These [National Socialists] were concerned with more than power; many were out for more than advantages. They wanted their life to have a new meaning, their existence in society a purpose; their value for their own people was the one thing that gave their careers on earth any value. To many, and not always the worst among them, only faith in their fatherland had retained any meaning, their own nation had become God; if they hesitated openly to declare themselves religious unbelievers, Hitler had provided them with a suitable formula: 'We know two Gods: one in heaven and another on earth; the second is Germany.' But 'we' are Germany, Hitler had said on another occasion, and 'we' meant 'I.' And so there were people who prayed to Hitler, perhaps without realizing that this was prayer. [Der Fuehrer by Konrad Heiden, pp 631]
But now there arose voices among the National Socialists, openly declaring that the new movement must renew the German belief in God - making it clear that God was embodied in the German people. Many insisted that German religion must free itself from the Jewish Biblical tradition - from 'Satan's Bible,' as Hitler eleven years before, in a conversation with Dietrich Eckart, had called the Old Testament. The New Testament was no better, said others, perhaps fewer in number. General Ludendorif, head of a politico- religious sect numbering several tens of thousands, which he called the 'Tannenberg League,' after his most famous military victory, rejected both the teachings and the person of Jesus, whom even Gobineau and Wagner had declared to be 'white,' that is non-Semitic. Hider himself in his youth, as he told his friend Hanisch, had been convinced that the historical Jesus had been no Jew, but the son of one Pantherus, a Greek soldier in the Roman army. In Ludendorff's eyes, however, the Saviour was the embodiment of Asiatic magic, a force destructive to the Germanic peoples. And, it must be added, to him one of the most dangerous agents of the Roman priesthood was Hitler himself.
For it could not be denied that Hitler still belonged to the Catholic Church. In March, 1933, it is true, he had demonstratively remained absent from the services of his Church; there was the story that in his youth he had spat out the Host. But he was on terms of intimate friendship with several Catholic clergymen, such as Abbot Alban Schaclileitner, former head of the Emmaus Cloister in Prague, who after 1918 had been driven out by the Czechoslovakian revolution. In his whole being Schachleitner was a fragment of that German national dynamite scattered through the whole of Central and Eastern Europe. It is possible that his faith in his people overshadowed his faith in his Saviour. Hitler, who in 1918 certainly still went to confession and communion, is even said later to have received the sacrament from the hands of this National Socialist abbot. At all events, on July 1, he let it be officially proclaimed: 'Reich Chancellor Hitler still belongs to the Catholic Church and has no intention of leaving it.'
Certainly, he had stated that'... the priest in politics we shall eliminate . . . we shall give him hack to the pulpit and the altar.' And to satisfy him the party of the Catholic Church itself took care to eliminate the priest from politics; Kaas, the prelate, on May 6, retired from the leadership of the Center Party, went to Rome, and found a position in the Vatican. But Brüning, his successor, carried on, and had conferences with Hitler, who had not as yet revoked his bid for collaboration. Actually, the party of the Church did, for a few months, share the government with the National Socialists; in Bavaria Count Quadt-Isny, the new leader of the Bavarian People's Party, served as Minister of Economics.
Step by step, the Catholic Church abandoned political resistance to National Socialism. The same German bishops, who three years before had warned against the un-Christian movement, declared in a conference at Fulda, March 28, 1933, that after Hider's Reichstag speech of March 23, with its conciliatory words for the Church, they felt justified in 'hoping that the above-mentioned general prohibitions and warnings need no longer be regarded as necessary,' and recommended obedience to the legal authorities. The prohibitions and warnings had been issued while the National Socialists were merely marching through the streets and issuing threats; they were withdrawn when thousands were murdered or beaten to a pulp in concentration camps.
By retreating on the political field the Church hoped to keep its spiritual power intact. But was this possible?
