Modern history





The Nazis abhorred the confessional division of Germany, and, in an obvious parallel to their policy of co-ordination in secular areas of politics, culture and society, many of them wanted a single national religion with a single national Church. The division, they believed, had deepened under the Weimar Republic during bitter conflicts over issues such as education, welfare, mixed marriages and local religious processions, undermining the national will.1 The German Evangelical Church seemed to the Nazis to offer an almost ideal vehicle for the religious unification of the German people. Uniting the Lutheran and Calvinist faiths since the early nineteenth century, the Evangelical Church, unlike its Catholic counterpart, owed no real allegiance to any worldwide body or any institution, such as the Papacy, outside Germany itself. It had long been politically extremely conservative. In the days of the Bismarckian Reich it had been effectively an arm of the state; the King of Prussia, who also served as German Emperor, was Head of the Evangelical Church in Prussia, and he made no secret of the fact that he expected it to show loyalty to established institutions. German nationalists saw the German Reich as a Protestant state, a belief expressed in many ways over the decades, from the persecution of Catholics by Bismarck in the 1870s to the widespread and sometimes murderous hostility shown to Catholic priests by German troops during the invasion of France and Belgium in 1914. Germany’s Protestant clergy had presented the First World War as a religious crusade against the Catholic French and Belgians and the Orthodox Russians, and it was clear that, for many, nationalism and Protestantism had become two sides of the same ideological coin.2

A characteristic personal example of the fusion of patriotism, militarism and religiosity in the mainstream tradition of German Protestantism was provided by the Berlin pastor Martin Niemöller, born in 1892, and himself the son of a Lutheran pastor, though one who had been baptized as a Calvinist. Niemöller became an officer-cadet in the German navy and then served on board submarines in the First World War, taking command of one in June 1918. His war reminiscences were no literary masterpiece, but they exuded a gung-ho spirit comparable to that of Ernst Jünger’s Storm of Steel, celebrating the sinking of enemy merchant ships with gusto. Docking at Kiel in late November 1918 after hearing over the radio the news of the war’s end and the monarchy’s collapse, he found himself, as he later wrote, ‘a stranger in my own country’. There was ‘no rallying-point for nationally-minded men’ who opposed ‘the wirepullers of this “Revolution” ’.3 A period working on a farm convinced him that he had to take a hand in rescuing his nation from the spiritual catastrophe he thought had overwhelmed it, and he began training as a pastor in Westphalia. Active in the students’ league of the German Nationalists, he supported the abortive Kapp putsch that attempted the overthrow of the Republic in March 1920. He helped found a 750-man student Free Corps unit to fight against the Red Army that had been formed by left-wing groups in the region. Later on, he was involved in another far-right paramilitary group, the Organization Escherich. In 1923, Niemöller and his brothers acted as pallbearers to the nationalist saboteur Albert Leo Schlageter, shot by French troops in Düsseldorf during their occupation of the Ruhr.4

Of Niemöller’s opposition to the Weimar Republic, as of his rejection of the 1919 Peace Settlement, there could be no doubt. Yet his recipe for national renewal was as much spiritual as political. After taking on government-sponsored emergency relief work as a railway ganger to keep his family afloat during the great inflation of 1923, he joined the Protestant Church’s social welfare division, the Inner Mission, learning a great deal about Germany’s social problems, gaining valuable administrative experience and building up a network of contacts in the Protestant community across Germany. In 1931, he became third pastor of the plush villa suburb of Dahlem, in Berlin. Characteristically he paid as much attention to the servants and estate workers who formed the district’s lower class as he did to the wealthy and cultivated families who inhabited its large and elegant villas. Committed right-wing but populist pastors like Niemöller were particularly susceptible to the appeal of the Nazis, and Niemöller voted for Hitler in March 1933. In 1931 he had already delivered a radio broadcast calling for the emergence of a new national leader, and in 1933 he thought one had at last arrived in the shape of Adolf Hitler. His sermons of this period took up the Nazi call for a united, positive Christianity that would overcome the religious divisions that had plagued Germany for so many years. And he echoed the Nazi claim that the Jews had been unduly influential in the Weimar Republic. In 1935 he sermonized about the poisonous influence of the Jews in world history, the outcome, he thought, of the curse that had lain on them since the Crucifixion.5

