterarguments.
Reviews in the scholarly and popular press have so far ranged from laudatory
with many applauding the book as a corrective to long-held conventions
to disdainful, with the majority to date falling much closer to the former end
of the continuum. Positive reviews can be found both in secular and Christian
periodicals, some of them written by self-described Christians of both liberal
and conservative orientations. There has also been a lively debate on various
internet websites, many of which attempt to use the book, either negatively or
positively, to forward a particular cultural, social or political agenda, and
some of which seriously misrepresent my own arguments while making theirs.
Colleagues and friends both in and out of the historical profession had anticipated that some of the reactions both within the academic community and at
large would be less dispassionate than others. And indeed, much of the discussion which the book has generated reveals a clear emotional attachment to the
subject among those who praise the book, certainly, but also among those
who condemn it.
On that continuum of critical response to my work, it is safe to say that the
four critics I have been asked to respond to in this symposium easily represent
the new extreme of the negative end. To varying degrees they challenge both
my arguments and my findings. They take issue with my methodology, pointing to what they believe are fundamental mistakes, egregious errors, and fatal
shortcomings. They accuse me of tendentiousness and a lack of originality, of
a refusal to explore countervailing evidence or to acknowledge work prior to
my own. It is suggested that in my effort to turn a blind eye to inconvenient
realities, I selectively pick through the quote mines of history. By turns various
aspects of my book are described as afflicted, crass, astonishing, condescending, deficient and ridiculous. What they see as lapses are speculatively
explained by one of them with a foray into psychoanalysis as deliberate
oversight, wilful ignorance, or unhealthy fixation. Reading these criticisms, it
might appear that the condemnations are simply insurmountable. However,
what appear to be comprehensive and authoritative critiques of my book are
too often, upon closer inspection, a series of misinterpretations, efforts to erect
straw men, and, with disturbing frequency, distortions and fabrications. In


Journal of Contemporary History Vol 42 No 2

their attempts to paint my work as tendentious, these authors frequently give

free rein to their own tendentiousness. Claiming that I overlook countervailing
evidence, they repeatedly overlook evidence in my book when it hinders their
ability to critique me. Gailus in particular accuses me of extrapolating and distorting; yet his lengthy accounts of my scholarly wrongdoings are laden with
extrapolations, caricatures, and misrepresentations of fact and argument so
repetitive and unbridled that one begins to wonder whether the strange
obsession he speaks of is not a case of Freudian projection.

Some of my respondents take greater care than others to explain what they
believe my book does and does not do. Given that the reader has now received
four different interpretations of The Holy Reich (Stowers piece, while
thematically vital to the issues approached by these critics, does not in itself
analyse my work), it is important to remind the reader of precisely what my
book attempts to do, how it goes about it, and, most vitally, what it does and
does not argue. In a phrase, Holy Reich attempts to revise our understanding
of the nazi movement as intrinsically anti-Christian. It does this by examining
the views of leading nazis, defined both in terms of their overall position in the
movements hierarchy and by their positions as designated party authorities in
matters of ideological oversight and articulation, or public and party education
and indoctrination. In other words, those nazis I explore were, in one way or
another, designated as part of an ideological elite or milieu within the movement: at the very least, as arbiters of which idea or concept counted as
National Socialist and which not.
I found, based on evidence obtained through archival materials, printed primary sources, and secondary sources, that the nazi movement as such, either as
a party seeking power or as a government in power, could not be called antiChristian. Based primarily on private and often secret documents, closely
matched with public pronunciations, I demonstrate with abundant empirical
evidence that a wide swath of the party believed themselves and their movement to be Christian. They demonstrated this through both their words and
their actions, as individuals and as decision-makers in the nazi party and later
the nazi state. The individuals who exhibited a commitment to the Christian
religion I describe as positive Christians, based on their adherence to the
positive Christianity which the party referenced in Point 24 of its official
programme which, it should be pointed out, was never revoked. Even while
many of these positive Christians could be highly anticlerical, and strongly
antagonistic in particular to the Catholic Church and its traditions, they maintained that through personal belief as well as through government policy, the
movement was guided by Christian principles most obviously in its antiSemitism, but also in its anti-marxism, anti-liberalism, and erection of a
peoples community exalting an ethical socialism while excluding those
deemed racially unfit.
Since I interrogate precisely what these nazis meant when they claimed their

Steigmann-Gall: Christianity and the Nazi Movement


movement was a Christian one, I also gauge their truth claims against the
views of leading churchmen and theologians of the day. Not to discover
whether there were Christians who supported nazism; an exhaustive literature
has already established the breadth and depth of this support, among both
Protestants and Catholics in Germany. Rather, to discover if, and if so what
kind of, clergy and theologians accepted the claims of the nazis to be Christian.
In the process of this investigation, I contend that while no one variety of
Christianity can be seen as the theological antecedent of positive Christianity
(Holy Reich, hereafter HR, 2623), the cornerstones of positive Christianity
the belief that Jesus was not a Jew and the call for the removal of the Old
Testament as two of the most central also found expression within
Germanys kulturprotestantisch milieu. In other words, Christian nazis did
not just distort or infect Christian ideas to suit their party; such ideas had
existed in varieties of Christianity which and this is vital were articulated
by acknowledged theologians and Christian intellectuals before nazism ever
came into existence.
Standing opposed to the positive Christians were the so-called neo-pagans
of the nazi party (I refer to them as paganists in my book), who have been
much more closely scrutinized in historical scholarship and about whom a
great deal is already known. I confirm the conventional view that their presence in the party was very real, and among their members included some
extremely powerful men. However, I make two arguments in particular which
stray from accepted convention: first, the paganist cohort did not achieve the
religious dominance or at least hegemony they lusted after. While this goes
against much church historiography, I indicate in my book that other scholars
have made this argument as well. Second, and more originally, I contend that
as a set of ideas and precepts, the content of paganism was highly ambivalent
toward and quite partial in its rejection of Christianity. Having said that, I also
make it clear that their presence in the party elite, and their intraparty rivalry
with positive Christians throughout the Third Reich, precludes nazism as a
whole from being considered a Christian movement.
Finally, in the last and longest chapter of Holy Reich, I demonstrate how
anticlericalism took greater hold within the nazi worldview as well as in state
practice, and that opposition not just to the institutions but also to the traditions of Christianity grew as the Third Reich neared its close. Through the
example of intraparty factionalism, I demonstrate the ways in which many
Christians in the party elite lost their positions of power. At the same time,
their ability not only to practise their faith as individuals, but additionally to
propagate positive Christianity as a religion for the movement, was, in spite of
paganist challenges, for the most part upheld. I also demonstrate how positive
Christians in many cases were able to retain their positions of power within
the party and state. For their part, whatever momentary strategic advantages
they may have gained, paganists were never able to exploit the growing anticlericalism of the state or Hitlers growing disenchantment with the Christian
religion itself. In fact, the views and policies of the nazi state could be very


Journal of Contemporary History Vol 42 No 2

hostile to both paganist organizations and individual paganists within the nazi
party. At the same time, some who had previously expressed a commitment to
Christianity increasingly expressed a rejection of it, even as they continued
to uphold Jesus and his message, and adhere to other signifiers of Christian
Given what my book does and doesnt argue, the careful reader will already
find ways in which Holy Reich has been misrepresented in the preceding criticisms. I will address these criticisms in two ways: by exploring the larger points
that arise repeatedly between one reviewer and the next, and by addressing
more isolated criticisms author by author. I will conclude by considering
another critique recently published in another venue.

We can begin with political religion theory. I am accused of fatally overlooking, through either wilfulness or ignorance, the debates on nazism as a political religion. It is no accident that Manfred Gailus and Ernst Piper, both
German scholars, reproach me for leaving this theory out of my analysis
even if Piper does not subscribe to it himself whereas the North American
scholar Irving Hexham, even though an advocate of political religion theory, is
much less reproachful; and fellow North American Doris Bergen gives no
mention to it at all. As Hexham himself suggests, there is much less Englishspeaking scholarship on nazism as a political religion than there is in Germany,
notwithstanding the notable exceptions of Michael Burleighs The Third
Reich: A New History and George Mosses The Nationalization of the Masses,
neither of which, while considered major works, has spurred a significant
monographic trend.1 For the record, I find myself in complete agreement with
Stowers deconstruction of political religion for its inability to truly define
what a religion is, among other problems. In its current scholarly application,
political religion theory is primarily concerned with demonstrating how
nazism could be considered a replacement faith for Christianity. My goal in
exploring nazi conceptions of Christianity was quite different namely, to
reconsider the relationship between politics and established religion. In this
sense, I contend that nazism, in the view of many of its adherents, could be
I would like to thank Richard Evans for his invitation to participate in this symposium on my
book. It is a rare and privileged opportunity when a historians work especially that of a junior
one becomes the subject of this kind of attention. It was not a difficult decision when he asked
me if I would like to contribute. My thanks as well to Doris Bergen, Manfred Gailus, Irving
Hexham, Ernst Piper and Stanley Stowers for their lively and challenging comments.
1 Michael Burleigh, The Third Reich: A New History (New York 2000); George Mosse, The
Nationalization of the Masses: Political Symbolism and Mass Movements in Germany from the
Napoleonic Wars through the Third Reich (New York 1975). Recent English-language contributions have been isolated cases: see David Redles, Hitlers Millennial Reich: Apocalyptic Belief and
the Search for Salvation (New York 2005) and Karla Poewe, New Religions and the Nazis
(London 2005). See as well Jane Caplan, Politics, Religion and Ideology: A Comment on
Wolfgang Hardtwig, Bulletin of the German Historical Institute, 28 (2001), 336.

