Myth: Hitler was a leftist.
Fact: Nearly all of Hitler's beliefs placed him on the far right.
Many conservatives accuse Hitler of being a leftist, on the
grounds that his party was named "National Socialist."
But socialism requires worker ownership and control of the means
of production. In Nazi Germany, private capitalist individuals
owned the means of production, and they in turn were frequently
controlled by the Nazi party and state. True socialism does not
advocate such economic dictatorship -- it can only be democratic.
Hitler's other political beliefs place him almost always on the
far right. He advocated racism over racial tolerance, eugenics
over freedom of reproduction, merit over equality, competition
over cooperation, power politics and militarism over pacifism,
dictatorship over democracy, capitalism over Marxism, realism
over idealism, nationalism over internationalism, exclusiveness
over inclusiveness, common sense over theory or science, pragmatism
over principle, and even held friendly relations with the Church,
even though he was an atheist.
To most people, Hitler's beliefs belong to the extreme far
right. For example, most conservatives believe in patriotism and
a strong military; carry these beliefs far enough, and you arrive
at Hitler's warring nationalism. This association has long been
something of an embarrassment to the far right. To deflect such
criticism, conservatives have recently launched a counter-attack,
claiming that Hitler was a socialist, and therefore belongs
to the political left, not the right.
The primary basis for this claim is that Hitler was a National
Socialist. The word "National" evokes the state, and
the word "Socialist" openly identifies itself as such.
However, there is no academic controversy over the status of this
term: it was a misnomer. Misnomers are quite common in the history
of political labels. Examples include the German Democratic Republic
(which was neither) and Vladimir Zhirinovsky's "Liberal Democrat"
party (which was also neither). The true question is not whether
Hitler called his party "socialist," but whether or
not it actually was.
In fact, socialism has never been tried at the national level
anywhere in the world. This may surprise some people -- after
all, wasn't the Soviet Union socialist? The answer is no. Many
nations and political parties have called themselves "socialist,"
but none have actually tried socialism. To understand why, we
should revisit a few basic political terms.
Perhaps the primary concern of any political ideology is who gets
to own and control the means the production. This includes factories,
farmlands, machinery, etc. Generally there have been three approaches
to this question. The first was aristocracy, in which a ruling
elite owned the land and productive wealth, and peasants and serfs
had to obey their orders in return for their livelihood. The second
is capitalism, which has disbanded the ruling elite and allows
a much broader range of private individuals to own the means of
production. However, this ownership is limited to those who can
afford to buy productive wealth; nearly all workers are excluded.
The third (and untried) approach is socialism, where everyone
owns and controls the means of production, by means of the vote.
As you can see, there is a spectrum here, ranging from a few people
owning productive wealth at one end, to everyone owning it at
Socialism has been proposed in many forms. The most common is
social democracy, where workers vote for their supervisors, as
well as their industry representatives to regional or national
congresses. Another proposed form is anarcho-socialism, where
workers own companies that would operate on a free market, without
any central government at all. As you can see, a central planning
committee is hardly a necessary feature of socialism. The primary
feature is worker ownership of production.
The Soviet Union failed to qualify as socialist because it was
a dictatorship over workers -- that is, a type of aristocracy,
with a ruling elite in Moscow calling all the shots. Workers cannot
own or control anything under a totalitarian government. In variants
of socialism that call for a central government, that government
is always a strong or even direct democracy
never a dictatorship.
It doesn't matter if the dictator claims to be carrying out the
will of the people, or calls himself a "socialist" or
a "democrat." If the people themselves are not in control,
then the system is, by definition, non-democratic and non-socialist.
And what of Nazi Germany? The idea that workers controlled the
means of production in Nazi Germany is a bitter joke. It was actually
a combination of aristocracy and capitalism. Technically, private
businessmen owned and controlled the means of production. The
Nazi "Charter of Labor" gave employers complete power
over their workers. It established the employer as the "leader
of the enterprise," and read: "The leader of the enterprise
makes the decisions for the employees and laborers in all matters
concerning the enterprise." (1)
The employer, however, was subject to the frequent orders of the
ruling Nazi elite. After the Nazis took power in 1933, they quickly
established a highly controlled war economy under the direction
of Dr. Hjalmar Schacht. Like all war economies, it boomed, making
Germany the second nation to recover fully from the Great Depression,
in 1936. (The first nation was Sweden, in 1934. Following Keynesian-like
policies, the Swedish government spent its way out of the Depression,
proving that state economic policies can be successful without
resorting to dictatorship or war.)
