AGAINST CATHOLIC CHURCHIN EAST GERMANY AFTER 1945
By Hidemi Tatsumiya
Communists themselves were persecuted by the Nazis, but after they gained political power in the Soviet occupational zone of Eastern Germany, they started to persecute Catholic partly because Catholics created one of the strong non-Communist political parties in 1945.
With the destruction of the Berlin Wall which was part of the Iron Curtain and with the fall of the of the Soviet Union, communism is at crisis today. This paper concentrates on the Communist persecution of the Catholics after the Second World War. It will discuss.how Catholic activities and ideologies experienced discrimination and how they struggled for survival against the rise of communism in East Germany
COMMUNIST VIEW OF THE CATHOLICS:
During the nineteenth century, communism and socialism shared similar ideas. Only after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917(2) communism began to diverge significantly from socialism. Lenin's goal was abolition of private property and replace the competitive market system with rational government control of the economy.(3)
After 1945 Stalin introduced Communism to East Germany . He basically believed in a non-competitive society. He believed that desire induces people to change the existing social structures and such thought was unnecessary to create a rational society. The communists called this creed a "Dialectical materialism" and believed that this idea was included in the Catholic teachings.(4) First, this materialism was thought to develop ownership, production, and hierarchy. Communism did not believe in the existence of social hierarchy. Secondly, Communism neglected the basic materials of life.(5) Whereas the Christians believed that matter carried a sacramental meaning. They believed that body (bread and wine) and spirit (God) were closely related to each other.
Communists thought that religion was; a prescientific superstition, a support for social reaction and that it had no function once communist society has been fully established. "In Communist eyes, the 'believing' community represented an obsolete social and ideological order that had to be opposed militantly in order to build the new society" (6).They believed that religion itself was a humanity's way of escaping from evils caused by the existing social systems. Communists believed that spiritual reliance was unnecessary in their world where a physical leader can take control over the society.
DIVISION OF GERMANY:
The Potsdam Conference was held in the year 1945. This American-British -Soviet Summit agreed upon the administration of Germany as one economic entity by the four Allied Control Council. The western Germany was divided into three zones each ruled by the British, French and the United States. The whole eastern Germany was under control of the Soviets. The four separate zones were supposed to be ruled based on democratic principles, though the allies did not realize until late that the Soviets had a completely different interpretation of democracy.
ESTABLISHMENT OF THE GDP AND THE CHRISTIAN POPULATION:
On June 10th, 1945, the USSR permitted formations of political parties in its zone, beginning with the Communist Party.(7) Four major parties were for formed before the first election: Communist Party (KPD), Social Democratic Party (SPD), Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Liberal Democratic Party (LPD)(8). In April, 1946, an important political movement was the unification of the Communist (KPD) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD),the present-day ruling party of the German Democratic Republic (GDP).(9) This GDR gradually became under control of Russia. The GDR greatly bothered various religious groups. The GDR's largest and most influential resistance group were the Protestant Evangelical Church. The smaller, less influential group were the Roman Catholic Church. The population of the Catholics were only 2.000.000 out of the 17.000.000 people in Eastern Germany. (10)
The Potsdam Conference also ordered the Germans living in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia to move back into the new and a much smaller German territory. This brought many religious groups into crisis and religious practices became difficult. Most German Catholics lived in the western and southern areas of the Reich, though the division of Germany resulted in an almost entirely Protestant country. (11)
COMMUNIST PERSECUTION OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH:
The 'church struggle' had already begun during the Third Reich by Nazi's regime to dissolve the German monasteries. (12) The height of the monastery struggle was in May, 1941. "The Catholic Church was never permitted to influence the guidance of the people. Such influence must be finally and completely broken".(13) The Nazi's ordered serviced that replaced church ceremonies, such as memorial ceremonies to decrease church's influence. Hitler also ordered church revenues to be dramatically decreased. By June, he confiscated more than hundred religious houses.(14) He said that these confiscated properties were suitable for large numbers of ethnic Germans returning to the Reich.
Similar treatment was done to the Catholic Churches in eastern Germany by the GDP. First against the Nazis, the church faced a new problem against the Communists. As soon as the GDP was established, they started an active Catholic movement intervention. The GDP began their direct orders against the church in May, 1946. The GDP introduced the Free German Youth and the Pioneer Youth. These organizations intended to bring children away from home and parents. Their goal was to let the children believe that religion was unnecessary in their lives. Together with the Catholic Church, the Protestant Evangelical Church resisted the initiation of the Youth Organizations. (15) Many of these youth organization meetings were held so they overlapped with the Catholic ceremonies and gatherings. People who did not attend these meetings sponsored by the GDP were heavily discriminated. It became harder and harder for the people to attend the church ceremonies which overlapped with the youth meetings
Priests and ministers were then forced to give support to the Communist meetings.
As the ministers did during the Nazi rule, they informed the government about these intense situations between the church and the GDP. Though the situations became far more serious and opened to public when the Catholic Bishop of Berlin, Cardinal von Preysing wrote a letter to the vice-president of the Council of ministers which explained the discriminatory treatment the Catholic Church faced. VP's response said, "Freedom of religion and liberty of conscience did not in reality exist, and the exercise of religion was obstructed in every conceivable way".(16)
In May, 1946, a law was enacted which prohibited educational institutions other than those of the state.(17) The Russian language became a compulsory subject, and by 1951, the study of Marxism-Leninism was also compulsory.(18) The GDP then ordered the youth organizations to follow anti-Christian teachings. The church was not allowed to stop children and adolescents to join the Youth Pioneers and the Free German Youth. In 1949, the Catholic Church had to announce their meetings well in advance to the GDP. The GDP then scheduled their meetings so that they coincided with the church meetings.
