Confessing Church
The Confessing Church was a Protestant schismatic
Schism (religion)
A schism , from Greek σχίσμα, skhísma , is a division between people, usually belonging to an organization or movement religious denomination. The word is most frequently applied to a break of communion between two sections of Christianity that were previously a single body, or to a division within...

 church in Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 that arose in opposition to government-sponsored efforts to nazify
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

 the German Protestant church.


The following numbers (as of January 1933 unless otherwise stated) are an aid in understanding the political and theological developments discussed in this article.
  • Number of Protestants in Germany: 45 million
  • Number of free church
    Free church
    The term "free church" refers to a Christian denomination that is intrinsically separated from government . A free church does not define government policy, nor have governments define church policy or theology, nor seeks or receives government endorsement or funding for its general mission...

     Protestants: 150,000
  • Largest regional Protestant church: Evangelical Church of the old-Prussian Union
    Prussian Union (Evangelical Christian Church)
    The Prussian Union was the merger of the Lutheran Church and the Reformed Church in Prussia, by a series of decrees – among them the Unionsurkunde – by King Frederick William III...

     , with 18 million members the church strongest in members in the country at the time
  • Number of Protestant pastors: 18,000
  • Number of these strongly adhering to German Christian faction as of 1935: 3000
  • Number of these strongly adhering to Confessing Church faction as of 1935: 3000
  • Number of these arrested during 1935: 700
    • Number of these not closely affiliated with or adhering to either faction: 12,000
    • Total population of Germany: 65 million
    • Number of Jews in Germany: 525,000

The Holy Roman Empire and the German Empire

After the Peace of Augsburg
Peace of Augsburg
The Peace of Augsburg, also called the Augsburg Settlement, was a treaty between Charles V and the forces of the Schmalkaldic League, an alliance of Lutheran princes, on September 25, 1555, at the imperial city of Augsburg, now in present-day Bavaria, Germany.It officially ended the religious...

 in 1555, the principle that the religion of the ruler dictated the religion of the ruled (cuius regio, eius religio
Cuius regio, eius religio
Cuius regio, eius religio is a phrase in Latin translated as "Whose realm, his religion", meaning the religion of the ruler dictated the religion of the ruled...

) was observed throughout the Holy Roman Empire. § 24 of the Peace of Augsburg (ius emigrandi) guaranteed freedom of emigration with all belongings to members of a denomination other than the ruler's. Political stalemates among the government members of different denominations within a number of the republican Free Imperial Cities, such as, Augsburg
Augsburg is a city in the south-west of Bavaria, Germany. It is a university town and home of the Regierungsbezirk Schwaben and the Bezirk Schwaben. Augsburg is an urban district and home to the institutions of the Landkreis Augsburg. It is, as of 2008, the third-largest city in Bavaria with a...

, Frankfurt upon Main
Free City of Frankfurt
For almost five centuries, the German city of Frankfurt am Main was a city-state within two major Germanic states:*The Holy Roman Empire as the Free Imperial City of Frankfurt...

, and Regensburg
Regensburg is a city in Bavaria, Germany, located at the confluence of the Danube and Regen rivers, at the northernmost bend in the Danube. To the east lies the Bavarian Forest. Regensburg is the capital of the Bavarian administrative region Upper Palatinate...

, made their territories de facto bidenominational, but usually the two denominations did not share equal legal status.

The Peace of Augsburg protected Catholicism and Lutheranism, but not Calvinism. Thus, in 1613, when John Sigismund, Elector of Brandenburg
John Sigismund, Elector of Brandenburg
John Sigismund was a Prince-elector of the Margraviate of Brandenburg from the House of Hohenzollern. He also served as a Duke of Prussia.-Elector of Brandenburg and Duke of Prussia:...

 converted from Lutheranism to Calvinism, he could not exercise the principle of cuius regio, eius religio. This situation paved the way for bi- or multi-denominational monarchies, wherein a ruler adhering to a creed different from most of his subjects would permit conversions to his denomination and immigration of his fellow faithful. In 1648, the Peace of Westphalia
Peace of Westphalia
The Peace of Westphalia was a series of peace treaties signed between May and October of 1648 in Osnabrück and Münster. These treaties ended the Thirty Years' War in the Holy Roman Empire, and the Eighty Years' War between Spain and the Dutch Republic, with Spain formally recognizing the...

 accorded the principle of cuius regio, eius religio to Calvinism also.

