The original title page of On the Jews and their Lies, written by Martin Luther in 1543.
The original title page of On the Jews and their Lies, written by Martin Luther in 1543.

Martin Luther is very connected to Thuringia. He was educated in Erfurt and much of his life’s work he carried out in Thuringia, including the translation of the New Testament into German. Luther was concerned with the Jewish question all his life, despite devoting only a small proportion of his work to it. Luther wished that people would have faith in Jesus as the messiah for their salvation. In rejecting that view of Jesus, the Jews became the “quintessential other.” When his efforts at conversion failed, he became increasingly bitter towards them. His main works on the Jews were his 60,000 word treatise Von den Juden und Ihren Lügen (On the Jews and Their Lies), and Vom Schem Hamphoras und vom Geschlecht Christi (On the Holy Name and the Lineage of Christ). He argued that the Jews were no longer the chosen people, but were “the devil’s people.” They were “base, whoring people, that is, no people of God, and their boast of lineage, circumcision, and law must be accounted as filth.” The synagogue was a “defiled bride, yes, an incorrigible whore and an evil slut … “, and Jews were full of the “devil’s feces … which they wallow in like swine.” He advocated setting synagogues on fire, destroying Jewish prayer books, forbidding rabbis from preaching, seizing Jews’ property and money, smashing up their homes, and ensuring that these “poisonous envenomed worms” be forced into labor or expelled “for all time.” He also seemed to sanction their murder by writing “We are at fault in not slaying them.”

The prevailing view among historians is that his anti-Jewish rhetoric contributed significantly to the development of anti-Semitism in Germany, and in the 1930s and 1940s it provided an ideal foundation for the National Socialist attacks on Jews. Luther is credited with “Germanizing the Christian critique of Judaism and establishing anti-Semitism as a key element of German culture and national identity.” and that he caused a “hysterical and demonizing mentality” about Jews to enter German thought and discourse, a mentality that might otherwise have been absent.1

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Adolf Hitler was both adored by the region and he himself adored it. Hitler considered Weimar one of his favorite cities and regularly visited and held speeches in the city’s main squares. Buchenwald, the largest concentration camp in Germany was built ten minutes from Weimar. The camp placed next to Weimar makes it impossible to separate the connection between Nazi terror and German classics. Buchenwald was chosen as the name for the camp because of the close ties of the location to Goethe who was being idealized as “the embodiment of the German Spirit” (Verkörperung des deutschen Geistes). The Goethe Eiche (Goethe’s Oak) stood inside the camp’s perimeter, and the Buchenwald concentration camp rests on a hill overlooking the city.

Hitler in Weimar in front of the DNT
Hitler in front of the Deutschen Nationaltheater. Weimar.

In Thuringia there was great support for the NSDAP. The first parliament the National Socialists entered was in Thuringia, due to their success in Thuringia, could the NSDAP manage to enter other parliaments and even the Reichstag. The local government dismissed republican and socialist officials and drove the Bauhaus out of Weimar in 1924. Adolph Hitler was allowed to speak publicly, despite the national ban in place against his speaking in public. Until 1923, National Socialist groups were operating in opposition and as a subculture, now they received the chance to develop and display their radical ideology in the main arenas. In 1930, Thuringia was also the first state that ensured that the NSDAP became part of government. An example of the level of support that the Nazis received can be found in a report on the difficulties the GDR government had in the denazification of the state, stating that 80% of the doctors in the Thuringia were members of the NSDAP.2

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1  Based on the Wikipaedia article, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther
3  Mary Fulbrook, Autonomy of a Dictatorship, p. 112

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History of anti-Semitism and German nationalism

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