Playmobil’s toy figure of Martin Luther, in its trademark style aimed at children up to 12 years old. The word “Ende” (End) at the bottom of the left page of the Bible raised objections that the toy could be anti-Semitic. Photo taken Dec. 31, 2016. RNS photo by Tom Heneghan

How a toy figure of Martin Luther sparked accusations of anti-Semitism

(RNS) When it comes to Martin Luther and anti-Semitism, even popular toys in Germany can’t escape theological scrutiny.

Playmobil, one of Germany’s leading toy manufacturers, rolled out a 3-inch plastic figure of Luther back in 2015 to promote this year’s 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

Cloaked in black robes, the Luther figure holds a quill in one hand and his German translation of the Bible in the other.

It’s been a huge hit.

About 500,000 have been sold, mostly in Germany — especially in cities where Luther lived and worked — but also in the United States and other foreign countries.

That makes it the most popular figure ever produced by the Bavarian company, which also makes little spacemen, pirates, workers and even Christmas crib sets among the thousands of different Playmobil toys it has turned out since 1974.

All was apparently going fine until Micha Brumlik, a retired Frankfurt University education professor and respected Jewish commentator, wrote last June that the popular toy was “anti-Jewish, if not even anti-Semitic.”

The problem, he said, was the inscription on the open pages of the Bible that the Playmobil Luther holds. On the left is written in German: “Books of the Old Testament. END” while the right page says “The New Testament, translated by Doctor Martin Luther.”

Why was the word “END” written so prominently, Brumlik asked. “Theologically, there can be no other reason than that the ‘Old Testament’ and its validity should be seen as ended and superseded,” he wrote in the Berlin newspaper tageszeitung.

“Is the Old Testament, the Scripture of the people of Israel common to Jews and Christians, outdated and overtaken, as many Nazis — the so-called German Christians — wanted to see it, or is it just as important as the Gospels for Christian denominations?”

The regional Protestant church in Hesse and Nassau, the area where Frankfurt is located, soon seconded Brumlik’s criticism and said the wording could be misunderstood.

In an open letter, a group of progressive theologians said the toy presented a questionable view of the Bible “in a political and social context in which anti-Jewish views are again on the rise.”

This was not at all supposed to be what the cute little figure was about.

The German National Tourist Board and tourist officials in Nuremberg — center of Germany’s toy industry — developed the toy with Playmobil as a marketing gimmick to promote visits to Reformation-themed events in cities linked to Luther.

The Nuremberg tourism office sells it on its website for 2.39 euros (about $2.50). Amazon in Germany has three dozen rave reviews from delighted customers.

It’s one of countless souvenirs on sale for the anniversary, on top of Luther beer, Luther noodles, Luther socks, Luther refrigerator magnets, a Luther board game and, of course, a wide variety of new books about the man, his life and the Reformation.

A Protestant theologian acted as an adviser to the Playmobil project, which modeled the toy on a famous statue of Luther that stands in Wittenberg, the eastern German city where tradition says he nailed his 95 Theses to a church door on Oct. 31, 1517.

The Evangelical Church in Germany, the country’s main association of Protestant churches, quickly adopted the figure, even commissioning a life-size model to show at events promoting the Reformation commemoration.

While it initially had no objection to the inscription Brumlik criticized, the association, known by its German initials EKD, has been dealing in recent years with other aspects of the embarrassing legacy of Luther’s anti-Semitism as part of preparations for the anniversary.

At the group's annual synod in 2015, it passed a resolution saying “Luther’s view of Judaism and his vilification of Jews are, according to our understanding today, in contraction to the faith in the one God who revealed himself in the Jew Jesus.”

In November, the EKD's 2016 synod officially renounced the “Mission to the Jews,” an evangelism project that most regional churches had given up in the decades after the Holocaust but that retained some support among more conservative congregations.

In his article, Brumlik reminded his readers that Luther was “one of the founding fathers of modern anti-Semitism” and author of the infamous book “On the Jews and Their Lies,” in which the former Catholic monk urged his followers to burn down Jews' homes and synagogues and confiscate their money.

