Berlin, Germany September 23, 1934

On this date in 1934 Ludwig Mueller, a crew-cut former naval chap­lain, was installed as the new Reich Bishop in a gaudy spec­ta­cle at the swas­tika-bedecked Berlin Cathe­dral. The year before, 1933, German chan­cellor Adolf Hitler had pro­posed, as part of an admin­is­tra­tive over­haul of the Ger­man Evan­geli­cal (Lutheran) Church, creating the office of Reichs­bischof. The over­haul was intended to bring together the loose feder­a­tion of 28 inde­pen­dent regional church bodies into a uni­fied church that resembled the Church of England under its senior bishop, the Arch­bishop of Canter­bury. By the end of 1933 the admin­is­tra­tive over­haul Hitler triggered began pro­ducing immense changes in the national church governing bodies, uni­ver­sity theo­logical facul­ties, the ranks of regional bishops, and local church councils, with Hitler enthu­si­asts now occupying key posts all across Germany.

Hitler wanted the new Reichskirche (German church) ordered along Nation­alist Socialist lines. This Gleich­schaltung, or synchroni­za­tion as it was known in Ger­many, was really for­cible coor­di­nation. So it was that the rough­neck Mueller, a Nazi Party member since 1931 and an enthu­si­astic supporter of the Nazis’ “national revolu­tion” or “national awak­ening,” was Hitler’s man for the job. He led the effort to merge the church’s youth groups, Evan­gelische Jugend (600,000 strong in 1934), with three para­mili­tary organi­za­tions of the Nazi Party: the Deutsches Jung­volk (for boys ages 10 to 14), the Hitler­jugend (14-to-18-year-old boys), and the Bund Deutscher Maedel (League of German Girls).

Mueller was tough on theology, too. An anti-Semite, he cham­pioned a revi­sionist view of “Christ the Aryan,” or a “heroic Jesus.” He made plans to cleanse German Chris­tianity of what he termed “Jewish corrup­tion,” advo­cated removing Hebrew words like “Halle­lujah” from hymn­books, and endorsed purging large parts of the Old and New Testa­ments. A deju­da­ized ver­sion of the New Testa­ment, Die Botschaft Gottes (God’s Message), appeared in 1940, along with an abridged version; together they sold roughly 200,000 copies. (Theo­lo­gians and lay­persons asso­ci­ated with the deju­da­ized New Testa­ment con­torted them­selves through many sticky Christo­lo­gical wickets, the biggest being that in the origi­nal copies of the New Testa­ment’s canon­i­cal Gospels Jesus acknow­ledged his whole life long that he Jewish. So, too, did Jesus’ dis­ci­ples and imme­di­ate followers. St. Paul, in thir­teen Letters to the Early Chris­tian Churches, touted his cre­den­tials as a Phari­see, a member of the largest, most influ­en­tial of the Jewish sects of Jesus’ day.) Taking their cue from Mueller and those drafting Die Bot­schaft Gottes, Nazi ideo­logues demanded that all Jewish church employees, even converts to Chris­tianity, be fired and that “disloyal” pastors be removed.

Not surprisingly, Mueller was the chief nemesis of the Con­fessing Church (Beken­nende Kirche), an opposing synod of German Lutherans in which Dietrich Bon­hoeffer—theo­logian, pastor, and author (The Cost of Disciple­ship, or Nach­folge in German)—played a leading role. (Bon­hoeffer’s twin sister Sabine reluc­tantly left for England in 1938 with her hus­band, Gerhard, a law pro­fessor of Jewish descent.) Bon­hoeffer (1906–1945) and mem­bers of the Con­fessing Church rejected the Nazi­fi­ca­tion of the Ger­man church and its pseudo-Chris­tian con­gre­gants, called “German Christians” (Deutsche Christen).

Mueller’s star began fading in the mid-thirties as the Lutheran schism prompted the Nazi Party to take a more aggres­sive stance toward the resis­tant Christian clergy. Mueller tried re-inveigling him­self into the good graces of the Party by allowing the Gestapo (Ger­man secret police) to monitor his churches. The 1945 apoca­lyptic finale of the Third Reich saw the end of Reich Bishop Mueller, too, who took his life on July 31, 1945.

