Church struggle

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The church struggle in the narrower sense describes the conflict within the German Evangelical Church between the Confessing Church on the one hand and the German Christians on the other, from 1933 to around the beginning of the Second World War in  1939.

In a broader sense, the epoch of German church history in the time of National Socialism is often referred to as such. In this case the term includes

  • the struggle of the Nazi state against the Protestant and Catholic Church as well as their conventional organizational structures, with the aim of harmonization
  • the struggle of National Socialists in and outside the churches against denominational Christianity . This struggle pursued different purposes. B. be made more compatible with Nazi ideology; their social and political influence should be reduced; some Nazis had a "specific" religiosity in mind (see e.g. Germanic Faith Community (Ludwig Fahrenkrog) )
  • the defensive struggle of Christian groups and particular churches against these efforts.

Critical church historiography disputes that the last-mentioned defensive struggle is to be regarded as a general characteristic of that epoch; rather, the attitude of the churches towards the Third Reich is described or rated as a vacillation “between adaptation and resistance”, with courageous actions such as the joint pastoral letter of the German episcopate against the Third Reich being opposed to the adaptation of individuals to Nazi policy.

In addition, occasionally other fights between churches (or within a church) and struggles against churches or to be "the church" as a church struggle referred, without this to be a defined term. The term Kulturkampf has established itself as a term for the struggle between the state and the Catholic Church in the second half of the 19th century, especially under Chancellor Bismarck .


The expression "Kirchenkampf" came up in 1933, the year the takeover of power , for the dispute between the German Christians (DC) and those circles that united in 1934 in the Confessing Church (BK). In church history research after 1945, it was used to describe the entire Protestant epoch in Germany from 1933 to 1945.

Today this term is controversial because it gives the wrong impression that the Protestant churches "fought" the Nazi regime as a whole. There were individual church representatives and groups on both the Protestant and Catholic sides who publicly criticized the Hitler government and / or even offered conspiratorial resistance . But there was no unified church opposition to National Socialism and its policies.

At the center of the "church struggle" carried out within the Protestant Church was a conflict between the "German Christians" and the "Confessing Church" over the understanding and interpretation of the Gospel . This theological conflict turned into an indirect political opposition to the state on the part of the Confessing Church, insofar as it tried to ward off interference by the regime in the content of faith and the church constitution. In doing so, he contradicted the National Socialist ideology's claim to totality . A political resistance to National Socialism was neither intended nor followed, with a few rare exceptions. Many professing Christians were at the same time anti-Semites, voters and / or members of the NSDAP and expressly limited their opposition to the state's encroachments on internal church affairs.

The term "church struggle " has become common in Protestantism , because the struggle was about the self-understanding of the whole church. Because the smaller, “professing” part of the Protestant Christians referred to the foundations of Christian faith in the Bible and creed . He therefore claimed to legitimately represent the whole of evangelical Christianity. The Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) has been right to this claim since 1945, so that the Confessing Church is recognized as a “true church” and its documents - especially the Barmer Theological Declaration - have been included in the confessional documents by some regional churches .

The trigger and theme of the church struggle was the attempt by the Nazi regime to enforce racial standpoints in the churches with the help of the "German Christians" and to determine their organizational form. This was seen by the state as a political conflict, but by the “professing” Christians as a theological conflict. The church struggle can therefore only be understood to a limited extent as a conflict between church and state; it was essentially a struggle for the self-image of the Evangelical Church with political effects. In terms of a “ Reformation ”, it was not finished with the end of the Nazi regime, but is still going on.

Attempts to extend the term to conflicts between the churches and real socialist states have not caught on. (see e.g. Christians and Churches in the GDR , Great Terror (Soviet Union) ).

Church struggle in France 1871–1905

Since the establishment of the Third French Republic after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71, there have been repeated domestic political tensions in France because there were powerful conservative and restorative forces in French society who were fundamentally skeptical of the republican-democratic form of government and society faced. On May 11, 1902, in the wake of the Dreyfus affair, a political left alliance ("Bloc des gauches") won the parliamentary elections. The Roman Catholic Church in France was viewed by the “radical democrats” as the enemy of the republic. The bourgeois liberals particularly criticized the anti-modernist attitude of the Catholic Church. There was also a long tradition of anti-clericalism in France , going back to the Enlightenment and the French Revolution . The new government ( Combes cabinet under Émile Combes ) made the decision to permanently limit the influence of the churches on society and especially on education. The relationship between church and state (France) was re-regulated in a number of laws . In July 1902, around 3,000 church schools not approved by the state were closed. This led to violent public protests; 74 of the 78 French bishops signed a “protestation”. Thereupon the government stopped the salary of the bishops.

In March 1903 all male religious orders were dissolved. In July 1903 all female religious orders were abolished. On July 7, 1904, the establishment of religious orders was prohibited.

On December 9, 1905, the law separating church and state was passed. The law applied above all to the Catholic Church in France; for reasons of neutrality, however, these regulations also applied to other denominations .

Church struggle in Germany

Attitude of the Protestant churches to the Empire and Weimar Republic

In Germany in particular, the liberal theology of the 19th century was combined with idealism or romanticism . It proceeded inductively from the “religious experience” in order to make it aware of and confirm it in the church proclamation ( Friedrich Schleiermacher ). She affirmed the autonomy of the areas of life as an independent "source of revelation" and believed in the constant moral and cultural progress of man. Internal historical goals were upgraded to mandatory reference points for church speech and action.

The Lutheran orthodoxy , however, remained closely with nobility and monarchy connected and formed since 1789 a conservative bulwark against rationalism and liberalism . There leading theologians enthusiastically welcomed the unification of the empire of 1871 and elevated Otto von Bismarck to the completion of the Reformation. Most regional churches received a synodal constitution that strengthened the parishes' right to have a say, but retained their special denominational ties and administrations. The federal princes were in their countries - for example, the emperor as the Prussian king in Prussia - as in other monarchies at the same time the supreme bishop who could enact or repeal church laws ( sovereign church regiment ).

With the Luther anniversaries of 1883 and 1917 there was a Luther renaissance : cultural progress was viewed with skepticism and made subject to the fundamental sinfulness of all human endeavors. An image of Luther with denominational and national features was cultivated, which distinguished itself from Rome and Paris, i.e. from Catholicism and the human rights tradition.

The First World War shattered the general, humane belief in progress. In addition, the November Revolution ended the Prussian-Lutheran alliance of “throne and altar”. Friedrich Ebert assured the Protestant churches in January 1919 that the prepared constitution would not affect their privileges - especially the state collection of church taxes . Nevertheless, in the Weimar Republic Protestantism once again became the refuge of a nationalism hostile to democracy . Since social democrats were involved in governments, the nation took the place of the state for many Protestant Christians . They largely saw the end of the war in 1918 as a defeat and democracy and socialism as enemies of Christianity.

After the Weimar Constitution was passed , the President of the Old Prussian Evangelical Upper Church Council (EOK) Reinhard Möller addressed a “heartfelt word of thanks to our princely patron”, the deposed emperor; Church leaders like Detlev von Arnim-Kröchlendorff cheered: “The overthrow did not extend to our church.” The conservative continuity of the regional churches, which as a national church were responsible for all religious needs of the baptized Germans, was preserved.

Even before 1914, only a few outsiders saw the social question as a problem that also affects Christianity. Being a Christian member of the SPD was almost unthinkable at the time. A rare exception was the Swabian Pietist Christoph Blumhardt . But after 1918 the religious-social movement also grew in Germany at times to some 10,000 followers. The Association of Religious Socialists in Germany, founded in 1926 around Georg Fritze and Georg Wünsch , was one of the first and decisive warners of the emergence of National Socialism.

The dialectical theology changed the spiritual and ecclesial landscape since 1919 by firmly to the responsibility of the Church before the word of God and thus asked for the world. The Swiss theologian Karl Barth radically questioned the “hyphenated theologies”, which believed they could combine a temporal with an eternal concern, and the self-image of cultural Protestantism as an “educational institution” in bourgeois society .

But such warners had practically no effect on church policy . Church diplomats were decisive here, such as the then General Superintendent of the Kurmark Otto Dibelius , who wrote in his book "The Century of the Church" (1926):

“The Protestant Church is at the beginning of a new era. Tremendous possibilities are ahead of us! Tremendous tasks! "

The world economic crisis hardly hit the churches thanks to the state security of their financial bases; it was seen as an opportunity to increase their influence. The “Kirchliche Jahrbuch” of 1930 triumphed that the church had “increased its value” in the face of general inflation .

