The Ambassador in Germany (Dodd) to the Acting Secretary of State

No. 284

Sir: In continuation of my despatch No. 274 of November 16, 1933, I have the honor to report that the new conflict in the German Evangelical Church, which became acute as a result of the ultra-radical demands put forward at the demonstration of the “German Christians” in the Sportpalast in Berlin on November 13, has taken an unexpected turn. For the first time the Nazi Gleichschaltung steamroller, which has crushed all opposition in practically every other branch of German national life without notable resistance, has struck a formidable obstacle.

In order to prevent a schism occurring in the Church as a result of vigorous and decisive demands submitted by some 3000 pastors who have bound themselves by a “Covenant of Resistance” to resist interference of the State with the exercise of a free religious conscience and the attempts to impose the Aryan paragraph upon the Church, Reich Bishop Müller was constrained to make important concessions. His public statement in which he sharply denounced the resolution passed at the meeting in the Sportpalast was followed by the suspension from all ecclesiastical offices of Dr. Krause, the head of the Berlin branch of the “German Christians”.

A more important concession to the moderate clergymen was the promulgation of a Church law suspending, until the promulgation of a general law governing the policies of the new Evangelical Church, all legislation enacted by the regional Churches since January 1, 1933, governing the legal status of their clergy and other officials. In practice this law suspends for the time being the application of the Aryan paragraph adopted by the old Prussian union and other regional Churches. It does not, however, affect action already taken by the regional Churches in pursuance of the foregoing. The orders dismissing clergymen and Church officials on racial or political grounds issued before the enactment of this law remain in effect, but all pending proceedings are cancelled.

The fact that this law was passed unanimously by the Clerical Ministry (see despatch No. 174 of September 30, 1933) of which Dr. Hossenfelder, the Bishop of Berlin-Brandenburg, who only recently ordered the Prussian Church Council to enforce the Aryan paragraph in Prussia, is a member, shows the difficult position into which this militant leader of the “German Christians” has maneuvered himself.

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The ultimatum submitted by the opposition pastors included a demand for the removal of Bishop Hossenfelder and other leaders of the “German Christians” who were present at the meeting in the Sportpalast. By reversing his stand on the Aryan question, Bishop Hossenfelder is apparently seeking to save his own jeopardized position in the Church. Whether or not this sudden change of front will enable Reich Bishop Müller to resist successfully the demand for the dismissal of his principal henchman remains to be seen.

Bishop Hossenfelder enjoys a large measure of popularity in the Nazi Storm Detachments. He was the moving spirit in the successful campaign of the Nazi extremists in the Evangelical Church against Dr. von Bodelschwingh, the moderate leader who was first nominated as Reich Bishop. The present Primate of the Reich Evangelical Church owes his position in large measure to Hossenfelder’s militant tactics. Under these circumstances it is only natural that Bishop Müller should be reluctant to sacrifice Hossenfelder.

Apparently in order to gain time, Bishop Müller has instituted an investigation of the complaints against Bishop Hossenfelder and other leaders of the “German Christians”. He even went so far as to promise the suppression of the “German Christians” if the league of opposition pastors agreed to dissolve itself. This was flatly refused, the representatives of the league declaring that they had risked their lives for the true faith, whereas the “German Christians” and the high Church officials who applauded Dr. Krause’s heretical demands had betrayed Christianity.

Contending that Bishop Müller’s present efforts to protect the pure doctrine of the Church would be without avail so long as Bishop Hossenfelder and other Nazi extremists remained in high ecclesiastical offices, the opposition pastors proceeded to carry out their plan, as threatened in their ultimatum to the Reich Bishop, to read from their pulpits a declaration to their congregations explaining their standpoint and the reason for their insistence on the dismissal of the “German Christian” leaders who condoned the heretical views put forward at the meeting in the Sportpalast. They reasserted their acknowledgment of the Bible, the Old and New Testament, as the one and only guide of their life, and concluded by an appeal to their congregations to hold firmly together against heretical influences.

While this declaration which-was read last Sunday—the day on which the 450th anniversary of Martin Luther’s birth was commemorated in Germany—contained no direct reference to a schism, its general tenor would seem to indicate that the opposition pastors are determined to break away from the Church, if necessary, rather than submit further to certain Nazi ecclesiastical authorities.

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The league of opposition clergy represents Protestant communities in all parts of Germany. It is of interest, however, that the most vigorous opposition to the Nazi extremists in the Reich Evangelical Church comes from Protestant communities in certain sections of Germany which have a predominantly Catholic population, notably Bavaria and the Rhineland. On the other hand, the Protestant population in Eastern Germany is considered fertile ground for Nazi fanatics who wish to establish a purely Germanic religion.

These ultra-radicals seem to have much in common with the “German Faith Movement” headed by Count Reventlow and Professor Hauer of the University at Tübingen. This movement is striving for a revival of old Germanic mythology as the basis of a new Germanic religion with a purely German and Nordic god like Wotan. Before Hitler’s accession to power these Wotan worshipers formed a small and little known sect. Since then, however, they have been steadily growing in numbers and now claim a membership of about 100,000. It is understood that they are seeking State recognition as a religion on an equal footing with the Catholic and Protestant Churches and, according to some of their leaders, Chancellor Hitler is willing to give them full rights as a Church.

To what extent this movement has already taken root in Germany may be seen by certain utterances and actions by Nazi Church dignitaries. The Bishop of Brunswick is reported to have blessed the dead for their entry into Valhalla. Bishop Hossenfelder spoke of Horst Wessel’s Storm Detachments in Heaven. At a convention of “German Christians” in Saalfeld, Churchwarden Leutheusser declared: “We have but one task; and that is, to become Germans—not Christians.” The same Church dignitary referred to Hitler as the “Saviour” of all Germans. This tendency was perhaps most strikingly expressed by Baldur von Schirach, the Nazi head of the German Youth Organization, in these words: “I am neither Catholic nor Protestant; I believe only in Germany!”

With reference to the religious situation in Bavaria, the Department’s attention is invited to despatch No. 132 of November 22, 1933, addressed to the Embassy by the Consul General in Munich, a copy of which has been sent by him to Washington.89

Respectfully yours,

William E. Dodd
  1. Not found in Department files.