Help for Heroes

Cross and Swastika: The Nazi Party and the German Churches

To what extent did Christians support Hitler, and for what reasons?

When considering the relationship between the Nazis and the Christian Churches, it could be assumed that it would be one of barely concealed hostility. Many of the fundamental beliefs of the Nazis should have proved abhorrent to the Christian Churches of Germany. Nazism was a movement based on strength, military might, racial hatred and intolerance towards any forms of weakness. This contrasted starkly with Christianity’s espousal of forgiveness, love, charity and humility. Hitler himself condemned the Christian faith by scathingly remarking that, ‘taken to its logical conclusion, Christianity would mean the systematic cultivation of human failure’. So it would seem natural that the Christian Churches would stand up against the Nazi regime and resist it as resolutely as possible. In reality, however, the relationship between the Nazis and the Churches was much more ambiguous.

Of course, there were Christians who resisted the Nazis and who often paid for their bravery with their lives. In 1941 Archbishop Galen, the Catholic Archbishop of Munster, spoke out against the Nazi policy of Euthanasia. The ensuing storm of criticism from Catholics led to Hitler halting the killings of handicapped Germans, although approximately 70,000 had already perished. Martin Niemöller, who opposed the takeover of the Protestant Churches by the Nazis, spent many years in various concentration camps from 1937 until the end of the war. A Protestant pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, emerged as one of the leading resistors to the Nazi regime. He forged contacts with the British during the war and also communicated with other resistance groups, such as the Kreisau Circle, in an attempt to facilitate the overthrow of Hitler. He was arrested in 1943 and executed in April 1945. Numerous other priests and ministers spoke out against the Nazis, and 400 Catholic priests were incarcerated in Dachau concentration camp alone by 1945.

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