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The National Socialist ‘National Community ’ in the ‘Foreign German Community ’ through the Example of Transylvanian Saxons and their National Church

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Attempts have recently been made to newly explain the social processes of change against the backdrop of National Socialism with the analytical concept of ‘national community’. However, until now the subjects of the ‘foreign German community’ and religion hardly attracted any attention within these discussions about national community. This article links these two aspects through the example of the church of Transylvanian Saxons in relation to the ‘national community’ concept. This is the main focus of an investigation of communicative exclusion from ‘others’ to create an imagined national community. Such an existing verbal exclusion at least in part explains why the Transylvanian Saxon majority approved the expulsion of its Jewish neighbours and was able to enrich itself with their former property without any moral concern.


Historians and social scientists are still trying to develop a coherent approach to explain dynamics in the Third Reich that led to the mass murder of European Jews. As is now generally known, it was not merely individual perpetrators imbued with National Socialist ideology who engaged in the disenfranchisement and murder of Jews, and it was not a unilateral ‘top down’ process. The dynamics of exclusion rather ensued – alongside the legal framework – as a process ‘from below’ that often involved ordinary people (Wildt 2007). Attempts have recently been made with use of the analytical concept of ‘national community’ to review the social history of National Socialism against the background of causes of social and cultural change1.

While many published studies to date have been fruitful, 2 they miss two key aspects to which attention should be given in any analysis of social transformation processes in the context of National Socialist influence: one is the so-called ‘foreign German community’, which has virtually received no attention in recent research on national community. 3 The second missing aspect is religion: due to its function within society (Luhmann 1992), it is not viewed separately from other aspects of social developments, but must be necessarily included in a debate on a foreign national community.

The following is set out in the example of the Evangelical (Lutheran) Church of the Augsburg Confession [A. B.] in Romania, the national church of the German-speaking minority of Transylvanian Saxons, which together with previous analyses of national community can explain certain social processes of change within the ‘foreign German community’ in the 1930s and 1940s. Given the importance of the church for the identity of Saxons, this example shows that religion has a socially relevant significant influence on such processes of change that also extends to national community-based inclusion and exclusion.


The national community inclusion and exclusion mechanism

The ‘homogeneous racial character’ of people was significant in the Nazi interpretation of national community, which, in relation to the so-called ‘foreign German community’, meant inclusion and in this context served as an ‘instrument to demand the loyalty of citizens of foreign states to the Nazi regime in Germany and its policies, to mark claims beyond own state borders and, finally, to legitimise the Nazi policy of territorial conquest’ (Götz 2012, 61 f.). In National Socialist understanding such membership in the national community, in addition to racial or ‘location-based’ belonging with the ‘foreign German community’ (Knoch 2013, 39), at the same time signified – in relation to a ‘foreign German community’ – a commitment to National Socialism because immediate access to the population was not possible. Therefore, a sense of belonging to such a community had to be created through emotion. This was pointed out in 1941 by Andreas Schmidt, the leader of the German minority in Romania: ‘there can be no regard for satisfying individualistic efforts in the struggle for a European restructuring’. Rather, each individual must make sacrifices ‘because a community order can only be built by disciplined and self-sacrificing members’ (Schmidt 1942a, 17). Therefore, according to Schmidt, only those belong to a ‘people’ or national community, who vow ‘to bear a portion of the duties accorded to such persons’. (Schmidt 1942b, 44). 4 The demand for commitment to the national community in the form of individual sacrifice for its benefit was accompanied by the promise of a future community creating a better life for all (Schmidt 1942b, 45). 5

Even if Schmidt’s appointment as minority leader of the Germans in Romania was prompted less by his personal qualities or merit, but rather by his ties to the SS (Schutzstaffel, Nazi paramilitary organization), and was linked to his fanaticism, it nevertheless caused ‘alienation’ among the Transylvanian Saxon elite (Traşcă 2006, 275). His statements show that national community was an integral part of the discursive element in the Nazi leadership of the German-speaking minority in Romania. 6

