Printer Friendly

German Military Chaplains in World War II and the Dilemmas of Legitimacy.

In his memoir, German chaplain Hans Leonhard describes a visit to a military hospital during World War II. Leonhard entered a ward full of men with sexually transmitted diseases. "So you're a pastor?" one patient jeered. "We don't need one of them. You just want to tell us those stories about cattle breeders and pimps."(1) The phrase came from the Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg. In The Myth of the Twentieth Century, he dubbed the Old Testament a collection of "stories of pimps and cattle traders."(2) Members of the pro-Nazi "German Christian" movement popularized Rosenberg's phrase in church circles.(3) Leonhard, accustomed to hostile reactions, answered the taunt with a challenge: "Tell me just one such story," he said to the man. "If you can tell me even one, I'll leave the room immediately and never bother you again." All the patients looked at their comrade. "I can't think of any right now," he finally said. The others laughed, but he did not give up. "You probably want to tell us something about praying," he accused Leonhard. "Well, a real man doesn't pray." The chaplain countered with another question: "Were you at the front?" he wanted to know. There was a pause before the man muttered, "We from the reserves have done our duty, too." According to Leonhard, that admission ended the exchange. The chaplain sat down with the rest of the men and talked about the Old Testament and about prayer. The next day his memoir reports, they all showed up at the worship service.(4)

A skeptic might raise doubts about the veracity of Leonhard's account, with its stereotypical antagonists--the stalwart Christian chaplain and the Nazi reservist infected by cynicism and disease--and its happy ending. Indeed, it seems safe to assume that Leonhard, writing almost half a century after the fact, used familiar narrative patterns, contemporary vocabulary, and wishful thinking to give coherence to memories that must have been incomplete. Nevertheless, the general outline of the encounter resembles many other descriptions of German chaplains' work in World War II, as recorded in their diaries, letters, and wartime reports to military and ecclesiastical superiors.(5) Like Leonhard's memoir, those sources show chaplains fighting for credibility, both in the eyes of the men they served and with the authorities to whom they answered. This essay explores some of the issues of legitimacy that confronted German military chaplains during World War II.

Approximately one thousand clergymen, Protestant and Catholic, served the German military as chaplains during World War II.(6) Like their counterparts elsewhere, they preached, administered the sacraments, soothed the sick and wounded, and buried the dead. Their defensive posture was not unique; other chaplains in other places and times have faced critics of their own. But the nature of Nazism and the hostility toward Christianity of top leaders like Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Goebbels, and Martin Bormann made the Wehrmacht chaplains particularly vulnerable. Paradoxically, that vulnerability may have increased their effectiveness as enablers of Nazi German slaughter. In order to protect themselves from their detractors, military chaplains in the Third Reich labored to prove and re-prove that they met a real need of the troops and boosted morale. Yet the more successfully they did so--and especially on the eastern front, it appears, they were successful(7)--the more they helped legitimate a war of annihilation. Merely the presence of chaplains--at sites of mass killing in Poland, Yugoslavia, Greece, Byelorussia, and Ukraine(8)--offered Germany's warriors the comforting illusion that despite the blood on their hands, they remained decent people, linked to a venerable religious tradition.


The historian Gerhard L. Weinberg has pointed out that military and political leaders tend to fight every war based on lessons they think they should have learned from the previous war.(9) Certainly the shadow of the Great War hung over many aspects of World War II, including the efforts of German military chaplains. In some ways, the earlier conflict lent authority to their work; it gave important front experience to at least some of the men in the chaplaincy,(10) and it provided a model of confessional unity--however mythical--that could be invoked to unite Protestant and Catholic Germans against their new foes.(11) Most German gentiles conveniently forgot that in World War I, German Jews had fought alongside their Christian countrymen as well.

The legacy of the Great War created its own dilemma of legitimacy for World War II chaplains in Germany and, for that matter, through-out Europe. Between 1914 and 1918, the Christian churches had eagerly served the national cause.(12) German, British, and French clergy alike had urged their people to sacrifice themselves for the Fatherland and had promised that God was on their side. The carnage of the war and the assault on old values that resulted took its toll on the churches as well.(13) Wehrmacht chaplains were not alone in their efforts to salvage Christianity from the widespread perception that it was at best irrelevant during wartime and at worst numbed the masses into accepting bloodshed, including their own. But what could they preach in the new world war? No longer acceptable were the sermons typical of the Great War, with their message that one chaplain in 1942 summed up as "hold on, hold out, and hold your tongue."(14)

Nor would "cheap, Hurrah-patriotism" do. In December 1941, a Protestant chaplain accompanied the Seventh Armored Division in the Soviet Union on its first retreat of the war. His response suggested he had learned from the debacle of World War I: "In the events that have occurred," he cautioned, "we can see a sign from God, who is warning us not to puff ourselves up because of our ongoing victories. The war will not be won by printer's ink but by blood, and the homefront needs to learn that lesson as well."(15) For German chaplains of World War II, to borrow Paul Fussell's words, "the Second War was silent."(16) Representatives of a church discredited by mass death and tainted by association with what many Germans considered the treacherous homefront in 1918,(17) the Wehrmacht chaplains faced both universal and particular challenges based on the legacy of the Great War.


