The Nazi affect on the Churches

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Pastor Martin Niemöller, once a Nazi supporter.

Think! 

  • Why was it important for the Nazis to have control of the Church within Germany? 

 

  • How important do you think it was for Hitler to have the support of the Church within Germany?

 

  • In what ways might the Church have been able to influence the attitudes of their congregation?  

 

  • Initially many of the Church leaders supported the Nazi’s policies towards the Jews. Why might they have changed their minds after the Nazis' actions became more extreme?

The Catholic Church

In July 1933, the Nazis signed an agreement (Concordat) with the Catholic Church. The Vatican would accept the Nazi government in return for the Nazis not interfering with the Catholic Church. The Papal Nuncio, Eugenio Pacelli who signed the agreement was elected Pope Pius XII in 1939.

Pius XII remained silent throughout throughout the war although he had unrivalled knowledge of the treatment of Jews and other minorities. He did, however, attempt to save Christian converts.

This proved irrelevant because the Nazi definition of a Jew was racial and not religious. Nevertheless, certain individual priests and nuns risked everything and sometimes lost their lives saving Jews. 

The German Protestant church was split in its dealings with the Nazis. Nazi supporters became known as the German Christians, whereas opponents broke away and became known as the Confessing Church.

The ‘Confessing Church’ opposed the Nazis, but did not challenge the passing of anti-Jewish legislation. Some members encouraged Jews to convert to Christianity, but a small group did help Jews by hiding them or assisting them to escape from Germany.

From support to opposition

Initially, many leading Protestants supported the Nazis; however, when Nazi policy grew more extreme, they changed their minds.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer initially supported the Nazi actions against the Jews. However, he then spoke out against the persecution of Jewish converts to Christianity.

Pastor Martin Niemöller also initially supported the Nazis. However, he protested when Hitler appointed a Nazi as head of the Protestant Church. Niemöller survived the war despite being imprisoned by the Nazis.