In the many years I have studied Hitler’s ideology, I have seen the following from Mein Kampf more often than any other: “Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.” Because of its theological language, very often this quotation is offered as proof that Hitler was a Christian. Since he used the term Creator here, some even maintain that Hitler was a creationist.
In my new book, Hitler’s Religion: The Twisted Beliefs That Drove the Third Reich, I demonstrate that there are significant problems with the view that Hitler was a Christian and a creationist. Interestingly, the context of this quotation in Mein Kampf implies that Hitler was not thinking of a Creator God in the way that most people would. Even more important, Hitler often expressed his belief in biological evolution, including human evolution. He often described this process in overtly Darwinian terms.
I don’t remember seeing anyone who quotes Hitler’s famous statement about “fighting for the work of the Lord” ever mention any of the context. In this case, the context provides important clues into Hitler’s thinking about God and religion. In this passage Hitler was berating the “Jewish doctrine of Marxism,” which he thought “rejects the aristocratic principle of Nature.” Then, in the sentence immediately preceding his famous quotation about doing the work of the Lord, Hitler stated: “Eternal Nature inexorably avenges the infringement of her commands.” If nature is eternal, then the “Almighty Creator” he mentioned in the following sentence could not have been a being who created the universe at some point in the past. Also, nature is the one giving commands in this passage, meaning that Hitler was personifying (and indeed deifying) nature. Nature was Hitler’s God, and he thought nature was eternal. Thus, Hitler was not a creationist in the sense that most people use the term.
An even stronger piece of evidence is that Hitler often professed belief in biological evolution. In a long monologue on October 24, 1941, Hitler explained that the Christian churches were anti-scientific to dismiss evolutionary theory. He then stated:
There have been humans at the rank at least of a baboon in any case for 300,000 years at least. The ape is distinguished from the lowest human less than such a human is from a thinker like, for example, Schopenhauer.
This was not an isolated statement. Indeed, Hitler’s secretary, Christa Schroeder, mentioned in her memoirs that Hitler often spoke about human evolution, and Hitler’s press chief, Otto Dietrich, concurred, stating that Hitler’s “evolutionary views on natural selection and survival of the fittest coincided with the ideas of Darwin and Haeckel.”
Hitler also clearly expressed belief in human evolution in a 1937 speech opening the Munich House of German Art. In this lecture he derided modernist artists, whom he described as being throwbacks to creatures at earlier evolutionary stages. He said:
When we know today that the evolution of millions of years, compressed into a few decades, repeats itself in every individual, then this art, we realize, is not “modern.” It is on the contrary to the highest degree “archaic,” far older probably than the Stone Age.
This demonstrates that Hitler believed that humans evolved over millions of years.
In both Mein Kampf and in his unnamed Second Book, Hitler described the evolutionary process. He claimed that species evolved by procreating prolifically and then engaging in a struggle for existence. “Struggle” was one of Hitler’s favorite words, and he also often used the term selection to describe the outcome of this struggle. The superior species would triumph in the struggle, and the weak and sickly would go to the wall. Hitler believed that races were locked in an ineluctable struggle for existence, and that the struggle for living space (Lebensraum) was a crucial element in this human struggle. The idea of Lebensraum, incidentally, was developed by Friedrich Ratzel, a geographer who began his career as an evolutionary biologist. Ratzel overtly argued that the struggle for living space was a part of the Darwinian struggle for existence.
Hitler considered his most important project the improvement of the human species. He wanted to drive human evolution to higher levels. He thus wanted to get rid of those deemed inferior, while promoting the prolific reproduction of those deemed superior. His program of compulsory sterilization for people with disabilities, which later turned into the “euthanasia” program, was one horrific part of this. So was his desire to exterminate allegedly inferior races.
While there is some superficial plausibility to the notion that Hitler was a creationist, the evidence I present in Hitler’s Religion should lay that mistaken notion to rest. Hitler clearly believed in Darwinian evolution. I should note too that Hitler was not the only Darwinian to use the term Creator in his writing. “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one…” stated Darwin in The Origin of Species. Was Darwin a creationist?
Richard Weikart is professor of history at California State University, Stanislaus, and author of Hitler’s Religion: The Twisted Beliefs That Drove the Third Reich and The Death of Humanity.