To exhibition information

Christian Resistance

1. Introduction

2. The Exhibition’s Structure

3. The Online Presentation

4. Target Groups


1. Introduction

The resistance against National Socialism continues to be one of the most volatile chapters of twentieth century German history. Educating the general public about this important cultural and educational topic will remain a challenge for every generation. The progressive loss of communicative memory from eyewitnesses to events is fundamentally altering the conditions for educating the general public about the problematic nature of resistance.

Since the 1980s, research has increasingly been scrutinizing Christian resistance under National Socialism and questions about the relationship between faith and resistance. The Confessing Church and its prominent representative are no longer the primary interest of research as they were well into the 1960s. Instead, four issues, which largely parallel the development of research on resistance in general, are discernible in current research on church history:

-        What role did resistance play in everyday (congregational) life in the Nazi era and who provided aid motivated by Christian faith to victims of persecution?

-        What is the significance of hitherto less noted groups, such as the Religious Socialists, liberal Christians, Christian members of the National Committee for Free Germany and conscientious objectors and deserters motivated by their Christian faith?

-        How can the personal faith of individual members of the resistance, including its transformations, be profiled and related to their ethical and political reasoning?

-        How can Christian resistance be presented historically and assessed detached from forms of heroization?

This Internet exhibition is the Evangelische Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte’s response to the changed conditions of present-day remembrance of and research on the Nazi era. The entire range of Protestants’ resistance under the Nazi regime, including its manifestations and ambivalences, is being presented in an academic history exhibition for the first time ever. Different forms of resistance engendered by the Bible and bound by traditional fundamental Christian values are understood as specifically Christian. Christian resistance had many facets: It ranged from partial discontent to disobedience and protest up through coup attempts, resistance in the narrower sense of the word. At issue was defending the Church’s right of existence and the authenticity of the Christian message from the threat of an ideological dictatorship as well as defending the rule of law and human dignity in an unjust regime. The exhibition’s broad definition of resistance makes it possible to present qualitatively different forms of resistance without blurring their distinctions. Moreover, the exhibition clearly establishes that resistance motivated by Christian faith was invariably the exception among the wide range of options for Christian and ecclesiastical action in the Nazi era.


2.The Exhibition’s Structure

The exhibition consists of three main sections:

1. Chronology

Basic conditions, causes, means, forms and aims of resistance changed during the “Third Reich”. Continuous radicalization in the political domain was typical of the Nazi era. Bearing in mind the conditions for acts of resistance, four phases can be distinguished between 1933 and 1945

- The system of rule’s stage of development,

- the views of mainstream Protestantism and

- the forms Protestant resistance are presented for each of these phases in order to situate the acts of resistance recounted here in the context of the basic conditions. Latitude and options for action are rendered discernible by contextualizing them in the period’s history and by contrasting acts of resistance with diametrically opposed conduct ranging from contentment to complicity.

The chronological section begins with the period after World War I, thus expounding the roots of the history of mentalities and theology of conformity and resistance under the Nazi regime. This section concludes with an overview of the reception of Christian resistance in the Federal republic of Germany’s culture of remembrance.


Regional sections of the exhibition covering the different regional churches will go online in 2012. They will be part of the “Chronology” section and document the history of regional Protestant resistance. The distinctive features of regional resistance will become just as discernible as the common attributes with the general, national trend.

2. People

Since resistance was confined to individuals or small groups and was an outcome of personal decisions, this section of the exhibition follows a biographical approach. An orientation toward individuals makes it possible to present concrete causes for outrage, latitude for individual action, situations in which personal decisions were made and the consequences for people’s lives. Individual examples also more clearly illustrate the relation of the ambiguity and ambivalence of deeds and thoughts to the guilt and responsibility of individuals who had decided on resistance. The exhibition profiles men and women, officials and laity and well-known and hitherto lesser known figures and groups. Individual biographies of Catholics attest to the ecumenical dimensions of Christian resistance.

3. Basic Questions

Taking up Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s question, “Who stands fast?”, the systematic section of the exhibition is intended to encourage reflection on possible distinctive features of Christian motivation for resistance under the Nazi regime.

The fundamental importance of the conflict of that day between the Church and the Nazi state, between congregations and society and between individuals and the fervent or conformist majority for present-day examinations of the relationship of state, society and religion has also been borne in mind. Can we learn something for the present from resistance and conformity of the past?

All three sections of the exhibition are closely interlinked, thus enabling all online visitors to make their own way through the exhibition. In addition to exhibition texts, visitors will also find a multitude of reproduced sources, be they photos, letters, manuscripts, book excerpts or posters. Individual questions can be pursued systematically, thus allowing a wholly individualized approach to researching the issues.


3. The Online Presentation

The Internet is the central communication medium of the 21st century. It is used throughout the world by people of all ages. The Internet is also the place where a multimedia memory is under construction. The World Wide Web makes cultural memory, as it is present in surviving texts, images and other documents, accessible for personal memory in a vivid and lively manner. By means of its multimedia options, the Internet is making an important educational contribution: It teaches history in a new technical format with a more refined aesthetic design. It is thus able to inspire users to an intensively personal examination of the historical topics treated.

An online exhibition was deliberately chosen as a form of learning and identity construction with high visibility. Its worldwide availability facilitates varied remembrance of the Protestants who resisted the Nazis’ tyranny and heightens awareness of their motives.


4. Target Groups

The exhibition is linked with the intention to further the public’s understanding of the historical conditions and ethical motives of Christian resistance against National Socialism. This also delivers insights into broader, general resistance outside Christian motives. The exhibition thus targets an audience far larger than just churched circles. The exhibition is designed to appeal to users with different educational backgrounds and interests and of different ages through several levels of information. We invite you to explore the wide-ranging topic of Christian resistance in der Nazi era by making your very own way through the exhibition.