However, the principle grew impracticable in the 17th and 18th centuries, which experienced continuous territorial changes, arising from annexations and inheritances, and conversions of rulers. For instance, Saxon Augustus the Strong converted from Lutheranism to Catholicism in 1697, but did not exercise his privilege. A conqueror or successor to the throne who adhered to a different creed from his new subjects usually would not complicate his takeover by imposing conversions. These enlarged realms spawned diaspora congregations, as immigrants settled in areas where the prevailing creeds differed from their own. This juxtaposition of beliefs in turn brought about more frequent personal changes in denomination, often in the form of marital conversion
Marital conversion
Marital conversion refers to the concept of religious conversion upon marriage, either as a conciliatory act, or a mandated requirement according to a particular religious belief. Endogamous religious cultures may have certain opposition to interfaith marriage and ethnic assimilation, and may...


However, regional mobility was low, especially in the countryside, which generally did not attract newcomers, but experienced rural exodus, so that today's denominational make-up in Germany and Switzerland still quite well represents the former boundaries among territories ruled by Calvinist, Catholic, or Lutheran rulers in the 16th century. In a major departure, the legislature of the North German Confederation
North German Confederation
The North German Confederation 1866–71, was a federation of 22 independent states of northern Germany. It was formed by a constitution accepted by the member states in 1867 and controlled military and foreign policy. It included the new Reichstag, a parliament elected by universal manhood...

 instituted the right of irreligionism in 1869, permitting the declaration of secession from all religious bodies.

The Protestant Church in Germany was and is divided into geographic regions and along denominational affiliations (Calvinist, Lutheran, and united churches). In the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, the then-existing monarchies and republics established regional churches (Landeskirche
In Germany and Switzerland, a Landeskirche is the church of a region. They originated as the national churches of the independent states, States of Germany or Cantons of Switzerland , that later unified to form modern Germany or modern Switzerland , respectively.-Origins in the Holy Roman...

), comprising the respective congregations within the then-existing state borders. In the case of Protestant ruling dynasties, each regional church affiliated with the regnal houses
Royal family
A royal family is the extended family of a king or queen regnant. The term imperial family appropriately describes the extended family of an emperor or empress, while the terms "ducal family", "grand ducal family" or "princely family" are more appropriate to describe the relatives of a reigning...

, and the crown provided financial and institutional support for its church. Church and State
State religion
A state religion is a religious body or creed officially endorsed by the state...

 were, therefore, to a large extent combined on a regional basis.

Weimar Germany

In the aftermath of World War I
Aftermath of World War I
The fighting in World War I ended in western Europe when the Armistice took effect at 11:00 am GMT on November 11, 1918, and in eastern Europe by the early 1920s. During and in the aftermath of the war the political, cultural, and social order was drastically changed in Europe, Asia and Africa,...

 with its political and social turmoil, the regional churches lost their secular rulers. With revolutionary fervor in the air, the conservative church leaders had to contend with socialists
Social Democratic Party of Germany
The Social Democratic Party of Germany is a social-democratic political party in Germany...

 (Social Democrats (SPD) and Independent Social Democrats
Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany
The Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany was a short-lived political party in Germany during the Second Reich and the Weimar Republic. The organization was established in 1917 as the result of a split of left wing members of the Social Democratic Party of Germany...

 (USPD)) who mostly held to disestablishmentarianism. When Adolph Hoffmann, a strident secularist, was appointed as Prussia
Prussia was a German kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organized and effective army. Prussia shaped the history...

n Minister for Education and Public Worship in November 1918 by the USPD, he attempted to implement a number of plans, which included:
  • cutting church subsidies from the government
  • confiscation
    Confiscation, from the Latin confiscatio 'joining to the fiscus, i.e. transfer to the treasury' is a legal seizure without compensation by a government or other public authority...

     of church property
  • abolition of theology
    Theology is the systematic and rational study of religion and its influences and of the nature of religious truths, or the learned profession acquired by completing specialized training in religious studies, usually at a university or school of divinity or seminary.-Definition:Augustine of Hippo...

     as a course of study in universities
  • banning school prayer
    School prayer
    School prayer in its common usage refers to state-approved prayer by students in state schools. Depending on the country and the type of school, organized prayer may be required, permitted, or prohibited...

