display | more...
Unlike most other organisations in Germany that might oppose the Nazis in the 30s and 40s, the churches were not banned, as Hitler realised that this would cause him to lose most of his support. Protestants made up two-thirds of German Christians, and Roman Catholics made up the rest. A Nazi, Hans Kerri, created for himself a Reich church ministry in 1933, which carried with it the task of keeping the churches of Germany in line. In this Kerri was not completely successful, especially with such churches as the Confessional Branch of the Protestants, the German Evangelical Church and the Roman Catholics. On the other hand, relations between the main Protestant church and the National Church of the Third Reich were very good, with the latter giving Hitler's book Mein Kampf a very favourable review in 1936.

The founder of the Protestant Church, sixteenth century monk and scholar Martin Luther had been strongly anti-Jewish. Many clergy supported this attitude and love of stern authority. As these attributes were the main features of the Nazi Party, this link was the key to their success in gaining the support of the Protestant churches in Germany. Unlike the Catholic Church, the German Protestants were "lacking a coherent political organisation of its own," to quote Professor Large. Hitler used the goal of unifying the twenty-eight branches of Protestantism to assert his influence over a large proportion of the German people. An official blessing by Protestant pastors across Germany on Easter Sunday, 16 April 1933, ensured the Protestant support of Nazism:
A state that once again rules in God's name can count not only on our applause but also on enthusiastic and active cooperation from the church. With joy and thanks we see how this new state rejects blasphemy, attacks immorality, promotes discipline and order with a firm hand, demands awe before God, works to keep marriage sacred and our youth spiritually instructed, brings honour back to fathers of families, ensures that love of people and fatherland is no longer mocked, but burns in a thousand hearts . . . We can only plead with our fellow worshippers to do all they can to help these new productive forces in our land reach a complete and unimpeded victory.
In Munich, Protestant pastors celebrated Hitler's birthday with the passing of the collection plate and, with swastikas stitched to their robes, they marched in the 1933 May Day Parade for National Labour. A report on the Nazi Rule the following month by two pastors was most favourable: "Guilt for the November (1918) crimes, whose stain prevented God from blessing our people, is now atoned. Leadership of the state safely resides in the hands of those who wish to make Germany great and strong again. Many (in the church) must now feel ashamed that they held themselves cautiously aloof while others strove and struggled at great personal cost for the national awakening."

There were some Protestants who opposed Hitler and formed an anti-Nazi branch called the Confessional Church. Led by Martin Niemöller, this group also founded "the Pastor's Emergency League" for those clergy that were opposed to the Nazis. Despite constant harassment and abuse by the SA, and the prohibition of the Confessional Church in 1935, the branch continued their campaign until the imprisonment of Niemöller and hundreds of other members left them without leaders. Some who remained were pressured to take an oath of allegiance to Hitler.

The German Evangelical Church was opposed to Nazism but in a less active manner than the Confessional Church. In 1934 the Emergency Federation of Ministers set up a governing body of the church and later its own theological school. Apart from these actions the Evangelical Church did very little but keep their church policy and religious principle anti-Nazi, and so its political effect was negligible. Not wanting to draw attention to themselves, the Evangelists were often tricked by the Nazis into false compromises in their anxiousness to demonstrate their loyalty to the state.

Roman Catholics had differing opinions on the Nazi regime. Many accepted it through fear that the Communists, who rejected organised religion, could oppose Roman Catholicism if an extreme right-wing group were not in power. However, the majority of the bishops were strongly anti-Nazi, as they generally saw the Nazis conduct as a violation of Christian principles. For political reasons, many bishops tried to come to an agreement with the Nazis that would allow them to coexist peacefully, and for a while were marginally successful. The completely different beliefs of the Catholics and the Nazis ensured that any such compromises would not last.

The Catholic Centre Party in Germany had always been able to represent Catholic interests before Hitler's rise, but when the dictator became Chancellor in 1933 the Centre Party's Chairman admitted he needed the assistance of the universal church. Von Papen, the German Vice-Chancellor, visited Rome to negotiate a concordat with the Vatican in July. Among the Nazi concessions were the preservation of special Catholic schools, the right to distribute religious papers, freedom of public worship and faith, and the protection of Roman Catholic priests and church institutions. In return the Vatican agreed to disband German Catholic political organisations (including the Centre Party) and recognise Hitler's regime.

Predictably, the concordant was not able to end hostilities between the Nazis and the Roman Catholic Church. Hitler manipulated the terms to his advantage, especially in relation to Catholic schools and youth organisations. Several Roman Catholic bishops spoke out against the Nazis' conduct and were sent to prison or concentration camps for their troubles. Several priests were executed on a variety of false charges, but the churches' opposition continued. This was partly because of the many sermons Cardinal Faulhaber of Munich delivered against National Socialism in December 1933, and later the issue of a strongly anti-Nazi papal encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge on 14 March 1937, which boosted the Catholics' confidence.

Bollen, JD. & Cosgrove, JJ. (1992) Two Centuries. A Profile of Modern History. Pitman, Melbourne.
Charman, T. (1989) The German Home Front 1939-45. Barrie & Jenkins, London.
Fest, JC. (1974) Hitler. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London.
Fleming, G. (1986) Hitler and the Final Solution. Oxford, Oxford.
Geary, D. (1993) Hitler and Nazism. Routledge, New York.
Jamieson, A. (1972) Europe in Conflict: A History of Europe 1870-1970. Hutchinson, London.
Koch, HW. (1985) Aspects of the Third Reich. St. Martins, New York.
Large, DC. (1997) Where Ghosts Walked: Munich's Road to the Third Reich. Norton, New York.
Triggs, TD. (1991) Germany Between the Wars. Oliver & Boyd, London.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.