Against this complacency, Karl Barth wrote his sharpest reply to date, the essay Quousque tandem? which said:

“Wherever this language is spoken, there is Catiline , there is the real, dangerous conspiracy against the substance of the Evangelical Church. [...] The substance of the Church is the promise made to her and the belief in this promise. When would the promise not have become greater, clearer, brighter under real external challenge? [...] When she says 'Jesus Christ', one must and will, and when she said it a thousand times, hear her own satiety and security and she shouldn't be surprised when she says everything about her 'Jesus Christ' in the wind bypassed the real need of real people, as they bypassed the word of God and made grist for their own little mills out of all admonition, consolation and teaching of the Bible and the reformers. "

In 1930 the Protestant regional churches formed a loose umbrella organization with the German Evangelical Church Federation. In addition, on May 11, 1931, they signed a church treaty with the Free State of Prussia , which many church leaders saw as a victory over the “disenfranchisement” by the Weimar constitution. He assured them religious instruction and public funding. At the same time, the rights of the synods as parliaments within the church were strengthened, thus promoting camp formation in the churches.

Attitude of the NSDAP to the churches

The rise of National Socialism placed the struggle for the supremacy of the “ Aryan master race ”, the conquest of “ Lebensraum in the east ” as an anti-Bolshevik crusade and the annihilation of Judaism at the center of its program. These goals could only be achieved with a population educated in the National Socialist spirit who would turn away from the “Jewish moral compassion” of Christianity. The Nazi ideology therefore laid claim to a total worldview that left no room for competing religious or political world interpretations and meanings. A unity party should enforce it as a state doctrine in terms of power politics.

Towards the churches, the NSDAP pursued a dual strategy of appropriation and direct confrontation. Until 1930 she let them out of their political activities. Your program initially wooed Christians by propagating a "positive Christianity" without denominational ties; a mostly unnoticed addition restricted this: "... as long as they do not [...] violate the morality and morality of the Germanic race." Religion should only be possible within the limits of national sentiment ; a “German faith” could only find “God” in German history . The “ national revolution ” was passed off as the fulfillment of all religious longings.

In addition, there was a militant anti-Semitism , which, unlike the older religious anti-Judaism, was exclusively racially defined. As early as 1880, the Protestant Adolf Stoecker raised anti-Semitism to the political program of his Christian-Social Party , which, however, could never reach more than three members of the Reichstag . A diffuse “metaphysical anti-Semitism” then became central to the Nazi ideology. Hitler had written in Mein Kampf 1923:

"By resisting the Jew, I am fulfilling the Lord's work."

Since the new church treaty of 1930, the NSDAP tried to aggressively win over Protestant Christians in their fight against the “Weimar system” of “ Marxism , Judaism and the center ”: SA troops attended Protestant church services and held “vigils” in front of churches To intimidate pastors with a pacifist or religious-social attitude. For example, it was possible to prevent the Berlin pastor Günther Dehn from starting his lectureship in Halle (Saale) by stirring up indignation . Dehn had biblically justified conscientious objection as a Christian possibility in a congregation lecture “The Christian and the War” from 1928 .

In 1932, the “ Faith Movement German Christians ” (DC) was founded as an association of Protestant baptized National Socialists. They wanted to create space for the Nazi ideology in their church first, then to gain sole power after the German Nationalists and the “Christian Social People's Service” had won the church election in Prussia in 1930 . They cultivated a "native Christianity", which should be renewed by elements of a " neo-pagan " religiosity from the " folk race ". They wanted to anchor the Fiihrer principle within the church and aimed at the unification of the regional churches, which had hitherto been organized according to denominations, in one imperial church . They were led by Pastor Joachim Hossenfelder ; They were supported by well-known theologians such as Emanuel Hirsch , who had prepared DC theology as early as 1920 with his book “Deutschlands Schicksal”. Even Paul de Lagarde and Arthur Dinter be precursors because they like the DC Paul of Tarsus , declared a corrupter of Christianity, represented Jesus as anti-Jewish "prophets" and advocated a national-German religion.

When the internal church renewal movement emerged after 1933, the "Confessing Church" then had to fight on several fronts at the same time: against the politicization, harmonization and instrumentalization of the church imposed by the National Socialists, against the adaptation tendencies coming from within, against the confessional special paths and not least against its own Fear, cowardice and inconsistency that prevented effective resistance.

The year 1933

Protestant reactions after Hitler came to power

The seizure of power by Adolf Hitler on January 30, 1933 was also welcomed by Christians as the "salvation of the fatherland ".

With the ordinance of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State (also known as the Reichstag Fire Ordinance ), on February 28 - one day after the Reichstag fire - Hitler revoked all personal liberties under the Weimar Constitution; this law later legitimized the spying on and imprisonment of church representatives as well. It was barely noticed by the churches. On March 21, Otto Dibelius held a service in the Nikolaikirche in Potsdam for the Protestant members elected to the Reichstag on March 5 and who appeared in the city on Potsdam Day . On March 23, one day before the Enabling Act was passed , Hitler had reassured the churches with a government statement in which he promised:

"The national government sees in the two Christian denominations the most important factors for the preservation of our nationality."

He will grant them "the influence due to them" and see "in Christianity the unshakable foundations of the moral and moral life of our people."

On March 30th, many high-ranking ecumenists of the churches and free churches followed the “recommendation” of the NSDAP to write letters to their foreign partners in which they asked in all forms to counter the “agitation” against Germany's reorganization. Everything takes place in "calm discipline" and serve "peace". Dibelius described in a radio broadcast to the USA, among other things, that those arrested were "treated properly" in the prisons. Dibelius legitimized the “ Jewish boycott ” carried out two days later as a state “restoration of order” and “self-defense”. He also saw the reactions in ecumenism to the incipient persecution of the Jews as "agitation abroad", which he attributed to the "international connections of Judaism" .

On April 3rd and 4th, a "Reichstagung" of the DC took place in Berlin: In addition to NSDAP representatives like Hermann Göring , university theologians like Karl Fezer also took part; he wanted to use the moment for an “internal people's mission”. The more radical speakers, however, wanted to transfer the “ Führer principle ” and “ appropriateness ” directly to the whole church, called for the baptized Jews to be excluded and threatened to appoint “state commissioners” in the church as well. This then happened for the first time on April 22nd in the Mecklenburg regional church.

The Aryan Paragraph: Trigger of the Church Struggle

On April 7th, the Law Restoring the Civil Service followed . The " Aryan paragraph " in it threatened Jewish officials, university professors and pastors with dismissal. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of the first to respond to this with his essay The Church Before the Jewish Question (completed on April 15, published in June). In it he stated clearly that with the exclusion of the Jews, the "existence" of the church as a religious community is at stake. But she has to protect not only the baptized, but all Jews against state attacks:

"The church is absolutely indebted to the victims of every social order, even if they do not belong to the Christian community."

You have to ask the state how it can answer for the disenfranchisement of a minority; if he continues to answer violently, she will

"Not only to bind the victims under the wheel, but to fall into the spokes of the wheel itself."

For Bonhoeffer, the relationship to the Jews was the central point of the church struggle. He already addressed the right of resistance when most Christians ignored state authority against Jews or even showed “understanding” for it. In contrast, he pointedly stated:

"The task of Christian preaching [is] to say: here, where Jews and Germans stand together under the Word of God, there is church, here it proves whether the church is still church or not."

In May, eleven Westphalian pastors, including Hans Ehrenberg and the later martyr Ludwig Steil , rejected the exclusion of Jews as a heretical split in the church. The " Young Reformation Movement " also declared in its "Principles for the New Structure of the Church" in point 7:

“We profess to believe in the Holy Spirit and therefore fundamentally reject the exclusion of non-Aryans from the Church; because it is based on a confusion of state and church. The state has to judge, the church has to save. "

State laws were rejected insofar as they forced the church to exclude people of Jewish origin. This was based on the traditional Lutheran understanding of the doctrine of the two kingdoms , according to which the state could determine the content and enforcement of law “independently”, while the church had to limit itself to salvation of the soul. Accordingly, there was no ecclesiastical resistance to the later Nuremberg race laws .

The report of the Protestant theological faculty of the University of Marburg came to the unqualified conclusion in September 1933: "That is why the Aryan paragraph is a false doctrine of the church and destroys its substance." This marked a state law that claimed ecclesiastical validity as being unconditional for all Christians heresy to be rejected (heresy). So it suggested to reject this law as an injustice and to resist the state at this point. Nevertheless, hardly any statement by the Christian believers questioned the legitimacy of the state's measures against Jews.

Battle for church leaders

The Protestant church leaders were particularly concerned about their organization: They now took up the call for church reform themselves. It was hoped that this would regain the initiative and push back the DC. Wilhelm Zoellner's draft constitution of April 13th - one of many - provided for an "Evangelical Church of the German Nation" in which a Lutheran and Reformed imperial church should coexist.

Before it could be worked out, Hitler appointed the military district pastor Ludwig Müller , a staunch National Socialist, on April 25th as his “confidante and authorized representative for questions of the Protestant Church”. The DC immediately appointed Müller their “patron” and called for church elections to make him “Reich Bishop” there. In the following consultations with Müller, Hermann Kapler , August Friedrich Karl Marahrens and Hermann Albert Hesse saw the imperial church and the Führer principle as worthy of discussion; they only excluded the “species-appropriate”. Since the "Aryan Paragraph" only affected a few church employees - around 110 pastors and an unknown number of theology students of Jewish descent - the willingness increased to give in to pressure from the party and DC at this point too.

