National Socialist Influence on the Church and Schools [in Bessarabia - 3rd in a Series]

Bolte, Manfred. "National Socialist Influence on the Church and Schools [in Bessarabia - 3rd in a Series]." Mitteilungsblatt, March 2013, 8-10.

Translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, CO.

Translator’s Note: this is the third in a series of articles from this year’s issues of the Mitteilungsblatt. It is now clear that this series consists of specific writers’ summaries of full presentations by other authors. There should be a total of five of these summary reports. The full presentations are promised to appear in the Bessarabian Association’s Jahrbuch 2014 [Yearbook or Annual]. A.H.

A [Summary] Report from the Autumn, 2012 Meetings in Hildesheim,
with the Overall Theme “The Influence of National Socialism on the Bessarabian Germans,”

Part 3: On the Presentation by Dr. Cornelia Schlarb

Mrs. Schlarb delivered a presentation that was rather dense and quite detailed. It was largely based on her book Tradition im Wandel – Die evangelisch-lutherischen Gemeinden in Bessarabien 1814 – 1940 [Tradition across Changing Times – The Ev.-Lutheran Communities in Bessarabia 1814 – 1940], Böhlau ,2007, particularly on chapter 4.2 with its topic “Influence from National Socialism.” However, in many places her talk went beyond the book. The presenter succeeded in demonstrating that it was the intellectuals in Bessarabia, especially the teachers and pastors, who contributed considerably to the spread of the ideology of the Third Reich and its contempt for mankind. Indirectly, Schlarb’s presentation supports the thesis that, without the intellectuals, the Third Reich could not have been carried through to its manifest form. She demonstrated to her listeners the kind of political and ideological mechanisms that were required in order to be, consciously or subconsciously, “successful”--in the National Socialist sense.

Dr. Schlarb began her talk by pointing out that in Bessarabia of the early 1930s it was certainly possible to receive NS propaganda on the radio. Furthermore, she indicated that the fact that searches in homes of the Bessarabians by the Romanian police turned up and confiscated NS propaganda materials, would serve as a sufficient indicator to contradict such statements as “… that was never the case with us …” and that this would point to the intentional and deliberate influence on Bessarabia exercised from NS Germany.

In her presentation Dr. Schlarb outlined the political, ecclesial-political and pedagogical dimensions through which the National Socialist influence showed itself. Then, using examples of specific pastors and teachers, she demonstrated the systematic indoctrination which, primarily via those professions, would lead Bessarabia to the powers that be in Germany.

1. The Political Dimension

According to Schlarb, National Socialist influence on Bessarabia spread through contacts with the Third Reich, especially via Siebenbürgen. During an excursion to Siebenbürgen in 1931, a group of Werner [School] students from Sarata and their teacher Johannes Wagner came into contact with the National Socialist Self-Help Movement led by Fritz Fabritius. This “Self-help” group, initially established as a “Raiffeisenbewegung” [co-operative movement of credit unions, so named after its founder, Raiffeisen – Tr.] saw itself at the same time as an ideological and ethical-moral renewal movement and declared itself as pro-Hitler. Back in Sarata, Wagner established a self-help group locally, which received a visit and the support of Fabritius. There followed a growing number of visits to Hermannstadt by Bessarabian youth groups providing talks on the Self-Help. For example, at a December, 1931 course attended by Theodor Schöch, a Sarata teacher of German and French, racial purist Alfred Csallner lectured on popular enlightenment, race and genetics. Then, in early 1932, Csallner visited Sarata to give talks at a meeting of representatives of German cultural clubs.

The so-called Self-Help movement changed its name several times. As of 1932 it was called “National Socialist Self-Help Movement of Germans in Romania” (NSDR [its German acronym]) and, beginning on December 15, 1933, “National Socialist Renewal Movement of Germans in Romania” (NEDR {its German acronym]). We lack the space at this point to depict in detail the complicated political power picture in Bessarabia, but we should at least mention that in 1934 the Romanian government banned the NEDR as a political party, although on March 24, 1934 the group, now known as Ethnic Association of Germans in Romania ([German acronym] VDR), won a majority of seat in the election of representatives to the Volksrat [People’s Council]. The National Socialist VDR was led by Gauleiter [district leader] Dr. Otto Broneske [Gau is an NS-preferred name for district – Tr.], who had been successful over Artur Fink, leader of the NS splinter group “German Ethnic Party of Romania” [acronym] DVR).in gaining leadership.