Steigmann-Gall: Christianity and the Nazi Movement


qualified as religious without itself being a religion. I also demonstrate how

Hitler, as the ultimate arbiter and articulator of nazi ideology, actively rejected
repeated attempts to transform his movement into a religion.
I do not engage political religion in Holy Reich because it does not address
my problematic not, as Gailus and Piper would have the reader believe,
because doing so would undermine my claims to originality. (Brschs 1998
book explores many of the same nazis I do and uses much the same source
material, but I explore a much greater range of nazis opinion. Brsch also proceeds from fundamentally different conceptualizations, and his argument that
the nazis made the nation divine differs markedly from my own findings.
Piper will hopefully forgive me if my manuscript was already with the publisher by the time Rimanns book appeared perhaps the same reason my
book gets no mention in his new Rosenberg biography.) My critics can rest
assured that I know the political religion literature, and in fact have contributed to it in two articles one in a volume edited by Hartmut Lehmann
and Michael Geyer published by Wallstein Verlag.2 That neither Gailus nor
Piper seem aware of this piece is particularly puzzling, given their sharply
worded criticism that I ignore whole historiographies, let alone individual
authors. This oversight is particularly extraordinary in Gailus case in light of
his exacting efforts to cite practically the entire political religion corpus; the
fact that, in her contribution to a special issue of Geschichte und Gesellschaft
which Gailus edited, Bergen cites the conference paper I gave in Gttingen in
2001 that formed the basis of my Wallstein article; and the fact that Lehmann
is Gailus collaborator, he having co-edited a volume with Lehmann just after
my piece in Geyers and Lehmanns volume appeared. Was he not familiar
with this article?
I will not recapitulate either Stowers deconstruction of political religion
theory or my own, since these are available in full already. I will, however,
make two points of particular salience for this symposium. First, the evidence
is irrefutable that, whereas a recognized minority of nazis had wished in one
way or another to turn their movement into a political religion or what in
Gailus sense could be termed political religion their efforts were consistently refuted by a more effective cohort of nazis who, whether positive
Christian or of some other religious persuasion, were actively opposed to such
plans. For some nazis, this ran contrary to their own vision of nazism as a
religious politics. For others, it was a matter of calculation. For still others,
the vision of nazism as a political religion was deemed laughable and contrary
to the very meaning of the movement. There is simply far too much archival
evidence, analysed by Reinhard Bollmus, Robert Cecil, and myself among
others, that demonstrates how often Rosenberg in particular lost internecine
2 Richard Steigmann-Gall, Was National Socialism a Political Religion or a Religious Politics?
in Michael Geyer and Hartmut Lehmann (eds), Religion und Nation, Nation und Religion:
Beitrge zu einer unbewltigten Geschichte (Gttingen 2004), 386408; Richard Steigmann-Gall,
Nazism and the Revival of Political Religion Theory, Totalitarian Movements and Political
Religions, 5 (2004), 37696.


Journal of Contemporary History Vol 42 No 2

battles over implementation of his religious agenda (Hexham implies that

Bollmus findings are too old to be relevant; in fact, his book is now in its
second edition).3
Second, things like commemorations of the dead, cult cycle, and sacred
actions, as Gailus describes them, do not constitute the actual area of NS
religiosity. These may all be rituals, in the same sense that every political
movement articulates for itself a set of rituals and practices around which it
formulates a sense of identity and solidarity. One could point to several contemporary instances of politicians engaging in rituals or other acts which touch
the emotional, non-rationalistic impulses of the audience. The question is, are
these moments symptomatic of a religion and/or religiosity? When Franois
Mitterrand laid a rose at the tomb of Jean Juares upon becoming the new
President of France in 1981, was he engaging in cult behaviour? When George
W. Bush walked solemnly to his podium in the middle of the convention hall
to give his acceptance speech at the 2004 Republican National Convention,
replete with spotlights and impassioned audience, was he articulating the creed
of a new faith? Without citing any examples, or explaining how commemoration of the dead among other public acts can be considered rivalrous to
Christian tradition, Gailus simply asserts the conventional truism that such
behaviour, of necessity, had to be un- or anti-Christian. I do not dispute that
there were some nazis who wanted very much to found a new cult and tried to
create a set of rituals to embody it. But the most compelling evidence we have
of their failure is the utter rejection of such efforts by Hitler, Goebbels, and
Goering, among others.
That is not to say there was no such thing as nazi ceremony or ritual. Here
too, the nazis staged highly choreographed spectacles such as Speers famous
Cathedral of Light. The question that needs to be asked is not whether
the nazis tried to win new supporters using such methods; aside from highly
dubious testimonials from those claiming to have skeptically attended a rally
only to be born again by the charismatic Fhrer, there is no empirical evidence of any numerically significant conversion experiences. Instead, the
question is whether the nazis regarded such ceremony as being religious. There
is no reliable evidence that Hitler believed he was creating a religion through
the use of such choreography not that this has stopped innumerable commentators from claiming so. If Hitler occasionally made references to converting his audience to nazism, of getting the idea of night rallies from his Catholic
youth, or of his followers being Christ-like in their determination all points
I raise in my book that hardly means he viewed himself as a new messiah.
In fact, as I demonstrate repeatedly, on such occasions Hitler actually contended that he was following Christs example, not attempting to replace
Christ as a new object of worship. That Hitler borrowed from Christian ritual
3 Reinhard Bollmus, Das Amt Rosenberg und seine Gegner: Studien zum Machtkampf im
nationalsozialistischen Herrschaftssystem (Stuttgart 1970; 2nd edn 2006); Robert Cecil, The Myth
of the Master Race: Alfred Rosenberg and Nazi Ideology (London 1972).

Steigmann-Gall: Christianity and the Nazi Movement


to embellish nazi theatricality does not mean he sought to replace the Christian
faith. A vital distinction between form and content, style and substance, is
elided when political religion theory is applied to the nazi movement.
Gailus and Piper essentially ignore evidence that Hitler, Goebbels, and other
high-ranking nazis esteemed Jesus as only the most obvious signifier of the
Christian faith, instead (in Gailus case) admitting only to a few isolated cases
of dual-faith nazis like Hans Schemm and otherwise explaining away evidence of Christian commitment by choosing to argue that whatever Christian
religiosity existed in the nazi elite was simply residual, the lingering trace of a
typically Wilhelmine bourgeois/petty bourgeois family background in which
these nazis were raised. Gailus suggests they had little choice but to start life as
Christians, but that this atrophied with adulthood. There are far too many
false assumptions for this line of argument to sustain itself. For one, the
Kaiserreich (Imperial Germany) in this conception is essentially cast as a premodern society, in which individual agency in religious choice is apparently
surrendered to a state-mandated social sanction enforcing church attendance
and belief. Even the most caricatured Sonderweg (Special Path) thesis would
not go so far as to depict Imperial German society in such anachronistic terms.
Second, there were innumerable instances in the Kaiserreich of hostility to
Christianity at a variety of levels political, cultural, social, institutional, and
intellectual. To make his argument Gailus must overlook centuries of German,
not to mention European intellectual history, never mind the obvious ways in
which whole segments of German society rejected either church or religion
itself at precisely this period. The fact that the republic which rose from the
ashes of the empire was such a hotbed of cultural change not only points to
Gailus failure to recognize Germanys cultural and religious marketplace and
the ways in which Germans could alter their views; he also removes a very
important factor which, among others, brought nazism into being in the first
place. As I contend, it was the question of the place of religion in German
society that, among other factors, helped determine popular reaction to
nazism. As a last point, the view that ones class status necessarily informs
ones religious beliefs is highly deterministic; only the most unreformed
secularization theorist would any longer make such an assertion.

