Christianity in Nazi Germany

It is estimated that at the beginning of the 20th century about 67% of the population in Germany were Protestants. However, the Catholics were strong in some areas such as in Bavaria. The Jews formed just under 1 per cent of the total population of Germany. (1)

In the original programme of the Nazi Party drawn up by Adolf Hitler, Anton Drexler and Gottfried Feder in February, 1920, promised religious freedom for all those religions except those which endangered the German race. (2)

However, it soon became clear that Hitler had a deep hatred of Jews and appeared to believe they controlled all aspects of German life. Konrad Heiden, who worked as a journalist in Germany, reported on a speech he made in 1922: "Jewry took a step which showed political genius. This capitalist people, which had brought the most unscrupulous exploitation into the world, found a way to lay hands on the leadership of the fourth estate (news media). The Jew founded the Social Democratic Party and the Communist movement. And with extraordinary dexterity he gathered the leadership little by little into his own hands." (3)

The Christian Church and Adolf Hitler

These views were often shared by Christian leaders in Germany. In 1928 Bishop Otto Dibelius wrote about the "solution" to the "Jewish Problem". He argued that all Jewish immigration from eastern Europe should be prohibited. As soon as this prohibition takes effect, the decline of Jewry would set in. "The number of children of the Jewish families is small. The process of dying out occurs surprisingly rapidly." It has been claimed by one historian that Bishop Dibelius' anti-semitic sentiments were "well nigh representative of German Christendom" at the time. (4)

The Protestant Church had a long history of anti-semitism that dated back to Martin Luther. In 1543 Luther published On the Jews and Their Lies. In the final section of the book, Luther addressed himself to the question of how Christian rulers should treat their Jewish subjects. "What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews? Since they live among us, we dare not tolerate their conduct, now that we are aware of their lying and reviling and blaspheming. If we do, we become sharers in their lies, cursing and blasphemy... First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them... Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed.... Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them... Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb." (5) As Derek Wilson pointed out: "Attitudes to his harsh and uncompromising advice have inevitably been coloured by the appalling events of later centuries and predominately by the Holocaust." (6)

Ludwig Müller was an early supporter of the Nazi Party and openly expressed anti-semitic views. In 1931 he helped establish the German Christian movement. (7) The following year the group issued the statement: "We stand on the ground of positive Christianity. We profess an affirmative faith in Christ, fitting our race and being in accordance with the German Lutheran mind and heroic piety. Mere compassion is charity and leads to presumption, paired with bad conscience, and effeminates a nation. We know something about Christian obligation and charity towards the helpless, but we also demand the protection of the nation from the unfit and inferior. We see a great danger to our nationality in the Jewish Mission. It promises to allow foreign blood into our nation... Marriages between Jews and Germans must be prohibited." (8)

Hermann Mueller
Bishop Ludwig Müller with members of the Nazi Party.

As Adolf Hitler was brought up as a Catholic, some Protestants were reluctant to vote for him. Otto Dibelius, the Bishop of Kurmark, had emerged as one of his strongest supporters. Before the 1932 Presidential election, Bishop Dibelius stated that in the past he had always encouraged people to vote for Protestant candidates. However, this time he urged the people to vote for Adolf Hitler: "Among the candidates there is once again a Catholic, namely Hitler. But he is not a candidate of the Roman Catholic Church, rather the leader of the great national movement, to which millions of the Protestants belong." (9)

Anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany

Once in power Hitler began to openly express anti-Semitic ideas. Based on his readings of how blacks were denied civil rights in the southern states in America, Hitler attempted to make life so unpleasant for Jews in Germany that they would emigrate. The day after the March, 1933, election, stormtroopers hunted down Jews in Berlin and gave them savage beatings. Synagogues were trashed and all over Germany gangs of brownshirts attacked Jews. In the first three months of Hitler rule, over forty Jews were murdered. (10)

August von Galen, the Bishop of Münster and a supporter of Hitler because of his anti-communism, criticised those religious figures who were quick to attack the new government. Von Galen spoke against those scholars who had criticised the Nazi government and called for "a just and objective evaluation of Hitler's new political movement". (11)

The New Christianity. 100% Aryan.Philip Zec, Daily Mirror (16th May, 1941)
Bishop August von Galen

The campaign started on 1st April, 1933, when a one-day boycott of Jewish-owned shops took place. Members of the Sturm Abteilung (SA) picketed the shops to ensure the boycott was successful. Bishop Otto Dibelius, stated that he had always been "an anti-semite" and that "one cannot fail to appreciate that in all of the corrosive manifestations of modern civilization Jewry plays a leading role". (12) It has been claimed that Dibelius' anti-semitic sentiments were "well nigh representative of German Christendom in the beginning of 1933". (13)

Michael von Faulhaber, the Archbishop of Munich, and the author of Judenum, Christentum, Germanentum, that defended the principles of racial tolerance and humanity and called for the people of Germany to respect the Jewish religion. On 12th March, 1933, Faulhaber went to see Pope Pius XI. 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." (14)

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. However, there was a clause in the agreement that said "Catholic clerics who hold an ecclesiastical office in Germany or who exercise pastoral or educational functions must be a German citizen." The reason for this is that with the rapid rise in anti-semitism in Germany, some Jews had joined the Catholic Church for protection. When the Nuremberg Laws were passed, Jews lost the rights of citizenship and could no longer seek protection from the Catholic Church. (15)

