Two sermons and a funeral ceremony in the Third Reich (2 of 3)
|March 22, 2014||Posted by Joseph Keysor under Blog|
Schneider was detained for about a week. During this time the church officials wrote to the provincial governor supporting Schneider’s action, including signatures of over 40 local families, and requesting his release. A number of pastors also submitted a petition expressing their full support (while at the same time reaffirming their loyalty to the state and to National Socialism).
After his release – doubtless due to such a significant popular support – Schneider wrote directly to the local Gestapo office. He asserted thathis action was not a sign of hostility to the state, and he objected to this official statement of the incident as revealed to him by an inspector on his release. He requested that to avoid such incidents in future the party and its organizations would respect church teachings.
Apparently that was the end of it, the government decided to let things go, but there were further incidents. Paul Schneider got into trouble again for refusing to use the Hitler salute when teaching a confirmation class in the local high school. This got the attention of the provincial governor, who wrote to church officials complaining about Schneider. This revealed Paul Schneider’s “hostile attitude toward the state” [pp. 167 and following]. The same letter (quoted in full) also referred to the burial incident, which had been passed over but not forgotten, and commented on a recent sermon of Schneider’s in which the Jews were referred to as “the chosen people.” Furthermore, the governor went on, Schneider had criticized the German Christians, which was taken as a criticism of the state, as the state supported them. He concluded “I consider Paul Schneider a definite enemy of our state” and requested that the church officials remove Schneider from office.
Finally, Paul Schneider was first suspended, then transferred, but he ended up in Buchenwald where he died in 1939. A Gestapo letter to church officials from earlier in that year details the criminal record of Paul Schneider. First, it mentions the funeral incident of 1934, which “greatly angered the populace.” Then it mentions a sermon of 1936 in which Schneider said the German youth belonged to Christ, not to Hitler or Baldur von Schirach. He further accused the Reich government of falsifying the results of an election; “called National Socialism a work of the devil” in a conversation in June of 1936; and “made disparaging comments about Mein Kampf and Rosenberg’s book The Myth of the Twentieth Century in a sermon on June 25, 1936.
There was yet more to Pastor Schneider’s criminal record in this lengthy state document. He organized an illegal church collection (government permission was required); he “endangered the public peace” in a sermon of 1937. He refused to offer communion to young people who were not serious about church attendance, belief, and worship. He ignored a Gestapo ban on preaching in his old church.
Why is it that an incident at a funeral ceremony in some small town was more of a problem than sermons preached in Bonn or Berlin? Because the Nazis could tolerate religious rhetoric. They could not tolerate direct public contradiction. For example, it is of no concern to today’s gay rights activists if a pastor says in a sermon that “God ordained marriage to be between a man and a woman.” They have figured out that religious generalities do not harm them. It is when someone says that “homosexuality is morally wrong” or “gay marriage is a sin against God” that notice is taken.
If Barth had said “Nation and race are not the most important thing, and Hitler is wrong, National Socialism is false,” it would have been the last sermon he ever preached in the Reich.
Bonhoeffer preached an entire sermon about Gideon – but that Old Testament figure did not gather the Jews together for lofty and abstract discussions of Mosaic Law. He first destroyed the altar of Baal, for which people wanted to kill him. They would not have been concerned if he had merely said among a group of Jewish worshippers that “There is only one God.” Then Gideon summoned the Israelites from various tribes, and in the end, with God’s leading, took direct action.
Of course, no one expected Christians to take up their weapons and directly assault the Nazi state, but something more than general religious truisms were definitely called for – not that Idare criticize Bonhoeffer or Barth for not having been more outspoken. Who knows what I would have done had I been in that terrible situation? The point is, that mere religious rhetoric is not enough.