The Austrian Jewish psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl (1905-1997), author of “Man’s Search for Meaning”, an inspiring account of his concentration camp experiences, enlightened many generations of students. None more so than a budding Austrian theologian Eric Gritsch, who in 1950 was mentored by Frankl, as the former described in a 2009 memoir.
Now a distinguished historian of Lutheranism, Gritsch published his latest book in January “Martin Luther’s Anti-Semitism: Against His Better Judgment,” citing Frankl’s humanistic search for life’s meaning in the preface to his study. Gritsch implies that failure to seek meaning can be a sin of omission. He notes that, since 1956, The International Congress for Luther Research has studied every possible topic about the 16th century German monk Martin Luther, who launched the Protestant Reformation, except his rapport with Jews.
“Martin Luther’s Anti-Semitism” cites another historian, Stefan Schreiner, to the effect that Luther knew “practically nothing that was authentic” about Jews. Yet Luther published such violent tracts as 1543’s “The Jews and Their Lies,” calling for anti-Semitic repression and labor camps which to a modern reader seem to prefigure Nazi policies. Luther’s biographer Roland Bainton wrote that “one could wish that Luther had died before” this unfortunate tract was written. Only in 1994 did the Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America explicitly repudiate Luther’s anti-Semitic ravings, and this delay, Gritsch implies, may have been due to embarrassing confusion about how anti-Semitism was an “integral part of [Luther’s] life and work… [but not] in harmony with the core of his theology.”