Friedrich von Praun: Death in Detention

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An incautious remark during an air raid cost Friedrich von Praun (1888–1944), director of the regional church office in Ansbach, his life. He came from an old Nuremberg patrician family. Born on July 21, 1888, the son of senior district judge Sigmund von Praun, he grew up in Hersbruck an der Pegnitz, Nuremberg and Erlangen. He started pursuing a degree in law in 1908 but also devoted himself to history, art history and German studies. After working as an attorney, he started a job as assessor for the government of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria in 1920. That same year, he married Irene Freiin von Seckendorff-Gutend. In 1930, the church government appointed him to the executive board of the regional church office in Ansbach. He was made its director in 1936.

Politically, von Praun was deeply imbued by monarchism. He detested National Socialism. In his publication Die nationale Gottlosenbewegung der schwarzen Front (The National Movement of the Godless of the Black Front) of 1932, he opined that the national godless are more dangerous than the traditionally anti-church socialist godless. The sole standard, which they applied to Christianity and the church, was the German idea used to reject everything that does not further it. A völkisch faith was supposed to take the place of Christianity. This faith called for a German God that it does not want to have in common with any other nation. The commandment of Christian charity extending beyond national borders was intolerable to the völkisch faith’s racial egoism. Christian essence was regarded as poison in the German national body. (Landeskirchliches Archiv Nürnberg, PA nichttheol. Mitarbeiter No. 672)

Von Praun sided with the church government under Regional Bishop Hans Meiser (1881–1956) in the Bavarian Kirchenkampf. He resolutely combatted the German Christians’ attempts to assume power and coordinate the regional church with the Nazi state. He refused to give the Nazi salute and display the swastika flag on his office building. He aggravated the Nazi authorities repeatedly with his negative view of National Socialism. He became the victim of systematic surveillance and was denounced by two young women when, in an air raid cellar in Ansbach in the night of August 10 to 11, 1943, he remarked that since Hermann Göring (1893–1946) can no longer do anything against the air raids with his Luftwaffe, only God can help. He was arrested two months later and arraigned before Nuremberg Special Court for “defeatist” remarks and violation of the Treachery Act.

After five months of agonizing detention, he was put on trial before the Special Court in March of 1944. His trial was broken off, however, and the proceedings were transferred to the People’s Court under Roland Freisler (1893–1945). A death sentence threatened von Praun for undermining the war effort. Yet, before he could be transferred to Berlin, he died in his cell in the night of April 18 to 19, 1944. Suicide was given as the official cause of death. In fact, the circumstances of his death have never established.

The church government had to promise the Gestapo that his burial would be performed in plain religious form and no remarks would be made about the defendant’s criminal offense and pretrial detention. Church officials adhered to these instructions at the funeral service on April 22, 1944. Von Praun’s wife Irene, on the other hand, took a clear stand: Deeply disappointed by the eulogies, she stepped up to the coffin in her wedding gown and quoted the Beatitudes: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

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  • © Landeskirchliches Archiv Nürnberg, PA nichttheologische Mitarbeiter von Praun Nr. 672

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