“Winning Armageddon: Dietrich Eckart and the
Religious Origins of the Holocaust”
By David Redles
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Eckart, Hitler and other leading Nazi ideologues believed that the realization of the Third and Final Reich could only be accomplished through an Endkrieg (Final War) between Aryans and Jews. In this Armageddon, there could only be one victor, with the extermination of one or the other.

Hitler stated in a 1922 speech: “This powerful, great contest can be reduced to but two possibilities: either victory of the Aryans or its annihilation and victory of the Jews.”

The stage was set for a final confrontation with the evil Jewish-Bolshevik menace. World War II against the Soviet Union—and the Holocaust—were the logical, albeit catastrophic, result of this apocalyptic fantasy.

David Redles, PhD is Associate Professor of History at Cuyahoga Community College, where he has taught since 2000.

By the Author, David Redles
Hitler's Millennial Reich

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After World War I, German citizens sought not merely relief from the political, economic, and cultural upheaval which wracked Weimar Germany, but also mental salvation. With promises of order, prosperity, and community, Adolph Hitler fulfilled a profoundly spiritual need on behalf of those who converted to Nazism, and thus became not only Führer, but Messiah.
At the dawn of World War I, many individuals on both sides of the conflict interpreted the war not simply as a struggle for resources or even national pride—but as a holy crusade for national salvation.1 For many Germans in particular the war was a Kulturkrieg (war between radically divergent cultures) that necessitated a Vernichtungskrieg (war of annihilation).

The German military, with little civilian oversight, deliberately sought the total annihilation of the enemy as the only guarantee of national security.2 This belief, even in the earliest days of the war in August of 1914, led to wanton destruction of civilian life and property, especially in Belgium.3

This quickly became not an isolated atrocity, but a military norm of mass destruction of non-combatant life and property.4 The mass murder of civilians, needless destruction of strategically unimportant targets, the appearance of concentration camps, and the use of forced labor—all became commonplace during the war.

The German High Command had expected total victory. When Russia pulled out of the war in 1917 after the successful communist revolution, victory appeared even more likely. However, by 1918 military and civilian resources became increasingly scarce. 

Mass starvation and worker strikes became endemic, the Verdun offensive failed, and the deployment of fresh American troops eventually forced General Erich Ludendorff to tell Kaiser Wilhelm II to work toward a peace settlement in September 1918.

On November 7, 1918 a communist revolt led by Kurt Eisner, who happened to be Jewish, was successful in Munich and quickly spread to other Bavarian cities. On November 9, the Kaiser abdicated and an armistice was signed under the provisional government led by the Social Democratic Party. For many Germans, who assumed God would not allow such a loss, the unexpected capitulation in 1918 was not simply a great shock: it was nearly unthinkable. How could certain victory devolve into such a total defeat so quickly? That the emerging post-war Weimar culture was experienced by many Germans as being so utterly different than that of the Imperial era, only played into the perception of a world suddenly turned upside down.5

Faced with a confused and angry populace, those very same German military leaders began arguing that they could have in fact won the war if the traitorous Social Democrats had not stabbed the military in the back with a premature surrender. Since most anti-Semites believed that socialists and communists were toadies of the Jews, if not Jews themselves, their worst fears of a Jewish rise to power seemed to have come true. In 1919 a work appeared in Germany entitled the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Brought to Germany by those fleeing the collapse of the Russian Empire and the rise of the Soviet Republic, the Protocols purported to be the secret minutes of a meeting of Jewish elders held at the turn of the century during a Zionist convention. It detailed the elaborate plan of “the Jews” to use a potent mix of liberalism, socialism, communism, capitalism, secularism, individualism, cultural modernism, the control of mass media, and finally revolution and war to destroy the royal houses of Europe and replace them with Jewish rule. The ultimate goal purportedly was Jewish world domination.

The Protocols were quickly proven to be a hoax, mostly likely created in 1903 by conservative aristocrats in the Russian military who had hoped to scare Tsar Nicholas II away from making liberal democratic reforms. This plan largely failed, but in Germany some fifteen years later the hoax was taken to be an accurate revelation of Jewish plans for world domination.6 The lost war and the rising tide of communist revolution were now seen in a new and even darker light. The Protocols and the myth of a Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy resonated with many conservative Germans because it connected many hated aspects of modernity.