Prior to the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, worker protests had
spread all across Germany in response to the Great Depression.
During his drive to power, Hitler exploited this social unrest
by promising workers to strengthen their labor unions and increase
their standard of living. But these were empty promises; privately,
he was reassuring wealthy German businessmen that he would crack
down on labor once he achieved power. Historian William Shirer
describes the Nazi's dual strategy:
"The party had to play both sides of the tracks. It had
to allow [Nazi officials] Strasser, Goebbels and the crank Feder
to beguile the masses with the cry that the National Socialists
were truly 'socialists' and against the money barons. On the other
hand, money to keep the party going had to be wheedled out of
those who had an ample supply of it." (2)
Once in power, Hitler showed his true colors by promptly breaking
all his promises to workers. The Nazis abolished trade unions,
collective bargaining and the right to strike. An organization
called the "Labor Front" replaced the old trade unions,
but it was an instrument of the Nazi party and did not represent
workers. According to the law that created it, "Its task
is to see that every individual should be able
the maximum of work." Workers would indeed greatly boost
their productivity under Nazi rule. But they also became exploited.
Between 1932 and 1936, workers wages fell, from 20.4 to 19.5 cents
an hour for skilled labor, and from 16.1 to 13 cents an hour for
unskilled labor. (3) Yet workers did not protest. This was partly
because the Nazis had restored order to the economy, but an even
bigger reason was that the Nazis would have cracked down on any
There was no part of Nazism, therefore, that even remotely resembled
socialism. But what about the political nature of Nazism in general?
Did it belong to the left, or to the right? Let's take a closer
The politics of Nazism
The political right is popularly associated with the following
principles. Of course, it goes without saying that these are generalizations,
and not every person on the far right believes in every principle,
or disbelieves its opposite. Most people's political beliefs are
complex, and cannot be neatly pigeonholed. This is as true of
Hitler as anyone. But since the far right is trying peg Hitler
as a leftist, it's worth reviewing the tenets popularly associated
with the right. These include:
Let's review these spectrums one by one, and see where Hitler
stood in his own words. Ultimately, Hitler's views are not monolithically
conservative -- on a few issues, his views are complex and difficult
to label. But as you will see, the vast majority of them belong
on the far right:
- Individualism over collectivism.
- Racism or racial segregation over racial tolerance.
- Eugenics over freedom of reproduction.
- Merit over equality.
- Competition over cooperation.
- Power politics and militarism over pacifism.
- One-person rule or self-rule over democracy.
- Capitalism over Marxism.
- Realism over idealism.
- Nationalism over internationalism.
- Exclusiveness over inclusiveness.
- Meat-eating over vegetarianism.
- Gun ownership over gun control
- Common sense over theory or science.
- Pragmatism over principle.
- Religion over secularism.
Individualism over collectivism.
Many conservatives argue that Hitler was a leftist because he
subjugated the individual to the state. However, this characterization
is wrong, for several reasons.
The first error is in assuming that this is exclusively a liberal
trait. Actually, U.S. conservatives take considerable pride in
being patriotic Americans, and they deeply honor those who have
sacrificed their lives for their country. The Marine Corps is
a classic example: as every Marine knows, all sense of individuality
is obliterated in the Marines Corps, and one is subject first,
foremost and always to the group.
The second error is forgetting that all human beings subscribe
to individualism and collectivism. If you believe that you are
personally responsible for taking care of yourself, you are an
individualist. If you freely belong and contribute to any group
-- say, an employing business, church, club, family, nation, or
cause -- then you are a collectivist as well. Neither of these
traits makes a person inherently "liberal" or "conservative,"
and to claim that you are an "evil socialist" because
you champion a particular group is not a serious argument.
Political scientists therefore do not label people "liberal"
or "conservative" on the basis of their individualism
or collectivism. Much more important is how they approach their
individualism and collectivism. What groups does a person belong
to? How is power distributed in the group? Does it practice one-person
rule, minority rule, majority rule, or self-rule? Liberals believe
in majority rule. Hitler practiced one-person rule. Thus, there
is no comparison.
