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This article gives an overview about religion in Nazi Germany and the Nazis' complex and shifting policy towards religion. For the attitude of the Nazi Party towards religion and the significance of paganism and occultism for Nazism, see the article religious aspects of Nazism.

Nazism and religion

Several elements of Nazism were quasi-religious in nature. The cult around Hitler as the Führer, the "huge congregations, banners, sacred flames, processions, a style of popular and radical preachings, prayers-and-responses, memorials and funeral marches" can easily be considered as the "essential props for the cult of race and nation, the mission of Aryan Germany and victory over her enemies." These kinds of religious aspects of Nazism have led a variety of scholars to consider Nazism some kind of political religion.

Contemporary scholarship has actually moved away from the thesis of secularization and observes for the last third of the 20th century, in the words of Hugh Heclo, a "reentry into the political arena of precisely those traditional religions that secular modernity was supposed to have made obsolete." Accordingly, apparently secular movements like Nazism and Communism are often described as political religion or secular faith, a thesis which can be controversial. Heclo, who recently published a book Christianity and American Democracy, argues that "religion is to have a place in public life" and emphasizes its importance for a developed democracy:
"If traditional religion is absent from the public arena, secular religions are likely to satisfy man's quest for meaning. ... It was an atheistic faith in man as creator of his own grandeur that lay at the heart of Communism, fascism and all the horrors they unleashed for the twentieth century. And it was adherents of traditional religions - Martin Niemöller, C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Reinhold Niebuhr, Martin Buber - who often warned most clearly of the tragedy to come from attempting to build man's own version of the New Jerusalem on Earth."



Considering the religious imagery of Nazism, such an argument seems plausible: Clearly, Nazism, with Hitler's plans for a magnificent new capital at Berlin (Welthauptstadt Germania), can be described as attempting to build a version of the New Jerusalem. Since Fritz Stern's classical study The Politics Of Cultural Despair, most historians have viewed the relation of Nazism and religion this way. The Nazi movement and Adolf Hitler are seen as fundamentally hostile to Christianity, but not as irreligious. In the first chapter of The Nazi Persecution of the Churches, John S. Conway elaborates that Christian Churches in Germany had lost their appeal in the time of the Weimar Republicmarker, and that Hitler offered "what appeared to be a vital secular faith in place of the discredited creeds of Christianity."

However, since 2003 this dominant view has been challenged. In his study The Holy Reich, the historian Richard Steigmann-Gall comes to the controversial conclusion that "Christianity, in the final analysis, did not constitute a barrier to Nazism." Furthermore, he comments on the reason why Nazism is quite often seen as the opposite of Christianity:

"What we suppose Nazism must surely have been about usually tells us as much about contemporary societies as about the past purportedly under review. The insistence that Nazism was an anti-Christian movement has been one of the most enduring truisms of the past fifty years. ... Exploring the possibility that many Nazis regarded themselves as Christian would have decisively undermined the myths of the Cold War and the regeneration of the German nation ... Nearly all Western societies retain a sense of Christian identity to this day. ... That Nazism as the world-historical metaphor for human evil and wickedness should in some way have been related to Christianity can therefore be regarded by many only as unthinkable."



The opposition of many adherents of traditional religions to Nazism is only one side of the issue. Within the Lutheran Churches in Germany, the most prominent members of the Bekennende Kirche (Confessing Church), Martin Niemöller and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, opposed Nazism. They were, however, (as of 1932) in the minority within the Protestant church bodies in Germany, compared to the Deutsche Christen (German Christians), who supported National Socialism and cooperated with the Nazis. But in 1933, a number of Deutsche Christen left the movement after a November speech by Reinhold Krause that urged, among other things, the rejection of the Bible as Jewish superstition. However, even the "Confessing Church made frequent declarations of loyalty to Hitler".The resistance of the churches against the Nazis was the longest lasting and most bitter of any German institution; the Nazis weakened the churches' resistance from within and a majority of clergy supported National Socialism, even though thousands of clergy were sent to concentration camps.