This point turns us to a second charge made repeatedly by my critics: that I fail
to properly understand Germanys confessional divide. Doris Bergen contends
that I misconstrue the confessional differences that existed in Germany, and
that I pay scant attention to developments on the Catholic side and even let
Catholicism off the hook. Gailus goes further, suggesting that I exculpate
Catholicism and am a victim of the Catholic Churchs in-house apologetics. I
can think of not a single in-house Catholic apologist who would view as exculpatory my argument that Catholic bishops were hesitant about turning their
backs on a movement [nazism] that fought Marxism, liberalism, and the
Jewish danger (HR, 67). As this passage indicates, I am aware that nazism


Journal of Contemporary History Vol 42 No 2

and politicized Catholicism could have found common cause in anti-Semitism,

anti-Marxism, and anti-liberalism. I am also aware of the huge amount of
literature detailing the various ways in which Catholics in Germany and elsewhere have propagated Jew-hatred and antipathy to parliamentary democracy, and the roaring debate this has generated (HR, 45).
It is not an issue of my protecting Catholicism; given that my primary aim
in the book is to explore nazi attitudes toward Christianity, not the other way
around, I found compelling and overwhelming evidence of nazi antagonism to
Catholicism. Whether and to what degree German Catholicism lent its
endorsement to nazism is not the point. I do not take issue with the contention
that some segments of Germanys Catholic milieu found the message of nazism
amenable though it should be pointed out that Gailus description of
Bavaria as purely Catholic is a sophomoric mistake, all the more troubling
given the amount of research showing that the Protestant region of Franconia
was arguably the nazis true stronghold in Bavaria.4 Rather, the question is
what were the nazis views. And here I found a striking degree of uniformity:
whether they were nominally Protestant or Catholic, Christian or paganist,
members of the nazi elite consistently expressed antagonism towards not just
the Catholic Church, but also the Catholic religion. It was, in their view, not
sufficiently nationalist; indeed, given its institutional structure, Catholicism
was lambasted as one of the three internationals seeking to undermine German
nationhood. It was also insufficiently racist. That members of the German
episcopacy were known to be highly nationalist and anti-Semitic did not
change nazi minds. If I make reference to the ideological engagement of
positive Christianity with the doctrinal positions of liberal Protestantism
(Kulturprotestantismus) or confessional Lutheranism, the reader can rest
assured that it is because I found no evidence of Catholicism embracing the
idea that race was one of Gods orders of creation; that the Old Testament
ought to be removed from the Christian canon; or that confessional schools
should be phased out all views articulated at one point or another by the
NSDAPs positive Christians as well as within Germanys Protestant milieux.
As to Bergens point about nuance: the evidence I bring to bear on nazi
preference for Protestantism over Catholicism, as well as the active hostility
towards the Catholic Church and its traditions, is insurmountable.
My treatment of Protestantism is, in the main, judged to be less problematic.
For all his unyielding criticism, Gailus occasionally permits himself a note of
agreement, stating in his closing remarks that he agrees entirely with my
assessment of the presence and effectiveness of National Socialist Christians
a bewildering conclusion after such a long indictment of my misdeeds.
4 Rainer Hambrecht, Der Aufstieg der NSDAP in Mittel- und Oberfranken (19251933)
(Nuremberg 1976); Wolfram Pyta, Dorfgemeinschaft und Parteipolitik, 19181933: die
Verschrnkung von Milieu und Parteien in den protestantischen Landgebieten Deutschlands in der
Weimarer Republik (Dsseldorf 1996). On Bavarias Protestants during the Third Reich, see Bjrn
Mensing, Pfarrer und Nationalsozialismus: Gechichte einer Vertrickung am Beispiel der
Evangelisch-Lutherischen Kirche in Bayern (Gttingen 1998).

Steigmann-Gall: Christianity and the Nazi Movement


Bergen is somewhat less charitable, suggesting that I condescend to her in her

treatment of German Christian religiosity. She also makes detailed references
to the broad literature that already exists on Protestants in the Third Reich,
repeatedly suggesting that my analysis is not nearly so novel as I claim. As with
their comments on my treatment of Catholicism, again I must point out that
Bergen and Gailus misconstrue the goal of my book. It is not my task to
explore the variety of ways in which Protestants reacted to the nazi movement;
there has been a colossal amount of work already done on this, work which I
explore and acknowledge in the books introduction. I add perhaps a few
nuances and additional details of my own to this already immense historiography. My main goal when exploring the Protestant side of the naziProtestant
relationship in chapter five is to reveal how Protestants gauged the nazis
claims. To allege that the nazis looked favourably on Protestantism and considered it the natural religion of the Germans, and not explore this aspect of
nazi policy, would have been a substantial oversight. This chapter shows that
a large segment of institutional Protestantism welcomed the assistance that the
nazi state gave them, whereas other segments, most obviously centred around
Niemller and the Confessing Church, criticized not nazism itself so much as
nazi endorsements of their opponents. I say assistance because the struggles
between the German Christians and the Confessing Church were not simply a
proxy war between nazism and Christianity, but an in-house conflict, one
that the NSDAP largely stayed out of and which ultimately led to the nazi
endorsement of the German Christians being withdrawn. Having said that,
this chapter is only secondarily concerned with the Church Struggle itself as an
intra-Protestant fight between the German Christians and the Confessing
Church. There already exists a huge literature that explores this issue, and I
might point out that while I disagree with some of the arguments of other
historians, I make no particular claim to originality on the disputes between
these two groups.
While I explore moments of Protestant resistance to nazi church policy, given
the pivotal role this played in altering that policy by 1937, it is true that I do not
explore the Alltag (daily life), as it were, of Christian resistance. Pace Bergen, it
could certainly be argued that a dialogic relationship between representatives of
the nazi party and the Christian churches helped shape nazi attitudes toward
Christianity. Ideologically ramified as they were, however, the nazis showed
little appreciation for the Catholic Churchs history of anti-Semitism, antiMarxism and anti-liberalism. Their intention to create their own reality meant
that the nazis were quite capable of neglecting reality when it interfered with
their predetermined worldview. Which makes their willingness to engage with
the Protestant churches up until 1937 including the planning of church
elections four years after the extinction of every other vestige of democracy in
Germany all the more remarkable in its implications.
Staying with Protestantism for the moment, it is necessary to address Gailus
many criticisms of my analysis of Protestantism, particularly concerning chapter five. Given his scolding approach of providing a laundry list of my alleged


Journal of Contemporary History Vol 42 No 2

inaccuracies and mistakes, I have little choice but to address them point by
point. First of all, I do not dispute Harnacks credentials as a non-nazi or his
refusal to approve nazi anti-Semitism (HR, 41). On the other hand, Harnacks
engagement with Houston Stewart Chamberlain in the late years of the
Kaiserreich, as well as his own rejection of the Old Testament as Jewish
carnal law at the beginning of the Weimar Republic, are entirely germane to a
central point of mine: positive Christian calls for the removal of the Old
Testament cannot be taken as intrinsically anti-Christian. As much as Gailus
might wish it were so, this is not simply a case of my rummaging through the
quote mines of history, looking for some Christian or other who can be blamed
for yet another aspect of nazi ideology; as I point out, National Socialist
Christians made explicit references to Harnack when explaining their own
theological positions (HR, 74, 151). Gailus suggests that a more fruitful line of
inquiry would be to interrogate the brand of Lutheranism associated with
Stcker apparently overlooking those many instances in the book where I
do just that (HR, 36, 389, 42, 434, 48, 69, 7880, 181, 204, 2623). Gailus
unambiguous statement that German Christians were extremely untheological can be made only by overlooking the very important Theologians Under
Hitler by Robert Ericksen, one of the most prominent monographs exploring
this question.5 To answer Gailus question as to why should there have been
resistance motivated by Christian principles if National Socialism were as
Christian as the author, here and there, purports to suggest, one would have
to recount the very many instances in the history of Christendom when
Christians were at odds or, more to the point, at war with each other,
regardless of the many exhortations to love and peace found in their shared
religion. I am very inclined to agree with Bergens point that we need to avoid
ideal definitions in such discussions.
Gailus professes that error-spotting does not appeal to him: I can understand why, given the defective way he goes about it. I do not claim that
Dibelius speech on Potsdam Day took place in Berlin (HR, 69); I am accused
of mischaracterizing the German Christian meeting of November 1933 in
Berlin as a controversy when apparently the accurate descriptor is scandal
(my reference to that event is not on p. 73 but p. 75. Apparently Gailus is
taking me to task for saying at instead of after, while overlooking the fact
that on p. 164 I refer to the outrage that ensued). Gailus claims Prince Eitel
Friedrich did not join the NSDAP in 1930, but apparently does not himself
know the actual date; failing to note that Ziegler turned to the study of folklore after leaving the Protestant faith in no way contradicts my characterization of his prior activities or his association with Rosenberg. Gailus criticizes
my interpretation of church membership figures for 1933 as rash, and yet
concedes that one way to protect oneself in the totalitarian nazi state was to
join (or rejoin) a Christian denomination.
5 Robert Ericksen, Theologians Under Hitler: Gerhard Kittel, Paul Althaus and Emmanuel
Hirsch (New Haven, CT 1985). Gailus otherwise extensive bibliographical footnotes fail to cite
Ericksens book.

