I struggled over my decision to post this final section describing Luther but his words represent the bridge to the 20th century and the propaganda of
’s Third Reich. Alongside earlier anti-Jewish stereotypes and common also today, the possibility of the impossible comes into sharper focus. Germany
On the Jews and their Lies lays out an initial agenda for solving the Jewish Problem. And his prescriptions, burning synagogues and prayer books, expulsion and death would become all too real four centuries later. But the full flavor of Luther’s wrath appears in his lesser-known, but perhaps even more provocative, Vom Schem Hamphoras.
“Here on our church in
a sow is sculpted in stone (see below). Young pigs and Jews lie suckling under her. Behind the sow a rabbi is bent over the sow, lifting up her right leg, holding her tail high and looking intensely under her tail and into her Talmud (Vom Schem Hamphoras [Of the Unknowable Name…]) Wittenberg
Vom Schem Hamphoras und vom Geschlecht Christi, Of the Unknowable Name of God in its English translation, appeared several months after On the Jews and their Lies. It raises the “John” gospel canard, “You belong to your father, the devil…” The work’s title, “Schem Hamphoras” uses God’s name in the title which is an insult to Jews because, “Jewish Tradition forbids the pronunciation of the four-letter name of God.”
In the person of Martin Luther the term “schadenfreude” (one who takes pleasure in another’s pain) does not quite do justice.
"Even if they were punished in the most gruesome manner that the streets ran with their blood, that their dead would be counted, not in the hundred thousands, but in the millions… they are the devil's children, damned to Hell...
“The Jews too got what they deserved. They had been called and elected to be God's mouth… they however, kept tightly closed their muzzles, eyes, ears, nose, whole heart and all senses, so he polluted and squirted them so full that it oozes from them in all places and devil's filth comes from them. Yes, that tastes good to them, into their hearts, they smack their lips like swine. That is how they want it. Call more: 'Crucify him, crucify him.' Scream more: 'His blood come upon us and our children.' [Matthew 27:25]. Perhaps, one of the merciful Saints among us Christians may think I am behaving too crude and disdainfully against the poor, miserable Jews in that I deal with them so sarcastically and insulting. But, good God, I am much too mild in insulting such devils…”
In a sermon delivered shortly before his death Luther returned to his conditions for acceptance of “the Jews”:
“Yet, we will show them Christian love and pray for them that they may be converted to receive the Lord, whom they should honor properly before us. Whoever will not do this is no doubt a malicious Jew, who will not stop blaspheming Christ, draining you dry, and, if he can, killing [Christians].
In a speech to his SS officers in 1943 Heinrich Himmler takes Eugenics a step beyond by describing Jews not just as untermenschen, but, following Hitler’s description, a “bacillus.” Science in Luther’s time was not yet so sophisticated and his description was “swine.” Modern also was Himmler’s solution to Luther’s Jewish Problem: not piecemeal with a conversion escape clause:
"perfectly clear, it's part of our plans, we're eliminating the Jews, exterminating them, ha!, a small matter.
In most ways Luther is merely restating one thousand years of traditional anti-Jewish theology sprinkled with justifications from his predecessors. He refers to Paul describing the “the Jews” as “blind regarding Jesus”; reminds that “John” identifies “the Jews” with Satan; reminds too that “Matthew” charged and condemned “the Jews” eternally as deicides in the crucifixion of Jesus. But Luther was also the first “modern” theologian, challenging the primacy of the pope, translating Christian scripture into German vernacular. “Modern” also were his suggestions for dealing with Christendom’s millennial Jewish Problem.
In the past the Church was constrained by Augustine’s Witness to “solve” its Jewish Problem. Minus even the weak restraints of religious anti-Judaism (the conversion option) Western secularism, free of such restraints Western secularism sought to solve Christendom’s Jewish Problem in a thoroughly modern manner. Four hundred years after his death Luther’s “severe mercy” would be nearly realized in the Shoah, the Final Solution to the Jewish Problem. That
Auschwitz failed to fully achieve its goal was sheer accident. At the beginning of the twenty-first century precedent and a level of technology far advanced over the earlier century’s effort exist to more expeditiously, cleanly and completely complete that which the earlier Holocaust failed to achieve.
“At his trial in Nuremberg after the Second World War Julius Streicher, the notorious Nazi propagandist, editor of the scurrilous antisemitic weekly, Der Stumer, argued that if he should be standing there arraigned on such charges, so should Martin Luther.”(Nicholls, 1993, pps.270-271)