Although they were few and far between, there were groups of German Jews who supported the rise of Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich. One such organization was the German Vanguard led by Hans-Joachim Schoeps (1909-1980), a professor of religious studies at the University of Erlangen in northern Bavaria.
According to a document in the archives of the SHOAH Resource Center at Yad Vasham, Israel’s holocaust memorial and museum:
Schoeps and his followers were extremely patriotic Germans who wanted to be seen as a Jewish political movement within the revival of German nationalism. They looked down on Eastern European Jews, and opposed Zionism, Marxism, and liberalism. Zionism was considered negative because Zionists wanted to become a separate Jewish nation like any other, while the Vanguard believed that German Jews belonged to the German nation, and were only different with regard to their religion. They even saw Zionism as a type of assimilation away from pure German-ness.
Vanguard members failed to understand that the Nazis hated Jews because of their race, and considered them to be non-Aryan, or non-German, to the core. They thought that Jews would eventually be allowed to integrate into the Third Reich. Nonetheless, fearing arrest, Schoeps fled to Sweden in 1938, where he kept up contact with German conservatives throughout the war.
On several occasions over the past two years I have wondered how any Jewish-American could support Donald Trump based on individuals he selected as advisers, some of the company he keeps, his re-tweeting content from neo-Nazi and other anti-Semitic sources and his reluctance to call out anti-Semitic behavior by some of his supporters. Equally distressing was their willingness to overlook warning signs in return for policies which they believed would result in national economic growth and personal financial gain. Ironically, members of the German Vanguard expressed the exact same sentiments. Does Schoeps’ willingness to support the Third Reich’s focus on German nationalism remind you of anything you’ve heard recently?
But there is one more major difference between the German Vanguard of the 1930’s and what I will call the American Vanguard which exists today. The current version is more diverse than its historic ancestor. It includes Hispanic-Americans who discounted Trump’s characterization of Mexicans as rapists, criminals and drug dealers. And as was most evident over the course of the past week, white Evangelicals who have traded in the Sermon on the Mount for Trump’s tweets and rants.
The best evidence of the religious right’s membership in the American Vanguard is the response by members of Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board.
Jerry Fallwell, Jr., president of Liberty University, praised Trump’s “bold truthful stmt about #charlottesville. So proud of @realdonaldtrump.” Twitter/August 16, 2017
Johnnie Moore, National Association of Evangelicals. “NO, I am not pulling out as an Evangelical advisor to the White House. It’s not our job to take advice but to give It. I will keep giving it.” Twitter/August 16, 2017
Pastor Mark Burns, referring to the two sides represented in Charlottesville. “BOTH are violent and dangerous.” Twitter/August 15, 2017
When Tony Suarez, Vice-President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference tweeted we need leaders who will unite rather than divide, he quickly clarified he did not mean Trump was one of those dividing the country.
Televangelist James Robinson’s contribution. “Are we going to rip Amazaing Grace out of every hymnbook because John Newton was a slave trader?”
Pastor Jack Graham chose to retweet a call to tear down statues of Charles Darwin, claiming “Darwin was a white supremacist and racist if ever there was one.”
To be fair, three of the 25 members of the board condemned the organizers of and participants in the Unite for Right demonstration in Charlottesville. But none resigned from the advisory group and none chastised Trump for his comments on Saturday or Tuesday.
There’s an old saying about what motivates individual behavior. “We know what we are, we’re just haggling over the price.” Sadly, in this case, the cost of membership in the American Vanguard is One’s Soul.
For what it’s worth.