Adolf Stoecker

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Adolf Stoecker.

Adolf Stoecker (December 11, 1835 – February 2, 1909) was the court chaplain to Kaiser Wilhelm I, a politician, and a German Lutheran theologian who founded one of the first Christian Social Gospel political parties in Germany, the Christian Social Party.

Stoecker's position as court chaplain between 1874-90 made him one of the most influential Lutheran clergymen of the entire 19th century, and his extreme popularity gave him tremendous ability to shape public debate in Imperial Germany. Stoecker helped popularize the idea that Jews were a race, not a religion, and emphasized that love for a Jew was inimical to true Christianity. Stoecker's antisemitism influenced German and thought well into the 20th century.[1]:98

Early Life and Rise to Courtier[edit]

Stoecker was born in Halberstadt, Province of Saxony in the Kingdom of Prussia, to a blacksmith-turned-prison-guard. Despite his working-class background, Stoecker's family was able to send Stoecker to the University of Halberstadt, where he trained to become a Lutheran pastor.[1]:99 As a theology student, Stoecker rapidly distinguished himself as a charismatic polemicist. He soon became known as the "second Luther" due to a brilliant series of essays and speeches defending Lutheranism.[2]:108

After his ordination as a minister, Stoecker joined the Prussian Army as a chaplain.[1]:99 In 1870, following the siege of Metz, Stoecker delivered a sermon, wherein he argued that Prussia's victories over France were the doing of God. The sermon earned Stoecker national attention; writing widely on various social and political issues, Stoecker's charismatic personality rapidly made him one of Germany's best loved and most respected Lutheran clergyman. Four years later, Emperor William I appointed him court chaplain. Because he served at the pleasure of the Emperor, contemporary Germans saw Stoecker's views as expressing William's opinion as well.[2]:108

In 1891 the theologian Reinhold Seeberg called Stoecker "the most powerful church leader for pastors." After his death in 1909, Pastor Johannes Haussleiter wrote "Nobody has so lastingly influenced the rising generation of pastors and has put his mark on them for decades to come as he did."[1]:97

Anti-semitic politics[edit]

Stoecker was particularly influenced by On the Jews and their Lies, which he interpreted as condemning literal Jews.[2]:123 As early as 1875, Stoecker began to attack Jews in racial terms in his sermons,[1]:99 and, starting in 1879, Stoecker began to give speeches blaming all of Germany's problems on the Jewish minority.[2]:110 Stoecker's status as a popular court official legitimized German anti-Semitism in a way it never had before. In the words of the American historian Richard Levy, Stoecker's speeches "put antisemitism on the map in Germany."[3]

Many of the tropes Stoecker used would later be recycled by the Nazis. Stoecker's September 1879 speech, "Our Demands on Modern Jewry," blamed Germany's problems on "Jewish capital" and the "Jewish press." Stoecker complained that 45,000 Jews living in Berlin were "too large a figure," and argued that poor Jewish immigrants from the Russian Empire and Romania should be "sunk on the high seas" rather being allowed to settle in Germany.[2]:110-111 In another speech, Stoecker called all Jews "parasites" and "leeches."[4]:197 In a third speech, Stoecker argued that the Jews were themselves at fault for antisemitism, stating: "Already a hatred for the Jews — which the Evangelical Church resists — begins to blaze up here and there. If modern Judaism continues, as it thus far has, to use the force of capital as well the power of the press, to ruin the nation, it will be impossible to avoid a catastrophe in the end."[1]:104

In 1882, Stoecker attended the world's first anti-Semitic international congress in Dresden.[1]:99

Stoecker's antisemitism became notorious outside Germany as well. In 1883, Stoecker attended a conference of evangelical Protestants in London, where the Lord Mayor forbade the "second Luther" from speaking at the Mansion House under the grounds his speech was going to be a threat to a public order. When Stoecker spoke at an alternative venue, Social Democratic emigres showed up to disturb the speech, forcing Stoecker to flee from the stage and to sneak out via the backdoor, behavior that led many to condemn the "second Luther" as a coward.[2]:114

