The program at the May 14th meeting of the Fulton-South Fulton Rotary Club was given by Tim Hacker. Hacker, an instructor of English at the University of Tennessee at Martin, spoke about a seminar he attended earlier in the summer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. The seminar was about the role of Christian churches in Nazi Germany. He has participated in two previous seminars at the museum that dealt with other aspects of the Holocaust.
We have tended to view Christian churches, Hacker said, as offering resistance to and being victimized by the Nazis. In recent years, however, and in large part because of access to archival materials that used to be behind the Iron Curtain, the historical understanding of Christian churches during the Nazi era has changed. The word we use to describe their role is “complicit.”
Hacker illustrated this complicity with one example. In April of 1933, the Nazi Party passed a law that reformed the German civil service—Jews who were government employees were forced to quit their jobs. The Nazis pressured other professional organizations to institute “Aryan paragraphs” and expel their Jewish employees, too. The German Christian movement, a pro-Nazi group, insisted that the German Evangelical Church (an umbrella organization for the Lutheran, Union, and Reform churches in Germany) put an “Aryan paragraph” into its bylaws.
In 1933 there were approximately 30,000 Protestant ministers in Germany. Ninety of them were affected by the Aryan paragraph, because either they themselves, or their parents, or their grandparents, had converted to Christianity from Judaism. As far as the Nazis and the German Christian movement were concerned, they were still Jews, because the Nazis considered the Jews a race, not a religion. Their acts of conversion—professions of faith and baptism—were not honored.
We might hope that most Christians in Germany rushed to the aid of these 90 ministers, but that wasn’t the case. As many as 30% of the 40 million German Protestants were members of or sympathetic to the German Christian movement, and another 50% were noncommittal.
The remaining 20% either resented or was uneasy about the intrusion of Nazi doctrine into church affairs. They were unable, however, to get the 90 ministers reinstated. And they never protested the Nazi persecution of Jews as Jews.
Hacker concluded his remarks by saying that although he had been a student and a teacher of the Holocaust for some time, the seminar was his introduction to this aspect of the Holocaust. He would have to give careful thought about how to present this difficult and troubling subject matter to his students.