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5 Resistance out of Christian Faith

The National Socialists also staked a claim to control the views of the Christian churches. Isolated Protestant clergymen and parishioners resisted the intentions of the National Socialist “German Christians.” In 1933 they came together in the Pastors’ Emergency League, and in 1934 they formed the Confessional Church. The few pastors who adopted fundamental opposition to National Socialism over the years were excluded from their parishes or imprisoned. Protestants who took a political stance against the Nazi regime drew strength from the principles of their faith, with no hope of support from their church.

Many Catholics viewed the new authorities with caution, and hoped the concordat with the Vatican in July 1933 would ensure autonomy for their church. From 1935 on, the Nazi leadership intensified its ideological battle against the Catholic Church by means of a defamation campaign against priests and members of religious orders. However, many religious people did not bow to National Socialism’s totalitarian claim to rule.

Hitler’s order in the fall of 1939 to murder patients in mental institutions and convalescent hospitals prompted dissent from isolated bishops, clergymen, and Christians. During the war, hundreds of clergymen were interned in concentration camps, banned from preaching, or placed under house arrest. Many of them did not survive their imprisonment; some were sentenced to death by the National Socialist “People’s Court.”

Members of small religious communities such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Quakers resisted the National Socialists’ attempts to impose their ideology. They refused to swear oaths to Hitler, to perform military service, or to join Nazi organizations, and helped persecuted individuals. More than 1,200 Jehovah’s Witnesses fell victim to the National Socialist persecution.