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And the Witnesses Were Silent

The Confessing Church and the Persecution of the Jews

Wolfgang Gerlach

Publication Year: 2000

An endlessly perplexing question of the twentieth century is how “decent” people came to allow, and sometimes even participate in, the Final Solution. Fear obviously had its place, as did apathy. But how does one explain the silence of those people who were committed, active, and often fearless opponents of the Nazi regime on other grounds—those who spoke out against Nazi activities in many areas yet whose response to genocide ranged from tepid disquiet to avoidance? One such group was the Confessing Church, Protestants who often risked their own safety to aid Christian victims of Nazi oppression but whose response to pogroms against Jews was ambivalent.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v

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pp. vii-ix

This study was accepted in 1970 as a doctoral dissertation by the Evangelical Theological Faculty at the University of Hamburg. For years it went unpublished since it contradicted much of the accepted thought among veterans of the Kirchenkampf (church struggle) and leading church...

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Translator’s Note

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pp. xi

Readers familiar with the German edition of this book will notice that numerous changes have been made for the English edition; the text has been abridged and revised. All changes were made for the sake of clarity, and Dr. Gerlach has been extraordinarily helpful in advising the editor...

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pp. 1-8

During the final years of the eighteenth century, the new tolerance fostered by the Enlightenment enabled Jews in Europe and abroad to attain the rights of citizens. The domestic reforms of Hapsburg monarch Joseph II in 1782 included an edict that substantially improved the Jews’ legal...

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Part 1: The Defamation of the Jews, 1933–35

Within the ‘‘soul of the German people,’’ the groundwork for the exclusion of the Jews from German public life had been prepared sufficiently by 1933. The church could look back on a long, theologically rooted tradition of hostility toward the Jews. The state stood on the verge of...

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1. Church Responses to Early Anti-Jewish Measures

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pp. 12-19

Despite the intense pace of Hitler’s early weeks in office, it was in his own vital interest that the policies toward the Jews, as outlined in Mein Kampf, be carried out skillfully. In retrospect, the rapid succession of events between 23 March and 1 April 1933 suggests a calculated drama...

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2. Early Church Statements

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pp. 20-25

Despite its silence about the 1 April boycott, there were early signs that the church would resist any attempt to alter church law. On 5 May 1933 the Regional Church Government in Kassel sent a statement to the central German Evangelical Church Committee in Berlin.1 Titled ‘‘To the...

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3. Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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pp. 25-30

As early as 14 April 1933, Bonhoeffer wrote his friend Erwin Sutz that ‘‘the Jewish question has caused the church no end of trouble; here, the most sensible people have lost their heads and their entire Bible.’’1 His words may have sounded arrogant at the time, but events were to prove...

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4. Gutachten and Synodal Resolutions

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pp. 30-44

At the 24 August provincial synod in Berlin, the opposition group led by Berlin pastor Gerhard Jacobi was unable to prevent the adoption of the state Aryan guidelines for church officials. This set the stage for the events of the Prussian General Synod, which convened in Berlin on...

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5. The Pastors’ Emergency League

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pp. 45-48

Inspired by the Bonhoeffer-Niemöller declaration to the National Synod, opposition to a church Aryan paragraph grew steadily. Under Niemöller’s guidance, the opposition founded the Pastors’ Emergency League in October. It was governed by a Council of Brethren; its ‘‘constitution’’ was...

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6. Ecumenical Developments

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pp. 49-64

The events of 1933 and their effects on the Confessing Church’s subsequent position toward the Jews cannot be understood without some consideration of concurrent developments in the ecumenical world.1 The German church opposition had refused to heed Bonhoeffer’s repeated...

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7. The Aryan Paragraph and the Protestant Press

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pp. 64-69

After mid-November 1933, it appeared that the church opposition’s desperate efforts to abolish the Aryan paragraph (in the church, at least) had not been entirely in vain. The excesses of the 13 November German Christian Sports Palace rally, especially a wildly anti-Jewish speech by Berlin...

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8. Early Confessional Synods

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pp. 69-86

The final months of 1933 brought renewed debate about the Aryan paragraph among theologians and at church synods. Rudolf Bultmann defended the Marburg Gutachten against Georg Wobbermin, the ‘‘psychologist of existential religion.’’1 Using arguments similar to Bultmann’s...

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Part 2: The Isolation of the Jews, 1935–38

The foundation had been laid for the next phase of the persecution of the Jews.1 Hitler’s political success at home and abroad allowed him to pursue his policy toward the Jews without any fear of repercussions. He had numerous followers who had waited a long time to win their spurs by...