Playmobil toys have made so many children happy that the company cannot possibly belong to this tradition, Brumlik said. Recalling all the Luther figures was not the answer, but maybe the company could remove “END” from the book page, or at least write it smaller.

After discussions among its sponsors, the Nuremberg tourist bureau announced that the word “END” would be removed from all future copies of the toy. The theologically more correct model will be available from March.

The Playmobil Luther has become so well-known in Germany that Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, chairman of the EKD, mentioned it in his New Year’s sermon in Berlin.

“In this jubilee year, it’s not primarily about Luther Playmobil figures, Luther socks and Reformation candies,” he said Sunday (Jan. 1). “They only open the door so the message can be heard. And it is clear and more relevant than ever — rediscover Christ!”

(Tom Heneghan is a correspondent based in Paris)

Comments

  1. “wrote last June that the popular toy was ‘anti-Jewish, if not even anti-Semitic.'”

    My first would be this is about Martin Luther being pretty anti-Semitic himself but…

    “The problem, he said, was the inscription on the open pages of the Bible that the Playmobil Luther holds. On the left is written in German: ‘Books of the Old Testament. END’

    Why was the word ‘END’ written so prominently, Brumlik asked. ‘Theologically, there can be no other reason than that the ‘Old Testament’ and its validity should be seen as ended and superseded,'”

    Oh, so the reason for the complaint is just stupid then.

    “‘Is the Old Testament, the Scripture of the people of Israel common to Jews and Christians, outdated and overtaken,’”

    By this logic, all of Christianity is anti-Semitic.

    All of Islam is anti-Christian.

    All of the Baha’i Faith is anti-Muslim.

    Moses was anti-Abraham.

    This is stupid logic.

  2. There has been animosity toward Jews and Judaism on the part of the Christian church from its early days – something about them rejecting Jesus as the messiah. This has continued until our modern Times (WWII). When not outright persecuted they had many restrictions placed on them in many European countries. Until the modern civil rights era they have been subject to prejudice here in the US. So any celebration of Christianity’s past has to deal with this stigma. So what do you do? Not celebrate or commemorate?

  3. We are told repeatedly that in fact the NT superseded the OT, except in the cases where moralizing busybodies need something to damn other people.

    I was raised Jewish, and I don’t see this doll as doing or saying anything that Christianity hasn’t been saying for millennia. And luther’s antisemitism is well documented, as you note.

  4. The obvious question is why Playmobile put the word “Ende” on this little toy. But it seems the “reporter” failed even to ask. And where is the editor? If the reporter makes such a mistake, the editor should catch it and tell him/her to do his/her job and find out.

  5. Yes. I am struggling, but I fail to see the anti-Semitism here. However, since I’m not Jewish I want to respect that I may be missing something here. Perhaps I need to learn more history to see that the toy was tasteless, I don’t know.

    But by this logic, this is also how many Protestants and Evangelicals view Catholics–as something “lesser” that was superseded by something “better.” It is often not explicitly stated, but it is a clear message nonetheless. Sometimes that’s an unfair prejudice… but sometimes it’s not. If they thought Catholicism were better, they would be Catholic. I’m sure many people remained in the Jewish faith instead of Christian because they thought it was the “better” path. Doesn’t that sort of go without saying? Religious identity is not always a question of which is better or lesser, but sometimes it is for a lot of people. Personally, I see different faith traditions as equals (some may be better for me but may not be objectively better for everyone)… but often people pick the tradition that they agree or think is a better path.

    With the rise of serious anti-Semitism worldwide and especially in the wake of Trump in America, can we distinguish between offenses that may be accidental and treat them as teachable moments rather than PC witch hunts? And save our strength for the heavy duty fighting that will come with the explicit and intentional anti-Semitism? I know the two are related but there are also differences. This can give political correctness a bad name and drain energy. Just the other day, a swastika was spray painted on a prominent Jewish seminary in Cincinnati, OH. Attacking Playmobil has questionable value to me when those kinds of things are happening concurrently.

