The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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   Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, Volume Two, Chapter XIV


(1) Immediately upon Nazi seizure of power within Germany,
von Papen endeavored to weld German Catholicism into a
powerful body of support for the Nazi state. When Naziism
seized control of Germany in January 1933, its relations
with the church were at a low ebb. The period of the
Reichstag elections of July and November 1932 was marred by
certain widely circulated anti-Nazi pronouncements of the
German bishops, especially in such Catholic papers as
Germania, Koelnische Volkszeitung, and the Rhein-Mainische
Volkszeitung. These bishops discerned the fundamental
incompatibility between the Church and the Nazis' own
declarations of State policy. They accordingly publicly
stigmatized the Nazi movement as anti-Christian, forbade the
Catholic clergy to participate in any ceremonies (such as
funerals) in which the Nazi Party was officially
represented, refused the sacraments to

                                                  [Page 932]
Party officials, and in several pastorals expressly warned -
the faithful against the danger to German Catholicism
created by the Party

Immediately upon seizure of power, the main concern of the
new regime was to liquidate political opposition.
Achievement of this objective was predicated upon the
strategy of "divide and rule". A first step in this strategy
was to convince conservatives that the efforts of the
government were being directed primarily against the
Communists and other forces of the extreme Left, and that
their own interests would remain safe in Nazi hands as long
as they would consent to refrain from political activity.
The result was a brief but active period of rapprochement
between Church and Party. Von Papen was a leader in this
strategy. The minutes of the Reich cabinet meeting of 15
March 1933 contain the following notation in connection with
discussions on the Enabling Act:

     "The Vice Chancellor and Reich Commissar for the State
     of Prussia said it-is of decisive importance to
     integrate into the new State the masses standing behind
     the Parties. He said that the question of coordination
     of political Catholicism into the new State is of
     special importance." (2962-PS)

Eight days later, speaking at the second meeting of the
Reichstag of 1933, on 23 March 1933, Hitler asked for
adoption of the Enabling Act. In this speech he declared:

     "While the government is determined to carry through
     the political and moral purging of our public life, it
     is creating and insuring prerequisites for a truly
     religious life. The government sees in both Christian
     confessions the factors most important for the
     maintenance of our Folkdom. It will respect agreements
     concluded between them and the states. However, it
     expects that its work will meet with a similar
     appreciation. The government will treat all other
     denominations with equal objective justice. However, it
     can never condone that belonging to a certain
     denomination or to' a certain race might be regarded as
     a license to commit or tolerate crimes. The Government
     will devote its care to the sincere living together of
     Church and State." (3387-PS).

The immediate effect of this assurance was action by the
conference of German bishop, meeting in Fulda on 28 March
1933. This conference lifted restrictions imposed on members
of the church adhering to the Nazi movement. In a cautious
statement which placed full faith and credit in the Papen-
inspired Hitler assurances, the bishops declared:

     "The high shepherds of the dioceses of Germany in their
                                                  [Page 933]
     tiful anxiety to keep the Catholic faith pure and
     protect the untouchable aims and rights of the Catholic
     Church have adopted, for profound reasons, during the
     last years, an oppositional attitude toward the
     National Socialist movement, through prohibitions and
     warnings, which was to be in effect as long and as far
     as those reasons remained valid.
     "It must now be recognized that there are official and
     solemn declarations issued by the highest
     representative of the Reich Government -- who at the
     same time is the authoritarian leader of that movement
     -- which acknowledge the inviolability of the teachings
     of Catholic faith and the unchangeable tasks and rights
     of the church, and which expressly assure the full
     value of the legal pacts concluded between the various
     German States and the Church.
     "Without lifting the condemnation of certain religious
     and ethical errors implied in our previous measures,
     the Episcopate now believes it can entertain the
     confidence that those prescribed general prohibitions
     and warnings may not be regarded as necessary any
     more." (3389-PS)

