The Dark Side of Martin Luther

The scholar and religious reformer was also anti-Semitic

Martin Luther Protestant reformer
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Without a doubt, Martin Luther is one of the most influential personas in European history. As a reformer, he played huge parts in creating the Protestant Christian Church. In translating the Bible from Latin into German, he created the foundations of the "High German" that is spoken in the country today. He singlehandedly made a mess out of Europe that resulted in the divide of Western Christendom -- leading to Luther being labeled "The Great Divider." The aforementioned divide was followed by long and cruel struggles. Dukes and Kings soon had to choose whether they and their subjects would be Catholics or Protestants. These struggles finally led into the Thirty Years' War. Many historians find, that Luther is to blame to some extent for a lot of pain and suffering.

Martin Luther's Surprising Anti-Semitism

From what we know about Martin Luther, we can tell, that he was very uncompromising and somewhat stubborn. The former monk had strong opinions on many issues and just as his views on scholarly matters, he felt urged to express them. He felt no remorse attacking his enemies and adversaries or those he deemed to belong to that category. What might come as a surprise to some, is that this category also included the followers of another major religion: the Jewish people.​​

A Hate Speech Book

In 1543, Martin Luther wrote a short book called “On the Jews and their Lies”. It seems that Luther had hoped for the Jewish people to convert to Protestantism and as that didn’t happen, he was deeply disappointed. In the centuries after Luther’s death, it had no special place among his literary works or underwent particular treatment. It became quite popular in the Third Reich and was even used to justify the discrimination of Jewish people.

Was Hitler a Fan?

Adolf Hitler was a declared fan of Luther and his views on the Jews. Extracts of the book were even quoted in the propaganda movie “Jud Süß” by Veit Harlan. After 1945, the book was not reprinted in Germany until 2016.

The recently published edition, which was translated into modern German, proves that the reformer basically demanded the same fate for Jews that the Nazis did, with the exception of a systemic annihilation (maybe, because he could simply not fathom such a thing in the 16th century). In earlier years, Martin Luther expressed different feelings for Jewish people, probably connected to his high hopes of them converting to Protestantism.

Unsettling Views

Unfortunately, the views in Luther's book reads like a manual for the National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nazi Party). Excerpts from his works are as follows:

“(…) set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them.“

But in his wrath, he not only turned against their synagogues.

“I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed. For they pursue in them the same aims as in their synagogues. Instead they might be lodged under a roof or in a barn, like the gypsies.“

He propagated to take the Talmud from them and to forbid the rabbis to teach, and he wanted to prohibit Jews from traveling on the highways.

“(…) and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping.“

Finally, Luther further wanted to force young Jews into manual labor. 

Though “On the Jews and their Lies” is his most infamous work on Jewish people, Luther published two more texts on the matter. In the book “Vom Schem Hamphoras" ("Of the Unknowable Name and the Generations of Christ") he put the Jews on the same level as the devil. And in a sermon, released as “Warning Against the Jews” he stated that Jewish people should be expelled from German territories if they refused to convert to Christianity.