Apr 21, 2010

Hitler as the Messiah: Come Again?

I had mentioned in my Holocaust blog post that I wanted to blog about a really bizarre and sort of horrific thing I saw at the museum in the Propaganda Exhibit. That thing? Here it is:

You might look at this and be like, well, it's horrific because Hitler's in it, and you're putting it on your blog, and that's pretty horrific. But the reality of it is that this painting has a name, and that name is "In the Beginning There Was the Word." Anyone who knows their Christian Bible will recognize this phrase from John 1:1. There are a million paintings of Jesus out there in which he's emanating light, where he is, in fact, the only light in a room of people listening to him speak. Take this one, for example, by Rembrandt, called "Jesus Among his Students."

The crappy thing about that first photo, the image of the Hitler painting, is that you don't really get the full effect of the painting. In person, the thing is huge, wall-size. The room is black, save the light issuing from perfect angles from Hitler's face to those around him.

The shocking/disgusting thing about this portrayal of Hitler, in my mind, is that it's incredibly messianic. Hitler as Jesus, Hitler as the savior of the German people. The Nazis found religion pretty repugnant, despite forcing religious leaders to swear allegiance and all. In fact, in the Nazi's plans for a new, worldwide capital, there wasn't a single church in the building plans. What does that say? It says that the Nazis devalued religion, period.

So why portray Hitler as the messiah? Why depict him as the shining light of German redemption? Aside from the basic reason that for the Nazis and their masters of propaganda Hitler was Germany's only future in crawling out of economic turmoil and the disgrace of World War I and the Treaty of Versailles. But it goes deeper than that. The propaganda artists knew, very well, that they had to play to every last member of the German audience, no matter what they did or didn't believe.

The propaganda machine started small, with basic messages like "Buy War Bonds" and "Bread and Water." The machine really got in motion as it started to change its image, depicting the German as breaking his bonds from the Treaty of Versailles and standing firm in Nationalistic, German values. Still later, and almost in slow-motion ramping up to blunt-force came the blaming of Germany's woes on Jews. Then you had things like this that, well, don't hide their message.

This being a book about the Poisonous Mushroom, which, as you can tell, is a Jew. Surprise? Not really. But beware the poisonous Jew out in the wilderness. This was dished out to kids just as radios were dished out to people -- en masse.

I am fully intrigued and disgusted by Hitler as messiah, however. I'm interested in other depictions of Hitler as messiah, in fact. I'm interested in what the Church thought of those images, too. A simple Amazon book search of "Hitler messiah" produces a bounty of interesting books, including some that cite the Swastika as the new cross -- a new cross for a new messiah.

What do you guys think? Does anyone have experience with this Hitler/Messiah theme? Again, I am horrified/disgusted. Hitler, for all intents and purposes, antagonized Modern Christianity. In Hitler's mind, Christianity was meant to be entrenched in its ancient, almost pagan rituals and understandings.

But seriously. A mushroom?

(Note: As I'm preparing to PUBLISH this, two guys sit down next to me at Starbucks and start discussing Hitler and his secret liquor stash. Weird.)


Baby Indie said...

"All propaganda must be so popular and on such an intellectual level, that even the most stupid of those towards whom it is directed will understand it. Therefore, the intellectual level of the propaganda must be lower the larger the number of people who are to be influenced by it."
"Mein Kampf"

Gorski said...

So my perspective is different as usual, friend... offered as always in the language I know; hopefully it's a common enough ground to discuss.

The funny thing about the Cross was, it was a symbol of ultimate humiliation and loss... and the thing about those who would style themselves saviors is, they never want to be least. By Christian theology, without the Cross there couldn't be a Resurrection by which the world was saved... the Cross is only triumphant for us because the Christ defeated death. Hard for Hitler to make his swastika do that for us.

It seems like a savior is what somebody might have wanted, or at least an obvious thing to say they wanted. And the propaganda machine did become quite effective at cranking it out--some reflections of Christian iconography, the idea that if God became man then we could depict Him; the depiction colored by the fact that He is the source of light (in this case, very much affected by the Renaissance changes in how light was portrayed in art--no longer a halo, but making it obvious whence cometh the light).

And the first thing God says during the account wherein He creates the world in the first chapter of Genesis is "let there be light". So it's there, deeply in our collective consciousness in a Western, culturally-Christian or post-Christian society.

But while that's an easy image to desire, it's a hard one to fulfill. Our New Testament is full of images like the Messiah washing the feet of His disciples; before that, the Psalmist writes about God's mercy; even in the story of Job we are reminded not to reject the chastening of the Almighty--that He smites, but His hands give healing.

And while Hitler's regime was busy painting these pictures of him, they were calling for the destruction of first the Jews, the Catholics, the Poles, other aliens, the crippled and the sick, and pretty much anybody else who didn't match the patriotic image of the blond Teutonic German race of Uebermensch. Ship them bodily off to their destruction, and downplay it by comparing them to something as humble and poisonous as a toadstool...

...that's one big danger of mixing religion and patriotism and emotion all in one mixing pot... it's all too easy to forget why the awesome Savior depicted in Christian Scripture (Whose image, after all, Hitler was trying to usurp) is awesome in the first place and what that means for us in our lives now, and just sort of let that idea of awe attach itself to a political machine, or one power-hungry man...

even now, it's difficult to recognize what happened in Germany almost a century ago. Everybody's got the idea that Hitler and his Nazis were pretty much the ultimate evil around. And not that they weren't--just, now it's difficult to see them as anything but completely 'other'. Anyone comparing anything to Hitler is surely guilty of hyperbole, right? -- well, not always, but often enough that we often dismiss out of hand such a comparison in an all-or-nothing way. Surely smaller examples are just that--small. Have we learned from it all? Well, maybe...

Like I said, I can only talk about it in the terms I know. Hope some of this makes sense, my friend.


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