It was less about expected obedience of the German minority leadership in Romania, since it rather considered itself to be a part of the National Socialist national community. For the Nazis in the Third Reich, all ‘Germans’ beyond its borders belonged to the national community, whereby the ideology of national community understood as a supranational concept demanded loyalty to Nazi Germany of all ‘Germans’ outside the Reich (Götz 2005, 60). Such an expression of loyalty is already evident in the varied use of the term, as well as the promotion of its underlying ideology since the 1930s in political debates among Transylvanian Saxons and Banat Swabians (Götz 2005, 76). However, it would be wrong, as Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer rightly point out, to attribute the ‘mental structural change of Nazi society solely to the propagandistic, legislative and executive actions of the regime: it is the action context of political initiative and private adoption and implementation that renders the Nazi project consensual in such an amazingly short time’. This can be called a participatory dictatorship to which members of the national community also gladly contribute their part, even if they are not ‘Nazis’ (Neitzel and Welzer 2011, 65). Thus, no active involvement within a National Socialist organization was required within a national community to take part in its leadership – in its broader understanding (Nolzen 2009, 77).

The concept of national community, which above all in the last decade has sought a new explanation of the social practice of an imagined communitarization in National Socialism, does not merely wish to explicitly examine those state instruments of enforcing such a community utopia ‘from above’. Rather, the concept focuses on independent actions ‘from below’, that is, how to define a national community within a society and what processes are employed. The propagandistic promise of the national community applied to a social community of Germans and the national resurgence of Germany, whereby ‘the political force of reference to a “national community” [was] in the “promise, in the mobilization, not in establishing a social actual state [...]”’ (Bajohr and Wildt 2009, 8). There is no search for the historical reality of the community, but rather for mechanisms of how and with what success such a consensus takes place within society (von Reeken and Thießen 2013, 17).

The core element of community imagined by the Nazis was in the inclusion of its members. This inclusion was based on the National Socialist worldview of a racially homogeneous society, which meant excluding those who did not fit into the racial scheme (Bajohr and Wildt 2009, 17). However, ‘racial purity’ was by no means automatic for inclusion in the national community. In National Socialist understanding; there was an immense ambiguity in the national community, which could be reinterpreted according to need and appeal to different sectors of society. Nevertheless, there was a clear demarcation of who could not belong to the community. This primarily concerned Jews and ‘inferior’ people from the perspective of racial ideology. ‘Blood’ affiliation was, in principle, the primarily unconditional affiliation requirement, but social practice also determined possible exclusion from the community. Exclusion could take place as a result of any misconduct, whereas inclusion in the community could follow from achievements in culture or other social merits (von Reeken and Thießen 2013, 20 f.). It should be noted, as Detlef Schmiechen-Ackermann found in relation to the research of Robert Gellately, that it was not the terror of the Nazi regime that prompted the populace to comply with National Socialist demands. Indeed, Peter Fritzsche in his work has shown even more the desire of Germans ‘to meet the behavioural requirements of National Socialists, including complicity in genocide, and to be obedient members of a propagated national community’ (Schmiechen-Ackermann 2012, 21 f.). The alleged engagement of the national community thereby concerned a state-enforced exclusion of ‘others’, above all, Jews, in which large parts of the population voluntarily and without duress also benefited, for example, through the acquisition of ‘Aryanized’ goods or the elimination of disliked competition in everyday work.

Despite all the different possibilities of interpreting the underlying concept of national community in the Third Reich, ‘local communitization [...] based itself on violence, but also on integration, inclusion and homogenization, whereby the framework for action particularly shifted during the Second World War. Whereas we, in fact, find no uniform national community in the Third Reich, many national communities existed with which social rules were negotiated locally’ (von Reeken and Thießen 2013, 26).


