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On the 30 January 1933 Adolf Hitler, leader of the National Socialist German Workers' Party, came to power in Germany. His aim was to mould Germany's political and community life to fit in with his own ideas. This totalitarian approach left no room for deviant views or independent organizations and institutions; the whole of public life was to be controlled or, as the fashionable term put it, 'co-ordinated' by the Nazi party. The two major churches-Lutheran and Catholic- to which almost every German belonged, were no exception to this general control.

But National Socialism also had a particular interest in the churches, and it was inevitable that conflict would arise. Nazism saw itself not just as a political party, but as a philosophy - based on extreme racism. Only the Aryan race was acceptable, and the Aryans' worst enemy was the Jewish people - hence they must be exterminated. This racism led to the infamous death camps ofAuschwitz, Buchenwald, Ravensbruck . . .

Closely linked with Nazi racism was imperialism. Among Aryans, the Germans were the superior people and were therefore called to rule the world. The German people, German blood and the German fatherland were held up by the Nazis as the highest good. Known as der Flihrer (the leader), Adolf Hitler himself was the incarnation of the Nazi philosophy. People greeted each other with and in his name - a practice to which Christians could not conform.

Nazism was a challenge as well as a threat to the churches: it disturbed their security and forced them to ask fundamental questions: What is the church? What does it mean to be a Christian? What is so basic to the nature of the church and to being a Christian that it cannot under any circumstances be surrendered?

The process ...

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