As Paul Fussell and others have pointed out, the fear of appearing "unmanly in front of their friends" can motivate men at war to do terrible things.(18) In the hyper-masculinist world of war, chaplains face particular problems of credibility. How can chaplains convince men under arms that they too are "real men," worthy of respect, in societies that define manliness in terms of soldierly qualities and associate piety with femininity?(19)

Specific regulations handicapped the Wehrmacht chaplains' expressions of manliness. They did not carry arms; German regulations permitted them nothing but a pistol when in enemy territory. According to 1941 regulations, military chaplains wore the same uniform as "all other military administrators," except without sidearms such as daggers.(20) Clergy selected for the chaplaincy tended to be older than most of the men to whom they ministered. Military regulations stipulated that chaplains had to have been born in 1909 or earlier.(21) The intention presumably was to avoid wasting prime fighting power. Younger Protestant pastors were drafted into the regular military; Catholic priests below the designated age, exempted from combat by the terms of the 1933 concordat, served in the medical corps.(22) There were exceptions, particularly on the Catholic side, but most chaplains were in their forties or fifties during the war; some were even older. In 1943, a Protestant military pastor described a gathering of chaplains from over fifty field hospitals. "Everyone in the room," he observed, "had grey or white hair."(23)

German chaplains developed a range of strategies to promote a manly image calculated to win the respect of men under arms. They paid great attention to their uniforms, making sure that they looked as soldierly as possible. For example, in 1940, a deputy Protestant base chaplain complained that the men in his jurisdiction did not take him seriously because he was not entitled to wear military uniform.(24) Instructions from chaplains in supervisory positions and military authorities emphasized the need for a manly bearing, manly music at religious services, and even a manly celebration of Christmas.(25) A 1942 workshop featured a presentation on preaching to soldiers. It called for language that was "manly and genuine, simple and sober."(26) At a 1943 meeting of base chaplains, the highest praise given to one of their number was that he spoke as "a man, who in long years of service had earned the respect and honor of officers and men, because he possessed the ability to communicate to the longing, fighting hearts of men a manly Christian faith."(27)

Above all, instructions to chaplains stressed the importance of experience at the front: only a man who was a genuine comrade-at-arms could minister to military men. The 1941 guidelines for German military chaplains made the point clearly: "Himself a soldier by nature, the military chaplain will always strike the right tone for the soldiers and thus find the right way to the soldiers' hearts.... For that reason, for the past year already, only clergy have been appointed as military chaplains who have been soldiers themselves and served at least six months at the front."(28)

Chaplains themselves echoed that conviction. "Recently I met a young fellow-clergyman in uniform," wrote Protestant Chaplain Bernhard Bauerle in August 1942 in a newsletter to chaplains at the front:
 He had been a soldier for only six weeks, and still he was no soldier! As
 he saw me, he doffed his cap in greeting--like a civilian--raising his cap!
 How embarrassing! Hopefully no one saw it! ... Then he started to whine:
 How hard it was for him as a theologian among the men! When he spoke to
 them about the Word of God or pointed out their immoral behavior, they
 laughed in his face.... I told him, "I wouldn't be impressed by you either
 or let you minister to or convert me as long as you're such a pathetic
 soldier! First put your honor and all of your energy into making yourself a
 real, topnotch soldier and a good comrade. Leave the preaching and
 missionizing alone for the time being, by God! Maybe later they'll let you
 tell them something and take you and what you have to say seriously."(29)

In public and in the press, chaplains presented themselves as strong, manly fighters who performed acts of heroism. For example, in 1942 a German military chaplain near Sevastopol reported that he singlehandedly captured sixteen armed Soviets. There was, he wrote, "great joy among the officers and the men over the bold deed of their pastor."(30) Chaplains' obituaries extolled the dead in a vocabulary of masculinity: "He was one of our best," proclaimed a death notice in April 1941, "a selfless priest after God's own heart, a faithful idealist and a manly, courageous soldier."(31) He died a "hero's death" in the "fight against bolshevism," read the obituary of another chaplain, a year later. "His powerful, manly ways made him much loved by officers and enlisted men alike."(32)

"Comrades," proclaimed the Catholic Military Bishop Franz Justus Rarkowski in 1939, shortly after the attack on Poland, "the issue is your homeland and your people! `Be manly and be strong!'"(33) In 1940, a Protestant periodical called Mann und Kirche ("Man and Church") printed a special feature on a military chaplain who had received the Iron Cross, first class. Pastor Schumann from Chemnitz had braved deadly French fire to rescue his wounded comrades. "God helps those who have courage," the article quoted him as thinking, as he strode onto the field alone. He returned alive, to the wonder of his men. "All of them spoke to him with admiration and pride," the reporter noted, "regardless of which confession they belonged to or whether they were unaffiliated pagans" (gottglaubig).(34)

Chaplains presented themselves as paragons of Christian manliness, role models for the soldiers around them. Fear, they preached, was not manly, and Christian faith drove out fear. In the words of the Catholic Chaplain Graf, writing from France in February 1942: "May all those who heard me in this time from the pulpit and who received the Lord's Supper from me ... go the iron way of duty with firm steps and heads held high, for fear is something ugly that befits no man.(35)

German chaplains were not unique in the need to legitimate themselves as men. But in the case of Nazi Germany, hostile regulations from military and political authorities exacerbated the situation. Efforts to undermine the chaplaincy often took the form of attacks on the trappings of masculinity. For example, chaplains could not visit the men in their barracks.(36) Sometime after 1942, military authorities ruled that base and military hospital chaplains could not receive the Iron Cross, although it appears that they permitted some exceptions.(37) By 1944, chaplains writing to family members were prohibited from using the word "manly" to describe how German men condemned for treason, self-mutilation, or desertion met their deaths. For example, National Socialist staff in Army High Command reprimanded one chaplain for telling a woman that her brother, a German soldier condemned to death, had died "brave as a soldier."(38) Like all clergy, chaplains were excluded from the so-called Volkssturm--the people's storm--of 1944, as Hitler rallied the forces of German manhood in defense of the Fatherland.(39) German chaplains eager to prove themselves "real men" frequently found the means to do so wrenched from their grasp.


