Friday, January 2, 2009

The Jewish Lutheran and the Atheistic Nazi

The German poet Heinrich Heine (1797 - 1856) is known for his insightful analysis of societal trends. His own life was marked by the same style of careful thinking, as he wrestled with his unusual identity as someone who was both Jewish and Christian - an unusual religious category that scholars now call "Messianic Judaism". As a baptized Lutheran, he embraced the ideas of Jesus as presented in the New Testament, but saw them as arising from the Tanakh, and not contradicting it.

Heine was also known for his uncanny ability to see how societal trends would develop in the future. He once wrote that "where they burn books, they will ultimately also burn people," recognizing a tendency which would emerge almost eighty years after his death (the first mass book-burnings by the Nazis took place in 1933; Heine's books were among those burned).

He also understood what would unleash the Nazis and their hatred: "Christianity - and that is its greatest merit - has somewhat mitigated that brutal German love of war, but it could not destroy it. Should that subduing talisman, the cross, be shattered, the frenzied madness of the ancient warriors, that insane Berserk rage of which Nordic bards have spoken and sung so often, will once more burst into flame. This talisman is fragile, and the day will come when it will collapse miserably. Then the ancient stony gods will rise from the forgotten debris and rub the dust of a thousand years from their eyes, and finally Thor with his giant hammer will jump up and smash the Gothic cathedrals. Do not smile at my advice - the advice of a dreamer who warns you against Kantians, Fichteans, and philosophers of nature. Do not smile at the visionary who anticipates the same revolution in the realm of the visible as has taken place in the spiritual. Thought precedes action as lightning precedes thunder. German thunder is of true Germanic character; it is not very nimble, but rumbles along ponderously. Yet, it will come and when you hear a crashing such as never before has been heard in the world's history, then you know that the German thunderbolt has fallen at last. At that uproar the eagles of the air will drop dead, and lions in the remotest deserts of Africa will hide in their royal dens. A play will be performed in Germany which will make the French Revolution look like an innocent idyll."

This long quote from Heine is worth reading carefully: he indicates exactly how the Nazis took over German society. Their first step was to dismantle Christianity and its pacifistic tendencies. Only then could they begin their plans of mass murder. The Nazis also, as Heine predicted, resuscitated forms of ancient Germanic paganism; the Norse mythologies were much more suited to the Nazi desire for war. And while the French Revolution was the worst case of cold-blooded atheistic mass murder that Europe had ever seen, Heine indicates that Germany will see something even worse. In 1933, when the book-burnings began, the Nazis had already infiltrated German churches, and were influencing preachers to talk about nationalist politics instead of the New Testament; by 1938, the few Christians left in Germany were meeting in secret, and the buildings that used to be churches were being used for giving nationalist speeches on Sunday mornings. So it was in that same year that the Holocaust began with Kristallnacht. As Christians organized underground networks to smuggle Jews out of Germany to safety, the Nazis, who sometimes called themselves Christians, met in the churches to ponder the warrior-virtues of Thor and Wotan.

Heinrich Heine's insights were, sadly, correct.