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

No. 3007

Sir: I have the honor to report that a manifesto denouncing in strong terms Nazi interference in German religious affairs was read on August 23 in many of the churches belonging to the Evangelical Confessional Front. The Embassy obtained a copy of the manifesto several days in advance; owing, however, to the length of the document it has not been found possible to render a translation, but a fairly complete summary, which appeared in the London Times of August 24, is transmitted herewith.53

The manifesto is a modified version of the letter addressed in May to Herr Hitler by certain Confessional leaders (see Embassy’s despatch No. 2949 of July 21, 1936). Being intended for publication, it was couched in somewhat milder terms than the earlier letter in order evidently to give the Government less cause for complaint, but the tone may nevertheless be deemed surprisingly vigorous.

The manifesto was read under dramatic circumstances in Dr. Niemöller’s church in Dahlem, in Berlin, where that pastor, after [Page 172] withdrawing from the pulpit in order technically to avoid infringing the so-called Kanzelparagraph of the law, retired to the altar steps and, attended by two burly colleagues on either side to prevent molestation, read the proclamation before an emotionally touched congregation.

Beyond the arrest of a pastor in Bremen who dared to disregard a prohibition ordered by a local authority, the reading of the manifesto in the various Confessional churches throughout Germany was not generally interfered with.

While many pastors are believed at the last minute to have decided not to run the risk of proclaiming the manifesto, it was given wide publicity and appears to have received the support of the Confessional Front as a whole and, significantly enough, of the Bishops of Württemberg and Bavaria who have lately hesitated to follow such militant leaders as Niemöller and his Prussian group all the way in their opposition to the State. The manifesto was read in Württemberg last Sunday and it is understood will be read in the Protestant churches of Bavaria next Sunday.

The lack of general interference with the reading of the manifesto is typical of the tortuous course the Church-State controversy has been following. It is understood here, as the Consul General in Munich states in his report No. 223 of August 25, 1936, that in the absence of Herr Kerrl, who is on vacation recovering from a serious illness, the Church Ministry and its officially appointed church committees are in a state of semi-disorganization. This is said to account in part for the inactivity of the Secret Police who, lacking instructions in the matter, are stated to have been at a loss as to how to deal with the situation created by the manifesto, and who are portrayed, moreover, as being as heartily tired of the official Church authorities and all their works as they have been of the Confessional Opposition. On the other hand, a small section of opinion takes the view that the Government’s recent leniency is an ominous sign that the Nazi leaders may be preparing for a final offensive against ecclesiastical opposition through the announcement of a National Socialist State Church either at the forthcoming Nuremberg Party Congress or some time next spring. While the possibility is not entirely excluded that Herr Hitler may eventually be won over to this idea by its more radical advocates in the Party, such an act on his part would certainly denote a departure from the policy he has followed in the last three years of avoiding a decision either way in settlement of the conflict.

Nothing definite has been heard concerning the annual Conference of Catholic Bishops which was held under the usual conditions of secrecy in Fulda this year from August 18 to 23. The Protestant Opposition is hopeful that a pastoral letter, denouncing, in terms [Page 173] similar to their own, State interference and Nazi de-Christianization of the people, may ensue. On the other hand it is realized that, having regard to its compromised position, the Catholic Church may be more cautious this year than before in inviting a trial strength with the Government. Already post-Olympic anti-Catholic activity has been initiated by the bringing to trial and sentence in Cologne of another of the considerable reserve of monks still held in prison on immorality charges.

Respectfully yours,

William E. Dodd
  1. Not reprinted.