Departure from Germany following Forced Retirement

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After Hindenburg’s death in 1934, Hitler also claimed the office of the head of state. Thenceforth, he possessed unlimited power as “Führer and Chancellor of Germany”, and demanded an uncompromising oath of allegiance from the soldiers and civil servants. As a professor, Karl Barth was also obliged to swear an oath of allegiance to the “Führer” in November of 1934.

I did not refuse, he wrote, but rather I proposed an addendum, which would enable me to swear it. This addendum I proposed read: to swear allegiance to the Führer only “to the extent I can uphold it as a Protestant Christian”. Admittedly, that qualified the oath of allegiance to such an extent that Barth was suspended from his job on November 26, 1934.

The Provisional Church Government had followed the Barth’s example of qualifying the oath and established: An oath invoking God is sharply bounded by his commandment anyway; it can therefore be safely sworn without any addenda.

This interpretation was forwarded to the Ministry of the Interior and published in the church press. Barth consequently offered to swear the civil servant oath without any addendum. Action was really taken against him then, he was discharged from the civil service and, since he protested sharply at the urging of the church government, he was summoned to appear before court.

The Provisional Church Government and the Council of Brethren withdrew its support from him when he lost the case and intended to appeal. Disappointed, he largely steered clear of the Confessing Church’s work. Members of the Confessing Church endeavored to keep Karl Barth in the country too late.

Further restricted by a “Reich public speaking ban”, Barth went to neighboring countries, first to the University of Utrecht and eventually, after his forced retirement on June 22, 1935, to the University of Basel where he was provided a job as a professor. His departure from Germany and the “Reich public speaking ban” pained him. Yet he did not give up and thenceforth deliberately identified himself as the “Swiss voice”.

The report on the end of Barth’s career in Germany pictured here appeared in the Confessing Church’s journal “Junge Kirche”. A closer look reveals that the article is quoted entirely from a political newspaper. This was the method employed to circumvent the ban on church news, the so-called “Frick Decree” of November 1934: Instead of original reporting, articles selected cleverly from the political press were quoted.

Barth ultimately went to the University of Basel where he took a job as a professor.

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  • © Photo: Tim Lorentzen

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