Organised religion in Germany 1933-1945

Kirchenaustritte 1932-1944
Cath. Protest. Total
1932 52 000 225 000 277 000
1933 34 000 57 000 91 000
1934 27 000 29 000 56 000
1935 34 000 53 000 87 000
1936 46 000 98 000 144 000
1937 104 000 338 000 442 000
1938 97 000 343 000 430 000
1939 95 000 395 000 480 000
1940 52 000 160 000 212 000
1941 52 000 195 000 247 000
1942 37 000 105 000 142 000
1943 12 000 35 000 49 000
1944 6 000 17 000 23 000


Christianity in Germany has, since the Protestant Reformation, been divided into Catholicism and Protestantism. As a specific outcome of the Reformation in Germany, the large Protestant denominations are organized into Landeskirchen (roughly: Federal Churches). The German word for denomination is Konfession, however, this translation has been considered misleading, since it might suggest that the context of religion in Germany could be described with the common parabola of the religious marketplace, which is not the case. In Germany, "to this day religion nominally remains a state affair." For the large churches in Germany (Catholic and evangelisch) the German government collects the church tax, which is then given to the Churches. For this reason membership in the Catholic or Protestant (evangelische) Church is officially registered. It is important to keep this 'official aspect' in mind when turning to such questions as the religious beliefs of Adolf Hitler or Joseph Goebbels. Both men had ceased to attend Catholic mass or to go to Confession long before 1933, but neither had officially left the Church and neither of them refused to pay his church taxes. Accordingly, Hitler and Goebbels can be classified as nominally Catholic; Considering this, Steigmann-Gall holds that "nominal church membership is a very unreliable gauge of actual piety in this context."

"Kirchenaustritt" - Leaving the Church

Other historians disagree and have taken a closer look at the numbers of people who left the church in Germany 1933-45. The option to be taken off the church rolls (Kirchenaustritt) has existed in Germany since 1873, when Otto von Bismarck had introduced it as part of the Kulturkampf aimed against Catholicism. For parity this was made possible for Protestants, too, and for the next 40 years it was mostly they who took advantage of it. Statistics exist since 1884 for the Protestant churches and since 1917 for the Catholic Church.

An analysis of this data for the time of the Nazi rule is available in a paper by Sven Granzow et al., published in a collection edited by Götz Aly. Altogether more Protestants than Catholics left their church, however, overall Protestants and Catholics decided similarly. The number of Kirchenaustritte reached its "historical high" in 1939 when it peaked at 480 000. Granzow et al. see the numbers not only in relation to the Nazi policy towards the churches, (which changed drastically from 1935 onwards) but also as indicator of the trust in the Führer and the Nazi leadership. The decline in the number of people who left the church after 1942 is explained as resulting from a loss of confidence in the future of Nazi Germany. People tended to keep their ties to the church, because they feared an uncertain future.

Nazi policy towards the Churches

Soon after their takeover of power in Germany, the Nazi government resumed talks with the Holy See concerning the establishment of a concordat. Previously, concordats, regulating the relation between the Catholic Church and the state, had been established in Bavariamarker (1924), Prussia (1929) and Baden (1932), but talks had failed on a federal level for several reasons. The Reichskonkordat was signed on July 20, 1933.

Like the idea of the Reichskonkordat, the notion of a Protestant Reich Church, which would unify the Protestant Churches, also had been considered previously. Hitler had discussed the matter as early as 1927 with Ludwig Müller, who was at that time the military chaplain of Königsberg.

Protestantism

Martin Luther

During the First and Second World War, German leaders used the writings of Luther to support the cause of German nationalism. At the 450th anniversary of Luther's birth, which took place only a few months after the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, there were celebrations conducted on a large scale both by the Protestant Churches and the Nazi Party. At a celebration at Königsbergmarker (which after 1945 became Kaliningradmarker) Erich Koch, at that time Gauleiter of East Prussia, made a speech which, among other things, compared Adolf Hitler and Martin Luther and claimed that the Nazis fought with Luther's spirit. Such a speech might be dismissed as mere propaganda, but, as Steigmann-Gall points out: "Contemporaries regarded Koch as a bona fide Christian who had attained his position [of the elected president of a provincial Church synod] through a genuine commitment to Protestantism and its institutions."

The prominent Protestant theologian Karl Barth opposed this appropriation of Luther in the German Empiremarker and Nazi Germany, when he stated in 1939 that the writings of Martin Luther were used by the Nazis to glorify the State and state absolutism:"The German people suffer under his error of the relation between law and bible, between secular and spiritual power", in which Luther divided the temporal State from the inward focusing spiritual, thus limiting the ability of the individual or the church to question the actions of the State, which was seen as a God ordained instrument.

On February 1940, Barth accused German Lutherans specifically of separating biblical teachings from its teachings of the State and thus legitimizing the Nazi state ideology. He was not alone with his view. A few years earlier on October 5, 1933, Pastor Wilhelm Rehm from Reutlingen, declared publicly, that “Hitler would not have been possible, without Martin Luther. though many have also made this same statement about other influences in Hitler's rise to power. "Without Lenin, Hitler would not have been possible", as stated by Historian Paul Johnson.