At the same time, a “Young Reformation Movement” was formed from several pre-existing groups with different renewal demands on the church - including the Berneuchen movement , Sydower brotherhood , and the Neuwerk movement. They also demanded a few, but bound to the Reformation confessional writings, and favored Friedrich von Bodelschwingh as their bishop. The regional church leaderships had already started to transform themselves into a federal “ German Evangelical Church ” (DEK) and on May 27th they elected Bodelschwingh as Reich Bishop, even before this office was provided for in the church constitution.

The Prussian minister of culture then claimed a violation of the state treaty and began to reorganize the church authorities. On June 24th, Bodelschwingh resigned under state pressure. Reich President Hindenburg intervened with Hitler against church policy through an open letter that was published in the daily press on July 1, 1933. A new constitution was imposed on the DEK by law on July 14th and new synodal elections were called for July 23rd. After Hitler had taken a party for the DC on the evening before the election on the radio, they won a landslide victory over the group formed by the “Young Reformers” with the slogan “one people, one empire, one church ”. In order to create a church that is dependent on the state, the DC occupied the church leaderships and reorganized the regional churches according to the “ leader principle ” and “historical dioceses”. On September 27, their church leaders elected Müller as Reich Bishop. The church representatives who were unsuccessful in the election now also voted for Müller. However, the opposition succeeded in having the reference to the Reformation Confessions in the new church constitution.

After their electoral success, the more radical forces of the DC demanded the "completion of the Reformation" as an analogy to the "national revolution" in the church: the removal of all "non-German" from worship and confession, the "de-Judaization" of the Gospel and a "species-appropriate" Christianity, that should worship a "heroic" Jesus. This program was announced on November 13th in the Berlin Sportpalast and accepted with only one vote against. However, the speech by DC representative Reinhold Krause , who invoked a bluntly anti-Semitic, neo-pagan Christianity, triggered a scandal and caused many moderate DC members to turn away from this church party, some also to resign from their offices. Then the DC split into several splinter groups.

On December 20, Reich Bishop Müller incorporated the Protestant youth associations that had come together to form the Evangelical Youth Organization of Germany into the Hitler Youth without consulting their leaders and against their declared will . Müller believed that he had given Hitler his “best Christmas present” with it, but largely lost the trust of the Protestant youth, who often began to organize themselves. Hitler also dropped him from 1934.

Catholic attitude to the Nazi regime

Since the experience of the culture war of the Bismarckian era against the Church, the Catholic population has remained largely aloof from political innovations. This also applied to National Socialism. The German Catholic bishops had repeatedly warned against the Nazi ideology . This led to the fact that the Catholic part of the population proved to be considerably more resistant to National Socialism than the rest of the population until the last halfway free election of the Weimar Republic. In the predominantly Catholic Rhineland and in Bavaria , the NSDAP hardly achieved more than 20% of the votes cast, compared to sometimes more than 60% in Protestant regions. In the elections in July 1932, the NSDAP received an average of only 15% in homogeneous Catholic constituencies, but 39% in homogeneous Protestant constituencies.

Even before the seizure of power , the German episcopate distanced itself from National Socialism by forbidding Catholics from becoming involved in the NSDAP and forbidding Nazi associations from marching in church processions . In 1932, all dioceses in the German Reich felt compelled to declare membership of the NSDAP “incompatible with the Christian faith”.

After Hitler expressed himself church-friendly several times and in his government declaration on March 23, 1933, described the two large Christian churches as “the most important factors in maintaining our nationality”, the Catholic Church relativized its previous criticism. The bishops withdrew their incompatibility resolutions, but retained their critical position ("We must still call error, what is error, wrong, what is wrong."). The bishops continued to oppose membership of clergy in the NSDAP.

When the DEK ( German Evangelical Church ) was formed, some German Catholics no longer wanted to stand aside in the “national revolution”. Some hoped for the rebuilding of a Christian-national Germany, in which traditional anti-communism also played a role. Older Catholics, who were still influenced by the ecclesiastical anti-modernism , which also often had anti-Judaist features, recognized or welcomed anti-modernist tendencies in the Nazi state. For this reason, too, there was no overall Christian opposition to Nazi ideology and politics.

On July 20, 1933, the Curia surprisingly concluded the Reich Concordat, which had been unsuccessfully negotiated since 1919. Hitler recorded this as a diplomatic success: his regime received moral backing and was thus able to present itself internationally as trustworthy. On the other hand, the Catholic bishops retained a certain influence on society that they could use against injustice and abuse. Nonetheless, the Catholics were also affected by the National Socialists' policy of harmonization. The Center Party and all other democratic parties were banned in autumn 1933, Christian trade unions were dissolved, and Catholic schools and religious orders were able to maintain their independence with great difficulty. The SA attacked members of Catholic associations such as the Kolping Youth in street fighting . Although these conflicts put a strain on the relationship with the Nazi regime, they have mostly been resolved inconspicuously since the Concordat and only led to non-public protests. In 1937 Pope Pius XI protested . with the German encyclical " With burning concern " against the attacks and determined the incompatibility of racism and Christianity, whereby he distinguished racial anti-Semitism from religious anti-Judaism.

Erich Klausener , head of the Berlin Catholic Action since 1928, turned against Adolf Hitler's anti-church policy . For example, in a speech at the 32nd Brandenburg Catholic Day on June 24, 1934 , he criticized the Nazis' exclusion of ideological opponents and the government's racial policy . Klausener was murdered in his office on June 30, 1934 in the course of the Röhm affair .

Individual Catholic theologians such as Karl Eschweiler or Hans Barion , however, welcomed the Nazi ideology and joined the NSDAP. Both of them were temporarily withdrawn from teaching ( Missio canonica ) by the Curia because of their affirmation of the law for compulsory sterilization of hereditary diseases in 1934 . In particular, Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen and Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber publicly contradicted the law for the prevention of genetically ill offspring in sermons . Von Galen was even able to temporarily suspend the “ euthanasia ” program, Aktion T4 .

With Pius XII. became a main initiator of the Pope Concordat in March 1939 . According to current sources, he placed his hopes in diplomacy in order to prevent greater damage and to save people through covert action . This restricted the room for maneuver for Catholics in Germany. Non-public protests remained a matter for the Vatican ; there was no declared opposition to the Holocaust . Individuals committed their lives for the Jews and became martyrs , including the priests Alfred Delp , Maximilian Kolbe , Rupert Mayer and Bernhard Lichtenberg . Especially the priesthood of Poland suffered many victims after the German invasion of Poland (September 1939). It is estimated that 16% of Poland's priests were murdered during the German occupation .

Overall, the attitude of the Catholics in Germany was more uniform and hardly burdened by internal conflicts: With a few exceptions, they did not conform ideologically to National Socialism, and the participation of the faithful in church events remained consistently high; more than 60% of Catholics took part in Easter Communion in the years from 1934 onwards. The Church's resistance to the Nazi regime was often hidden: Since 1935, the German Church, with the knowledge of the Vatican, enabled Jews to emigrate in secret.

The term "Kirchenkampf" is used for the struggle of the Nazi regime against the Roman Catholic Church in the "Third Reich". Hitler had ignored the Reich Concordat from the beginning and opened a ruthless church struggle of ever increasing intensity. The expression “Kirchenkampf” also has a certain proximity to the term “ Kulturkampf ”, since the Catholics in the Third Reich often spoke of a “new Kulturkampf” they had to endure.

The historian Olaf Blaschke criticizes what in his opinion is too little resistance of the church to the persecution and extermination of the Jews, which he derives from its separation of the phenomenon of anti-Semitism into an unauthorized, unchristian and officially condemned form (racial anti-Semitism) and, on the other hand, a legitimate, so to speak defensive variant, when the supposedly excessive and harmful influence of Jews on everyday life and religion must be countered, explains. They did not participate in organized anti-Semitism or the anti-Semitic parties, but representatives of the clergy also practiced anti-Jewish and, in this context, anti- emancipatory rhetoric. On the part of the German Church, the lack of protest against the deportation of Jews was partly justified by the fact that the numerous sharp protests of the Dutch Bishops' Conference and their advocacy of the Jews there in 1942 led to increased deportations there. On the other hand, the objection is that these measures were only feasible in an occupied area in which the occupiers applied different standards than in the Reich, and that church protests in Germany, such as Bishop Galen's criticism of the "euthanasia" program or the demonstrations against the removal of School crosses in 1936 in the Oldenburger Münsterland and 1941 in Bavaria (see Kreuzkampf ), were not without success.

Origin of the Confessing Church

The Pastors' Emergency League

On September 21, 1933, a “ Pastors' Emergency League ” was formed in Wittenberg under Martin Niemöller ; Of the DEK church leaders, only the Westphalian President Jakob Emil Karl Koch and Otto Dibelius were among them. He obligated his members by statute to resist the application of the Aryan paragraph in the church, because this constituted a "violation of the confessional status " (Latin: status confessionis ), and wanted to help the Jewish pastors threatened with exclusion financially.

