Der Volksverein für das katholische Deutschland, 1890-1933: Geschichte, Bedeutung, Untergangby Gotthard Klein (review)
- The Catholic Historical Review
- The Catholic University of America Press
- Volume 84, Number 1, January 1998
- pp. 132-134
- View Citation
- Additional Information
132BOOK REVIEWS The bibUography, despite some inexactitudes, is impressive.The nature of his cross-referencing in the index of names, however, is not very helpful. Despite these observations Grubb's book definitely makes a substantive contribution. Marvin L. Brown,Jr. North Carolina State University Der Volksvereinfür das katholische Deutschland, 1890-1933'- Geschichte, Bedeutung , Untergang. By Gotthard Klein. [Veröffentlichungen der Kommission für Zeitgeschichte, Reihe B: Forschungen, Band 75.] (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh. 1996. Pp. 597. 98.00 DM.) The People's Association for CathoUc Germany, the Volksverein, was one of the largest lay organizations inWilheLmine Germany, attaining a membership of more than 800,000 by 1914.Although it was founded in 1890 as a consequence of the Kulturkampf and in response to the formation of the explicitly antiCathoUc EvangeUcal League, the Volksverein was less concerned with combatting Protestantism and "freethinkers" than with confronting sociaUsm. Its primary goal was to educate German CathoUc workers in social, economic, and poUtical matters in order to arm them against the attractions of Social Democracy and keep them in the Church. Many of its leaders were clergy, but the association was never under the direct supervision of the hierarchy and often clashed with individual bishops, as it did for example in the prolonged controversy over the ChristianTrade Unions. Gotthard Klein devotes only thirty-six of 416 pages of text to the prewar years, those of the Volksverein's greatest success ; thus his book is clearly intended as a sequel to and not a replacement for Horstwalter Heitzer's 1979 Der Volksvereinfür das katholische Deutschland im Kaiserreich 1890-1918. Most of Klein's attention is focused on the Volksverein's decline in the Weimar RepubUc and its ignominious coUapse in the years 1928-1933, which began with the bankruptcy of its extensive publishing operation.The reasons for the financial disaster were obvious: in the face ofprecipitous losses in membership (down to half the 1914 figure by 1928) the leadership not only did not retrench but actuaUy expanded the association's enterprises, hoping to recoup the losses from dues by opening new presses and bookstores, more local branches, and even venturing into film production. When the deficit became alarmingly large, the General DirectorWilhelm Hohn compounded the problem by his overly optimistic and imaginative schemes for refinancing the debt. Klein describes these maneuvers in painful detaU, including the years and years of convoluted arrangements which were eventuaUy required to pay off the creditors (one loan from a Dutch bank was not fuUy discharged until 1974!). The underlying reasons for the Volksverein's collapse were more complex. Why did so many of its supporters abandon this popular and effective organization in the 1920's? First, according to Klein, in a sense the association was a book reviews133 victim of its own success. Its adult education courses had taught a whole generation of CathoUc workers how to compete in German's economic Ufe, turning out labor leaders for the interconfessional Christian Trade Unions and poUticians for the ranks ofthe Center Party.These men no longer needed paternaUst guidance from theVolksverein. Second, the association faced increasing competition in the repubUcan years from a number of other CathoUc organizations, most of which attracted more speciaUzed demographic groups than "CathoUc Germany." Organizations for CathoUc women and youth flourished in the repubUc; the Volksverein had never tried very hard to recruit women even after their participation in pubUc associations was legaUzed in 1908.The CathoUc School Organization was a formidable rival, concentrating on the protection of the confessional school system which was threatened by the terms of the Weimar Constitution. Both the CathoUc Women's League and the School Organization were poUticaUy more conservative than theVolksverein and were more closely aUgned with the hierarchy , which was often at odds with Volksverein social poUcy. It is noteworthy that neither the bishops' conference nor the competing lay organizations were eager to contribute financially to the baU-out of the association. Third, even its most loyal members from the prewar years were put off by a radical shift in theVolksverein's ideology.The long-time inteUectuaI and spiritual leaders August Pieper and Anton Heinen had always stressed the practical goals of adult education; now...