Prussian Union of Churches - History - Under Nazi Reign - Old-Prussian Confessing Church

Old-Prussian Confessing Church

In autumn 1934 the Gestapo ordered the closure of the existing free preachers' seminaries, whose attendance formed part of the obligatory theological education of a pastor. The existing Reformed seminary in Wuppertal-Elberfeld, led by Hesse, resisted its closure and was accepted by the Confessing Church, which opened more preachers' seminaries (German: Predigerseminar) of its own, such as the seminary in Bielefeld-Sieker (led by Otto Schmitz), Bloestau (East Prussia) and Jordan in the New March (both led by Hans Joachim Iwand 1935–1937), Naumburg am Queis (Gerhard Gloege), Stettin-Finkenwalde, later relocated to Groß Schlönwitz and then to Sigurdshof (forcibly closed in 1940, led by Dietrich Bonhoeffer). These activities completely depended on donations. In 1937 the Gestapo closed the seminaries in the east. Iwand, on whom in 1936 the Gestapo had inflicted the nationwide prohibition to speak in the public, reopened a seminary in Dortmund in January 1938. This earned him an imprisonment of four month in the same year.

On 11 October 1934 the Confessing Church established in Achenbachstraße No. 3, Berlin, its own office for the examination of pastors and other church employees, since the official church body discriminated against candidates of Nazi opposing opinion. Until 1945 3,300 theologists graduated at this office. Among their examinators were originally professors of the Frederick William University of Berlin, who refrained from examinating after their employer, the Nazi government, threatened to dismiss them in 1935. After this there were only ecclesiastical examinators, such as Walter Delius (Berlin-Friedrichshagen), Elisabeth Grauer, Günther Harder (Fehrbellin), Günter Jacob, Fritz Müller, Wilhelm Niesel (auxiliary preacher Wuppertal-Elberfeld), Susanne Niesel-Pfannschmidt, Barbara Thiele, Bruno Violet (Friedrichswerder Church, Berlin), and Johannes Zippel (Steglitz Congregation, Berlin). On 1 December 1935 the Confessing Church opened its own Kirchliche Hochschule (KiHo, ecclesiastical college), seated in Berlin-Dahlem and Wuppertal-Elberfeld. The Gestapo forbade the opening ceremony in Dahlem, thus Supt. Albertz spontaneously celebrated it in St. Nicholas' Church (Berlin-Spandau). On 4 December, the Gestapo closed the KiHo altogether, thus the teaching and learning continued underground at changing locations. Among the teachers were Supt. Albertz, Hans Asmussen, Joseph Chambon, Franz Hildebrandt, Niesel, Edo Osterloh, Heinrich Vogel, and Johannes Wolff.

Meanwhile Niemöller and other Confessing Church activists organised the second Reich's Synod of Confession in Berlin's Dahlem Congregation on 19 and 20 October 1934. The synodals elected by all confessing congregations and the congregations of the intact churches decided to found an independent German Evangelical Church. Since the confessing congregations would have to contravene the laws as interpreted by the official church bodies, the synod developed an emergency law of its own. For the destroyed church of the old-Prussian Union they provided for each congregation, taken over by a German Christian majority a so-called brethren council (German: Bruderrat) as provisional presbytery, and a Confessing congregation assembly (German: Bekenntnisgemeindeversammlung) to parallelise the congregants' representation. The Confessing congregations of each deanery formed a Confessing deanery synod (German: Kreis-Bekenntnissynode), electing a deanery brethren council (German: Kreis-Bruderrat).

If the superintendent of a deanery clung to the Confessing Church, he was accepted, otherwise a deanery pastor (German: Kreispfarrer) was elected from the midst of the Confessing pastors in the deanery. Confessing congregants elected synodals for a Confessing provincial synod as well as Confessing State synod (German: Provinzial-, resp. Landes-Bekenntnissynode), who again elected a provincial brethren council or the state brethren council of the Evangelical Church of the old-Prussian Union (colloquially old-Prussian brethren council), and a council of the Confessing ecclesiastical province (German: Rat der Bekennenden Kirche of the respective ecclesiastical province) or the council of the Confessing Church of the old-Prussian Union, the respective administrative bodies.

Any obedience to the official bodies of the destroyed church of the old-Prussian Union was to be rejected. The Confessing Christians integrated the existing bodies of the opposition – such as the brethren councils of the Emergency Covenant of Pastors, and the independent synods (est. starting in January 1934) -, or established the described parallel structures anew all over the area of the Evangelical Church of the old-Prussian Union in November 1934.

The rivalling German Evangelical Church of the Confessing Church movement constituted in Dahlem. The synodals elected a Reich's Brethren Council, which elected from its midst the executive Council of the German Evangelical Church, consisting of six.

In Berlin Confessing Christians celebrated the constitution of their church on the occasion of the Reformation Day (31 October 1934). The Gestapo forbade them any public event, thus the festivities had to take place in closed rooms with bidden guests only. All the participants had to carry a so-called red card, identifying them as proponents of the Confessing Church. However, 30,000 convened in different convention centres in the city and Niemöller, Peter Petersen (Lichterfelde) and Adolf Kurtz (Twelve Apostles Church) – among others – held speeches. On 7 December the Gestapo forbade the Confessing Church to rent any location, in order to prevent future events like that. The Nazi government then forbade any mentioning of the Kirchenkampf in which media whatsoever.

Hitler was informed about the proceedings in Dahlem and invited the leaders of the three Lutheran intact churches, Marahrens, Meiser and Wurm. He recognised them as legitimate leaders, but expressed that he would not accept the Reich's Brethren Council. This was meant to wedge the Confessing Church along the lines of the uncompromising Confessing Christians, around Niemöller from Dahlem, therefore nicknamed the Dahlemites (German: Dahlemiten), and the more moderate Lutheran intact churches and many opposing functionaries and clergy in the destroyed churches, which had not yet been dismissed.