And on that score, conservatives might feel that they are off
the hook, too, because they claim to prefer self-rule to one-person
rule. But their actions say otherwise. Many of the institutions
that conservatives favor are really quite dictatorial: the military,
the church, the patriarchal family, the business firm.
Hitler himself downplayed all groups except for the state, which
he raised to supreme significance in his writings. However, he
did not identify the state as most people do, as a random collection
of people in artificially drawn borders. Instead, he identified
the German state as its racially pure stock of German or Aryan
blood. In Mein Kampf, Hitler freely and interchangeably
used the terms "Aryan race," "German culture"
and "folkish state." To him they were synonyms, as the
quotes below show. There were citizens inside Germany (like Jews)
who were not part of Hitler's state, while there were Germans
outside Germany (for example, in Austria) who were. But the main
point is that Hitler's political philosophy was not really based
on "statism" as we know it today. It was actually based
on racism -- again, a subject that hits uncomfortably closer to
home for conservatives, not liberals.
As Hitler himself wrote:
"The main plank in the Nationalist Socialist program
is to abolish the liberalistic concept of the individual and the
Marxist concept of humanity and to substitute for them the folk
community, rooted in the soil and bound together by the bond of
its common blood." (4)
And it was in the service of this racial state that Hitler encourage
individuals to sacrifice themselves:
"The state is a means to an end. Its end lies in the preservation
and advancement of a community of physically and psychically homogenous
creatures. This preservation itself comprises first of all existence
as a race
Thus, the highest purpose of a folkish state is
concern for the preservation of those original racial elements
which bestow culture and create the beauty and dignity of a higher
mankind. We, as Aryans, can conceive of the state only as the
living organism of a nationality which
assures the preservation
of this nationality
"The German Reich as a state must embrace all Germans and
has the task, not only of assembling and preserving the most valuable
stocks of basic racial elements in this people, but slowly and
surely of raising them to a dominant position." (6)
"In [the Aryan], the instinct for self-preservation has
reached its noblest form, since he willingly subordinates his
own ego to the life of the community and, if the hour demands
it, even sacrifices it." (7)
Racism or racial segregation over racial tolerance.
"This state of mind, which subordinates the interests of
the ego to the conservation of the community, is really the first
premise for every truly human culture." (8)
"All the human culture, all the results of art, science,
and technology that we see before us today, are almost exclusively
the creative product of the Aryan." (9)
Eugenics over freedom of reproduction
"Aryan races -- often absurdly small numerically -- subject
foreign peoples, and then
develop the intellectual and organizational
capacities dormant within them." (10)
"If beginning today all further Aryan influence on Japan
Japan's present rise in science and technology
might continue for a short time; but even in a few years the well
would dry up
the present culture would freeze and sink back
into the slumber from which it awakened seven decades ago by the
wave of Aryan culture." (11)
"Every racial crossing leads inevitably sooner or later to
the decline of the hybrid product
"It is the function above all of the Germanic states first
and foremost to call a fundamental halt to any further bastardization."
"What we must fight for is to safeguard the existence and
reproduction of our race and our people, the sustenance of our
children and the purity of our blood
"The folkish philosophy of life must succeed in bringing
about that nobler age in which men no longer are concerned with
breeding dogs, horses, and cats, but in elevating man himself
Merit over equality.
"The folkish state must make up for what everyone else today
has neglected in this field. It must set race in the center of
all life. It must take care to keep it pure
It must see
to it that only the healthy beget children; that there is only
one disgrace: despite one's own sickness and deficiencies, to
bring children into the world, and one highest honor: to renounce
doing so. And conversely it must be considered reprehensible:
to withhold healthy children from the nation. Here the state
must put the most modern medical means in the service of this
knowledge. It must declare unfit for propagation all who are in
any way visibly sick or who have inherited a disease and therefore
pass it on
"The best state constitution and state form is that which,
with the most unquestioned certainty, raises the best minds in
the national community to leading position and leading influence.
But as in economic life, the able men cannot be appointed from
above, but must struggle through for themselves
Competition over cooperation.
"It must not be lamented if so many men set out on the road
to arrive at the same goal: the most powerful and swiftest will
in this way be recognized, and will be the victor." (p. 512.)