As Leonhard's experience in the hospital ward suggests, chaplains in Hitler's military faced problems particular to Nazi Germany. Servants of both church and state, they nevertheless encountered considerable hostility from military, state, and party authorities. Hitler and his inner circle made no secret of their contempt for Christianity, a religion they considered nothing but diluted Judaism propagated in a conspiratorial effort to weaken the so-called Aryan race.(40) Any form of Christianity, even the national religion of the chaplaincy, threatened Nazi claims to spiritual monopoly. Like the churches, the chaplains were to be allowed to survive until the war was over; Nazi leaders considered it too risky to attack Christian institutions when the full support of the homefront was needed to avoid the "stab-in-the-back" they believed had lost them the previous war.(41)

Attempts to confine and ultimately destroy the chaplaincy took many forms.(42) Neither the Luftwaffe nor the SS had chaplains assigned to their units.(43) Numbers of chaplains were reduced: the 480 Protestant military chaplains in service during World War II provide a telling contrast to the figure of two thousand for World War I.(44) A 1942 command announced that no new chaplains would be appointed; chaplains who died, left due to illness, or were taken prisoner were not replaced.(45)

Protestant Military Bishop Franz Dohrmann's files are full of orders from the Supreme Command and Army High Command imposing new restrictions. In 1941, for example, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel forbade Wehrmacht chaplains to minister in any way to men who had not explicitly requested their care.(46) Chaplains could only bury dead soldiers if the papers of the deceased clearly showed they were church members.(47) At the same time, clergy were prohibited from giving soldiers forms requesting last rites and a Christian burial.(48) Nor could chaplains be the first to inform family members of the death of a loved one at the front. The commanding officer or the military doctor was to break the news of death to family members.(49)

A 1942 order even required chaplains to situate themselves in areas of heaviest action, where their morale-boosting effects--and presumably the risk to their lives--would be maximized. "In combat," the order stipulated, "the military chaplain will be found in the hottest part of the battle and at the main dressing station, unless--and this will be the exception--he has received a special assignment from divisional command."(50) Chaplains called the measure the "Uriah Law," after the general in the Bible whom King David sent on a suicide mission so that David could have his wife Bathsheba.

Hostility from above proved contagious. Chaplains frequently complained--usually in private--that the men in their care challenged them and their authority. Descriptions of hostile soldiers, officers, and even doctors and nurses appear throughout the chaplains' reports and correspondence.(51) As chaplains discovered, soldiers raised and trained in the Nazi worldview had learned to distrust Christianity with its Jewish roots. One chaplain reported that hostile men asked him embarrassing questions about Christianity--for example, about the witch trials or the mission to the Jews.(52) Viciously antisemitic propaganda such as Der Sturmer provided soldiers with a vocabulary with which to mock representatives of the churches. According to the Catholic Military Vicar Georg Werthmann, anti-Christian and antireligious literature abounded at the front; Christian publications, in contrast, were almost impossible to get.(53)

It was particularly the younger men, chaplains reported, and those farthest from the demands of battle who were most cruel in baiting the clergy and least interested in genuine spiritual engagement. One chaplain wrote that he did encounter many men who were thankful for his services, but the situation in the military hospitals was always precarious: "The attitude and the mood of a room were often determined by a few people or even one individual, and the clergy learns very quickly to figure out which spirit has the upper hand right then. There is no doubt that one sees a great deal of alienation from Christianity, and an extraordinary amount of indifference.... Openly Christian characters who know the Bible are rare."(54) Regardless of their own political views--and they varied considerably--chaplains in Hitler's military found themselves on the defensive against both their masters and their clients.


The hostility of their employers notwithstanding, German military chaplains showed intense loyalty to their nation's cause. Declarations of love for the Fatherland and commitment to Hitler and his war were no mere rhetorical flourishes; they informed every aspect of the chaplains' work. As individuals and collectively, chaplains devoted considerable time and energy to proving their value to the German war effort. They compiled statistics and testimonies from members of the armed forces to illustrate their effectiveness in boosting morale and building spirits on both the home and fighting fronts. In 1940, Protestant church officials assembled an entire packet of materials--clippings about chaplains who had been decorated for bravery; protestations of loyalty to "Fuhrer, Volk, und Vaterland;" and excerpts from soldiers' letters--to try to prove to Hitler and the Reich Ministry for Church Affairs the usefulness and loyalty of the chaplains.(55)

Typical of efforts to justify the existence of the chaplaincy is a report by the Catholic chaplain Wirtz, 2d Infantry Division (motorized), from the summer of 1940. Wirtz detailed his activities in ways that emphasized his utility to the war effort and the enthusiasm for his work among the men: "In the Easter season I heard confessions and held worship services with communion. Participation [was] 80 to 90 percent and among some units even 100 percent.... There was not a single case in which spiritual ministry was rejected. `Bless me!' `Thank you!' `Will you greet my friends and my family members?' `I will die for Germany and our Fuhrer!' Those were the parting words of the dying men. On the days off, at the wish of the commander, I held three services (one outdoor Mass, one Mass in a French church, and one communal worship service) before the onset of a new offensive. In the Masses I pronounced a general absolution and afterwards there was communion with 100 percent participation."(56)

Wehrmacht chaplains served the National Socialist regime, but few were themselves hardcore Nazis. Prospective chaplains required clearance from military, church, and Gestapo offices.(57) All of those agencies did their utmost to keep out potential troublemakers, although they defined the term in different ways. So if it was impossible for anyone with a record of opposition to National Socialist policies to receive an appointment to the chaplaincy, aggressively pro-Nazi politics and even strident antisemitism of the wrong kind could disqualify a candidate as well. Prospective chaplains could be disqualified for defeatism. In 1940, one potential chaplain received black marks in the Security Service report and was ultimately rejected because he had once said that he did not believe Hitler could win the war. The enemies were too numerous, he contested: "the Jews, the church, England, France, and America."(58) Meanwhile, members of the exuberantly pro-Nazi German Christian Movement complained that Protestant Military Bishop Franz Dohrmann blocked their more outspoken adherents from the chaplaincy.(59) The net result was a chaplaincy dominated by conservative, nationalist Christians.

