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Martin Heidegger and Nazism

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“Only A God Can Save Us”

“Nur noch ein Gott kann uns retten”

Martin Heidegger is considered by many to be the most profound thinker of the 20th Century.  His magnum opus,
Being and Time, was published in 1927 and had the equivalent impact on philosophy that Einstein’s theory of relativity, published in 1906, had on physics;  and Freud’s theories of personality, published in 1902 had in the field of psychology.

What Heidegger did was to overturn the whole history of philosophical thought that went back 2,500 years to the Greeks and re-examine the question of being and to challenge the whole of Western Metaphysics that prevailed up to his time.  He went back to the Pre-socratics , specifically Heraclites, to begin to redirect the path of thinking, to redirect the years of philosophical inquiry in order to put us back “on the right track.” 

A student of Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology, at the University of Freiburg Germany, Heidegger would break with his great mentor and charge forth into a new direction, building on phenomenology, but going his own quite original way.  His wish was to make philosophy the Queen of the Sciences.  Heidegger’s monumental task would have a powerful impact on 20th Century philosophy and influence some of the century’s most important thinkers --  Jean Paul Sartre, Karl Jaspers, Jacque Derrida, Karl Löwitz, Hans Jonas,  Michel Foucault, Hans Georg Gadamer, Richard Rorty, Herbert Marcuse, and Hannah Arendt.

In May of 1933, Germany’s most famous philosopher, joined the Nazi Party and became the first Nazi Rector of a German University.  He enthusiastically supported the new revolutionary movement in Germany and made known his admiration for Adolf Hitler and his desire to be the philosopher of the Nazi revolution, to be the Führer of the Führer.   

Although one of  the most influential thinkers of our time, much of Heidegger’s philosophy is shrouded in confusion and controversy.  His support for National Socialism poses some serious questions about Heidegger’s thought in particular and philosophy in general.  Was he a profound thinker or was he a petty bourgeois from the province whose thought sprang from the Blut und Boden of the humble origins of his arch-conservative Catholic youth?  Or both?

We now know that Heidegger’s “flirtation” with Nazism was actually a life-long commitment propelled by ideas in his own philosophy.  In his “Introduction To Metaphysics” published in 1953, one cannot fail to notice his incriminating insistence on the intrinsic “saving power and greatness” of National Socialism.  More scandalous than his backing of Hitler, however, was his silence about the Holocaust.  Karl Jaspers and Herbert Marcuse made attempts to get Heidegger to refute his Nazi past.  In 1947, like the poet Paul Celan, Marcuse travelled to Heidegger’s hut in Todtnauberg in the Black Forest, against the advice of his fellow German-Jewish émigrés, in search of a “single word” of repentance.  Heidegger refused to respond.

Many scholars have displayed dangerous failures of political judgement by promoting uncritically Heidegger’s thought.  This film offers an extraordinary response and radical challenge to Heidegger’s  rejection of democracy and his support of Nazism.

In the 1976 interview with Der Spiegel, Heidegger reiterated his distaste for democratic society, his aversion of things modern, his complaint about hardships he had to suffer, yet he was able to live in a villa in Freiburg from 1945 till his death in 1976 in relative peace and comfort under the protection of the new democratic Germany.  One only has to think about the millions who died in World War II, a war started by the Nazi regime he openly supported, and one’s patience with his petulance begins to grow thin.  His final words of despair in Der Spiegel interview make it clear that he had no faith in democracy or for that matter liberal democratic government of any kind.  The only hope?  There is none.  “Only a God can save us.”


Director :    Jeffrey van Davis
Producer :  Terrance E. Davis
Camera :     Carl Herse
                      Marco Meyer-König
                      Julius Berrien
                      Andrew Mason 


“Only A God Can Save Us”
Length:  118 min.
Shot in 16mm,  mini DV
Country of Origin:  Germany
Shot in:  USA, Germany, France, Holland

Persons featured in film:

Kardinal Karl Lehmann, Bishop of Mainz
Alfred Denker, Heidegger Biographer
Hugo Ott, Freiburg University
Victor Farias, Free University of Berlin
Tom Rockmore, Duquesne University, USA
Richard Wolin, City University of New York, USA
Ted Kisiel, Northern Illinois University, USA
Rainer Marten, Freiburg University
Emmanuel Faye, University of Paris
Bernd Martin, Freiburg University
Iain Thomson,
University of New Mexico, USA
Jürgen Paul, Dresden University
Silke Seemann, Freiburg University
Rangvi Wesendonk
Axel Graf Douglas, Schloss Langenstein 

Some of the topics covered in the documentary:

  1. Heidegger’s concept of Being and the “turning” from Dasein to Sein
  2. His humble beginnings and staunch Catholic education.
  3. The Rectorship and his denunciation of teachers such as Nobel Prize winner Staudinger.  His enthusiasm for Gleichschaltung of Frieburg University.
  4. His highly manipulative love affair with Hannah Arendt.
  5. His relationship to Edith Stein.
  6. His refusal to give a word of reconciliation to Paul Celan who visited him in his hut at Todtnauberg.
  7. The denazification process and his refusal to recant his support for Hitler.
     Emmanuel Faye and Tom Rockmore in Andre Gide's former apartment in Paris discussing Heidegger.

    aHeidegger is the short man in the middle.  This shot taken during the innauguration to Freiburg University Rectorship parade, May, 1933. 

    This is a rare shot of Heidegger attending a Nazi Professors meeting.

    van Davis interviewing Victor Farias at the Free University of Berlin.  Farias authored a highly controversial book aboout Heidegger's  philosophy and Nazism.

    Professor Rainer Marten, Freiburg University, author of Heidegger Lesen,  was an assistant to Heidegger for over
    ten years at Freiburg.  He knows Heidegger's strengths and weaknesses and is highly critical of Heidegger's politics and philosophy.

    Professor Hugo Ott, Freiburg University, author of important biography of Heidegger, being interviewed in his office in Freiburg.  Ott was attacked by some for telling the truth about Heidegger's past.  A man of great honesty and integrity, Ott wrote the famous line in the Zuricher Zeitung,  "the sky has fallen in France." upon the publishing of Victor Farias book in French in 1987.

    Tom Rockmore, author of On Heidegger's Nazism and Philosophy, interviewed in my home on Lake Constance.
    Tom lives in France and was also present for the world premiere at Freiburg University in July 2009.  He has been a friend and valuable advisor since 2004.  He organized the film interview of Emanuell Faye in Paris and
    came to Germany several times to consult and be interviewed.

    Richard Wolin, distinguished professor of history at the Graduate Center, CUNY, author of Heidegger's Children.
    First interview given on 16mm film at the University of Arizona television studio in 1994.  Since then Richard has been a  friend and supporter.  He gave the introductory speech at the American Premiere in New York City's Proshansky Auditorium of my Heidegger film on March 17, 2010.  The auditorium was filled to capacity (over 500).

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