"Those who want to live, let them fight, and those who
do not want to fight in this world of eternal struggle do not
deserve to live." (18)
Power politics and militarism over pacifism.
"It must never be forgotten that nothing that is really great
in this world has ever been achieved by coalitions, but that it
has always been the success of a single victor. Coalition successes
bear by the very nature of their origin the germ of future crumbling,
in fact of the loss of what has already been achieved. Great,
truly world-shaking revolutions of a spiritual nature are not
even conceivable and realizable except as the titanic struggles
of individual formations, never as enterprises of coalitions."
"The idea of struggle is old as life itself, for life is
only preserved because other living things perish through struggle
In this struggle, the stronger, the more able, win, while the
less able, the weak, lose. Struggle is the father of all things
It is not by the principles of humanity that man lives or is able
to preserve himself in the animal world, but solely by means of
the most brutal struggle
If you do not fight for life, then
life will never be won." (20)
Allan Bullock, probably the world's greatest Hitler historian,
sums up Hitler's political method in one sentence:
"Stripped of their romantic trimmings, all Hitler's ideas
can be reduced to a simple claim for power which recognizes only
one relationship, that of domination, and only one argument, that
of force." (21)
The following quotes by Hitler portray his rather stunning contempt
"If the German people in its historic development had
possessed that herd unity [defined here by Hitler as racial solidarity]
which other peoples enjoyed, the German Reich today would doubtless
be mistress of the globe. World history would have taken a different
course, and no one can distinguish whether in this way we would
not have obtained what so many blinded pacifists today hope to
gain by begging, whining and whimpering: a peace, supported not
by the palm branches of tearful, pacifist female mourners, but
based on the victorious sword of a master people, putting the
world into the service of a higher culture." (22)
One-person rule or self-rule over democracy.
"We must clearly recognize the fact that the recovery of
the lost territories is not won through solemn appeals to the
Lord or through pious hopes in a League of Nations, but only by
force of arms." (23)
"In actual fact the pacifistic-humane idea is perfectly all
right perhaps when the highest type of man has previously conquered
and subjected the world to an extent that makes him the sole ruler
of this earth
Therefore, first struggle and then perhaps
"The young [Nazi] movement is in its nature and inner
organization anti-parliamentarian; that is, it rejects
principle of majority rule in which the leader is degraded to
the level of mere executant of other people's wills and opinion."
Capitalism over Marxism.
"The [Nazi party] should not become a constable of public
opinion, but must dominate it. It must not become a servant of
the masses, but their master!" (26)
"By rejecting the authority of the individual and replacing
it by the numbers of some momentary mob, the parliamentary principle
of majority rule sins against the basic aristocratic principle
"For there is one thing we must never forget
can never replace the man. And no more than a hundred empty heads
make one wise man will an heroic decision arise from a hundred
"There must be no majority decisions, but only responsible
persons, and the word 'council' must be restored to its original
meaning. Surely every man will have advisers by his side, but
the decision will be made by one man." (29)
"When I recognized the Jew as the leader of the Social Democracy,
the scales dropped from my eyes." (30)
"The Western democracy of today is the forerunner of Marxism
"Only a knowledge of the Jews provides the key with which
to comprehend the inner, and consequently real, aims of Social
Bullock writes of Hitler's views on Marxism:
"While Hitler's attitude towards liberalism was one of
contempt, towards Marxism he showed an implacable hostility
Ignoring the profound differences between Communism and Social
Democracy in practice and the bitter hostility between the rival
working class parties, he saw in their common ideology the embodiment
of all that he detested -- mass democracy and a leveling egalitarianism
as opposed to the authoritarian state and the rule of an elite;
equality and friendship among peoples as opposed to racial inequality
and the domination of the strong; class solidarity versus national
unity; internationalism versus nationalism." (33)
As Hitler himself would write:
"The German state is gravely attacked by Marxism."
Realism over idealism.
"In the years 1913 and 1914, I
expressed the conviction
that the question of the future of the German nation was the question
of destroying Marxism." (35)
"In the economic sphere Communism is analogous to democracy
in the political sphere." (36)
"The Marxists will march with democracy until they succeed
in indirectly obtaining for their criminal aims the support of
even the national intellectual world, destined by them for extinction."