For nationalist Protestants like Niemöller, the enemy was Marxism, in both its Communist and Social Democratic variants. Its atheistic doctrines had been dechristianizing the working class since well before the end of the nineteenth century.6 Many Protestants, including senior figures such as the Lutheran bishop Theophil Wurm, saw the advent of the Third Reich as an opportunity finally to reverse this trend, especially since point 24 of the Nazi Party programme presented the movement in terms of ‘positive Christianity’ and announced its fight against ‘Jewish materialism’. And indeed, in the first months of the Third Reich, enthusiastic Protestant pastors staged a number of spectacular mass baptisms of children who had been left unbaptized during the Weimar years, and even mass simultaneous weddings of brownshirts and their brides who had only undergone a secular marriage under the old regime.7 The Protestant population, numbering about 40 million, almost two-thirds of the population of the Reich as a whole, had also provided the broadest and deepest reservoir of support for the Nazi Party in all social groups during its electoral triumphs of the early 1930s. A substantial number of Nazi voters were former supporters of the quintessential Protestant party, the Nationalists. The Nazis capitalized on this. In 1933 they organized massive celebrations for the 450th anniversary of Martin Luther’s birth, reworking his memory to convert him into a precursor of themselves.8 Pseudo-restorationist events, such as the Day of Potsdam in March 1933, deliberately held in the Garrison church in order to underline the symbiosis of Protestant religion and Prussian tradition, exerted a strong appeal to many Protestants.9

In the light of all this, and particularly of the long history of state control, it was not surprising that there were serious moves to Nazify the Evangelical Church in 1933. Hitler seems to have had the ambition of converting it into a new kind of national Church, purveying the new racial and nationalist doctrines of the regime and eventually winning over the mass of Catholics to the Nazi cause as well.10 The key role was to be played here by the ‘German Christians’, a pressure-group organized by Nazi supporters amongst the clergy in May 1932. These were by no means a negligible minority. By the mid-1930s they numbered some 600,000 members of the Evangelical Church. As early as November 1932 they won a third of the seats in the Prussian Church elections. This put them in a strong position to take over the whole Church, an intention they announced at a mass meeting in Berlin in early April 1933. Just as the government were centralizing the federal structure of Germany through the ‘co-ordination’ of the federated states, so the German Christians now pressed for the abolition of the federal structure of the Evangelical Church, with its 28 autonomous regional Churches, and its replacement by a centralized ‘Reich Church’ under Nazi control. With Hitler’s public support, this Church was duly created, the majority candidate for the post of Reich Bishop, Fritz von Bodelschwingh, was overthrown after only a few weeks in office, and Ludwig Muller, a Nazi nominee, was appointed to the new post. Backed by a massive outpouring of propaganda from Goebbels’s Ministry and the press, the German Christians won a sweeping victory in the Church elections of 23 July 1933.11

These moves brought to dominance Protestants whose declared aim since well before the Nazi seizure of power had been to oppose the ‘Jewish mission in Germany’, to reject ‘the spirit of Christian cosmopolitanism’ and to fight ‘racial mixing’ as part of its mission to establish a ‘belief in Christ appropriate to our race’.12 Such views had wide support amongst Protestant clergymen and theologians. Already in April 1933 the Bavarian Protestant Church ordered flags to be flown from all its buildings on Hitler’s birthday. By the summer, congregations were becoming used to seeing their German Christian pastors preaching in SA or even SS uniforms instead of surplices, and holding special services to dedicate flags and other emblems of the stormtroopers, whose uniformed presence at services now added a clear element of intimidation to the deliberations of the Evangelical Church at every level. Nevertheless, the German Christians were in no sense opportunists driven by fear; on the contrary, they represented the culmination, in an extreme form, of a long-term identification of German Protestantism with German nationalism. They proceeded with enthusiasm to hang swastika flags in their churches, carve the Nazi symbol into new church bells, and mount rituals and ceremonies to celebrate the symbiosis of the Protestant faith and the Third Reich.13

