By Kate Daley-Bailey, Religion Bulletin
Goring, Goebbels, Hitler, Himmler, Hess, and… Rosenberg? The first five men listed here might easily be recognized as the architects of the infamous Third Reich, whose atrocities still haunt European history. Rosenberg, however, is less well known. Alfred Rosenberg was an early supporter of the National Socialist German Workers Party, became the editor of Volkischer Beobachter, the official party newspaper, and was appointed by Hitler as the temporary head of the Nazi Party while Hitler was in prison.
Once the party came to power, Rosenberg, despite his lack of charisma, was appointed to the foreign policy office and later became the minister for conquered eastern territories. Perhaps the most notable aspect of Rosenberg’s work on behalf of the regime was his extensive ideological production. Often referred to as Hitler’s theoretician or Hitler’s philosopher, Rosenberg codified much of the anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, and anti-Communist rhetoric which Hitler used to legitimize his political agenda. Rosenberg’s most significant text, The Myth of the 20th Century: An Evaluation of the Spiritual-Intellectual, was revered, at least superficially, by the Reich as second only toMein Kampf as embodying the mythical and ideological frame for Hitler’s Germany.
Rosenberg’s mythological frame was just part, and often considered a pseudo-scholarly construct by other Nazi officials, of what Hitler referred to as the ‘anti-Semitism of reason,’ his attempt to bolster German scholarship on what he saw as the inherent weaknesses of the Jewish race. Emotional anti-Semitism, according to Hitler, had to be unified with a scientific and scholarly authenticated anti-Semitism.
While there remains a dearth of work on the scholarship of Nazi intellectuals, some researchers have elucidated the unnerving relationship between the German academic community and the Nazis. As the party grew in power and influence, Germany became riddled with institutes, like historian Dr. Walter Frank’s Institute for History of the New Germany, Rosenberg’s The Institute for Research on the Jewish Question (pictured above), The Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Religious Life founded in 1939 by the Protestant theologian Walter Grundmann, racial anthropologist Eugen Fischer’s Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics in Berlin and Wilhelm Grau’s Research Department for the Jewish Question.
These institutes viewed the work of their scholars as scientific, objective (free of Jewish influence), and the product of rigorous scholarship, often using Jewish texts and scholarship as ‘source’ material for their critiques of the Jewish race. The academic pedigree of these prominent German scholars was used by the Nazi government to authorize the social and political programs against the Jews. Even Rosenberg, regarded as an intellectual lightweight among Nazi scholars, had a Ph.D., albeit it was in architecture and engineering. Eugen Fischer was the first Nazi rector of the Berlin University. Gerhand Kittel, the official theologian of the Nazi party, a respected New Testament scholar and translator, was awarded the chair of Adolf Schlatter in Tübingen. The Jews of Eastern Europe by Peter-Heinz Seraphim, a Nazi ‘expert’ on Eastern European Jewish culture, ran 732 pages, had 197 charts and graphs, and included over 1,000 footnotes.
Even this brief glance into the world of Nazi intellectuals, philosophy, and academics, raises disturbing questions about what counts as scholarship. Many of us, I think, would look to Bruce Lincoln’s impressive work, Theorizing Myth: Narrative, Ideology, and Scholarship, in hopes of clearly distinguishing between political mythmaking and the higher order of scholarship. As is well-known, Lincoln holds that myth is ideology in narrative form, story-telling that works to “recalibrate the social hierarchy.” While scholarship also trades in narrative and ideological production, and is thus to some extent mythical, it is distinguished from mere mythmaking by the presence of footnotes, that ubiquitous scholarly device that (ideally) holds the researcher accountable and displays her engagement in broader discussions and debates. The terrible irony here, of course, is that the more closely one interrogates the world of Third Reich intellectuals, the more difficult it is to exclude them from a Lincolnian definition of “scholarship.”
This article was originally written for Religion Bulletin, October 17, 2011