In doing so, the authors (Bonhoeffer and Niemöller) gave the “Jewish question” the same theological status as the issues that the reformers in the 16th century regarded as the indispensable substance of the Protestant faith. The call to public confession against the overwhelming ecclesiastical and social majority included an implicit commitment to defend this belief until death if necessary. For these confessors, “only with the Jews” was synonymous with the fourfold “ sola scriptura , sola fide , sola gratia , solus Christ ” of Martin Luther , who had also dared his own life for this.

With this began the resistance against the amalgamation of Christian doctrine with National Socialist ideas in the DEK. Scattered all over the empire, "confessing communities" arose. In early 1934 the emergency union met with their representatives to stand up for “the gospel”.

Confessional Community and Barmen Theological Declaration

Müller tried to stifle the discussion that flared up in the DEK with a "muzzle decree" and many disciplinary measures. But the complaints about him grew, so that on January 25, 1934, the church leaders met with Hitler. They declared their loyalty to him; Müller's fall did not materialize. Then he began to reorganize the other regional churches.

As a result, the opposition forces within the church gathered across the empire. In March they formed the “Confessional Community of the DEK” and commissioned a “ Reich Brotherhood Council ” to lead them. At a meeting in Ulm on April 22nd, the latter raised the claim against the DEK "occupied" by the DC to be the "legitimate Evangelical Church in Germany". From May 29th to 31st the 1st Confessional Synod took place in Barmen , to which Lutherans, Reformed and Uniate sent their community representatives. They formed the "Confessing Church". In their founding declaration written by Karl Barth it says:

“Jesus Christ, as he is testified to in the scriptures, is the one word of God that we hear, that we have to trust in life and in death.
... We reject the false doctrine that the church can and must recognize other events and powers, figures and truths as God's revelation as the source of its preaching apart from and in addition to this one word of God.
... We reject the wrong doctrine, as if the church could leave the form of its message and its order to its discretion or to the change of the prevailing ideological and political conviction.
... We reject the false doctrine that the Church can and should be given or allowed to be given, apart from its service, by special leaders with authority.
... We reject the false doctrine that the state should and can, beyond its special mandate, become the only and total order of human life and thus also fulfill the purpose of the church.
... We reject the false doctrine that the church should and could, in addition to its special mandate, acquire the state, state tasks and state dignity and thereby become an organ of the state itself.
... We reject the wrong doctrine that the Church could, in human self-glory, put the word and work of the Lord at the service of any arbitrarily chosen wishes, purposes and plans. "

The position - the sole confession of Christ - was the basis for all negations; With the "rejection" they established a heresy that was to be excluded from the area of ​​the church. They completed the demarcation:

  • to the theology of the German Christians, but also to the liberal theology, who put "other figures", for example "nationality", "state", "blood", "race", "leaders" as gods next to Jesus Christ,
  • to politicize the church, as the Nazi ideology intended,
  • to the "leader principle", which was imposed on the church from within - through obedience in advance - or from outside - through coordination,
  • to the total state that prescribes a worldview,
  • to the Reich Church as an extended state organ,
  • to subordinate the Christian proclamation to any social interests and claims.

Here, for the first time, the dialectical Word of God theology, which Barth had developed since 1918, came into effect in terms of church politics and thus indirectly also politically.

Afterwards, of course, there was also disagreement in the BK about the appropriate interpretation of the Barmer theses. The biggest shortcoming of the declaration was the lack of commitment to the inviolable all-Christian solidarity with the persecuted Judaism . This had a disastrous effect: only very few Christians exercised direct resistance to the state measures against Jews, which was required at the latest after the November pogroms in 1938 . These were hardly supported by the Confessing Church either. Only a few saw resistance to the Nazi regime as such as an inevitable and necessary consequence of the faith of all Christians.

From Barmen in 1934 to Niemöller's arrest in 1937

Church division

The Barmer Declaration initially led to increased resistance to Müller's integration policy , especially in the municipalities of Württemberg and Bavaria . The illegality of his actions emerged in numerous individual lawsuits. When he was introduced to the Berlin Cathedral as “Reichsbischof” on September 23 , he had failed to achieve his goal of a state-controlled unified Church.

The second confessional synod in Berlin-Dahlem proclaimed on October 20 the " ecclesiastical emergency law " already practiced for Prussia for the whole DEK and formed a " Reichsbruderrat " as a counterpoint to the DC church leaders. This practically meant its own administration and thus a split in the church . Müller's “legal administrator” August Jäger resigned on October 26th. The demands on Müller to resign increased. The state then repealed all church legislation from 1934. Hitler received some bishops again ( Theophil Wurm , Hans Meiser , Marahrens) and signaled that he was no longer interested in a "Reich Church".

The DEK had now broken down into several groups that existed side by side with an unclear legal situation:

  • the already restructured "dioceses" led by "German Christians" who saw themselves as part of the unified church,
  • the "intact" regional churches (Hanover and others), which remained in the unified church but rejected Müller as leader,
  • the "destroyed" regional churches whose "professing congregations" refused to join the unified church,
  • the BK, which saw itself as a “true” Protestant church and in which Lutheran and Reformed congregations united to fight against conformity. Together with the leaders of the intact regional churches, they formed a “Provisional Church Administration” (VKL) from November 20, which raised the claim to the overall leadership of the DEK.

In the VKL, differences in behavior with the state church authorities quickly emerged. While the leaders of the intact regional churches wanted to maintain continuity with the still valid Prussian state treaties and strived for state recognition, the “radical Dahlemites” (including Dietrich Bonhoeffer) wanted to break with state paternalism as a consequence of the Barmer Declaration. The contrasts led to the resignation of Barth, Niemöller, Karl Immer and Hermann Albert Hesse from the Council of Brothers. Thus the BK was weakened and lost its orientation despite the growth of its communities.

Split of the BK

In 1935 new state-sponsored propaganda began in the DEK: The “ German faith movement ” represented “neo-pagan” ideas similar to those of the DC. At the same time, Müller again forbade the public discussion of church political events. BK ministers who ignored this ban in Sunday sermons were temporarily arrested. The Prussian "finance departments" took control of the church administration, and a "decision-making body" censored the legal process for BK supporters.

The Confessional Synod of the Church of the Old Prussian Union - the largest self-contained Protestant particular church - which had joined the BK, then issued a word to its congregations in March which said:

“We see our people threatened with deadly danger. The danger is in a new religion. […] In it, the racial-ethnic worldview becomes a myth . In it blood and race, nationality, honor and freedom become idolatrous. "

Racism as a totalitarian worldview was rejected, but there was still no talk about its concrete consequences for the Jews.

The third confessional synod of the BK met on June 4th to 6th in Augsburg : It avoided breaking with the church authorities and followed the conservative line of the Lutheran regional churches. But she commissioned the Reichsbruderrat with the implementation of her decisions, so that Niemöller, Hesse and Immer rejoined the VKL.

On July 16, Hitler appointed Hanns Kerrl as Minister for Church Affairs . A law of September 24th was supposed to "secure" the unity of the DEK and served to legitimize numerous ordinances in the next few years. A newly established "Reich Church Committee" (RKA) under Wilhelm Zoellner took over the management of the DEK instead of Müller and therefore received increasing support in the following year from the intact regional churches as well as some BK brother councils .

As a result, the BK split at the fourth DEK Confession Synod in Bad Oeynhausen from February 17 to 22, 1936. The first VKL resigned as a whole; a new, so-called “Second VKL” was appointed on March 12 by the Council of Brothers. A denominational camp was formed: On March 18, the still intact Lutheran regional churches of Bavaria and Württemberg formed a “ Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany ” (Lutherrat) with the Lutheran brother councils of the BK .

The resistance against state attacks was now borne by the new VKL and the old Prussian BK. On June 4th, it issued a “ memorandum ” to Hitler, which denounced the actions of the totalitarian state in a clarity and simplicity never achieved again until 1945 and gave theological reasons for this criticism:

“If blood, race, nationality and honor are given the rank of eternal values, then the evangelical Christian is forced by the 1st commandment to reject this evaluation. […] If, within the framework of the National Socialist worldview, anti-Semitism is imposed on Christians, which obliges them to hate Jews, then for them the Christian commandment to love one's neighbor stands . "

The ecclesiastical mandate sets limits to Christian obedience to the authorities: wherever they try to prevent the preaching of the gospel, they threaten to destroy the work of the church, even the church itself. - The consequence, namely the necessary direct resistance of the Christians against the state, was clear, but remained unspoken.

The memorandum was supposed to remain secret, became known abroad and published there. It was then recommended to all confessing congregations as a pulpit cancellation on August 23, although the above particularly critical sentences were missing. On August 30th it was actually read from the pulpits by many pastors. A wave of arrests for treason ensued. In 1937 alone, almost 800 pastors and church lawyers of the Confessing Church were brought to justice.

Nevertheless, the conservative wing of the BK immediately distanced itself from this " high treason ". On November 20, 1936, he declared:

"We stand with the RKA behind the leader in the life struggle of the German people against Bolshevism ."

