A newly published book considered to be the definite account of opposition in Nazl Germany declares that the Roman Catholic and Evangelical (Lutheran), Churches "were the only major organizations to offer comparatively early and open resistance."
Adolph Hitler succeeded to throwing political parties and trade unions into disarray. But religious opposition began in 1933 and continued through the 1945 collapse of the Third Reich, according to Peter Hoffman, author of The History of the German Resistance, 1933-1945, published by MIT Press of Cambridge, Mass.
The book by the German born professor, who teaches German history at Montreal's McGill University, was first published in Gernan in 1969, but contains new material for newly published English translation.
The churches, Hoffman reports, were "not entirely immune" to the conformism of the rest of society in the early days of Hilter's government. But they were "the only organizations to produce some form of a popular movement against the Nazi regime," he wrote.
The resistance by Evangelists according to the book, began "initially to combat the 'Aryan paragraphs' in the new German church constitution of June 11, 1933.
"Led by Martin Niemoeller of Dahlem and the young theologian. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, they resisted any adulteration of the evengelist faith by Germanistic or other non-Christian ideas," the book asserts. "Thousands of pastors now felt themselves, and remained, under an obligation to offer resistance to Nazism, an equal number, however, evaded the issue, held their tongues or paid more or less thorough-going lip service to the regime and 'our Fuehrer.' Nevertheless: a 'first focus of resistance' had formed.
In 1933, the author relates, 'the Catholic Church, too, was literally forced to resist," despite the Vatican having signed a concordat with Germany in July of that year, Hoffman writes:
"It could not silently accept the general persecution, regimentation or oppression, nor in particular the sterilization law of summer 1933. Over the years until the outbreak of war, Catholic resistance stiffened until finally its most eminent spokesman was the Pope himself (Pius XII) with his Encyclical 'Mit Brennender Sorge' ('With burning anxiety') of March 14, 1937, read from all German Catholic pulpits.
Hoffman said that the churches "achieved a certain success, for even during the war, the Nazi rulers did not think that they could risk complete destruction of the churches."
"They were confronted here with barriers they could not understand - the fortitude and integrity of religious conviction, conscience and a sense of responsibility for one's fellow men which were not to be extinguished by regulations and prohibitions," the author wrote.