The Chargé in Germany (Gordon) to the Secretary of State

No. 2319

Sir: I have the honor to report that the question of Gleichschaltung (see despatch No. 2287 of April 6, 193380) has now been extended to the relation of the Church to the State. In this connection, an intense dispute has broken out in evangelical church circles. The interesting thing about this dispute is that the heads of the evangelical church, who until a few months ago were the target for attacks from Left political circles because of their lukewarm attitude toward the Republic, are now being attacked most violently by the “German Christians,” the Nazi organization within the evangelical church.

The “German Christians” want a State church headed by Nazis, and with this end in view they are striving to force out the present heads of the evangelical church, who are largely conservatives and monarchists. In Prussia, they are demanding the revocation of the present Constitution of the evangelical churches and the calling of a new constitutional assembly for the purpose of adopting a Constitution in uniformity with the political complexion of the Government. The conflict [Page 293] is extremely bitter because the present heads of the evangelical church are energetically opposed to a State church controlled by the Nazis.

At their first national convention held in Berlin early this month, the “German Christians” passed a resolution to the effect that the State needed the church as an instrument to educate the people and to inculcate in them the spirit of the new State, and that the church must therefore be made uniform with the Government in the Reich. They contend that this can not be accomplished merely by replacing the present heads of the evangelical church with Nazis, and demand the abolition of the present church parliamentary bodies based on a democratic Constitution. They have in mind a uniform State church headed by a bishop.

The Nazis want a thoroughly “Germanized Christianity”. The church envisaged by them would be based on “the trinity of the divine creation of state, nation and race,” and would be imbued with an “heroic” godliness. In line with this, they demand that the church revise its attitude towards the Old Testament, which they wish replaced by the old sagas and legends immortalized in the Wagnerian operas, and that the Bible be also revised in accordance with this new spirit of Christianity. Needless to say, the new church, like the state, must expressly uphold the principle of racial purity. The heads of the church must not only be politically acceptable to the Nazis, they must also be of pure Aryan origin. Members of the evangelical church who marry a non-Aryan are to be expelled. The present church tax is to be abolished and, instead of this tax, a state cultural tax is to be introduced, with which other institutions as well as the churches are to be financed.

The “German Christians” believe in the training of youth by the state, and it is planned to assign this function in large measure to the new state church. They apparently have in mind organizations of the evangelical German youth which would in effect be ecclesiastical storm detachments imbued with a militaristic spirit, from which members for the regular storm detachments could later be recruited. In order to expedite matters, the Nazis are urging the appointment of state commissioners to be charged with the task of reorganizing the church.

The head of the “German Christians,” Nazi pastor Hossenfelder, who performed the services at the state burial of a member of a Nazi Storm Detachment in Berlin who was shot by Communists after the torchlight procession in honor of Hitler’s appointment to the Chancellorship (see despatch No. 2178 of February 7, 1933, page 381), has been assigned to the Prussian Ministry of Education, in charge of the preliminary work. This appointment is looked upon with misgivings by the present heads of the church. Pastor Hossenfelder is a rabid Nazi and at the recent [Page 294] convention of the “German Christians” he openly declared that a pious Protestant has the right to revolt against church authorities who are reluctant to recognize the victory of the national revolution.

In anticipation of a reorganization of the evangelical church by the Nazis, the Supreme Council of the Evangelical Church is itself taking steps for a reorganization, in order to prevent the church from becoming a purely Nazi institution. It has also appealed to the Reich Government, pointing out that in his speech at Potsdam, Chancellor Hitler recognized the existence and independence of the church and that the demands of the “German Christians” are incompatible with this standpoint. However, the “German Christians” appear determined to thwart any attempt to reorganize the church along lines that would not give complete control to the Nazis. By withholding appropriations and the confirmation of appointments of new heads of the church, the Nazicontrolled Government in Prussia is in a position, on the basis of the existing agreement between the church and the Prussian State, to exert the necessary pressure in order to achieve this end. A threat to this effect has already been made by Herr Kube, the leader of the Nazi delegation in the Prussian Diet.

While the Gleichschaltung of the Protestant churches in Germany may be a comparatively easy matter, despite the vigorous resistance by the present heads of the church—and even here the possibility that certain groups may secede from the church should not be disregarded—the appointment of state commissioners for the Catholic church is certain to meet with great difficulty. Though the Catholics have shown a willingness to cooperate with the present régime in the Reich, it is inconceivable that they should agree to any infringement of Papal influence. The concordats concluded between the various German States and the Holy See constitute a serious obstacle to the application of the Gleichschaltung principle to the Catholic church. Vice Chancellor von Papen’s recent visit to Rome may have some bearing on the present attempts of the Nazis to obtain control of the churches.

Respectfully yours,

George A. Gordon
  1. Ante, p. 270.
  2. Not printed.