National thought in the Evangelical Church A. B. in Romania until 1933

As already stated at the start, the so-called ‘foreign German community’, despite extensive research within that community concept, drew little attention until now. These ‘Germans’ numbering around thirty million, of which only ten million lived in Eastern and South-eastern Europe (Bergen 2005, 267), nevertheless, formed an integral part of the National Socialist national-community idea. Even more serious in analysis of ‘community as a social practice’ (von Reeken and Thießen 2013) was the neglect of the religion factor in an inclusion-/exclusion-based idea of community. This is even more surprising when considering that 94 per cent of all inhabitants of the Third Reich in 1939 belonged to either the Catholic or Protestant church (Junginger 2011, 197).

For pastors outside industrial agglomerations and cities, the idea of rebuilding a national community – as a direct counter-model to the emerging pluralist secularizing society – formed a contact point for service to the Third Reich, even before 1933. Especially in rural areas, the Nazis only succeeded in penetrating and ultimately winning over a majority of the Protestant milieu with the help of pastors. Nazi racial thought still aroused concern among most pastors, but the National Socialist ‘guiding principle of the national community as a pastoral community especially appealed to village clerics’ (Pyta 1995, 397). This fact was also demonstrated by the German-speaking minority in Romania. In Bessarabia, the Nazi self-help organization in 1932 resorted to assistance from the Transylvanian Saxon Minister Alfred Csallner in promoting the Nazi movement among the German-speaking Protestant population, as conservative leaders closed themselves off to Nazism (Schroeder 2012, 321).

During this time the transition from the idea of a cultural community to a decidedly Nazi-racial interpretation of community, with its inclusion-/ exclusion-mechanisms, was smooth. As Michael Wildt has concluded, the concept of the national community was one of the basic linguistic elements of almost all political parties in Germany during the Weimar Republic. The propagation of national community included different ideas, whereby the core idea of a harmonizing society always remained the same. Crucially society was not understood to be a pluralistic coexistence of individuals, but always as a collaborative unit of the people (Wildt 2009, 34).

Konrad Möckel, as the parish priest of Kronstadt and thereby holder of one of the most important offices within the Evangelical Church A. B. in Romania, argued in such a manner in 1933: as a result of the growing acceptance of National Socialist ideas within Transylvanian Saxon society – and again boosted by Hitler’s rise to power in the German Reich – Möckel found himself compelled on the occasion of Hitler’s birthday on 20 April 1933 to express his opinion on the national community within the church’s official communication channel. With Banat Swabians and Transylvanian Saxons already being labelled Germans, it became clear that Möckel and most so-called Romanian Germans weakened their own local identity in favour of a connection with the German people, a process that had already commenced at the end of the 19th century. 7 Accordingly, Möckel spoke in his guiding message during meetings of Saxons of a ‘strong sense of own kind and, therefore, of a commitment to the people’s community’, not a Transylvanian Saxon one, but rather a German people’s community (Möckel 1933, 153). Semantically, Transylvanian Saxons and Germans were merged here, not only by Möckel, into a single people in the sense of a community-forming group.

Möckel complained, however, that everyday perceptible national elation nevertheless demonstrated an inner poverty because some Saxons had lost their true faith in God. A national community without faith only becomes a catchphrase. He spoke out strongly against the attempt in the Third Reich by those in an inner-Protestant movement of German Christians to merge religion and National Socialism into a German Christianity (Bergen 1996). Möckel did not see a way to a national community or national consciousness through a connection between religion and politics and instead employed both terms in the same way. He referred to faith starting ‘to illuminate the German kind in such light and shine’ (Möckel 1933, 155). He believed that the people would find their true meaning as a German people through faith.

Even if the parish priest in Kronstadt explicitly spoke out against the mere notion of a national community based on racial ideology, his idea of the national community already had an exclusive character. Such a distinction from the multi-ethnic society of Transylvania is explicable given the restrictive Romanization policy of Bucharest central governments in the 1920s and 1930s. Also prevailing was the sense of superiority of Saxons and Swabians towards their Romanian and Hungarian neighbours from the Habsburg period, which resulted in a privileged position in the Austrian multi-national state (Duller 2012, 258 f.). Generally perceived civilizational decline through inclusion in the Romanian state in 1919 brought emphasis on a special ‘German way’. Möckel himself distinguished his own group in the face of the minority situation by emphasizing the ‘German way’ and ‘German national community’ with respect to the Romanian-Hungarian environment.

