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HI337 – Nazi Germany

Semester 1 – Mid-Term Assignment


Roisin Healy

Name: Conor Ralph

Student ID: 05532400

Submission Date: Wednesday, 14th


October 2009
2. To what extent did the Nazi takeover in 1933 change the
everyday experiences of Jews and Christians living in
Germany up to the outbreak of war in 1939?

A study of the social upheaval that post-Weimar Germany


experienced under the fledgling guidance of the Nazi party
highlights the differing experiences of German Christians and Jews.
While the infamous treatment of the Jews under Nazi racial policy is
widely documented, the Christian faith had a relationship of mixed
fortunes with the Third Reich administration. The Catholic Church
was seen as a threat by the Nazis, mainly due to the powerful scope
of influence that emanated from the institution. Furthermore, the
establishment was viewed as owing its allegiance to a foreign Pope.
The government took a very measured approach in manipulating
the Catholic Church, fearing a backlash if they openly denounced
such a traditional and deep-rooted group. Jewish Germans, on the
other hand, were more conspicuously condemned and singled out
as the main enemy of the Reich’s Volksgemeinschaft policy. German
Protestants were also kept at bay by the Nazis, never publicly
condemned, but suppressed all the same. Dr. Ronnie S. Landau
comments on the Protestant Church at the time saying that there is
an “overwhelming impression […] of silence, fear and subservience
to the dictates of the Nazi authorities”. 1This essay will attempt to
crystallize such ‘dictates’ laid down by the Third Reich against
organised religions and the effects that they had upon regular
German citizens of such faiths.

In dealing with the lives of German Christians during the


period 1933-1939, one must first look at the broader scale of the
relationship between doctrine and state. The Nazis promoted their
own theory of “Positive Christianity”, drawing the title from a

1
Landau, Ronnie S., The Nazi Holocaust: Its History and Meaning,
p.219
nineteenth century faith. This new faith was an attempt to unify all
facets of Christian belief into one, tightly bound package – basically
a tool to elevate the Nazis above religious customs and traditions.
Dr. Richard Steigmann-Gall, Associate Professor of History at Kent
State University, declares that “the Nazis wanted to appear to be
above the confessions” and that “the leaders they did esteem were
recognizably Protestant”.2 This view seems to sit accordingly with
the events that unfolded and affected the lives of ordinary German
Christians – Protestantism wasn’t the main Christian threat,
Catholicism had to be dealt with.

Following the Reichskonkordat in July 1933, the Nazis began a


slow process of ebbing away the influence of the Catholic Church.
Many of the changes made impacted upon the lives of common
citizens. As early as the summer of 1933, the government began
confiscating the property of Catholic lay organizations and on 20th
July, newspapers were forbidden to brand themselves as ‘Catholic’,
with the regime forcing the new title of ‘German’.3 Within Bavaria,
the area of Germany with the highest number of Catholics, the Nazis
focused on the school system, pressuring parents into moving their
children from denominated religious schools into
interdenominational learning institutions.4

Steps such as this alienate children from a specific religious


upbringing, indoctrinating the youth to follow the Nazis throughout
their day-to-day lives. Irmgard Hunt comments in her memoir,
“even the smallest child knew that Adolf Hitler’s birthday was April
20th”, going on to reveal that this day of celebration saw Nazi flags
adorn “the main street, the town hall, the post office, and the
schools”.5 The poignant visual impact of the regime was
2
http://www.theturning.org/folder/nazis.html
3
Evans, Richard J., The Third Reich in Power, p.235
4
Grunberger, Richard, A Social History of the Third Reich, p.442
5
Hunt, Imgard, On Hitler’s Mountain: My Nazi Childhood, p.52
inescapable, and allowed the government to permeate the lives of
its subjects to an extent that allowed it to compete with, and even
overshadow, the Church. The Hitler Youth organization also weighed
heavily in influencing Aryan children to pin their allegiance to the
Nazi Party, calling upon them to look to Hitler rather than religion
within their daily lives. A Hitler Youth rhyme (c.1934) included
passages such as: “We are the jolly Hitler Youth, we don’t need any
Christian truth, for Adolf Hitler, our leader, always is our interceder”
and “I’m not a Christian, nor a Catholic, I go with the SA through
thin and thick”.6 Notable here is the specific mention of ‘Catholic’
even though ‘Christian’ is mentioned just before it. The aim of the
Nazis is quite clear here, the Catholic Church once again comes
under attack in the direct context of a device of Third Reich
propaganda.

Another Christian group who suffered persecution at the


hands of the regime were the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Its followers
were given the chance to escape punishment by renouncing the
religious beliefs – an order that the majority of them were not willing
to obey.7 They refused to join the German military, urged others not
to fight and declined the “Heil Hitler” salute of worship leading to
the group being labelled traitors by the Nazis.8 Elisabeth Kusserow,
a young Jehovah’s Witness living in Paderborn wrote a chilling
account of the harassment suffered by her family in the 1930s: “We
were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Our parents, Franz and Hilda Kusserow,
had taught their children to hide the books and pamphlets of the
International Society of Bible Students if anyone spotted the men
from the Gestapo coming toward the house”.9 Excerpts like this
illustrate the terror of the plight suffered by those of Christian faith.
Elisabeth’s account goes on to depict the Gestapo arresting her

6
Evans, p. 250
7
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Jehovah’s Witnesses
8
Friedman, Ina R., The Other Victims: First-Person Stories of Non-
Jews Persecuted by the Nazis, pp.47-48
9
Ibid, p.49
father and mother for their refusal to sign a vow of denunciation of
their religion.10 Failure to conform resulted in harsh punishment for
Jehovah’s Witnesses but ultimately gained them the respect of
those who felt they had no choice but to surrender their will.

