Opposition and Resistance

  1. YOUTH OPPOSITION
  • The Edelweiss Pirates

Edelweiss flower as emblem

Wore checked shirts & dark trousers

Weekends – went hiking hoping to meet members of Hitler Youth and beat them up

Gathered up Allied propaganda leaflets dropped by planes & pushed through letterboxes

Provided shelter to deserters from armed forces

1944 killed head of Cologne Gestapo – group of them caught and hanged

  • The White Rose Group

Set up by Hans & Sophie Scholl & Professor Kurt Huber at Munich University (1941)

Hans Scholl (med student) had seen atrocities against Jews & Poles

If publicized believed that Germans would stop supporting Nazis

White rose = symbol of JUSTICE

“We will not be silent”

Leaflets left in public places – 1943 Hans & Sophie spotted by caretaker at uni – he informed the Gestapo

Scholls were arrested, tortured & beheaded – Sophie had leg broken during interrogation & had to limp to the scaffold on crutches

THEY were described as ‘despicable criminals’ in local paper

2. CHURCH OPPOSITION 

Why was there potential for tension between religion and the Nazi regime?

  1. The Nazis promoted racial superiority, whereas Christianity supports equality and respect for all humanity.
  2. Hitler demanded that all people were loyal to him first above all others, whereas Catholics owed allegiance to the Pope as God’s representative on earth and ultimately all Christians believe they answer to God, not an earthly head of state.
  3. The Nazis demanded that all schools change their curriculum to fit Nazi ideals, whereas Catholics ran their own schools, including Sunday schools, that preached the word of God, not the word of Hitler
  4. The Nazis believed in the dominance of the strong over the weak, whereas Christians did not
  5. Nazis believed in the use of violence, whereas Christians promote non-violence and peace
  6. Catholics supported the Centre Party, not the Nazi Party

Therefore, there was huge potential for conflict between the majority religion in Germany (Christianity: Catholics and Protestants) and the Nazi regime.

Phase 1: 1933: Hitler tried to control the Christian Church in a positive way to begin with. He urged Christians to work with the Nazi regime instead of against it.

“Christianity is the unshakeable foundation of the moral and ethical life of our people”

Speech by Hitler in the Reichstag (March 1933)

Martin Niemoller had served Germany in the First World War and then qualified as a pastor in the Protestant Church once the war had ended. He supported Nazism in its early stages because he believed in some of the same principles – that Germany needed to be “great” again and that the Treaty of Versailles was unfair and should be reversed. As an ex-military man these ideas suited the attitudes of many ex-servicemen. Niemoller was also anti-communist in his political beliefs, as were the Nazis. Some Protestants were so supportive of the Nazis that they had flags up in the churches displaying the Swastika. These Protestants set up the German Christian Movement, a pro-Nazi religious organization, otherwise known as the Reich Church. Their motto was ‘The Swastika on our chests and the Cross in our hearts’. The leader of the Reich Church was Ludwig Muller. Hitler was so impressed with Muller that he made him the Reich Bishop of Germany in September 1933. Protestant pastors who supported the Nazis were allowed to carry on their business as usual to begin with.

The Pope tried to work with the Nazis initially by agreeing to a concordat (agreement) with Hitler. The agreement consisted of: freedom of worship for Catholics, no interference from government in the running of Catholic schools in Germany, Catholic priests would not interfere with politics and state matters, bishops had to take an oath of loyalty to Hitler.

“The National Government’s concern will be for the co-operation of the Church with the State.”

Speech by Hitler in the Reichstag (March 1933)

Phase 2: 1933-1936: Phase 1 did not last long. As the 1930s progressed, the German police and the SA harassed Catholic priests, many were sent to concentration camps for challenging the Nazi state. Catholic schools had to follow the same curriculum and policies as state school or they would be closed down. They were made to remove non-Nazi Christian symbols such as crucifixes. The Catholic Youth League was banned because all young people were to join Nazi groups such as the Hitler Youth instead.

The Nazis set up a Reich Church to challenge the authority of the Catholic Church. I was to enable German Catholics the option to stay both faithful to their religion but to prioritise their faith in Hitler and his regime. Pastor Niemoller changed his mind about the Nazis in part because of the setting-up of the Reich Church, which he believed had more to do with Nazism and controlling people than it was about God and Christianity. In 1933 he set up the Pastors’ Emergency League (PEL) to campaign against the Nazis. Furthermore in 1934, Niemoller went as far as setting up his own rival church – the German Confessional Church. Over the following 3 years Niemoller spoke out publicly against Hitler and the Nazi regime.

Phase 3: 1937+: Angry at Niemoller’s outspoken attacks on Nazism Hitler had him arrested in July 1937. Niemoller was put on trial a year later and spent 7 months in prison. Upon release he carried on promoting his anti-Nazi message which led to his re-arrest and imprisonment in a concentration camp, labeled a “personal prisoner of the Fuhrer”. He survived in the camp for 7 years and was released during the Allied liberation of the camp in 1945. 400 Catholic priests were put in a special section of the concentration camp at Dachau. Also in 1937, Pope Pius XI acknowledged that the concordat was worthless, as Hitler was not prepared to stick to his side of the bargain. The Pope declared a scathing critique of the Nazi regime in a statement named “With Burning Anxiety”.