The co-ordination of the Protestant Church was driven forward, among other factors, by the appointment of the lawyer August Jäger as State Commissioner for the Evangelical Churches in Prussia. Jäger declared that Hitler was completing what Luther had begun. They were ‘working together for the salvation of the German race’. Jesus represented ‘a flaring-up of the Nordic species in the midst of a world tortured by symptoms of degeneracy’.14 In conformity with the ‘leadership principle’, Jäger dissolved all elected bodies in the Prussian Church and replaced many existing officials with German Christians. Meanwhile, Reich Bishop Ludwig Müller had taken over the administrative headquarters of the Evangelical Church with the aid of a band of stormtroopers. By September, pressure was growing within the Reich Church to dismiss all Jews from Church employment.15 Much of the pressure came from ordinary pastors. Prominent here were young pastors from lower-middle-class backgrounds or non-academic families, men for whom war service had often been a life-defining experience, and racially conscious pastors from areas near Germany’s eastern borders for whom Protestantism represented German culture against the Catholicism of the Poles or the Orthodox faith of the Russians. Such men desired a Church militant based on the aggressive propagation of the Gospel, a crusading Church whose members were soldiers for Jesus and the Fatherland, tough, hard and uncompromising. Muscular Christianity of this kind appealed particularly to young men who despised the feminization of religion through its involvement in charity, welfare and acts of compassion. The traditional Pietist emphasis on sin and repentance, which dwelt on images of Christ’s suffering and transfiguration, was anathema to such men. They demanded instead an image of Christ that would set a heroic example for German men in the world of the here and now. For them, Hitler took on the mantle of a national redeemer who would bring about the rechristianization of society along with its national reawakening.16


On 13 November 1933, to mark their triumph within the Protestant Church, 20,000 German Christians assembled at the Sports Palace in Berlin demanded the sacking of all pastors who had not yet declared in favour of the new regime. At the same meeting, the regional Church administrator Reinhold Krause called for the removal of the ‘Jewish’ Old Testament from the Christian Bible and the purging of the New Testament of the ‘Rabbi Paul’s theology of inferiority’. He declared that the spirit of Christ was closely related to the Nordic spirit. The cross, too, he added, was a Jewish symbol, unacceptable in the new Reich.17 But his speech did not go without contradiction. Politically conservative though they were, a substantial number of Protestant clergy believed that religion, not race, should be the touchstone of Church membership. They were becoming increasingly worried about the rapid Nazification of the Church and its consequent loss of autonomy. The 27-year-old Berlin theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke out in April 1933 in defence of equal status for Jewish converts. He took a hand in organizing the unsuccessful opposition to the German Christians in the Church elections. Oppositional pastors soon began to organize in groups, then in regional synods. Among them was Martin Niemöller, who, for all his sympathy with the regime, now considered that the racist politicization of the Church was a threat to his traditionalist conception of Protestant Christianity. On 11 September 1933, with a group of colleagues, he set up the Pastors’ Emergency League. Led by Bonhoeffer and Niemöller, the Emergency League won the allegiance of nearly 6,000 pastors by the end of 1933. Autonomous diocesan organizations began to re-establish themselves in the wake of this protest too, reversing their previous co-ordination into a centralized national body.18

The rebel movement was propagated above all by middle-class pastors from academic backgrounds. A quarter of the core group of Berlin parish priests who joined and stayed with the rebels were from theologians’ or pastors’ families; for them, war service had not in general been a transforming experience, and, nationalists though they were, religion came first. Only 5 per cent of them were members of the Nazi Party, as against 40 per cent of German Christian pastors in Berlin. Many of the rebels came from the central Prussian provinces, far from Germany’s contested ethnic borderlands. They rejected the unscriptural theological innovations of the German Christians, and founded their movement above all on Bible study groups, where women were very much in the majority, in contrast to the male-dominated movement of the German Christians. The rebels’ basic beliefs were formed by a piety that veered increasingly towards biblical fundamentalism, a factor which repelled those few pastors who were former liberals or Social Democrats and who therefore stayed well clear of the movement themselves.19

Reich Bishop Müller tried to undermine the rebels by banning any mention of the dispute from sermons, disciplining some of the dissidents, and merging the Protestant youth organizations, with over a million members, into the Hitler Youth. At the same time he also demonstratively resigned from the German Christian movement, in an attempt to show his even-handedness. But it was all to no avail. Oppositional pastors defied his rulings and spoke out against ‘Nazified Christianity’ from their pulpits. They now rejected the Reich Church altogether and founded a rival body, the Confessing Church, which adopted a declaration of principles, inspired by the theologian Karl Barth, at its meeting in Barmen in May 1934, repudiating the ‘Aryan Paragraph’ and expressing its faith in the Bible. Barth, who was Swiss, but based in Bonn, was soon afterwards forced to leave Germany for his native country, from where his writings, calling Protestants to resist the encroachments of the regime and return to a pure religion based on the Bible, continued to exert a considerable influence on his followers.20

