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Christianity in Nazi Germany.
Nazism and Christianity.
It is easy to assume that Nazism and Christianity were completely at odds with one another-after all, how can
messages of love, peace and compassion be reconciled with Nazi policies on euthanasia and racial intolerance?
Yet to begin with, Nazis and some Christians shared a degree of common outlook. Both held a deep respect for
traditional family values, both were deeply hostile to Communism and some Christians were anti-Semitic.
The Church in Germany posed a problem for the Nazis. Hitler saw himself as Fuhrer, and had been painted as
God-like in lots of propaganda, yet to many Germans, God, not Hitler was the focus of their loyalty. So the Nazis
did not immediately tackle the church when they came to power in 1933 as Germany was a Christian country and
2/3 of the country were Protestant and 1/3 were Catholic. He did not wish to upset such a huge section of
German society. So at first, the Nazis attempted to control the Protestant and Catholic churches.
The Protestant Church.
Protestant churches (there were 28 in 1933) agreed to unite under pressure to form the National Reich Church in
September 1933-this church was a "Nazi church". The leader of the National Reich Church was Ludwig Muller
who became the Reich Bishop. All religious items such as the cross and Bible were removed from the altar and
were replaced with a sword and a copy of Hitler's book "Mein Kampf ". Prayers were said which included thanks
to God for sending Hitler to Germany, with Hitler seen as a saviour. Hitler Youth songs included lines such as:
"Germany had all it needed in Hitler it did not need Christianity"/"The swastika was better than the cross".
Any pastors who had not sworn their allegiance to the Nazis were dismissed, as were all non-Aryan ministers. The
Nazis distorted Bible teaching to promote Nazi messages on race, nationalism, war etc
Many Protestants opposed the Nazis which they believed went against Christianity. They were led by Martin
Niemoller and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In 1933 Niemoller set up the Pastor's Emergency League for pastor's who
objected to the Nazis and in 1934 they set up their own church The Confessional Church which opposed Nazi
abuse of bible teaching and the interference of the Nazis in the Church. By 1935, the Nazis realised that they
would not be able to control the Protestant Church as they had hoped, so instead tried to weaken it. They
launched campaigns to discourage people from going to Church (teachers could lose their jobs if they went to
church for example). In 1937 Niemoller was arrested and sent to a concentration camp and the Confessional
church was banned. Around 700 pastors had been imprisoned by the end of 1937.
The German Faith Movement was an attempt to create an alternative religion, based on paganism (seen as more
Aryan than Christianity). Festivals were held to celebrate the German Bronze age past a PAGAN past,
worshipping the sun and the seasons. Nazi ceremonies replaced Christian weddings, baptisms and funerals. It
was never more than a small movement, numbering only 40,000 followers.
The Catholic Church.
Hitler saw the Catholic Church as a threat to his Nazi state:
Catholics were loyal to the Pope firstly not to Hitler.
Catholic schools and youth organisations were competition to the Nazi Youth organisations.
Catholics had always previously tended to support the Catholic Centre Party, not the Nazis.
In July 1933, he signed a CONCORDAT with the Pope (an agreement) which said that if the Catholic Church stayed
out of politics Hitler would not interfere with the Catholic Church. The Catholic Centre Party disbanded, and
Hitler promised to leave Catholic schools and youth groups alone. However, within months Hitler had broken this
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Priests were harassed and arrested (over 200 were accused of sexual and financial crimes). Many
criticized the Nazis and ended up in concentration camps (e.g. Clement von Galen)
Catholic schools, newspapers and youth organisations were shut down, property seized,
Monasteries were shut down
In 1937 Pope Pius XI made a famous statement "With Burning Anxiety". In it, he attacked the hatred of Nazi
policies, and this statement was read out in Church services across Germany.…read more