  • banning compulsory religious instruction
    Religious education
    In secular usage, religious education is the teaching of a particular religion and its varied aspects —its beliefs, doctrines, rituals, customs, rites, and personal roles...

     in school
  • prohibiting compulsory attendance by schools at worship services
    Service of worship
    In the Protestant denominations of Christianity, a service of worship is a meeting whose primary purpose is the worship of God. The phrase is normally shortened to service. It is also commonly called a worship service...

After storms of protests from both Protestants and Catholics, Hoffmann was forced to resign and, by political means, the churches were able to prevent complete disestablishment. A compromise was reached — one which favored the Protestant church establishment. There would be no state churches any longer, but the churches remained public corporations and retained their subsidies from government. The theological faculties in the universities continued, as did religious instruction in the schools, however, allowing the parents to opt out for their children. The rights formerly held by the monarchs in the German Empire simply devolved to church councils instead, and the high-ranking church administrators — who had been civil servants in the Empire — simply became church officials instead. The governing structure of the churches effectively changed as to the introduction of chairpersons elected by the synods.

Accordingly, in this initial period of the Weimar Republic
Weimar Republic
The Weimar Republic is the name given by historians to the parliamentary republic established in 1919 in Germany to replace the imperial form of government...

, in 1922 the Protestant Church in Germany formed a federation of 28 regional (or provincial) churches , with their regional boundaries more or less delineated by those of the federal states. This federal system allowed for a great deal of regional autonomy in the governance of German Protestantism, as it allowed for a national church parliament that served as a forum for discussion and that endeavored to resolve theological and organizational conflicts.

The Nazi Regime

Many Protestants voted for the Nazis in the elections of summer
German election, July 1932
The German parliamentary election of 31 July 1932, held after the premature dissolution of the Reichstag, saw great gains by the Nazi Party, which for the first time became the largest party in parliament, though without winning a majority...

 and fall 1932
German election, November 1932
The German parliamentary election of 6 November 1932 saw a significant drop for the Nazi Party and increases for the Communists and the national conservative DNVP...

 and March 1933
German election, 1933
The German federal election, March 1933 to the Reichstag of the Weimar Republic was held on 5 March 1933. The Nazis registered a large increase in votes again emerging as the largest party by far, nevertheless they failed to obtain absolute majority...

A limited number of Protestants, such as Barth
Karl Barth
Karl Barth was a Swiss Reformed theologian whom critics hold to be among the most important Christian thinkers of the 20th century; Pope Pius XII described him as the most important theologian since Thomas Aquinas...

, Bonhoeffer and Wilhelm Busch
Wilhelm Busch (pastor)
Wilhelm Busch was a German Lutheran pastor, youth evangelist, writer and activist of the Confessing Church during the Nazi period in Germany.-Life:...

, objected to the Nazis on moral
Morality is the differentiation among intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are good and bad . A moral code is a system of morality and a moral is any one practice or teaching within a moral code...

 and theological principles: they could not reconcile the Nazi state's claim to total control
Totalitarianism is a political system where the state recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible...

 over the person with the ultimate sovereignty
Sovereignty is the quality of having supreme, independent authority over a geographic area, such as a territory. It can be found in a power to rule and make law that rests on a political fact for which no purely legal explanation can be provided...

 that, in Christian orthodoxy, must belong only to God.

German Christians

The German Christian movement in the Protestant Church developed in the late Weimar period. They were, for the most part, a "group of fanatic Nazi Protestants" who were organized in 1931 to help win elections of presbyters
Elder (Christianity)
An elder in Christianity is a person valued for his wisdom who accordingly holds a particular position of responsibility in a Christian group. In some Christian traditions an elder is a clergy person who usually serves a local church or churches and who has been ordained to a ministry of Word,...

 and synod
A synod historically is a council of a church, usually convened to decide an issue of doctrine, administration or application. In modern usage, the word often refers to the governing body of a particular church, whether its members are meeting or not...

als of the old-Prussian church (last free election on 13 November 1932). In general, the group's political and religious motivations developed in response to the social and political tensions wrought by the end of World War I and the attendant substitution of a republican
Republicanism is the ideology of governing a nation as a republic, where the head of state is appointed by means other than heredity, often elections. The exact meaning of republicanism varies depending on the cultural and historical context...

 regime for the authoritarian one of Wilhelm II — much the same as the conditions leading to Hitler's rise to power.

