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  • New Religions and the Nazis
  • Paul Jackson
New Religions and the Nazis Karla Poewe New York: Routledge, 2005. 218 pp., ISBN 0415290252, $26.95.

New Religions and the Nazis is an attempt by a leading anthropologist to analyze the construction of the sacred within Nazi ideology. Poewe was inspired to inquire into the relationship between politically religious aspects of Nazi ideology and Germanic religions after analyzing the interwar archives of the Berlin Mission Society. Central to her analysis is the story of the founder of the German Faith Movement, Jakob Wilhelm Hauer, a narrative that draws in discussions of those associated with his activities, debates over ideas with key figures of similar movements, such the Gotterkenntnis movement of Mathilde and Erich Ludendorff, the resonance of these ideas within the Nazi hierarchy, and the impact of Hauer and others on postwar fascism. By analyzing the influence of this movement on Nazi Germany and beyond, Poewe's aim is to dispel the myth that "German pagan faiths, expressed in countless new religions, by diverse leaders and adherents both inside and outside of the official church, were too small in number to make an impact on National Socialism" (1). According to Poewe, these movements sought as their goal the creation of "genuinely German (Nordic) faith-based political community, a community of one Volk that would privilege . . . the almost lost Germanic and Nordic culture and ancestry" (2).

Poewe's narrative begins by identifying how Hauer, alongside many others, developed nationalized pagan religions, largely as a response to the profound impact of the First World War and the repeated crises of the Weimar era. Within such a milieu, it was not only prominent Nazi figures that emphasized the positive qualities of kampf (struggle) as a force to be embraced in order to cope with a profound sense of national anomie. Rather, a widespread "cultic culture" developed that provided a fecund mood for establishing new realms of faith that sought to solve the national crisis. For Hauer, and many like him, a swathe of intellectual resources—from German idealism conceived of as a religion to Indian philosophy, especially the Bhagavad Gita—were used during the 1920s to construct an anti-Semitic worldview founded on a Manichean kampf between what was seen as a virile and healthy Indo-Germanic Volk and a decadent Jewish-Christian civilization. Despite revealing to private acquaintances his deep-rooted Nazi sympathies, Hauer mostly hid his religious philosophy of Nazi approval during the 1920s and presented his thinking publicly in terms of a metapolitical discourse on organic nationalism. Primarily, this was [End Page 133] in order to retain intellectual credibility with, among others, the Zionist philosopher Martin Buber. However, after the Nazis came to power, Hauer engaged with the policy of Gleischaltung by bringing together a variety of Germanic and Nordic religions under the umbrella organization ADGB, or German Faith Movement. Essentially, this was an attempt to create a new national religion that chimed with point twenty-four of the National Socialist program, which allowed religious freedom as long as these did not threaten the existence or "offend the moral feelings of the German race." However, ultimately Nazis failed to develop an alternate church to those of either the Protestant or Catholic denominations. After the movement became increasingly radicalized under the indirect influence of Reinhard Heydrich, Hauer resigned as its head in 1936 and returned to more esoteric concerns of appealing to radical right intellectuals rather than to Nazi street fighters.

Overall, Poewe's analysis is of a very high standard. She offers clear exegeses of the positions of key ideologues and demonstrates the impact of the German Faith Movement on the wider regime well. Especially interesting are her claims that among members of Heinrich Himmler's Schutzstaffel (SS), an estimated 86 percent of the officers of the Death's Head Unit, 78.9 percent of the Armed SS Units, and 66 percent of the General SS Units subscribed to the belief systems of the Germanic religions (119). Nevertheless, she does not overstate the case of the importance of the movement and does acknowledge its weaknesses in penetrating German society. Overall, we are left...


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pp. 133-135
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