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January 24, 2016 7:57 am

Christian Beliefs and the Infrastructure of the Holocaust

avatar by Manfred Gerstenfeld

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The gates of the Auschwitz death camp. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The gates of the Auschwitz death camp. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

With International Holocaust Remembrance Day quickly approaching, it is time to reassess the ancient accusations against the Jews that formed the basis for the Shoah’s infrastructure. Christianity introduced two extreme criminal concepts into the history of ideas: that the Jews were the embodiment of absolute evil, and that descendants — even an entire people — can be held eternally responsible for alleged acts attributed to some of their ancestors.

Many Christians over the centuries claimed that Jews were the embodiment of absolute evil, as nothing could be worse than being held responsible for the death of the alleged Son of God. Christian antisemitic hate mongers based their hate on a text in the Gospel of Matthew, which states that the Jews who were present at the crucifixion of Jesus said that his blood would be upon them and their descendants.

This text from the New Testament is highly problematic.

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Under Roman rule, the Jews had no power to sentence anyone to death, let alone execute him or her. Only the Romans could do so. And even if some Jews were present when Jesus was nailed to the cross, how many could have been there? At most a small percentage of Jerusalem’s population — which was itself limited, as many Jews lived outside Jerusalem at that time.

Over the centuries, such long-term repeated demonization of the Jews has infused European history and culture with antisemitism. This does not mean that most contemporary Europeans are antisemites. Yet many Europeans hold extreme antisemitic views of Israel — believing, for example, that it is a Nazi state or that it is pursuing a war of extermination against the Palestinians.

Nazi demonization of the Jews was built on the infrastructure of ideas laid down by large parts of Christianity. Nazism considered Jews subhuman, a newer version of the belief that Jews were absolute evil. Even Martin Niemöller, one of the more famous German Christian anti-Nazis, delivered sermons in pre-war years teaching that the Jew was cursed because his ancestors killed Christ.

No democratic regime can survive in a reality where everybody is held responsible for crimes their parents may have committed. The persecution Jews experienced over the centuries — up to and including the Holocaust — has been infinitely worse. They were held responsible for events that some of their ancestors allegedly were involved in two thousand years ago.

Post-war West Germany is the best illustration of an opposite orientation. It did not even hold most people responsible for their own acts, let alone those of their parents; instead, the German state rehabilitated Nazis on a massive scale.

Perhaps 20% of the German population had been members of the Nazi party (NSDAP), leaving a large post-war reservoir of others. Yet many prominent positions in the newly established democracy were held by former NSDAP members. One of them was the Christian Democrat Kurt Georg Kiesinger, who was chancellor of West Germany from 1966 to 1969. Three post-war presidents of West Germany — Christian Democrats Karl Heinrich Lübke (1959-1969) and Karl Carstens (1979-1984), as well as Liberal Walter Scheel (1974-1979) — had been members of the NSDAP. Twelve ministers in Willy Brandt’s government were reported to have been NSDAP members.

Due to the Holocaust, the Catholic Church revised its stance that Jews alive today are responsible for the death of Jesus. Pope Paul VI’s Nostra Aetate of 1965 declared that only those Jews who were present at the time of the crucifixion can be held responsible.

However, polls show that the perception of Jews as “Christ-killers” is still alive and well, and reflects a belief held by perhaps 100 million Western Europeans. A 2005 ADL poll in Europe asked whether the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. Of those polled, 19% of Belgians, 21% of Danes, and 19% of the Swiss answered in the affirmative.

A 2012 ADL poll in Europe found that among those polled, 18% of Austrians, 14% of Germans, 38% of Hungarians, 15% of Italians, 16% of Dutch, 19% of Norwegians, 46% of Poles, 21% of Spaniards, and 18% in the United Kingdom believed this fallacy.

In a 2011 ADL poll in Argentina, 22% also expressed belief that the Jews killed Jesus.

These two ancient Christian concepts have been overshadowed by Nazism’s genocidal policies against the Jews. Yet they are still entrenched in Christian societies, and must continue to be exposed as part of today’s fight against antisemitism.

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  • Jennifer

    Take it up a spiritual notch and all of mankind is responsible for the death of the Son of God.

    • Donald Davila

      The fact of the matter is it was God’s decision, not mans. Jesus was born for the life and death He endured. Since he was born a Jew is relevant because they are God’s chosen people. There is no blame, only the joy of salvation.
      This from a Roman Catholic who chooses to believe in God and not the biases of man. God bless us, everyone.

