Why the Churches Kept Silent
ON DECEMBER 8, 1993, Dr. Franklin Littell of Baylor University spoke at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum about a troublesome “concrete truth.” What was that?
The truth, Littell said, was that “six million Jews were targeted and systematically murdered in the heart of Christendom, by baptized Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Eastern Orthodox who were never rebuked, let alone excommunicated.” One voice, however, did consistently speak out about clergy involvement with Hitler’s regime. And the voice, as we have seen, was that of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Hitler was a baptized Roman Catholic, as were many of the leaders in his government. Why weren’t they excommunicated? Why didn’t the Catholic Church condemn the horrors that these men were committing? Why did Protestant churches also keep silent?
Did the churches really remain silent? Is there proof that they supported Hitler’s war efforts?
Role of Catholic Church
Catholic historian E. I. Watkin wrote: “Painful as the admission must be, we cannot in the interest of a false edification or dishonest loyalty deny or ignore the historical fact that Bishops have consistently supported all wars waged by the government of their country. . . . Where belligerent nationalism is concerned they have spoken as the mouthpiece of Caesar.”
When Watkin said that bishops of the Catholic Church “supported all wars waged by the government of their country,” he included the wars of aggression waged by Hitler. As Roman Catholic professor of history at Vienna University, Friedrich Heer, admitted: “In the cold facts of German history, the Cross and the swastika came ever closer together, until the swastika proclaimed the message of victory from the towers of German cathedrals, swastika flags appeared round altars and Catholic and Protestant theologians, pastors, churchmen and statesmen welcomed the alliance with Hitler.”
Catholic Church leaders gave such unqualified support to Hitler’s wars that the Roman Catholic professor Gordon Zahn wrote: “The German Catholic who looked to his religious superiors for spiritual guidance and direction regarding service in Hitler’s wars received virtually the same answers he would have received from the Nazi ruler himself.”
That Catholics obediently followed the direction of their church leaders was documented by Professor Heer. He noted: “Of about thirty-two million German Catholics—fifteen and a half million of whom were men—only seven [individuals] openly refused military service. Six of these were Austrians.” More recent evidence indicates that a few other Catholics, as well as some Protestants, stood up against the Nazi State because of religious convictions. Some even paid with their lives, while at the same time their spiritual leaders were selling out to the Third Reich.
Who Else Was Silent, Who Was Not
As noted above, Professor Heer included Protestant leaders among those who “welcomed the alliance with Hitler.” Is that true?
Many Protestants have writhed in self-incrimination for remaining silent during Hitler’s wars of aggression. For example, 11 leading clergymen met in October 1945 to draw up the so-called Stuttgart admission of guilt. They said: “We accuse ourselves for not having been more courageous in confessing our convictions, more faithful in saying our prayers, more joyful in expressing our faith, and more ardent in showing our love.”
Paul Johnson’s History of Christianity said: “Of 17,000 Evangelical pastors, there were never more than fifty serving long terms [for not supporting the Nazi regime] at any one time.” Contrasting such pastors with Jehovah’s Witnesses, Johnson wrote: “The bravest were the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who proclaimed their outright doctrinal opposition from the beginning and suffered accordingly. They refused any cooperation with the Nazi state.”
Back in 1939, the year World War II began, Consolation quoted T. Bruppacher, a Protestant minister, as saying: “While men who call themselves Christians have failed in the decisive tests, these unknown witnesses of Jehovah, as Christian martyrs, are maintaining unshakable opposition against coercion of conscience and heathen idolatry. The future historian must some day acknowledge that not the great churches, but these slandered and scoffed-at people, were the ones who stood up first against the rage of the Nazi demon . . . They refuse the worship of Hitler and the Swastika.”
Similarly, Martin Niemoeller, a Protestant church leader who himself had been in a Nazi concentration camp, later confessed: ‘It may be truthfully recalled that Christian churches, throughout the ages, have always consented to bless war, troops, and arms and that they prayed in a very unchristian way for the annihilation of their enemy.’ He admitted: “All this is our fault and our fathers’ fault, but obviously not God’s fault.”