Adolf Hitler addresses the German people on radio on 31st January, 1933
John Heartfield, On the founding of the State Church (June, 1933)
(Copyright The Official John Heartfield Exhibition & Archive)

The lack of protests led to the claims that the church was unconcerned about anything except its own welfare. However, this was not true of all Catholics. Erich Klausener, the leader of the Berlin's Catholic Action movement, was an outspoken critic of Hitler's racial policies. A meeting held at Hoppegarten racecourse, on 24th June, 1934, where he spoke out against political oppression, attracted 60,000 people. Six days later he was shot dead in his office by SS officer Kurt Gildisch. Not one German cardinal or bishop protested about this savage act. (16)

Ludwig Müller the Bishop of the Reich

In July 1933, Pastor Ludwig Müller, a long-term supporter of Hitler was elected as Reich Bishop. His work was supported by Professor Ernst Bergmann, who in 1934 issued the Twenty-Five Points of the German Religion. This included the following: (i) The Jewish Old Testament as well as parts of the New Testament are not suitable for the new Germany. (ii) Christ was not Jewish but a Nordic martyr put to death by the Jews, a warrior whose death rescued the world from Jewish influence. (iii) Adolf Hitler is the new Messiah sent to earth to save the world from the Jews. (17)

Susan Ottaway has argued that many Protestants saw Bergmann's theories as "utter drivel". She points out: "The second point alone high-lights the inconsistency of the doctrine. If Christ's death rescued the world from Jewish influence, why did the Nazis find it necessary to persecute them? The entire document was complete nonsense and utterly at odds with any conventional view of Christianity. In spite of this it had its supporters." (18)

Hermann Mueller
Bishop Ludwig Müller in Berlin in September 1934

The German Christians became a pressure group and movement within German Protestantism. Bergmann became the most important academic involved in the movement. The German Christians ardently supported the Nazi doctrines of race and the leadership principle. By the time Hitler came to power, the movement had some three thousand out of a total of seventeen thousand pastors, though their lay followers probably represented a larger percentage of churchgoers. (19)

The movement was popular with young pastors from lower-middle-class backgrounds or non-academic families. "Such men desired a Church whose members were soldiers from 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 the involvement in charity, welfare and acts of compassion." (20)

Martin Niemöller was the pastor of the Church of Jesus Christ at Dahlem. He was a long-term supporter of Hitler and he made speeches where he argued that Germany needed a Führer. In his sermons he also espoused Hitler's views on race and nationality. During the 1933 General Election he described the programme of the Nazi Party as a "renewal movement based on a Christian moral foundation". However, he objected to the election of Müller and on 21st September, he wrote to all German pastors inviting them to join him in his newly formed Pastors' Emergency League. An estimated 7,000 pastors joined him including Dietrich Bonhoffer in what was later called the Confessing Church. (21)

Niemöller established himself as the leader of the Protestant resistance to Hitler. However, as he admitted later, he remained a committed member of the Nazi Party. Niemöller pointed out that his group "acted as if we had only to sustain the church" and did not accept that they had a "responsibility for the whole nation". Niemöller therefore did not criticize the Nazi Party for putting its political opponents into concentration camps.

Niemöller wrote after the war: "First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a communist. Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a trade unionist; Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak out for me." (22)

The New Christianity. 100% Aryan.Philip Zec, Daily Mirror (16th May, 1941)
The New Christianity. 100% Aryan.
Philip Zec, Daily Mirror (16th May, 1941)

Although religious leaders did little to resist Hitler, that is not true of the general population. Between 1933 and 1939 the ordinary courts sentenced 225,000 people to a total of 600,000 years' imprisonment for political and religious offences. During the Nazi period of power, three million Germans were held at one time or another in prison or in the concentration camps on political and religious grounds. (23)

Bishop August von Galen became more critical of the Nazi government in 1934 and attacked the writings of Alfred Rosenberg. In his book, The Myth of the Twentieth Century, Rosenberg had claimed that Catholicism was the "creation of Jewish clericalism". Von Galen responded by claiming that Rosenberg's book illustrated that "there are heathens again in Germany." Joseph Goebbels and his Ministry of Propaganda, tried to influence the debate by "releasing a flood of accusations against Catholic organizations for financial corruption." (24)

Despite this he retained his nationalistic views and in 1936 he blessed the troops before they marched into the Rhineland. In 1937 Bishop August von Galen, Michael von Faulhaber, the Archbishop of Munich and Konrad von Preysing, Bishop of Eichstätt, helped draft the Pope's anti-Nazi encyclical Mit brennender Sorge (With Burning Concern). The encyclical addressed the problems being experienced by German Catholics and detailed the Pope's grave concerns about the way the Nazi government had ignored the terms of the Concordat of 1933. (25)

Bishop Otto Dibelius was one of those who refused to accept the leadership of Bishop Ludwig Müller that was described as "Nazified Christianity." (26) He made it clear that he would not submit to control by the government in the exercise of his spiritual and pastoral functions. (27) Over the next few years he became associated with what became known as the Confessing Church. Leaders of this movement included Martin Niemöller and Dietrich Bonhoffer. (28) During this period he also met Kurt Gerstein, who later claimed that he worked as a spy within the SS for the movement. (29)

In March 1937 Bishop Dibelius wrote an open letter to Hans Kerrl, the Minister of Ecclesiastical Affairs: "The Church must be a church and not a state within the state. But the doctrine which you proclaim would have the effect of making the state into the Church in so far as the state, supported by its coercive powers, comes to decision with regard to the sermons that are preached and the faith that is confessed. Here lies the root of the whole struggle between the state and the Evangelical Church.... As soon as the state endeavors to become Church and assumes power over the souls of men... then we are bound by Luther's word to offer resistance in God's name. And that is what we shall do." (30)

Bishop Dibelius was brought before a special court, on a charge of treasonable attacks on the government. His acquittal upset the leaders of the German Christian movement. Adolf Hitler asked the court for a copy of its reasons for the judgment, but decided not to take action against his former allay.

