A letter written nearly 500 years ago by Martin Luther in which he refers to Jews as “devils incarnate” during a tirade against a former ally is up for auction by RR Auction in Boston. According to the auction house, it is an extensive, excptionally well-preserved letter, on both sides of the same page, to Georg Buchholzer, Provost of St. Nikolai in Berlin, regarding the latter’s dispute with the Brandenburgian court preacher and Luther’s student Johann Agricola from Eisleben (a.k.a. “Magister Eisleben”) about the treatment of the local Jews.
Prince Elector Joachim II, who in 1539 had introduced the Reformation to Brandenburg and whose tolerant politics toward Jews enraged the local population, had been seeking a reconciliation between Luther and his former disciple Agricola. Historians speculate that the Prince suspected that Provost Buchholzer was poisoning Luther’s mind against his court preacher. Buchholzer at one point wrote to Luther asking for his interpretation of Biblical verses on which Agricola justified his pro-Jewish views. In his answer, Luther insisted that Buchholzer was right to preach against the Jews and should continue to do so, ignoring Agricola, the habitual liar.
“For these Jews are not Jews, but devils incarnate who curse our Lord, who abuse His mother as a whore and Him as Hebel Vorik and a bastard, this is known for certain. And anyone who is capable of eating or drinking or associating with such a foul mouth is a Christian as much as the devil is a saint… You may show this letter to whomever you wish.”
Less than two years later, in a letter dated March 9, 1545, Luther would write to Elector Joachim II directly, warning him against the “tricks’ of the Jews, in whom the Prince had too much confidence, adding that he is “glad that the Provost [Buchholzer] is so severe on those Jews, which is a proof of his loyalty to your Grace; and I encourage him to continue in the path he has chosen.’”