As a result of these events, Reich Bishop Müller felt obliged to sack Krause shortly after the Sports Palace rally and abandon the disciplinary measures he had launched to curb the rebels, throwing the German Christian movement into disarray and inaugurating a period of internal disputes that lasted for well over a year. Soon, Müller’s position as Reich Bishop was rendered more or less meaningless by the Confessing Church’s creation of a central, co-ordinating ‘Provisional Management of the German Evangelical Church’ on 22 November 1934.21 One preacher who joined the Confessing Church now proclaimed that: ‘The men who now rule speak only of their own deeds and their own egos; there’s never any talk of the fear of God, and for this reason the Third Reich won’t be able to keep going for very long.’ A Franconian pastor was recorded as saying in his Sunday sermon ‘that a proper Christian cannot be a National Socialist at the same time, and a proper National Socialist cannot be a Christian at the same time’. Martin Niemöller in particular delivered a series of sermons whose hostility to the regime was unmistakable. To packed congregations in his parish of Dahlem, numbering 1,500 on at least one occasion, Niemöller publicly named Goebbels, Rosenberg and Gürtner as the men responsible for the imprisonment of refractory pastors; he read out lists of the names of pastors who had been arrested or barred from speaking; on 30 January 1937, the fourth anniversary of Hitler’s appointment as Reich Chancellor, he preached on a text describing the apostle Paul’s imprisonment; and he led prayers for non-Aryans who had been deprived of their jobs. The Gestapo noted with concern that 242 churches in the Potsdam district had failed to fly swastika flags on 9 November 1935, the anniversary of the 1923 Nazi beer-hall putsch.22 Political regimes would come and go, proclaimed another preacher; only God remained eternal. The Gestapo noted that the congregation in such sermons often consisted of all kinds of enemies of National Socialism, not just ‘old officers who can’t adapt themselves’, large landowners and the like, but also Freemasons ‘and even some former Communists who have suddenly discovered they are churchgoing people at heart’.23 A song was doing the rounds in Marburg, noted another Gestapo report:

Once we were Communists
Steel Helmets and SPD
Today we’re Confessing Christians
Fighters against the NSDAP.24

Oppositional elements were beginning to gravitate towards the Confessing Church. The threat to the Nazi regime seemed very real to some.25

Yet the Confessing Church never became a general centre of opposition in the way that the Protestant Church was to become in the German Democratic Republic in the late 1980s. Hitler and the leading Nazis still considered religion too sensitive an area to back Müller’s policies with real force. Jäger’s attempt to dismiss the Lutheran bishops Wurm and Meiser from their posts, for example, had led to mass public demonstrations among which Party members were prominent, and was clearly alienating many of the Nazis’ supporters amongst the farming population of Württemberg and Franconia. The bishops were reinstated.26 The Nazi leaders were obliged therefore to accept the failure of the German Christians’ attempt to co-ordinate the Evangelical Church from within. Still, many leading figures in the Confessing Church protested their loyalty to the Third Reich and denied that they were doing anything political. Even in 1934, at the height of the conflict, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the Confessing Church’s more radical thinkers, was unusual in taking the critical line that ‘dreamers and the naïve like Niemöller still believe they are the true National Socialists’. Few members of the Church, he thought, would develop their commitment into the broader resistance to Nazism that would eventually become necessary.27 In any case, by 1937 the Protestant Church was either deeply divided between the German Christians and the Confessing Church, as in Berlin, Westphalia or the Rhineland, or still dominated by the German Christians, as in most other parts of North Germany. Many ordinary Protestants wearied of the bitter internal struggles and simply gave up involvement in the Church altogether; for this silent majority, biblical fundamentalism and Nazified Christianity were equally repellent.28

Moreover, the most important cause of the quarrel, the demand of the German Christians to expel racially defined non-Aryans from the Church, drew from some not a principled rejection of antisemitism from the Confessing pastors, but merely a different version of it. They believed that baptized Jews were by definition no longer Jews, and they cared little about the unbaptized. Niemöller himself declared publicly in 1935 that the Jews had been eternally cursed because they had caused Christ’s crucifixion. Yet he went on to use this argument to urge a stop to their persecution in the Third Reich: if God had judged them, it was not for humans to intervene with their own hatred, and in any case, had not Jesus told Christians to love their enemies? In this way, Niemöller sought to turn the Nazis’ arguments against themselves. The Jews, he declared, had been too proud of their racial identity as ‘Abraham’s seed’ to heed the gospel of Jesus; now racial pride was causing the Germans to tread the same road, thus opening up the possibility that they too might be cursed for all eternity. Such arguments may themselves seem antisemitic in retrospect; but in the context of the time they had practical consequences of a very different kind.29 Pastors who baptized Jewish children or preached on the virtues of the Old Testament were defamed by German Christians as ‘Jew-pastors’ and had to bear the brunt of repeated invective and insults from their opponents. The difference between the German Christians and the Confessing Church was real enough in the 1930s.30

