Tuesday, October 13, 2015

"In 1936, for example, the Nazi party convention in Nuremberg featured a historic “Germanic” room with walls covered in quotes by Tacitus" Stupidity Answered At Noontime

steve simelsOctober 13, 2015 at 10:26 AM
"The charge that the Nazis are a product of Christianity is a big lie"

You're right -- the Holocaust actually didn't happen in a country informed by centuries of European Christian anti-Semitism. I can't imagine how that canard got started.

For every simple question there is a simple answer and it is wrong, as has been said.  In this case the question tacitly being posed as a simple one is also wrong because it is not simple though, as Bertrand Russell says in the left side bar, those with simple minds will turn what is said into a simple and wrong form because that's what they do.

The Nazis left us quite a bit of evidence that their thinking was far more informed by their understanding of classical European and "Aryan" culture than from the Hebrew culture which informs every word of the Bible, both the Jewish scriptures and the Christian scriptures which were all written by Jews.  Antisemitism didn't start in Christian Europe, it was endemic to some areas of Europe well before Jesus was born.  Even in the Bible, antisemitism is noted in the pre-Christian era. Maccabees, 1 and 2, document the classical Greek attack against Jews, including the first known attempt to exterminate all of them under Antiochus Epiphanes.   I don't know the extent to which the Nazis cited Greek antisemitism, directly, but I do know they were quite influenced by the antisemitism and the pro-Germanic sentiments of Tacitus.   Once again, I'm answering something quickly so I will depend on this article, I will revise it down to quotes later but I will post the entire thing, for now.

Ask a well-read individual to list the most dangerous books in history, and a few familiar titles would most likely make the cut: Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” Marx and Engels’ “The Communist Manifesto,” Chairman Mao’s “Little Red Book.”

But what about an obscure booklet written by a Roman senator? According to Christopher Krebs, assistant professor of the classics in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Tacitus’ “Germania” deserves a spot on the roster.

“Tacitus’ text played a crucial role in shaping the three or four major discourses that eventually fueled National Socialism,” also known as Nazism, said Krebs. “The influence of the Germania was exerted over hundreds of years.”

The text, first published in 98 C.E., has a long legacy: Rediscovered in the 15th century, it was read widely by German humanists in the 16th. In following centuries, the aureus libellus — or “golden booklet,” as many called it — continued to fascinate readers inside and outside of Germany. The Germania was popular among nationalists in the 19th century, and became particularly dear to Nazi leaders in the 20th who adopted Tacitus’ themes and slogans to further their political and racial agendas.

While doing research on the humanists’ reception of the Germania, Krebs discovered that the distinguished historian and historiographer Arnaldo Momigliano had named Tacitus’ work “among the most dangerous books ever written.”

“I began to wonder if that statement was true,” Krebs said.

Intrigued, he dove back into the text and found a world of connection to Nazi ideology.

“Every influential National Socialist was familiar with the Germania,” said Krebs, “and many foot soldiers referred to the text as a ‘bible. ’”

What, exactly, were they so keen to read? Krebs describes the text as a “political ethnography” of Germania, a region northeast of Gaul that remained mostly independent from Roman rule. When Tacitus wrote the ethnography, the Romans had been fighting with Germanic tribes for more than two centuries.

“Tacitus was a politician writing about one of Rome’s fiercest and worst enemies,” said Krebs, “so his ethnography is given within the framework of Roman political discourse.”

Though the Germania was an ethnographic study, it is unlikely, according to Krebs, that Tacitus saw the region firsthand. Instead, he probably constructed the account by drawing on Greek and Roman ethnographical writings about “people in the north” as well as the reports of travelers and warriors who had visited the region. As a result, Krebs noted, the text “was not an accurate depiction of reality.”

Inaccuracies aside, Tacitus’ descriptions of the tribes in Germania provided fodder for future conceptions of the “ideal” German people. Tacitus criticizes parts of the culture in Germania, but he also seems to express admiration for a certain number of its qualities — and it was those qualities that the Nazis would seize upon nearly 2,000 years later to serve their dream of an Aryan race.

According to Krebs, the Nazis stand at the end of a long interpretive tradition that began with 16th century humanists, who considered Tacitus the authoritative word on Germanic culture. These scholars also drew from the text protonationalist themes that would resonate with Nazi ideology.

“If you read the German humanists’ interpretation of the text, you find almost everything that the Nazis would come to associate with Germania,” said Krebs. “The early 16th century reception is basically a mirror image of the early 20th.”

Between 1500 and 1600, Krebs estimates, nearly 6,000 editions were reproduced for readers in German-speaking countries. And during the Nazi regime, Tacitus’ influence was pervasive, extending from party leaders to party soldiers.

According to Krebs, Nazi leaders drew upon three primary themes expressed in the Germania: nationalism, an emphasis on German culture and its origins, and a discourse of racism.

“The booklet encouraged readers to think in terms of ‘we Germans’ and ‘the German fatherland,’” said Krebs.

Tacitus’ words also helped nationalistic readers to perpetuate an image of the “ideal” German man.

“Tacitus depicts the Germanic tribes as a moral people, living a pure and simple life,” said Krebs. “His text emphasized their freedom and fortitude.”

Readers focused on these characteristics, with the result that “the Germanic people were associated with warrior qualities,” said Krebs.

In addition, the text highlighted the fact that most of the Germanic tribes were indigenous to the region, with almost no history of migration.

“He depicted the tribes as descending from an ‘earth-born god,’ and thus deeply rooted to the Germania territory,” said Krebs. “The Nazis employed that rhetoric to advance their theory that the culture of the German volk was inherently tied to the soil on which they were born.”