Precisely that national conservatism may have made German military chaplains effective voices to sooth qualms of conscience on the part of men engaged in an unconventional war. In March 1943, in the wake of Stalingrad, a Protestant chaplain hinted that only Christianity could save Germany: "The extraordinary challenges of the struggle in the east and the increasingly heavy demands on the spiritual and personal attitudes of the troops may have opened the eyes of many an officer, precisely the most experienced, to the fact that any weakening of the religious basis of our people means opening the way for Bolshevism. And on the other hand, every promotion of Christian faith among the soldiers contributes considerably to the German army's power to fight back and redounds to the strength of the German Volk."(60) "The German soul," wrote another chaplain for Advent 1943, "cannot be satisfied by the miserable, empty surrogates that it is being fed these days." It hungered not for Nazi propaganda, he implied, but "for the bread of life, as only Jesus Christ can give it."(61)

Only rarely did chaplains' reports allude to the "special nature" of the war in the east and the pressures created for the German men who fought it. Acknowledgments of German brutality were always vague and oblique. One such cryptic reference to atrocities committed by the Wehrmacht may be in a 1942 report from a Catholic chaplain. He listed nine particular problems he faced during the reporting period from his vantage point with a tank division in the east. In addition to cold, mud, danger from partisans, and lack of adequate hosts and wine, he mentioned "the unique nature of the action and the relations with the enemy."(62)

A Protestant pastor, attached to an Armored Division in the Soviet Union in the summer and autumn of 1941, described the many, searching conversations he had with his men, "even on the particular problems that are part of this struggle against the Soviet Union." The next sentence suggests that those discussions addressed the viciousness of German troops in the east: "Again and again," he wrote, "everyone comes back to the question of the future of the German spirit and of religion."(63)

Chaplains themselves answered that question in conventional ways that denied the radical nature of the Nazi war effort. They echoed and invoked the patriotism of the Wars of Liberation and the Great War. The Catholic Military Bishop Rarkowski, for example, decried assaults from neopagan publicists on what he called the "religious tradition of the German army." The problem, he maintained, was not that such publications attacked "Christianity as such" but, rather, that they mocked "the Christian, heroic death of German soldiers." In Bishop Rarkowski's mind, German heroism and Christianity were inseparable and mutually reinforcing.(64) Chaplains' labors helped promote the illusion that this struggle, too, was a continuous development of German military and ecclesiastical traditions. In the words of the 1941 guidelines to chaplains from Army High Command's office for spiritual care (Gruppe S): "As in earlier wars, in this war too the military chaplaincy is an important handmaid of the troop leadership: educating the men to enthusiastic willingness to give their utmost, including their very lives; training warriors who are ready to sacrifice; and, by so doing, contributing to the spiritual strength of the German soldier at the front."(65)

It is difficult--perhaps impossible--to measure the chaplains' impact on the troops. We know that some Nazi killers, like Franz Stangl, commandant of Sobibor and Treblinka, seized on the involvement of Christian clergy in attacks on the handicapped and Jews as a way to justify their own roles in murder.(66) But Stangl recorded no encounters with military chaplains. We also know that after the war, at least some German veterans remembered with bitterness that the chaplains assigned to promote their spiritual life had raised no voice of protest against murder of civilians. Looking back after forty years on his experience on the eastern front, the theologian Hans Richard Nevermann wrote that throughout the entire war, no officer, no comrade, and no chaplain ever had anything to say about German atrocities other than that the war was terrible.(67)

Many soldiers' letters and diaries say nothing at all about chaplains, an indication either that chaplains were too few in number to have much impact or that they seemed irrelevant. Still, we know from chaplains' own records that men did approach them with questions of conscience. Reflections from a Catholic priest stationed in the Crimea illustrate the issues that faced clergy who ministered not only to death but to killers. A wounded man confided to him about his past: "He had been ordered to take part in a shooting commando in Sevastopol. The guy was completely ruined by this experience. Line up the Jews, clothes off, naked before his eyes, women, children, men, and then the machine guns. He had to man one of the guns himself. `I can say I did not hit any of them. I always shot in the air.' But the experience, how the people fell backwards, earth over them, and then the next row, until the anti-tank trench was full ... forty thousand people."(68)

"What should I have done?" the man wanted to know. He had a wife and family. Should he have refused? The chaplain was beside himself. "And I am expected to respond as a priest? he exclaimed. His answer echoed both the rationalizations and the restless conscience familiar from so many postwar German utterances: "I do not know how I would have reacted in that situation. Am I supposed to tell the soldier that he was a coward and should have stood up against it? He would immediately have been put in the same row and shot along with them. Is that what God wants? For us that was the first time that we heard anything about the shooting of Jews. The commanders of the Wehrmacht who were in charge should have refused to have anything to do with it."(69)

As ministers to their countrymen at arms, German chaplains had an immensely difficult job. Hostile military, state, and party authorities made their work even harder. Some chaplains showed fortitude in bypassing and even defying orders that limited their freedom of operation. Nevertheless, most weighed in on the side of the perpetrators, condoning and blessing their acts through words, actions, and silence. One of the most obvious manifestations of this function was the provision of group absolution for soldiers--a practice that occurred frequently enough to warrant a warning against overuse from the Catholic military bishop in 1944.(70) In the midst of what Omer Bartov has called the "barbarisation of warfare,"(71) the chaplains' presence provided a kind of spiritual relief, a moral numbing for the men in their care, a haven of normalcy that harked back to the religious practices of childhood. In this role, the chaplains performed a task shared by many women in the Third Reich and usually coded as feminine: providing a cozy home, domestic or spiritual, where killers could find peace, rejuvenation, and support.(72)

(1.) Hans Leonhard, Wieviel Leid ertragt ein Mensch? Aufzeichnungen eines Kriegspfarrers uber die Jahre 1939 bis 1945 (Amberg: Buch & Kunstverlag Oberpfalz, 1994), 41-42. All translations from the German are mine unless otherwise specified.

(2.) Rosenberg, Der Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts: Eine Wertung der seelisch-geistigen Gestaltenkampfe unserer Zeit (Munich: Hoheneichen Verlag, 1935), 614.