This action opened the door for mass Party adherence by
practicing Catholics. All those German Catholics who were
inclined to adopt Nazi political views and had hesitated
only because of the anti-Nazi attitude of the hierarchy
hastened now to join the victorious party of the "National
Revolution". This tendency was marked by a tremendous and
sudden burst of activity by the so-called "bridge-builders,"
who rushed to close the gap between the Church and the Nazi
State. Von Papen, who only a short time before had been
willing to use armed force to suppress the Nazis, was
foremost among these "bridge-builders", who not only claimed
an ideological affinity between the Nazi system and the
alleged anti-liberal character of Catholic politics, but
affirmatively apologized for excesses of the State which
even then had begun to shock the world.

Existing agencies were used for this purpose. Thus, the
Union of Catholic Germans (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Katholischer
Deutscher), of which von Papen was president, insisted in
its program that the church, like the Nazi movement itself,
was guided by the leadership principle (Cuno Horkenbach, Das
Deutsche Reich von 1918 bis Heute (The German Reich from
1918 Until Today) (Berlin 1935), pp. 436, 504). The same
organization, in the course of the election campaign which
preceded adoption of the Enabling Act, had bitterly
criticized the Catholic political opposition to Marxism and
urged that Catholics "by all means vote unani-

                                                  [Page 934]
mously the National Socialist ticket", because "We Catholics
do not wish to be denied to march in the lead in this
election campaign" (Election Appeal, Voelkischer Beobachter,
23 February 1933, p. 2). Later, on the eve of the Nazis'
first anti-Jewish boycott, this same organization played its
part in the extensive campaign replying to foreign newspaper
reports concerning atrocities committed against German Jews.
On 1 April 1933 it published through the Prussian News
Service, an "Appeal to all Christians", viewing "with great
indignation" this "irresponsible campaign against Germany"
which "continues in spite of official German declarations
and corrections". This "Appeal" characterized the foreign
reports as "intentional lies and falsifications" and "a
reckless, crafty campaign of destruction conducted by the
Jewish world alliance and moneyed powers against the right
of self-determination of all peoples and against the entire
Christian civilization". It called upon "the Christians of
all countries, irrespective of denominations, to form a
world-wide front of defense against that Jewish conspiracy
disturbing the true peace" ("Appeal to All Christians",
Voelkischer Beobachter (People's Observer), 30 March 1933,
p. 2).

Notwithstanding the force of these activities, this
Nazification by existing agencies was not deemed adequate to
the task of organizing Catholic lay support. The result was
the creation, in early April 1933, under the sponsorship of
von Papen, of a new "Bund" of Catholic Germans called "Cross
and Eagle" ("Kreuz und Adler") which made it its task "to
contribute enthusiastic devotion to the upbuilding of the
future Reich" (Gerd Ruehle, Das Dritte Reich (The Third
Reich), p. 250).

This whole program of rapprochement between Church and Party
manifests the Papen "touch" -- the same quality of handiwork
which had manifested itself in Hitler's accession to power
and which later was to reappear in Austria: First, gentle
hints by Papen a to strategy, followed within eight days by
reassurances in Hitler's Reichstag speech. Next, again
following merely by days, the formal lifting of the
restrictions on Nazi membership by the leaders of the Church
of which von Papen was the most famous lay member. Finally,
again within a few days, the open campaign by which Papen-
sponsored organizations endeavored to align Church and
Party. The close timing of these events was not a

(2) Having achieved initial successes in consolidating
Catholic support within Germany, von Papen undertook
international consolidation of Nazi-Church relationships by
negotiation of a Con-

