Nazi Social, Religious, Racial Ideology and Policy

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The Churches in Germany

Common Views: respect for tradtional values (importance of family) & hostility to Communism.    However, churches were a potential obscatle to hitlers re-ordering of the German people. 

Before 1933-

Catholic Church:  22 million members (32% of pop). Catholic church had a range of power instutions and bodies such as youth organisations, schools and charties.

  • Catholic Z and BVP parties together regularly recived about a fifth of the votes in Weimar elections. 

Protestants: 40 million members (58% of pop)- they were mainly lutheran and Calvinist. Their youth orgainsations had 0.7% of population. 

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Key Religious Organisations during the 3rd Reich (

The Reich Church:

An umbrella organisation of Protestant churches set up as a means of co-oridnating regilon. Within this organisation a Powerful movement developed.

Hitler hoped they would dominate the Reich Church. However, the break away Confesstional church was a reaction to the attempts to create a unified, state controlled church. 

German Christians: 

wanted to re-structure the whole of protestanism into a new racially based brand of christianity- described themsevels as 'SA of the church'. Nazi style uniforms and slogans (swastikia on our breasts and the cross in our hearts)

Nov 1933= called for cleansing of the gospels of un-german elements- espically the 'scapegoat & inferiority theolgy of Rabbi Paul'. 

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Key Religious Organisations 2

Confesstional Church:

1934= broke away from Reich church. Had 5,000 Clergy

Not based upon oppistion to Nazism but concerned about defending protestant church againsit state interfreance and flase theology of the German Christians. 

German Faith Movement:

Wanted to replace Christianity with a new Pagan Nazi faith.

Encourgaed Germans to leave Christianity and adopt pagan rituals- SS held marriages in Runic Carved rooms. 

Smallest sect but illstrates what the Nai might have done if they had won the second word war. 

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Nazi polices towards the Church

1. Control- Gain as much control as possible over exsisiting churches.

2. Weaken- Weaken hold of tradtional Christianty and reduce their infulence.

3. Replace- Replace Christianity with a true Nazi reglion that reflects Nazi Values. 

Hitler said in a conversation in 1933:

  • Neither catholic or protestant have a futre left
  • stanmp out christanity root and branch 
  • One is either Christian or German

It did appear easier to gain control of the divided Protestant Churches than the international Catholic Church. 

Protestant churches were tradtionally nationlist and had supported conservative parties during the war. 

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1. Control of Protestant Churches

Protestant Church-

Nazi gov gave support to a growing movement among protestants= German Christians.

The wanted to imbue Christianity with the spirt of Nazism. They helped to establish the Reich Church (hope to unite all protestant within one structure). 

Ludwig Muller was elected the post of Reich Bishop July 1933.


  • Oppostion= Oct 1934 the Confesstional Church broke away, with over 100 pastors. 
  • The attempt to Create a more Nazified, unified Protestant church had failed

Instade 3 groups within Protestantism...

  • Offical Reich Church
  • The German Christians trying to control it 
  • Oppstional Confesstional Church
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Control of Catholic Churches

Catholic Churches-

Initally tried to look for an agreement to gain Catholic Churches support.

  • Papcy agreed on the dissolution of the Centre Party and Bavarian's peoples policy.
  • July 1933 the Vatican sighned a concordat with gov.

Concordat= vatican reconising the new regime and agreed the Church would not interfre with politics- in return Catholics would keep control of their schools, youth groups etc.

Catholic leaders remained greatly concerned not to provoke the governemnt. 


  • Nazis did not accept the concordat limitations on their power for long. 
  • Naizs were keen to gain Catholic support for the plebiscite in the Saar in 1935.
  • But Nazis did not hesitate to undermine the concordat. 
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2. Weaken

The Nazis did not tackle the churches head on instead they attacked the church for interfering in politics and partly by discrediting them.- typical of Nazis no clear stratgey, Some local Gauleiters did indulge in radical anti-church activies but had to be andoned dur to popular oppistion. 

Targeting the Young:

  • 1936, church groups were disbanded and the Hitler youth became compulsary
  • Nazis tried to remove Reglious symbols and teachings in schools & parents were pressurised to send children to local schools rather than Church schools. 
  • By 1935, 65% of Kids attened church schools & by 1937, only 5% did, 1939 viutrally disappered. 

More direct attacks saw 200 presits put on 'show trials' accused of Sexual and finical Misbehaviour.- Mid 1930s= lauched a 'Church Sucession Campiagn' encouraging germans to levae their churches.

  • 1937= 100,000 christians left the church (many gov employees).
  • 1939= 3.5 million Germans were members of the Gottglaubig neo-pagan movement. 
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In the early successful years of the war, there were more agressive moves agaisit the church, particullay againsit critcal preists

However, the gov was wary of oppostiotion and pulled back.

The Nazis had intended to replace Christianty with the new German Faith Movement once the war was won. 

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How did the Churches react to the Nazi State?

The overwhelming majority of Germans were Christian and at the same time supported the Regime, espically Hitler. 

Many disliked the particular measures the gov took againsit the churches, and sometimes expressed disfaction that led to the gov to modify its approach. 

Christians often blamed anti-church radical measures on those around Hitler and no the great leader himself. 

Churches Response:

  • Many churches were more concerned about protecting own interests & beliefs than speaking out about the nature of the regime.
  • Church-state relations seem to reflect the fears each side felt towards the other. 
  • Despite the regimes totalitarin claims,Gov documents illstrate the fear that undue pressure on the Churches, Particullrly catholic areas would turn people againsit the regime. 
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Many Christians had felt that the church had failed in their duty during the regime as they were concerned about holding onto their members and not provoke crushing retaliation from the gov  that clearly contained elements hostile to Christianity.                                       Both Catholic & Protestants were concenrned to demonstarte their patriotism & supported war effort (east againsit USSR)

Individual Examples:

Ludwig Muller= Leader of German Christians, Strongly Nationlist & anti-semetic Protestant army Chaplin. Elected Reich Bishop (july 1933)

Alfred Rosenburg= an Anti-semtic, anti-christian Nazi Ideologue- promoted German Faith Movement as a new Pagan Cult. Fought hard againsit Christiaty within Nazi Party. 

Pope Pius XI= allowed dissolution of Centre Party and agreed to Concordat, but became dissuolutioned by Nazis failure to keep its part- 1937 did start to Critsie Reigme.

Pope Pius XII=  Played a major part in negosting concodat- 1939 became pope and only openly condemmed communism- silent on anti-semism & refused to excommcate Catholics parcipating in Genicde.

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There were several statements from Clerics, inculding 1937 the popes encyclical With Burning Greif, it complained about govs breaking of concordat, the harassment of presists and Nazi worship of state and race. 

Read out on pulits on palm sunday March 1937= most effective critsism came from Bishop Gallen againsit Euthanisa.

Individual Examples;

Bishop Clemens Von Galem- Intially welcomed Hitlers Nationism but critcal of Racism= from 1934 preached sermons critising nazi polices. In 1941 he crisitsed Euthanisa but was seen as to popular to be punished (lion of muster) - Arrested in 1944 after July bomb plot (relesed in 1945)

Martin Niemoller- Initally supported Hitler, but was one of the founders of the Confesstional Church- arrested 1937 & remained imprisoned untill 1944 (relsed 1945) 

Bonhoffer-  Joined Confesstional Church in 1935 & taught trainee pastors and encourged them to resist Nazism.- colleged closed in 1940 & he was banned from preaching & publishing so worked with underground (1943 arrested and in 1945 executed)

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Conclusion & key Interpretations

Nazis saw the church as an obstcale as the church held alot of infulence over Germanys large Chrisian population. No real coordination opposition by churches towards the Nazi Regime.

Churches main aim was self preservation- purpose of chirch oppostion was self defence

Its was mainly individuals that spoke out agaisit the regime.

Key interpretations

  • Churches did not activlely oppose the regime
  • Churches were concerned about self preservation
  • Invidual Church members did not oppose the Nazi regime. 
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