Judaism as race[edit]

Like the subsequent Völkisch movement he inspired, Stoecker treated Judaism as a race. In a speech at the Prussian Landtag in 1879, Stoecker called the Jews an "alien drop in our blood", and claimed that there was a "race against race" battle between Germans and Jews. In defense of this claim, Stoecker explained that the Jews were "a nation unto themselves," linked to Jewish communities around the world as "one mass of exploiters," and having nothing in common with Germans.[4]:197 In another speech, Stoecker said:

"Race is, without a doubt, an important element in the Jewish Question. The Semitic-Punic type is, in all areas, in work as well in profit, in business as well in earnings, in the life of the state as well in worldview, in its spiritual as well as its ethical effects-so different from the Germanic morals and philosophy of life, that reconciliation or amalgamation is impossible, unless it takes the form of a sincere rebirth from the depths of the conscience from the upright Israelites."[1]:96

Unlike de Gobineau, Stoecker rejected the notion Aryan race was doomed.[1]:95,109 Though Stoecker was very vague about the exact solution to the "Jewish Question" he wanted, in one of his pamphlets, he wrote "the ancient contradiction between Aryans and the Semites...can only end with the extermination of one of them" and it was the responsibility of "the settle once and for all with the Semites."[5]:163 In other speeches, Stoecker explicitly remarked that he did not call for violence, but implied that violence would be acceptable if the Jews did not begin to "show respect" for the Germans.[3]

As early as 17 October 1879, the Board of Trustees of the Jewish community in Berlin had complained to the Prussian Ministry of the Interior that Stoecker should be silenced as his hate speeches were inciting violence against Jews, but the Ministry refused.[2]:116

Relationship with the Royal Family[edit]

Together with another völkisch leader, the historian Heinrich von Treitschke, Stoecker launched the Antisemitic Petition of 1880 asking that Jewish immigration to Germany be banned, that Jews be forbidden to vote and hold public office, and Jews be forbidden to work as teachers or attend universities. The petition would ultimately be signed by a quarter-million Germans. The Petition provoked a fierce response from the Royal Family; in an 1880 speech, Crown Prince Friedrich attacked anti-Semitism in an 1880 speech as a "shameful blot on our time" and said on behalf of himself and his wife Victoria: "We are ashamed of the Judenhetze which has broken all bounds of decency in Berlin, but which seems to flourish under the protection of court clerics" (emphasis added). In a public letter, Victoria said Stoecker belonged in lunatic asylum because everything he had to said reflected an unbalanced mind; moreover, she was ashamed of her adopted country as men like Stoecker and Treitschke "behave so hatefully towards people of a different faith and another who have become an integral part (and by no means the worse) of our nation!"[4]:198 Frederich later delivered a speech at a Berlin synagogue, where he called Stoecker the "shame of the century" and promised that if he became Emperor he would fire Stoecker as court chaplain. However, Frederich fell ill with laryngeal cancer within a month of ascension to the throne. Faced with strong opposition from Bismarck to Stoecker's removal, the most Frederich could do before his death was order that Stoecker was to avoid speaking on political matters in public.[2]:115

Stoecker's most stalwart defender was ultimately the future-Emperor Wilhelm II. By 1885, Wilhelm I, the current emperor, wanted to fire Stoecker as a liability to the monarchy. But, on 5 August 1885, Wilhelm II wrote him a letter on praising Stoecker, when he claimed had been attacked unjustly by the "Jewish press." In the Prince's view, to dismiss Stoecker would be to strengthen the Social Democratic and the Progressive parties, whom the prince claimed were both controlled by the Jews.[2]:115[4]:200 The Prince wrote that Stoecker was "the most powerful pillar, the bravest, most fearless fighter for Your Monarchy and Your Throne" and the victim of "slanders of the damned Jewish press."[4]:200 Impressed with his grandson's arguments, the Emperor kept Stoecker on.[2]:115 In November 1887 at a Christian Social event at the house of Field Marshal Alfred von Waldersee, Prince Wilhelm stood next to Stoecker, praised him as the "second Luther", declared his support for the CSP as bringing about the spiritual regeneration of Germany, and urged men to vote for the CSP.[4]:201-202