    Luther was a flawed historical person and had a role to play in historical anti-Semitism. It’s a teachable moment.

  6. With or without the single word “END”, the fact is that no evidence of Anti-Semitism has been demonstrated involving this toy. That much is clear.

  7. It’s an unfortunate fact that Marin Luther was indeed a raging anti-Semite. Hard to get around that, whatever it says on his little plastic book.

  8. This is indeed a teachable moment as noted by Frank Lesko. A moment where everyone can and should take a deep breath. Despite Luther’s late anti-Semitism which appeared only after his efforts to convert the Jews of Germany by the force of what he considered his impeccable logic failed. In fact he may have not have been not quite right in his mind when he composed, “On the Jews and their lies.” Still, within the precincts of reform theology he made many sound contributions to the benefit of the faith, particularly his war against simony. It is natural that the German people might wish to celebrate his impact on the Christian faith despite his later foibles. Earlier and later Christians must answer for themselves the question of their own complicity in the untoward anti-Semitism that rose as a Satanic deceit within the faith. As to the toy or statuette, the sensible thing is being done to mitigate and minimize any confusion about the prominence of the word which offends, it is being eliminated. A sound, sensible, and reasonable response to the concerns expressed by Mr. Brumlik.

  9. Martin Luther’s “Eight Point Plan for the Jews” is almost identical to Hitler’s “Final Solution”.

  10. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther was a scholar and man of faith who wanted nothing more than for all people to share in the sure hope of salvation through Jesus the Messiah. He found this faith when he discovered the Gospel of forgiveness, life and salvation in the Scriptures for himself. He painstakingly translated both the Old and New Testaments and wrote sermons, commentaries and the like on each of the books. He loved the Psalms having memorized them. He encouraged others to do the same. The 10 Commandments were essential learning in his view for the Christian faith. He thought it imperative that all people have access to the life giving Word of God in its entirety, working on revision after revision into his final years. Being the student of the Scriptures that he was, he knew that the Old Testament is the lense through which Jesus is revealed as the long expected Messiah. Christ said it. His Apostles said it. The New Testament says it time and time again.

    I do not have a copy of the Luther Bible on hand but I seem to recall seeing this word “Ende” printed on the dividing pages of the Old Testament and New Testament simply as a way of indicating that the Old Testament ends there, hence this is where the New Testament picks up. We still do this type of thing. When I listen to audio books sometimes at the end of a disk the reader will actually say, “End of disk 1.” I certainly don’t take that as having any theological implications even if I am reading a theology book (or the Bible for that matter.) The online audio Bible that I listen to does this somewhere in the last half of the new testament after the Gospels and most if not all of the Pauline Epistles. I don’t take this as a theological slam on the Gospel writers or on Paul. I simply acknowledge that they ran out of disk space and had to move onto a new one.

  11. To describe Nazis as “so-called German Christians” is itself much more explicitly anti-Christian than the use of the word “Ende” is supposedly anti-Jewish. The Nazis were in no way Christians, and clearly rejected Christianity and wanted to and did subordinate it to their totalitarian ideology. To suggest that seeing the OT as “ended and superseded” or “outdated and overtaken” is anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic simply misses the point made by other comments here – that such views of the OT are simply part and parcel of other religions disagreeing with Judaism. (By Brumlik’s logic, Jewish rejection of the NT would have to be characterized as “anti-Christian” in the sense of prejudice or hatred, and not as the theological disagreement that it actually is.) Of course, Christians do not see the OT as “ended” in the sense that it is “outdated” and therefore no longer of any value. But generally Christians do see the OT as “overtaken” or “superseded” – not because of irrelevance, but because the promise of the coming Messiah was fulfilled by the coming of Jesus Christ.