Steigmann-Gall: Christianity and the Nazi Movement


Gailus ire reaches a climax when discussing a passage about the esteem
for Chamberlain felt by what I term members of the Confessing Church. He
flatly states that I have no support for this claim, that I fill in the blanks
entirely speculatively, and then triumphantly announces: These are illustrations of the slapdash approach to sources and quotations, the overused practice
of indirect quotation and the constant tendency to exaggerate interpretations of
evidence to fit in with his basic thesis. However, instead of a detective finally
discovering the smoking gun, what we get is the pot calling the kettle black.
After complaining that I fill in the blanks, he concedes that I accurately reference my source, Richard Gutteridge. Not satisfied with this, he claims to
unearth more slipshod scholarship (Gutteridges at this point), finally establishing that the original reference was actually an editorial note without attribution
in the periodical Junge Kirche. Gailus makes the point that I should not have
relied on Gutteridges own description in this case since it ended up being
speculative a point well-taken, except that he then proceeds to speculate. In
all likelihood the author is Fritz Shlmann, Gailus avers. Then he engages in
conjecture a second time; having filled in the blanks of who the author might
be, he speculates that his candidate would be difficult to identify as a member
of the Confessing Church because of his prior association with Germanys
Christian-national youth movement. First, Shlmann was actually a member of
the Young German Order. Second, as Gailus may know, the Confessing Church
accommodated a broad range of political opinion, much of it surprisingly
supportive of nazism.6 Third, the journal Junge Kirche was strongly associated
with the Confessing Church and its theological leanings. Fourth, no one less
than Dietrich Bonhoeffer had a professional relationship with Shlmann. Fifth,
Shlmann was the editor of Treysa 1945, a report of the July 1945 Confessing
Church synod.7 At a bare minimum the evidence quite firmly points to
Shlmanns strong sympathy for the Confessing Church.8 Gailus repeatedly
attempts to demonstrate the carelessness of my scholarship; it appears he does
not feel the need to lead by example.
On some points of detail Gailus has me: first, I concede that street brawl
does not accurately describe the context of Horst Wessels death, since Gailus
rightly points out that the event in question did not take place on a street.
Second, in the process of describing a revealing letter of complaint about Hans
Schemm sent to the Bavarian governor Franz Ritter von Epp, I did not point
6 See, for example, Victoria Barnett, For the Soul of the People: Protestant Protest Against Hitler
(New York 1992); Wolfgang Gerlach, Als die Zeugen schwiegen: Bekennende Kirche und die
Juden (Berlin 1987).
7 Fritz Shlmann (ed.), Treysa 1945: Die Konferenz der evangelischen Kirchenfhrer 27.-31.
August 1945. Mit einem Bericht ber die Synode der Bekennenden Kirche in Berlin-Spandau 29.31. Juli 1945 und ber die unmittelbar vorangegangenen Tagungen des Reichsbruderrates und das
Lutherischen Rates (Lneburg 1946).
8 Susanne Benhr, ... ohne Zweifel ist der Staat berechtigt, hier neue Wege zu gehen: Die
Judenfrage aus der Sicht von Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Gerhard Liebholz und Carl Schmitt, unpublished ms. My thanks to Dr Benhr-Laqueur for providing me with a copy of her paper.


Journal of Contemporary History Vol 42 No 2

out that the complainant misidentified a date on the Christian calendar:

I concede my failure to correct the complainants mistake. I accept the
corrections of detail regarding the church-political events of autumn 1933 it
was the Prussian synod, not the national synod, that passed the Aryan
Paragraph, and the November meeting of the German Christians was a Greater
Berlin Region assembly, not a national assembly. It is notable that while Gailus
infers that such mistakes are symptomatic of larger problems, not one of
these errors is claimed in any way to have wider analytical repercussions:
indeed, Gailus agrees entirely with my assessment of the National Socialist
Christian milieu.

A third pressing issue which my critics raise repeatedly is my use of sources.

Gailus and Piper accuse me of avoiding vast swaths of printed primary sources,
and of being slipshod with those I do use. Hexham accuses me of negligence,
sloppiness and oversight, and reproaches my use of translated primary sources.
Bergen makes the mildest criticism of the four, suggesting I veer into tendentiousness but not otherwise questioning my basic training as an historian.
Particularly notable are the repeated, strident assertions that I mishandle the
evidence regarding Rosenberg. Much is also made of my sources on Goebbels
and Hitler.
Once again, Gailus leads the charge, accusing me of credulity when using the
What Hitler really said literature. To make this point, Gailus must mislead
the reader. As it happens, I explore the very issue of reliability when using such
sources, including the Tischgesprche (HR, 289, 253). In my evaluation of
which could be taken as reliable and which not, I follow the analysis of Henry
Ashby Turner, whose edited volume of the Otto Wagener memoirs contains an
incisive methodological introduction.9 I agree entirely with Gailus point
about slippery ground, pointing out that the source used over and over again
by historians to prove that Hitler was an anti-Christian is Rauschnings
extremely dubious Hitler Speaks. Ian Kershaw agrees with Turner that
Rauschning is so unreliable that he should not be used; some German scholars
go even further, accusing Rauschning of fraudulence. Gailus and Hexham both
fault me for using Speers self-exculpatory Inside the Third Reich, once again
choosing to ignore my own evaluation of Speers reliability: Speers book has
been critiqued for myth making, but this critique has been limited to Speers
justification of his own role in the nazi State. None of the authors who convincingly point to the fallacies found in Speers memoirs dispute the picture he
paints of other nazis, and none specifically refer to the portrayal of Hitlers
religious views as spurious (HR, 257). Gailus suggests the memoirs of Felix
Kersten are similarly tainted, but without citing any scholarly interrogation of

9 Otto Wagener, Hitler: Memoirs of a Confidant, edited by Henry Ashby Turner (New Haven,
CT 1985), ixxxvi.

Steigmann-Gall: Christianity and the Nazi Movement


Kerstens book.10 After criticizing me for using Speer, Hexham allows himself
to rely heavily upon the unreliable memoir by Kurt Ldecke titled I Knew
Hitler. Hexham thinks that by grudgingly acknowledging Arthur Smiths
deconstruction of Ldeckes book he has inoculated himself from criticism.
Quite the contrary; Smiths article is damning. And it is not alone; over 30
years ago Dietrich Orlow called Ldeckes book highly unreliable and urged
that it be used with extreme caution.11 Roland Laytons 1979 article, Kurt
Ludecke and I Knew Hitler: An Evaluation, a guarded defence of the veracity
of Ldeckes claims, must nonetheless concede: it can hardly be denied that
much is exaggerated.12
Gailus accuses me of leaving aside huge collections of Hitlers and Goebbels
printed primary material, implying once more that I do so to avoid evidence
contrary to my theory. Not only do I exhaustively probe through the single
most important printed primary source, Hitlers Mein Kampf, I go through a
great deal of additional printed primary material on Hitler, including the
Domarus, Jckel-Kuhn, Maser, Nicolaisen, Tyrell and Wagener volumes. I
also use the Tischgesprche, but not before addressing the question of its
reliability. Between these sources and the substantial archival research undertaken at the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich, the Federal
Archives at the time located in Potsdam and Berlin-Zehlendorf, and four other
archives central to the study of National Socialism, I stand by my claim to
have authoritatively established Hitlers religious views. I agree that one
should always strive to be exhaustive when possible; but Gailus cites not a
single instance where the compendia I did not use would have undermined my
analysis based on the very substantial material I do use.
The same point applies to Goebbels. Gailus simply asserts without further
explanation that the Goebbels references I employ are weak and dubious,
then reproaches me for not using the 1996 edition of Frhlichs diary
materials. It must be said that I use two other volumes edited by Frhlich, the
standard 1987 collection and the newer 1998 collection. He believes that he
catches me once more by quoting at length from a December 1941 entry in
Goebbels diary. But I point out myself that two years earlier, by December
1939, Goebbels diary entries were already revealing anti-Christian sentiment
(HR, 252). Again, Gailus provides not a single instance where using Frhlichs
1996 collection would have challenged my findings. Gailus then proceeds to
misleadingly take my words out of context: According to Steigmann-Gall
Goebbels showed no diminution of his religious convictions after the seizure
of power. The most cursory reading of that passage (HR, 124) shows this
statement is made for the period immediately following the Seizure of Power,
10 Ian Kershaw, by contrast, uses the memoir without critical comment in the second volume of
his recent two-volume biography of Hitler: Ian Kershaw, Hitler, 19361945: Nemesis (New York
2001), 1027, 1033.
11 Dietrich Orlow, The History of the Nazi Party, 19191933 (Pittsburgh, PA 1969), 323.
12 Roland V. Layton, Jr, Kurt Ludecke [sic] and I Knew Hitler: An Evaluation, Central
European History, 12 (1979): 37286.