"Marxism itself systematically plans to hand the world over
to the Jews." (38)
"The Jewish doctrine of Marxism rejects the aristocratic
principle of Nature and replaces the eternal privilege of power
and strength by the mass of numbers and their dead weight."
Hitler was hardly an "idealist" in the sense that political
scientists use the term. The standard definition of an idealist
is someone who believes that cooperation and peaceful coexistence
can occur among peoples. A realist, however, is someone who sees
the world as an unstable and dangerous place, and prepares for
war, if not to deter it, then to survive it. It goes without saying
that Hitler was one of the greatest realists of all time. Nonetheless,
Hitler had his own twisted utopia, which he described:
"We are not simple enough, either, to believe that it
could ever be possible to bring about a perfect era. But this
relieves no one of the obligation to combat recognized errors,
to overcome weaknesses, and strive for the ideal. Harsh reality
of its own accord will create only too many limitations. For that
very reason, however, man must try to serve the ultimate goal,
and failures must not deter him, any more than he can abandon
a system of justice merely because mistakes creep into it
Nationalism over internationalism.
"The same boy who feels like throwing up when he hears the
tirades of a pacifist 'idealist' is ready to give up his life
for the ideal of his nationality." (41)
"The nationalization of our masses will succeed only
their international poisoners are exterminated."
Exclusiveness over inclusiveness.
"The severest obstacle to the present-day worker's approach
to the national community lies not in the defense of his class
interests, but in his international leadership and attitude which
are hostile to the people and the fatherland." (43)
"Thus, the reservoir from which the young [Nazi] movement
must gather its supporters will primarily be the masses of our
workers. Its work will be to tear these away from the international
and lead them to the national community
"Thus men without exception wander about in the garden
of Nature; they imagine that they know practically everything
and yet with few exceptions pass blindly by one of the most patent
principles of Nature: the inner segregation of the species of
all living beings on earth." (45)
Meat-eating over vegetarianism.
"The greatness of every mighty organization embodying an
idea in this world lies in the religious fanaticism and intolerance
with which, fanatically convinced of its own right, it intolerantly
imposes its will against all others." (46)
It may seem ridiculous to include this issue in a review of Hitler's
politics, but, believe it or not, conservatives on the Internet
frequently equate Hitler's vegetarianism with the vegetarianism
practised by liberals concerned about the environment and the
ethical treatment of animals.
Hitler's vegetarianism had nothing to do with his political beliefs.
He became a vegetarian shortly after the death of his girlfriend
and half-niece, Geli Raubal. Their relationship was a stormy one,
and it ended in her apparent suicide. There were rumors that Hitler
had arranged her murder, but Hitler would remain deeply distraught
over her loss for the rest of his life. As one historian writes:
"Curiously, shortly after her death, Hitler looked with
disdain on a piece of ham being served during breakfast and refused
to eat it, saying it was like eating a corpse. From that moment
on, he refused to eat meat." (47)
Hitler's vegetarianism, then, was no more than a phobia, triggered
by an association with his niece's death.
Gun ownership over gun control
Perhaps one of the pro-gun lobby's favorite arguments is that
if German citizens had had the right to keep and bear arms, Hitler
would have never been able to tyrannize the country. And to this
effect, pro-gun advocates often quote the following:
"1935 will go down in history. For the first time, a civilized
nation has full gun registration. Our streets will be safer, our
police more efficient, and the world will follow our lead into
the future." - Adolf Hitler
However, this quote is almost certainly a fraud. There is no reputable
record of him ever making it: neither at the Nuremberg rallies,
nor in any of his weekly radio addresses. Furthermore, there was
no reason for him to even make such a statement; for Germany
already had strict gun control as a term of surrender
in the Treaty of Versailles. The Allies had wanted to make Germany
as impotent as possible, and one of the ways they did that was
to disarm its citizenry. Only a handful of local authorities were
allowed arms at all, and the few German citizens who did possess
weapons were already subject to full gun registration. Seen in
this light, the above quote makes no sense whatsoever.
The Firearms Policy Journal (January 1997) writes:
"The Nazi Party did not ride to power confiscating guns. They rode
to power on the inability of the Weimar Republic to confiscate their
guns. They did not consolidate their power confiscating guns either.