The Evangelical Church, as a state institution, had been obliged to adopt the ‘Aryan Paragraph’ in 1933 and to dismiss the eighteen pastors to whom it applied (eleven others were exempt because they had fought in the First World War). For many decades it had devoted some attention to converting Jews to Christianity, but these efforts now encountered growing disapproval in the Church. The Confessing Church had indeed come into existence partly around a protest against this measure, which aroused strong hostility amongst some local pastors. Many Protestant laymen were also disturbed by the overt racial antisemitism of the German Christians. The novelist, poet and broadcaster Jochen Klepper, whose wife was Jewish, was already complaining about the regime’s antisemitism in March 1933. The ‘national revolution’ was creating nothing less than a ‘pogrom atmosphere’, he noted in his diary. For Klepper, a devout Protestant, antisemitism, far from being a natural accompaniment of Christianity, was a denial of Christianity’s biblical heritage: ‘I’m not an antisemite,’ he wrote, ‘because no Believer can be one. I’m not a philosemite, because no Believer can be one - But I believe in God’s Mystery, that he has manifested through the Jews, and for this reason I can do nothing but suffer because of the fact that the Church tolerates what is going on at present.’31

Yet political considerations among those who were taking responsibility for resisting the German Christians on an institutional level dictated caution. Even Niemöller urged ‘restraint’ on non-Aryan pastors. 32 Reflecting a common tendency to blame anyone but Hitler, another pastor from the Confessing Church coupled his criticism of the leadership principle in the Church with a reminder that God had given them the Leader; it was not Hitler but the Reich Bishop who was responsible for the troubles.33 Moreover, if some rural congregations went over to the Confessing Church en masse, this was generally because, as a Gestapo report on the Potsdam district noted, ‘farming people seem to want to celebrate their Church festivals in the traditional form; as far as they are concerned, they are a part of rural custom and to do away with them would be unthinkable’. What applied to rural districts could equally well apply to the dwindling congregations in the towns and cities, long since deserted by the working class but still popular in conservative artisan, bourgeois and aristocratic circles. The Gestapo report added that the regime had not done enough to overcome such inbred traditionalism. 34 But it was difficult to see what more it could do in reality. The German Christians’ attempt to create a synthesis between German Protestantism and Nazi racism had effectively collapsed.35


Meanwhile, leading figures in the Confessing Church, such as Niemöller, were placed under surveillance, and acts of official harassment against Confessing pastors began to multiply, augmented by sometimes violent attempts to wrest back control of particular churches by the German Christians, who continued to hold the allegiance of many Protestants all the way up to 1945.36 The failure of the regime to bring the Church to heel was not to be borne lightly. Hitler reluctantly abandoned his ambition of converting it into the official state Church of the Third Reich. Instead, he ordered the creation of a new Ministry for Church Affairs, established in July 1935 under the 48-year-old Hanns Kerrl, a Party member since 1925 and Prussian Minister of Justice from 1933 until the Ministry’s dissolution the following year. The new Ministry was given wide-ranging powers, which Kerrl did not hesitate to deploy in order to bring refractory pastors to heel.37 Kerrl launched serious repressive measures against the Confessing Church, and in particular its Berlin-Brandenburg section, where the dissenters were strongest. Pastors were banned from preaching, or had their pay stopped. They were forbidden to teach in schools. All theological students were ordered to join Nazi organizations. An important Protestant publishing house was confiscated and a Protestant church in Munich demolished. Niemöller was arrested, and by the end of 1937, over 700 Protestant pastors in the country had been imprisoned. Their offence was to have disobeyed government gagging orders on their sermons, government bans on fund-raising for the Confessing Church, or other official decrees and regulations. One hundred and two pastors were arrested in the Postdam district in 1935 for reading out the declarations of the Confessing Church’s synod, though all of them were subsequently released. In some places they were welcomed home by triumphant demonstrations of members of the Steel Helmets, breaking free momentarily from their incorporation into the brownshirts. ‘All the measures taken so far against the Confessing Church’, the Gestapo was forced to confess, ‘have so far proved to be inadequate, and only made the pastors more insubordinate still.’38