For the time being the Confessing Christians found a compromise and appointed – on 22 November – the so-called first Preliminary Church Executive (German: Vorläufige Leitung der Deutschen Evangelischen Kirche, 1. VKL), consisting of Thomas Breit, Wilhelm Flor, Paul Humburg, Koch, and Marahrens. The executive was meant to only represent the Reich's Brethren Council to the outside. But soon Barth, Hesse, Karl Immanuel Immer (German) and Niemöller found the first Preliminary Church Executive to be too compromising so that these Dahlemites resigned from the Reich's Brethren Council.

Between end of 1934 and March 1937 the central office of the Preliminary Church Executive was located in the Burckhardt-Haus (German) of the school for social workers (German: Lehrhaus für Gemeindehelferinnen der ev. Kirche) of the Evangelical Church of the old-Prussian Union in Berlin's then # 27, Friedbergstraße (now Rudeloffstraße).

With the verdict of the Landgericht I, and this turn in Hitler's policy Jäger resigned from his office as state commissioner. Müller refused to resign as Reich's bishop but had to unwind all measures taken to forcefully unite the church bodies. So besides the Confessing Church of the old-Prussian Union, founded in October 1934 also the official, German Christian-dominated Evangelical Church of the old-Prussian Union reconstituted in November.

The second old-Prussian Synod of Confession (also old-Prussian Dahlem Synod) convened in Berlin-Dahlem on 4 and 5 March 1935. The synodals decided that the Confessing Church of the old-Prussian Union should unite with the destroyed official Church of the old-Prussian Union. The synodals further adopted a declaration about the Nazi racist doctrine. The same month the declaration was read in all confessing congregations, that the Nazi racist doctrine, claiming there were a Jewish and an Aryan race, was pure mysticism. In reaction to that the Nazi government arrested 700 pastors, who had read this declaration from their pulpits. The official church ordered to read a declaration demanding the parishioners' obedience to the Nazi government. On Sunday Judica (7 April 1935) Confessing pastors held rogations for the imprisoned Confessing Christians. From then on every Tuesday the brethren councils issued updated lists with the names of the imprisoned.

Since the 28 Protestant church bodies in Germany levied contributions from their parishioners by a surcharge on the income tax, collected and then transferred by the state tax offices, the official church bodies denied the confessing congregations their share in the contributions. Each congregation had its own budget and the official church authorities transferred the respective share in the revenues to the legitimate presbytery of each congregations, be it governed by German Christians or Confessing Christians.

The Nazi Reich's government now intended to drain this financial influx by a new decree with the euphemising title Law on the Wealth Formation within the Evangelical Church Bodies (11 March 1935). Thus the Nazi Reich's government subjected the Evangelical Church of the old-Prussian Union to governmental financial control. All budgets and remittances were to be confirmed by state comptrollers. On 11 April an ordinance ordered that salaries were only to be remitted to orderly appointed employees and all future appointments of whomsoever, would only take effect with the consent of the financial departments.

Consistorial Councillor von Arnim-Kröchlendorff, a proponent of the Confessing Church, was appointed leader of the financial department for Berlin. He turned out to ignore the rules and to largely use his scope of discretion. But many other financial departments were chaired by sharp Nazi officials. Thus Confessing congregations outside of Berlin built up a new network of escrow accounts. It became especially difficult to defray the salaries of the officially non-confirmed employees. Confessing Christians of laity and Covenant pastors, still undisputedly receiving a full salary from the official church, agreed to substantial contributions to maintain the Confessing Church.

On 4 to 6 June 1935, two weeks after the Nuremberg Laws had been decreed, the synodals of the Confessing Church convened in Augsburg for the third Reich's Synod of Confession. Disputes between the intact churches of Bavaria right of the river Rhine and Württemberg with the first preliminary church executive could be settled. So Niemöller, Hesse and Immer returned into the Reich's Brethren Council. Prof. Barth, refusing to sign the newly introduced oath of all professors to Hitler, had been dismissed from his chair at the Rhenish Frederick William's University of Bonn and remigrated to Switzerland, where he was appointed professor at the University of Basel. But the synodals did not adopt a declaration, prepared by Supt. Albertz, condemning the Nuremberg Laws. Wurm was elected speaker of the Confessing Church.

Right after this synod the Nazi Reich's government intensified its fight against the Confessing Church. Since the orderly courts often approved litigations against German Christian measurements, because they usually lacked any legal basis, on 26 June 1935 the Nazi government passed a law, which would ban all suits about church questions from being decided by orderly jurisdiction.

Instead – as was typical for the Nazi government – they established a new parallel authority, the Decision-Taking Office for Affairs of the Evangelical Church (German: Beschlußstelle in Angelegenheiten der Evangelischen Kirche). Thus the Nazi government cut off the Confessing Church from appealing to courts. All lawsuits on church matters, some still pending since 1 May 1933, were to be decided by the Decision-Taking Office. Orderly courts could not overrule its decisions. With this power the Decision-Taking Office blackmailed the Confessing Church to compromise. The Decision-Taking Office refrained from acting as long as the Confessing Church co-operated. In fact the Decision-Taking Office only acted up after the compromises failed in 1937. In the following years of compromising Hermann Ehlers became a legal advisor of the old-Prussian brethren council, until he was arrested from June to July 1937, which made him quit his collaboration.

Read more about this topic:  Prussian Union Of Churches, History, Under Nazi Reign

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