There is no historical evidence that Nazis ever went door to door
in Germany confiscating guns. The Germans had a fetish about paperwork
and documented everything. These searches and confiscations would have
been carefully recorded. If the documents are there, let
them be presented as evidence."
On April 12, 1928, five years before Hitler seized power, Germany
passed the Law on Firearms and Ammunition. This law substantially
tightened restrictions on gun ownership in an effort to curb
street violence between Nazis and Communists. The law was ineffectual
and poorly enforced. It was not until March 18, 1938 --
five years after Hitler came to power -- that the Nazis passed the
German Weapons Law, their first known change in the firearm code. And this
law actually relaxed restrictions on citizen firearms.
Common sense over theory or science.
Hitler was notorious for his anti-intellectualism:
"The youthful brain should in general not be burdened
with things ninety-five percent of which it cannot use and hence
In many cases, the material to be learned
in the various subjects is so swollen that only a fraction of
it remains in the head of the individual pupil, and only a fraction
of this abundance can find application, while on the other hand
it is not adequate for the man working and earning his living
in a definite field." (48)
Pragmatism over principle.
"Knowledge above the average can be crammed into the average
man, but it remains dead, and in the last analysis sterile knowledge.
The result is a man who may be a living dictionary but nevertheless
falls down miserably in all special situations and decisive moments
in life." (49)
"The folkish state must not adjust its entire educational
work primarily to the inoculation of mere knowledge, but to the
breeding of absolutely healthy bodies. The training of mental
abilities is only secondary. And here again, first place must
be taken by the development of character, especially the promotion
of will-power and determination, combined with the training of
joy in responsibility, and only in last place comes scientific
"A people of scholars, if they are physically degenerate,
weak-willed and cowardly pacifists, will not storm the heavens,
indeed, they will not be able to safeguard their existence on
this earth." (51)
"The question of the movement's inner organization is
one of expediency and not of principle." (52)
Religion over secularism.
Hitler's views on religion were complex. Although ostensibly an
atheist, he considered himself a cultural Catholic, and frequently
evoked God, the Creator and Providence in his writings. Throughout
his life he would remain an envious admirer of the Christian Church
and its power over the masses. Here is but one example:
"We can learn by the example of the Catholic Church.
Though its doctrinal edifice
comes into collision with exact
science and research, it is none the less unwilling to sacrifice
so much as one little syllable of its dogmas. It has recognized
quite correctly that its power of resistance does not lie in its
lesser or greater adaptation to the scientific findings of the
moment, which in reality are always fluctuating, but rather in
rigidly holding to dogmas once established, for it is only such
dogmas which lend to the whole body the character of faith. And
so it stands today more firmly than ever." (53)
Hitler also saw a useful purpose for the Church:
"The great masses of people do not consist of philosophers;
precisely for the masses, [religious] faith is often the sole
foundation of a moral attitude
For the political man, the
value of a religion must be estimated less by its deficiencies
than by the virtue of a visibly better substitute. As long as
this appears to be lacking, what is present can be demolished
only by fools or criminals." (54)
Hitler thus advocated freedom of religious belief. Although he
would later press churches into the service of Nazism, often at
the point of a gun, Hitler did not attempt to impose a state religion
or mandate the basic philosophical content of German religions.
As long as they did not interfere with his program, he allowed them
to continue fuctioning. And this policy was foreshadowed in his writings:
"For the political leader the religious doctrines and
institutions of his people must always remain inviolable; or else
he has no right to be in politics
Hitler was raised a Catholic, even going to school for two years
at the monastery at Lambauch, Austria. As late as 24 he still
called himself a Catholic, but somewhere along the way he became
an atheist. It is highly doubtful that this was an intellectual
decision, as a reading of his disordered thoughts in Mein Kampf
will attest. The decision was most likely a pragmatic one, based
on power and personal ambition. Bullock reveals an interesting
anecdote showing how these considerations worked on the young
Hitler. After five years of eking out a miserable existence in
Vienna and four years of war, Hitler walked into his first German
Worker's Party meeting:
"Political parties have nothing to do with religious problems,
as long as these are not alien to the nation, undermining the
morals and ethics of the race; just as religion cannot be amalgamated
with the scheming of political parties." (56)
"Worst of all, however, is the devastation wrought by the
misuse of religious conviction for political ends." (57)
"Therefore, let every man be active, each in his own denomination
if you please, and let every man take it as his first and most
sacred duty to oppose anyone who in his activity by word or deed
steps outside the confines of his religious community and tries
to butt into the other." (58)
"'Under the dim light shed by a grimy gas-lamp I could
see four people sitting around a table
' As Hitler frankly
acknowledges, this very obscurity was an attraction. It was only
in a party which, like himself, was beginning at the bottom that
he had any prospect of playing a leading part and imposing his
ideas. In the established parties there was no room for him, he
would be a nobody." (59)
Hitler probably realized that a frustrated artist and pipe-dreamer
like himself would have no chance of achieving power in the world-wide,
2000-year old Christian Church. It was most likely for this reason
that he rejected Christianity and pursued a political life instead.