(3.) In November 1933, Reinhold Krause, a Berlin high school teacher of religion and "German Christian," gave a speech in the Berlin Sports Palace. Before twenty thousand cheering people, Krause demanded "liberation from the Old Testament with its cheap Jewish morality of exchange and its stories of cattle traders and pimps." Krause, "Rede des Gauobmannes der Glaubensbewegung `Deutsche Christen' im GroB-Berlin, gehalten im Sportpalast am 13 November 1933 (nach doppelten Stenographischen Bericht)," 6-7, Landeskirchenarchiv Bielefeld (hereafter LKA Bielefeld) 5,1/289,2.

(4.) Leonhard, 42.

(5.) Published diaries and memoirs of chaplains include: Rudiger Alberti, Als Kriegspfarrer in Polen: Erlebnisse und Begegnungen in Kriegslazaretten (Dresden/Leipzig: C. Ludwig Ungelenk, 1940); Wilhelm Schabel, Herr, in Deine Hande: Seelsorge im Krieg (Bern: Alfred Scherz, 1963); Josef Perau, Priester im Heere Hitlers: Erinnerungen 1940-1945 (Essen: Ludgerus-Verlag, 1963); Albrecht Schubel, 300 Jahre Evangelische Soldatenseelsorge (Munich: Evangelischer Presseverband fur Bayern, 1964); Dietrich Baedeker, Das Volk das im Finsternis wandelt: Stationen eines Militarpfarrers, 1933-1946 (Hanover: Lutherisches Verlagshaus, 1987); and Leonhard, Wieviel Leid. Also see Hans Jurgen Brandt, ed., Priester in Uniform: Seelsorger, Ordensleute und Theologen als Soldaten im Zweiten Weltkrieg (Augsburg: Pattloch Verlag, 1994). The most extensive collection of personal papers of a German World War II chaplain that I have found is the Nachla[Beta] Bernhard Bauerle, held at the Landeskirchliches Museum, in Ludwigsburg (hereafter LKM Ludwigsburg). Thanks goes to Eberhard Gutekunst and Andrea Kittel for permission to see these papers. There are relevant materials in the papers of Pastors Hans Stempel and Ludwig Diehl in Zentralarchiv der Evangelischen Kirche der Pfalz, Speyer (hereafter ZASP Speyer). A valuable source is chaplains' activity reports prepared at the division and army levels. Many of these are held at the Bundesarchiv-Militaerarchiv in Freiburg/Br. (hereafter BA-MA Freiburg); many are also on microfilm at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., in the Captured German Documents, series T-312, Records of German Field Commands: Armies; and T-315, Records of German Field Commands: Armies (hereafter T-series/roll/frame). Also see Reich Church Ministry files, especially regarding appointments of chaplains, in the Bundesarchiv Potsdam (hereafter BA Potsdam), 51.01/23846 and 23847. Some materials on Catholic chaplains are at the Archiv des Katholischen Militarbischofsamts (hereafter AKM Bonn).

(6.) The estimation of 1000 chaplains total is based on a figure of 480 Protestants who served throughout the war and an assumption that about equal numbers of Catholics held positions in the chaplaincy. See "Zusammenstellung der eingesetzten Pfarrer," [1941] BA-MA Freiburg, RH 15/281, 35; "Kriegsdienst der evang. Geistlichen Deutschlands, nach den statistischen Angaben der Deutsch-Evangelischen Kirchenkanzlei Berlin, Stand 1.10.1941," in Landeskirchenarchiv Nurnberg (hereafter LKA Nuremberg), Kreisdekan Nurnberg/121; and "Aufstellung der Soll- und Iststarke an Evangelischen Kriegspfarrern nach dem Stande vom 25.11.1944," BA-MA Freiburg, N282/8.

(7.) In August 1940, Protestant Military Bishop Franz Dohrmann prepared a "Bericht uber die Wehrmachtseelsorge im Kriege." He gathered information from fourteen divisions; all but one division, which did not answer the question, reported that attendance of worship services was good to very good, ranging from 60 to 90 percent in most cases; one divisional chaplain recorded participation of 100 percent after battles. BA-MA Freiburg, N282/vol. 7. A postwar account by former chaplain Schubring [first name not given] indicates that the winters in the Soviet Union led to an increasing demand for pastoral care; as many as 80 percent of troops participated, and surprisingly many took communion. Schubring, "Die Arbeit der Feldseelsorge im Kriege," BA-MA Freiburg, N282/vol. 4. On the basis of interviews with former chaplains, Jorn Bleese makes similar observations in Die Militarseelsorge und die Trennung von Staat und Kirche (Ph.D. diss.: University of Hamburg, 1969), 190.

(8.) On German chaplains as witnesses to massacres of civilians in Greece, see Mark Mazower, "Militarische Gewalt und nationalsozialistische Werte: Die Wehrmacht in Griechenland 1941 bis 1944," trans. from Past and Present 134 (1992) in Vernichtungskrieg: Verbrechen der Wehrmacht, 1941-1944, eds. Hannes Heer and Klaus Naumann (Hamburg: Hamburger Edition HIS Verlag, 1995), 157-90. For a case of chaplains seeing Nazi brutality up close in Ukraine, see reminiscences of former Catholic Chaplain Ernst Tewes, "Seelsorger bei den Soldaten 1940-1945. Aufzeichnungen und Erinnerungen," in Das Erzbistum Munchen und Freising in der Zeit der nationalsozialistischen Herrschaft, ed. Georg Schwaiger (Munich: Verlag Schnell & Steiner, 1984), 2: 244-87; also Bernd Boll and Hans Safrian, "Auf dem Weg nach Stalingrad: Die 6. Armee 1941/42," in Heer and Naumann, 260-96.

(9.) See discussion in Weinberg, "Propaganda for Peace and Preparation for War," in Germany, Hitler, and World War II (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 68-82.

