Saturday, 17 March 2012

A Wolf Among the Sheep: Hitler and the German Church Struggle

To expand Hitler’s support, Reich Bishop Müller gave the Evangelical Youth over to the Hitler Youth led by Baldur von Shirach. Quoting a pamphlet by Müller to Shirach that stated:
1. “The Evangelical Youth recognizes that the whole political education of the German youth is carried out by
the National Socialist state and the Hitler Youth as the representatives of the secular arm. Members of the Evangelical Youth under the age of eighteen will be incorporated into the Hitler Youth and its subordinate groupings. From now on, no one in this age group can be a member of the Evangelical Youth unless he is a member of the Hitler Youth.
2. Athletics, including gymnastics and sporting, and political training up to the age of eighteen will be pursued only in the Hitler Youth.
3. All members of the Evangelical Youth will wear the uniform of the Hitler Youth.
4. The Evangelical Youth retains full freedom for its activities in educational and church matters…on two afternoons in the week and two Sundays in the month…”

This maneuver, by Müller, would be his last big hurrah before the end of 1933. This action caused a very serious upheaval among the Protestants of the nation.
“The Evangelical Youth, with some 700,000 members in various Protestant organizations, had been strongly influenced by National Socialist ideas. On September 17, 1933, it entrusted the Reich Bishop with personal executive authority over it. Müller abused these powers by negotiating its integration with the Hitler Youth on terms which effectively destroyed the church youth organizations. Opposition from the latter was met by a wave of terrorist actions and the storm of protest led by Bishops Wurm of Württemberg and Meiser of Bavaria only abated when it became evident that the State would ratify the treaty. The Pastors Emergency League Alliance, however, continued to protest…”

At first glance, this procedure may not seem to be that big of a deal; however, handing the Evangelical Youth over is a paramount step for the National Socialists. Thus in regard to the Church, it was comparatively easy to get control over it. It was much more difficult—and more necessary—to dominate its mind. And where the young are concerned this is the vital task. The German Christians and the Nazis both know, by now, that they are not going to be able to completely dissolve the Protestant Churches into one Protestant Reich church. So, their attention turns to infiltrating the Evangelical Youths’ minds.

Germany was ninety-six percent Christian. Germany had gained a world renowned reputation for its commitment to God by way of its biggest patron Martin Luther. In other words, Lutheran Protestantism is a way of life for Germans; it’s more than a denomination, it is their identity as a people. The Nazi Regime and the German Christians both discern early on to control the state is to manage the heart of the state, and that is by way of controlling the Protestant Churches (with the German people’s backing). Since the GCFM failed, Müller felt that if the Evangelical Youth were raised with Nazi ideologies, then, they would follow Nazi principles. This method almost falls within the lines of brain washing. Integrating the Evangelical Youth into the Hitler Youth did not digest well with the opposition.

Many of them were calling for the Reich Bishop Müller’s release. Müller was in some grave trouble because the leadership, which he had prearranged, was crumbling. The arrogance of Müller was inexorable; thus, he issued even more laws re-introducing the Aryan clause. The Reich Bishop even tried to stop pastors from denouncing him by issuing the “Muzzling Decree” on January 4, 1934. The controversies about church politics are destroying the peace and retarding the unification of the church; they undermine the necessary bond between the evangelical church and the National Socialist state, thereby endangering both the proclamation of the Gospel and the newly-won national unity. In order to safeguard the constitution of the German Evangelical Church and to restore orderly conditions I therefore, without prejudice to any future measures, and in responsible exercise of the office of Führer which is my constitutional right under Article 6, par. I of the Constitution of the German Evangelical Church, decree the following:

1. The church service is for the proclamation of the pure Gospel, and for this alone.
The misuse of the church service for controversies about church politics, in whatever form, has to cease. The release or use of churches or other church premises for any kind of meetings about church politics is forbidden.
2. Any one holding office in the church who circulates publications, especially pamphlets and circulars, directed against the leadership of the church or its constitution or who attacks them in public is in breach of the duties attached to his office…
3. Any one holding office in the church who contravenes the stipulations of paragraphs 1 and 2 will be automatically suspended from office and a formal disciplinary process will be initiated immediately with the aim of removing him from office…”

Seventy-two professors and university lecturers published a protest against the Reich bishop. In response the culture minister forbade professors of theology, as civil servants of the Third Reich, to associate themselves with manifestos concerning the church government or join oppositional organizations like the Emergency League. The pastors of the PEL and theologians went straight after Müller. However, they called a truce with Müller until they could meet with Hitler. Arguably their worst mistake was that they had Müller and the German Christians by the throat and backed off. The reason that this was such a poor tactic was the fact that the pastors could have quite easily dismantled the Protestant Reich church; though, for some odd reason they did not. Perhaps, they felt that the German Christians had been weakened enough to not be a major influence. The PEL’s inability to continue to pursue the German Christian kept the organization alive, and the German Christians would continue to plague the PEL for the duration of the Third Reich.

When the PEL thought that Müller would be dismissed, they got a huge surprise. On January 25, 1934, Hitler called for a meeting with Martin Niemöller and Ludwig Müller. Martin Niemöller was in high hopes along with the rest of the PEL thinking that Hitler was going to depose Müller; nevertheless, Hitler outfoxed the opposition by taping a telephone conversation between Niemöller’s and Göring and broadcasted it to the visitors in attendance. Many different versions of this telephone conversation circulate, but one thing is for certain that Hitler used it against Niemöller to keep him from being able to discuss the situation at hand, Müller’s dismissal. Publicly, the outcome of the reception seemed to be the regional church leaders’ complete submission to the Reich bishop, who emerged stronger from the meeting than before. Despite the PEL’s attempt to dethrone Müller, they finally suppressed their desire to oust him out of office and even agreed to follow the Reich Bishop’s desires. The rest of the Church Struggle would mostly be battled out in courts or synods. The end result was a staggering blow that the church took for not doing more to stop Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. Strong evidence suggests that Hitler and the Nazi regime used the German Christians as a buffer. Though, to American elites, using the middle class as a buffer against the lower or working class. American elites stayed hidden by pitting these two groups (lower class and middle class) against one another. Hitler and the Nazi regime did the exact same concept to the Protestant Churches and the German Christians from around the end of 1933 throughout the rest of the Nazi reign around 1945. By creating this buffer between the two groups, Hitler and the Nazi regime kept the Protestant Churches’ leadership distracted long enough against the German Christians that Hitler and the Nazi regime accomplished the persecution of the Jews and other groups as well. When the Protestant Churches’ finally put their anti-Semitism and nationalism aside, it was too late for them to adequately provide strong dissention of any kind.

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