Niemöller’s trial was a fiasco, and he was acquitted of all serious charges. A series of witnesses appeared to testify to his patriotism, and Niemöller himself said that he was far from being a political opponent of the Nazis. He was immediately released. However, when Niemöller was freed on 2 March 1938, he found the Gestapo waiting for him at the prison gates. Hitler had personally ordered him to be rearrested. Niemöller was placed in solitary confinement in Sachsenhausen concentration camp. On the outbreak of war in September 1939, he offered to join the navy again, but the offer was rejected. His rebellion was, he still insisted, purely religious. Nevertheless, his arrest and incarceration aroused widespread condemnation. He was remembered daily in prayers not just in the Confessing Church but in Protestant congregations in many other countries, where he was regarded as a martyr for Christian principles. His continued imprisonment, after having been acquitted by a court of law, caused international embarrassment for the regime. In order to blunt the edge of this worldwide criticism, Hitler gave him day release to see his dying father. The fact that Niemöller was the Leader’s personal prisoner also gave him a limited number of special privileges on certain occasions to placate world opinion. He was allowed occasional visits from his wife, and when news of his poor health became public after one such meeting, the resulting protests led to an improvement in his rations. Nevertheless, when Niemöller’s wife asked Hitler directly for his release in 1939, the Nazi Leader replied that if he was set free he would only gather round him an oppositional group that would endanger the state.39

Niemöller was in no way immune from the daily humiliations and brutalities which the SS camp guards visited on the inmates. In view of his patient suffering of such maltreatment, and his constantly reiterated faith in God, he gained a considerable degree of moral authority over the other inmates, all of whom he treated undifferentiatingly as victims of an evil regime. It was at this time, seeing the sufferings of the camp’s Jewish inmates, that he came to repudiate his earlier antisemitic views. Jews, he told a fellow inmate, should be treated exactly like other Germans: his earlier advocacy of restrictions on their civil rights had been wrong. Although Niemöller was given relatively light work duties such as chopping wood, he was frequently beaten on the slightest pretext. On one occasion in the late 1930s, ordered to give his name, he replied that he was Pastor Niemöller. Viciously beaten by the camp guards, he then had to say, ‘I am the swine Niemöller.’ On numerous occasions, the guards, according to the memoir of a fellow inmate, written shortly after the event, made him hop on one foot between them, sometimes crouch and hop. They beat him at the same time to make him more agile. One day he evidently used the name of God (though I could not catch it), for I heard one of the guards shout, ‘The Schweinhund is calling his Drecksgott (dirty god). I would like to see if He will help him out of here.’ Sometimes the Commandant or other officers would stop to watch the play. Then the guards would outdo themselves as they received approving laughs.40

In 1941, when it seemed possible for a while that Niemöller would convert to Catholicism, Hitler had him moved with three Catholic priests to Dachau, where he was kept in considerably improved conditions almost to the end of the war. But there was never any prospect that he would set him free, particularly when Niemöller decided that he would not convert to Catholicism after all.41 And in the meantime, in his parish in the plush Berlin suburb of Dahlem, the German Christians had won the upper hand again, as his rival, the senior pastor Eberhard Röhricht, previously eclipsed by Niemöller’s charisma, seized the initiative and drove out the core group of the Confessing Church’s supporters from the parish altogether.42

Looking back on his arrest and imprisonment later in life, Niemöller came to regret the compromises he had made with the regime, and blamed himself for pursuing narrowly religious interests. In the statement that more than anything else has caused his memory to live on across the world, he said:

First they took the Communists, but I was not a Communist, so I said nothing. Then they took the Social Democrats, but I was not a Social Democrat, so I did nothing. Then it was the trade unionists’ turn, but I was not a trade unionist. And then they took the Jews, but I was not a Jew, so I did little. Then when they came and took me, there was no one left who could have stood up for me.43

For all its power in projecting Niemöller’s retrospective remorse, this famous statement also illustrated the continuing narrowness of his confessional outlook, and the continuing depth of the confessional divide in Germany; for there was one group about which he said nothing at all: the Catholics.44

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