University of Erlangen theologian Paul Althaus reacted to the German election of 1933 with enthusiasm: “Our Protestant churches have greeted the turning point of 1933 as a gift and miracle of God” (all quotations from Robert Erickson, Complicity in the Holocaust). Althaus wasn’t alone.
A Protestant newspaper warned against finding faults with the Nazis: “We get no further if we get stuck on little things that might displease us, failing to value the great things God has done for our Volk through them [the Nazis]. Or was it perhaps not God but ‘the old, evil enemy?’ For humans alone have not done this, an entire Volk , or at least its largest part, raising itself up into a storm, breaking the spiritual chains of many years, wanting once again to be a free, honest, clean Volk . There are higher powers at work here. The ‘evil enemy’ does not want a clean Volk , he wants no religion, no church, no Christian schools; he wants to destroy all of that. But the National Socialist movement wants to build all this up, they have written it into their program. Is that not God at work?” (41).
All Protestant churches in Bavarian received an official statement that endorsed the regime: “A state which begins once again to govern according to God’s command may expect not just the applause but the joyous cooperation of the church. With thanks and joy the church perceives how the new state protects against blasphemy, represses immorality, upholds discipline and orderliness with a stronger hand. It calls for fear of God, holds marriage holy, wants to know that youth are spiritually educated, and it brings the role of the fathers once again into honor, while warm love for Volk and fatherland is no longer scorned (verfemt), but enkindled in thousands of hearts” (41).
Wilhelm Laible admitted that it was a revolution, but distinguished it from the violent revolutions found in other places (like Russia): “the present ‘national revolution’ is different from them. No hangman found bloody work, no fist of power was raised against the existing government, but everything occurred in the calm path of law and order. That is the wonderful thing about this overthrow and it belongs among those signs which show us that God had his hand in play, so that the old ‘legal’ fell and the ‘legal’ of the new rose up. Adolf Hitler, when his movement was still in its beginning stages, gave the motto to his followers: Only legally! With discipline worthy of our admiration, National Socialists held this motto fast. They went through the streets without weapons, because the carrying of weapons was illegal, and, like wild game, they let themselves be shot at by their opponents who carried weapons. Their numbers who were shot to death goes into the hundreds, their wounded into the thousands. If a few individuals broke, the movement as a whole held itself strictly to this ‘legal,’ their only weapon the word, the idea, the ideal of a free, morally pure, religion-based new Reich. God blessed this ‘legal.’ No fighting on the streets but a great spiritual struggle brought about the change, the rising up. . . . No, it was not a revolution in the old sense, it was purer and greater: an awakening of the Volk to freedom, a breaking of their chains of slavery, a rising up of the Volk in a manner never imagined” (42). Laible was re-writing history, averting his eyes from Nazi thuggery that was already evident enough. It was a common re-write.
Such testimonies aren’t cause for pride, but cautionary tales.