862.00 P.R./211

Extract From Political Report of the Ambassador in Germany (Dodd)56

3. Recent Developments Affecting the German Churches. The chronic quarrel between the State on the one hand and the Catholic and Evangelical Confessional Churches on the other has remained quiescent for a long period, but recently certain incidental happenings have taken place which are worth noting. During the period of calm which has elapsed, time and circumstances have played on the State’s side, the truce having in part been caused by the fact that the Churches have lost further ground through a series of seemingly insignificant events which have perhaps made it difficult for them to renew the struggle.

As reported by the Consul General in Munich in a letter to the Embassy dated November 6, 1936, Cardinal Faulhaber had an interview with Herr Hitler on November 4, this being a visit that occasioned some surprise in view of the well-known anti-Nazi tendencies of the [Page 176] Cardinal and particularly the political role he is supposed to have played in the suppression of the “Beer Hall Putsch” of 1923, a deed for which he is openly reproached in the latest number of the paper of the National Socialist Students League which catalogs as well some of the Cardinal’s more recent “treasonable” utterances. Nothing whatever is known about what might have transpired at this visit or at a subsequent one which Cardinal Faulhaber in the company of Cardinal Schulte of Cologne paid Hitler. Catholics optimistically inclined hope that the meetings may later bear fruit in a conciliatory governmental declaration or even in a pledge of non-interference in Church affairs while even those less optimistic feel that the meetings may have been useful in at least providing the highest Church authorities with an opportunity of informing the Führer of anti-clerical and even anti-Christian trends in the Party of which he may not have been aware.

Shortly after these interviews, however, there followed the promulgation of the “State Youth Law” making membership in the Hitler Youth organizations compulsory for all children, and thereby implying the abolition of the confessional youth associations whose existence is guaranteed by the Concordat (see Embassy’s despatch No. 3186 of December 11, 193657). This act, taken together with past experience, has convinced Catholics that even should a disposition exist in high quarters to come to a lasting settlement of the Church’s difficulties, it would be practically impossible to frame one which would not be capable of being violated by anti-Christian Party leaders responsible for the political and “philosophical” training of large masses of the people.

Both the Catholic and Evangelical Confessional Church authorities have recently been embarrassed by “leaks” to the foreign press. The first of these relates to a letter written by Herr Lutze, Chief of Staff of the S. A., announcing in rather insulting terms his withdrawal from the Catholic Church. This letter was forwarded by Bishop Preysing of Berlin to Cardinal Schulte and somewhere on the way fell into the hands of a Polish journalist whose paper published it in full. The Secret Police can, of course, point to this as an instance of how the Church by devious methods endeavors to discredit abroad the Nazi State.

The second “leak” revolves around the mysterious fashion in which, it may be recalled, the memorandum addressed by the Confessional authorities to Herr Hitler last May came to be given out to the foreign press (see Embassy’s despatch No. 2949 of July 21, 1936). It has now come to light that the memorandum was surreptitiously passed on to certain foreign journalists by the head of the administrative [Page 177] office of the Confessional Front himself. The fact that this person should have been a baptised Jew does not speak highly for the political sense of the Church leaders who chose him for this position. He, together with several of his colleagues, were arrested and have already been languishing in a concentration camp for some weeks.

While these compromising discoveries by the Secret Police have very largely been responsible for restraining the Confessionals from renewing their campaign of opposition, certain of their aims, notably their fight against the so-called “German Christians” and against anti-Christian tendencies in the Nazi Party, have been taken up by the moderate group of Evangelicals represented on Church Minister Kerrl’s official committees. The “German Christians” have of late drawn together again and have been encouraged to set up a central office for “German Christianity” in Erfurt under Pastor Hossenfeldt’s direction while the anti-Christian and neo-pagan movements are seen to have benefited by the increased authority and power acquired during the past year by such radical leaders as Herr Himmler, German Police Chief and head of the S. S., and Herr von Schirach of the Hitler Youth.

The menace from these quarters to organized religion was evidently judged by the moderate churchmen to be so great as to have prompted them to publish declarations in the official Evangelical Church Gazette calling for action by the State ecclesiastical authorities. Supported, it is said, by the conservative Lutheran bishops, Dr. Marahrens of Hannover, Dr. Meiser of Bavaria and Dr. Wurm of Württemberg, the signatories of the declarations protest against the fact that in certain districts of Mecklenburg and Thuringia Nazi Party leaders have encouraged the “German Christians” to defy the attempts of Kerrl’s Church officers to set up neutral committees and to enforce the expulsion of several pastors judged to be heretical. The general danger to the Church is represented to be such that the suggestion is made that this question be taken up and settled in discussions with State and Party authorities. The State is reminded that while the Church stands behind the Führer in his fight against Bolshevism it expects that measures be taken to put an end to anti-Christian propaganda to which high State and Party office holders have contributed their share. The signatories finally demand that assurances be given that the youth shall not be led along anti-Christian ways.

The declarations are addressed to Herr Kerrl in his capacity of Reich Church Minister. The latter has been notably inactive of late owing partly to the effects of a serious illness and owing also to instructions said to have been given him by Hitler in the course of a private visit to refrain from anything which might provoke the Church situation. While his inactivity has on the whole been salutory, the lack of any central direction has had the effect indicated in the declarations [Page 178] mentioned above of encouraging the “German Christians” backed by the Party, to try to take things once again in their own hands.

Speculation is current regarding certain possible changes which the scheme for comprehensive constitutional reform talked of as due to be announced next January 30 may bring about in the status of the Churches (see Embassy’s despatch No. 3150 of November 13, 193658). The possibility of disestablishment always lingers in the background but failing the realization of this a more immediate measure which certain Party leaders are seen to be eager to have adopted is the substitution of a “cultural tax” for existing church taxes. The Churches would receive a share of this tax, the proceeds of which would mainly be devoted to the support of State and Party cultural activities, including the State opera, Nazi art exhibitions, and so forth.

  1. Transmitted to the Department by the Ambassador in Germany in his despatch No. 3192, December 17, 1936; received January 4, 1937.
  2. Post, p. 189.
  3. Not printed.