Most Germans welcomed Adolf Hitler’s appointment as German chancellor (prime minister) on January 30, 1933. Few were more jubilant than Protestant church leaders. They welcomed the possibility of a national regeneration.

The dean of the Magdeburg Cathedral exulted in the Nazi flags prominently displayed in his church. “Whoever reviles this symbol of ours is reviling our Germany,” he declared. “The swastika flags around the altar radiate hope—hope that the day is at last about to dawn.”

Some churchmen even referred to the “turning point in history” where “through God’s providence our beloved fatherland has experienced a mighty exaltation.” Pastor Siegfried Leffler declared that “in the pitch-black night of church history, Hitler became, as it were, the wonderful transparency for our time, the window of our age, through which light fell on the history of Christianity. Through him we were able to see the Savior in the history of the Germans.” Pastor Julius Leutheuser added that “Christ has come to us through Adolf Hitler.”

Welcoming Hitler: Why?

The Protestant press in 1933 was full of editorials affirming that Germany’s honor would be vindicated. The humiliation of the lost world war would be left behind. Old moral values of authority, family, home, and church would be restored. The stagnant economy would move once again.

These editorials reflected the reality that the church had long held strong ties to German monarchs. Church leaders looked upon the “November Revolution” in 1918, which forced the abdication of the Kaiser (Emperor William II), as an unparalleled disaster.

Socialists had been leaders in that revolution, and they had helped form the subsequent liberal democratic Weimar Republic. Most Protestant clergy were anti-Marxist ...

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