This anti-communism was the decisive ideological link between Lutheran-German nationalist Christians of all camps and the Nazi regime, which, together with the traditional Lutheran ties to authority, prevented any further resistance across the church. Only a minority in the BK itself refused to cooperate with the regime.

But the DC split into a moderate wing, which was ready to cooperate with the RKA, and the radical group "National Church Unity", whose center was the regional church of Thuringia . This propagated an anti-church “deconfessionalization” in order to undermine the reference to the Christian creed as a constitutional basis of the Protestant churches and their public influence. Both the RKA and Reich Church Minister Kerrl tried unsuccessfully to counter this. This strengthened the suspicion in the BK that the state was actually not interested in preservation, but "organizational stuntedness" ( Alfred Rosenberg ) and future elimination of the churches. Citing the first thesis of the Barmer Declaration, the VKL therefore continued to refuse any cooperation with the RKA.

Relationship between ecumenism and the BC

Relations between the DEK and the ecumenical movement played a role in the internal political debate about the organization and rights of the churches : the BK had already recognized this as “a” representative of the DEK in 1934 and established contact with it by making President Koch a member of the World Council for Practical Affairs Christianity called. The ecumenical movement, however, was not able to take a decision in favor of the BK and against the “official” church. This enabled the Church Foreign Office under Theodor Heckel to maintain influence on ecumenical development. Despite personal contacts, the BK did not succeed in setting up its own work abroad. Contrary to the protests of Bonhoeffer and others, representatives of the RKA were invited to the ecumenical council meeting in Chamby . At the follow-up conferences in Oxford and Edinburgh in 1937, the BK representatives stayed away despite being invited, as they feared loss of office and imprisonment. When Zoellner was prevented from leaving, he resigned on February 12, 1937. Thus the state "mediation offer" of the RKA had failed.

Stricter state measures and countermeasures by the BK

His successor Hermann Muhs , a member of the NSDAP, rejoined the church ad hoc in order to guide it on the basis of ordinances. A decree issued by Hitler on February 15 for new elections to the general synod of the DEK was not carried out. A conference of regional church leaders could not agree on a new joint leadership of the DEK. Muhs now began to dissolve the still existing church administrations, while the BK and Lutherrat each set up their own administration.

At the same time Heinrich Himmler forbade the training of pastors by the BK; however, this continued illegally. For this purpose, the secret " Church University " was founded in Elberfeld (today in Wuppertal ) as early as 1935 . On a case-by-case basis, the VKL issued illegally printed statements on issues of the day: including the persecution of political opponents and Jews, racial ideology and the danger of war.

This led to the arrest of Martin Niemoeller , the “unofficial” head of the BK on July 1, 1937 . His trial took place in March 1938; Although no opposition to the state could be proven, he was then taken to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp as Hitler's "personal prisoner" , where he survived until the end of the war. Protests from abroad, initiated primarily by the Anglican Lord Bishop George Bell in Great Britain , also helped . At that time he was chairman of the ecumenical council Life and Work and was close friends with Bonhoeffer, from whom he was constantly supplied with the latest news from the German Reich. These international relations between BC and ecumenism could save lives in individual cases.

From July 1937 until the start of the war

In October, another BK activist from the first few hours was arrested: Paul Schneider , who became known in the concentration camp as the “Preacher von Buchenwald”. From the beginning he had uncompromisingly rejected the Nazi worldview and showed solidarity with the persecuted Jews. While still in solitary confinement, he contradicted the Nazi terror with calls and encouragement to the prisoners with reference to the gospel. He was murdered on July 18, 1939 in the Buchenwald concentration camp . Dietrich Bonhoeffer described him as the first Christian martyr in the fight against National Socialism.

In July 1937, the VKL, the Conference of Churches Leaders and the Luther Council tried to reach a consensus on the management of the BK. On October 31, 1937, however, they only passed one more memorandum against Rosenberg's anti-church inflammatory pamphlets, "Dunkelmänner" and "Rompilger". On December 10th, Kerrl ordered the "destroyed" regional churches and the DEK as a whole a new leader, the President of the Old Prussian Evangelical High Church Council, Friedrich Werner .

After the annexation of Austria there were new tensions in the DEK. On April 20, 1938, the Kerrl Ministry of Churches demanded that all pastors take an “oath of allegiance” to “the Führer”. Most of the regional churches, including the Prussian BK, supported taking this off. Later it turned out that the order to do this did not come from Hitler himself. - From July, Kerrl also tried to push through the administrative reform initiated by Müller and Zoellner.

When the VKL published a “prayer liturgy” on September 30th, in which an intercession for the Czechs was hidden, on the occasion of the Czech crisis, Kerrl caused the bishops of the intact regional churches to break with the BK “for religious and patriotic reasons” especially Karl Barth's letter to Josef Hromádka , the Czech head of the theological faculty at the Charles University in Prague : In it Barth called on all Czechs to armed resistance against the invasion of the National Socialists and justified this expressly as well as the resistance necessary for the church, which resulted from the 1st commandment follow.

Even the VKL rejected this as "political". Thus the BK had lost the connection to the regional churches and got into its worst crisis. At the same time, Kerrl rejected new unification offers from the church leaders' conference and instead formed a "united front" of Thuringian DC and moderate regional church representatives in April 1939. Their goal remained the "national church". The bishops of Hanover, Braunschweig and Kurhessen-Waldeck got involved in this. Only the brother councils of the BK and the churches of Bavaria and Württemberg clearly rejected the initiative and were then almost excluded from the Luther council.

Werner changed the work of the church authorities to the basic program of the "national church" and filled positions, imposed disciplinary penalties, certain church tax allocation and collection purposes according to this goal. The 8th Prussian Confessing Synod protested against this in Steglitz on May 21 and 22. Kerrl tried to mediate by partially restricting these measures. On August 29th, he formed a “Spiritual Trust Council” for the DEK, which was to receive the theological leadership and whose representatives were to determine the churches themselves, while the financial administration was carried out entirely by state and DC representatives. But the decay process of the DEK could no longer be stopped.

First half of the war

From the beginning of the war, the Confidential Council, to which Marahrens belonged, issued almost exclusively patriotic appeals. An amnesty decree for ongoing canon law processes and proceedings against church employees was intended to reassure DEK members during the war. The anti-Christian propaganda of the NSDAP, which was already evident at the Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg, continued.

Since 1937, especially between 1939 and 1945, the VKL, the brother councils and numerous pastors, some of whom also did not belong to the BK, were disciplined more frequently by the regional churches and the Gestapo . The BK tried to publicize more severe attacks by the state by means of intercessory lists in the communities.

Since the beginning of the war, the part of the Protestant Church that did not belong to the German Christians has been weakened by the deliberate calling up of system-critical Christians for military service . In this situation in many places women, especially pastors, took on tasks in preaching and church leadership for the first time in the history of the Protestant church .

1940 as "due to the war" arranged "euthanasia", which began Operation T4 "unworthy of life", from in repurposed to killing centers institutions, including confiscated institutions of Diakonie . Bishops Theophil Wurm, Friedrich von Bodelschwingh and Pastor Paul Braune in Lobetal protested here on the Protestant side, and Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen on the Catholic side , who were partially successful.

On June 6, 1941, Martin Bormann issued a secret decree to all Gauleiter, which called for the complete elimination of all possibilities of church influence, entitled: The relationship between National Socialism and Christianity :

“National Socialist and Christian views are incompatible. [...] Our National Socialist worldview is far higher than the conceptions of Christianity, the essential points of which have been adopted by Judaism. For this reason, too, we do not need Christianity. [...] So if in the future our youth learn nothing more about this Christianity, whose teachings are far below ours, Christianity will disappear of its own accord. [...] It follows from the incompatibility of National Socialist and Christian views that we should reject any strengthening of existing Christian denominations and any promotion of emerging Christian denominations. A distinction between the various Christian denominations cannot be made here. For this reason, the idea of ​​establishing a Protestant imperial church with the amalgamation of the various Protestant churches has been finally given up, because the Protestant church is just as hostile to us as the Catholic Church. Any strengthening of the Evangelical Church would only work against us. [...] For the first time in German history, the Führer consciously and completely controls the leadership of the people. With the party, its branches and affiliated associations, the Führer has created an instrument for himself and thus the German Reich leadership that makes him independent of the Church. All influences that could impair or even damage the leadership exercised by the Führer with the help of the NSDAP must be eliminated. More and more the people must be wrested from the churches and their organs, the pastors. It goes without saying that, from their point of view, the churches will and must defend themselves against this loss of power. But the churches must never again be allowed to influence the leadership of the people. This must be completely and finally broken. Only the Reich leadership and on their behalf the party, its branches and affiliated associations have the right to lead the people. Just as the harmful influences of astrologers, fortune tellers and other swindlers are eliminated and suppressed by the state, the possibility of influence of the church must also be completely eliminated. Only when this has happened does the state leadership have full influence over the individual comrades. Only then are people and empire secured in their existence for all future. "

The internal church correspondence was almost stopped because of the alleged "lack of paper" caused by the war. The official acts of baptism , marriage , confirmation and funeral were to be replaced by party celebrations, but this could only be achieved to a limited extent. Obligatory events of the Hitler Youth (HJ) and the German Young People were therefore specifically scheduled on Sunday mornings in order to keep children and young people from going to church. During the services, Hitler Youth exercises took place right next to churches.

