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Resistance from the Christian churches

Only a few people from the two Christian churches in Germany resisted the regime during National Socialism.


While many Catholics kept some distance from the new rulers and hoped that the independence of their church would be preserved, only a few of them criticized the anti-Semitic policies of the National Socialists. In the Protestant church, the majority organized themselves into the National Socialist “German Christians” after 1933 and adapted to the new regime.


However, a few courageous pastors and parishioners from both churches opposed the National Socialist racial ideology and helped the persecuted. In the Catholic Church, they were often active in welfare organizations such as Caritas. In the Protestant Church, critics gathered in the Confessing Church  (Bekennende Kirche) from 1934, which rejected the National Socialists’ claim to leadership.


Individual women such as Margarete Sommer and Elisabeth Schmitz, whose acts were long forgotten, were also among those who resisted. Margarete Sommer refused to teach about the forced sterilization introduced by the National Socialists in 1933 and was therefore forced to resign in 1934. Elisabeth Schmitz retired in 1939 because, as a teacher in Berlin, she did not want to teach according to National Socialist principles.


In various writings, both called on their churches to take a stand against anti-Semitic policies. As they did not get much of a hearing, they became involved in helping the persecuted themselves and provided a great deal of help for persecuted Jews. They supported them with emotional support, but also materially. When Jews were deported from the German Reich to the ghettos and extermination camps from October 1941, some of them went into hiding.


Margarete Sommer provided emotional support and helped people who were to be deported. She also meticulously documented the names of people deported and murdered from Berlin in a book created especially for this purpose. She produced several reports, one of which reached Rome. Elisabeth Schmitz hid people in her own apartment and provided them with money and food.


Both women continued to work in their churches after the end of the war.


Decades after their deaths, they were honored by the Israeli memorial Yad Vashem for their relief efforts during National Socialism.


Dagmar Lieske

Sources / further readings

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