The Nazi plan to recreate a new German society did not begin with the idea of exterminating Jews, but rather of eradicating all traces of “Jewish” religious and historical influence.
Judaism, said historian Alon Confino, represented to the Nazis “a kind of unclean modernity” that had to be cleansed in order to bring about their new world order.
The Nazi idea, said Confino, “was to put forward a new civilization, a new society” that would be based on their own conception, featuring even a new Christianity purged of its Jewish origins.
Confino, author of A World Without Jews: The Nazi Imagination from Persecution to Genocide, spoke April 14 at the annual Raoul Wallenberg program at the Douglass College Center in New Brunswick.
A program of Rutgers University’s Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life, it was funded by Leon and Toby Cooperman.
Confino, a history professor at the University of Virginia and Ben-Gurion University in Israel, is a leading scholar of German memory and national culture.
In his lecture, as in his book, Confino argued that the Nazis held Judaism responsible for a host of deviant and often contradictory ideologies, from liberalism to conservatism, communism to democracy, as well as abortion, sexual deviance, and “degenerate” art movements like Impressionism and Cubism.
“If we emphasize racial ideology, it explains too little,” said Confino.
On Kristallnacht — the massive Jewish pogrom of Nov. 9-10, 1938 — the Nazis’ aim was not only to make Germans believe a world without Jews was conceivable, but to eradicate their social and religious influence. That helps explain why Jewish holy books were particularly targeted that night.
“Why did the Nazis burn the Hebrew Bible?” he asked. “Because in European Christian history, it has special meaning.”
“Burning of the Hebrew Bible was part of creating a new German identity,” he said. “The burning of the Bible all over Germany for all to see…whether they supported or opposed it, it told Germans about where they came from and where they were headed.”
The Nazis’ desire to exterminate Jews stemmed from an impulse to create a clean historical slate.
Burning the Hebrew Bible demonstrated the Third Reich owed nothing to past morality and “the new German Christianity owed nothing to the Jews or other Christians.”
They set out to “revolutionize Christianity,” publishing a “new New Testament,” which sold 200,000 copies. It portrays Jesus as a “virile Nazi-like man” and eliminates all positive references to Jews and “the house of David.”
Confino conceded that the goal of eradicating Jewish ideas and history does not fully account for the Holocaust; he also emphasized the bloody racial history of European colonialism and its legacy of wiping out “inferior” peoples to pave the way for empire-building.
But the notion of eradicating not just Jewish people but Jewish ideas does account for why Jews were the only group Nazis hunted all over the continent, as a sort of a “spaceless and timeless enemy.”