Church and Jews

At the Reichspogromnacht on November 9, 1938, neither the DEK management nor the VKL found a word of protest. Only individual pastors such as Helmut Gollwitzer , the successor of Niemöller in Berlin-Dahlem, and Julius von Jan in Württemberg took a stand against it in their sermons. They were charged with "anti-grassroots agitation". Not the Jews, but their advocates, harassed by the state, were then included in their intercession. Bishop Wurm wrote to the Reich Minister of Justice that he was in no way denying the right of the state to fight the Jews as a "dangerous element"; but that "under the eyes of the authorities, acts such as arson and physical abuse, and in some cases also theft, were allowed to take place", depressed the population seriously. He remained silent about the numerous murders on the night of the pogrom and about the imprisonment of 30,000 Jews in concentration camps from November 10, 1938.

From December 1938, the Grüber office began on behalf of the BK to help persecuted Protestant “non-Aryans”, so-called Jewish Christians , with legal and school issues and with emigration. To this end, a network of 22 help centers was formed in 20 larger cities. They worked closely with similar agencies of the Catholic Church, the Quakers and the Reich Association of Jews in Germany .

In order to “ eradicate” the “Jewish influence” from theology and the Bible , an institute was founded in Eisenach in May 1939 to research and eliminate the Jewish influence on German church life . In addition, an institute for research into the Jewish question and an institute for studying the Jewish question had existed since 1934 .

The year 1941 brought tougher challenges and persecutions for the BK. The "National Church", to which the leaders of seven "intact regional churches" belonged - Saxony, Hesse-Nassau, Mecklenburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Anhalt, Thuringia and Lübeck - removed all baptized Jews on December 17, 1941, whether employees or simple community members, from their churches and thus applied the Aryan paragraph comprehensively in the church area:

“Announcement about the ecclesiastical position of Protestant Jews of December 17, 1941: The National Socialist German leadership has irrefutably proven with numerous documents that this war on its global scale was instigated by the Jews. It has therefore taken the decisions and measures against Judaism, both internally and externally, necessary to secure German life. As members of the German national community, the signed German Protestant regional churches are at the forefront of this historical defensive struggle, which, among other things, made the Reich Police Ordinance on the identification of Jews as born enemies of the world and the Reich necessary, as Dr. After bitter experiences, Martin Luther demanded that the strictest measures be taken against the Jews and that they be expelled from Germany. From the crucifixion of Christ to the present day, the Jews have fought Christianity or misused and falsified it in order to achieve their selfish goals. Christian baptism does not change the racial character of a Jew, his ethnicity or his biological being. A German Protestant church has to promote the religious life of German nationals. Racial Jewish Christians have no place and no right in it. The signed German Protestant church leaders have therefore abolished any fellowship with Jewish Christians . You are determined not to tolerate any influence of the Jewish spirit on German religious and ecclesiastical life. "

Like all other Jews, these people were available for deportation. A contradiction came from 27 pastors of the BK in Saxony-Anhalt and 131 from Mecklenburg, because the exclusion of Jewish Christians invalidated the ordination vows and the unity of the church. The WCC also protested and emphasized with reference to John 4:22  LUT that salvation comes from the Jews, since Jesus Christ is the Messiah of Israel . The Church Foreign Office of the DEK rejected this and also demanded that this declaration be withdrawn immediately. Thus, the "moderate" Lutherans in the so-called "intact" regional churches were on a common, racist line with the DC with regard to people of Jewish origin.

The VKL, the Württemberg regional bishop Wurm and the Württemberg upper church council also protested against the exclusion of Jewish Christians. The dismissal was "incompatible with the confession of the Church". The baptismal command of Jesus Christ knows no race limits; according to this law all apostles and Jesus himself should have been excluded from the church. The strength of the protest, however, now during the war and after the split in the church, was by no means comparable to the protests of 1933.

18 pastors of the BK were killed in concentration camps or were murdered during interrogation, for example. The heads of the Aid Office for Jews and Jewish Christians , Heinrich Grüber and his successor Werner Sylten , a Christian of Jewish origin, were locked in the concentration camp in 1940 and 1941. Sylten was murdered on February 26, 1942 in the Hartheim euthanasia and Nazi killing center near Linz ; he was probably gassed together with Jews. From 1942 onwards, the Jewish Christians living in "mixed marriages" were also persecuted; the auxiliary offices therefore intensified their advisory activities. In 1944, however, it turned out that one of their senior staff, Erwin Goldmann, was an SS informant ; then the offices were closed.

Since the Wannsee Conference of January 1942, the rumor of extermination camps in the east gradually got around in the Reich. Bishop Wurm remained silent about this in public and continued not to deny the legitimacy of the state persecution of the Jews as such. But he now stated the injustice in numerous letters and petitions to Nazi authorities:

"Killing without the need for war and without a verdict contradicts God's commandment even if it is ordered by the authorities."

In July 1943 he wrote to Hitler personally to fight back the "persecution and extermination" of the "non-Aryans":

"These intentions, like the extermination measures taken against the other non-Aryans, are in sharp contradiction to God's commandment."

Otherwise it is to be feared that the “privileged Aryans” would also be treated in the same way. Sometimes it is interpreted that Wurm creates the impression that “the Führer” “knew nothing” about the extermination camps.

The Old Prussian Confessing Synod emphasized at its annual conference in Breslau on October 17, 1943, however, that God's commandment “You should not murder” also applies in war . This also applies to “the indirect way of killing, which takes away space for the neighbor to live”, for example by “evading food and clothing”. God's legal system knows no terms like "eradicate", "liquidate" and "unworthy life":

"Destroying people simply because they are members of a criminal, old or insane, or of another race, is not the use of the sword given to the authorities by God."

On the day of repentance and prayer, this synod wrote to its congregations:

"Woe to us and our people ... if it is considered legitimate to kill people because they are considered unworthy of life or belong to another race, if hatred and ruthlessness spread."

These two words were the only public statements from the BK on the Holocaust until the end of the war . They too did not name the Jews directly and did not question the concept of race as such, but were clear in relation to the injustice of racial extermination.

Second half of the war

In the occupied Warthegau ( Posen ), Alfred Rosenberg converted the church structure to association law on a trial basis on behalf of the state . Around 2,000 Polish Catholic priests were imprisoned, of which around 1,300 died or were murdered in German concentration camps.

When Kerrl died on December 14, 1941, Muhs was given more power over the DEK's financial management. He had many pastors' salaries frozen, so that BK employees in particular lost their jobs and could only continue to work with difficulty through voluntary donations. During this phase, new forms of independent preaching work with illegal sermon aids, instruction papers for confirmation classes, youth work, etc. arose in the confessing congregations. Some of the illegally working BK pastors received legal new positions in the DEK through transfers.

From 1943 onwards, all of the work could only be carried out with laypeople, who now developed astonishing activity. Vicars were given full office rights. In autumn 1944 there was an organizational rapprochement between the remnants of the BK and the church leaders' conference, which laid the seeds for the reorganization of the Protestant church after the end of the war.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer played a special role in the church struggle: he represented strict succession to Christ in the illegal training of the BK's preachers in the Finkenwalde seminary , but at the same time he had participated in the conspiratorial preparation for the murder of tyrants against Hitler since 1937 . In contrast to most of the resistance members around Hans Oster and Hans von Dohnanyi represented in the Kreisau Circle , his motive was the Holocaust. Therefore, he also advocated the use of force against the state authorities . After his imprisonment, the management of the BK did not include him in the prayers for the members of the BK who were in prison and strictly distanced themselves from him after Bonhoeffer's involvement in the assassination attempt of July 20, 1944 became known .

"Biblical Disobedience"

In addition to those who acted more or less publicly in the church struggle, there was a biblical disobedience in many places. Especially in the pietistic environment and in the area of ​​the YMCA , Bible study and youth work in illegality took place in a number of congregations until spring 1945. But even before the war there was disobedience. One example was Theodor Roller from Tübingen. As a Christian, he consistently refused to obey Hitler and described Hitler as a liar. Roller has therefore been for six years in a psychiatric hospital Weißenau admitted.


In Germany

As early as July 17, 1945, the leadership of the Evangelical Church of the Rhine Province wrote a letter to the previous “illegal” pastors and vicars of the Confessing Church, some of whom were still prisoners of war, at their last office address via the superintendents, where their previous one "Service in the Rhenish Church" is declared lawful in a certificate and "the act by which they were put out of use in 1934 by the consistory of that time [...] is declared illegal". The salary should also run through the church treasury from now on.

With the Stuttgart confession of guilt of October 1945, the Protestant regional churches tried to find a basis for a new beginning together. The occupation authorities left the internal denazification to the churches themselves, so that in the first post-war years there was a widespread rehabilitation wave for followers and former National Socialists among the Christians. The Darmstadt word of 1947 was quickly forgotten and had no broad impact in the EKD.