The German Christian movement was sustained and encouraged by factors such as:
  • the 400th anniversary (in 1917) of Martin Luther
    Martin Luther
    Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

    's posting of the Ninety-Five Theses in 1517, an event which served to endorse German nationalism, to emphasize that Germany had a preferred place in the Protestant tradition, and to legitimize antisemitism. This was reinforced by the Luther Renaissance Movement of Professor Emmanuel Hirsch.
  • the revival of völkisch traditions
  • the de-emphasis of the Old Testament
    Old Testament
    The Old Testament, of which Christians hold different views, is a Christian term for the religious writings of ancient Israel held sacred and inspired by Christians which overlaps with the 24-book canon of the Masoretic Text of Judaism...

     in Protestant theology, and the removal of parts deemed as being "too Jewish", replacing New Testament
    New Testament
    The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

     with dejudaized version titled Die Botschaft Gottes (The Message of God)
  • the respect for temporal (secular) authority, which had been emphasized by Luther and has arguable scriptural support (Romans
    Epistle to the Romans
    The Epistle of Paul to the Romans, often shortened to Romans, is the sixth book in the New Testament. Biblical scholars agree that it was composed by the Apostle Paul to explain that Salvation is offered through the Gospel of Jesus Christ...


The German Christians were sympathetic to the Nazi regime's goal of "co-ordinating" the individual Protestant churches into a single and uniform Reich
Reich is a German word cognate with the English rich, but also used to designate an empire, realm, or nation. The qualitative connotation from the German is " sovereign state." It is the word traditionally used for a variety of sovereign entities, including Germany in many periods of its history...

 church, consistent with the Volk ethos and the Führerprinzip
The Führerprinzip , German for "leader principle", prescribes the fundamental basis of political authority in the governmental structures of the Third Reich...


The New National Church (Deutsche Evangelische Kirche)

In late April 1933 the leadership of the Protestant federation agreed to write a new constitution for a new "national" church, the German Evangelical Church ( or DEK). This had been one goal of the German Christians for some time, as such a centralization would enhance the coordination of Church and State, as a part of the overall Nazi process of Gleichschaltung
Gleichschaltung , meaning "coordination", "making the same", "bringing into line", is a Nazi term for the process by which the Nazi regime successively established a system of totalitarian control and tight coordination over all aspects of society. The historian Richard J...

. The German Christians agitated for Hitler's advisor on religious affairs, Ludwig Müller, to be elected as the new Church's bishop .

Müller had poor political skills, little political support within the Church and no real qualifications for the job, other than his commitment to Nazism and a desire to exercise power. When the federation council met in May 1933 to approve the new constitution, it elected Friedrich von Bodelschwingh
Friedrich von Bodelschwingh
Friedrich von Bodelschwingh, Junior was a German theologian and public health advocate. His father was Friedrich von Bodelschwingh, Senior , founder of the Bodelschwinghsche Anstalten Bethel charitable foundations.-Public health activities:Friedrich was the son of Reverend Friedrich von...

 as Reichsbischof of the new Protestant Reich Church
Protestant Reich Church
The Protestant Reich Church, officially German Evangelical Church and colloquially Reichskirche, was formed in 1936 to merge the 28 regional churches into a unified state church that espoused a single doctrine compatible with National Socialism...

 by a wide margin, largely on the advice and support of the leadership of the 28 church bodies.

Hitler was infuriated with the rejection of his candidate, and after a series of political maneuvers, Bodelschwingh resigned and Müller was elected as the new Reichsbischof on 27 September 1933, after the government had already imposed him on 28 June 1933. The formidable propaganda apparatus of the Nazi state was deployed to help the German Christians win presbyter and synodal elections, so that they could dominate the upcoming synod and finally put Müller into office. Hitler discretionarily decreed unconstitutional premature re-elections of all presbyters and synodals for 23 July; the night before the elections, Hitler made a personal appeal to Protestants by radio.

The German Christians won handily (70–80% of all seats in presbyteries and synods), except within four regional churches and one provincial body of the united old-Prussian church: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria right of the river Rhine
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria is a Protestant church in the German state of Bavaria. The seat of the church is in Munich....