Niemoeller then added: “And to think that we Christians of today are ashamed of the so-called sect of the serious scholars of the Bible [Jehovah’s Witnesses], who by the hundreds and thousands have gone into concentration camps and died because they refused to serve in war and declined to fire on human beings.”
Susannah Heschel, a professor of Judaic studies, uncovered church documents proving that the Lutheran clergy were willing, yes anxious, to support Hitler. She said they begged for the privilege of displaying the swastika in their churches. The overwhelming majority of clergymen were not coerced collaborators, her research showed, but were enthusiastic supporters of Hitler and his Aryan ideals.
As a lecturer, Heschel is frequently asked by church members, “What could we have done?”
“You could have been like Jehovah’s Witnesses,” she replies.
Why They Were Silent
The reason the churches were silent becomes clear. It is because Christendom’s clergy and their flocks had abandoned the teachings of the Bible in favor of supporting the political state. In 1933 the Roman Catholic Church concluded a concordat with the Nazis. Roman Catholic cardinal Faulhaber wrote to Hitler: “This handshake with the Papacy . . . is a feat of immeasurable blessing. . . . May God preserve the Reich Chancellor [Hitler].”
Indeed, the Catholic Church and other churches as well became handmaidens of the evil Hitler government. Even though Jesus Christ said his true followers “are no part of the world,” the churches and their parishioners became an integral part of Hitler’s world. (John 17:16) As a result, they failed to speak out about the horrors against humanity that were committed by the Nazis in their death camps.
True, a few courageous individuals from the Catholic, Protestant, and various other religions stood up against the Nazi State. But even as some of them paid with their lives, their spiritual leaders, who claimed to serve God, were serving as puppets of the Third Reich.
There was, however, one voice that consistently spoke out. Though the news media, by and large, overlooked the churches as major players in the Nazi drama, Jehovah’s Witnesses felt compelled to expose the treachery and hypocrisy of the clergy, with details of their behind-the-scenes collusion. In the pages of the forerunner of this magazine as well as other publications throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s, they printed strong indictments of religious organizations that became Nazism’s handmaidens.
Identifying Christ’s True Followers
Jehovah’s Witnesses are totally different from the religions of the world. Being no part of the world, they take no part in the wars of the nations. In obedience to God’s instructions, ‘they have beaten their swords into plowshares.’ (Isaiah 2:4) Yes, in obedience to Christ’s instructions, they love one another. (John 13:35) This means they never go to war and intentionally hurt one another.
When it comes to identifying the true worshipers of God, the Bible is very plain in saying: “The children of God and the children of the Devil are evident by this fact: Everyone who does not carry on righteousness does not originate with God, neither does he who does not love his brother. For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should have love for one another; not like Cain, who originated with the wicked one and slaughtered his brother.”—1 John 3:10-12.
Yes, history reveals that Jehovah’s Witnesses have always shown love for their fellowman, even in the face of intense pressure. When Hitler waged war throughout Europe, the Witnesses stood firm in the face of the Nazis’ brutal attempts to make them join in the orgy of killing. Professor Christine King well summed up the matter: “Jehovah’s Witnesses did speak out. They spoke out from the beginning. They spoke out with one voice. And they spoke out with a tremendous courage, which has a message for all of us.”
Until this world is safely under the loving rule of Jehovah’s government and is free from war and wickedness, Jehovah’s Witnesses will continue to speak out. As long as it is the will of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah, this magazine will expose the evils of this satanic world and herald the only true hope for mankind, God’s Kingdom.—Matthew 6:9, 10.
[Pictures on page 13]
The U.S. press verified church support of Nazism
New York Post, August 27, 1940, Blue Final Edition, page 15
The New York Times, December 7, 1941, Late City Edition, page 33
The New York Times, September 25, 1939, Late City Edition, page 6
[Picture on page 15]
Unlike the churches, Jehovah’s Witnesses spoke out against Nazism