                                                  [Page 935]
cordat with the Vatican. The program of rapprochement and
the public declarations bridging the gap between the Church
and the Nazi movement were merely advertising media by which
Nazi-minded Catholics were herded into the movement, and
slogans by which the conspirators might placate the Catholic
hierarchy. Throughout this period there continued an
undercurrent of anti-Catholic activity. A thorough job was
done in purging Reich, state, and municipal administrations
of officials appointed for their adherence to the Centre or
Bavarian People's parties. Former leaders of those parties,
including priests, joined Communists and Social Democrats in
the concentration camps, and the campaign of hatred against
the "black" was resumed. By April 1933 the bishops were
making appeals for clemency toward former civil servants,
who, they pointed out, were not able to join the celebration
of national awakening because they had been dismissed from
positions in which they had given their best to the
community of the German people. And on 31 May 1933, a
meeting of the Bavarian bishops adopted a solemn statement
directed against the tendency of attributing to the State
alone the right of educating, organizing, and leading
ideologically the German youth (Dismissal of Catholics,
Excerpts from Voelkischer Beobachter, February-March 1933;
Excerpt, Voelkischer Beobachter, 19 April 1933 (Munich ed.),
p. 2).

By this maintenance of a certain amount of pressure against
Catholic interests, the hierarchy was reminded of the
dangers of not coming to a definite agreement with the Nazi
State. The stage was thus set for von Papen's negotiation of
a Concordat with the Vatican.

At the time of these activities, the government of which von
Papen was Vice Chancellor had already launched its program
to mold the state machinery into the Nazi image. The
Enabling Act had become law, and the general outlines of the
Nazi State were already manifest. Notwithstanding the doubts
created in his mind by Hitler's insistence upon the Enabling
Act, von Papen undertook negotiations with the Vatican. In
fact, he since has claimed that these fears gave rise to the
negotiation of the Concordat (Interrogation at Nurnberg,

     "I became alarmed, you remember, somewhere in June when
     I went to Rome to negotiate a concordat because I
     certainly feared that the particular powers of the
     Hitler Party would create difficulties on the religious
     side. So that with the consent of Hitler I went to Rome
     to make that concordat."

It is clear, however, that these alleged fears of the
Enabling Act were not fears at all. They were merely an

                                                  [Page 936]
of the threat they carried to all persons and
instrumentalities antagonistic to the Nazi system. Von Papen
understood the significance of these developments. What he
actually feared was that the rest of the world would also
understand Nazi methods and would erect barriers to the
consummation of the plans of the conspirators. The situation
plainly called for a neutralizing of these potential
barriers to Nazi plans. One method of achieving this result
at that time was the negotiation of solemn agreements
whereby other powers would commit themselves to a policy of
non-intervention by either armed or moral force.

When von Papen concluded the Concordat with the Vatican, the
political objectives of furthering the purposes of the Nazi
conspiracy were thus foremost in his mind. Even at that
time, in the first half of 1933, von Papen had in mind, in
concluding this Concordat, not only the consolidation of
Catholicism behind the Nazi regime within Germany, but also
the psychological build-up of the Austrians in preparation
for Anschluss. Von Papen's own words eloquently characterize
these manoeuvres (monograph entitled "Austria" written at

     "Although the 'Heimwehr' movement [in Austria] had
     brought these patriotic elements together before this,
     and had fought with them to free the country from
     strong Socialistic pressure, yet they were armed only
     from the standpoint of domestic politics and remained
     aloof from all ambitions for a greater Germany. The
     cause lay mostly in the Catholic nature of the country,
     and in the strong influence of the clergy in political
     leadership. The Reich was considered a bulwark of
     Protestantism, despite its twenty million Catholics.
     The anti-clerical wave, which was dominant in the Reich
     under the leadership of Prussia, itself led by
     Socialists, appeared to have verified the fears of the
     Austrian clergy. For in spite of Catholics at the head
     of the Reich -- Wirth, Marx, Bruening -- the Centre
     Party had always put through its cultural demands by
     logrolling with the Socialists. There were at least two
     Socialist officials, university professors or teachers
     for every Catholic appointee. In contrast to the
     obviously badly functioning Weimar Constitution, there
     was an effort in Austria, under clerical leadership and
     with the strong support of the Vatican, to develop into
     a corporate state.