(10.) See, for example, the death announcement of the military chaplain Franz Albert, born in 1876 and a decorated veteran of World War I, who had spent thirty-eight of his forty-four years as a priest ministering to soldiers. Catholic Military Bishop's Verordnungsblatt 4 (3 May 1944): 13, in AKM Bonn.

(11.) A detailed description of the Great War as a model of supraconfessionality appears in Armin Roth, Wehrmacht und Weltanschauung: Grundfragen fur die Erziehungsarbeit in der Wehrmacht, foreword by Hermann Goring (Berlin: E.S. Mittler & Sohn, 1940), 19.

(12.) A scathing denunciation of religious complicity in the Great War appears in Julien Benda, The Betrayal of the Intellectuals, trans. Richard Aldington (Boston: Beacon, 1955), chap. 3, "The `Clerks'--the Great Betrayal," especially 65-73, 101, 109-11.

(13.) Paul Fussell, "The Fate of Chivalry and the Assault upon Mother," in Thank God for the Atom Bomb and Other Essays, ed. Paul Fussell (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988), 221-48. Fussell notes the intimate connection between "mother" and piety.

(14.) "'Die Soldatenpredigt im Kriege," Leitgedanken aus einem Vortrag bei einem Frontlehrgang im Osten von Wehrmachtdekan Schackla," in Mitteilungsblatt des Evangelischen Feldbischofs 4 (10 Oct. 1942): 6, in BA-MA Freiburg, RW 12 1/12.

(15.) Muller, "Vierteljahres (Seelsorge)-Bericht des ev. Divisions-Pfarrers der 7. Pz. Division fur die Zeit vom 1.10 bis 31.12.41," 1, in T-315/439/303.

(16.) Fussell, "Killing in Verse and Prose," in Thank God, 131.

(17.) For an explicit effort to distance World War II chaplains from the supposed stab-in-the-back of 1918, see Catholic Military Bishop Franz Justus Rarkowski, "Heimatgru[Beta] des katholischen Feldbischofs der Wehrmacht," with instructions to circulate to all Catholic members of Wehrmacht, Verordnungsblatt, no. 2 (1 Sept. 1939): 6, AKM Bonn.

(18.) James Jones quoted in Fussell, "Killing in Verse and Prose," in Thank God, 144.

(19.) For discussion, see George Mosse, The Image of Man: The Creation of Modern Masculinity (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).

(20.) "Anzug der Wehrmachtgeistlichen und Kriegspfarrer a.K.," in Verordnungsblatt, no. 2 (10 Feb. 1941): 11, AKM Bonn.

(21.) See account of Lambert Drink in Erinnerungen rheinischer Seelsorger aus den Diozesen Aachen, Koln und Luttich (1933-1986), ed. Erwin Gatz (Aachen: Ginhard, 1988), 259.

(22.) See the accounts by Catholic priests and seminarians serving as orderlies and medics in Brandt, ed., Priester in Uniform.

(23.) Lasch, acting Protestant district chaplain, District XI Hanover, report on the gathering of base chaplains in District XI on 12 May 1943, 15 May 1943; thirty-three base chaplains and fifty-three hospital chaplains attended. BA-MA Freiburg, RH 15/273/119-20.

(24.) Georg Grundler to Protestant Military Bishop, Munster, 13 December 1940, 2, in BA-MA Freiburg, RW 12 1/6, 128. For a similar case involving a Catholic, see Josef Neubauer to Rarkowski (Budweis, 29 November 1943), BA-MA Freiburg, RH 15/272, 83-84.

(25.) On calls for "manly, powerful, pious, German" music rather than the usual "soft, sweet, sentimental" fare of religious music, see Schieber (Evang. Wehrkreispfarrer V) to Protestant Military Bishop Ludwigsburg, 15 July 1938, in BA-MA Freiburg, RH 53-5/72, 11-13. For a description of how Christmas at the front bound a "childlike sense" with "true manliness," see "Hirtenbrief," "Der Katholische Feldbischof der Wehrmacht Franziskus Justus," Berlin, Advent 1942, 3-4, in BA-MA Freiburg, RW 12 II/4.

(26.) "`Die Soldatenpredigt im Kriege,' Leitgedanken aus einem Vortrag bei einem Frontlehrgang im Osten von Wehrmachtdekan Schackla," in Mitteilungsblatt des Ev. Feldbsichofs 4 (10 Oct. 1942): 2, in BA-MA Freiburg, RW 12 1/12.

(27.) "Standortpfarrerversammlung im Wehrkreis XI, 12.5.43," report signed Lasch, stellv. Ev. Wehrkreispfarrer XI, Hanover, 15 May 1943, to Army High Command via Protestant Military Bishop, in BA-MA Freiburg, RH 15/273, 119-20.

(28.) "Wesen und Aufgabe der Feldseelsorge," signed Edelmann, [1941], 5, in BA-MA Freiburg, RH 15/282, 26.

(29.) Bauerle, "Gru[Beta] zum 12. Sonntag nach Trinitatis," 23 August 1942, 1, NL Bauerle, in LKM Ludwigsburg, materials labeled "Sonntagsgru[Beta]."

(30.) Kriegspfarrer Satzger, "Bericht uber Kampfhandlungen," 9 January 1942, T-312/419/7995355-56.

(31.) Death notice for Anton Gerritschen, chaplain with an infantry division, 6 April 1941, in Verordnungsblatt, no. 4 (21 April 1941): 21, AKM Bonn.

(32.) Obituary for Anton Grois, Wehrmachtpfarrer and Divisionspfarrer, Verordnungsblatt, no. 4 (15 April 1942): 21, AKM Bonn.

(33.) Franziskus Justus Rarkowski, "Heimatgru[Beta] an alle katholischen Wehrmachtangehorigen," Verordnungsblatt, no. 3 (18 October 1939): 10, AKM Bonn.