Journal of Contemporary History Vol 42 No 2

not simply after the seizure of power, which without further comment could
be taken to mean the entire Third Reich. Gailus decontextualizes a second
time: Elsewhere, he repeats that Goebbels showed little change in his
religious attitudes in the later years of the regime (emphasis mine). Here too
he misleads, adding later years of the regime when I point out through the
sources which follow that this statement holds for 1937 (5 years into a 12-year
regime) in the case of Christianity, and 1941 in the case of Goebbels antipaganism.
Hexham devotes most of his critique to questioning my methodology, challenging my use of source material and defending Rosenberg from evidence of
his political impotence. Whereas Gailus attempts a summary execution of my
work, Hexham prefers death by a thousand cuts. Mistakes, false arguments
and overstatements of my analysis saturate his piece. Hexham misleadingly
transforms my declaration that I intend a close reading of my sources into the
groundless assertion that I claim that earlier scholars failed to interpret nazism
correctly because they did not read archival and published works carefully.
If there are instances where I point out errors or oversights on behalf of
other scholars, I do not extrapolate from this and impugn their methods of
investigation. In his effort to turn the tables, Hexham frequently impugns
my methods, criticizing me, among other things, for my use of translated
primary sources; to drive his point home, when citing these sources himself
he pointedly adds lengthy footnotes containing the original German text. If I
use Manheims translation of Mein Kampf instead of the original German, as
just the most obvious example, then so too do scores of English-language
scholars of the Third Reich. I cannot here provide Hexham with an exhaustive
list, but among a few of the more recent examples are the works of Michael
Burleigh, Claudia Koonz, Saul Friedlnder, Alan Steinweis and Paul
Weindling.13 The list of scholars who use translations of other printed primary
sources could go on and on.
Another error of Hexhams is to suggest that I underestimate Rosenberg
because I do not take ideology seriously. It is difficult to determine against
whom he is arguing when he states it is safe to say that many scholars now see
ideology as an important element in motivating individual National Socialists.
This is a sentence which could have come out of my own book. Whether or not
Bollmus diminishes the role of ideology in the nazi regime hardly disproves the
larger point Bollmus makes, and which my own research confirms; namely,
that Rosenberg consistently lost his polycratic battles for supremacy in
religious questions. Based on quotes from public NSDAP ceremonies, Hexham
would have us believe that Rosenbergs beliefs were hegemonic in the nazi
party and held sway over Hitler, even as he lost all the internecine struggles he
13 Burleigh, Third Reich, op. cit.; Claudia Koonz, The Nazi Conscience (Cambridge, MA 2003);
Saul Friedlnder, Nazi Germany and the Jews: The Years of Persecution, 19331939 (New York
1997); Alan Steinweis, Art, Ideology & Economics in Nazi Germany: The Reich Chambers of
Music, Theater and the Visual Arts (Chapel Hill, NC 1996); Paul Weindling, Health, Race and
German Politics between National Unification and Nazism, 18701945 (Cambridge 1989).

Steigmann-Gall: Christianity and the Nazi Movement


entered into and was subjected to scorn and ridicule within the nazi elite.
Hexham would do well to examine other spheres of Rosenbergs life where he
similarly lost to those who held real sway. Alexander Dallin demonstrated
with overwhelming empiricism how another of Rosenbergs ideological pet
projects lost out heavily: his vision of a series of tributary Slavic nation-states
surrounding a core Russian rump in the occupied Soviet Union was contemptuously disregarded by Hitlers much more powerful satraps even if, or
perhaps precisely because, men like Erich Koch were nominally under Rosenberg in his capacity as Minister for the Occupied East.14 The kinds of disrespect
which his associates heaped upon him, both as an administrator and as an
intellectual, make it abundantly clear that Rosenberg was not a man with a
large following. That he did have a cohort of fellow paganists who took him
seriously I myself point out; but to extrapolate from this and argue that
Rosenbergs religious ideas influenced Hitler or were hegemonic in the nazi
movement or party is utterly without foundation.
Hexham nit picks on points of detail, for example, belabouring the question
of which edition of Rosenbergs Mythus I have in fact used. He says I repeatedly claim to be using the 1930 edition, then informs me that I have actually
used the 1935 edition. I do not repeatedly claim to use any particular edition;
I indicate the original publication date and place of Rosenbergs book in relevant footnotes and again in the bibliography. I make no mention of an edition
one way or another. Hexham insists that I must be using the 1935 edition; in
fact I use the 1942 edition. If he is suggesting that my reference should have
been to the date of the edition, not the original date of the publication of
Mythus, I accept his suggestion. However, his argument that Rosenberg
defends himself against resurrecting a dead religion only in a later edition
because he had to defend his work against hostile criticism since it first came
out in 1930 in other words, Rosenberg had to backtrack hardly disproves my larger point about Rosenbergs weak position vis-a-vis his colleagues or his defensiveness about his paganistic ideas. Hexham helps himself
to a reading of Speer after criticizing my use of Speers book! And the point
he makes is wrong: as with the above discussion concerning Speers Cathedral
of Light or Hitlers own comment on night rallies as nazi choreography, there
is not the slightest proof that the building of monumentalist architecture
was in keeping with Rosenbergs paganism. Hexhams conclusion includes a
point about Mark Twain which, while amusing, is a false parallel: Twains
relationship to the Book of Mormon was not analogous to Hitlers relationship
to Mythus.
Where Hexham is at his most untenable and even puzzling is in his lengthy
defense of Rosenberg as someone more than a fringe ideologue. Page after page
of Hexhams article is devoted to demonstrating not just the relevance of
Rosenbergs writings, but the need to take seriously the comparable writing of
14 Alexander Dallin, German Rule in Russia: A Study of Occupation Policies (New York,


Journal of Contemporary History Vol 42 No 2

cult religious writers of the contemporary era with whom Rosenberg is compared. Hexham insists that Rosenbergs high sales numbers for his Mythus are
a reflection of the genuine popularity of his religious ideas in nazi Germany
overlooking Hitlers own dismissal of those numbers (HR, 257). We should
not, Hexham warns, underestimate Rosenbergs dangerous ideas simply
because they strike us today as ridiculous or badly written drivel. A strange
plea indeed, given that I engage in a lengthy analysis of Mythus (HR, 91ff). As
I state myself: . . . the views found in the book are worth our consideration
(HR, 94). I take Rosenbergs religious ideas seriously because he articulated
the religious views of a group of nazis who, whether dilettantes or not, constituted a discernable religious milieu within National Socialism. However, what
Hexham simply cannot allow himself to see is that it was other nazis, not this
author, who found him ridiculous. The many instances in Holy Reich in which
I repeatedly demonstrate Hitlers disdain for Rosenbergs religious ideas are
simply ignored by Hexham. Rosenberg had a long-standing institutional interest in exaggerating his own importance: it is hardly surprising if Hitler occasionally played along. The private correspondence from Hitler which Hexham
quotes demonstrates that he is actually praising Rosenbergs loyalty, not his
influence; the passage demonstrates Hitlers sympathy and reciprocation for
years of Rosenbergs commitment and loyalty. It does not demonstrate Hitlers
fealty to Rosenbergs mysticism, only his maladroit reassurance that his services are appreciated. Hexham tries to explain away postwar testimony of
Rosenbergs irrelevance by fellow nazis, claiming that, owing to its genocidal
ideas, few were prepared to admit to having read the book a conclusion
hard to take seriously given the number of unrepentant nazis at Nuremberg,
who showed no remorse for their loyalty to nazi ideology or its genocidal consequences. The fact which Hexham refuses to face is that I do not dismiss
Mythus as unreadable Hitler did.
Note how more than once Hexham feels he must work against what he perceives as my efforts to discredit Rosenberg. Does Hexham feel some need to
save Rosenberg and his fellow paganists? It appears so, given the way in which
he resorts to the most narrow criticisms.15 I wonder which dictionary Hexham
used to get world-view authority from Weltanschauungsprokurist; and does
using executive secretary instead of administrative clerk really change the
larger point Bracher is making in the lengthy quote that follows? Notice
how Hexham chooses to ignore Brachers conclusion that Rosenberg did not
succeeded in becoming either a leading power-political figure or founder of a
15 Hexham has revealed such a tendency elsewhere, for instance in an exchange with an interviewer for an online publication called Sociology of Science, concerning critical comments on the
book New Religions and the Nazis by his wife Karla Poewe (http://www.sociologyesoscience.com/
ChrNazi.html, retrieved 17 August 2006). At one point the interviewer emails Poewe for her
thoughts, only to have Hexham respond instead, attacking my book as unreliable again over the
canard of using translated source material and concluding somewhat worryingly: What is your
interest in Hauer and the Nazis? Why is it so important for you and your colleagues to distance the
Nazis from German neo-pagans like Hauer?

Steigmann-Gall: Christianity and the Nazi Movement


religion! I agree with Bracher that Rosenberg spent his entire career justifying nazi ideology, but Hexham gives us no proof as to how many people were
really listening, certainly not among the elites of the NSDAP, where it would
have mattered in this context. Trotting out a list of Zeitgenossen (eyewitnesses)
to prove Rosenberg really was important, including the very dubious memoirs
of Ldecke and Otto Strasser,16 and an allegedly expert list of American visitors to Germany totally unconnected to Hitlers inner sanctum, demonstrates
that Hexham is pleading rather than proving his case.
Aside from saving Rosenberg from his own marginality, Hexham concerns
himself with what kind of alternative analysis might be derived from one
particular source: Goebbels novel Michael. Given restrictions of space I
cannot go head to head with Hexham on each example he raises. However,
looking at one instance in particular displays the distorted and faulty nature of
his analysis. Hexham contends that a quote I use to express Goebbels view on
Christianity reads as though it is a direct statement made by Goebbels when
in fact it is the words of Goebbels protagonist in the novel, Michael Vormann.
Unfortunately for Hexham, I indicate on the very same page that this quote
comes from a novel. Elsewhere, when comparing Michael with Dinters Sin
against the Blood, I state: Goebbels created a fictional protagonist, Michael
Vormann, through whom he voiced his views (HR, 31). Hexham wants to
have it both ways: on the one hand, his lengthy excursus informs me that
novels are not the most reliable insight into their authors thinking; but he then
allows himself to analyse Michael for precisely such insight! As Helmut Heiber
points out in the liner notes to the English translation of Michael, Goebbels
almost certainly adapted this novel from his own diaries of the early 1920s;
even without this endorsement, however, even the most desultory reading of
Michael demonstrates that it is laden with coarse and authentically nazi views
most obviously a raging antisemitism, but also hostility to parliamentary
democracy and his own socialist vision of National Socialism.
The larger problem with Hexhams contention that Vormann liberates
himself from Christianity is that he simply never demonstrates this. Vormann/
Goebbels is being anticlerical, as I point out in my own analysis (HR, 21), but
his reference to Christ makes it plain he is referring to Christianity, however
revolutionary his reading of it. Hexham attempts a translation of Wieder
komme ich zu Christus, coming up with Once again I return to the issue of
Christ. The English-language version I use, by Joachim Neugroschel, is much
more felicitously translated as I find Christ again. A more verbatim translation, Again I come to Christ, still bears little resemblance to Hexhams
much more convoluted and misleading return to the issue of Christ. Hexham
continues to translate conveniently but poorly. A pivotal passage in this
16 Like Rauschning, Otto Strasser was concerned with currying favour among the Allies, to
whom he had defected: his resultant self-exculpatory memoirs are described by Kershaw as a
biased and often unreliable source . . . the fanciful anti-Hitler propaganda of an outright political
enemy: Ian Kershaw, Hitler, 19391956: Hubris (New York, 1999), 241, 352, 683.


