862.404/97

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

No. 1589

Sir: I have the honor to report that since the transmission of my despatch No. 1488 of November 19,74 no developments have taken place that would indicate that an era of peace is about to unite in harmony the contending groups that are dividing German Protestantism. The Confessionals are still facing a defiant Reichbishop who declines to resign, although it is reported in the foreign press that Bishop Marahrens, of Hanover, has been endeavoring, unsuccessfully, to bring peace between the German Christians and their opponents provided the retirement of Müller can be effected. In a number of instances German Christian elements have used force in order to break up church services led by opposition pastors.

The position taken by the temporal authorities appears, superficially perhaps, to harmonize with the decision said to have been reached by Hitler, namely, to assume an impartial attitude towards the conflict. An order has been issued forbidding the discussions of religious matters in public assemblies. This, it appears, does not refer to church buildings. The church periodicals of both contending parties have on various occasions been confiscated by the Government officials. Nevertheless, there is reason to believe that Müller and his ecclesiastical organization are viewed with greater favor than are his opponents. He is permitted, for instance, to insert notices in the newspapers, while this seems to be forbidden to the Confessional group. In addition the public statements of such influential men as Frick75 and Goebbels76 indicate a partiality towards the Reichbishop. Both of [Page 279]them have proclaimed in recent public addresses that the State does not want to interfere in religious affairs. This declaration, nevertheless, is severely qualified by others. Goebbels, for instance, announced in Stettin that the Church groups must not wash their dirty linen in public halls; that it was high time to unite the 28 State churches into one Reich Church; and that the hope of the Nazis that this great work could be accomplished by them has been frustrated by dogmatic hairsplitting. Frick, in a speech delivered at Wiesbaden, conceded that perhaps legal mistakes may have been made by the government of the Reich Church, but that the latter was now rebuilding its work on a firm foundation of law. He then intimated that the State might discontinue its financial assistance to the churches, that traitors and popular enemies were using the quarrels to carry on their treacherous work, and that the State would step in if necessary to stop this. Who these traitors were he did not say. It is known, however, that elements opposed to National Socialism, such as Social Democrats, Monarchists and non-Aryans are to be found in the Confessional group. Another indication of the severity exercised by the authorities is the suspension from his duties of Dr. Karl Barth, the famous theological Professor of the University of Bonn, because he desired to add to the text of the oath of unlimited allegiance to Hitler, the words, “in so far as I can conscientiously do so as an Evangelical Christian.” It is feared by the Confessional clergy that after the Saar plebescite the Government will proceed against them remorselessly and it is reported that a “black list” of their leaders has already been drawn up. As for Hitler, it is stated on reliable authority that after the Saar plebiscite is over he will decide whether Müller or the Confessionals are the stronger and then declare himself in favor of that group. In other words, he is following a policy of self-interest. According to present indications, the Confessionals are growing in strength.

A development, not without importance, which has taken place during the last month is Reichbishop Müller’s separation of the Church of the Prussian Union from the Reich Church, and his attempts to remedy the legal errors he had committed since early in the year, either through his unilateral decrees or through Jäger’s over-vigorous methods of unification. It is not quite clear what his purpose was in taking the first step, unless he meant to reestablish thereby the Church Senate which he abolished last year by unilateral action, when the Old Prussian Union was united with the Unified Evangelical Church (see despatch No. 557 of February 2077). This Senate as well as the State Bishops appointed by him have been called into session in order to help him choose a new clerical ministry by means of which he probably [Page 280]intends to enact legislation in accordance with the precepts of the Constitution of the Unified Church and to repair his former errors. No choice has been made thus far.

The Confessional Church has chosen a provisional government. Bishop Marahrens is its leader, with the title of Commissioner. He is assisted by a committee composed of three representatives of the Lutheran, Reformed and Unified Churches, as well as by a legal adviser. Reichbishop Müller has issued an order pronouncing this church government contrary to the Constitution of the Unified Church and enjoining all clergy to refrain from rendering obedience to it.

Worthy of attention in relation to the situation in the Protestant Church is the probability that such persons as Rosenberg and Hauer, with their Nordic and non-Christian German Faith Movement (see despatch No. 882 of June 178) will profit by the present disorganization. The Reichswehr is reported to be firmly opposing Hauer’s organization by refusing to accept as recruits any person connected with it. The Hitler Youth, however, is fully exposed to these peculiar racial doctrines, which are said to be making many converts among the adult population.

Respectfully yours,

J. C. White
  1. Not printed.
  2. Dr. Wilhelm F. Frick, German Minister of the Interior.
  3. Dr. Joseph Paul Goebbels, German Minister for National Enlightenment and propaganda.
  4. Not printed.
  5. Not printed.