(34.) Gunther Kaufmann, (editor in chief of Wille und Macht, leadership organ of the National Socialist youth), in Feldzeitung der Moselarmee, reproduced in Mann und Kirche, no. 9 (1940): 64, one of attachments to letter from chancellery of the German Protestant Church to Hitler, 28 October 1940, in binder labeled "Haltung der kirchlichen Zeitschriften im gegenwartigen Kriege," 49, BA Potsdam, 51.01/23740.

(35.) Graf, report of activity with the 8th Jag-Div., France, 15 February 1942, T-315/465/1031.

(36.) See remarks in appendix to report by Stellv. Ev. Wehrkreispfarrer IX, Karig, "Moglichkeiten und Schwierigkeiten der Truppenseelsorge," for meeting of base chaplains in Kassel, 17 February 1943, 4, in BA-MA Freiburg, RH 15/273, 15.

(37.) There seems to have been considerable confusion as to whether chaplains could be decorated, if so which chaplains, with what, by whom, and under what conditions. See correspondence regarding the Iron Cross, second class, without swords, and lists of proposed names; for example: Bunke, Stellvertretender Ev. Wehrkreispfarrer III, "Vorschlagsliste 1 fur die Verleihung des K.V.K. II. Kl. o. Schw.," Berlin-Spandau, 18 April 1944, in BA-MA Freiburg, RH 15/272, 123. On the question of whether base chaplains and chaplains in military hospitals could be decorated, see Army High Command to military bishops, 21 March 1944, BA-MA Freiburg, RH 15/272, 104. For a case where several Iron Crosses were withdrawn from base and military hospital chaplains, see Army High Command, 30 January 1945, BA-MA Freiburg, RH 15/270, 13; the same file contains a great deal of related correspondence.

(38.) See circular from Laasch, stellv. Ev. Wehrkreispfarrer XI, "An alle Ev. Standort- und Reservelazarettpfarrer im Wehrkreis XI," Hanover, 28 June 1944, 2, in BA-MA Freiburg, RH 53-11/71.

(39.) Laasch, stellv. Ev. Wehrkreispfarrer XI, "An alle Ev. Standort- und Reservelazarettpfarrer im Wehrkreis XI," Hanover, 28 June 1944, 2, in BA-MA Freiburg, RH 53-11/71.

(40.) Even members of the "German Christian" movement complained about anti-Christian attitudes in the SA, SS, and army. See, for example, Walter Schultz to Hitler, 30 April 1941, and attached, untitled report, relevant sections entitled "Bekampfung und Verachtlichmachung des Christentums und der Kirche," and "Angriffe auf Geistliche," 4-5, Bundesarchiv Koblenz (hereafter BA Koblenz) R 43 II/172/fiche 1, 3- 6. These materials have been relocated within the German federal archive system since I used them. On German Christians in the chaplaincy, see Doris L. Bergen, "'Germany Is Our Mission-Christ Is Our Strength!': The Wehrmacht Chaplaincy and the `German Christian' Movement," Church History 66 (1997): 522-36.

(41.) On Hitler's belief in the stab-in-the-back myth and its impact on his behavior during World War II, see Weinberg, "Propaganda for Peace and Preparation for War," in Germany, Hitler, and World War II, 73-76.

(42.) On Nazi measures against the Wehrmacht chaplains, see Manfred Messerschmidt, "Aspekte der Militarseelsorgepolitik in nationalsozialistischer Zeit," Militargeschichtliche Mitteilungen 1/1968, and Messerschmidt, "Zur Militarseelsorgepolitik im Zweiten Weltkrieg," Militargeschichtliche Mitteilungen 1/1969. See also postwar manuscript by Schubring, "Die Arbeit der Feldseelsorge im Kriege," in BA-MA Freiburg, N282/vol. 4.

(43.) On absence of chaplains in the Luftwaffe, see guidelines prepared by Group S (Seelsorge) of Army High Command, signed Edelmann, "Wesen und Aufgabe der Feldseelsorge," [1941], 7, BA-MA Freiburg, RH 15/282, 28. For examples of chaplains nevertheless ministering to members of the Luftwaffe or being requested to do so, see the following: Protestant Kriegspfarrer Albrecht, 2nd Mountain Division, "Bericht fiber die seelsorgerliche Tatigkeit des evangelischen Kreigspfarrers bei der 2. Gebirgs-Division vom Juni 1940-28.2.1941," Norway, 4, T-315/99/594; Catholic Military Bishop Rarkowski to Army High Command, 9 July 1943, 3, BA-MA Freiburg, RH 15/280, 121; SS-Main Personnel Office to Supreme Command, Berlin-Charlottenburg, 14 September 1944, BA-MA Freiburg, RH 15/272, 263.

(44.) Dohrmann's notes provide a figure of 455, BA-MA Freiburg, N282/1, 163.

(45.) OKH (Army High Command), signed Juttner, 23 December 1933, BA-MA Freiburg, N282/3. For complaints about the failure to maintain adequate numbers of chaplains or fill vacant positions, see German Protestant Church, Ecclesiastical Chancellery, to Supreme Command, 13 November 1942, Berlin, BA Potsdam, 51.01/23847.

(46.) Supreme Command, signed Keitel, 15 March 1941, Berlin, "Wehrmachtseelsorge," BA Potsdam, 51.01/21839, 62-63.

(47.) "Bestimmungen fur besondere Dienstverhaltnisse der Kriegspfarrer beim Feldheer," 18 June 1941, BA-MA Freiburg, N282, vol. 3.

(48.) See "Bestimmungen fur besondere Dienstverhaltnisse der Kriegspfarrer beim Feldheer," 18 June 1941, BA-MA Freiburg, N282, vol. 3; also earlier memo from Supreme Command to Reich Ministry of Church Affairs, Berlin, 1 August 1940, in BA Potsdam 51.01/23158, 254.

(49.) Army High Command, signed Kauffmann, to military bishops, 26 October 1939, 1, BA-MA Freiburg, RW 12 1/13.

