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

No. 2493

Sir: With reference to the Embassy’s despatch No. 2421 of October 29, 1935,26 and the Embassy’s telegram No. 215 of November 5, 10 a.m., I have the honor to report that the relations of the government with both the Protestant and Catholic Churches remain in a state of unrelieved confusion which is, however, fraught with significant incidents.

Among the Protestants, interest centers upon the apparent efforts of Church Minister Kerrl to “scrap” the regime of Reichsbishop Müller who, it now seems to be realized, must be eliminated before there can be any prospect of ecclesiastical peace. The Bishop has not only been deprived of his office and secretariat but also, it is understood, of his car and various allowances. Routine ordinances in the Church Law Gazette are now pointedly signed by Superintendent Zöllner, head of Kerrl’s new Reich Church Committee, instead of by Müller as formerly. It is learned that Müller’s German Christian followers recently instituted an informal “straw-vote” asking Church-goers if [Page 373] they believed in a “nationalist Church,” the Müller group evidently hoping by the vague form in which the question was put to gain an affirmative vote which would recoup their fortunes. Dr Zöllner has now issued an ordinance disassociating the Church Committee from the vote and declaring it without legal standing. Steps have also been taken against Dr. Dietrich, Bishop of Hesse and one of Müller’s more radical German Christian subalterns, in the transfer of his powers to a regional Church committee.

These developments do not imply, however, that the Confessional opposition has had everything its own way, as Party extremists, acting through the Secret Police and possibly forcing the acquiescence of Kerrl, seem to have been engaged in harassing the Confessionals wherever possible. In addition to forbidding the opening of a theological course in Dahlem (as reported in the Embassy’s telegram under reference), the Secret Police a few days later, on November 5, raided a girls’ school in the same parish and interrogated the students upon their belief in the Bible. Although the Confessional theological courses have not been generally forbidden, it is said that officials of the Secret Police occasionally insist upon attending, evidently hoping by their presence to discourage continuance of the work. A measure that obviously will affect the Confessionals most was announced in the Berliner Tageblatt of November 22 which reported that the Württemberg authorities have called upon all school teachers to resign their membership in whatever Evangelical association to which they may belong.

The Confessionals appear to be replying to coercion with further resistance. On November 20, the Day of Repentance and Prayer, which is a national festival, a forceful declaration, drafted by the Prussian Council of Brethren (Brüderrat), was read from the pulpits of member churches.

[Here follows quotation of part of this document as printed in the London Times of November 22, 1935.]

It is stated on good authority that on the same occasion the intrepid Parson Niemöller of Dahlem delivered a particularly strong address. Choosing as his text, “Brother, why hast thou forsaken me?” he is understood to have advocated the formation of “cells for honest talking” and to have protested against the conspiracy of silence paralysing the Church in the present crisis.

In the same issue of November 22, the London Times, which is known to have unexcelled source in a high Church official, reported that the Pastors Emergency League (Pfarrernotbund), the Confessional organization of mutual assistance, has gained recently in membership and now includes some 9,000 out of a total of about 16,000 Evangelical pastors in Germany. The Confessional seminaries are also reported [Page 374] to be well attended although the teachers are no longer recognized by the State and the students know that the terms spent there are not allowed to count as part of the prescribed ecclesiastical training. The leaders of the Church of the Old Prussian Union appear at any rate to be determined to resist governmental interference at all costs and it is learned confidentially that the Prussian Brüderrat, during a recent interval when the Lutheran Bishop Marahrens of Hanover seemed to be wavering in his stand of resistance, adopted a vote of lack of confidence in him as head of the Confessional National Provisional Administration. Owing to the small majority by which the vote was taken it was agreed that the decision should not be regarded as having binding force or be publicly announced.

With respect to the Catholic Church, it is now admitted in Berlin, as first reported by the Consul General in Munich in his report No. 203 of November 19, 1935,27 that discussions are being held between Catholic authorities and Minister Kerrl. The negotiations are understood, however, to be proceeding sporadically and their outcome, in view of recent events which have been in the public eye, is generally considered somewhat problematical. For one thing, the government has acted with greater austerity against delinquent clergy, convictions being obtained for such offenses as failure to display a swastika flag upon a church on a State occasion (for which a Berlin priest was fined 50 marks on November 21), persuading boys not to join the Hitler Youth (for which a priest in Cologne was sentenced to 8 months in prison on November 12), and repeating remarks heard from a foreign radio station (for which a priest in Blankensrath in the Rhine-land was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment and his sister to five months). In addition to these cases, to mention only a few, there is the long string of currency smuggling trials which reached a high point last week in the proceedings in the case of the Bishop of Meissen in Moabit prison in Berlin. The political implications, which are likely to endure for some time, were brought into the trial itself by the State Attorney who claimed that if the government still had at its disposal all the foreign exchange lost through the “cloister smugglers” there would now be no butter shortage. Pleading ignorance of financial matters owing to his absorption in the “cure of souls,” the Bishop eventually escaped with a fine of 100,000 marks, 40,000 of which was remitted because of his stay in prison while awaiting trial, but the Bishop’s brother and his Vicar, Dr. Soppa, were not so fortunate and received penitentiary terms of respectively five and three years and heavy fines in addition.

Although the guilt of the last two in particular seems to have been fairly well established to the charge of causing the transfer of some [Page 375] 140,000 marks to Holland through the “bank” of the notorious Dr. Hofius, Catholics are evidently convinced that the accused were treated unjustly. This impression seems to have been spread by the Catholic authorities themselves and it is probably in this connection that Dr. Bannasch and his secretary, of the Ordinariat of the Berlin bishopric, both of whom had instituted an “information service” on the course of the trial, were arrested last Friday. Thus, through their elaborate organization in Germany and by their own methods, the Catholics are apparently determined to fight for their interests. The State for its part shows just a firm resolution to combat Catholic opposition, and echoes of the controversy have found their way into so sedate an organ as the Deutscke-Diplomatisch-Politische Korrespondenz which remarked on November 23 that the new selection of Cardinals showed a concentration of the Romance countries and seemed to confirm the supra-national attitude and mission of the Roman Church. Another set of tactics, employed for instance by the Völkischer Beobachter on November 23, has been to point to, as an “Example for German Bishops,” the sacrifices made by Italian priests for their country’s cause in Abyssinia.

The principal reason why leaders of both Churches, and particularly the Evangelical, seem prepared to act with vigor at this juncture is that they are apparently now convinced of the anti-Christian character of Nazi-ism. The Party profession of “positive Christianity” and of a belief in God such as that put forth by S. S. Leader Himmler at the Farmers Congress at Goslar, are viewed as atheism which attempts to justify anything done in Germany’s name as being approved by God himself. This conception is utterly divorced from Christian ideas of right—or wrong—doing, and for one thing has been used to vindicate the use of brutality against the Jews. It may be held that its implications may some day be much more serious from the standpoint of international morality; invoking memories of the ex-Kaiser’s idea of a “German God,” it is a more subtle and dangerous belief as it is cloaked with Christian plausibility in the ideal of Volksgemeinschaft (the people’s community) and in the injunction that brotherly love is chiefly that which Germans owe to each other. Particularly instructive revelations of the new doctrine are to be found in the remarks of Goebbels concerning Winter Help relief and a recent speech by Church Minister Kerrl himself, both of which were reported in the Embassy’s despatch No. 2421 of October 29.28

Respectfully yours,

William E. Dodd
  1. Not printed.
  2. Not found in Department files.
  3. Not printed.