Yet, curiously enough, he never renounced his membership in the
Catholic Church, and the Church never excommunicated him. Nor
did the Church place his Mein Kampf on the Index of Prohibited
Books, in spite of its knowledge of his atrocities. Later the
Church would come under intense criticism for its friendly and
cooperative relationship with Hitler. A brief review of this history
In 1933, the Catholic Center Party cast its large and decisive
vote in favor of Hitler's Enabling Bill. This bill essentially
gave Chancellor Hitler the sweeping dictatorial powers he was
seeking. Historian Guenter Lewy describes a meeting between Hitler
and the German Catholic authorities shortly afterwards:
"On 26 April 1933 Hitler had a conversation with Bishop
Berning and Monsignor Steinmann [the Catholic leadership in Germany].
The subject was the common fight against liberalism, Socialism
and Bolshevism, discussed in the friendliest terms. In the course
of the conversation Hitler said that he was only doing to the
Jews what the church had done to them over the past fifteen hundred
years. The prelates did not contradict him." (60)
As anyone familiar with Christian history knows, the Church has
always been a primary source of anti-Semitism. Hitler's anti-Semitism
therefore found a receptive audience among Catholic authorities.
The Church also had an intense fear and hatred of Russian communism,
and Hitler's attack on Russia was the best that could have happened.
The Jesuit Michael Serafin wrote: "It cannot be denied that
[Pope] Pius XII's closest advisors for some time regarded Hitler's
armoured divisions as the right hand of God." (61) As Pope
Pius himself would say after Germany conquered Poland: "Let
us end this war between brothers and unite our forces against
the common enemy of atheism" -- Russia. (62)
Once Hitler assumed power, he signed a Concordat, or agreement,
with the Catholic Church. Eugenio Pacelli (the man who would eventually
become Pope Pius XII) was the Vatican diplomat who drew up the
Concordat, and he considered it a triumph. In return for promises
which Hitler increasingly broke, the Church dissolved all Catholic
organizations in Germany, including the Catholic Center Party.
Bishops were to take an oath of loyalty to the Nazi regime. Clergy
were to see to the pastoral care of Germany's armed forces (regardless
of what those armed forces did). (63)
The Concordat eliminated all Catholic resistance to Hitler; after
this, the German bishops gave Hitler their full and unqualified
support. A bishops' conference at Fulda, 1933, resulted in agreement
with Hitler's case for extending Lebensraum, or German
territory. (64) Bishop Bornewasser told a congregation of Catholic
young people at Trier: "With our heads high and with firm
steps we have entered the new Reich and are ready to serve it
body and soul." (65) Vicar-General Steinman greeted each
Berlin mass with the shout, "Heil Hitler!" (66)
Hitler, on the other hand, kept up his attack on the Church. Nazi
bands stormed into the few remaining Catholic institutions, beat
up Catholic youths and arrested Catholic officials. The Vatican
was dismayed, but it did not protest. (67) In some instances,
it was hard to tell if the Church supported its own persecution.
Hitler muzzled the independent Catholic press (about 400 daily
papers in 1933) and subordinated it to Goebbels' Ministry of Propaganda
and Enlightenment. Yet soon the Catholic Press was doing more
than what the Nazis required of it -- for example, coordinating
their Nazi propaganda to prepare the people for the 1940 offensive
against the West. (68) Throughout the war, the Catholic press
would remain one of the Third Reich's best disseminators of propaganda.
