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History

Changing life for the German people

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What effect did the Nazis' racial and religious policy have on life in Germany?

The treatment of religion

The Nazi viewpoint on religion

The Nazis believed in Constructive Christianity and freedom for every religious denomination (group). But in reality, the Nazis saw the Church and Christianity as a threat to their policies. One-third of Germans were Catholics and two-thirds were Protestants. At the beginning they cooperated with the Nazis. They believed that the new government protected them from communism and maintained traditional morals and family values.

Links with the Catholic and Protestant Churches

Hitler signed a concordat with the Pope in 1933. He promised full religious freedom for the Church and the Pope promised that he wouldn’t interfere in political matters.

Then, the Nazis started to close Catholic churches. Many monasteries were shut down and the Catholic Youth Organisation was abolished (remember that the Nazis had created the Hitler Youth Movement).

The Pope protested by issuing a letter in 1937, which was to be read in every Catholic Church. This didn’t have any impact at all.

Around 400 priests were arrested and sent to the Dachau concentration camp.

The National Reich Church

There were 28 Protestant groups in Germany, and they were merged to form the National Reich Church in 1936. A member of the Nazi party was elected Bishop of the Church. Non-Aryan ministers were suspended.

Church members called themselves German Christians, with "the Swastika on their chest and the Cross in their heart."

Religion under the Nazis

Religion under the Nazis

Martin Niemöller

Martin Niemöller

Not everyone was happy with the new Church. The Confessing Church was formed by Martin Niemöller in 1934 with 6,000 ministers, leaving 2,000 behind in the National Reich Church. This was a challenge to the Nazis. Around 800 ministers were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

  • Niemöller was arrested in 1937 and sent to Dachau, then Sachsenhausen, until 1945.
  • Dietreich Bonhoeffer was imprisoned in 1943 and was later executed.

Further information

Christians weren’t the only ones being persecuted by the Nazis. About one-third of Jehovah Witnesses were killed in concentration camps as they weren’t willing to fight for any cause, and therefore refused to serve in the army.

The following religious groups disappeared from Germany:

  • The Salvation Army
  • Christian Saints
  • The Seventh Day Adventist Church

The following groups were banned:

  • Astrologers
  • Healers
  • Fortune tellers

Pagans - The German Faith Movement was pro-Nazi. They were racist. They worshipped the sun and the seasons.

The Church - They did not manage to abolish the Church. The majority chose to keep quiet and appeared to be conforming. There was an intense fear of the Gestapo.

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