Article Note: David A.R. Clark, “Antisemitism, Violence, and Invective against the Old Testament: Reinhold Krause’s Sportpalast Speech, 1933”

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 25, Number 2 (June 2019)

Article Note: David A.R. Clark, “Antisemitism, Violence, and Invective against the Old Testament: Reinhold Krause’s Sportpalast Speech, 1933,” Canadian-American Theological Review 7 (2018): 124-137.

By Kyle Jantzen, Ambrose University

David A.R. Clark, a PhD candidate at Wycliffe College, Toronto School of Theology, has written a compact overview and theological assessment of Reinhold Krause’s famous Sportpalast speech of November 1933, in which the Berlin leader of the German Christian Faith Movement (Glaubensbewegung Deutsche Christen) “demanded the elimination of Jewish influences from the Protestant church, calling for the deletion of Hebraisms from hymnody, the rejection of the theology of ‘rabbi Paul,’ and the erasure of the Old Testament itself. Ominously, Krause also endorsed excluding Christians of Jewish descent from the churches” (124). Drawing on the speech itself and several English-language historical analyses, Clark highlights what he calls a “conflation of hostilities” in which the “German Christian Movement targeted the Old Testament for exclusion and destruction even as Nazi leadership targeted Jews for exclusion and destruction.” He argues that “the parallels were not incidental; rather, invective against the Old Testament, in the context of Nazi Germany, yielded violent implications” (125).

Clark begins with the background to Krause’s speech, outlining the rise of the pro-Nazi and antisemitic German Christian Movement in 1932 and noting its attempt to fuse Protestant Christianity and Nazi ideology through a racialist ecclesiology in which a German national church would unite Aryan German Protestants (and Catholics) and exclude Christians of Jewish descent. Given its rapid growth through 1933, the German Christians hoped a large rally in the Berlin Sportpalast would launch a massive new propaganda campaign and prove their indispensability to the Nazi regime. On November 13, 1933, some 20,000 supporters of the German Christian Movement filled the arena, which was decorated with swastikas and other Nazi material. They came to hear a series of speakers, headlined by local high school religion teacher and German Christian leader Dr. Reinhold Krause.

Clark describes the speech itself as crude and abusive—an attack against the Old Testament and other fundamentals of Christianity derived from Jewish influences. Analyzing Krause’s “anti-Jewish and anti-Old Testament rhetoric” (127), Clark finds that Krause connected the supposed unity of the German people (Volk) under Adolf Hitler with the idea of a powerful people’s church (Volkskirche) which would mirror the Nazi state and support the remolding of Germans into National Socialists. Clark quotes some of the lowlights of the speech:

Krause denounced “rabbi Paul,” whose “scapegoat- and inferiority-theology” had led to an “un-National Socialist” desire “to cling to a kind of salvation egotism.” Similarly, Krause condemned Jewish traces in hymnody and liturgy, decrying the intrusion of Hebrew words into German worship. “We want to sing songs that are free from any Israelite-isms,” he demanded, adding: “We want to free ourselves from the language of Canaan.” … In what became a notorious section of his speech, Krause demanded “liberation from the Old Testament with its Jewish reward-and-punishment morality, with its stories of cattle-dealers and pimps” (128, 129).

Clark goes on to argue that Krause conflated invective against the Old Testament and hostility towards contemporary Jews. Even Krause he scorned elements of Judaism within German Protestantism, he also lashed out against Jews themselves, advocating the expulsion of Christians of Jewish ancestry from the church. Just as Nazis rejected purchasing goods and services from Jews, he reasoned, so too should Christians reject receiving spiritual goods from Jews—whether biblical content from ancient Jews or spiritual ministry from contemporary Jewish Christians.

As for the effect of the Sportpalast speech, Clark observes that its contents were widely reported in both the German and international press and adds that the speech was published as a pamphlet and distributed by German Christians in Berlin and beyond. But the speech was widely criticized by Protestant clergy, especially for its radical rejection of the Old Testament as Scripture. The ensuing controversy led to a mass of clerical resignations from the German Christian camp and sparked an ecclesiastical opposition movement that grew into the Confessing Church. For the German Christian base, however, Krause’s antisemitic attacks against the Bible, Jewish language, and Jewish Christians became programmatic.

Finally, Clark turns to the violent impact of the Sportpalast speech. Drawing on an incident reported in Doris Bergen’s definitive study Twisted Cross: The German Christian Movement in the Third Reich (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), in which a German Christian writer urged the burning of Jewish parts of the Bible as well as “that which threatens our people” (presumably meaning the Jews themselves), Clark notes the connection between antisemitic rhetoric within German Protestantism and the genocidal campaign of the Hitler regime.

Reflecting theologically, Clark observes that Krause’s speech involved “violent rhetoric targeting Jewish Scriptures in the context of violent rhetoric—and murderous action—targeting Jewish people” (134). Asking “how should the implications of anti-Old Testament invective be defined in the genocidal context of Nazi Germany?” (134), Clark affirms that the German Christians helped create the conditions in which genocide could occur, on the basis that they “effectively weaponized specific aspects of the Christian tradition for antisemitic purposes” (135). While Clark acknowledges that the Nazi Holocaust would have unfolded much the way it did with or without these German Christian contributions, he concludes that the German Christians “participated in the broader framework of complicity that made the destruction of Jews a conceivable and convincing option for Christian Europe” (136).

Clark’s essay won the Jack and Phyllis Middleton Memorial Award for Excellence in Bible and Theology, awarded to the best paper by a graduate student or non-tenured professor given at the interdisciplinary theology conference on “Peace and Violence in Scripture and Theology,” spon­sored by the Canadian-American Theological Association (CATA) at Wycliffe College, Toronto, Ontario, October 20, 2018.