For Nazi ideology, the text proved an excellent propaganda tool.

In 1936, for example, the Nazi party convention in Nuremberg featured a historic “Germanic” room with walls covered in quotes by Tacitus.

And the leader of the Nazi party? Though Hitler doesn’t mention the Germania specifically in any of his writings, Krebs is “certain that he must have known about it.”

“Hitler was not extremely literate,” said Krebs, “but two books that he is known to have read made ample use of Tacitus.”

Moreover, Krebs said, Hitler’s preferred “authority” on questions of race — adviser Hans F.K. Günther — was “intimately familiar” with the text.

As to the kind of antisemitism contained in Tacitus, here, from his Histories

4. In order to secure the allegiance of his people in the future, Moses prescribed for them a novel religion quite different from those of the rest of mankind. Among the Jews all things are profane that we hold sacred; on the other hand they regard as permissible what seems to us immoral. In the innermost part of the Temple, they consecrated an image of the animal which had delivered them from their wandering and thirst, choosing a ram as beast of sacrifice to demonstrate, so it seems, their contempt for Hammon. (6) The bull is also offered up, because the Egyptians worship it as Apis. They avoid eating pork in memory of their tribulations, as they themselves were once infected with the disease to which this creature is subject. (7) They still fast frequently as an admission of the hunger they once endured so long, and to symbolize their hurried meal the bread eaten by the Jews is unleavened. We are told that the seventh day was set aside for rest because this marked the end of their toils. In course of time the seductions of idleness made them devote every seventh year to indolence as well. Others say that this is a mark of respect to Saturn, either because they owe the basic principles of their religion to the Idaei, who, we are told, were expelled in the company of Saturn and became the founders of the Jewish race, or because, among the seven stars that rule mankind, the one that describes the highest orbit and exerts the greatest influence is Saturn. A further argument is that most of the heavenly bodies complete their path and revolutions in multiples of seven.

5. Whatever their origin, these observances are sanctioned by their antiquity. The other practices of the Jews are sinister and revolting, and have entrenched themselves by their very wickedness. Wretches of the most abandoned kind who had no use for the religion of their fathers took to contributing dues and free-will offerings to swell the Jewish exchequer; and other reasons for their increasing wealth may be found in their stubborn loyalty and ready benevolence towards brother Jews. But the rest of the world they confront with the hatred reserved for enemies. They will not feed or inter-marry with gentiles. Though a most lascivious people, the Jews avoid sexual intercourse with women of alien race. Among themselves nothing is barred. They have introduced the practice of circumcision to show that they are different from others. Proselytes to Jewry adopt the same practices, and the very first lesson they learn is to despite the gods, shed all feelings of patriotism, and consider parents, children and brothers as readily expendable. However, the Jews see to it that their numbers increase. It is a deadly sin to kill a born or unborn child, and they think that eternal life is granted to those who die in battle or execution—hence their eagerness to have children, and their contempt for death. Rather than cremate their dead, they prefer to bury them in imitation of the Egyptian fashion, and they have the same concern and beliefs about the world below. But their conception of heavenly things is quite different. The Egyptians worship a variety of animals and half-human, half-bestial forms, whereas the Jewish religion is a purely spiritual monotheism. They hold it to be impious to make idols of perishable materials in the likeness of man: for them, the Most High and Eternal cannot be portrayed by human hands and will never pass away. For this reason they erect no images in their cities, still less in their temple. Their kings are not so flattered, the Roman emperors not so honoured. However, their priests used to perform their chants to the flute and drums, crowned with ivy, and a golden vine was discovered in the Temple; and this has led some to imagine that the god thus worshipped was Prince Liber, (8) the conqueror of the East. But the two cults are diametrically opposed. Liber founded a festive and happy cult: the Jewish belief is paradoxical and degraded.

I don't have the time to document it but, in line with the Nazi dependence on Tacitus, you can find him cited on neo-Nazi and other antisemetic websites with the statement that what he said was accurate and has always been characteristic of Jews from antiquity till today.  


  1. What's really interesting is how much of that sounds like the propaganda propagated against Muslims today.

    Which is also a form of anti-semitism, since the noun in that phrase refers to people of the semitic region, i.e., Jews and Arabs.

  2. Adding to what I said before, the Hebrews (Jews is an anachronism in this discussion, being a term from the Romans referring to the natives of Judea that eventually re-named the children of Abraham) were heavily persecuted by the Romans. Tacitus us merely expressing the opinions of Rome in general toward the Hebrews, who were considered secretive and even arrogant for their refusal to recognize the validity of the civic gods of Rome.

    Rome was syncretistic, something the children of Abraham could never accept. That refusal to blend their religion with the other religions of the empire was grounds for a potent "anti-semitism" long before Jesus of Nazareth was even born. Pilate's palace was built next to the Temple in Jerusalem so his guards on the walls of the palace could look down into the Temple grounds, just to keep watch on the people there. The rout of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. was hardly a way of endearing Rome to the Hebrews/Jews (it was that diaspora that eventually gave them the name "Jew," as well as rabbinic, v. Temple, Judaism).

    True, Xianity did a great deal to spread anti-Jewish hatred throughout Europe, but that hatred found fertile soil that Rome had already furrowed and planted. The impact of Rome is still felt to this day in Europe and Britain. It's historically myopic to think the acceptance of such feelings wasn't prepared by Rome for Christianity to step into.

    And the Nazis were far more interested in emulating the Roman Empire than they were in emulating the Roman Catholic church.