The Church and Kristallnacht

Ernst vom Rath was murdered by Herschel Grynszpan, a young Jewish refugee in Paris on 9th November, 1938. At a meeting of Nazi Party leaders that evening, Joseph Goebbels suggested that there should be "spontaneous" anti-Jewish riots. (31) Reinhard Heydrich sent urgent guidelines to all police headquarters suggesting how they could start these disturbances. He ordered the destruction of all Jewish places of worship in Germany. Heydrich also gave instructions that the police should not interfere with demonstrations and surrounding buildings must not be damaged when burning synagogues. (32)

Heinrich Mueller, head of the Secret Political Police, sent out an order to all regional and local commanders of the state police: "(i) Operations against Jews, in particular against their synagogues will commence very soon throughout Germany. There must be no interference. However, arrangements should be made, in consultation with the General Police, to prevent looting and other excesses. (ii) Any vital archival material that might be in the synagogues must be secured by the fastest possible means. (iii) Preparations must be made for the arrest of from 20,000 to 30,000 Jews within the Reich. In particular, affluent Jews are to be selected. Further directives will be forthcoming during the course of the night. (iv) Should Jews be found in the possession of weapons during the impending operations the most severe measures must be taken. SS Verfuegungstruppen and general SS may be called in for the overall operations. The State Police must under all circumstances maintain control of the operations by taking appropriate measures." (33)

Reinhard Heydrich ordered members of the Gestapo to make arrests following Kristallnacht. "As soon as the course of events during the night permits the release of the officials required, as many Jews in all districts, especially the rich, as can be accommodated in existing prisons are to be arrested. For the time being only healthy male Jews, who are not too old, are to be detained. After the detentions have been carried out the appropriate concentration camps are to be contracted immediately for the prompt accommodation of the Jews in the camps." (34)

Joseph Goebbels wrote an article for the Völkischer Beobachter where he claimed that Kristallnacht was a spontaneous outbreak of feeling: "The outbreak of fury by the people on the night of November 9-10 shows the patience of the German people has now been exhausted. It was neither organized nor prepared but it broke out spontaneously." (35)

Kristallnacht (Crystal Night)
Jewish prisoners after Kristallnacht being paraded in Baden-Baden (November, 1938)

On 11th November, 1938, Reinhard Heydrich reported to Hermann Göring, details of the night of terror: "74 Jews killed or seriously injured, 20,000 arrested, 815 shops and 171 homes destroyed, 191 synagogues set on fire; total damage costing 25 million marks, of which over 5 million was for broken glass." (36) It was decided that the "Jews would have to pay for the damage they had provoked. A fine of 1 billion marks was levied for the slaying of Vom Rath." (37)

Lucy S. Dawidowicz, the author of The War Against the Jews (1975) has pointed out that a representative of the German insurance companies was invited to report on compensation for damages caused by the demonstrations: "After a lengthy discussion it was decided that the insurance companies had to pay the damages to retain their credibility. Where compensation was paid to Jews, the German government would arrange to confiscate those payments." (38)

The leaders of the Protestant and Catholic religions decided to stay silent and did not protest about the events of Kristallnacht. Even the breakaway Confessing Church took no stand on the issue. Richard Evans has pointed out that much had changed since when in 1933 Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber had spoken out "openly against pride in one's own race degenerating into hatred of another seemed to be long gone." (39)

Bishop Martin Sasse, head of the Protestant church of Thuringia, responded to Kristallnacht by publishing on 15th November 15, a pamphlet entitled Martin Luther on the Jews: Away with Them!, in which he reprinted excerpts from Luther’s notorious 1543 pamphlet, Against the Jews and Their Lies, urging the destruction of Jewish property. Sasse claimed that the persecution of the Jews were fulfilling the goals of Luther.

Sasse stated this his objective was remove the church of Jewishness. "Not only were baptized Jewish pastors, religion teachers and organists to be fired and baptized Jews excluded from church congregations; not only were pastors forbidden to minister to baptized Jews; not only was the Old Testament no longer to be presented in church to couples celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary; not only was knowledge of biblical Hebrew henceforth eliminated as a requirement for ordination; now, any traces of Jewishness in the New Testament, liturgy, music and theology of the church were to be hunted down, exposed and eradicated." (40)

The Quakers had the best record for standing up for the Jews following Kristallnacht and printed leaflets advocating "Decency over Patriotism." According to Henning Mielke, the Berlin office of the Society of Friends "worked on behalf of Jewish people who were not affiliated with a Jewish congregation, and also some of the political refugees. They were able at the last minute to evacuate ten thousand Jewish children to England in the so-called Kindertransporte. Quaker families in England and the United States took in the children." (41)

