Faith and Civil Courage 

Neither the Protestant nor the Catholic Church in Germany engaged in any large-scale resistance to the persecution of the Jews after 1933. The Confessing Church, which developed as an oppositional group within the German Protestant Church, rejected the exclusion of Christians of Jewish descent, but it did not openly oppose the Nazi regime. Active solidarity with “non-Aryans” was expressed solely by individual courageous Christians of both denominations. Only the small Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) called upon their members in April 1933 to show support across the board for all victims of the Nazi regime. The International Quaker Office in Berlin administered to the needs of prisoners and became a contact for people suffering persecution who sought advice in questions of emigration and in dealing with the hardships.

Church congregations were confronted with the concerns of their members who were considered Jews according to racist Nazi ideology. Starting in 1933–34 the St. Raphael Society, which had been supporting Catholic emigrants since 1871, and the Caritas charity organization prepared to assist Catholics of Jewish descent. Organized help for the far more numerous Protestant “non-Aryan” Christians developed more slowly. After several isolated initiatives, such as that of Pastor Hermann Maas in Heidelberg, the Berlin Church Aid Office for Protestant Non-Aryans, with twenty-two regional offices, was opened in late 1938 under the direction of Pastor Heinrich Grüber. Through the Aid Organization of the Diocese in Berlin, founded in 1938, Margarete Sommer tended to the needs of Catholics of Jewish descent. “Grüber’s Office” (the Church Aid Office) was forced to close after Heinrich Grüber was arrested in December 1940, whereas the Catholic Aid Organization continued to exist until the end of the war.

Some clerics boldly spoke out against the crimes of the Nazis. In his sermon at Sunday Mass on August 3, 1941, Clemens August Count of Galen, the bishop of Münster, condemned the Nazis’ murder of the sick and the handicapped. Berlin’s cathedral provost Bernhard Lichtenberg was arrested in 1941 for praying during religious services for persecuted Jews. Some individuals continued to demand that the church openly protest the persecution of the Jews, albeit without success. The teacher Elisabeth Schmitz wrote memorandums in 1935 and 1936 to the Confessing Church, calling for solidarity with all Jewish victims of persecution, but they were not heeded. The same was true of the efforts of Margarete Sommer, who in 1942 started sending reports to the head of the German Bishops’ Conference about the aims of the deportations and the initial news of mass murder.

Even once the deportations began and contact with Jews was prohibited, there were individuals who continued to offer assistance that was at the margins of legality or clearly illegal. Some people, such as Margarethe Lachmund, a Quaker, sent letters and packages into the camps and ghettos in the German-occupied territories. Catholic Gertrud Luckner took advantage of her position as a representative of the Freiburg archbishop to support people suffering persecution. She spent two years in the Ravensbrück concentration camp (1943–1945) for helping Jews in hiding.

Behrend-Rosenfeld, Else, and Gertrud Luckner, eds. Lebenszeichen aus Piaski: Briefe Deportierter aus dem Distrikt Lublin 1940–1943, with an afterword by Albrecht Goes. Munich: Biederstein, 1970.
Borgstedt, Angela. “‘... zu dem Volk Israel in einer geheimnisvollen Weise hingezogen’: Der Einsatz von Hermann Maas und Gertrud Luckner für verfolgte Juden.” In Widerstand gegen die Judenverfolgung, edited by Michael Kißener, 227–259. Constance: UKV Universitätsverlag, 1996.
Borries, Achim von. “‘Treue Hilfe’: Die Quäkerin Margarethe Lachmund (1896–1985).” Zeitgeschichte Regional: Mitteilungen aus Mecklenburg-Vorpommern 3, no. 1 (July 1999): 67–72.
Gailus, Manfred. Mir aber zerriss es das Herz. Der stille Widerstand der Elisabeth Schmitz, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2010.
Gerlach, Wolfgang. And the Witnesses Were Silent: The Confessing Church and the Persecution of the Jews, rev. ed, edited and translated by Victoria J. Barnett. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000.
Kuropka, Joachim, ed. Bischof Clemens August Graf von Galen: Menschenrechte – Widerstand – Euthanasie – Neubeginn, with the collaboration of Gian Luigi Falchi et al. Münster: Regensberg, 1998.
Leichsenring, Jana. Die Katholische Kirche und “ihre Juden”: Das “Hilfswerk beim Bischöflichen Ordinariat Berlin” 1938–1945. Center for Research on Antisemitism at the Technical University of Berlin (Dokumente, Texte, Materialien 67). Berlin: Metropol, 2007.
Ludwig, Hartmut. An der Seite der Entrechteten und Schwachen: Zur Geschichte des “Büros Pfarrer Grüber” (1938 bis 1940) und der Ev. Hilfsstelle für ehemals Rasseverfolgte nach 1945, edited by Evangelische Hilfsstelle für ehemals Rasseverfolgte. Berlin: Logos, 2009.
Ogiermann, Otto. Bis zum letzten Atemzug: Das Leben und Aufbegehren des Priesters Bernhard Lichtenberg. Leipzig: St. Benno, 1983.
Wollasch, Hans-Josef. Gertrud Luckner: “Botschafterin der Menschlichkeit”. Freiburg: Herder, 2005.


  • Confessing Church

    Confessing Church

    This church opposition to the Protestant Church’s forced conformity with the Nazi regime was founded in 1934. It rejected having Christians of Jewish descent excluded from the church. In all state churches except in Württemberg, Bavaria, and Hanover, there was a schism between “German Christians” who were loyal to the regime and supporters of the Confessing Church. Many Confessing Church pastors were imprisoned.



  • Quakers


    The Religious Society of Friends, the Quakers, is a Christian-based lay community first founded in England in 1746. Its doctrine of the “inner light,” or divine presence in all humanity, includes a commitment to nonviolence, universal compassion, and aid for the needy. The German branch founded in 1925, with almost three hundred members, was monitored from 1933 to 1945 and some of its property was confiscated.