Home News Canada Profs compare Nazi-era, current campus atmospheres

Profs compare Nazi-era, current campus atmospheres

Cary Nelson, left, and Susannah Heschel. BARBARA SILVERSTEIN PHOTO

One would think the racist ideology of the Nazi regime would have been abhorrent to Protestant theology professors, but in the early 1930s, they were among Hitler’s first supporters.

Fast forwarding to today, one might expect academics be open to scholarship examining all facets of Zionism. However, many will only teach material with an anti-Israel bias.

Both eras of scholarship were discussed at the 2017 Leonard Wolinsky Lectures on Jewish Life and Education, held March 26 at York University. This year’s topic was “Anti-Semitism and Academia: Past and Present.”

Susannah Heschel, the Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College, spoke about the anti-Semitism of German theologians. Cary Nelson, professor of English and Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, discussed the anti-Zionist obsession in contemporary academia.

About 100 people attended the lectures, presented by York’s Israel and Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies.


Around 1930, many professors of Protestant theology in Germany were early adopters of the Third Reich’s anti-Semitic ideology, according to Heschel, a Guggenheim fellow and the daughter of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, the late famed theologian

Much of her lecture was based on research for her 2008 book The Aryan Jesus: Christians and the Bible in Nazi Germany. Heschel said that when Hitler first rose to power, he thought the church would oppose his racist ideology. But Protestant theologians were eager to embrace Nazism. The Vatican was also the first state to recognize the Third Reich.

Heschel was able to access the Nazi-era archives from Jena University, in Thuringia, a southeastern German state. The university was ground zero for race studies and the nazification of theological scholarship.

The Nazi party got its first taste of power in Thuringia in 1930, when Wilhelm Frick, a Nazi, became the state minister of the interior. He appointed Friedrich Karl Günther chair of racial theory at Jena University. This area of scholarship gave academic legitimacy to anti-Semitism and Hitler’s notion of the superiority of the Aryan race.

Heschel said Günther’s 1930 lecture linking racial deterioration in Germany to non-Aryan immigration resonated with students, and she noted that “1,500 students marched through Jena to demonstrate their support and enthusiasm for the nazification of their university.”

Walter Grundmann, a professor of the New Testament at Jena, led the academic movement to “dejudify” Protestant Christianity. The Jewish connection to Jesus and the Bible was severed. These theologians gave Jesus Aryan roots.

Regarding academia today, Heschel said she worries about “the corruption of scholarship and the role of money. There is an anti-intellectual atmosphere.”

Nelson said this anti-intellectualism is affecting scholarship on Zionism.

With the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel dominating many campuses, lectures and reading material about the Jewish state are growing increasingly one-sided

He suggested the dissemination of anti-Israel sentiment might be instigating anti-Semitic incidents like the recent desecration of Jewish cemeteries in Missouri and Pennsylvania.

He said many academics who are committed opponents of the Jewish state are teaching courses that only offer a one-sided view of Zionism. Reading lists are replete with anti-Israel material to support the views of these academics, which, Nelson said, is permitted under the auspices of academic freedom. He urged donors to use their leverage by asking universities to balance their curricula.

“There should be space for other perspectives and alternate views,” Nelson said. “Donors should make it clear that universities must guarantee a balance in course work across campus and a faculty that is well informed.”

Nelson also raised concern about the violation of academic freedom when Israeli speakers are shut down by student protesters, who are finding intellectual justification for targeting and silencing Israelis.

Many pro-Israeli faculty members are keeping a low profile, while other Jewish professors are openly anti-Zionist.

Nelson said many Jewish studies programs are eliminating courses about Israel from their curricula.

“UCLA Jewish studies has no faculty supporters of Israel,” he said.


  • TerrorIsEvil

    We do not have to look too far within our own community to find the same kind of ignorance as in the Christian denominations – past and present.

    This article is very instructive and offers an important brief historical summary of antisemitism in the Church and in Christianity.

    Recently, in Hamilton, a Jewish woman on a public board was taken to task by a Polish man on the same board who overheard her saying that Poles killed Jews during the Holocaust. The truth she uttered has been challenged and a big issue made of it (by the way, 2.7 million Jews were killed in Poland during The Holocaust).

