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"Desecration of Religion"

The Desecration of Religion
US Holocaust Memorial Museum; Courtesy of the Rockefeller Center Archive

Created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in June of 1942, the Office of War Information (OWI) designed and spread propaganda both in the United States and abroad during World War II. The OWI produced posters, films, photographs, and exhibitions to promote civilian support of the American war effort, often portraying Nazism as a direct threat to the United States and to American values.1 Many of these materials framed Christianity as inherently American and used religious imagery to evoke American identity. 

The featured photo depicts The Nature of the Enemy exhibition, an example of this approach and one of many OWI exhibitions staged on the plaza at Rockefeller Center in New York City during the war.2 Running from May 17 to July 4, 1943, it included a replica of a typical American Protestant church, pictured here. A tableau below reads "The Desecration of Religion," accompanied by a caption: "The simple, colonial church that symbolized American religion has been burned and battered by the Nazis before they barred the door with the sign: 'Closed by the Gauleiter of America.'"3 The tableau also featured quotations from Axis leaders on their supposed derision or rejection of Christianity, for example, "'Adolf Hitler is the true Holy Ghost.' Hanns Kerrl, German Minister for Church Affairs."

A tableau beside the church is titled, "Militarization of Children." Others referenced the "Abolition of Justice" and "Slave Labour." Partially visible in this photograph is a large banner hung from a building, which reads, "The Enemy plans this for you." The OWI cast "the enemy" here as all Axis nations, not just Nazi Germany.4 The caption suggested that the Axis powers posed a serious threat to American values. It also referenced Protestant Christianity was a cornerstone of American culture. Nevertheless, the exhibit's creators preferred the term religion in the title rather than Christianity or American Christianity.

See the US Holocaust Memorial Museum's special exhibition Americans and the Holocaust for examples of OWI posters. See also the related Experiencing History collection, Propaganda and the American Public.

This photo is part of a larger collection created by the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information, available at the Library of Congress. The prominent minister Henry Smith Leiper, an author of another document in this collection, spoke at the exhibit's opening in May of 1943.

Gauleiter: German, a term referring to a regional leader of the Nazi Party. 

The so-called Axis represented the coordinated military aims of Italy, Germany, and Japan during World War II. 

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Courtesy of the Rockefeller Center Archive
Source Number 69818
Date Created
May 1943
New York, USA
Still Image Type Photograph
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