Journal of Contemporary History Vol 42 No 2

lengthy Michael quote would seem to clinch his case: Yet millions await a
new religion. However, the original German which Hexham provides reads
Millionen warten darauf, und ihre Sehnsucht bleibt unerfllt. Sehnsucht is
not the German word for religion, but for longing. Against Hexhams
remarkable display of artistic licence we have Neugroschels much more felicitous translation: Millions of people are waiting for this new formation, and
their yearnings remain unfulfilled (quoted in HR, 21). If this is Hexhams idea
of how to use original-language source material, Ill stick with the published
Staying for a moment with this pivotal passage from Michael, Hexham
charges me with leaving out the final passage about a new God. He is referring to the passage in Michael that reads: But we should allow the broad
masses to worship their idols until we can give them a new God. Although it
is true that I do not make reference to this passage, elsewhere in my analysis I
point to Goebbels sometimes contradictory views on religion during the
Kampfzeit, or Time of Struggle (HR, 5354). But, having accused me of leaving out evidence which disproves my thesis, Hexham proceeds to leave out the
very next sentence: I take the Bible, and all evening long I read the simplest
and greatest sermon that has ever been given to mankind: The Sermon on the
Mount! (Original German: Ich nehme die Bibel und lese einen ganzen Abend
die einfachste, grte Predigt, die her Menschheit je gehalten wurde: die
Bergpredigt!17) Only by leaving out inconvenient passages, incorrectly translating others, and taking Goebbels quotes out of context can Hexham make
his absurd case that Michael demonstrates not Christian, but neo-pagan
thinking. This is only the most obvious case of Hexhams slapdash approach
to sources and quotations and a repeated tendency to distort evidence to fit in
with his preconceived notions. Hexham does have me on one point, however:
I gave the wrong page number when citing one of the epigraphs from Mythus
that begin chapter three.

Pipers analysis on my book rivals Gailus for being the most caustic but it
is easily the most perfunctory of all four. Before the first sentence ends he has
already made a mistake, wrongly stating that I argue National Socialism was
a Christian movement. I challenge Piper to produce evidence that I say this
anywhere in my book. Unfortunately Pipers piece does little to engage my
arguments from there, simply synopsizing the more relevant passages of his
own biography of Alfred Rosenberg rather than addressing either my sources
or my findings. In the process, he certainly says much that I agree with as
Piper should have immediately recognized. My discussion of responses to
Rosenbergs Mythus similarly points out, for instance, that Catholic opinion of

17 Joseph Goebbels, Michael: Ein deutsches Schicksal in Tagebuchblttern (Munich 1929; 7th
edn, 1935), 145.

Steigmann-Gall: Christianity and the Nazi Movement


his book was very negative (HR, 1278); I agree entirely that in Mythus
Rosenberg rejects both the Protestant and Catholic establishments (HR,
98100), and point out myself how so much of Christianity was rejected in it
(HR, 98); that Himmler and Rosenberg were allies is something I refer to more
than once (HR, 129, 131); like Piper, I place Wchtler among those on
Rosenbergs side (HR, 241); I use Goebbels quote of 1939, and include the
next sentence of his diary: He [Hitler] regards Christianity as a symptom of
decay (HR, 252); I discuss at length and in much the same terms the significance of Rosenberg leaving the Protestant church in 1933 (HR, 165); Piper
casts the Gottglubiger (believers in God) in terms very similar to my own
(HR, 219); I entirely agree with his assessment of the failures of the paganist
German Faith Movement (HR, 14953). The list could go on. However,
Piper makes mistakes as well. He wrongly asserts that Martin Bormann was a
powerful ally of Rosenbergs, disregarding the substantial evidence that they
were in fact rivals (HR, 2478). He characterizes Dinters religion as antiChristian, incorrectly suggesting that the only proof to the contrary is Dinters
admiration of Christ. As I demonstrate, Dinters own description of his
Christian feelings points to more than this (HR, 1920, 24, 27, 301, 58).
Incredibly, Piper suggests that only a few isolated individuals like Johannes
Stark and Hanns Kerrl sought a reconciliation between nazism and Christianity, and that they were of necessity outsiders. To make this claim Piper had to
studiously avoid reading the first two chapters of my book, in which I demonstrate what kinds of powerful nazis including Wchtlers predecessor Hans
Schemm, the partys supreme judge Walter Buch, and a host of Gauleiter
including Wilhelm Kube and Erich Koch far from seeking a reconciliation
between nazism and Christianity, were of the firm conviction that the two
formed a synthesis. Amazingly, nowhere in Pipers 831-page biography of
Rosenberg do the religious views of these men once receive even the most
cursory treatment.18 In the 12-page chapter in his book on Religion und
Politik during the Kampfzeit, Piper chooses to focus solely on Hitlers and
Rosenbergs dealings with Ludendorff and Dinter, wrongly casting those
episodes as symptomatic of a pan-nazi opposition to all things Christian.
If Piper begins by creating a straw man, he ends by caricaturing my statements: against my ridiculous claim that Bouhlers PPK is a commonly overlooked office, Piper cites a single reference which is not even a monographic
treatment of the PPK. While Bouhler is known among historians for his role in
the infamous T-4 killings, I stand by my assertion that his role as rival to
Rosenberg in the oversight of nazi ideology, let alone his place in the partys
internal religious struggles, is much less commented on. Piper tries to prove my
ignorance by accusing me of being unaware that the publisher Hoheneichen,
which published Rosenbergs Mythus, was owned by nazis Eher Verlag.
He believes he is correcting my information, when in fact I state that it was
published as a private work, never becoming an official guide to nazi thinking

Ernst Piper, Alfred Rosenberg: Hitlers Chefideologe (Munich 2005).


Journal of Contemporary History Vol 42 No 2

. . . It never received the official stamp of the NSDAP, nor did the partys
official publisher publish it (HR, 92; emphasis mine). The sloppiness of Pipers
accusations grows from there. I am accused of spelling Alfred Bumlers last
name three different ways, when in fact I consistently spell it one way, except
on a single occasion when I quote another scholar (which happens to be the
spelling Piper employs). He furthermore claims that I fail to do justice to the
part played by Bumler. Since he doesnt indicate what he means by this, I can
only assume he believes I understate Bumlers importance in the Third Reich.
If so, Piper again read past my book: Along with Heidegger, Bumler was the
most notable philosopher to back the nazi regime with his intellectual prestige
. . . Bumler maintained and indeed strengthened his links with the nazis well
into the Third Reich . . . as Hans Sluga puts it, Bumler was . . . more than any
other German philosopher, the typical fascist intellectual (HR, 105). One
could argue these attempts to make mountains out of molehills would have
some value, were it not for the fact that each of them is so obviously wrong.
I would like to address some of the problems I see in Bergens otherwise
much more temperate piece. She suggests I treat somewhat condescendingly
her book Twisted Cross, and expresses surprise that I believe I am revising
her own view. I believe that as an analysis primarily of nazi attitudes to
Christianity, my book in many ways serves as a natural complement to, among
other works, her own probing analysis of Christian attitudes to nazism.
However, the point of departure for the two of us concerns whether or not the
Christianity these National Socialist Christians and Christian National
Socialists both subscribed to can really be called Christian. Naturally it would
be an enormous burden to demonstrate just what real Christianity is, even as
a number of prior historians have, without sanction, left undefined the concept
of infected Christianity. I agree completely with Bergens larger point that
historians do well to remember the tension between the external/historical
and the internal/ideal. I would cautiously agree with her assertion that German
Christians did not fit most standard theological criteria for Christians a
formulation which is nuanced enough to allow for the complexity of the question or that most people would describe the German Christians she
explores as un-Christian. However, what she fails to point out is that she
described them this way: ultimately non-Christian . . . no church at all.19 It
seems to me she puts her case quite plainly: the German Christians whether
laymen, pastors or theologians did not properly understand their religion.
If Gailus faults me for wanting too much, Bergen claims I have not done
enough. For all her charges of tendentiousness and collecting of quotes, she
claims that had I only played the ace of church membership statistics, I would
have nailed my case. I must remind her that I address precisely this question
when explaining why I translate the German Konfession as confession instead
of denomination: In Germany, where to this day religion nominally remains
19 Doris Bergen, Twisted Cross: The German Christian Movement in the Third Reich (Chapel
Hill, NC 1996), 192.