    The issue has yet to be resolved but when it recently reached the press and a woman who lost almost her entire Polish family in The Holocaust wrote a letter pointing out the ghastly truth, guess who challenged her? Two Jewish citizens: One Jewish person from the community. More egregiously, a few days later a woman from the Federation Holocaust Committee sided with the Poles against both the woman who made the initial comment and against the letter of support from the woman who had her family wiped out in the concentration camps in Poland.

    The Federation lady put great emphasis on 6,000 “righteous” (she said: “Lest we forget”) rather than the 2.7 million who died with help from a high percentage who slaughtered Jews…including a country of citizens who looked the other way as Jews (an many others) were killed during those horrific years.

    Do Jews have a problem with Christians and Muslims? We sure do but we also have an internal problem because leftist Jews and ignorant Jews are very eager to put down Zionists and now they even want to minimize and infantilize the ultimate victimization of all times, the Holocaust, to transform it from an attack against Jews to an attack on multiculturalism with emphasis on the “righteous” instead of the Jew-hating killing machine which bulldozed 6 million Jews into the ground; half of the Jewish nation.

    • Sy Weiner

      Kielce and Jadwabne (Gross)

    • Gary S

      Many, many thanks for articulating a problem that is far more serious than most of us are willing to admit. For the most part, I have ceased publicly defending the Jewish people. The last time I did so, I was shouted at by a woman claiming to be an Israeli who insisted that I was unwilling to recognize the crimes of the IDF. I am not Jewish, but my children were raised in the faith, with my blessing. After years of seeing liberal Jewish activists side with anti-Semites, I have given up. I will continue to stand up for my own children, but I will not face criticism and ridicule from Jews who have given in to self-hatred. Recently Rabbi Alissa Wise was denied permission to enter Israel because of her support of the insane BDS movement. We must wake up.

  • TerrorIsEvil

    To GaryS: the system keeps removing my post in response to yours but I will try here in the main thread:

    Thanks for taking a moment to acknowledge this post. I spend time writing in these pages but there is no interest in pro-Israel views or in discussion of serious matters unless they impinge on or challenge left-wing views – and then the leftists get riled. People go along to get along but they won’t be here for very long with some of their self-destructive attitudes. The Jewish left try to instill silence by calling pro-Israel activists and critics of the hard left “antisemites”!

    Canada has just given 10.5 million dollars to a former terrorist as reward offered apparently for not giving him due process at Gitmo and failing to immediately bring him back to safety in Canada after his murder and bomb-building spree and after he killed an American soldier and partially blinded another. He was the son of a close associate of bin Laden who himself was saved by a former Liberal PM and brought back to Canada but then returned to Afghanistan/Pakistan from Canada with family in tow to succeed in making his sons into followers of Taliban/Al Qaeda in the footsteps of their murderous father. Omar is the terrorist who received the government money and an APOLOGY.

    The government is now rewarding jihadists (plural) because he is just one of 4 we know about who received enormous amounts for their outstanding contributions to Islamic terrorism and the hardships they experienced getting back to safe ground in Canada.

    You are correct about the Jewish community (I have not given up but close to it) and when I started speaking up for Israel I just figured that we Jewish people all had the same concerns – but was I ever wrong and in for a surprise! Since we now effectively have “Islamophobia” legislation, the already small number of Jews who speak out against Islamism, terrorism and antisemitism have been further silenced and marginalized. The ones on the far left, however, and the anti-Trump gang are free to speak their minds non-stop in the left-wing mainstream media – they are financed by some left-wing, well-known wealthy types. One can’t criticize anything on the left in any of these papers without being censored at some level – free speech is dead and one must sneak his views into the papers in couched politically-correct language if it is to see print.

    We live in times like Europe of the 1930’s and it seems to be getting worse with leftists joining forces with Islamists to stifle free speech and engage in lawfare against critics and making use of quasi-judicial tribunals to ensure the march towards jihad and leftism continue unobstructed, unabated and unchallenged. It is okay to say death to Israel but G-d help you if you say Muslims have a terrorism problem.