With the Jewish population being the refined target of the


regime’s wrath, other citizens were encouraged to ostracize Jews
from society, or face similar treatment themselves. A 1938 diary
entry by an Aryan woman married to a Protestant of Jewish descent
outlines the difficulties that both were faced with as a result of their
situation: “We see others living in peace […] they do not have to
fear the newspaper, decrees or party conventions […] every day
brings hundreds of pinpricks, humiliations, anxieties”.11 This
exemplifies the overall futility of the notion that followers of
Christianity escaped persecution from the Nazis. The anti-Semitism
that acted as the linchpin in the governments ideologies saw the
requirement for pure Germans to possess an ‘Aryan Certificate’ to
prove their worth in society. Therefore, those with Jewish ties of the
leanest nature were still singled out and punished. This anti-
Semitism found its way into the normal lives of Germans and saw
that no religion was safe, for example, a Protestant woman,
considered a Jew because she had three Jewish grandparents, could
not find a place to live with Christians or Jews. Training to be a
nurse, she couldn’t live at the Jewish Hospital in Hanover, and was
thrown out of a residence by Aryans for being considered ‘non-
Aryan’.12

When it comes to religious matters, the treatment of Jews in


Nazi Germany eclipses the party’s dealings with any other area of
society. The concentrated decimation of the Jewish race led to the
everyday experiences of hardship and humiliation for its members.

10
Ibid, pp.50-51
11
Kaplan, Marion A., Between dignity and despair: Jewish life in Nazi
Germany, p.149
12
Kaplan, p.113
April 1st, 1933 saw the boycott of Jewish business by the Reich, the
first official large-scale anti-Jewish measures enabled by the
administration.13 Further to this the ‘Law for the Restoration of the
Professional Civil Service’ was passed, bringing to an end Jewish
employment in government.14 The Manchester Guardian reported:
“In Breslau, where the Storm Troop leader and reprieved murderer,
Heines, is in control as chief of the police, an order has been issued
that all Jews shall be deprived of their passports so that the
passports can be made invalid for foreign travel.”15 Edwin Landau
recounts his experience as he saw “the Storm Troopers marching
through the streets with their banners: “The Jews are our
misfortune” […] I couldn’t believe my eyes […] we young Jews had
once stood in the trenches for these people”.16 Some Jews
attempted to ignore, and in some cases resist, the actions of the
Nazis but limitations placed upon them turned this into a complex,
thorny matter.

The sudden and radical change in Jewish treatment startled


many Germans. How did these people deal with the actions of the
state from 1933 onwards? Max Warburg, a Jewish man who was a
member of the general council of the Reichsbank, spoke of his
decision to carry on with his business in normal fashion, considering
the anti-Semite actions of the Reich as less of a threat than it turned
out to be.17 Many stories like this exist, with a multitude of differing
reactions and attitudes towards the social upheaval in daily Jewish
life. Some found the humorous side of the desolate situation,
forming jokes based upon the demands of the Nuremberg Laws of
1935: “Will you please send me my afterbirth, with reference to 18th

13
Limberg, Margarethe, Germans no more: accounts of Jewish
everyday life, 1933-1938, p.7
14
Ibid, p.27
15
Abzug, Robert H., America views the Holocaust, 1933-1945: a
brief documentary history, p.12
16
Limberg, p.9
17
Housden, Martyn, Resistance and Conformity in the Third Reich,
p.120
April 1875. I am required to produce it for my Aryan descent”.18
However, reactions like this do not represent the majority – a
horrified mass of citizens under attack. Jewish organisations
attempted resistance, but the voice of the regular Jew on the street
was brutally suppressed. Here is where the quandary exists, should
more Jews have resisted the shocking modifications on their rights?
As Martyn Housden explains, “for a ‘Jew’, conformity meant certain
death”.19

Jewish men faced the indignity of being unable to provide for


their families, as was the traditional role in 1930s German culture.
Their wives were often the ones who attempted to persuade them
to emigrate, before the situation got worse. Disagreements over a
matter as vital as this often put a significant strain on the marriages
of Jews. Else Gerstel described herself as being “in constant fury”
over her husband’s refusal to leave the country.20 Meanwhile, the
children of couples such as these, vulnerable and impressionable in
their young age, faced daily reminders of the shame that came with
being a member of a Jewish family. A seven-year old boy was asked
what he would wish for in 1933 and his response was “To be a
Nazi”, while his father agreed that the rest of the family shared the
same desire.21 This illustrates the bombardment of Nazi influence
Jews faced on a daily basis, spanning all age groups and spectrums
of society.

18
Hillenbrand, F.K.M, Underground Humour in Nazi Germany, 1933-
1945, p.73
19
Housden, p.117
20
Kaplan, p.68
21
Ibid, p.101