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Although Miller had never bothered to think about it, it was once out of these and other oceans of pine and beech that the old Germanic tribes had swarmed to be checked by Caesar at the Rhine. Later, converted to Christianity, they had paid lip service by day to the Prince of Peace, dreaming only in the dark hours of the ancient gods of strength and lust and power. It was this ancient atavism, the worship in the dark of the private gods of screaming endless trees, that Hitler had ignited with a magic touch.

—Frederick Forsyth, The Odessa File (chapter 17), 1972; with hyperlinks added

Is this literally true — that paganism/animism, residual from before the spread of Christianity, was partially responsible for the German populace's receptivity to Hitler — or is it a bit of invention? Or perhaps somewhere in between: it's not literally true as stated, but somehow metaphorically true?

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up vote 14 down vote accepted

No, residual paganism was not a factor in Hitler's rise to power.

As far as anyone can say, that is. This theory you reference posits that the German people claimed to be Christian, yet practiced secret worship "in the dark" to pagan gods. No one can prove that any German ever worshipped a pagan god in secret.

But we can say this much: Christianity was firmly established in Germany after their pagan age, as firmly as it was established in any Christian country. Great Christian thinkers have come from Germany (such as Martin Luther and Dietrich Bonhoffer). The majority of the population has openly practiced Christianity for many centuries. And now, with the state no longer requiring the practice of Christianity, we see that only a vanishingly small number of Germans practice some kind of Teutonic pagan rites.

Strength and power have always held an allure to mankind, both in ancient times and in the modern age. Hitler and his kind didn't lust after power because some ancient ancestors of theirs did -- they lusted after power all on their own. Using the imagery of the ancient Germanic people was just a prop, theatrics by the Nazi movement. What appealed to people was the idea of a strong, stable German state.

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+1, and thanks. Your line "Using the imagery of the ancient Germanic people was just a prop, theatrics by the Nazi movement" implies that the Forsyth quote I started from has a basis (albeit in Nazi propaganda rather than in fact), something that I didn't know and that, by itself, sort of answers my question. – msh210 Jul 10 '12 at 7:02
@msh210, I'm glad it was of use. – Joe Jul 10 '12 at 7:04
Possibly the theory implyes that some elements of pre-Christian culture were incorporated in German Christianity or worldview rather that they still covertly practised pagan rites? – Anixx Jul 10 '12 at 13:53
Good answer. +1. However, Bonhoffer might not be the best example, as Hitler had him executed. – T.E.D. Jul 10 '12 at 14:14
@T.E.D., Bonhoffer is an example of how Germany had strong Christian thinkers. The fact that Hitler was opposed to such thinkers should come as a surprise to no one. – Joe Jul 10 '12 at 17:35

Continental Germany in fact converted to Christianity about the same time as the Anglo-Saxon peoples in England. It was only the Nordic countries, and some Eastern European ones, that came to Christianity significanly later.

So any residual paganisim is just as likely to exist in the (English-speaking) author's own culture, if not moreso.

Generally, I think the entire quoted passage is an attempt to distance the more repellent actions of wartime Germany from the author's own culture. It's all about the author's own insecurities, and has nothing to do with actual German culture.

The thought of a person much like oneself commiting atrocities is something a lot of people can't handle, so they have to find ways to make the perpetrator different somehow. The truth is there is nothing particularly special about Germans that makes them more likely to commit atrocities than your typical middle-american, African, Asian, Southeast Asian, or anybody else. We are all the same species, and we all have it in us.

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Note, a good reference on the subject mentioned in the last paragraph is Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing, by James Waller. amazon.com/Becoming-Evil-Ordinary-Genocide-Killing/dp/… . I'll warn you its a very difficult read. – T.E.D. Jul 10 '12 at 14:20
+1, and thanks. – msh210 Jul 10 '12 at 15:39

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