German Church Leader Ludwig Mueller and Nazi Paramilitary Organizations for German Youth

Investiture of Reich Bishop Ludwig Mueller (at podium), September 23, 1934Hitler Jugend on Eastern Front, February 1945

Left: Already a Landesbischof of a regional Lutheran synod, Ludwig Mueller is shown behind a swastika-adorned lectern addressing German Chris­tians (Deutsche Christen, actually pro-Nazi pseudo-Chris­tians) following his instal­lation as Reichs­bischof (Reich Bishop) of the German Evan­gelical Church (Deutsche Evan­gelische Kirche), Berlin Cathe­dral, Septem­ber 23, 1934. On the steps behind him are regional bishops, Nazi dig­ni­taries in mili­tary uni­form, and girls in tradi­tional dress. Mueller (1883–1945) was an ardent advo­cate of “dejudaizing” the German church (Reichs­kirche) and indoc­tri­nating its youth with Nazi racist ideology through paramilitary organizations.

Right: Membership in the paramilitary Hitler­jugend (Hitler Youth) for 14-to-18-year-olds was com­pul­sory after 1936. In 1939 the law was amended to make mem­ber­ship in the Deutsches Jungvolk (10-to-14-year-olds) and the Hitler­jugend man­da­tory for all Ger­mans males between 10 and 18 years of age. Parents could be fined or impri­soned for failing to regis­ter their chil­dren. With the out­break of war mem­bers in the Hitler Youth were fed into the German Wehr­macht (armed forces) or the National Labor Service (Reichs­arbeits­dienst), where 18-to-24-year-olds were required to serve six months before entering mili­tary service. In this photo­graph, a Hitler Youth com­pany of the Volks­sturm (home guard) is at the Ger­man-Soviet front in Pyritz, Pomerania (today Pyrzyce, North­western Poland), February 1945. During the Battle of Berlin (April 16 to May 2, 1945), Hitler Youth and even some pre-teen Deutsches Jung­volk formed part of the last line of German defenses and were reportedly among the fiercest fighters. Not so Hitler Youth con­script Joseph Ratzinger (future Pope Benedict XVI, 2005–2013), who deserted his German infantry unit after it had been smashed in late April 1945. The 18-year-old boy soldier was interned in a POW camp near Ulm, Baden-Wuerttemberg, for several months.

Members of the League of German Girls during 1939 harvest seasonRoll call at a Deutsches Jungvolk rally for 10-to-14 year olds, Berlin, 1934

Left: The League of German Girls (Bund Deutscher Maedel) used camp­fire roman­ticism, sum­mer camps, folk­lore study, tradi­tion, and sports to edu­cate girls with­in the National Socialist belief system, and to train them for their main roles in German society: wife, mother, and home­maker. Sports included swim­ming, running, long jump, somer­saulting, tight­rope walking, and marching. Before entering any occu­pa­tion or advanced studies, the girls, like the boys in Hitler Youth, had to complete a year of land service (Land­frauen­jahr). Although working on a farm was not the only approved form of ser­vice, it was a com­mon one; the aim was to let city young­sters experi­ence life in the country­side, hoping they would then stay there in ser­vice of Nazi “blood and soil” (Blut und Boden) beliefs, which placed a high value on the virtues of rural living. After the out­break of war, many young women became “Blitzmaedel,” or female combat soldiers.

Right: Deutsches Jungvolk (German Youth) recruits line up for roll call at a rally in Berlin in 1934. For boys ages 10 to 14, Deutsches Jung­volk was a sec­tion of the Hitler Youth move­ment. Through a pro­gram of out­door activities, parades, and sports, it aimed to indoc­tri­nate its young mem­bers in the tenets of Nazi ideo­logy. Mem­ber­ship became com­pul­sory for eli­gible boys in 1939. By the end of World War II, some Deutsches Jungvolk had become child soldiers.

Henry Metelmann on the Impact of Nazism on Young Germans. A BBC Production