Paul Under Hitler

There is too much theological baggage at stake.
–Iver Larsen, “Rom 3:31

La myopie était sa faute, sa laisse, son voile natal imperceptible. Chose étrange, elle voyait qu’elle ne voyait pas, mais elle ne voyait pas bien. Chaque jour il y avait refus, mais qui pouvait dire d’où partait le refus : qui se refusait, était-ce le monde ou elle ? Elle était de cette race obscure subreptice qui va désemparée devant le grand tableau du monde, toute la journée en posture d’aveu : je ne vois pas le nom de la rue, je ne vois pas le visage, je ne vois pas la porte, je ne vois pas venir et c’est moi qui ne vois pas ce que je devrais voir. Elle avait des yeux et elle était aveugle.
–Hélène Cixous, Voiles [“Veils“]

Several bloggers have been talking about Paul’s letter to Romans (under Caesar Claudius and his successor perhaps). Hardly any has noticed the racial baggage at stake. It’s a veil. Hardly any picks up on the facts, or even the flavor, of the royal racism and the wide-spread anti-Semiticism of the empire and Paul’s place in that empire. Notice: Paul, a born citizen of Rome, does not write using imperial Latin when writing to all in Rome. A born Jew, he does not write using Hebrew or Hebrew Aramaic. Rather, Paul uses Greek (the popular language of an older empire) to address Jews and Greeks but not Romans. His literal pen is enscribing, ascribing, things about the body of Abraham; but, as Cixous warns readers and writers, “Censor the body and you censor breath and speech at the same time.” And, with a “must” that may be read ambiguously as either our imperative or our inevitability, Elie Wiesel writes publicly for himself, something not entirely different: “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides.” As we all know, Cixous writes natively in French, and Wiesel in French as a second language, and yet the body of their writings comes out of their bodies, their bodies suffering sexism and anti-Semitic racism. This is baggage we may be more willing to carry because theirs is not holy scripture. Nonetheless, is there a veil over Paul’s writing? Isn’t there?

To bring the problem a little closer to home, to our day, let’s imagine Paul writing his letter to all in Berlin under Führer Adolf Hitler. In fact, let’s move the events of the first century forward in time and over from Rome to Berlin.

Now, watch Paul, as a born citizen of Nazi Germany, and as a born Jew, writing in French (neither in German nor in Yiddish or Hebrew) to the fellow Jews and to the Frenchmen in Berlin. (It’s typically ambiguous French, isn’t it? It’s Pour une morale de l’ambiguļté de Simone de Beauvoir, no? Our English language translation is provided by google translate, to disambiguate.)

Saül starts with a draft:

Saul Paul
I am a Berliner, servant of Joshua
Oil Crowned,
to be called messenger, set apart to proclaim the message God blessed –

That (then) tell us!
said (found) Abraham
(Our father) (our ancestor)
(Our front-father) (found)
according to the flesh?

And then Paul starts reading the published accounts of earlier reports. He reads what becomes the Christian gospels and the Book of Acts of the Apostles. He sees the body, the Jewish bodies, the bodies of fathers, the concern with lineage, with penis circumcision, the divisions of flesh, sees himself:

1 Genealogy of Joshua
Crowned with oil, the son of David, son of Abraham.

Paul may have read the gospel of Mark first but he was first struck by that opener of Matthew. Moreover, he remembers and reads again the now-public, now-published original Mark, with the necessary editor’s font and formatting:

26 The French woman of Wallonia, Belgium. She begged him to drive the demon out of her daughter. Joshua said:

27 Let the children first be fed, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to dogs.

28 Yes, Lord, “she replied, but the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.

29 Then he said, because of this speech goes, the demon has left your daughter.


17 Then Joshua said to them: Go to the Führer that is the Führer, and to God what is God’s. And they were against him in astonishment.


16 The Nazi soldiers led Joshua into the interior of the court, that is to say, in the courtroom, and gathered the whole cohort.

24 They put it in the gas chamber, and parted his garments, casting lots to know what everyone would have.
25 It was 0900, when they put it in the gas chamber.
26 The inscription indicating the subject of her conviction were these words: The king of the Jews.
27 They stripped and gassed two robbers with him, one on his right, and the other on his left.
28 Thus was fulfilled what the Scripture says: And among the illegals, he himself was counted.

Paul knows what the Romans did, knows his own citizenry. He also knows what Mark says that Jesus said, in French, to that Frenchwoman. So, he comes to Luke, who brings so much together:

According to Luke 7
An SS-group leader was a servant to whom he was very fond, and who was ill, about to die.
3 Having heard about Joshua, he sent some elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant.

8 For I also am subject to authority, having soldiers under me Nazi and I say unto one, Go! and he goes to another: Come! and he comes, and to my servant, Do this! and he does it.
9 When Joshua heard these words, he admired the SS-group leader, and, turning towards the crowd behind him, he said, I tell you, even in Israel have I found such great faith.

The phrase Nazi-sympathizer had not yet been coined yet. It wasn’t a public neologism yet anyway. Hence, Paul continues to what John writes:


20 Many Jews read this inscription, because the place where Joshua was placed in the gas chamber was near the town: it was in Yiddish, French and German.

John writes, as an eyewitness, that there was actually something written in German. John himself does not write in German but (translates all Yiddish even) in French. Paul takes note.