The Catholic Church and Euthanasia

Hitler made several speeches in favour of a euthanasia programme that would help to improve the quality of the German "race". He stated that if war came, he would implement the idea of euthanasia, "because I am of the opinion that such a program could be put into effect more smoothly and readily in time of war, that in the general upheaval of war the open resistance to be anticipated on the part of the Church would not play the part that might be expected." (42)

On 18th August 1939, the Reich Committee for the Scientific Registration of Serious Hereditary and Congenitally Based Diseases was set up. Registration of all malformed children was now compulsory. In September, a circular was sent out to all asylums and clinics in the Reich calling for registration of those suffering from illnesses which prevented their employment. Known as T-4 the enthanasia programme was run from the Tiergarten area of Berlin. (43)

October 1939 Adolf Hitler signed a "euthanasia decree" that authorized Reichsleiter Philipp Bouhler, the chief of his Chancellery, and Dr. Karl Brandt, Hitler's personal physician, to carry out the programme of involuntary euthanasia: "Reich Leader Bouhler and Dr. Brandt are entrusted with the responsibility of extending the authority of physicians, designated by name, so that patients who, on the basis of human judgment, are considered incurable, can be granted mercy death after a definitive diagnosis". (44)

Attempts were made to keep the T-4 programme a secret. It is estimated that about 70,000 patients died over the next 12 months. News of the sudden deaths of handicapped children began to spread in 1940. Pope Pius XI issued a statement that: "The direct killing of an innocent person because of mental or physical defects is not allowed". (45) In 1941, Kurt Gerstein, an active opponent of Hitler, discovered that his sister-in-law, Bertha Ebeling, was a victim of the euthanasia program directed at the mentally ill. (46) Gerstein was able to pass this information to several church leaders. (47)

On 3rd August, 1941, August von Galen, the Archbishop of Munster, spoke out in a sermon against the Nazi practice of euthanasia: "If the principle that man is entitled to kill his unproductive fellow man is established and applied, then woe to all of us when we become aged and infirm! Then no man will be safe: some committee or other will be able to put him on the list of 'unproductive' persons, who in their judgment have become 'unworthy to live'. And there will be no police to protect him, no court to avenge his murder and bring his murderers to justice. Who could then have any confidence in a doctor? He might report a patient as unproductive and then be given instructions to kill him! It does not bear thinking of, the moral depravity, the universal mistrust, which will spread even in the bosom of the family, if this terrible doctrine is tolerated, accepted and put into practice. Woe to mankind! Woe to our German people, if the divine commandment 'Thou shalt not kill', which the Lord proclaimed on Sinai amid thunder and lightning, which God our Creator wrote into man's conscience from the beginning, if this commandment is not merely violated but the violation is tolerated and remains unpunished!" (48)

It was reported that one woman who had attended the sermon hurried home to guard her elderly mother in case the Gestapo took her away to be murdered. Other people refused to undergo x-rays because they feared it was connected to the euthanasia programme. Details of the sermon were sent out of the country. The BBC made broadcasts concerning it and the RAF dropped copies of it over Germany. (49)

Brishop Galen also attacked the Gestapo habit of seizing Church buildings and converting them to their own uses - which included cinemas and even brothels. The contents of these sermons were printed and distributed throughout the country. Adolf Hitler wanted Galen arrested but Joseph Goebbels warned against this as Galen was a popular religious leader. (50)

Hitler accepted that it was not a good idea to make martyrs of well-known Church leaders. However, people who were caught with copies of the sermon, or who discussed it with colleagues, were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Richard Grunberger, the author of A Social History of the Third Reich (1971) has pointed out: "the regime took no action against Galen, but significantly, executed three Catholic priests at Lübeck who had distributed the text of Galen's sermon among soldiers." (51)

Bishop August von Galen did not give anymore sermons against the Nazi government. In September 1941, he stated publicly that "We Christians do not make revolution". (52) Hitler did not bring a halt to the programme. Instead he changed his strategy. "Thenceforth, patients would be killed by starvation and lethal medication in a larger number of extermination centres located within several asylums. This would be easier to conceal than the sudden removal and simultaneous disappearance of big groups of people." (53)

Although he had decided not to play any part in the resistance to Hitler his sermons did inspire others. A copy arrived at the home of Robert Scholl. (54) Two of his children, Hans Scholl and Sophie Scholl, organized the White Rose group. They joined forces with Christoph Probst, Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf and Jugen Wittenstein and began distributing anti-nazi leaflets in Munich. They were caught and executed in April 1943. (55)

The Holocaust

During the Second World War, a member of the Confessing Church, Kurt Gerstein, joined the Waffen SS in order "to see things from the inside", to try to change the direction of policies, and to publicize the crimes being committed. (56) In a letter to his wife he told her that he had joined the SS as an "agent of the Confessing Church." (57) Gerstein later claimed he was working for Martin Niemöller. (58)

