Note: After the attempted insurrection — a “putsch,” as one ABC News commentator called it — at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. two days ago, I felt it was necessary to post the following material. Originally I had planned to save this section for the manuscript I have very slowly been working on over the last several years. But since I am already engrossed in a different manuscript project — one that actually has a publishing contract and, thus, a hard deadline — due to its timeliness I felt compelled to post it here instead.
Adolf Hitler and his Nazi associates, including this article’s subject, Alfred Rosenberg, perpetrated in Munich in November of 1923 an armed, attempted coup. Later, this event would become known as the “Beer Hall Putsch.” Before it could be put down, 16 Nazi Party members and four police officers had died. Though it failed, many historians point to it as the start of the rise of the Nazis’ genocidal, fascist regime.
ROSENBERG, Alfred (1893-1946), The Myth of the Twentieth Century: An Evaluation of the Spiritual-intellectual Confrontations of Our Age. Translated from the German to English by Vivian Bird (1st English ed.). Torrance, CA: Noontide Press, 1982.
Original citation: Der Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts: Eine Wertung der seelisch-geistigen Gestaltenkâmpfe unserer Zeit. München (Munich): Hoheneichen-Verlag, 1930.
Condemned: February 7, 1934.
Additional notes/condemnations: Also see STROOTHENKE, Wolfgang (1913-1945), Erbpflege und Christentum; Fragen der Sterilisation, Aufnordung, Euthanasie, Ehe. Mit einem Geleitwort von Fritz Lenz. Leipzig: L. Klotz, 1940. Condemned: February 19, 1941.
§2: Books including any heresy or schism attempting to destroy religious orthodoxy;
§3: Books that attempt to attack religion or good morals;
§4: Books by non-Catholics dealing in any way with religion (unless in total agreement with Catholic dogma);
§5: Books and booklets including mention of any new appearances [of saints or other divine spirits], revelations, visions, prophecies, and miracles, even under the pretext of private publication;
§6: Books that scorn or ridicule the Church or Catholic dogma in any way;
§7: Books engaged in any kind of superstition, fortune-telling, magic, spirit-conjuring, or other similar occult topics.
On the influence of Adolf Hitler’s infamous screed Mein Kampf, which itself, incidentally, was never officially banned by the Vatican, book historian Robert B. Downs writes, “A great nation and its allies committed themselves to carrying out the fanatical ideas in the book. By the outbreak of World War II, 5,000,000 copies had been distributed in Germany alone.” In the Germany of today, the book, along with all National Socialist propaganda and paraphernalia, is outright illegal. But in his rise to power throughout the 1930s, nothing was more effective for Hitler than his ability to influence thought through his writings. What’s more, since full translations from the German to other languages was never permitted during most of Hitler’s lifetime, few besides those already indoctrinated or those directly oppressed by him truly fathomed the extent of the Führer’s genocidal designs.
Lesser known than Hitler (and his infamous henchmen Himmler, Goebbels, and Göring) was one Alfred Rosenberg. By title, Rosenberg was Leader of Nazi Germany’s Office of Foreign Affairs, Commissar for the Supervision of Intellectual and Ideological Education, and Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories. Born in then-Russian-ruled Reval, the former name of the capital of modern-day Estonia, Tallinn, Rosenberg was thus a subject of the last Russian tsars, Alexander III and Nicholas II, throughout his childhood and young manhood. Rosenberg even completed his doctorate in Moscow and lived there during the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Though he and his family identified as “pure” ethno-linguistic Germans, at least one bold journalist of the era made the claim that Rosenberg, likely triggered by his surname being more common among Jews than Gentiles, was in fact descended from a variety of non-Germanic people-groups and thus was not “Aryan” whatsoever. It seems probable that this insecurity regarding his ancestry — whether internal or external at its source — contributed to the manifestations of his (and, predictably, many other Nazis’) racist protectionism. But whatever the case, Rosenberg’s membership in the burgeoning Nazi Party predated Adolf Hitler’s own by eight months. The two men would be close yet uneasy allies through the 1920s and ‘30s and up until the Third Reich’s defeat and demise in 1945.