  12. A fuller quote from the 2015 EKD synod declaration on Martin Luther and the Jews:

    10. According to our present understanding, Luther’s view of Judaism and his
    invective against Jews contradict his faith in the one God who revealed himself in
    Jesus the Jew. Luther’s judgment upon Israel therefore does not correspond to the
    biblical statements on God’s covenant faithfulness to his people and the lasting
    election of Israel.

    11. In theology and church life we face the challenge of rethinking central theological
    doctrines of the Reformation and of not falling into disparaging anti-Judaic
    stereotypes. That particularly concerns the distinctions ‘law and gospel’, ‘promise and
    fulfillment’, ‘faith and works’ and ‘old and new covenant’.

    12. We acknowledge the need to deal critically with our Reformation heritage when
    interpreting Scripture, in particular the Old Testament. We recognize that “the Jewish
    exegesis of the Holy Scriptures of Israel [Tanakh] … contains a perspective which is
    also not only legitimate but even necessary for the Christian interpretation” (Church
    and Israel
    , Leuenberg Documents 6, II, 227). We can explore the richness of Scripture
    more profoundly when we are aware of Jewish biblical interpretation.

  13. The Nazis were in no way Christians

    On the other hand:

    Most Christians in Germany welcomed the rise of Nazism in 1933. They were also persuaded by the statement on “positive Christianity” in Article 24 of the 1920 Nazi Party Platform, which read:

    “We demand the freedom of all religious confessions in the state, insofar as they do not jeopardize the state’s existence or conflict with the manners and moral sentiments of the Germanic race. The Party as such upholds the point of view of a positive Christianity without tying itself confessionally to any one confession. It combats the Jewish-materialistic spirit at home and abroad and is convinced that a permanent recovery of our people can only be achieved from within on the basis of the common good before individual good.”

    Despite the open antisemitism of this statement and its linkage between confessional “freedom” and a nationalistic, racialized understanding of morality, many Christians in Germany at the time read this as an affirmation of Christian values.
    ….
    The general tactic by the leadership of both Protestant and Catholic churches in Germany was caution with respect to protest and compromise with the Nazi state leadership where possible. There was criticism within both churches of Nazi racialized ideology and notions of “Aryanism,” and movements emerged in both churches to defend church members who were considered “non-Aryan” under Nazi racial laws (e.g., Jews who had converted). Yet throughout this period there was virtually no public opposition to antisemitism or any readiness by church leaders to publicly oppose the regime on the issues of antisemitism and state-sanctioned violence against the Jews. There were individual Catholics and Protestants who spoke out on behalf of Jews, and small groups within both churches that became involved in rescue and resistance activities (for example, the White Rose and Herman Maas).

  14. Seems to me, in this day and age where the vast majority of university and college professors are deeply invested in finding ‘hidden meanings’ in pretty much anything and everything – and using those ‘findings’ as a club to beat people over the head – Herr Brumlik, though retired, is keeping up the tradition.

  15. Get a life and stop milking the victim status. This is NOT anti-Semitic. Get over it. Funny, no one talks about how the Talmud trashes Gentiles.

  16. You want quality from the news media? Ha Ha Ha Ha

  17. I just realized the answer to my question. The statue of Luther on the market in Wittenberg also had “Ende” at the same spot. The toy was just trying to be a little bit accurate.

  18. It seems at end of this text, the Bishop gave the game away. They have to jump when the wolf shows it teeth or get the full onslaught. They are the shepherds to their sheep as for example the Christian pastors in the Ottoman Empire.. As the Bishop said, Rediscover Christ!

  19. I read in another article that Micha Brumlik called the toy “anti-Jewish, if not even anti-Semitic.” If true, then I applaud him for at least recognizing the difference between anti-semitism and anti-Jewism. A third related term is anti-Zionism. In the meantime, I’m promoting a new word, anti-Jewarchism – the fear or hatred of excessive Jewish power and corruption, including but not limited to Zionism. Learn more @ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zC8oaYcvPU

  20. Totally stupidity. Is it anti-Christian for Jewish synagogue to not read from the New Testament? According to this professor it is.

