Christmas Under the Swastika

The Nazi calendar had its own set of holidays, including the anniversary of the seizure of power (January 30th), Hitler’s birthday (April 20th) and the anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch (November 9th), marked by ceremonies, parades, and speeches. But the Nazis also sought to appropriate those holidays that predated their rise to power, transforming them into occasions for inculcating Nazism’s values of a strong people’s community. As Hannes Kremer, head of the Nazi Propaganda Ministry’s Cultural Office, put it in 1937:

In our efforts to deepen National Socialist forms of behavior in the area of rituals and ceremonies, we have two main tasks. On the one hand, we must create new ideas and new customs, and on the other hand it is necessary to adjust those customs that have grown out of the people to the “new community of the Germans,” which means giving these inherited customs a new content consistent with the people’s community (Volksgemeinschaft).

Alterations made to “inherited customs” like Christmas had to be made subtly. Mainly, this was because Hitler’s approach to taking on German religions was, by and large, cautious in the 1930s. Though the anti-clerical faction of the party–Rosenberg, Goebbels, and Bormann–itched to strike at the churches, Hitler feared doing so would be a costly a political fight that would distract him from rearming and expanding the Reich.  Also, there were worries that large and abrupt alterations in holiday celebrations would be rejected or even laughed at. As Kremer states further on:

A Christmas ceremony based on events and views that people do not understand today does no good, but harm. It arouses only a distrust of our goals, not confidence in our ability to lead the people spiritually (which is more than necessary!)

As a consequence there was much continuity between Nazi Christmases and those of earlier eras. People still decorated Christmas trees, exchanged gifts, and held festivals of light. But over time the Christian elements of the holiday were de-emphasized, replaced by parallel elements with hints of Nazi racial theory.

Here is 1939 article from N.S. Briefea Nazi party newsletter. It contains tips on celebrating the winter solstice aspects of Christmas, reviving connections to the pagan era Yule and Saturnalia celebrations that predated the Christian holiday and presenting them in a more modern context.

And here is a translation of a Nazi revision of the story of the birth of Jesus, transported to a  Teutonic context and largely stripped of references of Christianity.

Here is a photograph of Hitler in 1944 with Weihnachtsmann, the German Santa.

Courtesy Friedrich Gerlach collection

And below is a page from a 1944 Nazi Christmas publication:

battle

 

The sentiment is from a speech Hitler gave in March of 1923, “All nature is a gigantic struggle between strength and weakness, an eternal victory of the strong over the weak.”

Gee, and I thought Hallmark had all the good holiday card lines.

Obviously, none of this material had much of an impact on Summer of Long Knives. But I thought I’d share it anyway, to reflect on darker Christmases past, and to remind myself that despite all my complaints about the crass commercialism and the crowds and the silliness surrounding our contemporary holiday season, I’ve never had to see them under conditions this bad, and hopefully I never will.

Happy holidays, Constant Readers. Blogging will resume shortly after the New Year.

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