When Stoecker was finally dismissed from his position, it was not for his antisemitism. Stoecker had long attacked the National Liberal Party (NLP) as a "Jewish" party. In 1890, the Emperor Wilhelm II was informed by the leaders of National Liberals that they would only vote for his bills in the Reichstag if he were to sack Stoecker.[2]:116 Needing the NLP's support, Wilhelm II finally dismissed his court chaplain.

The Bleichröder affair[edit]

In 1880, Stoecker singled out Gerson von Bleichröder, the Orthodox Jew who served as Otto von Bismarck's banker, as the author of the problem of poverty in Germany. In a speech delivered on 11 June 1880, Stoecker claimed an unnamed Orthodox Jewish banker to powerful people had too much power and wealth. Stoecker stated the solution to poverty was to confiscate the wealth from rich Jews rather having an "impoverished" Church minister to the poor, saying this banker was "...a capitalist with more money than all the evangelical clergy taken together." Bleichröder subsequently complained to Bismarck that Stoecker's attack might lead him to leave Germany for another nation that would be more welcoming to him.[2]:112-113

Stoecker had overstepped: in attacking Bismarck's ally, he had effectively attacked Bismarck himself. Bismarck considered banning Stoecker from speaking, but declined as Stoecker was too popular and his position as court chaplain made him unassailable as he had the Emperor's support. Bismarck complained that Stoecker "was attacking the wrong Jews, the rich ones committed to the status quo rather than the propertyless Jews...who had nothing to lose and therefore joined every opposition movement." In December 1880, under pressure from Bismarck, Wilhelm I formally admonished Stoecker for his attack on Bleichröder in a letter for having "incited rather than calmed greed, by having drawn attention to big individual fortunes and by proposing reforms that in light of the government's program were too extravagant." The American historian Harold Green noted that Bismarck only seemed to have problem with Stoecker's antisemitism when it was directed against Bleichröder. As long as Stoecker attacked Jews in general, Bismarck had no objections.[2]:112-113,123

Founding the CSP[edit]

Besides working as a court chaplain, Stoecker also served as the head of a church mission in downtown Berlin that offered aid to the poorest families of Berlin. Stoecker was shocked by the extent to which the German poor and working classes had become estranged from the Lutheran church, later writing with horror: "During the years 1874-78, eighty percent of all marriages took place outside the church and forty-five percent of all children were not baptized". Furthermore, the staunchly conservative Stoecker was worried about the way that the poor and working class were voting for the "godless" Social Democratic Party (SPD). To Stoecker, it seemed that the capitalist system was alienating workers from the proper, God-intended course and infusing them with a materialistic, atheist worldview. What was needed were a few choice social reforms to hold off a revolution.[2]:108 In another speech, Stoecker linked his Christian work with his political work, saying:

"I found Berlin in the hands of the Progressives-who were hostile to the Church-and the Social Democrats-who were are hostile to God; Judaism ruled in both parties. The Reich's capital city was in danger of being de-Christanized and de-Germanized. Christianity was dead as a public force; with it went loyalty to the King and love of the Fatherland. It seemed as if the great war [with France] had been fought so that Judaism could rule in Berlin...It was like the end of the world. Unrighteousness had won the upper hand; love had turned cold."[1]:97

To counter the rise of the SPD, Stoecker decided to found his own party: the Christian Social Party (CSP). The German Chancellor Prince Otto von Bismarck brought the first of the Anti-Socialist Laws later in 1878 with the aim of crushing the SPD, and Stoecker's foray into politics was secretly supported by the government, who hoped that Stoecker might be able to win the working class from the Social Democrats.[2]:110 On 3 January 1878, Stoecker announced the new party, declaring:

"I have in mind a peaceful organization of labor and the workers...It is your misfortune, gentleman, that you only think of your Social State and scornfully reject the hand extended to you for reform and help; that you insist on saying "we will not settle for anything less than the Social State". This way makes you enemies of the other social classes. Yes, gentleman, you hate the Fatherland! Your press shockingly reflects this also hate Christianity, you hate the gospel of God's mercy. They [the Social Democrats] teach you not to be believe. They teach you atheism and these false prophets."[2]:109

The CSP was fundamentally a conservative party: Stoecker sought to win workers over to loyalty to "the throne and altar" and remind the working classes that an ordered society with the Junkers in the privileged position was nothing less than divinely ordained. Workers should not fight for higher wages and better working conditions via strikes, but rather should deferentially ask the "throne and altar" to improve working conditions and wages.[2]:108 Moreover, Stoecker saw unions as a potentially source of disloyalty towards the divinely-inspired social structure, requiring state control.[1]:100 However, the German working class by and large wanted a higher standard of living and democracy, not to be told that it was their duty as Christians to accept their lot.[2]:108[3] Stoecker's hostility to unions and strikes limited his appeal to the working class.

Much to Stoecker's fury, a group of Social Democrats led by Johann Most then showed up to hijack the meeting. Most gave a speech denouncing the Lutheran church for being subservient to the state and declared that only the Social Democrats represented the working class, which prompted loud cheers from the audience. Most then led the audience out of the meeting hall, leaving Stoecker fuming.[2]:108-109

American historian Jeffrey Telman notes that Stoecker's speaking style at CSP meetings is, from a modern perspective, "highly ironic." Speeches usually consisted of reading out of context various statements from Social Democratic newspapers, to be followed by statements like "Gentleman, that was a wish for murder!", "Gentleman that was truly murder!", or "That was mass murder!". As the crowd would become more and more angry, Stoecker would present his usual caveat "Don't think I present all this out of hatred. I don't hate anyone!"[1]:101

Only after Stoecker began to the bash the Jews did the meetings of the CSP become well-attended. However, most of Stoeker's followers came from the mittelstand, or traditional lower-middle-class, rather than his intended audience of the working class and poor.[2]:108,110 After Prussia emancipated the Jews in 1869, a large number of poor Jewish families rapidly rose to the middle class. At the same time, the fortunes of the mittelstand had gone into decline. Unwittingly, Stoecker was stoking these latent societal tensions.[3][5]:160 Stoecker encouraged the mittelstand to feel victimized by the Jews; compare a speech from 1879 where he declared:

"If modern Jewry continues to use the power of capital and the power of the press to bring misfortune to the nation, a final catastrophe is unavoidable. Israel must renounce its ambition to become master of Germany. It should renounce its arrogant claim that Judaism is the religion of the future, when it is so clearly of the past...Every sensible person must realize the rule of this Semitic mentality means not only our spiritual, but also our economic impoverishment."[2]:110-111[6]

Other examples include Stoecker's speeches "Our Demands on Modern Jewry" and "The Lousy Press."[6]

Teachers and Army officers were over-represented in the CSP, and in 1881, Stoecker renamed the Christian Social Worker's Party as the Christian Social Party as very few workers had joined his movement, and the Worker's part of the title was off-putting to his mostly lower middle class supporters. Bismarck ended his support for Stoecker in 1881 after the Bleichröder affair and because Stoecker had failed to win the working class from the SPD, instead attracting support only from an already conservative mittelstand.[2]:113

Subsequently, the CSP collapsed. Many of the younger and more radical völkisch leaders from the mittelstand found Stoecker too tame, too Christian (some of the völkisch activists rejected Christianity and wanted to bring back the worship of the old gods) and too deferential to the Junkers. On the other hand, Christian Socialists disgusted with antisemitism joined Friedrich Naumann in the National-Social Association (not related to the National Socialist Party) and thence to more conventional Social-Democratic alternatives.[2]:108