2. The Ecclesiastic-Political Dimension

The Renewal Movement, with support from the German Reich, saw in Senior Pastor Haase, whom it called “reactionary,” the main reason for the general decline of the Bessarabian Germans, particularly in light of his accumulation of multiple positions. It made it a goal to get rid of his accumulation of offices, with the primary aim that Haase give up his political seat. Following a consistory meeting on February 21, 1934, and after the “renewer” Albert Pippus had apparently stepped in, Haase gave up that position prematurely. So the first goal, the political dismissal of Haase, had thus been achieved. During the subsequent course of ecclesiastic clashes when particularly the finances of churches and the schools and, again and again, Pastor Haase’s “solo efforts” were called into question, the new National Socialist coterie provided backing in the struggle for ecclesiastic power. Without this close coalition of Renewers and church people the changeover of ecclesiastical-political power would not have been possible. However, increasing efforts by NEDR members in church affairs brought about ecclesiastic-political consequences within such bodies as the district consistory, synods and church councils. By the end of 1933 the presence of the National Socialists allied with Otto Broneske and Fritz Fabritius had become dominant. Leading church representatives such as district curator Samuel Heier, both consistorial secretaries, first Albert Pippus, then Artur Kräenbring as of March 1, 1934, were part of this group.

At the district level, the NS group around Broneske gained many votes and seats during the 1936-1937 ecclesiastical elections, while the NS group around Artur Fink and the German Cuzists as well as members of various Brethren Communities hardly pulled any weight at all. Bessarabian representatives to the national church bodies, that is, the nation-wide church assembly and the church consistory in Hermannstadt, from 1937 onward were recruited largely from the NS group allied with Broneske. During the 36th nation-wide church assembly in Hermannstadt in July, 1938, the attending Bessarabian representatives declared themselves to be part of the “Circle of Friends of Fritz Fabritius.” This faction presented to the nation-wide assembly its very own ten-point “program,” in which they claimed support for social justice (except for equal status of married female teachers) and demanded of pastors and teachers that they become qualified to take over ethnic community projects. The group also made the demand that non-conforming pastors or teachers should be “eradicated” from their professional communities. Eighty-two members of the nation-wide church assembly signed the “program,” among them thirteen Bessarabian Germans. For the latter, Dr. Schlarb provided the names of signers Immanuel Baumann and Samuel Heier, plus eleven other representatives. Samuel Heier remained district church curator in Tarutino until 1940. A point of interest is that in 1933 Heier, in contrast to positions he held later, then a member of the short-lived Voksdienst [Ethnic or People’s Service], had voted for a strict separation of church and politics.         

3. The Theological Dimension

Frau Schlarb indicated that a number of pastors involved themselves in party politics and ideology. Some of the younger colleagues, such as August Herrmann, Konstantin Neumann and Rudolf Koch were active in the NEDR, later also designated Volksgemeinschaft [Ethnic Association or Community]. Dr. Schlarb also pointed out that the majority of pastors remained passive in party politics, even when they were close to NS leader Broneske or to the later Senior Pastor Immanuel Baumann. An internal note by the Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle (Ethnic Liaison Office) or the VoMi, which organized the resettlement of Bessarabian Germans in 1940, counted Baumann as being part of the “Circle around Gauleiter Otto Broneske” and designated him as a “confessional churchman.” To this day, no statements by Baumann from newspaper articles, sermons or devotional services have been cited which would associate him with providing propaganda for NS ideas. Still, neither did he provide active resistance, nor did he attack the spread of the NS ideology. Reich-German lecturer Hermann Maurer, who, at the behest of the [Reich-] German Foreign Institute, was in Bessarabia in 1937 and 1938 to participate in pedagogical training courses, attributed to the community of pastors a real unwillingness “to make the ethnic question their own and in a manner we deem necessary.”