  21. It could be therefore it must be? This is such a non-story.

  22. The EKD is an extreme liberal church more interested in social issues than theology or spreading the Gospel.

  23. My King James Bible ends the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible with “End of the Prophets” in block capitals.

  24. I am a Jew, and, as such am very sensitive to anti-Semitism. But this toy merely shows the page that ends what you Xtians call the Old Testament and the first page of the New … thus getting them both in.

    We could discuss Luther hideous anti-Semitism, and how much grief it caused to Europe’s Jews another time. This ain’t it

    Not that I mind that “the word “ENDE” would be removed from all future copies of the toy”..

  25. Actually it doesn’t …. unless you get your Talmud “translations” and interpretations from anti-Semitic neo-Nazi websites.

    Admit it – you cannot read a word of Talmudic Aramaic and have to rely on what others tell you. Look at who they are, and where they get their “information” from.

    By the way – just whom are you demanding to “get a life”? Do you, in fact, have one? Look what you are wasting your life posting about.

  26. I get my Talmud ‘”translations” and interpretations’ from Peter Schäfer’s Jesus in the Talmud (Princeton University Press). In the Talmud Jesus is spending the afterlife in hell, boiling in the excrement of his followers.

    So I personally rely on ‘”translations” and interpretations’ from such anti-Semitic neo-Nazi sources as the Princeton University Press.

    The humor in the Talmud of it being the ‘excrement of his followers’ is that in the Christian rite known as the Eucharist they eat his flesh and drink his blood; so he’s boiling in his own digested flesh.

    The toy designer obviously just made as close a copy of the statue in Wittenberg as he or she could, where the word “Ende” is prominent on the visible left hand page of the Bible.

  27. Jesus, a sort-of Jew, is not generally regarded as “Gentiles”. Or didn’t you know that?

    You really don’t have to tell me about “Ende”, as 1) the article already explained it, and 2) I already posted about it.

  28. In that book’s introduction, Schaumlfer writes: “Strangely enough, the figure of Jesus does appear in the Talmud, as does his mother Mary—not in a coherent narrative, but scattered throughout the rabbinic literature in general and the Talmud in particular and often dealt with in passing, in conjunction with another subject pursued as the major theme.

    In fact, Jesus is mentioned in the Talmud so sparingly that in relation to the huge quantity of literary production culminating in the Talmud [63 volumes], the Jesus passages can be compared to the proverbial drop in the ocean of the Talmud.

    The earliest coherent narrative about Jesus’ life from a Jewish viewpoint that we possess … took shape in Western Europe in the early Middle Ages, well beyond the period of our concern here.

    If the rabbis of rabbinic Judaism did not care much about Jesus, why should we care about the few details that they do transmit, apart from simply stating the fact that they did not care much?

    A DROP IN THE OCEAN OF TALMUD. IN PASSING. THEY DID NOT CARE MUCH. Some “trashing”.

  29. And he wrote: “The most bizarre of all the Jesus stories is the one that tells how Jesus shares his place in the Netherworld with Titus and Balaam, the notorious archenemies of the Jewish people.” That is the notorious Gentile-trashing to which you allude. So I suppose you include Balaam and Tirus as your ENTIRE universe of trashed Gentiles.

  30. I have actually read the entire book and not just hastily looked up the introduction online. I have it on my bookshelf alongside a couple of thousand other books. Schäfer is an academic (whom I know nothing of beyond having read one of his books) and must be wary of how the slightest accusation of antisemitism wrecks careers.

    A drop in the bucket is not nothing when the bucket is 6200 pages. There are two primary topics in the Talmud one of which is a radical post Christianity reinterpretation of the Torah to a degree that would shock the original authors. Through it Judaism emerged as a completely different religion from its ancestor after Christianity became the state religion of the Romans.

    It is clear from the Talmud that its authors knew nothing of the historical Jesus but had thoroughly read the gospels. With Jews having converted en masse and those remaining passing through a demographic bottleneck it was in their interest to invent all sorts of frankly unpleasant stories about him (I don’t much care by the way). That was why the Talmud was so often prosecuted in the period of classical Judaism, often by talmudic scholars who had converted.

