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“Luther’s words are everywhere ...” – Exhibition on Luther during National Socialism

Postcard for the “German Luther Day” on 10 November 1933. (Photo: © Collection Ulrich Prehn)

For the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the documentation centre “Topography of Terror” presents an exhibition on how Martin Luther was taken over by the National Socialists. It is the first comprehensive exhibition on the reception of Luther during the Nazi period and focuses on how the state and the church referred to the Reformer, explains the director of the Foundation Topography of Terror, Andreas Nachama, on Thursday in Berlin.

On differently designed boards, rarely displayed photographies, written and audio documents as well as reproductions of printings and objects are presented. Thereby, Luther appears time and again as a “nationally unifying leader”, as he was stylised by the Nazis, curator Ulrich Prehn emphasises. The ethno-nationalist religious movement “German Christians” within the Evangelical State Churches saw the Nazi regime as “the completion of the German Reformation in the spirit of Martin Luther”.

Insight into the development of the Churches in the Nazi dictatorship

The documentation offers an insight into the key developments of the Christian Churches in the Nazi dictatorship, Prehn continues. It is placed under the motto “Luther’s words are everywhere ...”, which is a reference to an observation made in 1937 by the Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was killed in 1945 in a concentration camp. “Luther's words are everywhere, but turned upside down from truth to self-deception.” A few years later he asked himself, “why such consequences arose from Luther’s action, which were the exact opposite of what he wanted.”

The exhibition, which will also be travelling in the future, addresses the Church construction, flourishing under the Nazis as well as the sacred art under National Socialism and the November pogroms of 1938 on the eve of Luther’s birthday on the 10th of November.

View of the exhibition “Luther’s words are everywhere ...” (Photo: epd-bild/Rolf Zöllner)

A particular emphasis is put on the use of Luther’s late anti-Jewish writings  by the different social actors. Luther’s book “On the Jews and their lies” mobilised not only theologians, but also National socialist propaganda newspapers like the “Stürmer” and the makers of anti-Semitic exhibitions. The anti-Jewish writings of the Reformer have been republished and mediatised in many different ways – at the theatre, in films, but also directly as a justification for the violence against Jews, as made for example by the bishop of Thuringia, Martin Sasse.

The “dark side” of the Reformer is not omitted for the anniversary

The Minister of State for Culture, Monika Grütters, recalled that in a contribution to the exhibition catalog. Martin Luther had “with the power of his words, particularly in his late writings and preachings cultivated a repelling antisemitism”. This “dark side” of the Reformer should not be kept secret at the anniversary of the Reformation. The exhibition touches on important aspects for the reception history of the Reformation and the appreciation of Luther. Without it, the memory of the Reformation in Germany remains incomplete, explains Grütters. The adjacent Martin-Gropius-Bau currently hosts the exhibition “The Luther Effect. 500 years Protestantism in the world”.

Another focus of the exhibition is the involvement of the Church into the National Socialist wars and policy of conquest, particularly by the engagement of priests in the military service as army chaplains. The final document is “Luther’s words are everywhere”, a letter by Bonhoeffer, which he wrote on Reformation Day 1943 from prison to his parents.

Information Source:epd/Topographie des Terrors Date:01-05-17
Martin Luther, Jews, National Socialism, exhibition, reformation anniversary


“Luther’s words are everywhere...”

Documentation Center
Topography of Terror
Niederkirchnerstraße 8
10963 Berlin

Opening hours:
28 April to 5 November
daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
25 to 27 May until midnight

Admission is free

Additional information:
Website of the Topography of Terror Foundation