In A Nutshell
Martin Luther was a German theologian who was instrumental in establishing Protestantism. He was also an overt, raging anti-Semite who published works with titles like “Jews and their Lies” and “A Warning against the Jews.”
The Whole Bushel
In the 16th century, low-level anti-Semitism was rife across Europe. So when one of the founders of Protestantism, Martin Luther, publicly supported the Jews in their resistance to the Catholic Church, it could have been the beginning of an epoch-shaking alliance. Unfortunately, this new alliance didn’t last very long.
When it became apparent that the Jews he supported weren’t going to convert to his new brand of Christianity, Martin Luther turned against them—big time. The latter part of his life was dedicated to writing polemics that would make the most-ardent racist blush. His 1543 tome On the Jews and their Lies is full of sentences describing Jews as “base, whoring people” and the Synagogue as a “defiled bride, yes, an incorrigible whore and an evil slut.” But his anti-Semitism didn’t just stop at insults. On the Jews also calls for Christians to execute rabbis, burn down synagogues, loot Jewish homes, and put Jews to work as forced laborers. Later tracts such as “Warning on the Jews” essentially tell all right-thinking Europeans to forcibly drive Jewish people from their countries. The list goes on.
Unsurprisingly, these works may have had an effect on the Nazi party some 400 years later. Reich ministers promoted Luther’s writings and specifically seized on On the Jews to justify the worst of their excesses. There’s some debate on how opportunistic this was, but the link is clear enough for even respected modern Lutheran doctors to “confess a special guilt” regarding the Holocaust.
However you look at it, Martin Luther made life very difficult for Jewish people living in what is now Germany. At the very least, he was a hate-preacher who stirred up popular resentment against an oppressed people. At the very worst, he was indirectly responsible for one of the greatest atrocities in human history.