The Nazi Battle Against the Churches: Robert Jackson’s Opening Statement at Nuremberg, Part Three

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Earlier in the week I began to write about the Nuremberg Trials and the opening statement of the American Chief Prosecutor, Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson. The first section was comprised his general remarks. The second dealt with the Nazi war against free organized labor. The third section presented here was the shortest part of his opening statement. It deals with the Nazi battle against the Churches.

Jackson lays out his argument to show how this was directed with the aim of suppressing or corrupting all competing institutions of power in the state that could potentially become centers of resistance. Likewise, he builds up this to show the attempt to remove any moderating influence that could stand against its plans for aggressive warfare and genocide.

The division of the German State Church into the Evangelical Church (Lutheran and Reformed) and Roman Catholicism was a Problem for the Nazis. They desired a coordination of religion under their rule. The Protestant and Catholic state churches of Germany were potential rivals for the soul of the citizenry of the Third Reich. They ran schools, universities, hospitals, benevolent organizations, published influential newspapers, and had their own political parties and labor organizations.

German Protestantism since the day of Martin Luther was linked to German nationalism and seen by the Nazis as the ideal vehicle to build upon. The Catholic Church which was predominant in Bavaria and was strong in the other states of southern and western Germany. It was not very strong in the north, especially Prussia where in the 1800s Otto Von Bismarck persecuted the Catholic Church through the Külturkampf. Like Bismarck, Hitler, though Catholic himself viewed the Church as less than fully committed to the Reich because of its allegiance to Rome, which Hitler and many other Nazis considered to be a foreign power.

Likewise, other Nazi leaders of Catholic background realized the power of the Church and its institutions, and even stood in awe of them. Heinrich Himmler would pattern his SS indoctrination upon the Jesuits. The former Catholics included Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, and Himmler’s number two man, Reinhard Heydrich. Richard Evans wrote in his book The Third Reich in Power:

Himmler’s deputy, Reinhard Heydrich, reacted against a strict Catholic upbringing with a hatred of the Church that can only be called fanatical. In 1936, Heydrich classified the Jews and the Catholic Church, acting above all through political institutions such the Centre Party, as the two principal enemies of Nazism. As an international body, he argued, the Catholic Church was necessarily subversive of the racial and spiritual integrity of the German people. Moreover, the Catholics, unlike the Protestants, had been largely represented by a single political party, the Centre, whose voters, again unlike those of most other parties, had mostly remained loyal and resisted the appeal of Nazism during the elections of the early 1930s. Much of the blame for this could be laid in the Nazis’ view at the feet of the clergy, who had preached vehemently against the Nazi Party, in many cases ruled that Catholics could not join it, and strongly urged their congregations to continue voting for the Centre or its Bavarian equivalent, the Bavarian People’s Party. For many if not most leading Nazis, therefore, it was vitally important to reduce the Catholic Church in Germany as quickly as possible to total subservience to the regime. (Third Reich In Power pp. 234-235)

The average church member was not the physical target of their attacks, instead the Nazis worked at, and quite often were very successful at weaning away many of the faithful from anything more that perfunctory and traditional displays of religion. Even there the Nazis did their best to supplant holidays such as Christmas and Easter with Nazi themes and ideology.

The battle for the Party was to deprive the Churches of their social and political power, and for the most part they were successful in their campaign. They suppressed church political parties and newspapers, labor unions, youth organizations. The latter were dissolved and replaced by the Reich Labor Front, and the Hitler Youth. Church schools were eventually closed by 1939 and religious education in public vocational schools was reduced to very small amounts of time with the teaching becoming more in line with Nazi racial ideology and anti-semitism.

The Protestant Church mostly fell in line with a minority in opposition known as the Confessing Church. Even so the Protestant opposition for the most part limited its opposition to the Nazis to the infringements against the church, not the nationalism or Nazi war aims. Richard Evans wrote:

The co-ordination of the Protestant Church was driven forward, among other factors, by the appointment of the lawyer August Jäger as State Commissioner for the Evangelical Churches in Prussia. Jäger declared that Hitler was completing what Luther had begun. They were ‘working together for the salvation of the German race’. Jesus represented ‘a flaring-up of the Nordic species in the midst of a world tortured by symptoms of degeneracy’. In conformity with the ‘leadership principle’, Jäger dissolved all elected bodies in the Prussian Church and replaced many existing officials with German Christians. Meanwhile, Reich Bishop Ludwig Müller had taken over the administrative headquarters of the Evangelical Church with the aid of a band of stormtroopers. By September, pressure was growing within the Reich Church to dismiss all Jews from Church employment. Much of the pressure came from ordinary pastors. Prominent here were young pastors from lower-middle-class backgrounds or non-academic families, men for whom war service had often been a life-defining experience, and racially conscious pastors from areas near Germany’s eastern borders for whom Protestantism represented German culture against the Catholicism of the Poles or the Orthodox faith of the Russians. Such men desired a Church militant based on the aggressive propagation of the Gospel, a crusading Church whose members were soldiers for Jesus and the Fatherland, tough, hard and uncompromising. Muscular Christianity of this kind appealed particularly to young men who despised the feminization of religion through its involvement in charity, welfare and acts of compassion. The traditional Pietist emphasis on sin and repentance, which dwelt on images of Christ’s suffering and transfiguration, was anathema to such men. They demanded instead an image of Christ that would set a heroic example for German men in the world of the here and now. For them, Hitler took on the mantle of a national redeemer who would bring about the rechristianization of society along with its national reawakening. (Third Reich in Power pp. 224-225)

The Nazified and nationalistic German Protestants, led by these clergy paint a striking image very similar to conservative American Evangelical Christians who echo many of the same theological themes, and who have in many cases elevated President Donald Trump into a redeemer and nearly messianic figure.

