Scene from a Christmas party in Munich thrown by Adolf Hitler for his generals, 1941.

 

The images are chilling, bordering on surreal: On December 18, 1941, as World War II rages and the horrors of the Third Reich’s “final solution” grow ever clearer- killing operations at the Chelmno death camp, for instance, began less than two weeks earlier- Adolf Hitler presides over a Christmas party in Munich. Stark swastika armbands jarringly offset the glint of ornaments and tinsel dangling from a giant Tannenbaum; candles illuminate the festive scene. Confronted with the scene, a viewer might reasonably ask, How could Nazi leaders reconcile an idealogy of hatred and conquest with the peaceful, joyous spirit of the holiday- much less its celebration of the birth of the Jewish Christ?

We cannot accept that a German Christmas tree has anything to do with a crib in a manger in Bethlehem. It is inconceivable for us that Christmas and all its deep soulful content is the product of an oriental religion.

Those were words of Nazi propagandist Freidrich Rehm in 1937, in pre-war attempts to take “oriental” religion out of the holiday by harking back to the pagan Yule, an ancient Northern European festival of the winter solstice.

As for the religious views of Hitler himself, the evidence is conflicting:In public statements he sometimes praised Christianity (once called it “the foundation of our national morality”), but in private conversations-including one recalled by the Third Reich’s official architect, Albert Speer- the Fuhrer is said to have abhorred the faith for what he deemed its “meekness and flabbiness.” Hitler did, however, fervently worship one thing above all else: the so-called Aryan race. And by the time Hugo Jaegar took the photos seen here, Hitler and Heinrich Himmler, commanding general of the SS,had articulated and launched their plan for creating a “master” race- via, in large part, the mass murder of Europe’s Jews and other “undesirables.”

 

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