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

No. 2674

Sir: I have the honor to report on current developments affecting the situation of the German churches.

The Protestant Church question may be quickly disposed of by stating that after many delays and further attempts by Church Minister Kerrl to negotiate a settlement of the dispute, the Reich Synod of the Confessional Church has finally been set for the beginning of next week, February 18 and 19 (see Embassy’s despatch No. 2622 of January 23, 1936).

The National Socialists have momentarily diverted their attention from the opposition Protestant pastors to the Catholics. As the Consul General in Munich relates in his report No. 214 of February 7, 1936,41 a copy of which it is noted was forwarded to the Department, the National Socialist opponents of the Confessional schools were able, by pressure and methods little short of terrorism, to win an astonishing success in Munich where registrations in the Confessional schools fell as compared with last year’s results from 65.45 percent of the total number of registrations to 34.89 percent this year, this being the first time that the Confessional schools had yielded a majority of pupils to the Gemeinschaft schools.

As is now well known more drastic measures were employed in Düsseldorf to carry forward the anti-Catholic campaign. The Consul in Cologne reports that over the week end of February 9, 30 clergymen in the Cologne district were taken into custody together with an unknown number (rumored to be as high as 150) of lay leaders of the Catholic youth organizations throughout Germany. The clergymen, it is stated, are being held incommunicado and their whereabouts and welfare are unknown. The arrests are believed to have been caused by the action of certain Catholic youth leaders in circulating copies of a draft law, which they are accused of having obtained illegally, providing for the compulsory teaching of anti-Catholic doctrines in the schools.

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The views of a high Catholic authority as reported by the Consul in Cologne may be of interest:

“The present relations between the Church and the State, my informant said, was not unsimilar to the ‘Kulturkampf’ of Bismarck’s era. One of the differences was that Hitler had told the Cardinal personally that he, unlike Bismarck, did not hold with the ‘Pagan religion’ or with the anti-Catholic attacks. Likewise, only as late as November 30, Dr. Goebbels42 was sent by the Chancellor to the Cardinal with an offer to conclude peace with the Church. My informant said that he knew positively that the Cardinal had replied in the affirmative and asked that each party appoint a commission to negotiate the terms. However, since that date the Cardinal was stated not to have heard anything more about it, but on the contrary, the attacks on the Church had increased. My informant was of the opinion that the Chancellor himself desired peace with the Church, but that he was a victim of his own surroundings and was helpless in this as in other matters. He referred to the article in the London Times of February 11, containing a report of the sermon delivered a few days ago in Munich by the Cardinal of Bavaria, in which the Nazis were taken to task for their attacks on the Church and on the Pope. My informant added that the Bishop of Muenster likewise had delivered a sermon last Sunday which, if anything, was even more audacious in defying the Nazis, and that as a result the arrest of the Bishop was expected at any moment. I received the impression that the Muenster attack on the Nazis was delivered as a test case. My informant added, however, that the Church would not allow itself to be provoked into a physical resistance to the authorities, as it did not wish to give the present regime the excuse to undertake actions which were not of interest to either the State of [or] the Church, although he had the feeling that the public would rally to the support of the Church.”

These statements confirm rather than clarify the confusion apparently prevailing in both the Catholic and National Socialist camps. While Cardinal Schulte is generally believed to favor conciliation, Cardinal Faulhaber and the Bishop of Muenster put themselves in the posture of preaching resistance, and while Hitler and Goebbels make gestures of peace, the arrests of Catholics multiply. Apparently the only consistent theme in the drama is the effort of the Secret Police and local Party enthusiasts to break the last vestige of Catholic political influence by doing everything in their power to bring discredit upon the Catholic cause. The famous currency smuggling cases are now entering upon the thirtieth trial and in addition to the Düsseldorf affair, the German press has reported, particularly during the last two weeks, arrests of a number of other Catholic priests and lay leaders on political charges. An event of particular significance was the trial last week, evidently the first of its kind, of a priest from [Page 165] Dresden before the People’s Court; although evidence failed to substantiate the proferred [preferred?] charge of high treason, the priest was given the maximum penalty of two years penal servitude for spreading Greuel-propaganda, or malicious rumors.

In the meantime the negotiations between Church Minister Kerrl and the Catholic authorities concerning the manner of application of the Concordat have once again broken down. It is generally believed that the material for the Düsseldorf case had been in the hands of the police for some time and that the arrests were only sprung after the Catholic negotiators had refused to accept the conditions of the State. Such a result would only yield proof of the theory that so much has happened to compromise the position of the Catholics since they themselves broke off the negotiations following the loss of some of their political leaders in the June 30 clean-up,43 that they are now hardly in a position to carry through their demands respecting the application of the Concordat.

It is understood that the Catholic authorities are attempting to deal with the present situation through diplomatic channels and that the Papal Nuncio has twice called at the Foreign Office within the last few days. Owing to the extreme caution being employed on both sides, it is impossible to say what course the discussions have followed or how far they have developed.

Respectfully yours,

William E. Dodd
  1. Not found in Department files.
  2. Joseph Goebbels, German Minister for National Enlightenment and Propaganda.
  3. The Nazi purge of June 30, 1934.