    If it matters I am neither Jewish nor Christian. I am, like Einstein, a pantheist or perhaps agnostic.

    Umm. NO POPERY! hahaaha

  31. Your ENTIRE universe of trashed Gentiles turns out to be Balaam and Titus. In other words, your statement “Funny, no one talks about how the Talmud trashes Gentiles.” is just so much poobah. Which you are unable to defend as it is nonsense. And untrue. And just so much poobah.

  32. you have me mixed up with another commenter. Red Baron said something about trashing someone at the beginning ot this thread.

  33. We will continue to tirelessly debate all nonsensical assertions placed on us (in an effort to control or destroy what sacred to us) until we recognize that anti-semitism is actually counter-jewish supremacism.

  34. You’re right. You seem to have jumped into the conversation un-asked for. Sorry.

  35. There has never, since even the pre-Mozilla days of newsgroups, been even the hint of a rule that one should not insert a comment into a thread. Ever.

    You are the Queen of snark. Extraordinarily rare in an Ashkenazi women. One could walk the boulevards of New York City and never hear a rude word – unless you are there 🙂

  36. That’s the most bizarre reply to an apology I have ever seen.

    BTW – I am neither Ashkenazi nor a woman.

  37. You write like a woman. Do you remember the science fiction writer Andre Norton? She used a man’s name (Andre) in case some readers would not take a female SF writer seriously. The bizarre result was that as a 12 year old I became convinced that Andre was a woman’s name – since the author was so obviously female.

    I think you are female, or else, perhaps there really is something to this transwoman, third bathroom sort of stuff.

    p.s.,

    In Internet slang, a troll (/ˈtroʊl/, /ˈtrɒl/) is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory,[1] extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the intent of provoking readers into an emotional response[2] or of otherwise disrupting normal, on-topic discussion,[3] often for the troll’s amusement.

  38. … or? perhaps the “Ecce Homo” image that identifies you is not entitled “behold the man” but rather an avatar of you in a mixture of Latin and English? Behold errr … ummm … you know.

  39. That is a Jesus-RESTORATION avatar.

    Maimonides does not trash gentiles. And THAT is our topic.

  40. The founding father of antisemitism was the Roman Catholic Church, both in ancient and modern times. How anyone can can ascribe antisemitism to Luther beggars belief.

  41. Anybody that has studied the Bible as a whole knows that without the Old Testament you don’t need the New Testament. The old Testament convicts, and the New Testament redeems. There’s nothing anti-Semitic about the word end, it’s just inappropriate. That being said there’s no denying Luther was very anti-Semitic no matter how right he was about the Roman church.

  42. the word Ende in this context is an old-fashioned form for “and”.

  43. Are you aware the father of protestants, luther wrote this….

    “First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools … This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians …”

    “Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed.”
    “Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them.”

    “Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb …”
    “Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews. For they have no business in the countryside …”

    “Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them …”
    “Seventh, I recommend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow … But if we are afraid that they might harm us or our wives, children, servants, cattle, etc., … then let us emulate the common sense of other nations such as France, Spain, Bohemia, etc., … then eject them forever from the country …”

    Do you realize the NT is the SOURCE of much hatred of Jews?
    Where do you think the concept of the “christ killer” came from?

    Do know who antioch epiphanes is? His defeat is memorialized by Hanukkah…
    He HATED the Torah and burned it
    (christianity merely describes it as bondage and useless for “salvation” ),
    He PROHIBITED the holy days which God himself ordained
    (christianity just removed them),
    He FORCED Jews to eat unclean
    (christianity teaches all food is clean)

    Christianity is just the modern day, watered down version of antioch epiphanes, but the full hatred will, no doubt, rise up one day.

    Lets not forget Scripture tells us that ALL NATIONS will rise against Israel. Someday, christianity will show its true face and turn on Israel.

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