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9. The Nuremberg Laws

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pp. 89-93

The purpose of the Nuremberg Laws was twofold. The Reich Citizens Law isolated the Jews politically; the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor isolated them socially. The Reich Citizens Law distinguished between ‘‘citizens of the Reich . . . of German or kindred blood’’ and mere German...

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10. A Divided Confessing Church

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pp. 93-100

The Confessing Church’s response to Nazi racial laws was marked by growing disagreement among its leaders about what direction the church should take.∞ Their unanimous hostility to the German Christians no longer compensated for their other differences, particularly...

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11. The Jewish Question after Steglitz

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pp. 100-114

What was left unsaid in Steglitz was not addressed in its aftermath. There would never be much support within the Confessing Church for leading a protest against Nazi racial policies. A few statements, such as the ‘‘Resolutions of the First Synod of the Confessing Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Saxony,’’ appealed to Christians’ moral obligations...

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12. The Evangelical Church and Its Non-Aryan Members

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pp. 114-129

Throughout the Kirchenkampf, individual pastors faced conflicts in ministering to non-Aryans. As early as 1933, ‘‘two cases concerning the behavior of the church toward Jews’’ caused ‘‘difficulties’’ for the pastor of St. Gertrud’s in Hamburg, Walter Uhsadel.∞ The first case concerned a...

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13. Ecumenical Responses

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pp. 130-138

‘‘From the beginning, the Confessing Church’s struggle has been carried out with the intense sympathy of the Christian churches outside Germany,’’ Dietrich Bonhoeffer observed in 1935. ‘‘This has been noted with suspicion and condemned in political and church circles.’’1...

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Part 3: The ‘‘Elimination’’ of the Jews, 1938–45

National Socialist policies had successfully expelled the Jews from German society. Only a signal was needed for the final stage of the persecution of the Jews. If this phase were to differ from the previous one that used legal mechanisms to denigrate and isolate the Jews, it would be...

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14. Reactions to the November Pogrom

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pp. 143-154

The Confessing Church was increasingly at risk. Its members had been immobilized by numerous arrests and bans on travel and speaking. Forced to improvise, the church had to rely on the techniques of underground organization and action. The previous period of church...

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15. Relief Work

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pp. 154-176

Despite Marga Meusel’s efforts, the First Provisional Church Administration of the Confessing Church had not taken a position supporting those affected by the Aryan paragraph, along the lines of the original Emergency League pledge. With the February 1936 dissolution of the...

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16. The Godesberg Declaration

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pp. 176-186

Various statements and regulations paved the way for the Godesberg Declaration, which was announced by the German Christians in April 1939.1 The German Christians had already disclosed their program for the complete ‘‘de-Judaization’’ of the German Volk on 14 July 1937.2 In...

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17. The Aryan Certificate for Theologians

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pp. 186-192

German Christian church leaders had always been more interested than the state authorities in implementing a church Aryan paragraph. After 1936, non-Aryans barred from studying theology were admitted to the church colleges established by the Confessing Church and could become...

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18. The Final Solution and the End of the Church Struggle

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pp. 192-219

With the beginning of the war, the Confessing Church’s situation changed dramatically. Emboldened by its early military successes, the Nazi state moved ruthlessly to eliminate what little opposition remained. The hardest blow against the Confessing Church was the closing...

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Part IV: The Legacy of the Church Struggle 1945-50

The Kirchenkampf had ended; a new church was emerging from the ruins and ashes left by the total collapse of the Nazi dictatorship. This examination of the postwar era focuses primarily on those who spoke out before 1945: both those whose words were heeded and those whose...

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19. Confessions of Guilt

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pp. 223-230

On Ascension Day 1945, two days after the Nazi surrender on 8 May, Bishop Wurm concluded a sermon with ‘‘a word to our people . . . in the name of our Württemberg Protestant Church and as the spokesman of the entire Confessing Church in Germany.’’ Wurm directed his comments primarily to the state...

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20. The Confessing Church’s Record under Nazism

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pp. 230-236

The complex history of the Kirchenkampf clearly illustrates the difficulty of speaking about ‘‘the’’ Confessing Church. It was decidedly heterogeneous. Its diversity provided great opportunities, since there was an abundance of creative thinkers who were prepared to resist; but it also...


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pp. 237-286


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pp. 287-289

Note on Sources

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pp. 291-293


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pp. 295-304

E-ISBN-13: 9780803202757
E-ISBN-10: 080320275X

Publication Year: 2000