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As Found on Kairos Journal

At twilight, as 100,000 spectators looked on, 110,000 Nazi soldiers bearing 30,000 banners and standards marched onto the field. Then the Führer entered through a spotlighted gate. Instantly a line of 150 powerful, anti-aircraft searchlights, 40 feet apart, cast their beams 25,000 feet straight up into the night air. The effect was stunning. The British ambassador called it “solemn and beautiful . . . like being inside a cathedral of ice.”1 “Church” was now in session.

When Hitler took charge in Germany in 1933, he declared himself a prophet whose words equaled those of Jesus and Paul. With this new religion came “worship services,” most notably in the form of annual huge rallies at Nuremberg, running through 1938. As National Socialism marginalized and persecuted the true Church, it supplied a substitute faith to fill the vacuum. With that faith came pagan counterparts to Christian liturgy, festival, fellowship, and architecture. For four days each September, the faithful gathered for their cultic exercises, a mockery of the Christian worship forms they knew from their youth. All the elements were in place:

1. Cathedral: Albert Speer engineered the above-mentioned “cathedral of light” and observed, “The actual effect far surpassed anything I had imagined.”2

2. Pilgrimage: About 2,000 Hitler Youth made an annual trek in the “Adolf Hitler march,” covering over 1,000 kilometers on their way to Nuremberg.3

3. Relic: A high point of the ceremony was presentation of their most holy relic, the swastika-emblazoned Blutfahne (blood flag), stained with the blood of martyrs from the 1923 uprising.4

4. Ritual: Rudolph Hess performed the ritual Totenehrung (homage to the dead), a recitation of the names of those who had “sealed their loyalty to the Führer and nation with their heart’s blood.”5

5. Sermon: Hitler “preached” electrifying messages to the gatherings. Having seen Leni Riefenstahl’s classic film of the 1934 rally, Triumph of the Will, rock star David Bowie marveled, “How he worked his audience! . . . The world will never see anything like that again.”6

6. Litany: A litany of chants and responses included one which said, “Wherever he leads, we follow.”7

7. Confession: 50,000 Hitler Youth joined their voices to proclaim, “I swear by God this sacred oath—I shall at all times be loyal and obedient to my Führer, Adolf Hitler.”8

8. Hymns: The most famous Nazi hymn ended with the words, “Germany wake up!”9

9. Altar: On one of the festal days, Hitler walked down the Opfergang (path of sacrifice) to the martyrs’ memorial in Nuremberg. It was modeled on the ancient sacrificial altar at Pergamum.10

10. Congregation: The Nazis employed some 500 trains to assemble the worshippers at Nuremberg.11

William Shirer, author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, observed that one meeting at Nuremberg “had something of the mysticism and religious fervour of an Easter or Christmas Mass in a great Gothic cathedral.”12 It seems that men must worship something, and demagogues will answer this need with dreadful counterfeits when the Church falters.

Footnotes:
1 Frederic Spotts, Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics (New York: The Overlook Press, 2003), 66.
2 Ibid., 57.
3 Ibid., 63-64.
4 Ibid., 64.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid., 56.
7 Ibid., 65.
8 Ibid., 66.
9 Ibid., 67.
10 Ibid., 69.
11 Ibid., 62.
12 Ibid., 60.
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