I thought it appropriate to publish Edward's guest post this morning as it extends the discussion regarding religion. May I thank all of you who contributed to the last post. Several readers have emailed me and mentioned the high quality of the comments, while others wished to express their sympathy with wisnaeme.
“Hitler was a Roman Catholic”
One often hears this bandied about in Protestant circles but nobody ever says “Stalin was Russian Orthodox” although he actually was a seminarian. Hitler seems to have cast off all religious belief whilst still at Linz grammar school where, he claimed, he first felt a sense of his special destiny.
To understand his formation it is necessary to understand something of the political attitudes amongst the German-speaking people in the racial pressure cooker of the old Austrian Empire. Whilst these were complex, they fell roughly into three groups -
The Clerical Party
traditional Roman Catholics, loyal to the Emperor and to their role in the multi-racial Habsburg state where the Imperial anthem was available in fourteen official languages.
The Social Democrats
ranging from Marxists to people more like today's Social Democrats, not unwilling to co-operate with fellow socialists from other racial groups.
The German Nationals and Pan Germans
This is the grouping to which Hitler adhered from an early age. They wanted the German-speaking territories to secede and join the German Reich, ruled from Berlin. Much of their ideology was distinctly anti-Roman Catholic. Some were New Age style pagans advocating a “pure” German religion. Others started a “Los von Rom” (free from Rome) movement, encouraging their members to become Lutheran, so that they would get on better with the Prussians.
Hitler was greatly influenced by a group led by a man called Schoenerer who called himself “Fuehrer” and introduced “Heil” as the German greeting to do away with the usual polite Austrian greeting “Gruess Gott” (God greet you) precisely because it was Christian. He also wanted to dispense with the commonly used expression “Servus” (at your service) because it was Latin – and, in any case, Germans shouldn't be anybody's servants!
Whilst they intended to do away with all forms of Christianity, the Nazis were marginally more keen on Luther who had objected to the German people being the “milch cow of Rome” in the 16th century scandals of indulgences and collections of “Peter's Pence”
Their chief ideologue, Alfred Rosenberg, made things very plain in “The Myth of the 20th Century”
“The idea of honour – national honour – is for us the beginning and the end of our entire thinking and doing. It does not admit of any equal-valued centre of force alongside it, no matter of what kind, neither Christian love nor Free-Masonic humanity, nor the Roman philosophy”.
As a supra-national organisation the Roman Church entered into a Concordat with the Nazis which, like all their other treaties, they promptly dishonoured as fast as the ink dried. With no outside base the Lutheran Church, grounded in the Reformation settlement of “cujus regio, eius religio” (the religion of the ruler is the religion of the state), was even less institutionally able to withstand the storm. The blood of many martyrs, lay and clerical, of both confessions bears witness to great individual faithfulness.
Translations of original documents in my possession show a very determined campaign to destroy Church influence, particularly among young people in the name of “inclusivity” and “non discrimination” between members of the German racial community. These have rather a topical ring amongst today's determined official attempts to banish religion to a purely private sphere and dictate the school curriculum, even in Church schools.
“We cannot recognise that the Church has a right to ensure that the individual should be educated in all respects in the way in which it holds to be right. We must leave it to the National Socialist state to educate the child in the way it regards as right”.
( Church Affairs Minister Kerrl, Speech at Fulda 27 November 1937)
The propaganda war was vicious indeed and the most scurrilous and vile cartoons and lampoons were directed against the Roman Church, particularly against Cardinal Pacelli, later PiusXII.
A German friend, who read Protestant Theology with a view to the Ministry, tells me he is now convinced that Roman Catholics on average were more steadfast in their witness than average Lutherans but he adds “I'm still not sure about the Vatican”.