By linking disparate aspects of modernity and a seemingly collapsing world to a Jewish plan for world conquest, the Protocols made sense of the senseless. The lost war and the apocalyptic culture of post-war Germany now were comprehensible. Both were the deliberate result of the actions of the evil Jewish-Bolshevik menace. In this way for many Germans, and certainly most of those who became Nazis, the chaos that followed the war was now seen as having been deliberately planned. The conspiracy theory served the function of structuring perceptions of incomprehensibility into a comprehensible, and thus meaningful, pattern of thought.7

Anti-Semitic publisher and writer Dietrich Eckart, who can perhaps best be described as Hitler’s intellectual and spiritual mentor, typifies this thought process. He wrote in October 1919 that a “Jewish lodge brotherhood,” the “Wise Men of Zion,” had actually constructed a map in 1911 that accurately predicted the destruction of the Russian and German empires years in advance. He concluded, sarcastically, “Oh, how wise are you Wise Men from Zion.”8

In a piece entitled “The Midgard Serpent,” written shortly after the November Revolution, Eckart combined Nordic apocalyptic beliefs with Christian eschatology as seen in Revelation. He metaphorically linked Jews to both the evil Midgard serpent that Thor battles and the Red Dragon, symbolizing Satan, who rises up in Revelation.

Eckart further associated the release of Satan to the emancipation of the Jews of Europe. In other words, with Jewish emancipation, Satan had been loosed, and his world rule via the Jews was imminent. Eckart ended his piece with a reference to Revelation 12, writing, “for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”9

World War I was now reinterpreted as being part of a much larger battle between the forces of good and evil, Aryan and Jew. Eckart wrote: “this war was a religious war, that one finally sees clearly! A war between light and darkness, truth and lies, Christ and Antichrist.” He concluded: “When light clashes with darkness, there is no coming to terms! Indeed there is only the struggle for life and death, till the annihilation of one or the other. Consequently the World War has only apparently come to an end.”10

Eckart and the Nazis came to believe that they were a chosen elect whose divinely inspired mission was to save the world by defeating the satanic Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy. For those who converting to Nazism, their once confused and meaningless lives were suddenly transformed. They had a nation, a race, indeed a world to save. And if this meant sacrificing their lives to fulfill this holy mission, then they would gladly do so.11

This Armageddon of competing races, one of God and the other born of Satan, could only be won with the utter annihilation of one or the other. This belief became a stable of Nazi thought from this period on. As Eckart explained in 1919: “The hour of decision has come: between existence and non-existence, between Germany and Jewry, between all or nothing, between truth and madness, between goodness and murder. And humanity once again has the choice!”12 The eschatological turning point between salvation or extermination of higher humanity had arrived.

In a speech entitled “Why We Are Anti-Semites,” Eckart’s mentee Adolf Hitler justified using the same terror tactics that the Jews were purportedly employing as revealed in the Protocols, exclaiming:

We may be inhumane! But if we save Germany, we have achieved the greatest injustice in the world. We may be immoral! But if our people are saved, then we have once again broken a path to morality.”13

In other words, any means possible, including genocide, were warranted to prevent the apocalypse, and thus contribute to the world’s salvation.

Belief in this world turning point of salvific importance led Eckart to imagine an imminent future that could, if the final battle be won, usher in a new age of millennial perfection. Writing again in July 1919, Eckart interpreted the post-war chaos eschatologically:

Signs and wonders are seen—from the flood a new world will be born. The liberation of humanity from the curse of gold stands before the door! Salvation is to befall our Germany, not misery and poverty. No other people on Earth are so thoroughly capable of fulfilling the Third Reich than ours! Veni Creator spiritus!14

Eckart’s linkage of the coming Third Reich to the coming of the Holy Spirit is an oblique reference to the medieval millenarian thought of Joachim of Fiore. Joachim believed there would be three ages (status) of humanity. The first was the age of the Father (God), the second the age of the Son (Christ), and the third and final the age of Holy Spirit. In Germany, Joachim’s term status was translated as Reich (empire or kingdom).