Pacelli became the new Pope Pius XII in 1939, and he immediately
improved relations with Hitler. He broke protocol by personally
signing a letter in German to Hitler expressing warm hopes of
friendly relations. Shortly afterwards, the Church celebrated
Hitler's birthday by ringing bells, flying swastika flags from
church towers and holding thanksgiving services for the Fuhrer.
(69) Ringing church bells to celebrate and affirm the bishops'
allegiance to the Reich would become quite common throughout the
war; after the German army conquered France, the church bells
rang for an entire week, and swastikas flew over the churches
for ten days.
But perhaps the greatest failure of Pope Pius XII was his silence
over the Holocaust, even though he knew it was in progress. Although
there are many heroic stories of Catholics helping Jews survive
the Holocaust, they do not include Pope Pius, the Holy See, or
the German Catholic authorities. When a reporter asked Pius why
he did not protest the liquidation of the Jews, the Pope answered,
"Dear friend, do not forget that millions of Catholics are
serving in the German armies. Am I to involve them in a conflict
of conscience?" (70) As perhaps the world's greatest moral
leader, he was charged with precisely that responsibility.
The history of Hitler and the Church reveals a relationship built
on mutual distrust and philosophical rejection, but also shared
goals, benefits, admiration, envy, friendliness, and ultimate
Return to Overview
1. William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,
(New York: Simon & Schuster, 1960), p. 263.
2. Ibid., p. 143.
3. Ibid., p. 264.
4. Hitler, quoted in Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny,
abridged edition, (New York: HarperCollins, 1971), p. 228.
5. Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, trans. by Ralph Manheim (Boston:
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1962), pp. 393-4.
6. Ibid., p. 398.
7. Ibid., p. 297.
8. Ibid., p. 298.
9. Ibid., p. 290.
10. Ibid., pp. 291-2.
11. Ibid., p. 291.
12. Ibid., p. 401.
13. Ibid., p. 402.
14. Ibid., p. 214.
15. Ibid., p. 405.
16. Ibid., p. 404.
17. Ibid., p. 449.
18. Ibid., p. 289.
19. Ibid., p. 516-17.
20. Quoted in Bullock, pp. 11-12.
21. Ibid., p. 230.
22. Hitler, p. 396.
23. Ibid., p. 627.
24. Ibid., p. 288.
25. Ibid., p. 344.
26. Ibid., p. 465.
27. Ibid., p. 81.
28. Ibid., p. 82.
29. Ibid., p. 449.
30. Ibid., p. 60.
31. Ibid., p. 78
32. Ibid., p. 51.
33. Bullock, p. 228-9.
34. Hitler, p. 535.
35. Ibid., p. 155.
36. Quoted in Bullock, p. 102.
37. Hitler, p. 376.
38. Ibid., p. 382.
39. Ibid., p. 65.
40. Ibid., p. 437.
41. Ibid., p. 299.
42. Ibid., p. 338.
43. Ibid., p. 340.
44. Ibid., p. 340.
45. Ibid., p. 284.
46. Ibid., p. 351.
47. The History Place, "The Rise of Adolf Hitler: Success
and a Suicide," http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/riseofhitler/success.htm
48. Hitler, p. 418.
49. Ibid., p. 429.
50. Ibid., p. 408.
51. Ibid., p. 408.
52. Ibid., p. 346.
53. Ibid., p. 459.
54. Ibid., p. 267.
55. Ibid., p. 116.
56. Ibid., p. 116.
57. Ibid., p. 268.
58. Ibid., p. 563.
59. Bullock, p. 35.
60. Guenter Lewy, The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany
(London and New York) 1964, p. 50ff.
61. Friedrich Heer, God's First Love (New York: Weybright
and Talley, 1967), p. 320, citing Lewy, pp. 249-250; see also
Falconi, Carlo, Il silenzio di Pio XII (Milan) 1965.
62. Heer, p. 319.
63. Lewy, p. 57 ff.
64. Ibid., p. 94 ff.
65. Ibid., p. 100f.
66. Ibid., p. 105.
67. Heer, p. 310.
68. Heer, p. 110.
69. Giovannetti, A., Der Vatikan und der Krieg (Cologne)
70. Lewy, p. 304.