National Bishop Friedrich Coch is pictured here giving a Hitler salute greeting in Dresden, 10 December 1933.
Dresden pastor Friedrich Coch was one of the leading men of the “German Christians” in Saxony.
The Nazi Party Gau consultant for church matters since 1932, he was elected to the office of state bishop by the “Brown Synod” of the German Protestant churches in August 1933. Most German Protestants either actively supported Hitler and the Nazis or else kept quiet. In stark contrast to the Roman Catholic Church, almost none made any protest about the Nazi holocaust against the Jews.
Nevertheless, many today claim the right to attack the Catholic Church for not doing enough and especially Pope Pius XII, despite the fact that he saved over 800,000 Jewish lives, more than all other agencies put together.
Such is the hypocrisy of many modern commentators that they have no desire even to find out the true facts about this issue.
When Hitler decided to create a national bishop for the Protestant confessions, the reaction of German Protestant church leaders was positively ecstatic, witness this message:
“Through God's intercession, our beloved German Fatherland has experienced a mighty exaltation. In this turning point in history we hear, as faithful evangelical Christians, the call of God to a closing of ranks and a return, the call also for a single German Evangelical Church .... The Confessions are its unalterable basis .... A national bishop of the Lutheran confession stands at its head .... Christ comes again and brings an eternal completion in the majesty of His Kingdom”.
[Zabel, James A., Nazism and the Pastors: A Study of the Ideas of Three Deutsche Christen Groups. Missoula, Mont. 1976. P.28]
In this, the Protestants saw the hand of God at work in Germany. He was calling the churches back to their old place and task in the midst of the nation.
The Fuehrer was popular among Protestants and it was in traditionally Protestant areas that he had secure his largest vote in contradistinction to the Roman Catholic areas, where he secured his lowest vote (save Berlin where Socialists kept the Nazi vote down).
Provincial churches united and synod after synod voiced its approval of a national church under one bishop. Dissent was virtually non-existent.
There was no excuse for this mass approval of Nazism by the German Protestants. It was a grotesque national and international betrayal of the principles of Christ. They were fully aware of Hitler's ideology and aims: he had revealed much of them in his autobiography Mein Kampf, published in the twenties.
Long before January 1933, when Hitler became chancellor, Protestant groups had become widespread in Germany which attempted to combine Christianity with the type of paganism that the Nazis espoused. In 1932, that is, before Hitler became chancellor, a number of these groups had united in what came to be known as the movement of the "German Christians" (Deutsche Christen).
This movement espoused the Nazi party's "positive Christianity" - devised by the odious Nazi ideologue, Alfred Rosenberg - stressing nationalism and the state.
It was especially these "German Christians" who pushed for a national church under one bishop and one Fuehrer. Once Hitler consolidated his power in the course of 1933, their influence grew tremendously. They had members in every provincial church-governing body and were openly supported by members of the Nazi party, many of whom now joined this Protestant national church.
wearing the "NSDAP-Hoheitsabzeichen" (Nazi Eagle party badge) and Feldschnalle (ribbons).
Hitler appointed Ludwig Mueller as bishop. In November 1933 a meeting of 20,000 "German Christians" took place in the Sports Palace, Berlin. The meeting opened with Luther's "A Mighty Fortress” and speeches as well as resolutions were outspoken in their anti-Semitism. The Jewish elements of Christianity must be discarded; the "Rabbi Paul" was to be rejected; the Bible was to be purged of all Jewish influences. Only one person out of the 20,000 cast a negative vote.
Many from the German “Christian” movement went on to become Hitler’s willing tools in the oppression of subject nations and the extermination of Jews.
So outspokenly pro-Nazi were these German “Christians” that the Nazi Party had to disavow them publicly for fear of a reaction. Even Bishop Mueller disavowed them.
Toward the end of December Bishop Mueller signed an agreement with Baldur von Shirach, the Hitler Youth leader, whereby some 700,000 members of the Evangelical Youth Organization were transferred to the Hitler Youth.
Where were the protests from German Protestants at Nazism and Hitler?
