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On Martin Luther’s Anti-Semitism.

Jerry Bergman 2010

Note: This note is a preliminary draft of a chapter in a book* by Bergman.

To the claim that Hitler was a Christian is often added the claim that Luther was anti-Semite, and that this view reflects the church’s view. An example is the claim that there is more blame for the Holocaust to be laid at the feet of Martin Luther than Charles Darwin. Luther had described Jews as “poisonous envenomed worms” and encouraged Christians to destroy them, inaugurating hostilities that continued unabated into the twentieth century (Giberson, 2008, p. 77).

Martin LutherYale trained historian Eric Metaxas wrote that, as a younger man Luther’s attitude toward the Jews was exemplary, especially for his day. He was sickened at how Christians had treated Jews. In 1519 he asked why Jews would ever want to become converted to Christianity given the “cruelty and enmity we wreak on them—that in our behavior towards them we less resemble Christians than beasts?” Four years later in the essay “That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew,” he wrote, “If I had been a Jew and had seen such dolts and blockheads govern and teach the Christian faith, I would sooner have become a hog than a Christian. They have dealt with the Jews as if they were dogs rather than human beings; they have done little else than deride them and seize their property” (2010, p. 92).

In his later years, Luther’s attitude toward Jews, and almost everything else, had changed drastically. Metaxas writes that Luther seemed to have an absolutely torrid love affair with all things scatological. Not only were his linguistic flourishes styled along such lines, but his doctors seem to have followed suit: for one of his ailments, they persuaded him to take a draught of “garlic and horse manure,” and he infamously received an enema—in vain—moments after he had departed this world. So it is in this larger context that one has to take his attitude toward the Jews, which, like everything else in his life, unraveled along with his health (2010, p. 93).

His attack on Jews evidently began in 1528 when, after he consumed a large meal of kosher food, he suffered a shattering attack of diarrhea. He concluded that the Jews had tried to poison him. By that time he was making enemies everywhere. In his last decade, his list of ailments ballooned to include gallstones, kidney stones, arthritis, abscesses on his legs, and uremic poisoning.

Furthermore, these health issues only added to his many other health problems, some that were very serious, including: constipation, hemorrhoids, a cataract in one eye, and a condition of the inner ear called Meniere’s disease, which results in dizziness, fainting spells, and tinnitus. He also suffered mood swings and depression. As his health declined, everything seemed to set him off. When a congregation sang anemically, he called them “tone-deaf sluggards” and stormed out (2010, p. 92).

It was this time when his nastiness would hit its stride. He wrote the vile treatise “Von den Jüden and Iren Lügen” (“On the Jews and Their Lies”), and the man who once described the Jews as “God’s chosen people” now called them “a base and whoring people” (2010, p. 93).

Nonetheless “Luther’s foulest condemnations of the Jews were never racial,” as was the Nazi’s, but clearly religious (2010, p. 94). Furthermore “To be fair he was an equal opportunity insulter… attacking everyone with equal fury, including Jews, Muslims, Catholics, and fellow Protestants.” Some examples include:

He attacked King Henry VIII as “effeminate” and blasted his theological opponents as “agents of the devil” and “whore-mongers.” His language waxed fouler and fouler. He called the pope “the Anti-christ” and “a brothel-keeper above all brothel-keepers and all lewdness, including that which is not to be named.” He blasted the Catholic church’s regulation of marriage and accused the church of being “a merchant selling vulvas, genitals, and pudenda.” Expressing his contempt for the devil, he said that he would give him “a fart for a staff.” He viciously mocked Pope Clement III’s writings: “Such a great horrid flatus did the papal arse let go here! He certainly pressed with great might to let out such a thunderous flatus—it is a wonder that it did not tear his hole and belly apart!” (2010, pp. 92-93).

In the end, what he wrote about the Jews “would rightly haunt his legacy for centuries and would in four centuries become the justification for such evils as Luther in even his most constipated mood could not have dreamed” (2010, p. 93). Specifically:

At the very end of his life, after becoming a parody of his former cranky self, Luther said and wrote some things about the Jews that, taken on their own, make him out to be a vicious anti-Semite. The Nazis exploited these last writings to the utmost, as though they represented Luther’s definitive take on the matter, which is impossible, given what he’d said earlier in life (2010, p. 92). The worst of what he wrote about Jews was written three years before his death, including among other things, setting fire to their synagogues and schools, destroying their houses, confiscating their prayer books, taking their money, and putting them into forced labor. One may only imagine what Luther’s younger self would have thought of such statements. But Goebbels and the other Nazis rejoiced that Luther’s ugliest ravings existed in writing, and they published them and used them with glee, and to great success, giving the imprimatur of this great German Christian to the most un-Christian and—one can only assume—demented ravings. The hundreds of thousands of sane words he had written were of little interest to the men in brown (2010, p. 93).

* Excerpt from Hitler and the Nazi Darwinian Worldview: How the Nazi Eugenic Crusade for a Superior Race Caused the Greatest Holocaust in World History. (Joshua Press - 2012)


Giberson, Karl. W. (2008) Saving Darwin. New York, NY.: HarperOne

Metaxas, Eric. (2010) Bonhoeffer—Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy: A Righteous Gentile Vs. The Third Reich. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.