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1941: Mass Murder
 pg. 288 
German Churches and the Holocaust

The Christian churches of Germany remained publicly silent in the face of the Nazi annihilation of Europe's Jews. Unlike the protest of the Nazi "euthanasia" policy, which Catholic intervention succeeded in halting, there was no public outcry from the churches when Jews were "evacuated," and no official church condemnations were issued when news of atrocities in the East reached Germany.

Both the Protestant (or Evangelical) Church and the Catholic Church yielded to Nazi pressure that restricted many church functions, closed most religious schools, and sent the few who did preach anti-Nazi sermons to concentration camps. The majority of the clergy avoided dangerous topics, and church doors consequently remained open. There was also considerable sympathy among Catholic and Protestant clergy for Hitler's traditional nationalist and conservative values, and especially for the Nazis' anticommunist crusade.

Additionally, some leading figures of both churches maintained antagonistic attitudes toward Judaism and, in fact, harbored antisemitic sentiments that made them unwilling to protest the regime's treatment of the Jews. Both churches willingly handed over genealogical records that helped the Nazis determine Jewish ancestry as defined by the Nuremberg Laws.

Some Catholic Church leaders were publicly antisemitic. A pastoral letter written in 1941 by Archbishop Konrad Gröber blamed Jews for the death of Jesus, and implied that their current terrible fate was not only justified but was a "self-imposed curse."

In view of the continued Nazi persecution of the churches, Catholic leaders preached submission in order to ensure survival. Papal announcements deplored the persecution but extended only prayer to non-Aryan victims of the Nazis. Catholic bishops spoke out against the SS killings in the East, but most decried the murders only of "Christian" Poles and Slavs. Only a few clerics publicly denounced the extermination of the Jews.

Protestant Church leadership traditionally supported the authority of the state. Many clergy sympathized with Hitler's nationalism, and had long viewed the Jews as enemies of Christianity. Of course, the nazified segment of the Protestant Church, known as the Deutsche Glaubensbewegung (German Christians' Faith Movement), under Reich Bishop Lüdwig Müller, fully supported the regime's attack on Jews. With its mix of Christianity and Nordic paganism, this official "Reich Church" regarded racial "mongrelization" as immoral. Dissenting Protestants, organized as the Bekennende Kirche (Confessing Church), opposed Nazi interference in church affairs but were silenced by Nazi coercion after the imprisonment and "re-education" of 700 ministers.

One of the few German religious leaders who took up the Jews' cause was Pastor Heinrich Grüber, head of a Protestant organization that aided Jewish converts to Christianity. In 1940 Grüber was imprisoned for protesting the deportations of Jews. Notably, Protestant Bishop Theophil Wurm of Württemberg, in a 1943 memorandum to Nazi authorities, futilely demanded "an end to putting to death members of other nations and races."
Photo: William O. McWorkman/United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Photo Archive

 December 15, 1941: On this first day of Chanukah, 15 Jews are shot to death in the courtyard of the Warsaw Ghetto prison.
 December 15, 1941: Latvian gentiles Yanis Lipke and Janis Briedys are able to smuggle ten Jews out of the Riga Ghetto. Lipke plans to construct a Jewish hiding place beneath his home.
 Mid-December 1941: Hitler appoints himself supreme commander of the German Armed Forces.
 December 16, 1941: Hans Frank, governor-general of Occupied Poland, notes in his diary that some 3,500,000 Jews live in the region under his control; See January 25, 1944.
1941: Mass Murder
 pg. 288 
The Holocaust Chronicle
© 2009 Publications International, Ltd.