(50.) Supreme Command, signed Keitel, "Betr.: Richtlinien fur die Durchfuhrung der Feldseelsorge," Berlin, 24 May 1942, 1, BA Potsdam, 51.01/21839, 147.

(51.) On antagonistic officers, see Tomaschek, Catholic chaplain, 2d Mountain Division, "Tatigkeitsbericht vom 1.11.1940-28.2.1941," Norway, 1 March 1941, 2, T-315/99/601; on unsympathetic nurses who obstructed the work of the chaplains, see report by Pastor Engelbrecht, Fulda, "Die Seelsorge im Res.-Lazarett," summarized in Karig, deputy Protestant military chaplain, District IX, to Supreme Command and Protestant Military Bishop Kassel, 13 March 1943, 1, BA-MA Freiburg, RH 15/273, 9.

(52.) Doerne, "Lazarettseelsorge," report from the conference of base and military hospital chaplains in military district IV, Dresden, 7 July 1943, in copy of Mitteilungsblatt des Ev. Feldbischofs, no. 3, 15 (October 1943): 5, BA-MA Freiburg, RW 12 1/13, 5.

(53.) See list of complaints signed Vicar Werthmann, Catholic military bishop to Army High Command, 9 July 1943, 5, BA-MA Freiburg, RH 15/280, 123.

(54.) Stempel, report on "Lazarettseelsorge," 19 February 1940, Landau, 5, ZASP Speyer, 150.47/2e.

(55.) Report on meeting 12 September 1940 on "Besprechung uber Schrifttumsfragen" and letter from chancellery of German Protestant Church, signed Werner, Hymmen, Marahrens, and Schultz, to Hitler, Berlin-Charlottenburg, 28 October 1940, BA Potsdam, 51.01/23740.

(56.) "Tatigkeitsbericht uber den Einsatz im Westen vom 10. Mai bis 9. Juli 1940," Stettin, 1 August 1940, T-315/87/637-38.

(57.) To see the approval procedure at work, for example, Ministry of Church Affairs to Supreme Command (OKW), 22 May 1944, BA-MA Freiburg, RH 15/272, 216-17; Church Affairs to OKW, BA-MA Freiburg, RH 15/272, 116; same file, Bunke, "Bericht der Wehrmachtkommandantur Berlin," 18 December 1943; OKW (Gruppe S) memo to military bishops, 21 March 1944, 113; report of Gestapo Hanover on Pastor Friedrich Voges, in Deputy Chief Command, District XI, to OKH, 17 November 1944, BA-MA Freiburg, RH 15/270, 25; and church ministry files re: chaplains, BA Potsdam, 51.01/ 23846 and 23847.

(58.) Security Service report on Pfarrer Ernst Muller in Roxforde, 28 September 1940, BA Potsdam, 51.01/23847, 35.

(59.) Schultz, Bishop of Protestant-Lutheran Church of Mecklenburg, to State Secretary Muhs, Reich Ministry for Church Affairs, 28 July 1942, BA Potsdam, 51.01/23846, 298.

(60.) Karig, Deputy Protestant chaplain for Military District IX, Kassel, "Moglichkeiten und Schwierigkeiten der Truppenseelsorge," copy of speech, attached to Karig to Supreme Command, report on gatherings of base chaplains in Kassel, Eisenach, and Frankfurt/ M., 13 March 1943, 5, BA-MA Freiburg, RH 15/273, 16.

(61.) Circular from Deputy Protestant Chaplain Laasch, Military District XI, Hanover, Advent 1943, "To Protestant Base and Military Hospital Chaplains of Military District XI," 1, BA-MA Freiburg, RH 53-11/71.

(62.) Catholic divisional priest, 7th Tank Division, entry for 3-8 May 1942, in "Tatigkeitsbericht, 1.1.42-12.5.42," 7, T-315/439/329.

(63.) Dr. Muller, Protestant divisional chaplain, 7th Tank Division, "Tatigkeitsbericht, 22.6.-30.9.1941," 4, T-315/439/301.

(64.) Rarkowski to Army High Command, Berlin-Tempelhof, 5 January 1937, 3, BA-MA Freiburg, RW 12 II/5, 6.

(65.) Edelmann, "Wesen und Aufgabe der Feldseelsorge," [1941], 1, BA-MA Freiburg, RH 15/282, 22.

(66.) On Stangl, see Gitta Sereny, Into That Darkness: An Examination of Conscience (New York: Vintage Books, 1983).

(67.) See Hans Richard Nevermann, "Warum zog ich nicht die Notbremse? Erinnerungen 40 Jahre nach dem Uberfall auf die Sowjetunion," Junge Kirche 6 (1981): 282-84.

(68.) Heinz Keller, "Ob das der Herrgott von uns will?," in Brandt, Priester in Uniform, 130-31. Keller was with the 2d Medical Corps, 46th Infantry Division in the Crimea and the Caucasus.

(69.) Keller, 130-31.

(70.) Verordnungsblatter des katholischen Feldbischof der Wehrmacht 6 (12 August 1944): 30, "Generalabsolution," signed Rarkowski.

(71.) Omer Bartov, The Eastern Front, 1941-1945: German Troops and the Barbarisation of Warfare (London: St. Martin's, 1985).

(72.) For additional discussion of women's roles in Nazi warfare, see Claudia Koonz, Mothers in the Fatherland: Women, the Family and Nazi Politics (London: Jonathan Cape, 1987); Gaby Zipfel, "Wie fuhren Frauen Krieg?" in Heer and Naumann, 460-74; and Sereny, Into that Darkness, especially 355-62.

Doris L. Bergen is an associate professor in the history department at the University of Notre Dame.
COPYRIGHT 2001 American Society of Church History
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:Church History
Date:Jun 1, 2001
Previous Article:Introduction.
Next Article:Last Years of a Resister in the Diocese of Berlin: Bernhard Lichtenberg's Conflict with Karl Adam and his Fateful Imprisonment.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters