It was founded in 1931 as a separate church party in Thuringia and in 1933 won the leadership of several regional churches in the German Evangelical Church (DEK). With its policy of harmonization and the attempt to exclude Christians of Jewish origin as Jewish Christians by adopting the Aryan paragraph in the church constitution , it sparked the church struggle with other Protestant Christians. They then founded the Confessing Church in May 1934 , which regarded the German Christians as heretics and excluded them from the church community .
Forerunners of the DC ideology were various Protestant groups in the empire who introduced ethnic , nationalist and racist ideas into conventional denominational Christianity in order to transform it into a “species-specific folk religion ”. They found their role model in the Berlin court preacher Adolf Stoecker , who tried to position the working class and Christian petty bourgeoisie against alleged Jewish “ foreign infiltration ” in the 1880s and who also became politically active.
In 1896 Arthur Bonus propagated a "Germanization of Christianity". Max Bewer (1861–1921) claimed in Der deutsche Christus 1907 that Jesus came from German mercenaries in the Roman army in Galilee and that his preaching was influenced by “German blood”. He concluded from this that the Germans were the best Christians among the peoples, who were only prevented from developing their intellectual powers by materialistic Judaism . Julius Bode (1876–1942), on the other hand, saw the Christianization of the Germanic peoples as the imposition of an “un-German” intellectual religion that remained alien to Germanic feelings and from which it had to free itself.
The Flensburg pastor Friedrich Andersen became a race anti-Semite through Houston Stewart Chamberlain and since 1904 he called for the abolition of the Old Testament and "all Jewish cloudings of the pure doctrine of Jesus". In the resulting conflicts with church authorities, he referred to Adolf von Harnack's book on Marcion . For the 400th anniversary of the Reformation in 1917, Andersen, the writer Adolf Bartels , the church councilor Ernst Katzer and Hans von Wolzüge published 95 theses to establish a “German Christianity on a Protestant basis”. It said:
“The more recent race research has finally opened our eyes to the pernicious effects of the mixture of blood between Germanic and non-Germanic people and urges us to strive with all our might to keep our nationality as pure and self-contained as possible.
Religion is the innermost power and the finest blossom in the spiritual life of a people, but can only have a strong cultural effect in a folkish form [...] A more intimate connection between Germanness and Christianity can only be achieved if this is detached from the unnatural connection in which it follows mere familiarity with the Jewish religion. "
The “angry thunderstorm god” Jehovah is different from the “father” and “spirit” that Christ proclaimed and the Germans had foreseen. Childlike trust in God and selfless love are the essence of the Germanic “people's soul” in contrast to Jewish “servile fear of God” and “materialistic morality”. The church is not an "institution for the spread of Judaism": That is why religious and confirmation classes should no longer teach subjects from the Old Testament such as the Ten Commandments , and the New Testament should also be "cleansed" of Jewish influences so that the children of Jesus can be seen as an example for “courage to sacrifice” and “male heroism”.
In 1918 Andersen published an overview of current attempts to separate Judaism from German Christianity . In 1921 he wrote The German Savior , in which he sharpened the opposition to Judaism to an apocalyptic decision:
“Who will win, Judas the hexagonal star or the cross ? - The question cannot be determined for the time being. In any case, the Jew goes his way purposefully [...] defeating his fatally hated opponent. In any case, when Christianity celebrates Good Friday , it should not be lulled into dreams; [...] otherwise a much more terrible Golgotha could come once again , where Judaism of the whole world sings its cheers in honor of the murderous, people-exterminating Yahu at the grave of Christianity that has fallen to the ground. "
Against the "contamination with Jewish ideas" primarily from the Old Testament, the Church and Germans should "benefit and support one another". Then Christianity would regain its original character as a “popular and battle religion” and would then be suitable for “the great exploiter of humanity, the evil enemy of our people, to be rendered harmless at last.”
To this end, Andersen founded the Bund for the German Church in May 1921 with Joachim Kurd Niedlich , Pastor Ernst Bublitz and teachers from the Arndt University in Berlin , which he founded in 1918, and he took over as chairman. Its bimonthly magazine Die Deutschkirche propagated the ideas of the covenant: Jesus as a “tragic Nordic figure” should be placed against the “purpose religion”, the Old Testament should be replaced by the “German myth”. Every biblical story is "to be measured according to the German feeling, so that the Semitic feeling escapes from German Christianity like the Beelzebub before the cross." This federation united in 1925 with ten other ethnic, Germanophile and anti-Semitic associations to form the German-Christian working group . The Spiritual Christian Religious Society , which Artur Dinter founded in Nuremberg in 1927 , wanted rather to “de-Jew” the existing churches and form a “ people's church ” without a denomination .
The abolition of the Old Testament sought by these groups was also rejected by many German-national Christians as a racist attack on their own beliefs. The theologian Johannes Schneider , a member of the DNVP , wrote in 1925:
"Whoever gives up the Old Testament will soon lose the new one too."
In 1927 the Evangelical Church Federation reacted to the increasing radicalization of the German Christian groups with a church convention in Königsberg , where the relationship between Christianity and “fatherland”, “nation”, “folkism”, “blood” and “race” was to be clarified. Many speakers there tried to distance themselves from racism, but only showed how far it had already penetrated their thinking. Paul Althaus z. B. stated:
"Volkstum is a spiritual reality [...] of course, a Volkstum will never become without the prerequisite z. B. the unit of blood. But once nationality has been created, it can, as a spiritual reality, [...] also acquire foreign blood. No matter how great the importance of the blood in the history of the spirit, what is ruling, once born to nationality, is the spirit and not the blood. "
On this basis, the sense of mission of the more radical German Christians could hardly be slowed down. In 1927 they gathered in Thuringia to found the Thuringian Church Movement German Christians . The latter sought contact with the NSDAP , for which Andersen had been a speaker since 1928. Your newsletter was called Letters to German Christians .
Alfred Rosenberg's book The Myth of the 20th Century (published early 1930) met with great approval in these circles and gave them new impetus. His polemic against everything “un-German” and “alien” in Christianity was directed against its beliefs and its denominational organizations at the same time. Marxist and Catholic internationalism have been attacked as two facets of the same Jewish spirit. A renewed national religion was passed off as the completion of the Reformation.
The Working Group on the German Faith Movement was also partly a national foundation, albeit outside the church and directed against the churches and Christianity. The aim was to establish a third denomination and state recognition of a non-Christian religious community.
Foundation and program
As early as 1931 in Altenburg, Thuringia, pastors Siegfried Leffler and Julius Leutheuser from the Wieratal had started a group called German Christians to elect a church representative. On June 6, 1932, the Berlin pastor Joachim Hossenfelder founded the German Christian Faith Movement as an internal evangelical church party for the entire Reich. In their "guidelines" from the same day it said:
“In race, ethnicity and nation we see orders of life given and entrusted to us by God. [...] Therefore, the mixing of races has to be opposed. [...] In the mission to the Jews we see a grave danger for our nationality. It is the entrance gate of foreign blood into our national body. [...] In particular, marriage between Germans and Jews is to be forbidden. "
This program also included
- the dissolution of the 29 regional churches ruled by synods , which were free in their confession, and the creation of a " Reichskirche " structured according to the Führer principle
- the exclusion of the Jewish Christians
- the "de-Judaization" of the church message by turning away from the Old Testament, reducing and reinterpreting the New Testament
- the "keeping the Germanic race clean" through "protection from the unfit" and "inferior"
- the destruction of the supposedly "anti-people" Marxism .
The alternative between the Reich Church and the Church Federation was not just a question of organization. In 1918 the Protestant regional churches with their respective sovereign had lost their summus episcopus (supreme bishop) ; the Weimar constitution provided for the separation of church and state . Since 1919, church power no longer lay with the state, but fell back on the churches. The Protestant churches had given themselves their own constitutions, which contained parliamentary-democratic elements. In contrast to the uniformly run Catholic Church, the Protestant churches had different denominations. That was one of the reasons why the regional churches had only come together in a loose church federation until 1933. The DC intended to abolish parliamentarism in the church in favor of the leader principle . But they left unanswered which creed an imperial church and its leadership should follow.
Nationalism , anti- democracy, anti-communism and racism did not distinguish the DC significantly from other church groups, which aimed to synthesize or approximate nationality and Christianity. Many members of the DC were popular missionaries in this direction . They published hymn books , their own writings on catechesis and designed their own forms of worship .
On September 9, 1932, the Old Prussian Evangelical Upper Church Council (EOK) recognized the DC and its program as a church party. In the following Old Prussian church elections on November 13, 1932, they ran for the first time with their own lists and achieved an average of a third of all seats in the presbyteries of the Evangelical Church of the Old Prussian Union . They were not the only right-wing group there, but were in competition above all with the German national list of right-wing groups and the Positive Christianity group , which was based on point 24 of the 25-point program of the NSDAP. In other regional churches, which also did not have their church elections at the same time, they did not manage to achieve significant success at that time.
