Can any convincing case be made that the Nazi persecution of the Jews was religious?


I had always thought of the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany as racial rather than religious since Hitler was not religious (though baptized a Catholic). There probably were quite a few religious-minded Nazis in the conventional sense. Wasn’t paganism fostered among them? I don’t know how serious most Nazis would have taken it, though. But I’m stilled left with the nagging question of religious motivation.
Can any convincing case be made that the Nazi persecution of the Jews was religious?

Seeing as Nazi antisemitism was not an isolated phenomena, but rather the culmination - and logical conclusion - of millennia of European antisemitism, which in turn was largely religious in origin… then the answer is “yes, albeit indirectly”.

It depends on how you define a persecution as religious. The Nazis didn’t persecute Jews because they practiced the Jewish religion, but because of their Jewish ethnicity. Practicing protestants of Jewish descent were prosecuted. But then they defined a Jew as someone who had 3 or more grandparents who belonged to a Jewish congregation.

Another unclear situation is the persecution of Jehova’s witnesses, which was on the surface religious - being a member of the church meant being persecuted. Half of the German JWs were imprisond, about 6% killed. But then this persecution was a result of the JWs refusal to serve in the military or be loyal to the Nazi regime. I believe if they had had the exact same tenets, rituals etc, but submitted to military service, they would have been left alone.

As to the motivation of individual Nazis, for at least a number of them avarice, sociopathy, or opportunism, or any combination thereof, were significantly stronger motivators than religion.

But what of “Aryan” converts to Judaism? There must have been at least a few of them, and I imagine that they got persecuted as well, for no reason other than their religion.

But were such people targeted for extermination? I’m asking the question because I don’t honestly know, although I suspect they may have been persecuted, even jailed, but not sent to death camps. I also suspect that the vast majority of such coverts would have been for marriage purposes. And there were lots of non-Jews married to Jews. What of them?

This suggests that conversion to Christianity was a method used by some Jews to escape persecution, so apparently the authorities didn’t mind non-Jewish Jews (as it were). I suspect the inverse is also true, as a result - that Aryan converts to Judaism (who are also mentioned in the text) were persecuted.

The Nazis themselves weren’t a religious party, but some of their allied parties (in Slovakia, Romania and Croatia at least, and to some extent France) were very much religiously based. The one in Slovakia was even led by a priest. So one could at least say that they depended on willing collaboration from people who opposed Jews for religious reasons.

In as much as the Nazi Party wished to supplant other religions as the State Religion, and wished all citizens and subjects of the Reich to transfer all loyaty to the Nazi Party and the Reich, you could say that yes, it was religiously motivated, in as much as the State and Party were objects of veneration.

Realistically, though, it was basic bigotry and ethnic animus, with a heavy admixture of extremely cynical and callous realpolitik thrown in.

And of course, even within the Nazi Party, individuals doubtless had different motivations, with some holding more hatred for the Jewish “race”, and others for the religion. If your local administrator was one of the latter, then converting (or convincingly pretending conversion) to avoid persecution just might work. If it was one of the former, though, not so much.

Exactly it is a completely artifical intellectualizing distinction when the religion and the ethnicity were (and are) so broadly mixed conceptually.

the roots of the hatred of the Jews as the ethnicity were in the religion.

People with non-Jewish mothers and Jewish fathers were considered Jewish by the Germans, even though they are not Jewish under Jewish law, so I would say that it was more ethnic than religious.

I have my doubts that the Nazis, except for cynical purposes, would have wanted any Jews (converted Christians or not) to survive.

"At first, intermarried couples and their children were protected from deportations and ghettoization, and Mischlinge could even join the Hitler Youth and the German army. The reason for this leniency was to avoid arousing suspicion or protest from non-Jewish family members and to encourage Mischlinge to integrate into Aryan society.

Strnad’s lecture focused on the period from 1943 to 1945 when persecution of intermarried Jews in Germany reached its climax.

As the war went on, Nazi tolerance of Mischlinge and their parents waned. With the Final Solution fully underway, Nazi officials did not want any Jews to be spared. Strnad described how in some regions, Nazis attempted to get around laws prohibiting deportation and imprisonment of intermarried Jews by saying the roundups were for “protective custody.” In several regions, this “protective custody” resulted in the deaths of intermarried Jews in Auschwitz, at a time when they were officially exempt from deportation.


One can easily wonder if any conflicts are “actually” religious, when religion is so often just a marker of ethnicity, culture, or ancestry. The Jews were an identifiable group of people that the greater part of the German people of the time didn’t like, and they were killed for that. IMO the religious aspect had long passed from being the reason for the hated to being a justification for the hatred that would have existed either way.

IIRC, originally the camps were set up to house “Enemies of the state” and previous to the invasions of other countries this included: communists, socialists, roma, jehovah’s witnesses, homosexuals, and persons convicted of socially deviant behavior in 1933.