Jackson continued his opening statement at Nuremberg dealing with this toward the middle of the day on November 21st 1945. These are his words:

The Nazi Party was always predominantly anti-Christian by ideology. But we who believe in freedom of conscience and of religion base no charge of criminality on anybody’s ideology. It is not because the Nazis themselves were irreligious or pagan, but because they persecuted others of the Christian faith that they became guilty of crime, and it is because the persecution was a step in the preparation for aggressive warfare that the offence becomes one of international consequence. To remove every moderating influence among the German people and to put its population on a total war footing, the conspirators devised and carried out a systematic and relentless repression of all Christian sects and churches.

We will ask you to convict the Nazis on their own evidence, Martin Bormann in June 1941 issued a secret decree on the relation of Christianity and National Socialism. The decree provided:

“For the first time in German history the Fuehrer consciously and completely has the leadership of the people in his own hand. With the Party, its components, and attached units, the Fuehrer has created for himself, and thereby for the German Reich leadership, an instrument which makes him independent of the church. All influences which might impair or damage the leadership of the people exercised by the Fuehrer with the help of the N.S.D.A.P. must be eliminated. More and more the people must be separated from the churches and their organs, the pastors. Of course, the churches must and will, seen from their viewpoint, defend themselves against this loss of power. But never again must an influence on leadership of the people be yielded to the churches. This influence must be broken completely and finally. Only the Reich government, and by its direction the Party, its components, and attached units, have a right to leadership of the people. Just as the deleterious influence of astrologers, seers, and other fakers are eliminated and suppressed by the State, so must the possibility of church influence also be totally removed. Not until this has happened does the State leadership have influence on the individual citizens. Not until then are the people and Reich secure in their existence for all the future” (D-75).

And how the Party had been securing the Reich from Christian influence will be proved by such items as this teletype from the Gestapo, Berlin, to the Gestapo Nuremburg, on 24th July, 1938. Let us hear from their own account of events in Rottenburg:

“The Party, on 23rd July, 1939, from 2100 carried out the third demonstration against Bishop Sproll. Participants, about 2,500-3,000, were brought in from outside by bus, etc. The Rottenburg populace again did not participate in the demonstration. This town took rather a hostile attitude to the demonstrations. The action got completely out of hand of the Party Member responsible for it. The demonstrators stormed the palace, beat in the gates and doors. About 150 to 200 people forced their way into the palace, searched the rooms, threw files out of the windows, and rummaged through the beds in the rooms of the palace. One bed was ignited. Before the fire got to the other objects or equipment in the rooms and the palace, the flaming bed was throw from the window and the fire extinguished. The Bishop was with Archbishop Groeber of Freiburg, and the ladies and gentlemen of his menage in the chapel at prayer. About 25 to 30 pressed into this chapel and molested those present. Bishop Groeber was taken for Bishop Sproll. He was grabbed by the robe and dragged back and forth, Finally the intruders realised that Bishop Groeber was not the one they were seeking. They could then be persuaded to leave the building. After the evacuation of the palace by the demonstrators I had an interview with Archbishop Groeber, who left Rottenburg in the night. Groeber wants to turn to the Fuehrer and Reich Minister of the Interior Dr. Frick anew. On the course of the action, the damage done, as well as the homage of the Rottenburg populace beginning today for the Bishop, I shall immediately hand in a full report, after I begin suppressing counter mass meetings. In case the Fuehrer has instructions to give in this matter, I request that these be transmitted most quickly.” (848-PS).

Alfred Rosenberg Nazi Ideologist and Reich Minister for Occupied Territories

Later, defendant Rosenberg wrote to Bormann reviewing the proposal of Herrl as Church minister to place the Protestant Church under State tutelage and proclaim Hitler its supreme head. Rosenberg was opposed, hinting that Naziism was to suppress the Christian Church completely after the war.

The persecution of all pacifist and dissenting sects, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Pentecostal Association, was peculiarly relentless and cruel. The policy toward the Evangelical Churches, however, was to use their influence for the Nazi’s own purposes. In September, 1933, Muller was appointed the Fuehrer’s representative with power to deal with the “affairs of the Evangelical Church” in its relations to the State. Eventually, steps were taken to create a Reich Bishop vested with power to control this Church. A long conflict followed, Pastor Niemoller was sent to a concentration camp, and extended interference with the internal discipline and administration of the Churches occurred.

A most intense drive was directed against the Roman Catholic Church. After a strategic Concordat with the Holy See, signed in July, 1933, in Rome, which never was observed by the Nazi Party, a long and persistent persecution of the Catholic Church, its priesthood and its members, was carried out. Church Schools and educational institutions were suppressed or subjected to requirements of Nazi teaching inconsistent with the Christian faith. The property of the Church was confiscated and inspired vandalism directed against the Church property was left unpunished. Religious instruction was impeded and the exercise of religion made difficult. Priests and bishops were laid upon, riots were stimulated to harass them, and many were sent to concentration camps.

After occupation of foreign soil, these persecutions went on with greater vigour than ever. We will present to you from the files of the Vatican the earnest protests made by the Vatican to Ribbentrop summarising the persecutions to which the priesthood and the Church had been subjected in this Twentieth Century under the Nazi regime. Ribbentrop never answered them. He could not deny. He dared not justify.

I now come to “Crimes against the Jews.”

THE PRESIDENT: We shall now take our noon recess. (A recess was taken until 1400 hours.)

THE PRESIDENT: The Tribunal will adjourn for fifteen minutes at half past three and then continue until half past four.

MR. JUSTICE JACKSON: I was about to take up the “Crimes Committed Against the Jews.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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