Martin Luther and Hitler's Anti-Semitism (Commentary)

This commentary is based on the classroom activity: Martin Luther and Hitler's Anti-Semitism

Q1: Explain the views of Martin Luther expressed in sources 2 and 3.

A1: In the speech he made in 1519 (source 2) Martin Luther attacked those Christians who persecuted Jews. In the tract he wrote in 1523 (source 3) Luther suggests that if Christians treat the Jews in a "kindly way" they "will become genuine Christians". Luther believed that this approach would make it easier to "convert some of them".

Q2: Use sources 4 and 5 to describe the actions that Martin Luther believed should be taken against Jews in Germany.

A2: Martin Luther instructed his followers to: (a) set fire to Jewish synagogues, schools and houses; (b) destroy Jewish prayer books and Talmudic writings; (c) Rabbis should be forbidden to teach; (d) Jews should have their money taken from them; (e) Jews should be compelled into forced labour.

Q3: How do the authors of sources 6 and 7 explain the reasons why Martin Luther changed his views on the Jews?

A3: Derek Wilson (source 6) believes that his hostile comments towards the Jews was triggered by the " news that proselytising Jews had succeeded in converting some Christian men, who had denied Christ and submitted to circumcision".

Hans J. Hillerbrand (source 7) suggests that "his deteriorating health and chronic pain, his expectation of the imminent end of the world, his deep disappointment over the failure of true religious reform" might have been the reason why he changed his views on the Jews.

Q4: Study the speech made by Adolf Hitler in 1924 (source 8). Does the evidence in this unit support his claims?

A4: Adolf Hitler claims that Martin Luther "saw clearly that the Jews need to be destroyed". Luther never said this. Derek Wilson points out that "Luther did not advocate extermination... His objection was entirely to the Jews' religious beliefs and the behaviour that stemmed from those beliefs".

Q5: How does the author of source 9 explain the link between Martin Luther and Adolf Hitler?

A5: Daphne Olsen argues in source 9 that both men were "notoriously unshakable Anti-Semitics". She believes that the "similarities shared between Luther and Hitler were not limited to their hatred for anything Jewish" and that they were motivated "by a strong sense of German nationalism and a yearning for unity among their fellow Germans".