In 1930, just three years before the Nazis would rise to power in Germany, at the age of thirty-seven Rosenberg published his first book in Munich. His two entries on the Index are dated as 1934 and 1935 and correspond, respectively, to 1.) this first work, Myth of the Twentieth Century: An Evaluation of the Spiritual-intellectual Confrontations of Our Age (1930), and 2.) a response to the criticisms of that book (1935). Essentially, Myth is a historical and sociological attempt to justify the racial superiority of Aryans (a term very subjectively and idiosyncratically defined), and Germans specifically. Rosenberg writes intensely and at length of such pseudo-scientific concepts as “race soul” — we are who we are not because of our individual choices or talents but are essentially predetermined in our individual natures and abilities by our racial inheritance. “Either we upbreed the old blood and thereby find renewed vitality and a heightened will to struggle,” he argued, “or the Teutonic-European values of culture and ordered government will sink under the filthy human flood of Cosmopolis…” Rosenberg is also credited as having developed and popularized the concept of Lebensraum (“living space”), or the need for the German Volk to geographically expand themselves through both conquest of new territories and reconquest of territories formerly part of greater ethnic Deutschland.
Also deeply entrenched in the occult and semi-spirituality of the Nazi regime, Rosenberg suggested a wide variety of theories, including that Aryans may have originated on the mythical island of Atlantis (or some other now-vanished utopia); that the influence of the Jewish St. Paul caused a bastardization of the originally intended doctrines of Christianity; and that Jesus of Nazareth was himself probably not Jewish or Semitic whatsoever. “Jesus possibly was Aryan,” he wrote, “or partially so, showing the Nordic type strongly.” This theory, to Rosenberg, thus explains Christ’s powers of charisma over non-Aryans (he cannot, at least, deny that the first Christians were most certainly all Jews) as well as offering a tidy apologia for the vast majority of Germans’ adherence to Christianity for so many centuries. What’s more, this same argument cleared the way for Rosenberg to present a reimagined template for the state religion of the Third Reich, one ensconced in the more “natural” pagan (Odinist or Wotanist) traditions of the pre-Christian Germanic peoples, while simultaneously presenting an at least somewhat recognizable system to the German masses.
Of all the many scapegoats and boogeymen in Rosenberg’s dense book, it is not surprising that Jews are the most prominent. Anti-Semitism (along with anti-Slavism, anti-Gypsyism (antiziganism), anti-Blackism, etc., etc.) was an obvious hallmark of the Nazis and their brutal practices of ethnic cleansing throughout the 1930s and ‘40s. Less well known, however, and despite the tenuous alliances between them, is some Nazis’ disdain for the Catholic Church. While not as distinct an ethnic group per se as the Jews had been for the centuries since their first arrival in Germany, Catholics and Catholic institutions in geopolitically important regions such as Bavaria often dissented strongly to the Nazis’ charges toward both political and ideological dominance. “Piece by piece,” James B. Whisker explains, “Rosenberg tried to show that the Church was both administratively and ritually Near Eastern-Jewish-Etruscan-Roman and anti-Nordic. Its practices are, in his view, alien to the German spirit. They corrupt it and they undermine the national-state.” And then, of course, there were the surrounding Catholic-majority countries such as France and Poland, which the Third Reich intended to permanently conquer, annex, and dominate.