He reads Luke again, but now about himself, an official apostle in The Acts of The Apostles:


2 There [Saul] found a Jew named Mr. Aquila, a native of Vienna, recently arrived from Germany with his wife Priscilla, because Adolf Hitler had ordered all Jews out of Berlin. He came to them;


37 At the time of being introduced into the fortress, Paul told the Tribune: Am I allowed to tell you something? The Tribune said, “You know French?


26 In these words the SS group leader went to the tribune to warn him, “What will you do? This man is a Berliner.

27 And the tribune, came, said to Paul: Tell me, are you a Berliner? Yes, he replied.

28 The Tribune continued: “It is with much money I’ve earned that right as a citizen. And I, “said Paul, I’ve had my birth.

29 Immediately those who were to give the question back, and the orator, seeing that Paul was a Berliner, was in fear because he had bound him.


24 Then Alois Brunner said Heinrich Himmler, and all who are present with us, you see this man [Saul], about whom all the multitude of Jews spoke to me in Jerusalem, is here, s’ cried he no longer had to live.
25 For me, having recognized that he did nothing worthy of death, and himself having called for the Führer, I resolved to make him leave.

Knowing that he’s got to go to Rome anyway, Paul now is ready to write that letter to Rome. He makes a few more revisions to his draft. He is very much aware of his own hand, of his own pen in his hand. He is ready to hand it off to the editor, to publication, to the public. In the end, (before Jerome or Germaine or google translate get a hold of it) it looks like this:


1 Paul, a servant of Joshua Crowned with The oil, called to be a messenger, set apart to proclaim the message God blessed –
2, which had previously been promised by God through his prophets in the holy Scriptures,
3 and for his son (born of the seed of David according to the flesh,
4 and designated Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead), Joshua Crowned oil our Lord,

7 to all those who, in Berlin, are beloved of God, called to be saints:


9 Tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man who does evil, the Jew first and then the French!
10 Glory, honor and peace for all who do good, to the Jew first and also for the French!
11 For with God there is no respecter of persons.


5 But if our unrighteousness establishes the justice of God, what shall we say? Is God unjust when he unleashes his anger? (I speak in the manner of men.)

6 Far from it! Otherwise, how God judge the world?

7 And if through my lie, the truth of God more manifest for his glory, why am I still considered myself as a sinner?

8 And why do we not do evil that good may come, as some who slander us, claim that we say? The conviction of these people is correct.

9 What then? we are most excellent? No. Because we have already proved that both Jews and French, are under the Third Reich of sin

27 Where then is boasting about? It is excluded. By what law? By the law of works? No, but by the law of faith.
28 For we believe that man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Only is it not also the Gentiles? Yes, it is also of the Gentiles
30 since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.
We then make void 31 the law through faith? Far from it! On the contrary, we uphold the law.


1 What then shall we say Abraham our ancestor discovered in the flesh?

He notes the editor’s good attempt at ridding the text of its ambiguities. He sighs. Nobody is perfect. Hence, the baggage. Hence, the veil.


8 responses to “Paul Under Hitler

  1. A useful perspective.

  2. I read your post with interest but wonder whether your analogy between Rome and Berlin may perhaps be mistaken. My guess is that many more Romans in the first century understood Greek than did German residents of Berlin understand French.

    • Thanks for your interest, but your reading analogically here is the mistake. This post is a parable, if you will.

      (Your guess, nonetheless, does have basis in fact. Claudius, of course, was proficient in Greek even as he helped develop the official status of the Latin language and also the new Latin alphabet. Hitler, on the other hand, struggled to engage the historical richness of the German language – just read Mein Kampf – and seems to have been able to read a little English but miserably failed in French as a schoolboy. Claudius wrote entire histories using Greek, but Hitler only made convenient reference to the the “French Revolution” when announcing that point in history from which, he believed, “Bolshevism” and “worldwide Jewry” began to become the greatest threat to “the annihilation of the German people.” Claudius promoted Latin and Greek bilingualism – though historian Jorma Kaimio makes a strong case that the Roman elite generally were “bilaterally unilingual.” Hitler was in debt to primarily to one Frenchman alone, Count Joseph Arthur de Gobineau, who wrote that the pure “Aryan” race was Germanic, in the lineage of the Romans and before them of the Greeks, who were Aryans but with a Semitic mixture. But Hitler had to read the German translation of Gobineau’s essay, entitled “Versuch Uber Die Ungleichheit Der Menschenracen” from “Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines.” If there’s an unmistaken analogy between the two men to be made, it’s that both were viciously racist and sexist and led their countrymen to establish – in the shadow of earlier empires – violently anti-Semitic and sexist states.)

  3. This post moved me for all sorts fo reasons I won’t go in to here but it also made me smile with the sheer energy of its creativity. Thank you so much. OF course French did have quite an impact on the Berlin tongue – but then of course Hitler was no Berliner – There is still the French CAthedral built after the Huguenots arrived in Berlin.
    Anyway thanks for all you write – stunningly good read.

    • You, more than many of us, would know (and from your own travels, translation work, knowledge of history, and experience too) how the French tongue impacted many in Berlin, even under the Nazis. This was not such an easy post to write, because I know the horrors are still so fresh to so many in such places. I always appreciate your good humor, and just love that you smiled also reading. Many of us appreciate your blogging, Of Life, Laughter, and Liturgy!

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