The Hitler Oath
The Austrian “Anschluss” filled Germans with national euphoria. German Christian church governments took advantage of the propitious situation in order to contrive to require pastors to swear an oath to Hitler after all. This had been thwarted in 1934. On March 14, 1938, the Thuringian Evangelical church enacted a church law requiring its pastors to swear an oath, as did the Mecklenburg regional church two days later. Saxony and the Evangelical Church of the Old Prussian Union, which comprised nearly half of German Protestantism, followed on the “Führer’s birthday”, April 20, 1938.
The pertinent directive from the President of the Evangelical High Consistory in Berlin Friedrich Werner stated: I swear: I will be loyal and obedient to the Führer of the German Reich and nation, Adolf Hitler, observe the laws and faithfully perform my official duties, so help me God. … Whoever refuses to take the … mandatory oath of allegiance is to be dismissed. In an address of May 1938, the Evangelical High Consistory interpreted the oath as a sign of profoundest loyalty to the Third Reich and a personal commitment to the Führer.
Directives on the oath of allegiance were also issued in rapid succession in almost all of the other regional churches and implemented astonishingly smoothly, despite individual pastors’ serious reservations. This was also true of the intact regional churches affiliated with the moderate Confessing Church, the leaders of which did not want to fall under the suspicion of political unreliability and hostility toward the state. Although the oath had not been ordered by the state, they followed in “anticipatory obedience” as it were. Deference to authority, which also originated in Reformation era confessional writings, was likely also responsible in part. They granted the state the right to demand an oath. 90 percent of Protestant pastors ultimately swore the oath.
Oath-swearing became an acid test in the radical Confessing Church, especially in the Evangelical Church of the Old Prussian Union. Many pastors there refused to swear the oath at first. In a letter of July 16, 1938, Karl Koch, President of the National Synod of the Confessing Church, held the conviction however that the state expects pastors’ oath of allegiance and a refusal had become intolerable for it. The Old Prussian Confessing Church Synod also adopted this view at the end of July and resolved to relieve the consciences of hesitating pastors. Most of the Confessing Church pastors also swore the oath then, frequently incorporated in their ordination vows.
Source / title
- Gesetzblatt der Deutschen Evangelischen Kirche, Ausgabe B, No. 12, May 14, 1938, p. 49; ©EvAKiZ München.