Bäcker case[edit]

In 1884, Stoecker sued a Jewish newspaper publisher, Heinrich Bäcker for libel after the latter had run an article entitled "Court Chaplain, Reichstag Candidate and Liar."[2]:114 Because Stoecker was a court chaplain, Bäcker was prosecuted by the Prussian state for libeling a public official.[7]:72 The libel case attracted much media attention, and Bäcker waged such a vigorous defense it effectively inverted the trial.[2]:114[7]:72 Bäcker's lawyers presented example after example of outright lies from several of his speeches, and evidence of perjury in another court case. Stoecker was so humiliated that, despite the fact it was Bäcker who was on trial, the judge accidentally opened a session of the court with the remark: "I hereby reopen the proceedings against the defendant Stoecker," before being hastily corrected.[7]:73-74 Stoecker won the case, under the grounds that the publisher had been persistently attacked by Stoecker, but the judge gave Bäcker the lightest possible sentence of three weeks in prison.[2]:115 Moreover, the convoluted and tortured ruling seemed to suggest that they wanted to acquit Bäcker, but could not risk the political fallout of declaring a symbol of the monarchy to be so dishonest as Bäcker's defense had claimed. Stoecker's reputation was ruined.[7]:76-77

Additional Quotes[edit]

  • "The Jewish Question, insofar as it is a religious question, belongs to science and the missionaries; as a racial question, it belongs anthropology and history. In the form of which this question appears before our eyes in public life, it is highly complicated social-ethical, political-economic phenomena...This question has arisen and developed-under the influence of religion and race-differently in the Middle Ages from how it is today, different also in contemporary Russia from how it is with us. But the Jewish Question-always and everywhere-has to do with economic exploitation and the ethical disruption of the peoples among who the Jews have lived."[1]:96
  • After the Kaiser agreed to receive Stoecker and other leaders of the Berlin movement in 1882: "His Imperial Majesty, the Kaiser agreed to receive delegates from the Berlin movement on the eve of his birthday, something that had never happened before in the case of a political party. I had the honor to deliver a speech...[after the address] the Kaiser aptly replied that there had been very strange developments during the past year; that both the most autocratic monarch in the world, the Russian Emperor and the least authoritarian President of a Republic, the American Chief of State had been assassinated, that authority was in terrible danger everywhere and it necessary to be fully aware of this."[2]:113-114

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Telman, D. A. Jeffrey (Fall 1995). "Adolf Stoecker: Anti-Semite with a Christian Mission". Jewish History. 9 (2): 93–112. doi:10.1007/BF01668991.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa Green, Harold (March 2003). "Adolf Stoecker: Portrait of a Demagogue". Politics and Policy. 31 (1): 106–129.
  3. ^ a b c d Levy, Richard "Our Demands on Modern Jewry" pages 525-526 from Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution, Volume 1 edited by Richard Levy, Santa Monica: ABC-Clio, 2005 page 525.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Röhl, John (1994). The Kaiser and his court: Wilhelm II and the government of Germany. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  5. ^ a b James, Pierre (2001). The Murderous Paradise: German Nationalism and the Holocaust. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group.
  6. ^ a b Levy, Richard "Our Demands on Modern Jewry" pages 525-526 from Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution, Volume 1 edited by Richard Levy, Santa Monica: ABC-Clio, 2005 page 526.
  7. ^ a b c d Hartston, Barnet Peretz (2005). Sensationalizing the Jewish Question: Anti-Semitic Trials and the Press in the Early German Empire. Leiden: Brill.

Further reading[edit]

  • Harold M. Green (2003). "Adolf Stoecker: Portrait of a Demagogue". Politics & Policy. 31 (1): 106–129.
  • D. A. Jeremy Telman (1995). "Adolf Stoecker: Anti-Semite with a Christian mission". Jewish History. 9 (2): 93–112. doi:10.1007/BF01668991.

External links[edit]