Rosenberg’s most hated (though begrudgingly admired, according to Whisker) subset of Catholicism was the Society of Jesus, the Jesuit order of priesthood founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola in the sixteenth century. “We know of the monstrously strong evil dream of Ignatius of Loyola whose soul-destroying breath lies even today over our entire culture.” And, more generally, he summed up Christianity, “with its vacuous creed of ecumenicalism and its ideal of humanitas, [as having] disregarded the current of red-blood vitality which flows through the veins of all peoples of true worth and genuine culture.” In their book on Rosenberg, The Devil’s Diary, authors Robert K. Wittman and David Kinney corroborate this stance with entries from Rosenberg’s long-lost private diary (only re-discovered, translated, and published in 2015), alongside a chronicle of the figure’s public rise to power. “Rome’s Christianity is founded on fear and humility,” Rosenberg wrote on December 26, 1934. “National Socialism,” he continued, “on courage and pride.” The ideas presented in Myth directly contravene seven (§§2-7 and §11) of the twelve sections of Canon 1399 of the then-current Code of Canon Law (see above). But the Nazi ideologue’s acute disdain and repugnance towards Catholicism in particular and Christianity in general is, in my view, the obvious reason for Myth’s blacklisting. Conversely, if Hitler had attacked Christianity in such a way in writing, so too would that work have been included on the Index. That Hitler explicitly did not cross that line was perhaps one of his most wily methods of avoiding outright censure as he sought hearts and minds in support of, or at least enablement of, the Final Solution.
In July 1933, the Catholic Church and the Nazis had signed a concordat that, in theory, respected each other’s rights to continued existence. This agreement quickly broke down, however, thanks in large part to the antagonism of Alfred Rosenberg. By December of that year, the Catholic Archbishop of Munich, in Catholic-majority Bavaria, could no longer abide the Aryanism of Rosenberg in particular. “When racial research, in itself not a religious matter,” the archbishop wrote, “makes war upon religion and attacks the foundations of Christianity, when antagonism to the Jews of the present day is extended to the sacred books of the Old Testament…then the bishop cannot remain silent.” In the Sanctum Officium that preceded Myth’s banning in February 1934, the condemnation is unambiguous: “The book scorns all dogmas of the Catholic Church, indeed the very fundamentals of Christian religion, and rejects them completely.” Rosenberg beamed with pride: “This feeble protest will contribute its share to the wider dissemination of this work. I am in the best of company on the Index.” In turn, Adolf Hitler opted to continue to hedge his bets with doublespeak. He decreed that the Myth was “not official dogma.”
By 1935 both Catholic and Protestant congregations in several German cities were in open protest of their arguably if not definitively anti-Christian ruling party. It was around this time that Martin Niemöller, a Lutheran theologian and pastor, wrote his now-famous poem, one that has been regularly invoked among the Left in the United States since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. It begins, “First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Communist,” and concludes, “Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.” No one in Germany but the most blindly loyal, it appeared starting around this time, was safe from Nazi power. Soon that power would spread throughout the rest of Europe and not cease until the Allies defeated it and Hitler was dead. Robert B. Downs frames this end in aptly theatrical terms:
The funeral pyre which consumed the mortal remains of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun on April 30, 1945, deep underground in the Berlin chancellery, was a climax that might have been imagined by the operatic composer Hitler most ardently admired, Richard Wagner, for a new Götterdämmerung, or Twilight of the Gods. The scene rang down the curtain on a vast melodrama that had opened a generation earlier…
Though Hitler perished in the shadows, many of his highest-ranking officers were publicly tried at Nuremberg for their crimes against humanity. Included among them was Alfred Rosenberg, who was executed by hanging in the early hours of October 16, 1946. Peter Peel, author of the preface to the 1982 English-language translation of Myth of the Twentieth Century, contends, “He was hanged, it would appear, for what he thought and wrote.” Peel seems to completely disregard here what Downs much more convincingly argues in his own book’s introduction: that these texts have the power to not only deeply affect thought but to indeed change the world through the actions that proceed from their inspiration and instruction. Wittman and Kinney, arguably the foremost experts on Rosenberg’s psyche due to their analysis of both the Nazi’s public persona and private writings, bolster this argument in favor of his culpability: “In their verdict, the judges convicted him not for his ideas, only for his actions.”
Rosenberg declined to speak with a priest before being hanged at the gallows at Nuremberg in 1946, ostensibly unrepentant for his role in systematizing, encouraging, and sustaining the ideology that facilitated the murder of millions of Jews, Roma, Poles; the disabled and the homosexual; and many others during the Holocaust. His two condemned books would remain on the Index until its abolishment in 1966, almost exactly 20 years after his execution.