, the Evangelical Lutheran State Church of Hanover, Evangelical Reformed State Church of the Province of Hanover the Lutheran Evangelical State Church in Württemberg, and in the old-Prussian ecclesiastical province of Westphalia
Evangelical Church of Westphalia
The Evangelical Church of Westphalia is a Protestant church body in the German state of Northrhine-Westphalia. It's the most important Protestant denomination in Westphalia...

, where the German Christians gained no majorities. Among adherents of the Confessing Church these church bodies were termed intact churches , as opposed to the German Christian-ruled bodies called destroyed churches . This electoral victory enabled the German Christians to secure sufficient delegates to prevail at the so-called national synod that conducted the "revised" September election for Reichsbischof. Further pro-Nazi developments followed the elevation of Müller to the bishopric: in late summer the old-Prussian church (led by Müller since his government appointment on 6 July 1933) adopted the Aryan Paragraph
Aryan paragraph
An Aryan paragraph is a clause in the statutes of an organization, corporation, or real estate deed that reserves membership and/or right of residence solely for members of the Aryan race and excludes from such rights any non-Aryans, particularly Jews or those of Jewish descent, as well as to those...

, effectively defrocking
To defrock, unfrock, or laicize ministers or priests is to remove their rights to exercise the functions of the ordained ministry. This may be due to criminal convictions, disciplinary matters, or disagreements over doctrine or dogma...

 clergy of Jewish descent and even clergy married to non-Aryans.


The Aryan Paragraph created a furor among some of the clergy. Under the leadership of Martin Niemöller
Martin Niemöller
Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemöller was a German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor. He is best known as the author of the poem "First they came…"....

, the Pastors' Emergency League
The Pfarrernotbund was an organisation founded on 11 September 1933 to unite German evangelical theologians, pastors and church office-holders against the introduction of the Aryan paragraph into the 28 Protestant regional church bodies and the Deutsche Evangelische Kirche and against the...

  was formed, presumably for the purpose of assisting clergy of Jewish descent, but the League soon evolved into a locus of dissent against Nazi interference in church affairs. Its membership grew while the objections and rhetoric of the German Christians escalated.

The League pledged itself to contest the state's attempts to infringe upon the confessional freedom of the churches, and it expressly opposed the adoption of the Aryan Paragraph. It distinguished between Jews and Christians of Jewish descent and insisted, consistent with the demands of orthodox Christianity, that converted Jews and their descendants were as Christian as anyone else and were full members of the Church in every sense.

At this stage, the objections of the Confessing Church were not motivated by moral outrage over antisemitism, as much as by the regime's interference in matters that were wholly within the church's province. The controversy was thus over church autonomy and church/state demarcation, not over the morality or immorality of persecuting Jews. Eventually, this dissenting group would evolve into the Confessing Church.

On 13 November 1933 a rally of German Christians was held at the Berlin Sportpalast
Berlin Sportpalast
The Berliner Sportpalast was a multi-purpose winter sport venue and meeting hall in the Schöneberg section of Berlin. Depending on the type of event and seating configuration, the Sportpalast could hold up to 14,000 people and was for a time the biggest meeting hall in the German capital...

, where — before a packed hall — banners proclaimed the unity of National Socialism and Christianity, interspersed with the omnipresent swastikas. A series of speakers addressed the crowd's pro-Nazi sentiments with ideas such as:
  • the removal of all pastors unsympathetic with National Socialism
  • the expulsion of members of Jewish descent, who might be arrogated to a separate church
  • the implementation of the Aryan Paragraph church-wide
  • the removal of the Old Testament from the Bible
    Marcionism was an Early Christian dualist belief system that originated in the teachings of Marcion of Sinope at Rome around the year 144; see also Christianity in the 2nd century....

  • the removal of "non-German" elements from religious services
  • the adoption of a more "heroic" and "positive" interpretation of Jesus, who in pro-Aryan
    Aryan is an English language loanword derived from Sanskrit ārya and denoting variously*In scholarly usage:**Indo-Iranian languages *in dated usage:**the Indo-European languages more generally and their speakers...

     fashion should be portrayed to be battling mightily against corrupt Jewish influences.

