Twisted Cross: The German Christian Movement in the Third Reich

Twisted Cross: The German Christian Movement in the Third Reich

Twisted Cross: The German Christian Movement in the Third Reich

Twisted Cross: The German Christian Movement in the Third Reich

Synopsis

How did Germany's Christians respond to Nazism? In Twisted Cross, Doris Bergen addresses one important element of this response by focusing on the 600,000 self-described 'German Christians,' who sought to expunge all Jewish elements from the Christian church. In a process that became more daring as Nazi plans for genocide unfolded, this group of Protestant lay people and clergy rejected the Old Testament, ousted people defined as non-Aryans from their congregations, denied the Jewish ancestry of Jesus, and removed Hebrew words like 'Hallelujah' from hymns.

Bergen refutes the notion that the German Christians were a marginal group and demonstrates that members occupied key positions within the Protestant church even after their agenda was rejected by the Nazi leadership. Extending her analysis into the postwar period, Bergen shows how the German Christians were relatively easily reincorporated into mainstream church life after 1945. Throughout Twisted Cross, Bergen reveals the important role played by women and by the ideology of spiritual motherhood amid the German Christians' glorification of a 'manly' church.

Excerpt

Why write a book about the German Christians (Deutsche Christen), a group of pro-Nazi Protestants in the Third Reich? While working in the Community Archive in Minden, I came across some correspondence that led me to contemplate my motives. in 1960, two former adherents of the German Christian cause exchanged letters. How, they asked each other, could they promote new approaches to the history of the church under National Socialism? Despite the neutral language, their intentions were clear: they wanted someone to write a positive account that would help rehabilitate their movement. a doctoral student might assume the task, one of the men suggested. His friend was dubious. a student might be found, he responded, but who would supervise such a work? Those letters were written the year I was born, and both men have since died. in a sense, the line of inquiry that brought me to this study was the opposite of theirs. To me, the German Christian movement embodies a moral and spiritual dilemma I associate with my own religious questions: What is the value of religion, and in particular of Christianity, if it provides no defense against brutality and can even become a willing participant in genocide?

Perhaps my background in a family of ethnic German Mennonites from Ukraine has made me sensitive to and wary of certain connections between religious and ethnic identities. in my initial reading about Protestants in Nazi Germany, I was struck by what seemed contorted efforts to fuse Christianity with Germanness and purge it of Jewish influence. I wanted to explore how members of the German Christian movement synthesized Christianity and National Socialism, two systems of belief most people would regard as fundamentally irreconcilable. This book is the result.

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