An attempt to determine the relationship between the people and ethnic identity on the one hand and the individual on the other, or the question of retaining the German identity as an ethnic responsibility, reveals the range of positions and tightrope balancing acts demonstrated by pastors and teachers in Bessarabia. In an article in a Sunday bulletin in 1937, Senior Pastor Baumann stated “that God’s creation is revealed in our ethnicity.” And he continues: “Faith in the creator stands above all else, which is why it is the noblest task for mankind to get things right with their creator.” Here the [ethnic] people are thought of as an object of creation-theological value, and the retention of the German ethnic traditions and values is depicted as an “eternal responsibility.”

In Arzis, Pastor Hermann demanded that ethnic traditions and values must never be an end unto themselves, but “serve a higher purpose,” and only they could maintain nature and ethnic values correctly who “are imbued with a living hope for eternal life.” Pastor Herrmann considered the Volksgemeinschaft to be the Christian love of neighbor, and he summed it up as follows in an Advent service in 1935: “New times demand a new person, one with a new fundamentally higher goal which sees in the love of one’s people the whole sense of life and, in the realization of this love, the entire purpose of living.”   

Dr. Schlarb then pointed out the significance of this theological tightrope course. Christian love of neighbor, which should in reality include all mankind equally, is here formulated as restricted only to the German people.  

Starting with the 1930s, that is, even before the political changeover in Germany, depictions of racial purity, genetics, and racial sciences had increasingly reached Bessarabia via Siebenbürgen. Bessarabian boys and girls took part in courses provided by the Raiffeisen House in Hermannstadt, where the curriculum included ethnic life science, racial teachings and genetics, [ethnic] degeneration and enhancement, ethnic health, ethnic dying and ethnic enhancement. In their presentations, the students and youth groups visiting from the Reich emphasized the significance of racial purity and lifted women up as the guardians of racial purity. Pastor Heinrich Frömich explicitly confessed himself to be part of German Christians. He emphasized that German Christians in particular sought to retain the connection between Christendom and ethnic traditions and values. He also was of the opinion that the Führer, Adolf Hitler, was the redeemer of Germany sent by God.

4. The School Dimension

Within the teaching community there were several who became active for NS ideals and who took on NS thinking and spread it. Adherents to the NS movement used teacher training courses to activate their ideology. One of their goals was to free the treasury of folk songs from all that was strange and inferior. Reich-Germans early on found in their foreign Germans a fertile soil for their ideological and political aims. There follow a few examples cited by Dr. Schlarb.

As early as 1933, a Günter Wehenkel traveled from Leipzig [Germany] to Bessarabia, where he lectured on the NS movement in Germany and the responsibility that grew from it, namely, “to transmit Germandom into the whole world.” Wehenkel presented Hitler as a hero of the twelfth hour fighting against Communism. Wehenkel’s efforts in Sarata in1933 did not remain without consequences, as was shown by the formation of various new local groups.

Pastor Koch of Albota called for joining the Renewal Movement and worked actively in propagandizing on behalf of the NEDR and its way of thinking.

Toward the end of October, 1935 the district consistory of Tarutino conducted a special training course for unemployed youth. Gau [district] youth leader Christian Fieβ, a member of the teachers association, worked on behalf of that demographic group. During the annual conference of the teachers association in 1936, Fieβ announced the formation of his own working association for young teachers. The minutes of the meeting read as follows: “It is quite clear that the young teachers are moving within the new ideas of renewal, in accordance with the words of the Führer, ‘By yourself you are nothing, your people are everything.’”

During subsequent periods, further young teachers’ training courses were held in order to influence the ideological alignment of beginners in the profession. Subsequently, the ideologization of the schools expressed itself, for example, in the intrusion of ethnic and racist curriculum content, which intended to introduce a new and historical and human image according to NS ideology. Even before 1933, Reich-German lecturers had come to remote Bessarabia and promoted serious research of Germandom abroad. A very early example was Georg Leibbrandt’s attendance at a 1930 teachers’ conference. From 1933 on, Reich-Germans arrived for week-long training courses. By the mid-1930s, German male and female students gave presentations on the topic of race, as for example in August of 1935 in Teplitz, and in 1936, when they researched the state of health of Bessarabian Germans.