The German Christians Movement

The German Christians, (Deutsche Christen) constituted the strongest Protestant movement in Germany after the 1932 Church elections, with the aim of synthesising Christianity with the ideology of National Socialism. There were various groups within the Deutsche Christen, some more radical than others, but united in the goal of establishing a national socialist Protestantism Deutsche Christen abolished what they considered to be Jewish traditions in Christianity, and some but not all rejected the Old Testament altogether. They rejected academic theology as sterile and not populist enough and were often anti-Catholic. On November 1933, A Protestant mass rally of the Deutsche Christen, which brought together a record 20,000 people, passed three resolutions:

  • Adolf Hitler is the completion of the reformation,
  • Baptized Jews are to be dismissed from the Church
  • The Old Testament is to be excluded from Sacred Scriptures.


A claim exists that Adolf Hitler converted to Protestantism and joined the German Christians, according to the National Secretary Klundt on April 25, 1933, in Königsberg, Eastern Prussia. An official confirmation or denial was not issued by the Chancellor. But Gerhard Engel, one of Hitler's generals, reported that Hitler had told him: "I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so" (in an entry in Engel's diary during 1941).

Ludwig Müller

Ludwig Müller (1883–1945), after his first meeting with Hitler, was convinced that he had a divine responsibility to promote Hitler and his ideals, and together with Hitler, he favoured a unified Reichskirche of Protestants and Catholics. This Reichskirche was to be a loose federation in the form of a council, but subordinated to the National Socialist State. Ludwig Müller headed the German Christians, which increased to about 600,000 members in the mid-1930s and won all Church elections since 1932, after dissenters were silenced by expulsion or violence. However he could not deliver on conforming all Christians to National Socialisism, and Hitler’s condescending attitudes toward Protestants increased: "Protestant clergy, don’t believe in anything except their well-being and office". However, the personal relation between Reichsbischof Müller and Hitler remained cordial and good to 1945, when both committed suicide. Of lasting value of Bishop Müller's efforts was the recognition of the National Socialist State of "The German Evangelical Church" as a legal entity on July 14, 1933, a law which promised a melting of State, people and Church into one body.

General views

The level of ties between Nazism and the Protestant churches has been a contentious issue for decades. One difficulty is that Protestantism includes a vast number of religious bodies many of whom had little relation to each other. Added to that, Protestantism tends to allow more variation among individual congregations than Catholicism or Eastern Orthodox Christianity, which makes statements about "official positions" of denominations problematic. Still, many Protestant organisations or denominations were solidly opposed to Nazism after the nature of the movement was better understood. Many Protestants including Rev. Martin Niemoller, who was imprisoned in 1937 under the charge of "misuse of the pulpit to vilify the State and the Party and attack the authority of the Government." resisted and some even died because of their efforts. The forms or offshoots of Protestantism that advocated pacificism, anti-nationalism, or racial equality tended to oppose the Nazi state in the strongest terms. Prominent Protestant, or Protestant offshoot, groups known for their efforts against Nazism include the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Confessing Church. Many of their members died in the camps or struggled fiercely against the Nazis.

Yet Lutherans voted for Hitler in greater numbers than Catholics. Different German states possessed regional social variations as to class densities and religious denomination; Richard Steigmann-Gall alleges a linkage between several Protestant churches and Nazism, the main aspect being Hitler's citing anti-Semitic pamphlets by Martin Luther and accusations that the Lutheran establishment supported Hitler. The small Methodist population at times was deemed foreign; this stemmed from the fact that Methodism began in Englandmarker, while it did not develop in Germany until the nineteenth century with Christoph Gottlob Müller and Louis Jacoby. Because of this history they felt the urge to be "more German than the Germans" to avoid suspicion. Methodist Bishop John L. Nelsen toured the U.S. on Hitler's behalf to protect his church, but in private letters indicated that he feared or hated Nazism, and so retired to Switzerland. Methodist Bishop F. H. Otto Melle took a far more collaborationist position that included apparently sincere support for Nazism. He felt that serving the Reich was both a patriotic duty and a means of advancement. To show his gratitude, Hitler made a gift of 10,000 marks in 1939 to a Methodist congregation to purchase an organ.Outside of Germany, Melle's views were overwhelmingly rejected by most Methodists.The leader of pro-Nazi segment of Baptists was Paul Schmidt. Hitler also led to the unification of Pro-Nazi Protestants in the Protestant Reich Church which was led by Ludwig Müller. The idea of such a "national church" was possible in the history of mainstream German Protestantism, but National Churches devoted primarily to the state were generally forbidden among the Anabaptists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and in Catholicism.

