The Nazi Persecution of the Churches, 1933-45

By J. S. Conway | Go to book overview

II The Final Settlement

'Let us gather together and fervently pray
for a speedy deliverance from Nazi evil.
Let us pray that God may give us strength to
remain faithful to His Word. Let us pray
that He may give us courage to endure all
the sufferings in the hours of trial and distress
that lie ahead of us. Let us pray that we may
be granted a cheerful spirit to fight the evil,
so that we may gain Salvation and the ful-
filment of His Promises. Oh Lord deliver us
from the evil'. — From a secretly circulated
Austrian leaflet, Christmas 1941

When the German military campaigns began in the years 1939, I940 and 1941, no plans had been prepared beforehand on the manner in which the Churches were to be treated in the conquered countries. As in other aspects of their policy, the Nazi attitude to the Churches was dictated partly by racial theories, partly by military and political exigencies, and partly by the continuing rivalries within the Nazi hierarchy, whereby each of Hitler's henchmen strove to hold as much of the conquered areas as he could grasp and as much of the larger spoils as he could seize. In general, Nazi church policy in the occupied areas reflected, on a larger scale and in more extreme measure, the same mixture of fanaticism, contradictions and inconsistencies as had been seen in Germany proper.

At the outset, the ad hoc arrangements adopted in the occupied countries left room for a wide divergence in the treatment of the Churches. Broadly speaking, one group within the Nazi hierarchy advocated a flexible policy of persuasion and gradual assimilation, while another pressed for repression and persecution. As the war progressed, and as the more extreme anti-clerical members of the Party organization rose in Hitler's favour, the first group became discredited and Hitler increasingly inclined towards the plans for forcible suppression which Himmler, Bormann and their

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