This rather shocking attempt to rally the pro-Nazi elements among the German Christians backfired, as it now appeared to many Protestants that the State was attempting to intervene in the most central theological matters of the church, rather than in just matters of church organization and polity
Polity is a form of government Aristotle developed in his search for a government that could be most easily incorporated and used by the largest amount of people groups, or states...


While Hitler, the consummate politician, was sensitive to such developments, Ludwig Müller was apparently without clue: he fired and transferred pastors adhering to the Emergency League, and in April 1934 actually deposed the heads of the Württembergian church, Bishop Theophil Wurm
Theophil Wurm
Theophil Wurm was the son of a pastor and was a leader in the German Protestant Church in the early twentieth century....

 and of the Bavarian church, Bishop Hans Meiser, for they and the synodals of their church bodies continuously refused to declare the merger of their church bodies in the German Evangelical Church (DEK). The continuing aggressiveness of the DEK and Müller spurred the schismatic Confessing Church to further action.

Barmen Declaration of Faith

In May 1934 the opposition met in a Confessing Church synod in Barmen
Barmen is a former industrial metropolis of the region of Bergisches Land, Germany, which in 1929 with four other towns was merged with the city of Wuppertal, North Rhine-Westphalia. Barmen was the birth-place of Friedrich Engels and together with the neighbouring town of Elberfeld founded the...

. The rebellious pastors denounced Müller and his leadership and declared that they and their congregations constituted the true Evangelical Church of Germany. The Barmen Declaration
Barmen Declaration
The Barmen Declaration or The Theological Declaration of Barmen 1934 is a statement of the Confessing Church opposing the Nazi-supported "German Christians" movement known for its anti-Semitism and extreme nationalism...

, primarily authored by Karl Barth
Karl Barth
Karl Barth was a Swiss Reformed theologian whom critics hold to be among the most important Christian thinkers of the 20th century; Pope Pius XII described him as the most important theologian since Thomas Aquinas...

, with the consultation and advice of other Confessing Church pastors like Martin Niemöller
Martin Niemöller
Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemöller was a German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor. He is best known as the author of the poem "First they came…"....

 and congregations, re-affirmed that the German Church was not an "organ of the State" and that the concept of State control over the Church was doctrinally false. The Declaration stipulated, at its core, that any State — even the totalitarian one — necessarily encountered a limit at God's commandments.

The Confessing Church had, in effect, declared the Nazi-sanctioned Reichskirche to be heretical
Heresy is a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma. It is distinct from apostasy, which is the formal denunciation of one's religion, principles or cause, and blasphemy, which is irreverence toward religion...

. In effect, from and after the Barmen Declaration, there were two Protestant churches in Germany:
  • the officially sanctioned Reichskirche (the Deutsche Evangelische Kirche)
  • the Confessing Church (the Bekennende Kirche, BK), often naming itself Deutsche Evangelische Kirche too, reinforcing its claim to be the true church

However, the Confessing Church's rebellion was directed at the regime's ecclesiastical policy, not at its overall political and social objectives.


The situation grew complex after Barman's exit. Müller's ineptitude for political matters did not serve to endear him to the Führer
Führer , alternatively spelled Fuehrer in both English and German when the umlaut is not available, is a German title meaning leader or guide now most associated with Adolf Hitler, who modelled it on Benito Mussolini's title il Duce, as well as with Georg von Schönerer, whose followers also...

. Furthermore, the Sportpalast speech had proved a public relations disaster; the Nazis, who had promised "freedom of religion" in point 24 of their (largely meaningless) 25-point program, now appeared to be dictating religious doctrine. And Alfred Rosenberg
Alfred Rosenberg
' was an early and intellectually influential member of the Nazi Party. Rosenberg was first introduced to Adolf Hitler by Dietrich Eckart; he later held several important posts in the Nazi government...

 was a well-known anti-Christian and pagan
Paganism is a blanket term, typically used to refer to non-Abrahamic, indigenous polytheistic religious traditions....