Steigmann-Gall: Christianity and the Nazi Movement


an obligatory state affair and not voluntaristic, there are no denominations in

the strict sense of the word. Its use in the German context incorrectly suggests
an American-style religious marketplace and attendant separation of church
and state (HR, xv). Nominal church membership is a very unreliable gauge of
actual piety in this context, especially given the very circuitous route one had
to take before one could officially leave ones church unless there were
sudden, propitious drops or increases, as was the case in 1933. Church attendance, by contrast, would have been a much more revealing gauge, if much
more difficult to ascertain.
It is most peculiar that Bergen would make such an argument, given that my
goal is to explore nazi attitudes to Christianity, not the other way around.
Would I have nailed my case by simply pointing out that Hitler, Goebbels, and
Goering always remained members of their churches? That Goebbels had his
children baptized? That in 1935 Goering wedded his second wife Emmy in a
Lutheran service? I make all these points in my book, but could not contend
that by themselves they prove much about a larger ideological relationship.
Indeed, Hitlers ongoing membership in the Catholic Church stands very much
at odds with his private comments about Catholicism and its traditions. Bergen
herself points to the highly incomplete picture such statistics provide when she
asserts that a growing exodus from the church in the Imperial and Weimar
eras, coupled with the loss of credibility after the debacle of the Great War,
convinced many church leaders that Christianity was losing ground. To her
claim that Protestant theologians grudgingly felt obliged to stay with the times
by endorsing nazism, I would point out that for every Protestant who
expressed misgivings privately, there was another who believed nazism meant
a return to Christianity. Furthermore and this is at the centre of my work
this was not just a case of Protestants giving their blessings to nazism from
afar; many nazis were themselves believing Protestants.
At the conclusion of her article Bergen charges me with leaving out the
crucial element of tension in naziChristian relations. Without conceding at
least some nazi hostility, however, the dynamic generated by Christian defensiveness cannot be understood. This is speculatively attributed to an effort to
make his evidence fit neatly. First, I point to repeated instances of hostility
between nazism and institutional Christianity, both Catholic and, as the Third
Reich wears on, increasingly Protestant. It was the consistent resistance of the
Dahlemites against the plans for a Reichskirche that, after all, made Hitler turn
sharply against institutional Protestantism in 1937 (HR, 1838). That Bergen
claims I left out such evidence is a mystery. Second, I point repeatedly to the
many instances of hostility to Christianity among the paganist cohort, from
Rosenberg, Himmler, and all the other paganists of the party. I also make
reference to the hostility with which these attacks were met in Christian circles.
Bergen ends her piece with a list of my indiscretions. She claims I pay insufficient attention to the key issue of anti-Semitism; while I very much agree
that analysing the potential of religiously inspired anti-Semitism among the
murderers/perpetrators remains a scholarly desideratum, I do explore anti-


Journal of Contemporary History Vol 42 No 2

Semitism in my book very extensively (HR, 34, 810, 13, 20, 24, 27, 2941,
434, 49, 514, 60, 105, 107, 11718, 1256, 136, 141, 1767, 182, 1856,
195, 235, 248, 2545, 258, 260, 2623, 265, 267). She claims I fall into the
trap of confessional competition; this is false. I do not seek to uncover who is
more guilty, Protestant or Catholic, but whom the nazis esteemed more. I do
not say nazism was at times identical to Christianity; I explore those nazis
who did and those who said no. Even if I claim that paganist hostility to
Christianity was fraught with ambiguity and ambivalence, such anti-Christians
were clearly antagonistic enough for me to preclude ever claiming that nazism
and Christianity were, even in the worst of instances, always able to coexist
harmoniously a particularly puzzling assertion given that she elsewhere
faults me for not finding enough in common between nazism and Catholicism.
She urges us to remember that some nazis were openly and actively antichurch: remember the uproar over Alfred Rosenbergs Myth of the Twentieth
Century: I do. She reminds us that nazis restricted some church activities (HR,
chapter 5, passim). She suggests we not forget that Hitlers plans for the future
capital of Germania left no room for churches (HR, 247). Finally, she informs
us that Hitler believed he was God. By her tone here, Bergen seems to believe
she has played her ace. The evidence demonstrates beyond doubt that this is a
claim that Hitler never once made. Occasionally megalomaniacs of world
history are known to believe they are literally divine: the leader of Chinas
Taiping Rebellion, for instance, thought he was Christs younger brother.20
Bergen relishes an opportunity to make fun of Hitler and who doesnt? But
while Hitler believed that God had a special plan for him, that he represented
Gods will on earth, and that those who went against him went against God,
he did not believe he was divine.

Aside from the pieces included in this symposium, there are so far three
other published review articles that attempt a longer exploration of my book.
One is by George Williamson, a very favourable historiographical essay incorporating many works in addition to my own, which appears in Church
History.21 Another is by Milan Babk in History and Theory, on the theoretical
underpinnings of Holy Reich, and how the concept of secular religion might
still be seen as relevant to it.22 The other is Mark Ruffs piece on Nazi
Religionspolitik in Catholic Historical Review, which, while strictly speaking
a comparison of two works, my own and Himmlers Glaubenskrieger by
Wolfgang Dierker, spends less time on Dierkers work than on mine.23 There is
20 Jonathan Spence, Gods Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan
(New York 1996).
21 George Williamson, A Religious Sonderweg? Reflections on the Sacred and the Secular in the
Historiography of Modern Germany, in Church History, 75 (2006), 13956.
22 Milan Babk, Nazism as a Secular Religion, History and Theory, 45 (2006), 37596.
23 Mark Edward Ruff, The Nazis Religionspolitik: An Assessment of Recent Literature, The
Catholic Historical Review, 92 (2006), 25266. That CHR should have devoted an article to my

Steigmann-Gall: Christianity and the Nazi Movement


much in Ruffs piece to commend, including a sophisticated discussion of

secularization theory and the ways in which my work can be seen as part of a
larger rethinking of canonicity among scholars like Hugh McLeod, Jeffrey
Cox, and others over the last decade or more, even as his own interpretation
clearly upholds a traditional model. Ruff thoughtfully explores the ways in
which Dierkers work both resembles and departs from my own. He insightfully discusses the question of nazisms ideological incoherence, even if he fails
to demonstrate his assertion that I am an intentionalist. While I take ideology
seriously something functionalists, it should be pointed out, are on occasion
known to do I also deal centrally with the contingencies of internecine party
warfare, and the role it played in the partys decision-making on religion and
the churches.
However, while the tone of his piece is certainly much more even-handed
and dispassionate than Gailus, Hexhams, or Pipers, Ruff unfortunately reiterates many of their fallacies. As one example, he accuses me of making
absolute pronouncements for suggesting a scrutiny of Christianitys dark past
of sacralized violence, given the commitment to Christianity among some nazis
and their profession that their anti-Semitism could be explained in Christian
terms. Meanwhile, Dierker apparently refrains from absolute pronouncements, even when he takes it as a given in absolute terms that the nazis
harboured no Christians in their ranks (Ruff, 255). As another example, Ruff
suggests that it is credulous to take seriously the nazis public statements on
religion, given their mendacity on other issues. To make this charge Ruff
apparently overlooked the systematic comparisons I undertake throughout my
book between what nazis uttered publicly and what they said privately. To his
point that Hitler made false promises to the Catholic Church he apparently
missed the many occasions in which I demonstrate Hitlers public stance
regarding Catholicism contrasted sharply with privately-expressed antagonism. He faults me for not engaging in a more careful analysis of the context
in which they were articulated to determine whether the statements affirming
Christianity were made in a setting that was both religious and public or
whether the anti-Christian invective was overwhelmingly private (Ruff, 259);
a reading of the first four chapters of Holy Reich reveals that I do precisely
this. Those I label positive Christians, while certainly aware of the political
advantage of appearing Christian for political purposes, affirmed their identities as Christian behind closed doors as well. By contrast, whole sections of my
book explore the ways in which anti-Christian paganists in the party refused to
appear as Christians for the sake of public consumption. If the party
schechthin displayed a contradictory attitude towards Christianity, nonetheless one can chart distinct religious tendencies within the party at least until
book is somewhat unusual, given that it had already published a review by Doris Bergen (91
[2005], 8413), essentially a condensation of her contribution to this symposium, albeit more positive. Ruff claims in his essay to be examining my Wallstein piece on political religion as well; in
fact, this gets perfunctory treatment.