At the beginning of 1933, the DC group from the Wieratal near Altenburg took over the leadership of the Thuringian regional church and renamed itself "Church Movement German Christians". It had nearly a million members, including a third of the pastorate.
Adolf Hitler's appointment as Chancellor on January 30, 1933, was welcomed by many Protestants as a kind of “redemption” sent by God. Many regional churches organized festive and thanksgiving services, pastors close to DC had swastika flags hung up in churches as a "symbol of German hope". But in the Reichstag elections on March 5, 1933, the NSDAP missed an absolute majority, despite the ban on the KPD and SA street terror. Thereupon Hitler affirmed in his government declaration of March 23, 1933 the positive role of the existing large churches for the education of the people and promised not to affect their rights and position in the state. This initially disappointed the DC's hope of bringing the churches into line according to their ideas.
Thereupon Ludwig Müller , DC head in East Prussia , had the DC guidelines revised and their demands, which had already provoked strong criticism from Protestants who were oriented towards the Reformation, softened. So he wanted to improve the DC's chances of being recognized by the rest of the Protestants. Their goal remained a non-denominational or non-denominational imperial church.
“Not a single people in the world has a statesman like ours who is so serious about Christianity; When Adolf Hitler closed his great speech with a prayer on May 1st, the whole world felt the wonderful sincerity in it. "
In April 1933, Hitler appointed Ludwig Müller to be his “Special Representative for Church Issues”. The DC then immediately selected him as its “patron” and candidate for the office of the Reich Bishop, which had yet to be created . The newly formed " Young Reformation Movement " nominated the widely respected pastor Friedrich von Bodelschwingh as their opponent. In order to anticipate the feared state-decreed reorganization of the Protestant church, the assembled regional church representatives elected Bodelschwingh as Reich Bishop in May 1933, although this office was not yet provided for in the church contract with the state. Therefore, DC and state officials spoke of a breach of contract. Because of this pressure, Bodelschwingh resigned after 26 days.
At the same time, Hitler put a new constitution for the DEK into force, which established the “Führer principle with a Lutheran Reich Bishop” and was recognized by 28 regional churches. On the eve of his short-term church elections in all regional churches, Hitler clearly sided with the DC on the radio. Thereupon they won a landslide victory on July 23, 1933 and won a majority of around two thirds of all votes cast in almost all regional churches. Afterwards they took over the leadership positions in some regional churches and many DEK committees throughout the empire.
At the DEK Synod on September 6, 1933, the delegates of all church groups, including those of the defeated young reformers, unanimously voted Ludwig Müller as the new Reich Bishop. He took office on September 29th. This also strengthened the influence of the DC in the intact regional churches that were still led by their opponents. From now on, the DC-led state churches introduced Aryan paragraphs for clergy and officials.
After Müller's election, the Pastors ' Emergency League was formed to protect Jewish Christians from marginalization.
Despite Hitler's support and their election victories, the spread of the DC came to a standstill as a result of a rally in the Berlin Sportpalast on November 13, 1933. There the Berlin district chairman Reinhold Krause clearly expressed the DC's concern:
“Our religion is the honor of the nation in the sense of a fighting, heroic Christianity. [...] If we National Socialists are ashamed to buy a tie from the Jew, then we should be even more ashamed to accept anything that speaks to our soul, the innermost religious element of the Jew. This also includes the fact that our church is no longer allowed to accept people of Jewish blood in its ranks. We [...] have emphasized again and again: People of Jewish blood do not belong in the German national church, neither on the pulpit nor under the pulpit. And wherever they are in the pulpit, they have to disappear as quickly as possible. "
The “soul of the German people” belongs “completely to the new state”. Its claim to totality could logically "not stop" at the church. National Socialism wanted to “renew and redesign this out of its spirit”. Unification of all religions and denominations in a “national national church” is the order of the day. To do this, it is necessary to immediately “be liberated from everything un-German in worship and in confessional terms, liberation from the Old Testament with its Jewish wage ethics, from these cattle dealer and pimp stories.” In addition, it is necessary “that all apparently distorted and superstitious reports in the New Testament are removed and that a fundamental renunciation of the whole scapegoat and inferiority theology of Rabbi Paulus is pronounced [...] This also means that our church may no longer accept people of Jewish blood in its ranks. ”Separate communities should be set up for Jewish Christians.
This speech was enthusiastically received by around 20,000 people. A corresponding declaration with Krause's demands was accepted with only one vote against. Many Protestant parishioners who had sympathized with the DC up to then heard the radio broadcast of the speech. This caused a change in their mood. Krause's demands were part of the DC program, but many Protestants were not fully aware of them despite the recent election campaign.
