Women against Hitler: Christian Resistance in the Third Reich

Women against Hitler: Christian Resistance in the Third Reich

Women against Hitler: Christian Resistance in the Third Reich

Women against Hitler: Christian Resistance in the Third Reich

Synopsis

Adolf Hitler declared war on Christianity when he silenced the Catholic Church with a diplomatic treaty and arranged for a Nazi Army chaplain to become supreme bishop over the Protestants of Germany. The "Confessing Church" resisted. Pastors were muzzled, put under house arrest, jailed, and held for years in concentration camps. Thousands were drafted and sent to the war to die, while others were murdered outright. The result was a lack of "man"-power. Women stepped in. Pastors' wives replaced their absent husbands in the pulpits, and Theologinnen--theologically trained women--preached and assumed administration of the orphaned parishes. Women fought to save their civil rights, and freedoms of speech, assembly, press, and religion. Some went to jail. Some died. A social and theological revolution thus erupted when women stood by the side of men in leadership positions in the church.

Excerpt

On Saturday morning, 24 February 1934, Gestapo agents from Belgard appeared at Pastor Martin Vedder's parsonage door in Gross Poplow, Pomerania, with a document for the pastor to sign. It was a statement whereby he would agree not to read a certain pulpit declaration that was circulating among dissident Protestant congregations throughout Germany. The pulpit declaration, which had originated in the far-off Rhineland and had by now made its way across Germany to Pomerania, urged pastors and church elders to disobey conscientiously any directives from the newly re-organized German Protestant Church, which was headed by Nazi Reich-Bishop Ludwig Müller. Vedder and thousands of other pastors like him had branded the official leaders of the German Protestant Church as heretics.

"We trust, Herr Pastor," the Gestapo agents said, "that you will give us as little trouble as your colleagues, all of whom have already signed this state+00AD ment." Pastor Vedder demurred, insisting that such a decision was not his alone to make, and that he would have to confer with the elders of his church. He personally doubted that the other pastors in his region had already signed, and the police naturally showed him no evidence. The agents promised that at eight o'clock the following morning, Sunday, they would return for his signature. They then disconnected the pastor's telephone so that he could not confer with colleagues elsewhere.

As Pastor Vedder continued to work on his sermon and the choir gathered at the parsonage for a last rehearsal, the local chief of police, himself a member of Pastor Vedder's congregation, called on the pastor's wife, Felicitas Vedder, to ask whether she could please persuade her husband to sign the document. What, asked the police chief, would become of her and their one-year-old Lieselotte if something should happen to the pastor? "This friendly and concerned approach was far more difficult to withstand," confessed Felicitas Vedder later, "than the . . .

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