Journal of Contemporary History Vol 42 No 2

1937 (and for many nazis, beyond), as well as a turn to increasingly antiChristian sentiment in general as the war neared its close. Ruffs inability to
acknowledge that I treat both sides of an intra-nazi debate on religion leads
him to the false assertion that I try to debunk a myth of resistance to hostile
paganists that arose after the second world war (Ruff, 266, emphasis added).
In fact, the myth I speak of in the conclusion of my book is one of Christian
resistance to nazism, not paganism. Not only do I point out instances of
Christian resistance to paganism from the churches, but also the battle
between Christians and paganists within the nazi movement itself.
Ruff makes several more points concerning method and sources. For
instance, he claims that Dierkers work is more meticulous, since he visited 23
archives against my 7. Ruff seems to take a quantitative rather than qualitative
approach when inferring from this that Dierkers findings are therefore more
reliable. What Ruff fails to appreciate is that the subjects of my historical
analysis are just as defined as Dierkers. Whereas Dierker pores over the institutional history of one SD office, I explore the conceptions of Christianity
found among the elites of the nazi party. The archives I consulted, huge collections that they are, constitute far and away the most important for this
purpose. Many of those views are found in printed primary sources as well, of
course, some of which Ruff somewhat condescendingly refers to as ephemera,
even as elsewhere he takes me to task for not having utilized the leading piece
of grey literature which is truly beyond the pale of reliability, Rauschnings
Hitler Speaks. While on the subject of sources, Ruff mistakenly argues that I
impugn the reliability of Hitlers Table Talk, when in fact I refer to the controversies surrounding this source but ultimately presume its authenticity. Ruff
seems to follow Hexhams lead in his imprecise critiquing, claiming I ignore
the monologues of Heinrich Heim and intimating that I do so to help further
my arguments. In fact, the standard version of Table Talk which I use incorporates Heims version of the monologues as well as Pickers as the introduction to Table Talk reveals.24 Ruff proceeds to highlight a quote Dierker uses
to demonstrate Hitlers hatred of Christianity in 1941 (Ruff, 258), apparently
not realizing that I use a quote very similar to this in my own analysis (HR,
254). Like Hexham, he pointedly adds a footnote providing the original
German. Ruff also allows himself to quote from Speers biography, presumably another example of ephemera (Ruff, 257). He uses this particular
example to argue that I attempt but fail to explain away anti-Christian
moments in nazism once more overlooking whole swaths of the book when
I explore anti-Christian sentiment at length. Dierker presumably has no
explaining away to do, for the simple reason that he chose to examine an office
where he would find no Christian sentiment.
Aside from addressing methods and use of sources, Ruff also makes some
larger analytical points regarding my work. Unfortunately, these are some of
24 Hitlers Table Talk 19411944: His Private Conversations, trans. Norman Cameron and
R.H. Stevens, introduction by Hugh Trevor-Roper (London 1953), viixxxvi.

Steigmann-Gall: Christianity and the Nazi Movement


the most problematic parts of his article. First, he compounds his undemonstrated assertion that I am an intentionalist by making an erroneous claim that
I need to engage in a functionalist day-to-day treatment by state and party of
the churches and Christianity (Ruff, 260) indicating that he had given only
the most cursory glance at depictions of the vagaries of nazi decision-making
in precisely such terms (HR, 15689, 23654). Ruff errs once more when he
suggests that the nazis did little to advance the cause of those committed
Christians who embraced nazism, including most notably the ardently pronazi German Christians. In an attempt to demonstrate this point, he quotes
Dierker to the effect that Himmler ordered all Christian clergy out of the SS by
1934 (Ruff, 263). Once more, Ruff displays a rather desultory comprehension
of my analysis: first, I point out at length the many forms of support which the
NSDAP gave the German Christians in the church elections of 1933; Ruffs
claim that there was no such support is simply false (HR, 15964). Second, I
clearly and repeatedly place Himmler, as head of the SS, among those paganists in the party who were the most anti-Christian and therefore anti-church.
At the same time, I clearly demonstrate how Himmlers anticlericalism was
tempered by moments of surprising ambiguity regarding the Christian religion
itself including esteem for Martin Luther, the Virgin Mary, and Christ.
Himmler also talked repeatedly and with surprising tolerance on the persistent
presence of lay Christians within the SS membership (HR, 1313, 2335).
Ruffs greatest analytical fallacy, however, is to insist that the anti-Christian
zealotry of Dierkers SD men was typical of nazism. When describing their
voracious hatred of Christianity and the churches, he takes a faintly intentionalist approach by speaking of these SD men as the true believers of the nazi
Weltanschauung (Ruff, 263). I have no problem with the category of the nazi
true believer as I point out in my book, distinctions need to be made
between those whose commitment to nazi ideology was beyond question, and
those in the lower ranks of the NSDAP, which was known to include a smattering of members of the Confessing Church, after all (HR, 1634, 223,
2278). Having said that, it strains credulity beyond the breaking point for
Ruff to describe an office staffed overwhelmingly with disgruntled Catholic
ex-priests, clearly on a vendetta against their one-time spiritual home, as
nazisms true believers. Ruff undermines his own argument about their status
as the avatars of nazi ideology by elaborating on the entirely non-ideological
sources of their resentment failed academics and students who did not or
could not pursue their academic aspirations; Mittelstndler (petty bourgeois)
with an inferiority complex vis-a-vis the more highly-regarded Gestapo; hotheads with something to prove chafing at the unwillingness of their superiors
to let them even the score for their failed private lives (Ruff, 261). Against these
lowly individuals Ruff would apparently have us believe that Ernst
Kaltenbrunner, owing to his dismantling of this band of vengeful ex-priests,
somehow counts as less nazi than they. Ruff directly challenges me by suggesting that these defrocked clergymen lead us to question just how central
these beliefs [positive Christianity] were, in fact, to the Nazi ideology (Ruff,


Journal of Contemporary History Vol 42 No 2

263) a line of argument which, if followed to its logical conclusion, means

that not just the head of the RSHA, but apparently Reichsmarschall Goering,
several Reichsleiter and Gauleiter, as well as Hitlers mentor in Munich, must
perforce have been less nazi when compared to the occupants of Department
IVB of the SD. To top off this scenario, Ruff then revives the completely
unproven but in some circles popular truism that the nazis were going to target the Christians of Europe after the genocide of the Jews: those who had
been active in the Religious Opponents division of the SD [Department IVB]
were directly supervised by those co-ordinating the deportations of the Jews to
the East, an ominous precedent should these hard-liners have gained further
power at the close of the war (Ruff, 264).
I should point out again that Ruff is not nearly as cantankerous as Gailus or
Piper. Still, for all his mildness of tone, he helps himself to some wry jabs: my
work apparently bears the burden of unusually high praise, implying that it
has received as much attention as it has not on its strengths, but because of its
eulogists as Gailus puts it. By the end of his article Ruff makes it clear that he
believes this is a burden too heavy for the book to carry. By concentrating as
he does on what he regards to be the excessive praise by others for my book,
instead of looking at the actual arguments I make, Ruff concludes his article by
attempting to accuse me of sensationalism. The ways in which Ruff mirrors the
type of approach utilized by Hexham are striking: fallacious methodological
criticisms, extrapolations based on fragmentary and minute evidence,
distortions and omissions of my analysis, and bypassing the larger ideological
issue of Christianity and nazi anti-Semitism in the name of meticulousness.
Not entirely surprising, perhaps, since Ruff points out that he had access
to Hexhams article before it was published when writing his own
(Ruff, 254).

I thank Richard Evans and the editors of the Journal of Contemporary History
for the opportunity to respond to these interesting and very bracing critiques.
And I thank my critics for their commentary. However, with disturbing
frequency, these critiques contain fundamental mistakes, glaring errors, and
credulous distortions. When such an inventory of scholarly malfeasance is
proven correct, it can be said the author under scrutiny brought it upon himself. When it is proven incorrect, as is so often the case here, it results in a
hatchet job. Since Gailus gives himself free rein to judge my motives, let me
speculate on motive as well. I believe obvious and easily avoided errors, mischaracterizations of my argument, and overzealous attempts to sink my entire
thesis with whatever minutiae come to hand (Bergens piece being the notable
exception) speak to a need for my book to be wrong. Such shortcomings are
particularly inexcusable in Gailus case, who in the process of labelling me
sloppy and slapdash hoists himself with his own petard. What motivates this
need is something I can only speculate on though in Hexhams instance we
seem to be dealing with something of an open book. Whereas Gailus and Piper

Steigmann-Gall: Christianity and the Nazi Movement


hold their cards closer to their chests, there is a palpable emotional tension just
under the surface. Bergen begins her piece by agreeing that the insistence that
nazism was an anti-Christian movement has been one of the most enduring
truisms of the past fifty years. Given the ways in which these critics generate
more heat than light, frequently shooting themselves in the foot in the process,
it seems that advocates of this truism are not ready to question their beliefs just

Richard Steigmann-Gall
is an associate professor of History and Director of the Jewish
Studies Program at Kent State University, Ohio. His book, The Holy
Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 19191945, was published
by Cambridge University Press in 2003, and has been translated into
Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Greek. He will contribute the
chapter on Religion and the Churches to the forthcoming Oxford
Short History of Germany: The Third Reich.