With the invasion of Austria in the spring 1938 the first mass incarceration of Jews happened and later that fall after “riots” like the “Night of Broken Glass” were spurred on by events like the assassination of Ernst vom Rath in Paris.

This resulted in mass arrests of adult male Jews where they were held in camps for brief periods.

When they invaded Poland in September 1939 the policies started to escalate, and the efforts that lead to the mass incarceration and eventual genocide started.

The Nazi party had started discrimination in 1933, and there was anti-Jewish legislation, economic boycotts etc… but it was in the summer of 1941 when Hermann Goering authorized action for a “complete solution of the Jewish question.”

It may be useful to remember that in 1934 they established the “Information Centers for Genetic and Racial Hygiene” based on the beliefs of eugenics.

Unlike the Socialists or other groups like the Witnesses that refused to sign allegiance the Jewish population was considered a poisonous “race”. While the slaves were also considered inferior and thus open to subjugation they view the Jewish population as racial enemies.

Remember that in 1939 30% of Warsaw’s population was Jewish and the European portion of Russia was also one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe.

While there are complexities around the dual cultural and religious implications of the Jewish religion the primary motivators were a falsified scientific belief in race, and the Nazi party was willing to use them as forced labor or subject them to inhuman medical experiments until the population reached a critical point where they escalated to genocide.

While the social realities of the false construct of “race” still are with us, the mainstream eugenics ideals have waned in popularity. But from the Nazi mindset it would have been primarily been a racist mindset that drove their actions. But non-ethnic converts would have been either considered enemies of the state or perhaps considered just inferior enough for subjugation.

To be clear, there is no scientifically sound basis for the concept of “race” and it is purely a sociological construct. As it is based on arbitrary criteria the edge cases will very depending on the differences of opinion of the individuals who were in power.

I will ask for clarification from other posters, but I can only find the Jewish and Roma populations as being officially designated as “enemies of the race-based state”. But I thought there were more so if you can correct my error or confirm this I would appreciate it.

Edited to add, Afro-Germans were also officially declared “enemies of the race-based state”

Thanks rat avatar. Asians (of Korean descent that I know of) were living in Berlin in the 1930s. I haven’t read of any roundup of Asians. I’s be interested to hear if you have.

Good point Hector_St._Clare. I think of the Catholic anti-semitism going back to the 19th century and further back, especially in places like Lourdes.

Martin Luther was a rather extreme anti-Semite and I imagine German anti-Semitism certainly goes back in part to that. And while Hitler didn’t have any use for religion, I recently read that he was not averse to harking back to Luther. So while the objection to Jews was ethnic (and racial), it was certainly took root in Germany for partly religious reasons.

You can understand the OP in two ways; was the Nazi persecution of the Jews motivated by the victims’ religion? Or, was the Nazi persecution of the Jews motivated by the persecutors’ religion?

Either way, the answer is a bit mixed.

If we’re looking at the victims’ religion, Nazi persecution obviously extended to people who were not Jews in the Jewish religious sense (e.g. the child of a Jewish man and a non-Jewish womam) and to people who did not adhere to, believe in or pratice the Jewish religion - e.g. atheist, non-practicing Jews. On the other hand, Jews as a people or as a community are defined by a shared religion, and by a shared cultural inheritance from that religion.

If we’re looking at the persecutors’ religion, you can make a (somewhat strained) case that naziism is itself a religion, in which the object of veneration is the Volk. And you can also make the point that many individual Nazis, and many movements which collaborated with the Nazis, were motivated by a classically religious antisemitism. But SFAIK the nazis own antisemitic ideology did not rest on any religious arguments, but on pseudoscientific ones. And many prominent nazis were atheist. Naziism itself was at odds with the historically dominant religious traditions in Germany, and if you don’t accept the naziism-as-religion argument, its very hard to see Naziism as a political expresson of Catholicism or Lutheranism.

Nazis and fascists everywhere always regarded the communists as the main enemy and specifically Bolshevism, Soviet Communism, was labeled a threat to European civilization. Jews were targeted because they made up a high proportion of members of communist parties everywhere, including in the Soviet Union and Germany. Therefore, Bolshevism was considered a Jewish plot. Of course, this latest rational for persecuting the Jews found fertile ground. Antisemitism was always bubbling just below the surface in Christian Europe. Anticommunism and antisemitism were and are two sides of the same coin.

I should also note that while I still refuse to link to it it is quite easy to find full text copies of “The passing of the great race” by Madison Grant which was one of the claimed most notable publications by Hitler who refereed to it as “his Bible”.
With a very very strongly worded note that I find the following quotes repugnant they are related to the OP’s question, and to at least the propaganda that help the Nazi movement develop their platform.

In reality as others have pointed out, it was the different physical looks and differing culture together that most likely lead to the horrid tragic end.