Concordia University in Wisconsin hosted Rev. Herman Otten on February 3, where he spoke about “questions on contemporary issues facing the Lutheran Church.” Who is Herman Otten? On the front page of its website at the time, Concordia described Otten as a “powerful Lutheran figure.” I describe Otten as an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier.
What was Concordia thinking? Otten’s record as a Holocaust denier and anti-Semite goes back more than twenty years. One of the first five hits you get when you google his name is the text of a speech he gave in 1989 at the ninth conference of the Institute for Historical Review. The meandering, 15,000-word speech was called “Christianity, Truth and Fantasy: The Holocaust, Historical Revisionism and Christians Today.” The most troubling aspect of Otten’s speech is a section in which he claims that Christians have a religious duty to become Holocaust deniers:
“The Holocaust is a hoax and the time has come for Christian scholars and pastors to recognize this and stop perpetrating a hoax as the truth. A Christian is not free to believe and promote a lie about any person or nations, as we said in our introduction. True Christian scholars should at least read what the Revisionists are saying.
“Many have said to us: ‘What difference does it make? The truth of the Holocaust is of no concern to Christians.’ Nonsense! A Christian is not free to believe and promote a lie about any person or nation. A Christian is guided by truth and facts, not emotions and majority opinion.
“…The truth as to the Holocaust is a moral issue. Those who maintain the Germans exterminated some six million Jews, most of them by gassing, are seeing to it that the Christian Church can no longer avoid speaking out. Churches are being pushed, as never before, to have special services commemorating the Holocaust….The “fact” of the Holocaust is being used by some to deny that Christianity is the only true religion and that Jesus Christ rose from the dead….The Holocaust is not some innocent hoax, like children’s fairy tales, which entertain and have no evil consequences.”
How much influence does Otten — who, again, was described by Concordia as “a powerful Lutheran figure — have on young Lutherans when he preaches that they have a theological obligation to question the Holocaust?
[His IHR speech also includes some interesting factoids about Otten’s background, the most important of which may be that he imbibed “revisionism” from his father, who “followed the work of Charles Lindbergh and the America First Committees which sought to keep the U.S. out of [WWII],” and who appears to have taught young Herman that FDR played a role in allowing the attack on Pearl Harbor. Otten also reported that his father was a friend of Holocaust denier Austin App (author of “The Six Million Swindle,” among other works).] [Update: Another member of the Otten family has contacted me to state that Herman Otten is mischaracterizing his father's views.]
I started working on this post back in late January, but I didn’t want to publish it until I had a chance to get to a library and check out some of the newer issues of Christian News, a weekly newspaper that Otten has edited since 1962. I can confirm that Otten’s Holocaust denial and anti-Judaism have continued long after his 1989 speech. In addition to his own material (usually unsigned), Otten publishes material by anti-Semites like Ted Pike, Charles Carlson, Michael A. Hoffman II, Harmony Grant Daws, Mark Weber, and Robert Faurisson. Consider:
-> The October 5, 2009 issue of Christian News includes an unsigned front-page story and a three-page spread on the Talmud, presumably written by Otten. The article includes excerpts from “The Talmud Unmasked” by Rev. I. B. Pranaitis, published in Russian in 1892, which claims that Jews are enjoined by their religion to hate, steal from, and even murder non-Jews. Otten writes, “We have picked some of the useless, stupid, repugnant and blasphemous passages of the Talmud to demonstrate that the Talmud is not the word of God, nor is it even a superior code of morals. By reading the passages, one may come to appreciate the position of Jesus Christ toward the Rabbis, which was almost entirely negative, and rightly so.”
-> Otten reprints a terrible column by Michael A. Hoffman II in the December 6, 2010 issue of Christian News, entitled “The crucifixion of John Demjanjuk proceeds on schedule.” [Hoffman appears to have removed the post from his blog, but the column in its entirety is still available elsewhere online.] Hoffman writes, and Otten reprints:
“Mercy is the essence of Christianity and revenge is the essence of Judaism….What we see transpiring in a German kangaroo court against Demjanjuk is international Talmudic supremacy in full flower. Christianity has been defanged. The proof is a spectacle like this one, wherein crypto-rabbis bearing titles such as bishop, cardinal and pope are as mute as moth-eaten carnival puppets….If they don’t awaken, then the so-called Aryans are heading for the trash dump of history where they will fulfill the only testosterone-fueled role still open to them in akashrut world — as rabbinic golem against the Muslims and Arabs….[T]he crucifixion of John Demjanjuk proceeds seamlessly, day by day, in the cozy confines of a Munich courtroom, business as usual in the eternal enterprise that is rabbinic revenge.”
This is hardcore anti-Judaism. For good measure, Otten plugged Hoffman’s wildly anti-Jewish book, Judaism Discovered, in the January 18, 2010 issue.
-> In the January 11, 2010 issue, Otten reprints a column entitled “Judaism: Our National Religion?” by Harmony Grant Daws, a writer for Ted Pike’s anti-Semitic National Prayer Network. Daws rails against “Jewish supremacism,” and repeats the claim that “Jews dominate Hollywood and big media in America” and that Jews are “overrepresented in seats of power in nations around the world.” The column concludes: “The epic, spiritual struggle between Christ and the Jews now spans over two millennia. American Christians, by ignoring the battle, surrender their nation.”
-> In the April 20, 2009 issue of Christian News, Otten reprints a column by Ted Pike which promulgates the claim that Judaism encourages pedophilia:
“Ultra-Orthodox rabbinic leadership knows the Talmud endorses child sex…. Pedophilia and pederasty are repeatedly endorsed by Judaism’s highest authorities…. The Pharisaic Talmud is the primary stumbling block to Jewish enlightenment and wellbeing. Because the Talmud’s anti-Christ ethics undergird Jewish revolutionary, messianic, global ambitions, it is also the pirmary enemy of Christian civilization.”
-> In the February 8, 2010 issue of Christian News, Otten reprints an ad from Bradley Smith promoting Holocaust denial. In the February 22, 2010 issue, Otten reprints a pamphlet by Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson which claims that the Diary of Anne Frank was a hoax. The March 30, 2009 issue reprints Mark Weber’s essay, “The Holocaust: Let’s Hear Both Sides,” on the front page.
This is a sampling of what I found in the pages of just the past couple of years of Christian News.
I am sympathetic to the dilemma faced by mainstream Lutherans who may be repulsed by Otten’s anti-Semitism but who have a hard time dismissing him because of his long history as a respected religious figure. Jews have the same problem in the form of Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, a former Chief Rabbi of Israel who, in his later years, has made several highly derogatory statements about Palestinians and non-Jews in general. Although many Jewish organizations and rabbis have condemned Rabbi Yosef [see for example here, here, here and here], his writings on Jewish ritual law (which do not contain these offensive statements, as far as I know) continue to be studied, and he is still accorded respect.
Religious leaders should not be forces for bigotry and prejudice. As long as Rabbi Yosef continues to make such statements, he should not be granted a platform to promulgate his ideas. And until Rev. Otten disavows his Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism, Lutherans, including Concordia University, should marginalize him and denounce his odious views.