Research Associates: Tanja Hetzer

Tanja Hetzer
Antisemitism and Political Theology in Germany, 1930–1950

Responses to National Socialist antisemitism covered a wide spectrum, ranging from open resistance to voluntary support. This project seeks to examine how Protestant political theology is situated within this spectrum, and to sketch the various positions articulated in response to the increasing radicalisation of National Socialist “Judenpolitik”. Neither the inclusion of the so-called “Arierparagraph”, legislation regarding “Aryan” origin, within church law, for instance, nor the introduction of the Nuremberg Laws themselves were met with silence. On the contrary: it is possible to show how theologians attempted in the course of a number of debates to assimilate their worldview to these political changes.

By bringing together a number of sub-disciplines, such as research on antisemitism, the history of National Socialism and church history, as well as the history of theology, the project examines two main questions: first, how antisemitic policies were commented upon, or even legitimised, by the Protestant church and its theologians; and second, how influential figures of the Protestant church argued in the debate on the question of guilt (Schulddebatte) after 1945.

Focusing on the political theology of Paul Althaus, Werner Elert, Friedrich Gogarten and others the study attempts to determine and compare what sort of world view those churchmen may be said to represent. What are the differences in the level of antisemitism in political theology and a range of aspects of the ideology of the German Christians on the one hand and in the Bekennende Kirche on the other hand? Where are the points of contact and the ideological overlaps? Towards the end of the Weimar Republic, a Protestant consensus had been established by political theology which had created an interlocking foundation of Christianity, nation and race. The aim of the study will be to determine whether such a consensus constituted a decisive vehicle for the positioning of antisemitism within the National Socialist apparatus. The so-called “theology of the order of creation” (Theologie der Schöpfungsordnung), sketched out and systematised for the most part by Lutheran theologians after the First World War, was the site of a negotiation between race and “Volkstum”, or the belief in a homogeneous German “Volk”. Race, “Volk” and “Volkstum” were understood in this constellation as elements of creation, that is, as bonds imposed by God, and as such imbued with a non-negotiable binding force for Christian existence. The question is how theologians interpreted their obligation to act as arising from these tenets, and what position (German) Jews were assigned in this German-Christian concept of “Volk”. What sorts of arguments, finally, did moderate theologians use to reject the radically antisemitic demands of the Nazi Party? And what was their position towards the Jews and Judentum after 1945?