Confessions of a German Soldier: Dietrich Karsten Was a Protestant Pastor Who Opposed the Nazi Regime in the 1930s but Died for Hitler as a Soldier in the War. His Granddaughter, Lena Karsten, Enlisted the Help of Film-Maker Tony Wilson and Historian Gabriel Fawcett to Find His Grave and Tell His Story. the Result Is a Powerful Feature Documentary Confessions of a German Soldier. Lena Karsten Gives an Insight into What She Discovered

By Karsten, Lena | History Today, December 2007 | Go to article overview

Confessions of a German Soldier: Dietrich Karsten Was a Protestant Pastor Who Opposed the Nazi Regime in the 1930s but Died for Hitler as a Soldier in the War. His Granddaughter, Lena Karsten, Enlisted the Help of Film-Maker Tony Wilson and Historian Gabriel Fawcett to Find His Grave and Tell His Story. the Result Is a Powerful Feature Documentary Confessions of a German Soldier. Lena Karsten Gives an Insight into What She Discovered


Karsten, Lena, History Today


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

'I FEAR THERE WILL COME a time when the only people Germany can rely on are the Christians. And there are only a few of those', wrote my grandfather in despair, seventy years ago. Where were the Christians during the Third Reich? remains a burning question. My grandfather, Dietrich Karsten, was born on July 3rd, 1911, in Colmar, Alsace (then part of Germany). His father was a hard-working Protestant pastor and family bonds were tight. He would eventually have five siblings. After the end of the First World War and with the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, Alsace was transferred to France and the family were forced to move. They made their new home in Mecklenburg in the Protestant heartland of northern Germany. Dietrich was himself ordained as a Protestant pastor in what was now Nazi Germany in 1936. He died as a soldier in Russia in 1942 having won the Iron Cross fighting for Hitler.

Millions of Germans met their deaths in the war on the soil of countries they were invading, wearing swastikas on their chests. But my grandfather's calling as a Christian minister and his strong anti-Nazi convictions made his story all the more incomprehensible to me--that he, of all people, should give his life for such a cause.

Remarkably, Dietrich Karsten left over 300 letters, written from 193242--the decade that separated Dietrich the theology student from Leutnant Karsten who directed machine-gun fire on a frozen lake in Russia. These letters offer the possibility of gaining some deeper understanding of Dietrich. They also throw up questions. Is it so surprising that numerous Christian Germans saw Hitler's seizure of power as heaven-sent?

Many in the Protestant Church were enthusiastic for the Nazi-led national revival, which they thought would bring a renewed spirituality and strength to the country. These Christians were tired of years of humility and uncertainty since 1918. Some went further, acknowledging the Nazi leader as their supreme authority and embraced German nationalism and Nazi ideology as integral parts of their faith, calling themselves the 'German Christians'. They developed a hybrid religion which paganized their Christianity. These German Christians were not satisfied with following their own brand of religion but tried to take over the Church entirely. Pastor Dietrich Karsten's eventual death in Hitler's service would begin to make sense if he had taken a wrong turn here and joined this popular faction, as so many did. But he did not, writing to his mother on Ascension Day, 1933:

   I don't think that file Church will get
   much further if it doesn't know whom
   to believe in. And only if there is no
   talk of race and national identity but
   --surprisingly--of Jesus Christ, then
   and only then is it seriously trying to
   be what it ought to be.

[ILLUSTRATIONS OMITTED]

In 1932 Dietrich had been an enthusiastic and carefree student under the great Swiss theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968) at Bonn University. Only a few months later-with the Nazis' rise to power--Dietrich's world had been turned upside down and he was desperately trying to make sense of it.

   ... If we followed all the
   demonstrations, attempts to politicise,
   manoeuvres to force us into line here
   at the university--which poison
   everything like a toxic fog--we would
   be turned to the devil's side within
   fourteen days. To differentiate
   between the spirits, you need a
   natural instinct and also a lot of quiet
   time. Otherwise, we'll all end up 100
   per cent Nazi. Last Monday, our
   student leader told us the following:
   'Compulsory SA service for terms 1-3
   and the others should join if they
   want to finish their degree'.
   [To parents, November 12th, 1933]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Dietrich's attitude to the Nazis is unequivocal, no doubt guided and influenced by the staunchly anti-Nazi Professor Barth. …

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Confessions of a German Soldier: Dietrich Karsten Was a Protestant Pastor Who Opposed the Nazi Regime in the 1930s but Died for Hitler as a Soldier in the War. His Granddaughter, Lena Karsten, Enlisted the Help of Film-Maker Tony Wilson and Historian Gabriel Fawcett to Find His Grave and Tell His Story. the Result Is a Powerful Feature Documentary Confessions of a German Soldier. Lena Karsten Gives an Insight into What She Discovered
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