Gerstein was sent to Belzec Extermination Camp to meet with Christian Wirth. While there he witnessed the killing of an entire trainload of Jews: "When the train arrived many were already dead, having been packed into the train with no room to move or lie down. The survivors were told that they were being sent to the bathhouse to be disinfected. They were assured that they would come to no harm and that they should breathe deeply to ensure that infectious diseases were prevented. The people were herded naked into the gas chamber. Families still clung together, children holding their parents' hands, husbands putting protective arms around their wives. The doors were slammed shut and the diesel pumping engine was started. Almost immediately it broke down.... The minutes passed while engineers were brought in to mend the faulty engine. From inside the gas chamber the sound of crying could be heard. Periodically an SS officer peered through the glass window in the door of the chamber to see what was happening inside. He reported that they were wailing like they did in the synagogue. This officer seemed to feel no sorrow or pity for the wretched souls squashed inside the small chamber, bodies pressed so tightly together that there was no room to turn or shift their weight from one leg to the other; no room for a mother to bend to comfort the small child clinging to her legs. Eventually, after being trapped for more than two hours, the diesel engine croaked into life, but it took another thirty minutes of pumping the deadly carbon monoxide into the chamber before everyone inside was dead." (59)

Gerstein also told his contacts in the Confessional Church. This included Bishop Otto Dibelius and Martin Niemöller. He also passed the information to Diego Cesare Orsenigo, the representative of the Vatican in Berlin. However, he was a supporter of Adolf Hitler and refused to take any action. He told Pope Pius XI that he advocated conciliation out of a fear that if the Church came into conflict with the Nazi government it would lead to "lapsed religiosity among German Catholics". He argued that "unless the clergy appeased the regime and relieved members of the church of a conflict of conscience". (60)

Gerstein later reported: "My attempt to report all this to the head of the Legation of the Holy See had no great success. I was asked if I was a soldier. Then I was denied any kind of interview and was requested to leave the legation forthwith. I relate this to show how difficult it was, even for a German who was a bitter enemy of the Nazis, to succeed in discrediting this criminal government.... I continued to inform hundreds of people of these horrible massacres. Among them were the Niemöller family; Dr Hochstrasser, the press attaché at the Swiss legation in Berlin; Dr Winter, the coadjutor of the Catholic Bishop of Berlin - so that he could transmit my information to the Bishop and to the Pope; Dr Dibelius, and many others. In this way thousands of people were informed by me." (61)

Bishop Dibelius did nothing with this information. (62) After the war he claimed that he was not aware of the "full implications" of the final solution. "There was no evidence which would have stood up in a court of law; no cardinal or bishop was ever permitted to visit Auschwitz, Sobibor or Treblinka. Their knowledge was based on hearsay, but it is unlikely that they had any doubts as to the authoritative character of this information." (63)

Martin Niemöller spent the Second World War in Dachau Concentration Camp. As he was a First World War hero Adolf Hitler gave orders for him to be left alive. His colleague, Dietrich Bonhoffer, was arrested in April, 1943 and was charged with planning the July Plot. He was held in Buchenwald Concentration Camp until being executed in April, 1945.

Primary Sources

(1) Martin Niemöller, sermon (1928)

I cannot help saying quite harshly and bluntly that the Jewish people came to grief and disgrace because of its own ‘Positive Christianity!’ It (the Jewish people) bears a curse throughout the history of the world because it was ready to approve of its Messiah just as long and as far as it thought it could gain some advantage for its own plans and its own aims for Him, His words and His deeds. It bears a curse, because it rejected Him and resisted Him to the death when it became clear that Jesus of Nazareth would not cease calling (the Jews) to repentance and faith, despite their insistence that they were free, strong and proud men and belonged to a pure-blooded, race-concious nation!

“‘Positive Christianity,’ which the Jewish people wanted, clashed with ‘Negative Christianity’ as Jesus himself represented it!... Friends, can we risk going with our nation without forgiveness of sins, without that so-called ‘Negative Christianity’ which, when all is said and done, clings in repentance and faith to Jesus as the Savior of sinners? I cannot and you cannot and our nation cannot! ‘Come let us return to the Lord!’

(2) Statement made by Martin Niemöller and fellow leaders of the Confessional Church (July, 1936)

Our people are trying to break the bond set by God. That is human conceit rising against God. In this connection we must warn the Führer, that the adoration frequently bestowed on him is only due to God. Some years ago the Führer objected to having his picture placed on Protestant altars. Today his thoughts are used as a basis not only for political decisions but also for morality and law. He himself is surrounded with the dignity of a priest and even of an intermediary between God and man... We ask that liberty be given to our people to go their way in the future under the sign of the Cross of Christ, in order that our grandsons may not curse their elders on the ground that their elders left them a state on earth that closed to them the Kingdom of God.

(3) Martin Niemöller, sermon (27th June, 1937)

On Wednesday the secret police penetrated the closed church of Friedrich Werder and arrested at the altar eight members of the Council of Brethren. ... I think how yesterday at Saarbrucken six women and a trusted man of the Protestant community were arrested because they had circulated an election leaflet of the Confessing church. . . . And we recall today how the pulpit of St Anne's church remains empty, because our pastor and brother Muller, with forty-seven other Christian brothers and sisters of our Protestant church, has been taken into custody.

(4) Dr. Reinhard Becker, letter to Martin Niemöller (November, 1937)

You suppose that Christianity is oppressed in Germany and that there is a rule by force and secret trial. Though this is not the case, the German State cannot be expected to tolerate incessant attacks, open or veiled, by ministers of the Christian faith upon its very foundations. There are recalcitrant pastors who seem to be unaware of the fact that they would have been shot, hanged or burned long ago if it had not been for the gigantic and successful struggle of Adolf Hitler to safeguard civilization in this country against the horrors of Communism. Therefore by attacking National Socialism, they are striking at themselves.