During the 1930s Hitler tried to nationalize Germany's churches (German Christian), with restrictions allowing only German membership. Some Protestants resisted by forming the Confessing Church.

After a failed assassination on Hitler's life in 1943 which involved Martin Niemöller, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and other elements of the Confessing Church (a Protestant organisation), Hitler ordered the arrest of Protestant, mainly Lutheran clergy. Catholic clergy were also suppressed if they spoke out against the régime. Dachau had a special "priest block." Of the 2720 priests (among them 2579 Catholic) held in Dachau, 1034 did not survive the camp. The majority were Polish (1780), of whom 868 died in Dachau.

Catholicism

The attitude of the Nazi party to the Church ranged from tolerance to near total renunciation. Many Nazis were anti-clerical in both private and public life. The Nazi party had decidedly pagan elements. One position is that the Church and fascism could never have a lasting connection because both are a "holistic Weltanschauung" claiming the whole of the person.

Although both Hitler and Mussolini were anticlerical, they both understood that it would be rash to begin their Kulturkampfs prematurely, such a clash, possibly inevitable in the future, being put off while they dealt with other enemies.

Bernhard Stempfle

A certain priest called Father Bernhard Stempfle is credited with having helped editing Mein Kampf during his imprisoned days in the statemarker prison at Landsberg am Lechmarker together with Hitler. However, in 1934, after the Night of the Long Knives Stempfle was found dead in a wood near Munichmarker, with his heart pierced and three bullets through his head. Stempfle is said to have been a member of the Hieronymites, and sources mention that the reason for his assassination was probably secret, private knowledge about Hitler. Allegations that Stempfle was the confessor of Hitler must however be firmly dismissed, as Hitler no longer received any of the sacraments after he had left the Austrian family home many years before the First World War.

Church hierarchy

The nature of the Nazi Party's relations with the Catholic Church is also complicated. Before Hitler rose to power, many Catholic priests and leaders vociferously opposed Nazism on the grounds of its incompatibility with Christian morals. After Hitler took over and rose to power, party membership was not forbidden anymore and the Catholic Church actively looked for opportunities to work together with the Nazi government. At his trial Franz von Papen said that until 1936 the Catholic Church hoped for a Christian alignment to the beneficial aspects he said they saw in national socialism. (This statement came after Pope Pius XII ended Von Papen's appointment as Papal chamberlain and ambassador to the Holy See, but before his restoration under Pope John XXIII.)

In 1937 Pope Pius XI issued the encyclical Mit brennender Sorge condemning Nazi ideology, notably the Gleichschaltung policy directed against religious influence upon education, as well as Nazi racism and antisemitism. The encyclical Humani Generis Unitas however was never published. The massive Catholic opposition to the euthanasia programmes led them to be quietly ended on 28 August 1941, (according to Spielvogel pp. 257-258) in contrast Catholics only at some occasions actively and openly protested Nazi anti-Semitism in any comparable way, except for several bishops and priests like bishop Clemens von Galen of Münstermarker.

In Nazi Germany, all known political dissenters were imprisoned, and some German priests were sent to the concentration camps for their opposition, including the pastor of Berlin's Catholic Cathedral Bernhard Lichtenberg and the seminarian Karl Leisner. Hitler was never excommunicated by the Catholic Church and several Catholic bishops in Germany or Austria are recorded as encouraging prayers of support for "The Führer"; this despite the fact the original Reichskonkordat (1933) of Germany with the Holy See proscribed any active political participation by the priesthood.

Criticism also arose in that the Vatican pontificate headed by Pope Pius XI and Pope Pius XII had remained circumspect about the national-scale race hatred before 1937 (Mit brennender Sorge). In 1937, just before the publishing of the anti-Nazi encyclical, Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli in Lourdes, Francemarker condemned discrimination against Jews and the neopaganism of the Nazi régime. A statement by Pius XI on 8 September 1938 spoke of the "inadmissibility" of anti-semitism, but Pius XII is criticised by people like John Cornwell for being unspecific. Pius XI may have underestimated the degree that Hitler's ideas influenced the laity in light of hopes the Concordat would preserve Catholic influences among them. The evolution of the Vatican's understanding has faced criticism of weakness, slowness, or even culpability. On culpability this is perhaps clearest with regards to the German hierarchy as after the Concordat there was a radical reversal of the former episcopal condemnation of Nazism, according to Daniel Goldhagen and others. It is less certain in other cases. From the other extreme the Roman Catholic hierarchy in the Netherlandsmarker officially and formally condemned Nazism in 1941 and therefore faced violence and deportation of its priests, along with attacks upon monasteries and Catholic hospitals, and, the deportation of thousands of Jews to Auschwitz, who were hiding in the Catholic institutions, among them the famous Saint Edith Stein. Likewise, the Polish Roman Catholic hierarchy was violently attacked by the Nazis and saw thousands of its clerics sent to concentration camps or simply killed, a famous example of this being Father Maksymilian Kolbe. Most nations' hierarchy took a mixture of the two positions, oscillating between collaboration and active resistance.

