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

No. 338

Sir: In continuation of section 2 of Despatch No. 312 of December 4, 1933,90 and with special reference to Despatch No. 284 of November 23, 1933, I have the honor to report that Reich Bishop Müller has been making unsuccessful efforts to put an end to the conflict in the German Evangelical Church caused by the efforts of Nazi extremists to change the doctrines of the Church and the unexpectedly vigorous opposition thereto made by the orthodox pastors.

At this stage of the conflict, four active groups in the recently “unified” German Evangelical Church are clearly distinguishable: (1) The Nazi Extremists headed by Dr. Krause; (2) The German Christians in Thuringia; (3) The main group of the German Christians under Hossenfelder’s leadership; and (4) The Pastor’s Emergency League.

The immediate occasion for the present conflict in the Church was furnished by the radical demands made by the Nazi extremists. From all indications, this group of ultra radicals which is headed by Dr. Krause (see Despatch No. 284) is apparently determined to continue its campaign for a new Germanic religion which, as pointed out in the despatch last mentioned, seems to have much in common with the ancient Teutonic mythology.

The German Christians in Thuringia seceded from the German Christians in the Reich because Reich Bishop Müller and Bishop Hossenfelder made concessions to the orthodox pastors. These Thuringian secessionists are in sympathy with the Nazi Extremists headed by Dr. Krause. Contending that in Hitler’s Third Reich there is no room for Protestants and Catholics, they demand the formation of a national German Church embracing all Christian denominations.

The German Christians, who still accept Bishop Hossenfelder’s leadership, desire Nazi control of the Reich Evangelical Church and the application of the Aryan principle. This group is in sympathy with Reich Bishop Müller, who, while rejecting a conglomeration of Christianity and Nordic heathenism, is in favor of the Aryan paragraph in the Church, on the ground that Christianity was not born of Judaism but out of the struggle against Judaism. This point is vigorously rejected by the orthodox pastors and by prominent Catholic bishops.

The Pastors’ Emergency League, under the leadership of Pastor Niemöller, a former naval officer of distinction, who commanded a [Page 309] submarine during the war, is opposed to all spiritual coercion and especially the attempts to impose the Aryan paragraph upon the Church. The courageous fight which this league has been conducting against the heretical ideas of the extremists has won for it widespread sympathy and support among the moderate elements in the Church. A large number of well-known theologians who at first supported Hossenfelder’s German Christian movement have now joined forces with the Pastors’ Emergency League. It is also upheld by German Christians in Bavaria and Württemberg, who have refused to follow Bishop Hossenfelder any longer, as well as by the Bishops of the Evangelical Church in Bavaria, Württemberg, Hesse, The Palatinate, and Baden.

As a result of the growing opposition, Bishop Hossenfelder’s position became untenable, and he finally resigned, under circumstances which are not clear, as a member of the Clerical Ministry—the principal body in the Reich administration of the Evangelical Church (see Despatch No. 174 of September 30, 1933). Twenty-four hours after his resignation had been made public, it was announced that the whole Clerical Ministry had resigned. However, Hossenfelder’s elimination from the Reich administration of the Church came too late to be of tactical value to Reich Bishop Müller. Encouraged by the growing support in most parts of Germany, the Pastors’ Emergency League demanded that only men enjoying the confidence of the Church parishes should be appointed to the new Clerical Ministry.

According to the new Church Constitution, the regional churches submit the names of candidates from which the Reich Bishop can choose the four members of the Clerical Ministry. The regional churches, however, submitted a joint list for all four seats in that Ministry, representing, as the Church Constitution provides, the Lutherans, the Unionists, and the Reformists, and one jurist. This proposal was submitted in the form of an ultimatum and was therefore rejected by Dr. Müller on the ground that it left him no choice in the matter and was therefore contrary to the Nazi principle of leadership.

The Bishop then appointed men of his own choice: Dr. Lauerer (Lutheran), Dr. Weber (Reformist), and Dr. Bayer (Unionist). The appointment of a jurist was postponed. The moderates contend, however, that by ignoring the nomination submitted by the regional churches Bishop Müller violated the Church Constitution. A formal protest against his appointments was submitted to the Reich Minister of the Interior. However, two of the newly appointed members (the Lutheran and the Reformist) soon resigned under pressure of their respective churches, and it is understood that the Reich Bishop is contemplating the formation of another Clerical Ministry.

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The Department will recall that Dr. Müller was the patron of the German Christian movement headed by the militant Bishop Hossenfelder. One of the demands submitted by the Pastors’ Emergency League was that the former should sever his connections with the German Christians. Although he at first flatly refused to yield to ultimatums, his own position became so precarious that he has now openly complied, basing his action on a Church law passed by the new Clerical Ministry on December 4, 1933, which prohibits members of this body, as well as other officials of the Church administration, from belonging to church organizations, groups, and movements concerned with church politics. The purpose of this law was apparently to save the new Clerical Ministry. However, as the prompt resignation of two of the newly appointed members of this body showed, it failed to appease the orthodox pastors.

That the situation has taken a decidedly unfavorable turn for the German Christians is further manifested by an official announcement, to the effect that Chancellor Hitler, whose personal influence was in large measure responsible for Müller’s appointment as Reich Bishop, has expressly forbidden the Government authorities to interfere in the Church conflict. Hitler’s action was taken presumably in anticipation of reported attempts by the Prussian authorities to intervene in support of Bishop Hossenfelder’s German Christians. The present attitude of the Government is in marked contrast to its actions during the Church conflict last summer, when the Prussian authorities appointed Nazi commissars to expedite the Nazification of the Evangelical Church and openly supported the German Christians in their campaign against von Bodelschwingh, who was first nominated as Reich Bishop. (See Despatch No. 2450 [2456?] of June 2, 1933.)

Bishop Müller is now attempting to settle the conflict with the aid of an arbitration committee appointed by the Clerical Ministry. Whether or not a satisfactory solution can still be reached is open to doubt. It is not even certain whether Reich Bishop Müller will remain Primate of the Evangelical Church, as the orthodox pastors may even go so far as to challenge his election by the National Synod at Wittenberg, in September, on the ground that this body was constituted by the German Christians, whose victory in the Church election last summer was achieved by high-handed methods. (See Despatch No. 26 of July 27, 193391).

It should not be assumed, however, that the growing opposition to the German Christians is necessarily directed against the National-Socialist Party or against the Hitler regime, although the Embassy has heard that the orthodox group is receiving support from monarchist members [Page 311] of the former Nationalist Party. The present struggle in the Evangelical Church appears to be principally doctrinal in character. Many German Christians who have now allied themselves with the orthodox pastors in opposing the Nazi extremists in the Church are still avowed National Socialists. According to present indications, a victory by the moderate elements in the Church over the radicals is not likely to have any perceptibly adverse effects on the Hitler regime.

Respectfully yours,

William E. Dodd
  1. Section 2 of despatch No. 312 not printed; for an extract of the despatch, see p. 234.
  2. Not printed.