Self-preservation and Resistance

  • 1st Picture for document
    Am 11.11.1934 fuhren ca. 450 Tübinger Theologiestudierende nach Stuttgart, um Wurm predigen zu hören. Nach dem Gottesdienst in der Stuttgarter Leonhardskirche bejubelten sie – mit erhobener rechter Hand – den aus dem Hausarrest befreiten Bischof.
    © Landeskirchliches Archiv Stuttgart, Fotosammlung Bild 3071

Wurm: 1934 – Self-preservation and Resistance

Three events in particular caused Wurm to disassociate himself from Müller and led him to side with the Reich Bishop’s critics:

  • At a rally held at the Berliner Sportpalast on November 13, 1933, the German Christians demanded, among other things, a repudiation of the Old Testament and the Rabbi Paul’s theology of sin and inferiority. The calculating Reich Bishop did not distance himself from these remarks until given an ultimatum.
  • Without consulting with those concerned, the Reich Bishop ordered the incorporation of Protestant youth organizations in the Hitler Youth in December of 1933 – a measure that met only with criticism.
  • The Reich Bishop’s attempt in January of 1934 to suppress critical statements about his actions by a “muzzle decree” also met with broad opposition in church circles.

At an audience granted church representatives by Adolf Hitler at the end of January 1934, Wurm, like other critics as well, assured the Reich Bishop of their support again despite their criticism. They felt compelled to do so since Göring read aloud the transcript of a tapped telephone call of Niemöller’s in which he had made disrespectful remarks about Hitler. Wurm did not want his loyalty to the state to be called into question. This moved him to disband the Württemberg Pastors’ Emergency League. Since Müller did not abide by the agreements reached in January, Wurm and his Lutheran bishop colleagues again requested an audience with Hitler, which they were also granted in March. Yet, Hitler made clear to the bishops that he stood by Müller despite the criticism presented.

The Reich Bishop then felt strong enough to intervene in the Württemberg regional church. Citing a supposed state of emergency, he prevented Wurm’s planned summoning of the regional church congress in which the German Christians had since lost their majority. This illegal act provoked protests from pastors and congregations and it became clear to Wurm that the establishment of a front against Müller and German Christian domination was indispensable to the church’s self-preservation. A sermon of Wurm’s in Ulm Catherdral on April 22, which had been scheduled for a longer time, was used to gather the church opposition. On this day of the Ulm Declaration, regional bishop Meiser read aloud an announcement of the Protestant Confessing Church’s Front in Germany in which the regional churches faithful to the Confessions along with the Councils of Brethren’s synods and parishes from all over Germany laid claim to being the rightful Protestant church. This claim was impressively upheld at the first Confessional Church Synod of the German Evangelical Church in Barmen, which Wurm also attended.

The Reich Bishop intervened in the Württemberg regional church a second time in the fall of 1934. Müller wanted to incorporate all of the regional churches in the Reich Church and thus largely deprive them of their independence. Since the Württemberg regional church opposed these plans, it was made an administrative province of the Reich Church in a decree of September 3 and the regional bishop was suspended on September 14. A synod, newly assembled by the Reich Bishop and to which only German Christians had been appointed, sent Wurm into retirement; at the same time, an ecclesiastical commissar was appointed, who assumed the leadership of the regional church.

Large segments of the regional church then protested against these coercive measures, however. The clergy emphatically expressed their solidarity with Wurm and, on two Sundays in October, numerous people assembled before the residence of the bishop, who had been placed under house arrest, and sang hymns. Wurm disregarded his retirement and maintained many and diverse contacts with parishes – for instance by a pulpit announcement to be read aloud on October 14. Since the Reich Bishop’s intervention not only resulted in sensational protests in Germany – the 2nd Confessional Synod convening in Berlin-Dahlem in mid-October also displayed its solidarity with Wurm and Meiser, who had likewise been removed from office – but also received attention abroad, Hitler gave way. While a scheduled audience with Müller was canceled, Hitler invited the regional bishops Meiser, Marahrens and Wurm to a talk in Berlin on October 30, 1934. The compulsory incorporation of these three regional churches in the German Evangelical Church pursued by Reich Bishop Müller was thus averted. The regional bishops were rehabilitated and the Reich Bishop’s dictatorship was thwarted.

The bishops’ rehabilitation also thwarted Hitler’s policy toward the church and the Nazi regime suffered its sole domestic policy defeat: The plans to establish an easily controlled Reich Church loyal to National Socialism and headed by a weak Reich Bishop submissively dependent on National Socialism were in vain. The Gleichschaltung of the Protestant church had failed. The resistance of the regional bishops, who were heavily supported by their pastors and parishes, as well as the gathering of parishioners, pastors and congregations in churches, which had received German Christian governments in the wake of the elections of July of 1933, into confessing church congregations and synods had made self-preservation possible.