862.404/185

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

No. 2949

Sir: I have the honor to report that the memorandum which, as reported in the Embassy’s despatch No. 2863 of June 4, 1936,47 was addressed to the Reich Chancellor personally in the middle of May by the Confessional Provisional Administration of the Evangelical Church, was given to the foreign press on July 16.

The memorandum itself follows closely the outline presented in the Embassy’s despatch under reference and inasmuch as it is understood that the New York Times and the New York Herald Tribune correspondents have forwarded to their papers for publication the [Page 169]full text, consisting of some 16 pages, it is deemed hardly necessary to enter into a full discussion of its contents. An examination of the text, a copy of which is in the Embassy’s possession, more than confirms, however, the earlier statement made concerning the strength of its terms. An annex, replete with anti-Christian declarations made during the last three years by such Nazi speakers and writers as Göring,48 Dr. Ley,49 Rosenberg50 and Youth Leader von Schirach, is appended to support the contention that the Party is following a policy of de-Christianization of the people. In proof of the same point there are offered also communications from governmental organs, in particularly one from the Regional President of Breslau to the effect that in accordance with a decree issued by the Reich Minister of Education, the despatch of religious tracts to youths serving their year on the land, or Landjahr, is forbidden, as well as the attendance of youths in the Labor Service at church services on Good Friday.

The memorandum does not stop with religious matters but under a heading entitled “Morality and Law” it challenges the accuracy of the Reichstag vote of last March, declaring that the method of conducting the vote presented many Evangelical Christians with a test of conscience. It is stated, furthermore, that the Evangelical conscience, which recognizes its responsibility to the people and the State, is severely tried by the fact that concentration camps still exist in Germany, which calls itself a Government of law, and by the circumstance that the measures of the Secret Police are subject to no judicial survey. Finally, National Socialist treatment of the Jews is attacked as a violation of the Christian doctrine of brotherly love. In short, it is not only remarkable that a group of men should venture to draw up such an indictment of the Nazi State but should dare to address it to Hitler himself! The document is signed by Pastors Müller, Albertz, Boehm, Forck, and Fricke, who constitute the Provisional Administration of the Confessional Church, as well as by Pastors Asmussen, Lucking, Middendorff, Niemöller, and von Thadden, who are members of the administrative council.

The original text, it is learned authoritatively, never reached Herr Hitler, who indeed might have been embarrassed by the attention devoted in the memorandum to Nazi efforts to deify him, but only an emasculated summary was laid before him. In view of the fact that the complete text was jealously guarded by the authors and not even shown to other high church authorities, the suspicion arises that it was given to the foreign press by the Church Ministry itself, acting [Page 170]through a questionable agent, in order to betray the Confessionals into a violation of a government edict forbidding direct contact between the Church and press representatives.

Retaliatory action against the Confessionals, which it was felt might be postponed until after the Olympic Games, has already supervened in the form of a decree just issued by Church Minister Kerrl ordering the Confessional Provisional Administration to cease using that title on the ground that it caused confusion with the official Church Committee set up last December. (It may be recalled from the Embassy’s despatch No. 1853 of March 18, 1935,51 that the Confessionals early last year won the right to use that designation before a court of law which dismissed an injunction brought against them by Reich Bishop Müller.) Another decree has been issued by Kerrl’s official Committee itself ordering the dissolution of all Confessional Councils of Brethren, the local units of the opposition organization. These steps are not essentially new as it will be recalled that Kerrl’s Church ordinances of last December formally banned all Confessional bodies;52 until now, however, these decrees have not been enforced and the Confessional organization has been permitted to survive on tolerance.

It is learned that the Confessionals have no intention of obeying these orders and apparently mean to bide their time until some more drastic form of action is taken by the State than the series of petty raids upon their premises carried out last week by the Secret Police. It is understood that they are considering the possibility of themselves publishing and circulating the memorandum throughout Germany during the Olympic Games but are still hesitating to offer the State such open defiance.

In the meantime it appears that the first steps have been taken toward a rapprochement between Kerrl’s Church Committee and the more conservative branch of the so-called German Christians, a development of some interest in view of the connotation it would bring forth of a rise in Reichbishop Müller’s prestige and the eventual exercise of radical Nazi influence in the official Church government. If the basis of the State Committee’s work of conciliation could be thus expanded by the incorporation of the German Christians without at the same time disaffecting other elements represented on the Committee, this move might well hasten the isolation of the militant Confessionals as well as increase the desperation of their opposition.

One of the possible consequences of an accentuation of the conflict might be the voluntary disestablishment of the Confessional Church, [Page 171]a move which certain of its leaders have been considering for some time as a means of achieving greater freedom of action. While pastors with such large followings as Dr. Niemöller of Dahlem would have little difficulty in maintaining their Churches, the loss of State revenue would probably confront many Confessionals with a serious problem of existence. Apart from financial considerations, however, another reason why the Confessionals have not cut their churches loose from the State is that many of even the most militant leaders are ardent patriots and apparently up until now have hesitated to bring about a complete break with the State and German Church tradition. Voluntary disestablishment, moreover, might put the Confessionals in a position of outlawry in which they would have no recourse against attacks by the Secret Police. The establishment of the Evangelical Church has been a useful instrument in the State’s hands for keeping many pastors in line during the current conflict and if it were to be abandoned by the State itself, some other means of control would probably be substituted as it is inconceivable in National Socialist Germany that such a large body of men in a position to influence public opinion should be left completely to their own devices.

Respectfully yours,

Ferdinand Lathrop Mayer
  1. Not printed.
  2. Hermann Göring, German Minister for Aviation.
  3. Robert Ley, Leader of German Labor Front.
  4. Alfred Rosenberg, Head of the Foreign Political Office of the Nazi Party.
  5. Foreign Relations, 1935, vol. ii, p. 349.
  6. See telegram No. 231, December 3, 1935, from the Ambassador in Germany, ibid, p. 376.