The best books on German Protestantism in Hitler’s Germany

Why are we passionate about this?

Kevin P. Spicer is a historian of twentieth-century Germany who investigates the relationship between church and state from 1918-1945. I'm fascinated by the choices of Christian leaders as they negotiated the challenges of living and leading under National Socialism. I seek to understand the connections between Christian antisemitism and National Socialist’s racial-based exclusionary ethnonationalism and antisemitism. Rebecca Carter-Chand is a historian of twentieth-century Germany who focuses on Christianity during the Nazi period. I'm particularly interested in the smaller Christian churches on the margins of the German religious landscape, many of which maintained ties with their co-religionists abroad. I seek to understand how religious communities navigate ethical and practical challenges of political upheaval and fascism.

We co-edited...

Religion, Ethnonationalism, and Antisemitism in the Era of the Two World Wars

By Kevin P. Spicer and Rebecca Carter-Chand (editor),

Book cover of Religion, Ethnonationalism, and Antisemitism in the Era of the Two World Wars

What is our book about?

Religion, Ethnonationalism, and Antisemitism in the Era of the Two World Wars places the interaction between religion and ethnonationalism—a particular articulation of nationalism based upon an imagined ethnic community—at the centre of its analysis, offering a new lens through which to analyze how nationalism, ethnicity, and race became markers of inclusion and exclusion. Those who did not embrace the same ethnonationalist vision faced ostracization and persecution, with Jews experiencing pervasive exclusion and violence as centuries of antisemitic Christian rhetoric intertwined with right-wing nationalist extremism. The thread of antisemitism as a manifestation of ethnonationalism is woven through each of the essays, along with the ways in which individuals sought to critique religious ethnonationalism and the violence it inspired.

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The books we picked & why

Book cover of Then They Came for Me: Martin Niemöller, the Pastor Who Defied the Nazis

Kevin P. Spicer and Rebecca Carter-Chand Why did I love this book?

This engaging and accessible biography cuts through the mythology surrounding Pastor Martin Niemöller and his famous but often misunderstood confession, “First they came for the Communists….” Despite spending seven years in Nazi concentration camps, Niemöller is presented not as a stalwart opponent of Nazism but as a flawed individual who underwent significant transformation only after World War II, from a nationalistic, anti-democratic, militaristic Protestant elite to an internationalist, ecumenist, and pacifist willing to reckon with Germany’s past. Understanding the well-known statement as a confession is key, for as Hockenos explains, Niemöller did not remain silent about the arrest of socialists, trade unionists, and Jews because he was timid to speak out—he was silent because, at the time, he also disapproved of them. This is a book for those who want to read about individual transformation rather than heroic leaders presented on a pedestal. 

By Matthew D. Hockenos,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Then They Came for Me as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out-Because I was not a Communist..."
Few today recognize the name Martin Niemöller, though many know his famous confession. In Then They Came for Me, Matthew Hockenos traces Niemöller's evolution from a Nazi supporter to a determined opponent of Hitler, revealing him to be a more complicated figure than previously understood.
Born into a traditionalist Prussian family, Niemöller welcomed Hitler's rise to power as an opportunity for national rebirth. Yet when the regime attempted to seize control of the Protestant Church, he helped lead the opposition and was soon…

Book cover of Twisted Cross: The German Christian Movement in the Third Reich

Kevin P. Spicer and Rebecca Carter-Chand Why did I love this book?

Bergen’s classic study of the German Christian movement explores the origins and influence of this sizable movement within German Protestantism that sought to synthesize Christianity and Nazism. The German Christians’ mission to transform Christianity into a ‘racially pure’ church manifested in practical ways, including denying the Jewishness of Jesus and excluding Christians of Jewish heritage. The book emphasizes the movement’s theological and political foundations, dispelling the myths that the German Christian movement was a purely Nazi creation imposed on the church or that the movement’s adherents were merely opportunistic. A central component of Bergen’s analysis is focused on gender, arguing for the centrality of gendered rhetoric and what would today be recognized as toxic masculinity. The narrative continues into the postwar period, revealing how many German Christians were able to reintegrate into German Protestant life after the war.   

By Doris L. Bergen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Twisted Cross as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How did Germany's Christians respond to Nazism? Bergen addresses one important element of this response by focusing on the 600,000 self-described ""German Christians"" who sought to expunge all Jewish elements from the Christian church. In a process that became more daring as Nazi plans for genocide unfolded, this group of Protestant lay people and clergy rejected the Old Testament, ousted people defined as non-Aryans from their congregations, denied the Jewish ancestry of Jesus, and removed Hebrew words like ""Hallelujah"" from hymns. Bergen refutes the notion that the German Christians were a marginal group and demonstrates that members occupied key positions…

Book cover of For the Soul of the People: Protestant Protest Against Hitler

Kevin P. Spicer and Rebecca Carter-Chand Why did I love this book?

