Goering: Church and Reich

1946 Nuremberg Tribunal: On day 81, Hermann Goering testifies on his own behalf, answering a series of leading questions posed by his defense counsel.

Goering: As to the attitude towards the Church--the Fuehrer's attitude was a generous one, at the beginning absolutely generous. I should not like to say that it was positive in the sense that he himself was a positive or convinced adherent of any one confession, but it was generous and positive in the sense that he recognized the necessity of the Church. Although he himself was a Catholic, he wished the Protestant Church to have a stronger position in Germany, since Germany was two-thirds Protestant. The Protestant Church, however, was divided into provincial churches, and there were various small differences that the dogmatists took very seriously. For that reason they once in the past, as we know, fought each other for 30 years; but these differences did not seem so important to us. There were the Reformed, the United, and the pure Lutherans--I myself am not an expert in this field.

Constitutionally, as Prussian Prime Minister, I was, to be sure, in a certain sense the highest dignitary of the Prussian Church, but I did not concern myself with these matters very much. The Fuehrer wanted to achieve the unification of the Protestant Evangelical Churches by appointing a Reich Bishop, so that there would be a high Protestant church dignitary as well as a high Catholic Church dignitary. To begin with, he left the choice to the Evangelical churches, but they could not come to an agreement. Finally they brought forward one name, exactly the one which was not acceptable to us. Then a man was made Reich Bishop who had the Fuehrer's confidence to a higher degree than any of the other provincial bishops.

With the Catholic Church the Fuehrer ordered a concordat to be concluded by Herr [Franz] von Papen (above, with cane). Shortly before Herr von Papen concluded that agreement I visited the Pope myself. I had numerous connections with the higher Catholic clergy because of my Catholic mother, and thus--I am myself a Protestant--I had a view of both camps. One thing, of course, the Fuehrer and all of us, I, too, stood for was to remove politics from the Church as far as was possible. I did not consider it right, I must frankly say, that on one day the priest in church should humbly concern himself with the spiritual welfare of his flock and then on the following day make a more or less belligerent speech in parliament.

We planned a separation, that is to say, the clergy were to concentrate on their own sphere and refrain from becoming involved in political matters. Owing to the fact that we had in Germany political parties with strong church leanings, considerable confusion had arisen here. That is the explanation of the fact that, because of this political opposition that at first played its role in the political field in parliament, and in election campaigns, there arose among certain of our people an antagonistic attitude toward the Church. For one must not forget that such election disputes and speeches often took place before the electors between political representatives of our Party and clergymen who represented those political parties which were more closely bound to the Church. Because of this situation and a certain animosity, it is understandable that a more rabid faction--if I may use that expression in this connection--did not forget these contentions and now, on its side, carried the struggle on again on a false level. But the Fuehrer's attitude was that the churches should be given the chance to exist and develop.

In a movement and a party which gradually had absorbed more or less the greater part of the German nation--and which now in its active political aspect had also absorbed the politically active persons of Germany--it is only natural that not all the members would be of the same opinion in every respect, despite the Leadership Principle. The tempo, the method, the attitude may be different; and in such large movements, even if they are ever so authoritatively led, certain groups form in response to certain problems. And if I were to name the group which still saw in the Church, if not a political danger, at least an undesirable institution, then I should mention above all two personages: Himmler on one side and Bormann--particularly later on much more radically than Himmler--on the other side.

Himmler's motives were less of a political and more of a confused mystical nature. Bormann's aims were much more clear-cut. It was clear, too, that from the large group of Gauleiter, one or another might be more keenly interested in this fight against the Church. Thus, there were a number of Gaue where everything was in the best of order as far as the Church was concerned, and there were a few others where there was a keen fight against the Church. I did interfere personally on frequent occasions. First of all, in order to demonstrate my attitude and to create order, I called into the Prussian State Council, as men in whom I had special confidence, a high Protestant and a high Catholic clergyman. I myself am not what you might call a churchgoer, but I have gone now and then, and have always considered I belonged to the Church and have always had those functions over which the Church presides--marriage, christening, burial, et cetera--carried out in my house by the Church. My intention thereby was to show those weak-willed persons who, in the midst of this fight of opinions did not know what they should do, that, if the second man in the State goes to church, is married by the Church, has his child christened and confirmed, et cetera, then they can calmly do the same. From the number of letters that I received as the result, I can see that I did the right thing.

But as time went by, in other spheres as well as this, the situation became more critical. During the early years of the war I spoke to the Fuehrer about it once more and told him that the main concern now was, that every German should do his duty and that every soldier should go to his death, if need be, bravely. If in that connection his religious belief is a help and a support to him, whether he belongs to this or that confession, it can be only an advantage, and any disturbance in this connection could conceivably affect the soldier's inward strength. The Fuehrer agreed absolutely. In the Air Force I deliberately had no chaplains, because I was of the opinion that every member of the Air Force should go to the clergyman in whom he had the most confidence.

This was repeatedly told to the soldiers and officers at roll call. But to the Church itself I said that it would be good if we had a clear separation. Men should pray in church and not drill there; in the barracks men should drill and not pray. In that manner, from the very beginning, I kept the Air Force free from any religious disturbances and I insured complete liberty of conscience for everyone. The situation became rapidly more critical--and I cannot really give the reasons for this--especially in the last 2 or 3 years of the war. It may have something to do with the fact that in some of the occupied territories, particularly in the Polish territory and also in the Czech territory, the clergy were strong representatives of national feeling and this led again to clashes on a political level which were then naturally carried over to religious fields. I do not know whether this was one of the reasons, but I consider it probable.

On the whole I should like to say that the Fuehrer himself was not opposed to the Church. In fact, he told me on one occasion that there are certain things in respect to which even as Fuehrer one cannot entirely have one's way if they are still undecided and in need of reform, and that he believed that at the time much was being thought and said about the reorganization of the Church. He said that he did not consider himself destined to be a reformer of the Church and that he did not wish that any of his political leaders should win laurels in this field.

Dr Stahmer: Now, in the course of years, a large number of clergy, both from Germany and especially from the occupied territories--you yourself mentioned Poland and Czechoslovakia--were taken to concentration camps. Did you know anything about that?

Goering: I knew that at first in Germany a number of clergymen were taken to concentration camps. The case of Niemoeller was common knowledge. I do not want to go into it in detail, because it is well known. A number of other clergymen were sent to concentration camps but not until the later years when the fight became more critical, for they made political speeches in the pulpit and criticized measures of the State or the Party; then, according to the severity of this criticism, the police intervened. I told Himmler on one occasion that I did not think it was wise to arrest clergymen. As long as they talked in church they should say what they wanted, but if they made political speeches outside their churches then he could proceed against them, just as he would in connection with any other people who made speeches hostile to the State. Several clergymen who went very far in their criticism were not arrested. As far as the arrest of clergy from occupied territories is concerned, I heard about it; and I said earlier that this did not occur so much on the religious level just because they were clergymen, but because they were at the same time nationalists--I understand that from their point of view--and consequently often involved in actions hostile to the occupying forces.
The Nuremberg Tribunal Biographies
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