The concept of the Third Reich therefore was not simply a restored German Empire that would rise from the ashes of Bismarck’s Second Reich. No, the coming tausendjährige Reich was to be much more than the “thousand-year Reich” as the term is normally translated. It was in fact the “millennial kingdom” mentioned in Revelation as translated by Martin Luther during the Reformation.15 The Nazi Third Reich was conceived from the beginning as an imminent Golden Age of human (meaning racial) perfection.

As a consequence, Eckart, Hitler and other leading Nazi ideologues believed that the realization of the Third and Final Reich, the Endreich as it was sometimes termed, could only be accomplished through an Endkrieg (Final War) between Aryans and Jews. And in this Armageddon there could only be one victor, with the extermination of one or the other.

As Hitler stated in a 1922 speech entitled “The Agitator of Truth”: “And here it is precise; this powerful, great contest can be reduced to but two possibilities: either victory of the Aryans or its annihilation and victory of the Jews.”16 The historical stage was set for a final confrontation with the evil Jewish-Bolshevik menace, and World War II, in particular the Vernichtungskrieg against the Soviet Union, and the Holocaust, were the logical, albeit catastrophic, result of this apocalyptic fantasy.


  1. See Philip Jenkins, The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade (Harper Collins: New York, 2014).
  2. Isabel V. Hull, Absolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005)
  3. Jeff Lipkes, Rehearsals: The German Army in Belgium, August 1914 (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2007) and Larry Zuckerman, The Rape of Belgium (New York: New York University Press, 2004).
  4. Alan Kramer, The Dynamics of Destruction: Culture and Mass Killing in the First World War, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).
  5. I discuss the Weimar culture of apocalypse at length in Hitler’s Millennial Reich: Apocalyptic Belief and the Search for Salvation (New York University Press, 2005), especially pp. 1-45. See also Jürgen Brokoff, Die Apocalypse in der Weimarer Republik (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 2001) and Klaus Vondung, The Apocalypse in Germany (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000).
  6. David Redles, “The Turning Point: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the Eschatological War Between Aryans and Jews,” in Richard Landes and Steven T. Katz, eds., The Paranoid Apocalypse: A Hundred-Year Retrospective on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (New York: New York University Press, 2012):  112-131.
  7. David Redles, “Ordering Chaos: Nazi Millennialism and the Quest for Meaning,” in Charles B. Strozier, David M. Terman, and James W. Jones, eds., The Fundamentalist Mindset: Psychological Perspectives on Religion, Violence, and History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 156-174.
  8. Dietrich Eckart, “Tagebuch,” in Auf gut deutsch (October 10, 1919), 512-513.
  9. Dietrich Eckart, “Die Midgardschlange,” Auf gut deutsch (December 30, 1919), 680-681.
  10. Dietrich Eckart, “Immer lächeln, und doch ein Schurke,” Auf gut deutsch (February 7, 1919), 84.
  11. I discuss the Nazi conversion experience, one that is indistinguishable from a religious conversion, in Hitler’s Millennial Reich, pp. 77-107. For more on how Nazi millennialism shaped the identities of Nazi converts, see David Redles, “The Nazi Old Guard: Identity Formation During Apocalyptic Times,” Nova Religio 14:1 (2010), 24-44.
  12. Dietrich Eckart, “Die Schlacht auf den Katalaunischen Feldern,” Auf gut deutsch (February 20, 1920), 86.
  13. Adolf Hitler, Adolf Hitler Reden, ed. Ernst Boepple (Munich: Deutscher Volksverlag, 1925), 56.
  14. Dietrich Eckart, “Luther und der Zins,” Auf gut deutsch (July 5, 1919), 386-387.
  15. David Redles, “Nazi End Times: The Third Reich as Millennial Reich,” in Karolyn Kinane and Michael A. Ryan, eds., End of Days: Essays on the Apocalypse from Antiquity to Modernity (Jefferson, N.C., McFarland, 2009): 173-196.
  16. Hitler, Adolf Hitler Reden, 17.