The Seat of Satan: Nazi Germany
Where the Law of God is not taught, there Satan dwells.
- Jewish proverb
Ancient Pergamum was the center of pagan worship in Asia Minor, was once known as the "place where Satan dwells."
In the first century, it was a thriving city, but after countless wars and natural disasters, the temples of Pergamum lay in ruins. By the mid-19th century, the once-great city of Pergamum was barely a memory.
Locals used this site as a quarry, looting the marble for new buildings, until 1864, when a German engineer paid a visit to Pergamum. Carl Humann was shocked by the destruction of the priceless artifacts, so he got permission to excavate the ancient city himself. What he found was one of the greatest monuments in ancient history: the Altar of Zeus.
Stone by stone, the altar was excavated and taken to Berlin, where it was reassembled and placed in its own museum. The Pergamon Museum opened in 1930, with the altar as its centerpiece.
Eventually, the altar caught the eye of a young man named Albert Speer, the new chief architect for the Nazi Party. Germany’s new chancellor, Adolf Hitler, had commissioned him to design the parade grounds for the party rallies in Nuremberg.
For inspiration, Speer turned to the Pergamon Altar.
“If you read the German written by Speer, he gives all the credit to Hitler,” says Dr. Anthony R. Santoro, the Distinguished Professor of History & President Emeritus of Christopher Newport University. “I think he's like a good interior decorator that someone hires, and that client already has the ideas of what he wants to do, and the decorator agrees with him. So that's what Speer did.”
Using the altar as his model, Speer created a colossal grandstand at the rally grounds in Nuremberg. It became known as the Zeppelintribüne. After the war, only a small part of it was left standing.
“If you look at the kinds of ceremonies that were on display at Zeppelin field with the reconstructed temple there patterned on the Pergamum Altar, you'll see photographs of Hitler, descending down the steps, like a tribune of the people from old Roman times,” says Santoro.
In the middle of the grandstand, where the bronze Altar of Zeus stood in ancient Pergamum, Albert Speer built Hitler’s podium. Hitler wanted to create what he called a "mass experience," and Speer came up with the perfect idea.
Most of the Nuremberg rallies were held at night, so Speer surrounded the grandstand with 150 searchlights. The columns of light extended for miles in the sky, creating the mystical effect Hitler wanted:
"The concluding meeting in Nuremberg must be exactly as solemnly and ceremonially performed as a service of the Catholic Church."
This effect was known as the "Cathedral of Light,” and it became a hallmark of Hitler’s events. It was even used in the closing ceremonies of the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin.
“Well, it's a very inexpensive way of creating interest,” says Santoro. “Hitler is very much aware of German mythology, his favorite entertainment is German opera, certainly Wagner and all the mythological stories that go with Wagner. And certainly anytime you're looking at mythology and gods, you're looking skyward. So I don't think it's an accident that he says to Speer, ‘Let's create an environment of looking towards the heavens, and that's what it does.’”
Inside the rally grounds, thousands of Nazi Party members marched in torchlight parades.
“These events happen at night, which gives a contrasting effect of fear, of strength, of the unknown, of mystery, and that's all intended by Hitler,” says Santoro. “He's very theatrical. Torchlight and fire have always been part of German mythology. I think there's a quasi-mystical, semi-religious context to these torch parades; there are many of them in Nazi Germany.”
From his podium, Hitler mesmerized the crowds:
"Not every one of you sees me and i do not see every one of you. But I feel you... and you feel me!"
Then under the Cathedral of Light, thousands of Germans swore what they called a “holy oath."
"Blazing flames hold us together into eternity...
No one shall take this faith from those who are dedicated to Germany."
From 1933 to 1938, hundreds of thousands of people gathered at the Zeppelin field in Nuremberg every September for the Reichstparteitag, or Nazi Party Congress. But it was the 1934 rally that captured the attention of the world, thanks to what may be the greatest propaganda film of all time.
“The 1934 party film, Triumph of the Will, which was released in 1935, is the consummate picture of Hitler,” says Santoro.” No other film was ever made of Hitler, and he didn't want any other film made of him. Everything that he wanted people to know about the Nazis is in that film. It was shown continuously for 12 years in Germany.”
Triumph of the Will was directed by a young German actress named Leni Riefenstahl.
“She was a famous movie star. I would characterize her as the female Indiana Jones,” says Santoro. “She was pretty and shapely and popular and romantic. Hitler's a bit of a romantic, and so he liked her.”
The film portrayed Hitler as a godlike figure, the savior of the German people.
“Hitler's entrance in the film is from the sky, like a messiah who would be descending down through the heavens, through the clouds to the faithful waiting for him below,” says Santoro. “Anytime he appears, any people who are close to him have these starry-eyed looks – almost these glazed looks as if they're in the presence of an unearthly being. That's intentional.”
In his speeches, Hitler often borrowed Christian phrases, like in one scene with the Hitler Youth.
“After they sing their song to him, Hail Hitler to Thee, which is almost like a religious chant, he goes into his speech, and he says things like, ‘You are flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood.’ Well, he borrows that from the Roman Catholic ritual, with which he's very familiar. It's a very physical statement, and it resonates with that crowd.”
Hitler's popularity skyrocketed after the release of Triumph of the Will. The next year, more than a million Germans came to Nuremberg to hear his speech.
On the evening of September 15, 1935, Hitler announced the Nuremberg Laws.
“The law for the protection of German Blood and German Honor is intended to begin the marginalization process of the Jewish people,” says Santoro. “Hitler had a lot of popular support for much of his time in office. One doesn't get popular support by saying to the public we're going to put the Jewish people in gas chambers and incinerate them. What he did was gradually marginalize them.”
It was also in Nuremberg that Hitler used the phrase “Final Solution” for the first time in public.
“Bitter complaints have come in from countless places citing the provocative behavior of Jews. This law is an attempt to find a legislative solution. If this attempt fails, it will be necessary to transfer [the Jewish problem] ... to the National Socialist party for a final solution."
The Nuremberg Laws stripped the Jews of their rights as citizens.
“They couldn't teach in public universities, they couldn't practice medicine in public hospitals,” says Santoro. “They couldn't fly the national flag, but they could fly the Jewish flag. Then that was coupled with the Reich citizenship law, which said that Jewish people in Germany were subjects of the Reich, but not citizens.”
Hitler's "Final Solution" is now known as the Holocaust, a word that comes from a Greek word meaning "a wholly burnt animal sacrifice."
In AD 92, the faithful martyr Antipas died, a "wholly burnt sacrifice" on the altar of Zeus in Pergamum, the place the Book of Revelation calls "the Throne of Satan."
Centuries later in Nuremberg, in the center of a redesigned Pergamon Altar, the bronze bull was replaced by a podium. From there, Adolf Hitler announced his "Final Solution" to the world... and this time, the burnt sacrifice was six million Jews.