Saturday, December 26, 2020

5 Minutes of History: Christmas and the Nazis

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For my father in law Noel, the most knowledgeable person I know on the history of World War 2 and on the history of National Socialism. By the way, he will be 94 on January 3. 
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George Orwell’s novel 1984 has as its main character a man named Winston Smith. It is a future plagued by war, totalitarian control and rigid regimentation. Smith works at the Ministry of Truth, where he rewrites historical records to conform to the state's ever-changing version of history. Winston revises past editions of The Times, while the original documents are destroyed. The language of the day is Newspeak, with words regularly being redefined or lost entirely. 

Sound farfetched? Then have a quick look at the revision of Christmas by Hitler and the Nazis. 
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Some quickfacts: 

- The Nazis ruled Germany from 1933 to 1945. Prior to that, Christianity had been the main faith of the Germanic people, dating back to the 6th century. 

- Nazism sought to transform the attitudes, values and mentalities of the German people into a collective consciousness, a single "national community". The motto of the Nazi Party was Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer - one people, one realm, one leader. 

- According to journalist William Shirer, the author of “The Rise and fall of the Third Reich”: 

"under the leadership of Rosenberg, Bormann and Himmler—backed by Hitler— the Nazi regime intended to destroy Christianity in Germany, if it could, and substitute the old paganism of the early tribal Germanic gods and the new paganism of the Nazi extremists." 

- Just as early Christian missionaries found it easier to incorporate pagan rituals and trappings into Christian theology with a Christian bent, rather than seeking to eradicate the rituals altogether, so the Nazis did the same but in reverse. 


- The Nazis had one fundamental problem in doing so: the fact that Jesus was Jewish. 

- Nazi ideologists claimed that the Christian elements of the holiday had been superimposed upon ancient Germanic traditions, that Christmas Eve originally had nothing to do with the birth of Jesus Christ, but instead celebrated the winter solstice and the 'rebirth of the sun'. The swastika, it was declared, was an ancient symbol of the sun. 

- Santa Claus was declared to be a Christian reinvention of the Germanic god Odin. Accordingly, holiday posters were made to depict Odin as the "Christmas or Solstice man", riding a white charger, sporting a thick grey beard and wearing a slouch hat, carrying a sack full of gifts. 

- The traditional stable crib was replaced by a garden containing wooden toy deer and rabbits; Mary and Jesus were depicted as a blonde mother and child. 

- The Christmas tree was also changed. The traditional names of the tree, Christbaum or Weihnachtsbaum, was renamed in the press as a fir tree, light tree or Jul tree. The star on the top of the tree was sometimes replaced with a swastika, a Germanic sun wheel or a sig rune, and swastika-shaped tree lights. 

- An attempt was made to remove the association of the coming of Jesus and replace it with the coming of Hitler, referred to as the "Saviour Führer". 

- Christmas carols were also changed. The words to the German hymn "Silent Night", and all other carols, were changed so that they made no reference to God, Christ, or religion: 
“Silent night, Holy night, 
All is calm, all is bright. 
Only the Chancellor stays on guard 
Germany’s future to watch and to ward, 
Guiding our nation aright.” 

- Words were also changed to the hymn "Unto Us a Time Has Come" so as to remove references to Jesus. The modified version of the hymn was in use for several more years in post-war Germany. The most popular carol promoted by the Nazis was Hans Baumann's "Exalted Night of the Clear Stars" [Hohe Nacht der klaren Sterne], which replaced traditional Christian themes with Nazi racial ideologies. The carol was popular after the collapse of Nazi Germany, was regularly performed into the 1950s, and is still sometimes performed in the modern day. 

- Shop catalogues containing children's toys made available during the holiday season featured chocolate SS soldiers, toy tanks, fighter planes and machine guns. As a sign of appreciation, Heinrich Himmler frequently gave SS members a Julleuchter ("Yule lantern"), a kind of ornate Germanic candlestick, some of which were made at Dachau concentration camp. Housewives were prompted to bake biscuits in the shape of birds, wheels and swastikas for their children. 

- By 1944 the movement to remove Christian influences from Christmas lessened as the government concentrated more on the war effort. By the end of the war, the Nazis had tried to turn Christmas into a ceremony of mourning for the fallen but, by then, hardly anyone took notice. 
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Gallery: 

Adolf Hitler meets two, Santa Clauses during a Christmas party given by the Chief of the Chancellery in Berlin in 1937. 

Nazi Christmas decorations 



A Christmas wreath redone in Nazi style 


Adolf Hitler, seen as a WWII-era Christmas decoration 






A Christmas postcard, sent by Hitler in 1942. 


A Christmas postcard sent by Johanna Maria Magdalena “Magda” Goebbels, the wife of Nazi Germany’s Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. 


Picture showing a mother holding her child next to a Christmas tree, while three soldiers trudge through the snow of the east. It faces a poem by Herybert Menzel titled “Soldiers’ Christmas.” 


Magazines targeted at German women, like Frauen-Warte above, espoused Hitler’s religion, based on ancient runes, where the winter solstice was the focus, not God or Jesus. Suggesting the German people were supreme, editorials encouraged Germans to worship themselves, not God. 




A Christmas-themed stamp emphasizes light. 

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Sources: 

Independent: 
“How the Nazis stole Christmas.” 

Dangerous Minds:
“Chilling images of Hitler celebrating Christmas and decorations inspiored by the Nazis” 

Wikipedia: 
“Christmas in Nazi Germany” 

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