Based largely on interviews conducted by Barnett in the 1980s, this book remains the standard text on the Confessing Church in Nazi Germany. Barnett situates the Confessing Church’s experience within the broader context of the Protestant Churches, which comprised two-thirds of Germany’s population in the Nazi era. Initially formed in response to the German Christian movement’s attempts to Nazify Christianity, the Confessing Church remained committed to the theological integrity and structural independence of the church. Yet Barnett argues that the Confessing Church was not a resistance movement against Nazism itself. Some were arrested and lost their lives, some made compromises with the Nazi regime, and some were antisemitic themselves. Their overlapping and clashing actions complicate the overall portrait of the Confessing Church. A distinctive feature of Barnett’s narrative is the attention given to women—church secretaries, wives of clergy, and the many women who played a greater role in maintaining the Confessing Church during the war years, as many men served in the German military. 

By Victoria Barnett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked For the Soul of the People as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Victoria Barnett describes the dramatic struggle between Nazism and the German Confessing Church -- a group of outraged Christians who sought to establish a church untainted by Nazi ideology. For this remarkable book, Barnett interviewed more than sixty Germans who were active in the Confessing Church. She quotes liberally from their frank, unvarnished testimony, using rich historical and archival material to frame their stories. For the Soul of the People
vividly portrays a church divided between those who compromised with Nazism and those who eventually tried to overthrow it.

Book cover of Faith and Fatherland: Parish Politics in Hitler's Germany

Kevin P. Spicer and Rebecca Carter-Chand Why did I love this book?

Jantzen has produced a thoroughly engaging study of the German Lutheran pastors under National Socialism. By contrast to the traditional “top down” institutional narratives on the Kirchenkampf (German Church Struggle), Jantzen has produced a “bottom up” work that focuses on the choices made by ordinary parish pastors under Hitler’s rule. As his point of departure, he examines Lutheran pastors working in three Church districts: Nauen, located northwest of Berlin in Brandenburg; Pirna, in southeast of Dresden in Saxony; and Ravensburg, in southern Württemberg. Throughout his work, Jantzen convincingly compares the response of the clergy in these diverse geographic areas. Though there were notable exceptions among these pastors, Jantzen concludes that Protestant clergy “largely failed to resist or even critique the Nazi state.” 

By Kyle Jantzen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Faith and Fatherland as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An informative glimpse into the world of German Protestantsin the difficult Hitler era, Faith and Fatherland approaches thehistory of the Church Struggle from the "bottom up," usingsources like pastors' correspondence, parish newsletters, localnewspaper accounts, district superintendents' reports, andlocal church statistics.

While Jantzen confirms the general understanding thatGerman Protestants failed to resist or even critique the Naziregime, he reveals a surprising diversity of opinion and varietyof action, including the successful efforts of some Lutheranpastors and parishioners to resist the nazification of theirchurches.

Book cover of European Mennonites and the Holocaust

Kevin P. Spicer and Rebecca Carter-Chand Why did I love this book?

The collective memory of Mennonites during the Holocaust has long been mythologized or has remained unexamined. A recent renewal of interest from both the Mennonite community itself and scholars of the Holocaust has led to a number of conferences and publications. This collection of essays showcases the latest scholarship and paints a complex portrait of Mennonites in both western and eastern Europe during the Holocaust. The book highlights the many roles that Mennonites played, largely due to their proximity to the events of the Holocaust, including as neighbors, killers, enablers, witnesses, and rescuers. The contributors discuss Mennonite identity, theology, agency, and collective memory, all situating their stories in local, national, and European geopolitical contexts. 

By Mark Jantzen (editor), John D. Thiesen (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked European Mennonites and the Holocaust as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

During the Second World War, Mennonites in the Netherlands, Germany, occupied Poland, and Ukraine lived in communities with Jews and close to various Nazi camps and killing sites. As a result of this proximity, Mennonites were neighbours to and witnessed the destruction of European Jews. In some cases they were beneficiaries or even enablers of the Holocaust. Much of this history was forgotten after the war, as Mennonites sought to rebuild or find new homes as refugees. The result was a myth of Mennonite innocence and ignorance that connected their own suffering during the 1930s and 1940s with earlier centuries…

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Book cover of The Forest Knights

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Why am I passionate about this?

I love a good fight scene! It doesn’t need to be long and gruesome, but it must be visceral and make me nervous for those involved. Don’t get me wrong, I also love a good first-kiss scene but unfortunately, my past has made me more adept at recognizing and writing one over the other. I started training in martial arts at the age of nine and continued for thirty years. I don’t train much these days but I took up bowmaking a few years back and now spend a lot of time carving English longbows and First Nations’ bows. I recently also took up Chinese archery.

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What is my book about?

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A wild land too mountainous to be tamed by plows. A duke of the empire, his cunning overshadowed only by his ambitions. A young priestess of the Old Religion, together with a charismatic outlaw, sparking a rebellion from deep within the forests. And an ex-Hospitaller caught between them all.

The Forest Knights

By J. K. Swift,

What is this book about?

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