Hitler sought to defuse the situation by lifting the house arrest
House arrest
In justice and law, house arrest is a measure by which a person is confined by the authorities to his or her residence. Travel is usually restricted, if allowed at all...

 of Wurm and Meiser, leading the Bavarian and Württembergian Lutheran churches, respectively, in the fall of 1934. Having lost his patience with Müller in particular and the German Christians in general, he removed Müller's authority, brought Gleichschaltung to a temporary halt and created a new Reich Ministry — aptly named Church Affairs — under Hanns Kerrl
Hanns Kerrl
Hanns Kerrl was a German Nazi politician. His most prominent position, from July 1935, was that of Reichsminister of Church Affairs...

, one of Hitler's lawyer friends. The Kirchenkampf
Kirchenkampf is a German term that translates as "struggle of the churches" or "church struggle" in English. The term is sometimes used ambiguously, and may refer to one or more of the following different church struggles:...

 would now be continued on the basis of Church v. State, rather than internally between two factions
Political faction
A political faction is a grouping of individuals, such as a political party, a trade union, or other group with a political purpose. A faction or political party may include fragmented sub-factions, “parties within a party," which may be referred to as power blocs, or voting blocs. The individuals...

 of a single church. Kerrl's charge was to attempt another coordination, hopefully with more tact than the heavy-handed Müller.

Kerrl was more mild mannered than the somewhat vulgar Müller, and was also politically astute, and he shrewdly appointed a committee of conciliation, to be headed by Wilhelm Zoellner, Westphalian general superindent
Superintendent (ecclesiastical)
Superintendent is the head of an administrative division of a Protestant church, largely historical but still in use in Germany.- Superintendents in Sweden :...

 rtrd., who was generally respected within the church and who was not identified with any faction. Müller himself resigned, more or less in disgrace, at the end of 1935, having failed to integrate the Protestant church and in fact having created somewhat of a rebellion. Martin Niemöller
Martin Niemöller
Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemöller was a German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor. He is best known as the author of the poem "First they came…"....

's group cooperated generally with the new Zoellner committee, but still maintained that it represented the true Protestant Church in Germany and that the DEK was, to put it more bluntly than Niemöller would in public, no more than a collection of heretics.

The Confessing Church, under the leadership of Niemöller, addressed a polite, but firm, memorandum to Hitler in May 1936. The memorandum:
  • protested the regime's anti-Christian tendencies
  • denounced the regime's antisemitism
  • demanded that the regime terminate its interference with the internal affairs of the Protestant church

This was essentially the straw on the back of the proverbial camel. The regime responded by:
  • arresting several hundred dissenting pastors
  • murdering Dr. Friedrich Weißler
    Friedrich Weißler
    Friedrich Weißler was a German lawyer. He belonged to the Christian resistance against National Socialism.- Biography :...

    , office manager and legal advisor of the second preliminary church executive of the Confessing Church, in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp
    Sachsenhausen concentration camp
    Sachsenhausen or Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg was a Nazi concentration camp in Oranienburg, Germany, used primarily for political prisoners from 1936 to the end of the Third Reich in May, 1945. After World War II, when Oranienburg was in the Soviet Occupation Zone, the structure was used as an NKVD...

  • confiscating the funds of the Confessing Church
  • forbidding the Confessing Church from taking up collections of offertories

Eventually, the Nazi tactics of repression were too much for Zoellner to bear and he resigned on 12 February 1937, after the Gestapo had denied him the right to visit some imprisoned pastors. The Minister for Church Affairs spoke to the churchmen the next day, in a shocking presentation that clearly disclosed the regime's hostility to the church:

A Resistance Movement?

However, the Barmen Declaration
Barmen Declaration
The Barmen Declaration or The Theological Declaration of Barmen 1934 is a statement of the Confessing Church opposing the Nazi-supported "German Christians" movement known for its anti-Semitism and extreme nationalism...

 itself did not mention the Nazi persecution of Jews
Persecution of Jews
Persecution of Jews has occurred on numerous occasions and at widely different geographical locations. As well as being a major component in Jewish history, it has significantly affected the general history and social development of the countries and societies in which the persecuted Jews...

 or other totalitarian measures taken by the Nazis; it was a declaration of ecclesiastical independence, consistent with centuries of Protestant doctrine. It was not a statement of rebellion against the regime or its political and social doctrines and actions.
The Confessing Church engaged in only one form of unified resistance: resistance to state manipulation of religious affairs. While many leaders of the Confessing Church attempted to persuade the church to take a radical stance in opposition to Hitler, the church never adopted this policy.