(5) William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of he Third Reich (1964)

The Reverend Martin Niemoeller had personally welcomed the coming to power of the Nazis in 1933. In that year his autobiography, From U-boat to Pulpit, had been published. The story of how this submarine commander in the First World War had become a prominent Protestant pastor was singled out for special praise in the Nazi press and became a best seller. To Pastor Niemoeller, as to many a Protestant clergyman, the fourteen years of the Republic had been, as he said, "years of darkness'' and at the close of his autobiography he added a note of satisfaction that the Nazi revolution had finally triumphed and that it had brought about the "national revival" for which he himself had fought so long - for a time in the free corps, from which so many Nazi leaders had come.

(6) Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich: The Memoirs of Albert Speer (1970)

He (Hitler) had another such fit of rage at Pastor Niemöller in 1937. Niemöller had once again delivered a rebellious sermon in Dahlem [as had many other of the more evangelistic and conservative Lutheran Pastors and Priests]; at the same time transcripts of his tapped telephone conversations were presented to Hitler. In a bellow, Hitler ordered Niemöller to be put in a concentration camp and, since he had proven himself to be incorrigible, kept there for life. Pastors and Priests were then sent to camps for their dissidence and by 1938 the country had been declared free of the church.

(7) Martin Niemöller, letter to France Hildebrandt (1945)

Towards evening that day we came upon a German divisional HQ, and some of the officers amongst us found that they were acquainted with officers there. Immediately they telephoned the German HQ. After a horrible night, during which two of us were posted on guard behind every SS man, German officers and soldiers came, put the execution squad in a truck and sent them on their way, guarded by machine guns. The Germans brought us to a hotel in Bergen, where we were very well fussed over and fed and looked after. That lasted three days, when one morning an American company arrived, disarmed the Germans and took us into their care.

(8) Martin Niemöller, statement at a press conference in Naples (5th June, 1945)

No honest man or woman in Germany feels responsible for these things. Good Germans took Nazism as a new religion. These people are shocked by the revelations which have shown that Nazism was not idealism, but a means to the performance of criminal acts...

In war a German feels bound to join the ranks without question. Three of my sons were called up. I could not hold back. I wrote from the concentration camp to Admiral Raeder, C. in C. of the Navy, asking to be allowed to return to the submarine service or to do any other service in the Navy. I heard nothing for several months, and then a reply came, not from Raeder but from Keitel, head of the Wehrmacht. He thanked me, but regretted I could not be employed on active service.

(9) Dietmar Schmidt, Pastor Niemöller (1959)

During the next few years (after 1945) he was to attempt to explain from pulpit and platform to Evangelical Christians in all four Occupation Zones what the Stuttgart Declaration was, and was not, intended to convey. He called on the people to show a sense of responsibility towards their fellow-men, he abjured them not to forget the lessons of the past and, above all, he reminded them constantly of the burden of guilt which had to be redeemed before a new life could begin. In so doing he was at pains not to exclude himself from a like responsibility, and told in this connexion the story of the visit which he and his wife paid to Dachau in the autumn of 1945. "After showing her the cell in which he had been confined for so many months, they passed the crematorium. A great white-painted board had been affixed to a tree and on it, in black letters, they read: "Here between the years 1933 and 1945 238,756 human beings were incinerated."

At that moment, Niemoller told his audience, the consciousness of his own guilt and his own failure assailed him as never before. "And God asked me - as once He asked the First Man after the Fall, Adam - Man, where wast thou in those years 1933 to 1945? I knew I had no answer to that question. True, I had an alibi in my pocket, for the years 1937 to 1945, my identity disc from the concentration camp. But what help to me was that? God was not asking me where I had been from 1937 to 1945, but from 1933 to 1945, and for the years 1933 to 1937 I had no answer. Should I have said perhaps: 'As a pastor in those years I bore courageous witness to the Faith; I dared to speak, an'd risked life and freedom in doing so?' But God did not ask about that. God asked: 'Where were you from 1933 to 1945 when human beings were incinerated here? When, in 1933, Goering publicly boasted that all active Communists had been imprisoned and rendered harmless - that was when we forgot our responsibility, that was when we should have warned our parishioners. Many a man from my own parish, who went and joined the National Socialist Party and who is now to do penance for his act, could rise up against me today and say that he would have acted differently if I had not kept silence at that time. ... I know that I made my contribution towards the enslavement of the German people."

(10) William Hickey, Daily Express (1945)

The admiration expressed by some people for this vigorous critic of Hitler who has spent eight years in a concentration camp, is offset by others who are wholly allergic to the idea of any "good" Germans, and recall with some venom Niemoller's first-war role of U-boat commander.

(11) Archdeacon of Lancaster, The Daily Telegraph (31st May, 1946)

In my opinion the pastor's visit at this time can do nothing but harm, for the one thing needful is to present a united front to the German people, and to demand proofs of repentance from the whole nation before we can enter into any fraternal relationships.