5. Ideological Solidification

According to Schlarb, an idealized image of Germany had existed for decades among Bessarabian Germans. Reich-German visitors such as Fritz Haus, representative of the Gustav Adolf Club, who participated in the 1930 centenary celebration in Gnadenfeld, observed and described as follows this idealization process, which had absorbed everything positive: “Whatever is German is also good and fine and noble and just, incorruptible, and obliging to duty. Despite breakdowns and revolution, there exists, especially in the hearts of the young, an almost religious belief in Germany.” This ideal of Germany found its mirror image in in the National Socialism propagated by Hitler and let the revolution and the Weimar Republic become its counter image. In the Bessarabischer Beobachter [Bessarabian Observer], National Socialist policies were depicted as a struggle of liberation for the restoration of national honor and inner and exterior freedom for Germany.” In a December 30, 1933 article entitled “Heil 1933” [Hail to 1933], the Deutsche Zeitung Bessarabiens [German Newspaper of Bessarabia] gushed effusively about the political happenings in Germany, which had swept away the artificially established conflicts. The predominant idealized image of Germany supported and thereby strengthened the so-called Hitler myth that let the Führer and Reich-Chancellor to appear as the very incarnation of good, the bringer of peace and, finally,  the savior of Germany. A further ideological solidification can be seen in the combination of anti-Communism and anti-Semitism, each of which strengthened the other. In Germany and in Romania, this link between anti-Communism and anti-Semitism constituted the number one image of the enemy and found excellent and fertile soil in Bessarabian circles. Geographic proximity to Soviet Russia, the fear of a Communist power grab, and the catastrophic effects of Bolshevism on relatives, friends and the churches certainly helped to solidify this attitude.

Anti-Semitism as a reaction to the imbalances in the Bessarabian economy, offered a simple solution to the factors accompanying economic world crisis and irritations, such as deflation of prices, bank crashes, unemployment, harvest failures, and famines. During the course of the Jewish boycott of German goods and medical supplies of 1933, by which foreign Jews tried to protest against discrimination and boycott measures in Germany, the Bessarabian German newspapers wrote of atrocious and inflammatory propaganda spread by Jewish-Russian publication organs against the new Germany, that is, against everything German.

Christian anti-Semitism, however, contributed to a cementing of general anti-Jewish attitudes. Mrs. Schlarb next explained Christian anti-Jewish sentiment with the following example: Anti-Semitism made the entirety of Jewish people responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus and depicted it as murdering God. Accordingly, the dispersal of the Jews across the whole world was therefore a punishment from God for this deed of the God murderers. Our speaker pointed out that training sessions for Küster-teachers, the kind that Pastor Kern conducted between 1936 and 1938, dealt especially with getting closer to the “new” body of thought, but subliminally there was also an attempt to move Christian educational content closer to National Socialist ideas, e.g., depicting Jesus as a heroic figure.

6. Summary by Dr. Schlarb

An ideological basis for evaluating National Socialist policies and ideas is offered by the idealized image of Germany, the struggle for identity in a situation of a minority within a new state structure, and the centuries-long anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism that had been growing steadily in Romania since the 1920s.

From a theological point of view, on the one hand it was all about the status of Volk, Volkstum and Volksgemeinschaft [the people, the ethnic traditions and values, and the ethnic community] as a creation-theological value or lack thereof and, on the other, it was about the relationship of the individual to all of that.  

7. Open Questions

For Dr. Schlarb there remain some questions to be answered. For example, what was the image of God, Jesus and mankind presented within the parishes? In this context she pointed to the Christian commandment of subordination, which explains theologically as to who must subordinate oneself to whom. Man subordinates himself to God, the woman is subordinate to man, and children to their parents. In Bessarabia this subordination of women to men was fully part of the marriage formula, in contrast to Siebenbürgen, where Christians elevated the principle of equality between man and wife, a position they based on the Bible (Galatians 3, 28). This commandment of subordination, linked to the resulting principle of obedience, constitutes a peculiarly Bessarabian feature.

Dr. Schlarb ended her talk by pointing out many remaining research questions and a great number of aspects and individual investigations, and she challenged younger historians like Frau Wolters, for example, to continue to work on those topics.

Following lengthy applause, Mrs. Wiener expressed her gratitude for this historically highly enlightening presentation, which demanded a high degree of concentration from the listeners.

Note: The complete presentation by Dr. Schlarb, as well as all the other talks presented in Hildesheim, will be published in the Jahrbuch 2014 [Yearbook].

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller