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The Church and Naziism - Essay Example

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The consolidation of the Nazi regime led to the emergence of internal splits and disagreements within the German Churches with regard to their exact position on the new totalitarian government. While some of the representatives of the Church hierarchy and rank-and-file clergy…
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17 March The Church and Nazism The consolidation of the Nazi regime led to the emergence of internal splits and disagreements within the German Churches with regard to their exact position on the new totalitarian government. While some of the representatives of the Church hierarchy and rank-and-file clergy chose the path of either passive or even more active resistance, the majority of the followers of mainstream Christian denominations, both Catholic and Protestant, accepted the Nazi government as the legitimate one. Here it is necessary to dwell on some of the key tendencies within the organized Christianity’s attitude towards Nazism.
The movement of Deutsche Christen (German Christians) was undoubtedly the one most directly tied to Nazi regime. Having rejected the Judaic part of the Christian tradition and embraced the fanatical version of anti-Semitism, the German Christians composed the most influential groups of German Lutheran Protestants. Their movement was officially established in November 1933, when the record mass rally of German Lutherans affirmed the continuation between the teachings of Martin Luther and Adolph Hitler, the dismissal of Baptized Jews from the Church and the (partial) rejection of the Old Testament. The German Christians justified the absolute adherence to the State authority by the claims on the primacy of temporal power that were found in some of Luther’s writings. German Müller, the Reichsbischof of the German Evangelical Church, established in July 1933, was the supreme leader of this movement. Although the German Christians numbered more than 600,000 in the mid 1930s, Müller’s aim of unification of Catholic and Protestant churches of Germany under his personal control was never attained, and he committed suicide in May 1945, when the news of Hitler’s death reached him.
Even though the German Christians were effectively supported by the Nazi government, the internal opposition to the Nazification and “Aryanization” of the Evangelical (Protestant) Churches emerged. The attempts by the German Christians to enforce an ‘Aryan Paragraph’, which would de-frock all priests of Jewish descent as well as those who were married to non-Germans, aroused an outcry among more liberal members of the Protestant churches who founded the Confessing Church. Under the leadership of Martin Niemöller, the Confessing Church fiercely opposed the attempts of the state authorities to enforce the Aryan Paragraph and expel the pastors of Jewish descent from the Protestant churches. Later on, the Confessing Church became more explicit in its overarching criticisms of Nazi regime: in May 1934, its delegates met in Barmen where they affirmed the principle of independence of the Church from the State power and denounced the pro-Nazi German Evangelical Church as heretical.
Nonetheless, until 1936 the Nazi government tried to defuse the matters, eschewing the explicit reprisals against the Confessing Church clergy. It was not until Niemöller and other pastors sent a personal memorandum to Hitler, where they denounced regime’s anti-Semitism and pagan tendencies, when the Nazi state moved directly against the Confessing Church, imprisoning hundreds of its pastors and confiscating its funds. In 1937, the ‘Positive Christianity’ (i.e. German Christian’s creed) was proclaimed by the Reich’s Minister for Church Affairs to be the only version of Protestantism consistent with the National Socialist teachings. Some leaders of the Confessing Church were sent to concentration camps, while the majority of its followers eschewed any open activities, fearing repressions. After the WW II, the restoration of German Evangelical Churches was conducted mainly by the former followers of the Confessing Church.
The Catholic Church of Germany was more doubtful with regard to its attitude towards Nazism than the Protestant Churches. While initially rather hostile towards Nazi ideology, the Catholic hierarchy agreed to the Concordat with Hitler’s government on 20 July 1933, and in August 1936 the German Catholic bishops signed a declaration endorsing Nazi Germany’s support for Franco against ‘anti-Christian’ Spanish Republic’s government. Despite the fact that the head of German Catholic Church, Cardinal Bertram later voiced some protests against specific Nazi politics, the main preoccupation of Catholic Church under Nazis remained the preservation of the internal autonomy of the Church, as was demonstrated by Mit brennender Sorge encyclical in May 1937, where the criticism of Nazi politics was predicated upon the accusation of breaches of Concordat as such. Even though the encyclical contained the denunciation of Nazi’s preoccupation with race and blood and even hidden condemnation of the concept of ‘national Christianity’, it did not express a consistent call for resistance against Nazism.
During the WW II, some acts of repression against German Catholics took place, mainly targeting those priests and lay persons who participated in the Resistance groups. In 1941 Himmler achieved his aim of decreeing the dissolution of the monasteries and abbeys in the Reich, but this action was halted by Hitler’s express order. In general, nonetheless, the vast majority of German Catholics remained passive with regard to the WW II and Holocaust. Read More
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