  • Reform School

    About five years before his death from the ravages of cancer, a long-time friend (a telephone pioneer American Presbyterian) suggested, out of the blue, “Bring a few of your Jewish friends down to our church so we can give you communion.” It surfaced about the time a beady-eyed Presbytery joined BDS. Wincing at his words, I never learned what prompted them, but recall another incident in a neighboring city, where an aging Roman Catholic friend also drew the ancient blood-libel, seemingly out of nowhere. Like Yoni Netanyahu enroute to Entebbe July 4, 1976, is the ancient blood-libel always aloft, but flying just beneath the radar?

    “40% of Europeans hold antisemitic views? Where do the other 60% keep them? In a Safe Deposit Box at the bank?

  • Myron Slater

    These beliefs will always be present in all European countries, the people cannot have no one to blame for their own actions. Move to Israel, there, a Jew can be free of the prejudice of others.

  • Franklin Delano Paskutnik

    Many Europeans want to assuage the guilt of their involvement or their country’s involvement in the Holocaust by trying to equate Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians with the Nazis.It is of course an absurd analogy that will not hold water with any intelligent observer. One must remember that so-called “European civilization” is a very thin veneer : the vast majority of Europeans are of the “bread-and-circuses” variety for whom any kind of high culture is anathema.It is this large and dangerous group which the Christian Church could so easily brain-wash in the past with its illogical and irrational anti-Jewish dogmas.And the Nazis used the same tactics as the Church to demonize the Jews.”The bigger the lie the more people will believe it” said Dr.Goebbels.But the elephant in the room is of course the incontrovertible fact that the so-called “Christian messiah” Jesus and his disciples were orthodox,practising Jews! Very importantly,the “super salesman” of Christianity, St.Paul,who made it his business to sell this idea of Jesus as the long-awaited messiah to the world was also a Jew.This is a serious psychological problem for many Jew-hating Christians : how do you reconcile your detestation of Jews with your belief in the Jewish “Son of God”? The convoluted arguments required to escape from this conundrum would do justice to a Monty Python show!The anti-semitism embodied in the Christian religion is not going to go away any time soon,despite courageous efforts by some recent Popes to soften some of the more glaring anti-Jewish excesses of the Church.Unfortunately Matthew 27:15-26 :”Let his blood be on us and our children” will forever remain as the cornerstone of Christian Jew-hatred.Thank God that today there is an Israel – the Jewish State – which can protect,defend and give Jews hope and pride wherever they may be.

  • jak40

    WHY don’t you tell us that these 40% are LEFTIST people and probably not more than 1% of Right Conservative Catholics and other Bourgeois fuckers…
    I am fed up w<ith that sort of ambivalent hypocritical attitudes among the Jews especially but not exclusively alas, amonfg US Jewry…

  • In 1978, the Emmy Award winning, “Holocaust” aired on the NBC television network. Here is one of several memorable quotes from that miniseries:

    “…I must draw a distinction between what Christianity teaches and how some people distort and betray that teaching.”

  • Julian Clovelley

    It is a historical reality that the first Christians were Jewish, Paul if he existed was Jewish as was Jesus if he existed, and Christianity first spread in synagogues and Jewish Communities

    And that is indeed where its antisemitic nature came from

    You work that one out…

    • Markus Goeldi

      Julian ,
      if you exist then it is rather strange that people very seldom bother to get the full story

  • Laura Jane Burkhart

    God chose the Jews, and blessed them. God made a blood covenant with Abraham… forever. For 2,000 years, those who claimed to be Christians, killed many, clearly revealing that Romans 11, those who are arrogant against Israel, guarantee been broken off, of the very root, which Israel represents.
    Many horrible things have happened, just as all people for 2,000 years, cannot be blamed on one entire people group, the Jews, any more than the insanity of the past 2,000 years of hate, terror, killing, pogroms, the holocaust, and current vogue trends of vitriolic anger against the Jews, that reveal evil hearts, against the very people God chose, loved & blessed.
    I so wish history could be rewritten, to right the wrongs. Sadly, only what we have is, today. No amount of apologies can remove the pain of losing Grandparents, brothers, sisters, children…to friends, through the evil of the holocaust. Maybe we Christians can do all we can now, to help those hurting over our evil acts, evil words, evil attitudes, to bring a new day of love and support, as never before.

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