(12) Martin Niemöller, sermon (January, 1946)

We must openly declare that we are not innocent of the Nazi murders, of the murder of German communists, Poles, Jews, and the people in German-occupied countries. No doubt others made mistakes too, but the wave of crime started here and here it reached its highest peak. The guilt exists, there is no doubt about that - even if there were no other guilt than that of the six million clay urns containing the ashes of incinerated Jews from all over Europe. And this guilt lies heavily upon the German people and the German name, even upon Christendom. For in our world and in our name have these things been done.

(13) Martin Niemöller, sermon at Rendsburgh Church (23rd September, 1946)

If we had then recognized that in the communists who were thrown into concentration camps, the Lord Jesus Christ himself lay imprisoned and looked for our love and help, if we had seen that at the beginning of the persecution of the Jews it was the Lord Christ in the person of the least of our human brethren who was being persecuted and beaten and killed, if we had stood by him and identified ourselves with him, I do not know whether God would not then have stood by us and whether the whole thing would not then have had to take a different course.

(14) Martin Niemöller, speech in New York (1947)

To reproaches that I have described Russian occupation (of East Germany) as bearable, I say: I am only against the often-heard statement that a war against bolshevism is necessary to save the Christian churches and Christianity. But it is unchristian to conduct a war for the saving of the Christian church, for the Christian church does not need to be saved. The church is not afraid of bolshevism. It was not afraid of Nazism. The church has to serve the communists as well as all human beings. While the church rejects communism as a creed, just as it rejects all other creeds, communism must and can only be fought and defeated with spiritual weapons. All other powers will fail.

(15) Martin Niemöller, letter to Dr. Alfred Wiener (1956)

I have never concealed the fact... that I came from an anti-Semitic past and tradition... I ask only that you look at my life historically and take it as history. I believe that from 1933 I truly represented the Lutheran-Christian outlook on the Jewish question - as I revealed before the court - but that I returned home after eight years' imprisonment as a completely different person.

(16) Martin Niemöller, speech (1982)

I am now convinced that the Reformation of the church will come from the east. In the west there is no spiritual life. (I'm speaking of the Protestant church and not the Roman Catholic church.) We have civilisation and we try to keep up culture, but we have no spiritual life. The east has a spiritual life. They know that colour influences the spirit more than black lines. In Russia there is still the notion that art is nearer religion than thinking in lines and logic. All abstract rationalising needs to be filled out with sensual thinking and feelings. In Russia there is still a strong impression of colour.

(17) Poem by Martin Niemöller that was said to have been written in 1946.

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a communist;

Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a socialist;

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a trade unionist;

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew;

Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak out for me.

(18) Henning Mielke, Friends' Journal (1st April, 2010)

It was above all during the years of National Socialism that the Quakers stood up for the rights of the persecuted. The Quaker community in Germany had always been international. In its Berlin office Germans worked side by side with U.S. and English citizens. As the repression of Jews and the Nazis’ political opponents worsened, U.S. Friends were able to visit persecuted persons in prisons and to negotiate easier conditions or even releases. In the concentration camps many prisoners perceived a last glimmer of hope if their case was known to the Quakers.

Although the international Quaker office in Berlin had been an important place of refuge for the persecuted ever since 1933, the situation took a dramatic turn for the worse after the night of the pogrom (Kristallnacht) of November 9, 1938. As Gisela Faust reports, "After that, people stood in line in front of the Quaker office near the Friedrichstrasse station, because everyone realized that the only hope was to try to emigrate at the last minute." The international Quaker office in Berlin worked on behalf of Jewish people who were not affiliated with a Jewish congregation, and also some of the political refugees. They were able at the last minute to evacuate ten thousand Jewish children to England in the so-called Kindertransporte. Quaker families in England and the United States took in the children.

Once the war started, it became totally impossible for the Quaker office to help the persecuted escape. The English workers at the office had to leave Germany at the beginning of hostilities, and the U.S. workers left when the United States entered the war. Now only the German office workers were left, but their possibilities for providing help were extremely limited.

Some of the Quakers secretly hid Jews. For resistance fighters of all stripes also the "Friends" were important contact persons because of their impartiality and their discretion. A number of them were arrested by the Gestapo and paid with their lives. It is astonishing to note, however, that as an institution the Quakers were never outlawed. The Protestant pastor Franz von Hammerstein lists the possible reasons for this: "The Quakers were trustworthy. Their readiness to help, and help even people who were not actually their friends, left a great impression and smoothed paths - even with the Nazis. Not only did they not send the Quakers to the camps but astoundingly allowed them to keep working." Many Nazis remembered the Quakers from their childhood and the program of feeding the children. This now protected the Quakers. In addition they were seen as a possible bridge to foreign contacts. This is why the German Foreign Office successfully argued for the continued existence of the Religious Society of Friends.