Some of the leaders of the Confessing Church, such as Martin Niemöller
Martin Niemöller
Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemöller was a German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor. He is best known as the author of the poem "First they came…"....

 or Heinrich Grüber, were sent to concentration camps. While Grüber and Niemöller survived, not all did: Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian and martyr. He was a participant in the German resistance movement against Nazism and a founding member of the Confessing Church. He was involved in plans by members of the Abwehr to assassinate Adolf Hitler...

 was sent initially to Tegel Prison, then to Buchenwald concentration camp
Buchenwald concentration camp
Buchenwald concentration camp was a German Nazi concentration camp established on the Ettersberg near Weimar, Germany, in July 1937, one of the first and the largest of the concentration camps on German soil.Camp prisoners from all over Europe and Russia—Jews, non-Jewish Poles and Slovenes,...

, and finally to Flossenbürg concentration camp
Flossenbürg concentration camp
Konzentrationslager Flossenbürg was a Nazi concentration camp built in May 1938 by the Schutzstaffel Economic-Administrative Main Office at Flossenbürg, in the Oberpfalz region of Bavaria, Germany, near the border with Czechoslovakia. Until its liberation in April 1945, more than 96,000 prisoners...

, where he was hanged. This often left Christians who did not agree with the Nazis without leadership.

A select few of the Confessing Church risked their lives to help Jews hiding illegally in Berlin during the war. A hat would be passed around at the end of secret meetings into which the congregation would donate identity cards and passbooks. These were then modified by forgers and given to underground Jews so they could pass as legal Berlin citizens. Several members of the Confessing Church were caught and tried for their part in creating forged papers, including Franz Kaufmann
Franz Kaufmann
Franz Kaufmann was a German jurist and victim of the Holocaust. His role helping underground Jews survive in hiding in Berlin and his execution are documented in The Forger, the memoirs of Cioma Schonhaus....

 who was shot, and Helene Jacobs
Helene Jacobs
Helene Jacobs was a member of the Confessing Church and of the German Resistance against National Socialism.- Life :...

, who was jailed.

Many of those few Confessing Church members who actively attempted to subvert Hitler's policies were extremely cautious and relatively ineffective. Some urged the need for more radical and risky resistance action in light of Nazi genocide
Genocide is defined as "the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group", though what constitutes enough of a "part" to qualify as genocide has been subject to much debate by legal scholars...


A Berlin Deaconess, Marga Meusel, showed courage as a Christian and offered “perhaps the most impassioned, the bluntest, the most detailed and most damning of the protests against the silence of the Christian churches” because she went the furthest in speaking on behalf of the Jews. Another Confessing Church member who was notable for his speaking-out against antisemitism was Hans Ehrenberg
Hans Ehrenberg
Hans Philipp Ehrenberg was a German theologian. One of the co-founders of the Confessing Church, he was forced to emigrate to England because of his Jewish ancestry and his opposition to National Socialism....


Meusel and two other leading women members of the Confessing Church in Berlin, Elisabeth Schmitz and Gertrud Staewen, were members of the Berlin parish where Martin Niemöller served as Pastor. Their efforts to prod the church to speak out for the Jews were unsuccessful.

Meusel and Bonhoeffer condemned the failure of the Confessing Church — which was organized specifically in resistance to governmental interference in religion — to move beyond its very limited concern for religious civil liberties and to focus instead on helping the suffering Jews. In 1935 Meusel protested to the Confessing Church's timid action:
Karl Barth also wrote in 1935: "For the millions that suffer unjustly, the Confessing Church does not yet have a heart."

The Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt
Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt
The Stuttgarter Schuldbekenntnis, known in English as the Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt, was a declaration issued on October 19, 1945 by the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany , in which it confessed guilt for its inadequacies in opposition to the Nazis and the Third Reich.-Text:The...

, was a declaration issued on 19 October 1945 by the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany
Evangelical Church in Germany
The Evangelical Church in Germany is a federation of 22 Lutheran, Unified and Reformed Protestant regional church bodies in Germany. The EKD is not a church in a theological understanding because of the denominational differences. However, the member churches share full pulpit and altar...

(Evangelischen Kirche in Deutschland or EKD), in which it confessed guilt for its inadequacies in opposition to the Nazis and the Third Reich. It was written by former members of Confessing Church mainly.

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