For centuries it had been true that the cleavage into two sects of approximately equal strength - if Austria was included - had helped to tear Germany apart. But now: 'As soon as a man puts on the brown shirt,' said Rosenberg, 'he ceases to be a Catholic or a Protestant; he is only a National Socialist' - and what else could this mean except that the National Socialist had ceased to be a Christian? At all events, this is exactly what Rosenberg had meant by his words. In a society where the individual was nothing and the nation was everything, God could be nothing unless he was the nation; this was no philosophical hair-splitting, but a state of mind prevailing among large masses. The church-weariness and faithlessness of considerable sections of the Protestant church member-ship, especially in the big cities, was clear from the emptiness of the churches. But the beer halls and sport stadiums could no longer hold all the people who thronged to political meetings.
Yet in the spring of 1933, the Catholic Church was able to demonstrate its appeal to great masses in Germany. In the city of Trier, for the first time in many decades, a remarkable relic, contested even in church circles, was put on exhibition: the so-called 'holy mantle,' which Jesus supposedly wore on the cross; for days throngs of Catholics streamed into the moderate-sized city and followed their priests to the cathedral, where they passed six or eight abreast before the holy relic. The National Socialists could not have staged a more impressive mass spectacle; perhaps this demonstration of Catholic strength helped to make Hitler more receptive to a concordat with the Holy See, negotiations for which had been in progress for some time.
The aim of the Vatican in these 'concordats' was to lend the Church the protection of an international treaty. Up till then the Catholic Church had concluded its treaties with the German states, consciously exploiting the political division of Germany; obviously, it could obtain more favorable conditions from predominantly Catholic Bavaria than from Protestant Prussia. Now, under Hitler, new negotiations were begun. One thing that was definitely expected from a treaty between the Third Reich and the Pope was to prevent the Vatican - that is, a foreign power - from concluding a treaty with a separate German state; even if the existing concordats with the states could not immediately be eliminated. Kaas in Rome was urging conclusion of the Reich Concordat, with the idea that in this case Hitler would be forced to give one of his promises in writing - and not in an unsent letter, as in the case of his promise to collaborate with the Center Party. Papen, the Catholic -nobleman, went to Rome as chief negotiator.
Hitler's idea was that the Reich Concordat would mean the definite disappearance of the Church from German political life. The Church was no doubt ready to adjust itself to a non-parliamentary state. Hider had once contemptuously predicted: 'I see the time coming when the Pope will be glad if the Church is taken under the protection of National Socialism against the parties of the Center. Perhaps in reality it was not too hard a blow for the Pope, or at least for his Secretary of State, Cardinal Pacelli, that by the Concordat they would have to forbid the German clergy to engage in political activity; the Reich government promised in a codicil that it would also prevent the Protestant clergy from engaging in political activity. The treaty obligated the Holy See, before appointment of any archbishop or bishop, to inquire if the provincial stauhalter had any objection to the candidate; also, the bishop had to swear loyalty to the German Reich and promise to respect the government.
In return, the government agreed that many of the Church's religious and social organizations, including the Catholic workers' clubs, would be tolerated. While this was being discussed, the Munich SA. assaulted members of these clubs who had gathered for a national congress (June 11-12, 1933), and beat them severely, not far from the place where, fourteen years before, twenty-one Catholic workers had fallen beneath the bullets and rifle butts of the murderers' army. But the conferences on the Concordat went on.
In renewing the Berlin treaty of friendship, the 'godless Jews of the Kremlin' had been the first world power to hold out a hand to Hitler; the Vicar of Christ on earth became the second. Many German Catholics felt more humiliated than protected by this treaty. The majority of the bishops and the Holy See saw things differently. Not a few sons of the Catholic Church vacillated when confronted by the choice between obedience to their clergy and obedience to their secular leaders; the Church now was compromising to save spiritual values in the modern man, values which lay outside of all social relations. On the other hand, such profoundly earthly considerations as concern for church property - cloisters, schools, hospitals - and for the livelihood of the clergy must also have influenced the Holy See in its dealings with the Antichrist.
