The Nazi regime wanted family and youth culture to be incorporated into the state and racial community. Religious institutions, on the other hand, were regarded as rival authorities that needed to be curbed or eliminated. Plans to act on these sentiments, however, had to be veiled for political reasons, postponed in times of crisis, and ultimately abandoned during the war; nonetheless, they still emerged in confidential discussions or indiscreet public statements by some Nazi radicals. Still, most Protestant and Catholic religious officials sought accommodation with the Nazi regime. They may have done so on the basis of misleadingly reassuring public statements by Hitler or shared feelings of nationalism and anti-Marxism. In the early years of the Third Reich, only a small minority of churchmen sensed the huge gulf that separated Nazism from any of the Christian faiths, and within this group some saw few alternatives to working within the system.
In general, the Evangelical Church (which was predominantly Lutheran) was very much inclined to support the government. But in late 1933, an anti-Nazi element began to coalesce among Lutherans in response to the machinations of a fervently pro-Nazi faction called the German Christians (36). The arrest of two Lutheran state bishops in the fall of 1934 led almost immediately to the formation of the separatist organization that came to be known as the Confessional Church. The Nazi regime temporarily retreated, and the two arrested bishops were reinstated. Within the Evangelical Church, the Confessing parishes remained a small minority.
Unlike the Evangelical Church, the Catholic Church was an international institution with a supreme authority based outside of Germany. The “Reich Concordat between the Holy See and the German Reich” of July 20, 1933 – mentioned in Section I of this introduction – supposedly defined the relationship between the Catholic Church and the state, thus resolving a range of sensitive issues. Its confidential appendix also envisioned the drafting of Catholic priests into military service, a noteworthy inclusion since there was no draft at the time – the German army had been limited to 100,000 men by the Treaty of Versailles.
(36) Doris L. Bergen, Twisted Cross: The German Christian Movement in the Third Reich (Chapel Hill: North Carolina, 1996); John S. Conway, The Nazi Persecution of the Churches (Vancouver, BC: Regent College Publishing, 1997).