Erich Klausener was born in Düsseldorf, Germany, on 25th January, 1885. He was brought up in a strict Catholic family. He served as an artillery officer on the Western Front during the First World War and won the Iron Cross First Class in 1917. (1)
Adolf Hitler took power in 1933. Michael von Faulhaber went to see the Pope. On his return he made the following statement: "After my recent experience in Rome in the highest circles, which I cannot reveal here, I must say that I found, despite everything, a greater tolerance with regard to the new government... Let us meditate on the words of the Holy Father, who in a consistory, without mentioning his name, indicated before the whole world in Adolf Hitler the statesmen who first, after the Pope himself, has raised his voice against Bolshevism." (4)
On 24th April, 1933, it was reported "that Cardinal Faulhaber had issued an order to the clergy to support the new regime in which he (Faulhaber) had confidence". In the first few months of the new government no Church leaders spoke against the persecution of the Jews. The Concordat between the Nazis and the Catholic Church was signed in July 1933. It gave them the right to hold Catholic services and provided protection for its other organisations such as schools, youth groups and newspapers. (5) As part of this agreement Hitler appointed Klausener as Reich Communications Director. (6)
August von Galen, the Bishop of Münster began complaining to Hitler about violations of the Concordat. This included a rejection of the proposed changes to the school curriculum. (7) By the beginning of 1934 von Galen had already delivered sermons condemning both Nazi racial policies and their behaviour towards the Catholic Church. (8) Erich Klausener also made it clear in his speeches and writing that the national revolution must be accompanied by "inner, spiritual revival." (9)
Erich Klausener shared these concerns and encouraged Franz von Papen, the former leader of the Catholic Centre Party (BVP) and the current vice-chancellor of Germany, to criticize the Nazi government. On 17th June, 1934, Von Papen gave a speech at the University of Marburg where he expressed fears about the possible persecution of the Catholic religion: "No people can afford to indulge in a permanent revolt from below if it would endure in history. At some time the movement must come to a stop and a solid social structure arise." (10)
William L. Shirer, the author of The Rise and Fall of Nazi Germany (1959) pointed out the speech "called for an end of the revolution, for a termination of the Nazi terror, for the restoration of normal decencies and the return of some measure of freedom, especially of freedom of the press". (11)
Adolf Hitler was furious that Von Papen appeared to be questioning Hitler's government. He made a speech at Gera where he described Von Papen as "the pygmy who imagines he can stop with a few phrases the gigantic renewal of a people's life." Joseph Goebbels also banned the planned publication of a pamphlet that included Von Papen's speech. (12)
On 24th June, 1934, Erich Klausener organised a meeting held at Hoppegarten racecourse, where he spoke out against political oppression in front of an audience of 60,000. (13) Six days later, during the Night of the Long Knives, Klausener was shot dead in his office by SS officer Kurt Gildisch. Other figures involved in Von Papen's speech, Edgar Jung, Herbert von Bose and George von Detten, were also murdered. (14) Richard Evans, the author of The Third Reich in Power (2005) has suggested that "Klausener's murder sent a clear message to Catholics that a revival of independent Catholic political activity would not be tolerated". (15) Not one German cardinal or bishop protested about the killing of Klausener. (16)
Erich Klausener was the leader of the Catholic Action organization in Berlin from 1928 to 1933. In 1933 he was made Reich Communications Director. He incurred Hitler's anger when he contributed to the text of the critical Marburg speech delivered by Franz von Papen on June 17, 1934. Although careful not to criticize Hitler publicity, Klausener made it clear in his speeches and writing that the national revolution must be accompanied by "inner, spiritual revival."
The National Boycott Day aimed at the Jews evoked no unanimous Catholic condemnation, though as the year progressed consistent critics and opponents of the regime emerged. The first martyr was Erich Klausener, a middle-aged civil servant who ran the police affairs department in the Prussian Interior Ministry and was also leader of Berlin's Catholic Action movement. Klausener organised the Catholic conventions in Berlin in both 1933 and 1934. The second, held at the Hoppegarten racecourse, attracted 60,00o people. They celebrated mass together, and Klausener spoke against political oppression. Not a swastika was to be seen. Six days later Klausener was shot dead in his office.