In the Evangelical Church of Essen-Werden there is a remarkable window, the church battle window, which was donated by the former members of the Confessing Congregation after their return to the church community, which is no longer dominated by the German Christians. It contains the reference to 1 Tim 6,12  EU .

In ecclesiological terms, the church struggle marks a turning point in the Protestant understanding of the church and the law . In large parts of Protestant theology, a strict distinction has been made between the church as the “community of saints” ( Third Article of Faith ), as the “body of Christ on earth” ( 1 Cor 12.12f  EU ) on the one hand and the constituted church on the other, and even because of the latter Having denied the quality of the church after its legalization, with the struggle against conformity and the German Christians, the conviction gained in importance that it is very important for the church who leads the regional churches in which spirit. Since then, the understanding of the church in the Protestant churches has struck a middle path between the Catholic understanding, according to which law is constitutive for the church, and a completely spiritualized concept of the church.

In 1955 the EKD Council appointed a “Commission for the History of the Church Struggle in the National Socialist Era”. It initially had two tasks: to build a bridge between members of the “radical” and “moderate” Confessing Church within the church and at the same time to provide an initial scientific basis by collecting files, building a library and publishing the “works on the history of the church struggle” for research into the church battle time. - The Commission's research horizon soon expanded to include the Weimar Republic and the role of Protestantism in the post-war period. This manifested itself in the renaming in 1971 to "Evangelical Working Group for Church Contemporary History". Finally, the role of Protestantism in GDR history was taken into account.

Martin Niemöller summarized the events during the church struggle of the Confessing Church in 1976 as follows:

“When the Nazis brought the Communists in, I was silent; I wasn't a communist.
When they locked up the Social Democrats, I was silent; I wasn't a social democrat.
When they called the unionists, I was silent; I wasn't a trade unionist.
When they got me, there was no one left to protest. "

He describes his guilt and that of the church with the words: "We have not yet felt obliged to say anything for people outside the church ... we were not yet so far that we knew we were responsible for our people."

The Control Council Act No. 62 repealed the statutory changes made in 1935.

In Austria

Graz city parish church , Hitler and Mussolini among the flagellants and mockers of Jesus Christ, top right. A scandal in the 1950s.

During the Second World War, the Gothic glass windows in the Graz parish church were destroyed. Albert Birkle , a Salzburg artist whose art was considered degenerate in the Third Reich , was commissioned with the redesign . His main themes were the resurrection and suffering of Jesus, but his stained glass windows became a scandal in the 1950s because they show Hitler and Mussolini side by side with Christ's tormentors. It is, next to the collegiate basilica of St. Martin in Landshut (Hitler, Göring and Goebbels as torturers of St. Castulus ) and the parish church of St. Peter and Paul in Weil der Stadt (Hitler as tempter of Christ ), one of the few churches in the one The figure shown has Hitler's facial features.

In ecumenism

It was precisely through the ecumenical activities of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and some co-conspirators on July 20, 1944 that there was contact with the churches in other countries, especially with the Allies. As a result, the churches in Germany were able to find their way into the global ecumenical movement relatively quickly after the church struggle had ended.

See also



  • Olaf Blaschke : The Churches and National Socialism (= Reclam Universal Library , 19211). Reclam, Stuttgart, 2014, ISBN 978-3-15-019211-5 .
  • Walter Conrad : Church fight . Wedding Verlag, Berlin 1947, DNB 963079840 .
  • Kurt Dietrich Schmidt (ed. And introduction): The confessions and fundamental statements on the church question in 1933. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht , Göttingen 1934.
  • Emanuel Hirsch : The current intellectual situation as reflected in philosophical and theological reflection. Academic lectures to understand the German year 1933. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1934.
  • Working group cath. und ev. Christians (ed.): Das christliche Deutschland 1933–1945 . Herder, Freiburg; Furche, Tübingen, 1945 ff.
  • Statements from the Evangelical Church in Germany and the ecumenical movement on the Jewish question 1932–1961 . Compiled and introduced by Renate Maria Heydenreich, in: Dietrich Goldschmidt , Hans-Joachim Kraus (Hrsg.): The non-terminated covenant. New encounters between Jews and the Christian community. Kreuz-Verlag , Stuttgart 1962; Pp. 183-283.
  • Hans-Walter Krumwiede et al. (Ed.): Church and theological history in sources. Modern times, part 2. Neukirchner Verlag, Neukirchen-Vluyn 1979.
  • Joachim Beckmann (Ed.): Church yearbook for the Protestant churches in Germany 1933-1944. 2nd edition 1976.
  • Hans Boberbach (Ed.): Reports of the SD and the Gestapo on churches and church people in Germany 1933-1944. Mainz 1971.
  • C. Nikolaisen, G. Kretschmar (Ed.): Documents on the church policy of the Third Reich. 1. Volume 1933-1935. Munich, 2nd edition 1975.
  • Karl Ludwig Kohlwage , Manfred Kamper, Jens-Hinrich Pörksen (eds.): “You will be my witnesses!” Voices for the preservation of a denominational church in urgent times. The Breklumer Hefte of the ev.-luth. Confessional community in Schleswig-Holstein from 1935 to 1941. Sources on the history of the church struggle in Schleswig-Holstein . Compiled and edited by Peter Godzik , Husum: Matthiesen Verlag 2018, ISBN 978-3-7868-5308-4 .

Overall representations

  • Kurt Meier : The Protestant Church Struggle. 3 volumes
Volume 1: The fight for the "Reichskirche" Halle 1976.
Volume 2: Failed attempts at reorganization under the sign of state “legal aid”. Hall 1976.
Volume 3: Under the sign of the second world war. Hall 1984.
  • Kurt Dietrich Schmidt : Introduction to the history of the church struggle in the National Socialist era . [A series of lectures, typewritten. 1960, with handwritten corrections until 1964; posthumously] edited and provided with an afterword by Jobst Reller, Ludwig-Harms-Haus, Hermannsburg 2009; 2nd edition 2010, ISBN 978-3-937301-61-7 .
  • Klaus Scholder : The churches and the Third Reich. Volumes 1-3
Volume 1: Prehistory and Time of Illusions, 1918–1934 . Propylaea, Berlin / Munich, 1977, ISBN 978-3-550-07339-7 .
Volume 2: The year of disillusionment, 1934. Propylaeen, Berlin / Munich, 1985, ISBN 978-3-88680-139-8 .
Volume 3 by Gerhard Besier : Divisions and defensive battles 1934–1937. Propylaea, Berlin / Munich, 2001, ISBN 978-3-549-07149-6 .