Student Activities

Kristallnacht (Answer Commentary)

Adolf Hitler's Early Life (Answer Commentary)

Heinrich Himmler and the SS (Answer Commentary)

Trade Unions in Nazi Germany (Answer Commentary)

Adolf Hitler v John Heartfield (Answer Commentary)

Hitler's Volkswagen (The People's Car) (Answer Commentary)

Women in Nazi Germany (Answer Commentary)

German League of Girls (Answer Commentary)

The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich (Answer Commentary)

The Last Days of Adolf Hitler (Answer Commentary)


(1) Richard Grunberger, A Social History of the Third Reich (1971) page 573

(2) Adolf Hitler, Anton Drexler and Gottfried Feder, Twenty-Five Point Programme of the Nazi Party (February, 1920)

(3) Konrad Heiden, Hitler: A Biography (1936) page 102

(4) Daniel Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (1996) page 109

(5) Martin Luther, On the Jews and Their Lies (1543)

(6) Derek Wilson, Out of the Storm: The Life and Legacy of Martin Luther (2007) page 313

(7) Kenneth C. Barnes, Nazism, Liberalism, & Christianity (1991) page 74

(8) Ludwig Müller, statement on the beliefs of German Christians (June, 1932)

(9) Dietrich Bronder, Before Hitler Came : A Historical Study (1964) page 276

(10) Richard Evans, The Third Reich in Power (2005) page 15

(11) Robert A. Krieg, Catholic Theologians in Nazi Germany (2004) page 74

(12) Wolfgang Gerlach, The Witnesses Were Silent (2000) page 42

(13) Daniel Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (1996) page 109

(14) Michael von Faulhaber, statement (March, 1933)

(15) Susan Ottaway, Hitler's Traitors, German Resistance to the Nazis (2003) page 74

(16) Anton Gill, An Honourable Defeat: A History of German Resistance to Hitler (1994) page 56

(17) Ernst Bergmann, Twenty-Five Points of the German Religion (1934)

(18) Susan Ottaway, Hitler's Traitors, German Resistance to the Nazis (2003) page 79

(19) William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of Nazi Germany (1959) page 293

(20) Richard Evans, The Third Reich in Power (2005) page 224

(21) Susan Ottaway, Hitler's Traitors, German Resistance to the Nazis (2003) page 80

(22) Martin Niemöller, First they came for the Communists (1946)

(23) Peter Hoffmann, The History of German Resistance (1977) page 15

(24) Louis R. Eltscher, Traitors or Patriots? A Story of the German Anti-Nazi Resistance (2013) pages 85-86

(25) Susan Ottaway, Hitler's Traitors, German Resistance to the Nazis (2003) page 75

(26) Richard Evans, The Third Reich in Power (2005) page 226

(27) Louis L. Snyder, Encyclopedia of the Third Reich (1998) page 65

(28) Susan Ottaway, Hitler's Traitors, German Resistance to the Nazis (2003) page 80

(29) Kurt Gerstein, statement to Major D. C. Evans and John W. Haught (May, 1945)

(30) Bishop Otto Dibelius, open letter to Hans Kerrl, the Minister of Ecclesiastical Affairs (March, 1937)

(31) James Taylor and Warren Shaw, Dictionary of the Third Reich (1987) page 67

(32) Reinhard Heydrich, instructions for measures against Jews (10th November, 1938)

(33) Heinrich Mueller, order sent to all regional and local commanders of the state police (9th November 1938)

(34) Reinhard Heydrich, instructions to the Gestapo for measures against Jews (10th November, 1938)

(35) Joseph Goebbels, article in the Völkischer Beobachter (12th November, 1938)

(36) Reinhard Heydrich, instructions to the Gestapo for measures against Jews (11th November, 1938)

(37) James Taylor and Warren Shaw, Dictionary of the Third Reich (1987) page 67

(38) Lucy S. Dawidowicz, The War Against the Jews (1975) page 139

(39) Richard Evans, The Third Reich in Power (2005) page 589

(40) Susannah Heschel, Kristallnacht and Its Aftermath within the German Protestant Church (2008)

(41) Henning Mielke, Friends' Journal (1st April, 2010)

(42) Louis L. Snyder, Encyclopedia of the Third Reich (1998) page 87

(43) James Taylor and Warren Shaw, Dictionary of the Third Reich (1987) page 91

(44) Adolf Hitler, decree (October 1939)

(45) Pope Pius XI, statement (2nd December, 1940)

(46) Saul Friedländer, Kurt Gerstein: The Ambiguity of Good (1969) page 73

(47) Kurt Gerstein, statement to Major D. C. Evans and John W. Haught (May, 1945)

(48) Bishop August von Galen, sermon (3rd August, 1941)

(49) Michael Burleigh, The Third Reich: A New History (2001) page 402

(50) Anton Gill, An Honourable Defeat: A History of German Resistance to Hitler (1994) page 60

(51) Richard Grunberger, A Social History of the Third Reich (1971) page 568

(52) Anton Gill, An Honourable Defeat: A History of German Resistance to Hitler (1994) page 60

(53) Michael Burleigh, The Third Reich: A New History (2001) page 402

(54) Annette Dumbach & Jud Newborn, Sophie Scholl and the White Rose (1986) page 67

(55) Inge Scholl, The White Rose: 1942-1943 (1983) page 119

(56) Pierre Joffroy, Spy for God: Ordeal of Kurt Gerstein (1974) page 133

(57) Saul Friedländer, Kurt Gerstein: The Ambiguity of Good (1969) page 215

(58) Report by Major D. C. Evans and John W. Haught, on their interview with Kurt Gerstein (May, 1945)

(59) Susan Ottaway, Hitler's Traitors, German Resistance to the Nazis (2003) pages 110-111

(60) José M. Sánchez, Pius XII and the Holocaust: Understanding the Controversy (2002) page 101

(61) Kurt Gerstein, statement to Major D. C. Evans (May, 1939)

(62) Michael Burleigh, The Third Reich: A New History (2001) page 709

(63) Walter Laqueur, The Terrible Secret (1980) page 57