Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther nailed a list of grievances he had about the Catholic Church on the door of a cathedral in Germany. It was thus that the former Catholic monk sparked what would become Lutheranism and the beginning of the religio-political movement that would become known as the Reformation. Historian Eric Gritsch, the author of “Martin Luther’s Anti-Semitism: Against His Better Judgment,” wrote that the failure to seek meaning in life can equate to a sin of omission. Gritsch noted that since 1956, The International Congress for Luther Research has studied every nearly every topic possible about the Luther, except his perspective on Jews. 

Gritsch cited historian Stefan Schreiner to the effect that Luther knew “practically nothing that was authentic” about Jews. However, Luther wrote violent anti-Semitic tracts such as “The Jews and Their Lies” in 1543, which called for repression of Jews and putting them in labor camps. Biographer Roland Bainton wrote that “one could wish that Luther had died before” the anti-Semitic tract was written. It was not until 1994 that the Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America explicitly repudiated Luther’s anti-Semitic ravings.

Aside from his preaching about what he regarded as corruption within the Catholic Church of the Day, Luther reserved special hatred for Jews, who he regarded as an “accursed and miserable people.” When his hopes of seeing Jews converted to Lutheranism were frustrated, Luther called for their violent persecution. He even wrote of Jewish worship as Satanic and repulsive.

Here are some of the the notable anti-Semitic remarks Luther wrote:

I have published this little book, so that I might be found among those who opposed such poisonous activities of the Jews

[Set] fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians…

I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed. For they pursue in them the same aims as in their synagogues. Instead they might be lodged under a roof or in a barn, like the gypsies. This will bring home to them that they are not masters in our country, as they boast, but that they are living in exile and in captivity, as they incessantly wail and lament about us before God.

I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them…. [They] have no other means of earning a livelihood than usury, and by it they have stolen and robbed from us all they possess.

I commend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow… it is not fitting that they should let us accursed Goyim toil in the sweat of our faces while they, the holy people, idle away their time behind the stove, feasting and farting, and on top of all, boasting blasphemously of their lordship over the Christians by means of our sweat. No, one should toss out these lazy rogues by the seat of their pants.

Accordingly, it must and dare not be considered a trifling matter but a most serious one to seek counsel against this and to save our souls from the Jews, that is, from the devil and from eternal death.

[The] Devil has emptied… his stomach again and again, that is a true relic, which the Jews, and those who want to be a Jew, kiss, eat, drink, and worship.

They are our public enemies… If they could kill us all, they would gladly do it. They do it often, especially those who pose as physicians—though sometimes they help—for the devil helps to finish it in the end… They administer poison to someone from which he could die in an hour, a month, a year, ten or twenty years. They are able to practice this art.



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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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