Campaign to preserve Nazi church
A group of German priests and parishioners have begun a politically sensitive fundraising campaign to save the countryís last Nazi-era church reports Roger Boyes for The Times newspaper.
The Martin Luther Memorial Church in Berlin has embarrassed the authorities for six decades, but is also seen as a warning to the wider church about what can happen when Christians get too close to Government.
The image of a Nazi storm trooper side by side with Jesus Christ has been carved into the pulpit, the entrance is lit by a chandelier in the shape of an iron cross and the organ was used to stir the spirits at a torch-lit Nuremberg rally.
Throughout the church, consecrated in 1933, there are bare patches where swastikas, illegal since the end of the war, have been ripped out.
ìThere was a bust of Adolf Hitler in the nave,î Isolde Boehm, dean of the church, said. ìA carved face of Hitler has been replaced by one of Martin Luther. There is even a rumour that the church was supposed to be called the Adolf Hitler Church.î
The Protestant church ó smelling of damp and spine-chillingly cold ó has been closed for the past year because tiles were falling off the tower.
The priests ó Frau Boehm and the Reverend Malte Jungnickel ó have applied to have the church declared a listed building and are lobbying the Government to come up with money to fund the restoration.
ìThere is no other church in Germany that is so obviously fascist-designed,î said Ilse Klein, a parish councillor and local historian.
ìLook at the face of Christ on the cross,î Herr Jungnickel said. ìIt is the face of a victorious Aryan, with a bodybuilderís frame, not the suffering Jesus.î
The exterior of the church was designed in the Bauhaus style in 1929, before the Nazis came to power. The problem, however, lies with the interior: the big fascist-style sweep of the nave and the Nazi iconography carved into every niche.
The ethical dilemma of preserving Nazi iconography has been gripping German art critics. Debate has also been raging as to how much from the Nazi era should be cleared away or allowed to stay.
The Nazi church highlights how clearly the Protestant Church aligned itself to Hitler.
In 1932 Nazis were encouraged to become ìGerman Christiansî and joined their local parishes to undermine the Churchís power to resist the dictatorship.
By the mid-1930s, two thirds of the parish of Martin Luther Memorial were Nazi Party members. They baptised their babies in a wooden font, which still bears the image of a brown-shirted storm trooper, and they married to music played by an organ that helped to create the dark atmosphere of the Nuremberg rallies.
Until 1942 bells embossed with the swastika called the Nazi faithful to church on Sundays. Then the bells were melted down and made into cannon.
However, some church leaders did resist the Nazis.
Last year, Christians remembered the sixtieth anniversary of the execution by the Nazis of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor who involved himself in the plot against Hitler and is seen by many, Protestant and Catholic alike, as one of the most remarkable theologians of the last hundred years.
His pleas via Bishop Bell of Chichester for serious support for the German resistance were however ignored by the Churchill government.
Bonhoeffer preferred to return to Germany in the 1930's to be part of the Confessing Church there rather than to pursue safer options in New York, Barcelona and London where he had travelled.
Max Kurzreiter, the local priest in the 1930s, also gave shelter to members of the dissident anti-Nazi Confessional Church.
One prominent anti-Nazi believer, the writer Jochen Klepper, married a Jewish convert at the church in 1938. ìThat required a great deal of courage from the priest,î Herr Jungnickel said.
Klepper, his wife and one of his daughters killed themselves in December 1942. ìThe problem we will always have with this unique church is that whenever we stand in the pulpit and say something, we have to preach against our surroundings; thatís incredibly hard,î Frau Boehm said.
ìSomehow we have to find a way of preserving the building, keeping its interior as a warning, but also supplement it with a documentation centre explaining the complicated history of the church in the Third Reich.î