Only a god Can Save Us” “Nur noch ein Gott kann uns retten”

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Only A God Can Save Us Heidegger and Nazism

A Film by Jeffrey van Davis

Martin Heidegger, German Philosopher
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 HannahArendt.

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.

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.”

"Jeffrey van Davis' brilliantly provocative Heidegger film and discussion at Penn State in March 2010 was the most lively public event many of us in History, Philosophy and German and other Departments can remember here. It attracted a large audience of faculty, students and the general public which sat rapt for two hours and remained on for another 1 and 3/4 hours of at times sharp, always fascinating, discussion which had to be terminated by the need to vacate the theatre.  Despite the sharpness of the debate that followed the film, all agreed that the film - and the director's additional comments - had generated an extraordinarily stimulating conversation and one that would resonate long after the event. The atmosphere of realistic intellectual engagement relevant to life and history produced by the film was something that rarely occurs nowadays in university life which is more accustomed to sterile arguments over abstract and jargonized issues".

-- Paul Lawrence Rose, Professor of European History and Mitrani Professor of Jewish Studies, Penn State University
                                           (Heisenberg and the Nazi Atomic Bomb Project, Wagner: Race and Revolution)


A number of colleagues have told me that they thought the film and discussion were excellent. I am also very pleased at the way the evening went. I hope "Only a God Can Save Us" receives broad attention it deserves. ...your film and discussion educated us about important matters. As I indicated, the topic not only of Heidegger but many others of "the best and the brightest" who threw in their lot with dictators of various sorts will be a continuing theme of research for historians all over the world, not only in Germany. I would imagine that your film will have a continuing interest inside and outside the academy. It was a pleasure meeting and talking.  I wish you much success and will certainly stay in touch.

With best wishes,

-- Jeffrey Herf, Professor of History, University of Maryland (Reactionary Modernism: Technology, Culture, and Politics in Weimar and the Third Reich; Divided Memory: The Nazi Past in the Two Germanys; Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World)

I finally got a chance to watch your documentary this past weekend. It's an extremely powerful piece of work and doesn't let Heidegger off the hook at all. I can see why Hermann H. had a shit fit. Congratulations.  For me, it was a tremendous pleasure to see Farias, Ott and Faye live for the first time. (I have only read them, not met them.) Rockmore, by contrast, I know for 30 years back to my graduate days at Yale. We talked about the film in November when we both participated in UNESCO's World Philosophy Day in Moscow. I found some parts of the film -- particularly moments from the interview with Rainer Marten -- enormously moving.
-- Carlin Romano teaches Media and Philosophy in the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and is the Cultural Critic for the Chronicle of Higher Education.


"Outstanding! Is a real benchmark.  A Tour de Force.  I expect it to have a major influence on contemporary Heidegger interpretation.  Students will flock to it, and thereafter will not be able to view Heidegger 'naively'".

-- Richard Wolin,  Distinguished Professor of History, Graduate Center, CUNY (Heidegger's Children)


"This film stands out for its deeply informed, scholarly, critical, and responsible grasp of the thinker and his thought in turbulent historical context.  In bringing together what was already known and much that was not known, and in interviewing leading Heidegger scholars and historians, this full-length documentary study casts considerable light on Heidegger and his work."

-- Tom Rockmore, Professor of Philosophy, Duquense University (On Heidegger's Nazism and Philosophy)

Thank you again for a wonderful event. The film drew a very large crowd and the discussion we had afterwards was one of the very best in my experience here at Suffolk. I hope you enjoyed it and saw it as a testimony to the force of your film. What a splendid occasion it was. Students are still talking about it.

-- Gregory Fried, Professor and Chair, Philosophy Department, Suffolk University, Boston

DVD of Only A God Can Save Us available at


Only A God Can Save Us -- Heidegger and Nazism -- A Film by Jeffrey van Davis

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