Tangential to the more extreme of collaborationist accusations is the characterisation that Nazism actively based itself on a similar pontifical structure and corps of functionaries. For example the special clothing, ghettoization, and badges demanded of Jews were once common or even began in the Papal Statesmarker. Also that the Nazis saw themselves as an effective replacement of Catholicism that would co-opt its unity and respect for hierarchy. Hence attempts were made to unite other religions, as in the earlier example of the Protestant Reich Church.

In 1941 the Nazi authorities decreed the dissolution of all monasteries and abbeys in the German Reich, many of them effectively being occupied and secularized by the Allgemeine SSmarker under Himmler. However, on July 30, 1941 the Aktion Klostersturm (Operation Monastery) was put to an end by a decree of Hitler, who feared the increasing protests by the Catholic part of German population might result in passive rebellions and thereby harm the Nazi war effort at the eastern front.

The Christian Churches were amongst the first victims of Nazi war crimes in the rise to power of the Nazis, and detailed plans were made to eliminate them after power was secured.

Nazism and Christianity

Nazi Attitudes towards Christianity

Hitler and other Nazi leaders clearly made use of both Christian symbolism combined with indigenous Germanic pagan imagery mixed with ancient Romanmarker symbolism and emotion in propaganda for the German public and this worried Protestants.Many Nazi leaders subscribed either to a mixture of then modern scientific theories (especially Social Darwinism), as Hitler himself did, or to mysticism and occultism, which was especially strong in the SS. Central to both groupings was the belief in Germanic (white Northern-European) racial superiority. The existence of a Ministry of Church Affairs, instituted in 1935 and headed by Hanns Kerrl, was hardly recognized by ideologists such as Alfred Rosenberg or by other political decision-makers.

Despite Germanymarker's long history as the seat of the Holy Roman Empire and the birthplace of the Reformation, Christianity was in a decline during the rise of the Nazi Party. Some of the factors leading to this decline were the after effects of World War I which challenged "traditional" European viewpoints.

Some Nazis promoted Positive Christianity which attempted to replace traditional Christian beliefs with those agreeable with Nazism, which many German Christians accepted. Even in the later years of the Third Reich, many Protestant and Catholic clergy within Germany persisted in believing that Nazism was in its essence in accordance with Christian precepts. Typically those who persisted were considered a threat to Nazi ideology and marginalized or censored. For example:
Grundmann’s continuous efforts to obtain the permission for a periodical were treated in a dilatory way, and an internal note of the Propaganda Ministry gave the following reasons for this attitude:
The endeavors of this organization and its leading men such as Prof. Grundmann are well meant.
But there is no interest either in assimilating (angleichen) Christian teaching in national socialism or in proving that a re-shaped (umgestaltetes) Christianity is not fundamentally Jewish (keine judische Grundhaltung aufweist).
On a specific occasion, even a more negative attitude was revealed.
When several persons of the Ministry of Propaganda were invited to a meeting of the Institute in Berlin on January 15, 1942, at which Professors Grundmann and Werdermann were to lecture, a high official of the Ministry noted in pencil on the invitation: ‘If such lectures at present are considered desirable at all, they should be watched.’


In 1941, Martin Bormann, a close associate of Hitler said publicly "National Socialism and Christianity are irreconcilable". In 1942 he also declared in a confidential memo to Gauleiters that the Christian Churches 'must absolutely and finally be broken.' Thus it is evident that he believed Nazism, based as it was on a 'scientific' world-view, to be completely incompatible with Christianity. When we [National Socialists] speak of belief in God, we do not mean, like the naive Christians and their spiritual exploiters, a man-like being sitting around somewhere in the universe. The force governed by natural law by which all these countless planets move in the universe, we call omnipotence or God. The assertion that this universal force can trouble itself about the destiny of each individual being, every smallest earthly bacillus, can be influenced by so-called prayers or other surprising things, depends upon a requisite dose of naivety or else upon shameless professional self-interest.

Other members of the Hitler government, including Rosenberg, during the war formulated a thirty-point program for the "National Reich Church" which included:

  • The National Reich Church claims exclusive right and control over all Churches.
  • The National Church is determined to exterminate foreign Christian faiths imported into Germany in the ill-omened year 800.
  • The National Church demands immediate cessation of the publishing and dissemination of the Bible.
  • The National Church will clear away from its altars all Crucifixes, Bibles and pictures of Saints.
  • On the altars there must be nothing but Mein Kampf and to the left of the altar a sword.


Nazi party leaders viewed Christianity and National Socialism as competing world views (even though some Christians did not see a conflict) and Hitler planned to eliminate the Christian churches after securing control of his European empire. The churches were permitted some self governing and allowed to remain because Hitler did not want to risk strong opposition until other more pressing issues were dealt with.

From the mid 1930s, anti-Christian elements within the Nazi party became more prominent - they were restrained by Hitler, who thought religion would die by itself as science advanced. Nevertheless the Party began to suppress religious teaching, closed religious youth movements and excluded religious instruction from the Hitler Youth. The public collection of money for religious charities was forbidden. In 1937 all confessing church seminaries and teaching was banned. Dissident Protestants were forbidden to attend universities, and state-sponsored denominational and private religious schools were closed. During Hitler's dictatorship, more than 6,000 clergymen, on the charge of treasonable activity, were imprisoned or executed. The same measures were taken in the occupied territories, in French Lorrainemarker, the Nazis forbid religious youth movements, parish meetings, scout meetings, and church assets were taken. Church schools were closed, and teachers in religious orders were dismissed. The episcopal seminary was closed, and the SA and SS desecrated churches, religious statutes and pictures; 300 clergy were expelled from the Lorraine region, monks and nuns were deported or forced to renounce their vows.

Christianity and Nazi Anti-Semitism

According to American historian Lucy Dawidowicz, Anti-Semitism has a long history within Christianity. The line of "anti-Semitic descent" from Luther, the author of On the Jews and Their Lies, to Hitler is "easy to draw." In her The War Against the Jews, 1933-1945, she contends that Luther and Hitler were obsessed by the "demonologized universe" inhabited by Jews. Dawidowicz writes that the similarities between Luther's anti-Jewish writings and modern anti-Semitism are no coincidence, because they derived from a common history of Judenhass, which can be traced to Haman's advice to Ahasuerus. Although modern German anti-Semitism also has its roots in German nationalism and the liberal revolution of 1848, Christian Anti-Semitism she writes is a foundation that was laid by the Roman Catholic Church and "upon which Luther built." Dawidowicz' allegations and positions are criticized and not accepted by most historians however. For example, in "Studying the Jew" Alan Steinweis notes that, "Old-fashioned antisemitism, Hitler argued, was insufficient, and would lead only to pogroms, which contribute little to a permanent solution. This is why, Hitler maintained, it was important to promote 'an antisemitism of reason,' one that acknowledged the racial basis of Jewry." Interviews with Nazis by other historians show that the Nazis thought that their views were rooted in biology, not historical prejudices. For example, "S. became a missionary for this biomedical vision... As for anti-Semitic attitudes and actions, he insisted that “the racial question... [and] resentment of the Jewish race... had nothing to do with medieval anti-Semitism...” That is, it was all a matter of scientific biology and of community."

Future plans of the Nazi government

Historian Heinz Hürten (professor emeritus at the Catholic University of Eichstaett) argued that the Nazi party had plans for the Roman Catholic Church, according to which the Church was supposed to "eat from the hands of the government." The sequence of these plans, he states, follow this sequence: an abolition of the priestly celibacy and a nationalisation of all church property, the dissolution of monastic order and religious congregations, and the influence of the Catholic Church upon education. Hutzen states that Hitler proposed to reduce vocations to the priesthood by forbidding seminaries from receiving applicants before their 25th birthdays, and thus had hoped that these men would marry beforehand, during the time (18 – 25 years) in which they were obliged to work in military or labour service. Also, along with this process, the Church's sacraments would be revised and changed to so-called "Lebensfeiern", the non-Christian celebrations of different periods of life.

There existed some considerable differences among officials within the Nazi Party on the question of Christianity. Goebbels, is purported to have feared the creation of a third front of Catholics against their regime in Germany itself. In his diary, Goebbels wrote about the "traitors of the Black International who again stabbed our glorious government in the back by their criticism", by which Hutzen states meant the indirectly or actively resisting Catholic clergymen (who wore black cassocks).