At the same time, the National Socialists tried to sever the Catholic Church from the active life of the nation, they made a serious and promising attempt to take possession of the Protestant Church which was a German Church to begin with. Here the task was entirely different: not to tear or lure believers away from their Church, but to lead unbelievers back. In June, 1932, some National Socialist clergymen had founded an organization calling itself the 'Faith Movement of German Christians'; at its head stood a minister named Hossetifelder. It was a minority group in the Protestant clergy; and the 'German Christians could not even claim to represent the 'living church' - i.e., the mass of believing men and women - against 'alien' priests. For those leaders of the Protestant Church who resisted National Socialism were supported by the majority of the churchgoers. The National Socialist ministers replied that they alone could bring back the non-churchgoers, and that these lost sheep were what mattered.
These were the masses of 'involuntary' church members; those numerous laymen who, according to the State Church laws prevailing in Germany, were counted as belonging to the official Church and had to pay church taxes, although they had not seen the inside of a church for years. Only this 'State Church' system makes all the German church struggles comprehensible. Up to the fall of the German Empire in 1918, practically everyone had to belong to a religious community, either the Catholic Church or the Protestant State Church. In Prussia, the King was supreme head of the Protestant Church. After the founding of the German Re-public, this state of affairs had ceased in principle, but only in principle. In practice the state continued to collect church taxes, and anyone who did not expressly leave the Church had to go on paying them; but as a rule, even those who had lost their faith did not expressly resign. It was principally these faithless church members who had now suddenly flocked to the 'German Christians.'
With the authority of National Socialism, the German Christian ministers were able to enlist considerable masses of the unbelieving or half-believing church membership. Among their leaders was Ludwig Müller, the army chaplain who had brought Hitler and General von Blomberg together; Hider believed that he was performing a masterly stroke when he summarily dismissed Hofelder and made the friend of his Reichswehr Minister head of the German Christians. Müller did not fulfill expectations; in the middle of May, the leaders of the Protestant Church drew from him an admission that the Church must be 'free of state guardianship.' But he did make it clear that the Protestant Church must be run in accordance with the 'leader principle.' The very titles of the new leadership had for German Protestant ears an ugly ring of Papism: there would be a 'Reich Bishop' with a number of other bishops under him. Taking Müller by surprise, the majority of the Church body elected as their bishop a man of their ranks, Pastor Friedrich von Bodelschwingh, a widely. respected Churchman and by no means a National Socialist. His election was an open insult to Hitler, because Bodelschwingh was the director of a famous home for the feeble-minded, caring for those people who, in Hitler's opinion, should have been exterminated for the good of the race.
At this point, open warfare broke out between the Church and the party. Almost anything might have provoked it, for these were two faiths which could not live at peace with one another. The most obvious cause for conflict was the racial question, for the German Christians demanded that only Aryans be admitted to the Church, and especially to the clergy. The number of German non-Aryans who had ceased to be Jews was later set by National Socialist statistics at one million; over this relatively small number thc German churches of both denominations waged an intense struggle The Church as such could not renounce these people, for Chris had said: 'Ye shall teach all the nations.' The Catholic Church went even farther, and refused to admit that non-Aryans had ceased to be Germans; in a pastoral letter of June 10, 1933 - the last of it kind for many years to come - the Catholic bishops declared 'that national unity can be achieved, not only by like blood, but also by like mentality, and that exclusive consideration of race and blood in judging state membership leads to injustice.' In the Protestant Church the German Christians, with their insistence on the introduction of the 'Aryan clause' into the articles of faith, stood two thousand years of church history on its head. For the history of the Christian Church had begun with the principle that all Christians must be circumcised Jews, and only when this principle was discarded did Christianity begin to grow and to 'teach all nations now, in 1933, it was no longer permissible for a Christian to have been a circumcised Jew. When Bodelschwingh and his clergymen resisted this idea, Göring ordered his subordinate, Bernhard Rust, the Prussian Minister of Education, to use force; hesitantly and reluctantly, Rust set a taskmaster over the Protestant Church, a civil servant by the name of Jaeger. High and low clergymen were thrown out. Muëller was made head of the Protestant churches, and Bodelschwingh was forced to resign. On July 2, 1933, the swastika flags were raised over the Evangelical churches of Germany.
The preceding from Der Fuehrer by Konrad Heiden, pp 631-638.
