Adolf Hitler (1889)
It was on this date, April 20, 1889, that the German Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was born in Austria. Early on he struggled to find work until discovering his own talents, not for art but for fundraising, political organizing and oratory. While in jail for treason in Germany — he was plotting to overthrow the German Weimar Republic by force — Hitler began dictating his thoughts and philosophies to Rudolf Hess. This became the book Mein Kampf (My Struggle).
The world depression in 1929 helped to bring a desperate, post-World War I Germany in line to support for Hitler and, through a series of political maneuvers and carefully planned popular votes, with some thuggish provocateur actions on the side, Hitler succeeded in outlawing or suppressing opposition parties. He used the burning of the Reichstag building, on the night of 27 February 1933 — which his operatives Goebbels and Goering must certainly have planned — as an excuse to install himself as dictator in Germany and proceeded with rebuilding the German military and progressively "Nazifiing" the country.
War with the world was not far in the future, and Hitler's key uniting precept was his scapegoating of the Jews for all of the troubles in the economically depressed country. His Catholic upbringing, coupled with a disbelief that a Jew could really be a German, along with personal observations that Jews seemed to be too prominent in German society — Jews controlled the press of Berlin, the theater, the arts; there were too many Jewish lawyers, doctors, and professors — informed his opinion, expressed in Mein Kampf, that Jews were a "pestilence, worse than the Black Death." Elsewhere in the same political autobiography, Hitler wrote, "I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord."
He was baptized a Catholic, attended a monastery school early in life, and was a communicant and altar boy as a youth. During his years as Chancellor and then dictator of Nazi Germany, he was never excommunicated or condemned, even though the Vatican knew much of his policies and activities. The only major complaints from Rome regarded interference in Church matters. And those were largely silenced by the 1933 Concordat with the Vatican, under Pope Pius XII, which to Hitler meant that the Catholic Church recognized the Nazi state.
And, indeed, Pius XII ordered German Catholics not to oppose Hitler. No prelate of any influence in Germany did so, even after the June 1934 Blood Purge that took the lives of several Catholic leaders. The wartime Pope made only mild and highly generalized protests against any Nazi actions and pretty much acquiesced in Hitler's treatment of the Jews, about which Pius had a pretty good idea. For their part, the Roman Church got support for mandatory school prayer and for "family values" — much like the Christian fundamentalist wish list in the modern US.
But in fact, Germany was Hitler's religion. Though far from an atheist, Hitler was a Roman Catholic – some might say a Roman Catholic apostate, but he was never excommunicated and, according to the Church’s own rules, he has to be counted as a Catholic. Hitler at times would say things such as, "The National Socialist State professes its allegiance to Positive Christianity"  — Positive Christianity being nonsectarian — and at other times would say, "National Socialism and Christianity cannot exist together" . It is certainly reasonable to suppose that Hitler used religion as Machiavelli recommended: as a tool of political influence and control. Therefore, Hitler would say about churches, "For their interests cannot fail to coincide with ours alike in our fight against the degeneracy in the world of today" (sometime 1922-1939).
But taken in chronological context, it would seem that Hitler's most anti-Christian statements were delivered after his election as Chancellor, and when he saw interference from the Roman Church (and all religion) as a threat to his control of the state. The appearance of piety was important: the Nazi military wore belt buckles on which was the legend Gott Mit Uns ("God with us"), and much of his political philosophy was adapted from the Bible. Hitler would not have been successful without the support of German Christians. However, Adolf Hitler perpetrated a serious Catholic sin when he committed suicide on April 30, 1945.
Originally published April 2003 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.
“I was never a believer, but after seeing Czech Catholics persecuted during the Stalinist terror, I felt the deepest solidarity with them. What separated us, the belief in God, was secondary to what united us.”