Karl-Heinz Becker: Hitler Unsuitable as Chancellor
Karl-Heinz Becker (1900–1968), a Franconian pastor, was one of the most steadfast and astute opponents of Nazi ideology in the Weimar Republic. Whereas the critics of Adolf Hitler and the NSDAP primarily came from circles of politically liberal, cultural Protestants or religious socialists, Becker had been shaped by the German National movement. His criticism of Hitler, which was unequaled in clarity, keenness and political acumen, was all the more striking.
Becker heard Hitler for the first time at the Hofbräuhaus in Munich in 1920. Thereafter, he had nothing but contempt for Hitler’s personality, speaking style and racist agitation. As political life became radicalized, Becker tirelessly warned his ecclesiastical superiors of Nazi ideology, which was veiled as Christian and attracting more and more pastors, from 1931 onward. According to Becker, National Socialism propagated principles that surpassed even Machiavelli’s in their unscrupulousness. The NSDAP violated every moral precept in word and deed.
At the same time, Becker demanded that the church government take action against pastors that sympathized with the NSDAP since they compromised the church in the eyes of anyone with different political views. As the most important moral authority, the church had to become active since the brutalization of political practices was increasing and an irremediable barbarization and poisoning of public life was spreading, which was even entering the church, too. This was particularly revealed at the Inner Mission and Home Mission Association’s conferences on the subject of National Socialism and the church (letter of October 17, 1931 to Church President Veit).
Becker made his warnings public throughout Bavaria in newspaper articles and letters to editors. He supported his case with his reading of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”, his knowledge of Swedish theology and his formation by Karl Barth (1886–1968). In April of 1932, he addressed “Das politisch-ethische Problem der Gegenwart” (The Political and Ethical Problem of the Present). In this treatise, he criticized National Socialism’s elevation of opportunism to a principle, which imperiled the principles of human coexistence since national order requires morality. He judged Hitler’s style of politics to be cynical, irresponsible and pure demagogy (122).
Becker demanded that his church cease its inaction toward the radicalization and demoralization of party politics. If it continued to remain inactive, it would be guilty of neglecting its duty of ethical leadership to the nation and to young people in particular (138).
While Becker met with much approval for his remarks criticizing Hitler in the May 1, 1932 issue of the “Bayerischer Kurier”, a Catholic newspaper, his initiative for the German presidential election on March 13, 1932 remained unsuccessful. In a letter of March 4, Becker had tried to move leading figures of the regional church to gather theologians, civil servants and others who ought to confront Hitler publicly with the question of whether, in the case of his election, he really intended to espouse “positive Christianity” or stand by ideologies, which were not at all reconcilable with either the espousal of “positive Christianity” or any [!] moral or proper conception of the state (Landeskirchliches Archiv Nürnberg, Personen XLI, No. 9).
When the Nazis seized power, Becker intensified his anti-Nazi activities. He dealt with the “Working Association of National Socialist Protestant Pastors” in a treatise, the “Pastoral Letter”. He cited numerous passages from Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”, thus revealing the brutality of National Socialism and the consequences for people with other views. He declared that Nazi ideology was irreconcilable with the ethical principles of Christianity and predicted that the fistfight of weltanschauung would also target Christianity in the future (K.-H. Becker, Pastorenbrief, 23). The Nazi pastors’ Working Association was proceeding to deliberately mislead the populace and abusing religion in the process.
Becker additionally pursued a plan to send an open letter to the German president. He therefore approached the regional consistory in Munich on February 6, 1933. He raised the question of whether his plan was at all feasible in view of the Emergency Decree for the Protection of the German Nation of February 4, 1933 or whether magazines that printed his text would have to expect adverse consequences. He asked the church government to intervene with the responsible authorities in such an event since this undoubtedly constituted a restriction on the freedom of the church’s preaching of the Word by the state’s imposition of belief (F. W. Kantzenbach, Einzelne, 195).
Becker again took up the content of his “Pastoral Letter” in his letter to the German president and declared: The public domination of such a morally untenable conception of Christianity like that of the German Chancellor Hitler can only be called an intolerable moral burden on the life of our entire nation and state, which gives rise to the gravest dangers of all to the foundations of our völkisch existence (Evangelisches Zentralarchiv in Berlin, 1/766).
From the office of the president, Becker’s letter reached the German Evangelical Church Federation where it was filed away. A few days before, he had sent a letter of very similar content to the Bavarian State Minister of Educational and Ecclesiastical Affairs in which he flatly denied Hitler’s moral aptitude to govern the state.
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- © Evangelisches Zentralarchiv in Berlin, Best. 1 Nr. 766