Other religions

In the Appendix of The Nazi Persecution of the Churches, Conway has included a document: "List of sects prohibited by the Gestapo up to December 1938." It mentions the "International Jehovah's Witness" under No.1, but also includes a so-called "Study group for Psychic Research" or even the "Bahai Sect."

Jehovah's Witnesses

Esoteric groups

In the 1930s there already existed an esoteric scene in Germany and Austria. The organisations of this spectrum were suppressed, but, unlike Freemasonry in Nazi Germany, not persecuted. The only secure case in which an occultist might have been sent to a concentration camp for his beliefs is that of Friedrich Bernhard Marby.

Also, some Nazi leaders had an interest in esotericism. Rudolf Hess had an interest in Anthroposophy. Heinrich Himmler showed a strong interest in esoteric matters, too, although as Steigmann–Gall points out, Hitler and many of his key associates sometimes still attended Christian services of the nazified Reich Church.

The esoteric Thule Society lent support to the German Workers' Party, which was eventually transformed into the Nazi Party in 1920. Dietrich Eckart, a remote associate of the Thule society, actually coached Hitler on his public speaking skills, and while Hitler has not been shown to have been a member of Thule, he received support from the group. Hitler later on dedicated Mein Kampf to Eckart. The racist-occult doctrines of Ariosophy contributed to the atmosphere of the völkisch movement in the Weimar Republicmarker that eventually led to rise of Nazism.

Messianic aspects of Nazism

There has been significant literature on the potential religious aspects of Nazism. Sometimes it is even asked whether Hitler and the Nazi leadership were about to replace Christianity in Germany with a new religion in which Hitler was to be considered as the messiah. The strongest hint in this direction comes from Wilfried Daim, who, in his book on the connection between Lanz von Liebenfels and Hitler, has brought a reprint of a document on a session on "the unconditional abolishment of all religious commitments (Religionsbekenntnisse) after the final victory (Endsieg) ... with a simultaneous proclamation of Adolf Hitler as the new messiah." This session report was preserved in a private collection and could, very likely, be fake, although Daim holds towards the authenticity of the document. Connected to this is the question if Hitler personally saw himself as the messiah of the German people; see Adolf Hitler's religious beliefs. Other evidence that Hitler was occasionally compared with Jesus, or revered as a savior sent by God is a prayer recited by orphans at orphanages. It runs as follows:

Prayer to Hitler

Führer, mein Führer, von Gott mir gegeben, beschütz und erhalte noch lange mein Leben
Du hast Deutschland errettet aus tiefster Not, Dir verdank ich mein tägliches Brot
Führer, mein Führer, mein Glaube, mein Licht
Führer mein Führer, verlasse mich nicht


This translates roughly as:
Leader, my Leader, given to me by God, protect me and sustain my life for a long time
you have rescued Germanymarker out of deepest misery, to you I owe my daily bread
Leader, my Leader, my belief, my light
Leader my Leader, do not abandon me