There were very, very few. Martin Niemoller, and then later Dietrich Boenhoeffer and Karl Barth (who was, in fact, Swiss, not German) are among the few names that come down to us. Later – much later – there was the Kreisau circle which numbered a few aristocratic Protestants as well as Catholics and those without any specific faith.
And that was about it!
Even then, Niemoeller’s "Pastors' Emergency League" avoided any confrontation with the state, and the exclusion of Aryans was only rejected "in the area of the Church of Christ" and not in the state or society at large!
Moreover, Niemoller was a Hitler supporter to start, despite what the Nazi leader had written in Mein Kampf.
"I really believed...that Jews should avoid aspiring to Government positions or seats in the Reichstag. There were many Jews, especially among the Zionists, who took a similar stand. Hitler's assurance satisfied me at the time. On the other hand, I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while".
Niemoller was later imprisoned but survived the war and became a pacifist peacenik - too little, too late and even then, wrong-headed. Pacifism is not the answer but early opposition to evil - fighting it, if necessary.
Hans and Sophie Scholl of the "White Rose" movement did so. They were originally Protestant Christians but, unlike the vast majority, they fought the evil - and were guillotined by the Gestapo, true martyrs.
Inge Scholl, the sister of Hans and Sophie, became a Roman Catholic and she, and other authors, say that Hans and Sophie died as Catholics (see: Schüler, Barbara. "Im Geiste der Gemordeten...": Die 'Weiße Rose' und ihre Wirkung in der Nachkriegszeit. Paderborn, Germany: Ferdinand Schöningh, 2000).
Niemoller never protested the deportation and murder of the Jews.
These young people, with outstanding courage, defied the Nazis and were executed by guillotine.
Few pastors joined the League – another indication of the pro-Nazi stance in the Protestant churches. Even so, loyalty toward the regime was carefully observed by the League. When in October 1933 Hitler ended Germany's membership of the League of Nations, everyone cheered, including the Pastors' Emergency League, which sent a congratulatory message to the Fuehrer assuring him of the members' support!
The Barmen Declaration which had been written by Karl Barth and two Lutheran theologians, which represented but a tiny minority, and was the idea of Karl Barth, a Swiss not a German, was not a political manifesto and it avoided political issues, Nazism was not expressly rejected and Hitler's crimes were not mentioned.
Not a word was said, for example, about the Jews.
This was a terrible omission in many of the pre-Barmen declarations as well as in Barmen itself.
The Jewish question does not seem to have interested Barth overmuch. Much later, he himself admitted that. In a letter written in May 1967 to Bonhoeffer's biographer, he stated:
“I myself have long felt guilty that I did not make this problem [the Jewish question] central, at least in public, in the two Barmen declarations of 1934 which I composed. In 1934, certainly, a text in which I said a word to that effect would not have found general agreement either in the Reformed Synod of January 1934 or in the General Synod of May at Barmen - if one considers the state of mind of the confessors of faith in those days. But that I was caught up in my own affairs somewhere else is no excuse for my not having properly fought for this cause."
[E. Bethge, "Troubled Self-Interpretation . . . " in The German Church Struggle and the Holocaust. P.67.]
Indeed, the Protestant churches in Germany simply ignored or avoided the Jewish question.
The Barmen authors were only concerned to preserve the purity of the church's doctrine. The vast majority of the Protestant clergy constantly hampered the efforts of anyone who tried to rouse them to resist the evils of the regime.
The stubborn Lutheran tradition of obedience to the ruling powers ensured that German Protestants willingly collaborated with the evil Nazi regime and formed a very significant section of the nation that helped carry out Hitler’s evil plans.
After the war, in October 1945, the Stuttgart Manifesto was published wherein the German Protestant churches were forced to express their guilty collaboration with the Nazi regime:
"With great pain we say: through us, infinite suffering has been brought upon many peoples and countries."
Shame, shame, shame upon those Protestants who now attack the Catholic Church and, in particular, Pope Pius XII, who saved over 800,000 Jewish lives, in stark contrast to the Protestant leaders who, instead, actively collaborated with the diabolically evil, pagan and murderous Nazi regime.