They expressed the current of neo-paganism , which was previously outside and parallel, and now also within the DC, was pushing for power , which in fact aimed at dissolving and replacing confessional Christianity with a "German-Germanic" national religion. Because of the affirmation of “positive Christianity” in the party program of the NSDAP, this trend had not come to the fore before. But it had also grown enormously in popularity since January 1933. Their representatives saw in the DC the chance to anchor their anti-Jewish and anti-Christian “German-Germanic worldview” with their eschatological ideologies of “ blood and soil ”, the cult of the leader and racial doctrine in broad Protestant population groups.
For many church congregations and members of the DC, who had more of a “Christian” national religion in mind, these consequences went too far and they withdrew by the thousands. Almost all Protestant churches distanced themselves relatively quickly from the DC. In order to save ecclesiastical unity and his leadership position, Reich Bishop Müller removed Krause from all ecclesiastical offices and himself laid down "patronage" over the DC. But he was no longer accepted as the leader of the DEK because he could not maintain its unity.
After this Sportpalast speech, the "Faith Movement German Christians" split up; Competitive fights dominated. The “Reich Movement German Christians”, which was renamed “Luther Germans” in 1938, was formed as an empire-wide successor organization with a missionary orientation.
The forces striving for a non-denominational national church gathered in the "Church Movement German Christians". From 1936 onwards, they tried unsuccessfully to increase the number of members and influence within the church through a relatively moderate "Bund für Deutsches Christianity" (Bund for German Christianity). In 1937 most of these groups joined together to form the "National Church Movement German Christians". Church minister Hanns Kerrl granted this alliance temporary support, but without increasing its ecclesiastical effectiveness.
Hossenfelder, who had to resign from his post as Reichsleiter of the DC due to the divisions, later founded the "Struggle and Faith Movement DC". Reinhold Krause formed a "Faith Movement German People's Church" in November 1933, but left the DEK at the end of the year.
In 1934 there were 32 different "faith movements". Hitler had written in his book Mein Kampf that he warned against the "so-called religious reformers based on old Germanic":
"Do all your activities lead the people away from the common struggle against the common enemy, the Jews, in order instead to let them consume their energies in both senseless and unfortunate internal religious disputes."
Approaches to the “de-Jewification” of the Bible
The Thuringian DC retained the leadership of the Thuringian regional church after the sports palace scandal. In 1939 she founded the " Institute for Research and Elimination of Jewish Influence on German Church Life " in Eisenach with the consent of eleven German Protestant regional churches . Many confessional Christians also advocated such an approach in the hope that it could slow down the church exit movement from 1937 to 1940.
Siegfried Leffler headed the institute . Important employees were the scientific director Walter Grundmann , the managing director Heinz Hunger and Grundmann's doctoral student Max Adolf Wagenführer . One of the aims of the institute was the compilation of a “people's testament” in the sense of the “Fifth Gospel” demanded by Alfred Rosenberg , which was supposed to proclaim the myth of the “ Aryan Jesus”. Grundmann and the Altenburg pastor Erich Fromm, together with the other employees of the Volkstestament working group, published the Volkish Testament, The Message of God, in 1940 . Lulu von Strauss and Torney (1873-1956), a well-known ballad poet and owner of the Eugen-Diederichs-Verlag , participated in the poetic version . The message of God was particularly popular in Thuringia, but it also provoked decisive opposition, for example from the theologian Hans Freiherr von Soden . Today in Eisenach a memorial erected in 2019 commemorates the “wrong path” that the foundation of the “Entjudungsinstitut” represented.
After 1945 the remaining DC currents formed smaller communities and circles at a distance from the newly founded EKD . The DC tried to influence the history of the church struggle in a "church history study group". From then on, however, they remained meaningless for theology and politics.
After 1945, other former members of the DC established numerically insignificant independent religious communities with the Free Christian People's Church and the People's Church Movement Free Christians .
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Part 2: The “Institute for Research and Elimination of the Jewish Influence on German Church Life” 1939–1945 (Volume 25/2), ISBN 978-3-938435-01-4 .
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Klaus Scholder : The Churches and the Third Reich
Volume 1: Prehistory and Time of Illusions, 1918–1934. Berlin 1977, ISBN 3-550-07339-9 .
Volume 2: The year of disillusionment 1934. Berlin 1985, ISBN 3-612-26731-0 .
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- Quoted from Christian Hülshörster: Thomas Mann and Oskar Goldberg's “Reality of the Hebrews” . Klostermann, 2001, ISBN 3-465-02792-2 , p. 34f ( book excerpt online )
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