See also



Notes and references

  1. Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism and the Politics of Identity, p.1.
  2. Hugh Heclo, Religion and Public Policy, p.16; Journal of Policy History, Vol 13. No.1, 2001
  3. Hugh Heclo, Religion and Public Policy, p.14; Journal of Policy History, Vol 13. No.1, 2001
  4. "The Nazi crusade was indeed essentially religious in its adoption of apocalyptic beliefs and fantasies including a New Jerusalem (cf. Hitler's plans for a magnificent new capital at Berlin)..." Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, The Occult Roots of Nazism, p. 203.
  5. Conway 1968: 2
  6. Steigmann-Gall 2003: 261
  7. Steigmann-Gall 2003: 266
  8. Steigmann-Gall 2003: 5,6
  9. In full thousand, rounded down. Numbers for Protestantism and Catholicism are approximates. Source: Granzow et al. 2006: 40, 207
  10. Steigmann-Gall 2003:XV
  11. Steigmann-Gall 2007, Christianity and the Nazi Movement: A Response, p. 205, in: Journal of Contemporary History Volume 42, No. 2.
  12. Granzow et al. 2006: 39
  13. Granzow et al. 2006: 50
  14. Granzow et al. 2006: 58
  15. Granzow et al. 2006: 42-46
  16. Steigmann-Gall 2003: 156.
  17. Wiley InterScience: Jan Herman Brinks - Luther and the German State (Abstract)
  18. Steigmann-Gall 2003:1
  19. Steigmann-Gall 2003:2
  20. Karl Barth, Eine Schweizer Stimme, Zürich 1939, 113
  21. Karl Barth, Eine Schweizer Stimme, Zürich 1940, 122
  22. in Heinonen, Anpassung und Identität 1933-1945 Göttingen 1978 p.150
  23. TIME 100: Leaders & Revolutionaries - Historian Paul Johnson 4/8/98 Yahoo Chat
  24. Hans Buchheim, Glaubenskrise im 3. Reich,Stuttgart, 1953, 41-156
  25. Buchheim, Glaubnskrise im 3.Reich,124-136
  26. Friedrich Baumgärtel, wider die Kirchenkampf Legenden, Neuendettelsau, 1959 54
  27. Quoted by Ronald Hilton, "Hitler" essay on the Stanford University web site.
  28. Manfred Korschoke, Geschichte der bekennenden Kirche Göttingen, 1976 495
  29. Hermann Rauschning, Gespräche mit Hitler, Zürich, 1940 54
  30. Rauschning, Gespräche mit Hitler, 60
  31. Rauschning, Gespräche mit Hitler, 61
  32. Reichsgesetzblatt des deutschen Reiches 1933, I,1, p.47
  33. Dynamite - TIME
  34. see Jackson J. Spielvogel, Hitler and Nazi Germany ISBN 0-13-189877-9
  35. Steigmann-Gall, R., The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919-1945 ISBN 0-521-82371-4
  36. Protestant Churches in the Third Reich
  37. Laqueur, Walter Fascism: Past, Present, Future p.41 1996 Oxford University Press]
  38. Laqueur, Walter Fascism: Past, Present, Future p.42 1996 Oxford University Press]
  39. Laqueur, Walter Fascism: Past, Present, Future p.148 1996 Oxford University Press]
  40. Laqueur, Walter Fascism: Past, Present, Future pp. 31, 42, 1996 Oxford University Press]
  41. Michael Rissmann, Hitlers Gott. Vorsehungsglaube und Sendungsbewußtsein des deutschen Diktators, Zürich München: Pendo, 2001, p. 94-96 ISBN 3-85842-421-8.
  42. Mertens, Annette, Himmlers Klostersturm: der Angriff auf katholische Einrichtungen im Zweiten Weltkrieg und die Wiedergutmachung nach 1945, Paderborn; München ; Wien; Zürich : Schöningh, 2006, pp. 33, 120, 126.
  43. http://www.lawandreligion.com/publications/churches.pdf
  44. Richard Steigmann–Gall, The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919–1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003) p. 5
  45. (Hitler's Professors: The Part of Scholarship in Germany's Crimes Against the Jewish People by Max Weinreich (New York: The Yiddish Scientific Institute, 1946) : 67)
  46. Into Good and Evil, the Anti-Neitzschean Mind
  47. Martin Bormann
  48. Martin Bormann - The Brown Eminence
  49. William Lawrence Shirer The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany - 1960 - 1257 pages ROCKEFELLER CENTER, 630 FIFTH AVENUE NEW YORK, NY FIFTEENTH PRINTING LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOG CARD NUMBER: 60-6729 Page 240.
  50. The War Against the Jews, 1933-1945. First published 1975; this Bantam edition 1986, p.23. ISBN 055334532X
  51. (Studying the Jew: Scholarly Antisemitism in Nazi Germany by Alan Steinweis :8)
  52. (The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide by Robert Lifton :130)
  53. HÜRTEN, H. `Endlösung` für den Katholizismus? Das nationalsozialistische Regime und seine Zukunftspläne gegenüber der Kirche, in: Stimmen der Zeit, 203 (1985) p. 535-538
  54. HÜRTEN, H. `Endlösung` für den Katholizismus? Das nationalsozialistische Regime und seine Zukunftspläne gegenüber der Kirche, in: Stimmen der Zeit, 203 (1985) p. 534-546
  55. Conway 1968:370-374
  56. Wilfried Daim: Der Mann, der Hitler die Ideen gab, Vienna 1994, p. 222; quoted after: H. T. Hakl: Nationalsozialismus und Okkultismus. In: Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke: Die okkulten Wurzeln des Nationalsozialismus, 1997, Graz, Austria: Stocker (German edition of The Occult Roots of Nazism), p. 196
  57. From the German Wikipedia, at [1].


Referred literature

  • John S. Conway 1968: The Nazi Persecution of the Churches 1933-45, Weidenfeld and Nicolson
  • Sven Granzow, Bettina Müller-Sidibé, Andrea Simml 2006: Gottvertrauen und Führerglaube, in: Götz Aly (ed.): Volkes Stimme. Skepsis und Führervertrauen im Nationalsozialismus, Fischer TB , pp. 38-58
  • .


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