Were the Nazis atheists?

Y OU DOUBTLESS have come upon the Associated Press headline of a Julie Watson article informing the world that “US Marines posed with [a] Nazi symbol in Afghanistan.” I myself suspect, but cannot yet prove, that this represents an instance of all-too-familiar ignorance, plain and simple. Having taught military-aged youth, I’m depressingly aquainted with the history-challenged. This is quite bad enough, and also indicative of a systemic rot, the depth of which was soon revealed in the even more objectionable media coverage which ensued. I submit to the court of opinion the following example:

SS units were held responsible for many war crimes and played an integral role in the extermination of millions of Jews as well as Catholics, gypsies and other people classed as undesirables.

This quotation, which misleadingly pretends to explain the photo above, is itself wet with ignorance. It implicitly reproduces an often asserted and pernicious piece of wilfull propaganda, that the Nazi regime of Germany was secular and atheistic — and therefore hostile to Catholicism. This, friends, is a piece of historical revisionism which has flourished without interruption since the war. Even as early as the Weimar Republic, Hitler sought, and received, Catholic support for his rise to power. The National Socialists and the Conservative wing of the Roman Catholic church shared a common enemy, the Bolsheviks, and formed alliances. It must also be noted that the Jewish blood libel, issued for centuries from Europe’s Catholic pulpits, rather whet the appetite of anti-Semitism. The Vatican, on July 20th of 1933, signed the first international treaty with Nazi Germany — the Reichskonkordat — setting forth the terms of a power-sharing alliance. Far from being at odds with Roman Catholicism, the Schutzstaffel (or SS) was in fact an imitation of the Ignatius of Loyola’s Jesuit order undertaken by the Catholic Nazi leader, Heinrich Himmler. With few exceptions, the Nazi leadership were Roman Catholic both in origin and affiliation, and were accepted as such by the Holy See. Joseph Goebbels was the only Nazi of note to have been excommunicated, his apparent sin having been a marriage to the Protestant Magda Friedländer.

The ultimate aim of the Nazi party, as it appears to me in my years of study of the subject, was very likely to displace the authority of the Catholic Church, putting in its place a personality cult and a fake-scientific blood-based mythology of race supremacy. (The Deutsche Christen stood ready to accomplish just this goal.) The common Catholic defence is that the NSDAP was not committed in full faith to Catholicism, and I agree. But that Roman Catholicism was dedicated to Nazi Germany, as well as to fascist endeavours elsewhere (for instance the Croatian Ustaše) is quite beyond serious contest. I may hope that a journalist would have some passing familiarity with basic historical facts — more so than a soldier, whose job after all does not include such things — but I am not surprised by the evidence that this is not the case. Or, perhaps the evidence once again foregrounds a manoeuvre we must no longer tolerate.

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