It was at this time  that [Hitler] began to believe in his own God-given mission. It was no accident that-in his own words-he 'learned from the Bible with boundless love how our Lord and Savior seized his whip,' and marched on Jerusalem. Was not he himself armed with a heavy crocodile whip, marching through the streets of his beloved Munich, which he sometimes called the 'Mecca' of National Socialism? A short time previous, it is true, he had admitted in a chastened mood to his friend Georg Schott: 'All of us are nothing but little Saint Johns. I am waiting for a Christ.' But the period of modesty was drawing to a close. Were not all the signs by which Heaven customarily announces its prophets being fulfilled in him? The fanatical faith of the disciples, the rejoicing of the masses, the hostility or contempt of those in high places-and now wasn't he going through a sort of Golgotha? His Golgotha, to be sure, was nothing more impressive than the month in prison which he wished so fervently to avoid; but before going in, he took leave of his people with the words: 'Two thousand years ago the mob of Jerusalem dragged a man to execution in just this way.'
Hitler, introduced as a speaker, explains how Judah tried to conquer the world; first with the help of the Ten Commandments; then (this was only hinted rather shamefacedly) by Christianity; finally through Marxism and Bolshevism; for Hitler and Eckart had no doubt that Lenin was a Jew. [Der Fuehrer, p. 280]
A metaphysical line runs through [Mein Kampf], not always easy to find amid all the vulgar vilification and barren, long-winded meditations; here a man seeks for God and discovers himself. This is exactly what happened to Soloviev's Antichrist; he too, like Hitler, had written in his thirty-third year, a book in which he claimed to be the Savior. [Der Fuehrer, p. 281].
[In Rosenberg's The myth of the Twentieth Century] the deepest and most widespread poison, the most dangerous product of the Semitic-Latin spirit, is Christianity, at least the Christianity of the Catholic Church. Rosenberg hinted that the Catholic clergy was in a spiritual sense a continuation of the old Etruscan priesthood, concerning which he told the most hideous tales; he called the Pope the Roman medicine man, church history a series of atrocities, swindles, and forgeries. Though all this came from Houston Stewart Chamberlain, who had violently insisted that he was a Christian; though Rosenberg still approved a 'positive' Christianity-that is, a Christianity removed from all tradition-he brought the party a party for godlessness. The National Socialists were violently attacked, Catholic bishops forbade holy rites over the graves of party members, and all this might have been if in the course of a year Hitler had taken a look into Rosenberg's manuscript. But he took the consequences on himself. Rosenberg wrote him a letter in which he offered to give up his position as editor in chief of the Völkischer Beobachter, even to resign from the party; Hitler write diagonally across the letter: 'Doesn't enter my head. You stay!' His own manuscript on the interrelations between art and race, however, did not see the light; he thought it better not to make enemies in this field too.[ Der Fuehrer, p 365]
He was friend and partner of a strange fellow of a very different sort, but equally a close acquaintance of Hitler: Father Bernhard Stempfle. This Stempfle belonged to the Catholic order of St. Jerome; by profession he was an anti-Semitic journalist, a political conspirator-all in all, an armed bohemian in priest's robes. [Der Fuehrer, p. 385]
A few days after the German bank crash, Brüning had a conversation with Hermann Göring; he tried to persuade Göring to influence his party to moderate attacks on the government; otherwise Germany would be ruined. Formally Göring may have given a sharp answer; but events ran their course. Catholic bishops had excluded National Socialists from worship because Rosenberg's utterances compelled them to regard the party as anti-Christian; the whole Catholic press carried on an impassioned fight against 'positive Christianity/' But the Catholic Church, which had already reached an understanding with Italian Fascism (1929), could not ignore the fact that National Socialism officially combated Bolshevism and actually embodied strong anti-Bolshevist forces. In August, 1031, Göring went to Rome and was received by Cardinal Pacelli, the Pope's secretary of state (the future Pope Pius XII); he attempted to dispel the Vatican's poor opinion of National Socialism.[ Der Fuehrer, p. 424]
In 1931 [Goebbels and Magda Quandt] married, without the blessing of the Catholic Church to which they both belonged. [Der Fuehrer, p. 438]
[ Home | Essays | Was Hitler a Christian? Page ]