On July 1st, 1949, the vice-president ordered that, "All attempts to limit religion to acts of worship in buildings should cease, and that Christians should be given the unrestricted right especially with regard to work among youth organizations, charitable works and religious instruction".(19) ---The announcement was not by the vice-president it was by Cardinal---- The vice-president did not listen to Cardinal's attempt. He then tried to diminish the freedom of press and speech from the Catholic society.
He deprived all periodicals and arguments from the Church to be distributed outside of eastern Germany. He also stopped any Catholic teachings and literature from entering eastern Germany. The GDP made it impossible for the Bishop to visit outside of Berlin to meet people to both the eastern and the western sectors of Germany.
By mid 1952, the communist and Catholic relation became more serious.
The anti-religious campaign began in many areas of eastern Germany. The president of Young Pioneers said, "There is no doubt that they, the Church dignitaries, thus fight against the national interest of the people and push them in the direction of new wars".(20) The Catholic Church struggled to let the German government understand that they were only interested in letting them know the true nature of Christianity, rather than trying to go against the existing political system.
In 1953, the government stopped collecting taxes for the church. The church was in charge of collecting all the money necessary for their activities. Catholic owned buildings were continuously being confiscated by the government including the hospital, an orphanage and the kindergarten.(21) The freedom of press was under control of the government. Papers were withheld to publish, circulation had to be greatly reduced and restrictions were placed on distribution.
The situation seemed to recover on June 17th, 1953, when an agreement was reached to decrease some restrictions on religious instructions, aid for the sick and prisoners, and on the freedom of press. Though as early as in 1955, the GDP returned to its original policy. Pressure was given to various groups to support the new rule. On March 6th, with the death of the Cardinal the Bishop of Berlin protested against the pressures and pains of the people being unable to disobey the GDP. Children could not take exams and parents were fired if they did not obey the communist rule. The government did not hinder against this speech. They were now really ready to attack the church through the two youth organizations.
Although the Catholic Church was smaller in population and less powerful compared to the Protestant Church in the eastern German society, they showed great effort and consistency to keep their community away from the persecution of the German government. In later years, the East German C atholic Church gradually noticed the need to have good terms with the government to avoid further conflicts
Religious persecutions has been one of the major social issues all over the world. This topic on Catholic Church interested me very much, since I studied about the Catholic persecutions in Japan during the late 1800's.
My school was the first Catholic school found in Japan. The school was found by two nuns from France in 1872, a year before Catholics were legally allowed in Japan. The two sisters had no intention of going against the emperor's rule in Japan. Their only intention was to introduce Catholic teachings to the Japanese people.
Similar history of the struggle of the Catholics in an anti-Catholic or anti-Religious society had been seen in the German and Japanese persecution against the Catholics. During the early 1800's the Catholics in Japan also experienced their freedom deprived from the government. Catholics were only allowed to live in certain port cities. They were forced to step on Jesus' and Mary's pictures to prove that they were not Christians
Otherwise they were heavily punished.
Religious groups' struggle for identity has always been crucial and sometimes fatal. Though their strong belief bonded them together to face government persecution against their religion, life was not easy for them.
Today, the Catholic Church in East Germany stands in a better position, though they are still the minority. We all want these social and cultural disputes to end in the near future. But we all know that it is not as easy as we think. Social, political, and economical problems still exist in many countries and people still face the identity crisis.
Turner, Ashley, Henry Jr. The Two Germans Since 1945. Yale University Press,
New Haven, 1987
Seth, Romald. For My Name's Sake. Geoffrey Bles, London, 1958.
Hudelson, H. Richard. The Rise and Fall of Commuinism. Westview Press,
Allen, Bruce. East Germany. Black Rose Books, New York, 1989
Krisch, Henry. The German Democratic Republic. Westview Press, London, 1985
D.R.harrison "The English Historical Review" The Nazi dissolution of the
Monestaries V.109 April 1994
Bennett, C.John. Christianity and Communism. Association Press, New York, 1948
1. Turner, Ashley, Henry Jr. The Two Germanies since 1945. Yale University Press, New Haven, 1987 p.12
2. Bennett, C.John. Christianity and Communism, Association Press, New New York, 1948 p.23
3. Bennett, C.John. p.33
4. Bennett, C.John p.43
5. Krisch, Henry, The German Democratic Republic. Westview Press, London, 1985, p. 6
6. Krisch, Henry. p.122
7. Krisch, Henry. p.24
8. Krisch, Henry. p.7
9. Allen, Bruce. East Germany. Black Rose Books, New York, 1989 p.50
10. Krisch, Henry. p.122
11. krisch, Henry. P.122
12. E.D.R, Harrison "The English Historical Review" The Nazi dissolution of the Monestaries v.109 April 1994. p.323
13. E.D.R, Harrison. P.325
14. E.D.R, Harrison. p.326
15. Allen, Bruce. p.50
16. Krisch, Henry. p.153
17. Allen, Bruce. p. 23
18. Allen, Bruce. p. 23
19. Seth, Ronald. For My Name's Sake. Geoffrey Bles, London, 1958. p.154
20. Seth, Ronald. p.156
21. Seth, Ronald. P.157