     "Those were serious obstacles on both sides. When,
     after the seizure of power of the NSDAP in 1933, as the
     first remedy against a new 'Kulturkampf', I safely
     concluded the
                                                  [Page 937]
     Concordat of the New Reich with the Holy See, my
     thoughts at the time were not focused only of the
     Reich. For a peaceful evolution of the German-Austrian
     question it was of the greatest importance that the
     doubts of the clergy on the Austrian side be completely
     "It was my first purpose in the diplomatic field to
     deprive the Austrian problem of its European character,
     and to develop it gradually into an exclusively
     internal problem between the Reich and Austria.
     "It therefore had to be my primary aim to convince the
     Vatican that a union could not endanger the Vatican's
     interests. A Concordat of the Reich with the Vatican
     had been my first attempt to prevent religious
     difficulties arising from Nazism's revolutionary
     doctrine; the attempt had obviously failed. Under the
     growing influence of his Party, Hitler sabotaged the
     Concordat. Rome was deeply disappointed and in the
     greatest excitement."

On 20 July 1933 the Reich Concordat with the Vatican was
signed by von Papen as representative of the Nazi Government
of Germany. This instrument was an international treaty
which purported to give the church an official guarantee of
all the church rights it had sought. In addition it
purported to confer freedom for Catholic organizations,
maintenance of parochial schools, and preservation of the
general influence of the church on the education of the
German Catholic youth. Among the 33 articles of the
Concordat, 21 treated exclusively the rights and
prerogatives accorded to the church. Reciprocation consisted
only in a pledge of loyalty by the clergy to the Reich
Government and a promise that Catholic religious instruction
would emphasize the patriotic duties of the Christian
citizen and insist on a loyal attitude toward the
Fatherland. Since it had always been the practice of the
Catholic church to abide by established governments and to
promote patriotic convictions among the faithful, these
stipulations of the Concordat were no more than
legalizations of an existing custom. They were no more than
a guarantee of goodwill betokening harmonious Church-State
relations (2655-PS).

(3) The signing of the Concordat was only an interlude in
the church policy of the Nazi Conspirators, which was a
policy of reassurances and repression. The signing of the
Concordat merely marked the beginning of evasions and
violations of both its spirit and letter. The ink was hardly
dry before it became

                                                  [Page 938]
necessary for the Vatican to complain about a false
interpretation of the text, made by the Nazi government in
it own favour. (See Section 6 of Chapter VII on Suppression
of the Christian Churches.)

By action taken only ten days after the signing of the
Concordat, and despite its provision for the continuance of
the Catholic Youth Association, simultaneous membership in
the Hitler Jugend and the Catholic Youth Association was
forbidden, and the campaign to smash the latter organization
thereby commenced (2456-PS).

These first steps were merely a foretaste of a long series
of violations which were to commence almost immediately and
eventually to result in papal denunciation and serious
excesses committed against the clergy (3280-PS).

The continuing character of the conspirators' church policy
-- and of von Papen's participation in it -- is further
revealed by von Papen's action of 19 September 1934, when,
as president of the Union of Catholic Germans
(Arbeitsgemeinschaft Katholischer Deutscher), he ordered
dissolution of this organization. By this time the Nazis
were dropping all pretext that rival organizations might be
permitted to exist, and were well along in their plans for
the integration of all German institutions into the Nazi
system. The official published announcement of dissolution
is a revealing document:

     "Since the Reich Party Leadership through its
     department for spiritual peace increasingly and
     immediately administers all cultural problems and those
     concerning the relationship of State and Churches, the
     tasks at first delegated to the Union of Catholic
     Germans are now included in those of the Reich Party
     Leadership in the interest of a stronger coordination.
     "Vice-Chancellor von Papen, up to now the Leader of the
     Union of Catholic Germans, declared about the
     Dissolution of this organization that it was done upon
     his suggestion, since the attitude of the national
     socialist State toward the Christian and Catholic
     Church had been explained often and inequivocally
     through the leader and chancellor himself." (3376-PS).

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