Anyone who, like Wouter Lutkie (1887-1968), was a priest and a fascist, eludes the empathy of contemporary Dutch people. After all, Catholic clergy are rarely part of their biotope, and ‘fascist’ is the ultimate disqualification for them. Yet Willem Huberts, Lutkie’s biographer, manages to arouse sympathy for the self-proclaimed priest-fascist – despite his inability (or unwillingness) to occasionally withhold from the reader a fact of minor importance. Lutkie was too headstrong – too much one franc tireur, as he himself put it – to be identified with any institution or any ideological error. ‘You have to dare to stand alone,’ he wrote to a journalist friend. “Even if you generally hear a contradictory judgment.” That crossness is captivating.
Within the all-powerful Roman Catholic Church and in the midst of the mass movements of his century, he was a militant alien. An exotic with some influence and with numerous connections – of whom Benito Mussolini was the (historically) most prominent. He was received in audience by his Italian idol no fewer than seven times – and Lutkie always gave admiring reports. But unlike Mussolini, Lutkie never trod the slippery slope to National Socialism. He ranted against anti-Semitism, the staple of Nazi doctrine, and against anything German. During his travels through Europe, he consistently avoided ‘Nazidonia’. And he attributed ‘to the dumbest Italian illiterate more inner civilization than the most literate Berliner professor’. He eagerly quoted Mussolini, who during one of their conversations is said to have contemptuously remarked that Hitler only spoke German. In his aversion to (Nazi) Germany, Lutkie campaigned for the purification of the Dutch language from Germanisms.
Dismissed as a collaborator
In his own country he fought ‘with sharp mind and hearty temperament’ with Anton Mussert and his NSB. On the other hand, during the German occupation, he maintained so many strategic contacts with the new rulers that he managed to release some two hundred ‘good patriots’ from captivity. After the war, Lutkie resumed this ‘midwifery practice’, as he jokingly called it, for the benefit of interned NSB members, eastern front fighters and other (presumed) traitors to the land. ‘I too have lost a brother,’ he wrote – as a self-justification. ‘My only brother (Leo Lutkie, who was killed in the concentration camp Oranienburg, red.). But for us Christians that is all the more reason to apply the commandment ‘love your enemies’.’
This priestly conception of duty was interpreted by some as a secret expression of sympathy for the heresy that Lutkie had always opposed. For example, the eminent historian Lodewijk Rogier (1894-1974) dismissed him as a Nazi collaborator after the war in publications without proper substantiation. In its own periodical, Aristo, Lutkie has defended itself against this allegation. But Rogier’s judgment about ‘the remarkable Wouter Lutkie’ has solidified in Dutch historiography. To the noticeable indignation of Willem Huberts. ‘Rogier’s scientifically irresponsible behavior with regard to Lutkie is unforgivable, especially for a professor who was praised as truthful.’
In conflict with the zeitgeist
It must be said that Lutkie did not make it easy for his contemporaries either. He was a member of several fascist organisations, he was friends with people who were tried as collaborators after the war, he showed more appreciation for people who ‘remained at their post without betrayal’ during the occupation than for (non-Jewish) people in hiding. , and he wondered whether the Netherlands should consider itself lucky enough to have been liberated by the ‘selfish’ Americans. For him, Mussolini’s violent death marked the beginning of ‘another inescapable phase in the development of fascism’. Shortly after the war he again touted the ‘corporate order’ of fascism – as if the previous years had not left deep traces in history.
“As a priest I consider it my duty, as far as I can, to bring about reconciliation between people where they are separated by strife or misunderstanding,” said Lutkie of his personal motives. As a result, in the contentious twentieth century, he constantly clashed with the zeitgeist. A lack of understanding for his political views did not necessarily stand in the way of appreciation for his ‘personal selflessness’. ‘Among the leading Dutch fascists, Wouter Lutkie is one of the very few sympathetic figures’, judged historian AA de Jonge. Publicist Wim Zaal praised Lutkie, after his death in 1968, as a man admired by all who knew him. ‘Perhaps [was hij] a great man indeed, a martyr to a false ideal, an honest fantasist.’ Very few fascists would have been commemorated with such glowing words.
Willem Huberts: Soli Deo – Wouter Lutkie (1887-1968) – Biography of a priest-fascist. Tree; 463 pages; €39.90.