Individual aspects

  • Works on the history of the church struggle , 30 volumes; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1958–1984
    The volumes contain, among other things, documents on the most important synods of the Confessing Church, texts from the time of the church committees (1935–1937) as well as individual representations of territorial history or subject matter. In the supplementary series that has been published since 1964 , contemporary witnesses mainly published representations of the history of the territory , and important publications from the GDR were taken over.
  • Friedrich Baumgärtel: Against the church fight legends Freimund, Neuendettelsau 1976 (first 1959); ISBN 3-7726-0076-X .
  • Gerhard Besier (ed.): Between “national revolution” and military aggression. Transformations in church and society during the consolidated Nazi tyranny 1934–1939 (= Writings of the Historisches Kolleg . Colloquia 48). Munich 2001, ISBN 978-3-486-56543-0 ( digitized version ).
  • Gerhard Ehrenforth: The Silesian Church in the Church Struggle 1932–1945. Goettingen 1968.
  • Wolfgang Gerlach: When the witnesses were silent. Confessing Church and the Jews Institute Church and Judaism, Berlin 1993; ISBN 3-923095-69-4 .
  • Johannes Hartlapp: Seventh-day Adventists under National Socialism, taking into account the historical and theological development in Germany from 1875 to 1950 Series: KKR 53. V&R unipress, Göttingen 2008; ISBN 3-89971-504-7 .
  • Kirsten John-Stucke, Michael Krenzer, Johannes Wrobel: Twelve years, twelve fates. Case studies of the NS victim group Jehovah's Witnesses in North Rhine-Westphalia Working group of NS memorials in North Rhine-Westphalia , Münster / W. 2006 (without ISBN) DDC notation 940.531808828992 (DDC 22ger)
  • Karl Ludwig Kohlwage : The theological criticism of the Confessing Church of the German Christians and National Socialism and the importance of the Confessing Church for the reorientation after 1945. In: Karl Ludwig Kohlwage, Manfred Kamper, Jens-Hinrich Pörksen (ed.): “Was vor God is right ”. Church struggle and theological foundation for the new beginning of the church in Schleswig-Holstein after 1945. Documentation of a conference in Breklum 2015. Compiled and edited by Rudolf Hinz and Simeon Schildt in collaboration with Peter Godzik , Johannes Jürgensen and Kurt Triebel. Matthiesen Verlag, Husum 2015, ISBN 978-3-7868-5306-0 , pp. 15-36 ( online at ).
  • Peter Maser : The church struggle in the German East and in the German-speaking parishes of Eastern Europe. Goettingen 1992.
  • Christian Neddens: Confessing Church and "Old Lutherans" in the "Church Struggle". Unexpected closeness and obvious companionship. In: Jürgen Kampmann / Werner Klän (eds.). Prussian Union, Lutheran Confession and ecclesiastical influences. Theological localization in the struggle for the claim and scope of denominational determination of the church , Oberurseler Hefte supplementary volumes, Volume 14. Edition Ruprecht, Göttingen 2014, ISBN 978-3-8469-0157-1 , pp. 232-269.
  • Johannes Neuhäusler: Cross and Swastika. The struggle of National Socialism against the Catholic Church and the ecclesiastical resistance Catholic Church of Bavaria, Munich 1946.
  • Hans Prolingheuer: Small political church history. 50 years of Protestant church struggle from 1919 to 1969 Pahl-Rugenstein, Cologne 1984; ISBN 3-7609-0870-5 .
  • Hans Prolingheuer: We went astray. The guilt of the church under the swastika Cologne 1987; ISBN 3-7609-1144-7 .
  • Edmund Schlink : The proceeds of the church struggle , Gütersloh: C. Bertelsmann 1947.
  • Klaus Scholder: The churches between republic and tyranny. Collected essays ; unabridged and corrected edition of the first edition in 1988; ed. by Karl Otmar von Aretin and Gerhard Besier; Ullstein, Berlin 1991; ISBN 3-548-33148-3 .
  • Leonore Siegele-Wenschkewitz : National Socialism and Churches. Religious policy of party and state until 1935 Düsseldorf 1974.
  • Marikje Smid: German Protestantism and Judaism 1932/1933 ; Christian Kaiser, Munich 1990; ISBN 3-459-01808-9 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Günter Baadte: basic issues of political and social reform in the pastoral letters of the German bishops . In: JCSW . tape 27 , p. 97 . Ludwig Volk: files of German bishops on the situation of the church 1933-1945 . Ed .: Commission for Contemporary History. tape
     6: 1943-1945 .
  2. Leonore Siegele-Wenschkewitz : The churches between adaptation and resistance in the Third Reich. In: Barmer Theological Declaration 1934–1984. Luther Verlag, Bielefeld 1984; ISBN 3-7858-0287-0 ; Pp. 11-29.
  3. Example: This text introduces the “church struggle” at the time of Luther, i.e. with reference to the Reformation.
  4. Ecclesiastical contract partners were the regional churches of the Old Prussian Union , Frankfurt / Main , Hanover (Lutheran) , Hanover (reformed) , Hesse-Kassel , Nassau , Schleswig-Holstein as well as Waldeck and Pyrmont .
  5. Wolfgang Benz: Anti-Semitism in the 19th and 20th centuries. In: Federal Center for Political Education. Retrieved May 10, 2019 .
  6. Friedrich Pohlmann: Ideology and Terror in National Socialism . In: Freiburg works on the sociology of dictatorship . tape 1 . Centaurus, Pfaffenweiler 1992, ISBN 978-3-89085-648-3 , p. 154 .
  7. ^ Hans Müller: Catholic Church and National Socialism, documents 1930–1935. Nymphenburger Verlags-Handlung, Munich 1963, DNB 453485103 , p. 73. The sentence was not published in the party newspaper Völkischer Beobachter or in most other newspapers. The sentence following the omission was then changed because of the connection to the sentence, so it was by no means an error.
  8. a b Jürgen W. Falter, Dirk Hänisch: The susceptibility of workers to the NSDAP in the Reichstag elections 1928-1933 . In: Archives for Social History . tape 26 , 1986, pp. 210 ( [PDF; 9.8 MB ]).
  9. ^ Konrad Löw : The Catholic Church in post-war Germany 1945–1948: The struggle for the school cross in the Nazi era and today. (PDF, 106 kB) Writings of the initiative group of Catholic laypeople and priests in the Diocese of Augsburg e. V., 46. 2003, p. 26 , archived from the original on August 24, 2007 ; accessed on May 8, 2017 .
  10. Claudia Prinz, Arnulf Scriba: Churches in the Nazi regime . Deutsches Historisches Museum , Berlin, September 17, 2014, accessed on May 8, 2017.
  11. Konrad Löw: The guilt: Christians and Jews in the judgment of the National Socialists and the present . 1st edition. 2002, p. 42 .
  12. Erwin Gatz : History of church life in the German-speaking countries since the end of the 18th century: The Catholic Church. 4 The Diocesan Clergy, 1995, p. 169 .
  13. ^ Klaus Scholder: Eugenio Pacelli and Karl Barth. Politics, Church Politics and Theology in the Weimar Republic . In: Karl Otmar von Aretin, Gerhard Besier (Hrsg.): The church between republic and tyranny . Berlin 1991, p. 103 .
  14. Hoppegarten honors Catholics . Märkische Onlinezeitung , June 18, 2009, accessed on May 8, 2017.
  15. ^ Stefan Korboński: The Polish underground state: a guide to the underground, 1939-1945 . Hippocrene Books, 1981, pp. 142 .
  16. Michael F. Feldkamp: Followers, Cowards, Anti-Semites? Catholic Church and National Socialism . 2009, p. 182 .
  17. ^ Gerhard Besier, Francesca Piombo: The Holy See and Hitler Germany . Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 2004, p. 217 .
  18. Bastian Scholz: The churches and the German nation state . Springer Verlag, 2015, p. 333 ( ).
  19. Wolfgang Benz, Hermann Graml, Hermann Weiss (ed.): Encyclopedia of National Socialism . Klett-Cotta, 2007, p. 209 .
  20. ^ Olaf Blaschke: The "Reichspogromnacht" and the attitude of the Catholic population and the church. History of mentality as the key to a new understanding? As well as Joachim Köhler: Catholic Church, Catholics and the Jews in the time of National Socialist rule. Both in: House of History Baden-Württemberg (ed.): Side by side - with each other - against each other? On the coexistence of Jews and Catholics in southern Germany in the 19th and 20th centuries (= Laupheim Talks 2000). Bleicher, Gerlingen 2002, ISBN 3-88350-053-4 , pp. 199-229 or 230-260.
  21. This has been the official name since 1938; previously it was " Church Movement German Christians ".
  22. ^ Nuremberg Trial , Document D-75, US-348. A more detailed, contemporary version that was circulating in Switzerland is available at (PDF; 1.6 MB)
  23. Quoted from: Ulrich Oelschläger: 70 years of exclusion of baptized Jews from the Lord's Supper - 20 years of commitment to the permanent election of Jews and God's covenant with them - an ambivalent and tense anniversary ; Blickpunkt.e: materials on Christianity, Judaism, Israel and the Middle East; Working group Church and Israel in the Evangelical Church of Hesse and Nassau; accessed on May 30, 2014.
  24. Christian Gerlach : WerkstattGeschichte 18 (1997), p. 31, sees this date as being directly related to Hitler's announcement to 50 party officials 5 days earlier that the murder of all Jews in Europe will now be carried out definitively and at an accelerated rate. He cites Daniel Jonah Goldhagen : Vollstrecker , 1996, p. 142f and Raul Hilberg : Täter , 1992, p. 285. Gerlach believes that church leaders have always been very well informed about what was going on in the highest party and state agencies. The national church declaration of December 17, 1941 reads in the most important places: We church leaders are in the "front of the historical defensive struggle, which u. a. [...] made it necessary to identify the Jews as born enemies of the world and the empire, as [...] Luther [...] demanded to take the toughest measures against the Jews and expel them from the German lands [...] by the Christian baptism does not change the racial character of a Jew, his ethnicity or his biological being. ”In: Joachim Beckmann (Ed.): Kirchliches Jahrbuch für die Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland 1933–1944 ; 60th to 71st year; Bertelsmann, Gütersloh 1948, 2nd edition 1976; P. 460.
  25. Hans-Joachim Lang : As a Christian, I call you a liar. Theodor Roller's rebellion against Hitler ; Hamburg: Hoffmann and Campe, 2009; ISBN 3-455-50104-4 .
  26. ^ Letter in the possession of son G-Michel-Hürth .
  27. ^ History of the church battle window at WAZ February 2, 2010 (accessed July 2012)
  28. Church window No. 33 for stained glass (2012).
  29. ^ Contemporary history ( Memento from May 7, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) on
  30. a b Quoted from: Martin Stöhr : “… I was silent” On the question of anti-Semitism in Martin Niemöller ( memento from July 1, 2013 in the web archive ); Article from October 10, 2011 on the website of the Martin Niemöller Foundation.
  31. ^ Hitler in the church window , accessed on May 9, 2009.
  32. 46 documents, 34 of them by the end of 1943.
  33. ↑ Incidentally , the volume reproduces the lectures, among other things, contributions from the relevant working group at the 1961 Kirchentag in Berlin, including a historical review of the church struggle.
  34. Works on the history of the church struggle. Supplementary series . ( Memento of October 4, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) List of the Evangelical Working Group for Contemporary Church History, Research Center Munich on the website of the Evangelical Church in Germany; accessed on November 13, 2014.