Möckel’s comments underscored the decisive change within Transylvanian Saxon society long before 1933 in which church representatives were actively involved: the ‘cognitive turn from [the] self-identity of a national minority in a multi-ethnic Romanian state to an organizational part of the German nation’ (Duller 2012, 273).

The idea of an organizational connection with Germany voiced by its proponents was based on race. The national church was also open to such a view well before 1933. Pastors and teachers, in particular, belonged to Saxon supporters of social-Darwinian eugenics of the interwar period (Georgescu 2010, 863). The most famous of them, Heinrich Siegmund, even appointed the former national Bishop Friedrich Teutsch as the ‘first “medical member” of the church’s governing council, the state consistory, in 1920’ (Georgescu 2010, 866).

However, it was not only isolated church representatives who were involved in the eugenics movement of Transylvania: national church leaders were more involved even before 1933 in settlement projects initiated on the basis of racial selection and ‘people struggle’ (that is the struggle between Germans and other nationalities). The background for this was the increasing acceptance of eugenics and a loss of authority of the church within Transylvanian Saxon society since the early 1920s. As a result of the incorporation of Transylvania in Romania in 1919 and the subsequent deterioration of the economy8 caused by various factors, different and partially National Socialist groups arose and held the church complicit in the generally difficult situation. The main point of criticism was the close personal ties between the church leadership and political elite of the Saxons, reinforced by the fact that political leadership circles were always keen on a settlement with the Romanian government. Criticism of political relations in Romania accordingly led to the church and its ties to politics being criticized. In response to the criticism of its hegemony within society during the 1920s, the church, on the one hand, rigorously punished critics within its own ranks. On the other hand, it tried to benefit from the growing influence of National Socialism among Transylvanian Saxons. A readiness therefore arose within the church leadership to cooperate with the National Socialists in certain respects as long as this did not threaten the leadership claim of the political elite or enforcement of the church order (Hagen 2016, 21 f.).

With such cooperation based less on ideological and rather more on rational opportunistic motives, national church leaders also hoped to rein in the increasingly progressive secularization of Transylvanian Saxons. Thus, church leaders in 1930 already discussed an inner-Saxon settlement programme, together with the Nazi self-help organization and the noted eugenicist, Heinrich Siegmund, which aimed to resettle Saxon communities ‘endangered’ as a result of a rural exodus and alleged ‘displacement’ by other ethnic groups. The idea of race was founded on the idea of ‘breeding and selection of more stalwart settlers’ to reclaim Transylvanian municipalities from Romanians and at the same time to prevent ‘miscegenation’ (interbreeding among racial types). The main task was assigned to local farmers as ‘carriers of the national body’ and ‘fountainhead of national life’ in this conceptual construction (Hagen 2016, 24). As Timo Hagen rightly noted, it was a ‘theme of inner settlement [...] in 1930, already a long-established part of ethno-centric thought and action of the Saxon (church) leadership that proved itself particularly adaptable to nationalist-racist thought and terminology’ (Hagen 2016, 25).

With one such thought already prevailing in 1930 that considered the Saxon people to be part of a German people’s community finding itself in a supposed ‘race war’ for its own survival, it was only a small step to adapt to the National Socialist national-community concept with its exclusion mechanisms.


The National Socialist national community and the Lutheran national church

Whereas the Kronstadt Pastor Konrad Möckel in 1933 had a positive attitude toward the idea of community, but rejected mere homage to racial breeding, other church representatives at the same time blatantly legitimized National Socialism and its community promise in the official communication organ of the church. The parish priest Josef Scheiner, for example, propagated the allegedly positive binding force of the National Socialist idea in relation to Saxon youth. Youth work camps organized by the Transylvanian National Socialists would finally create a sense of community and in visiting them Scheiner felt ‘immense delight’: ‘the discipline, the youthful joyfulness with which the boys and girls carried out by no means easy work and the serious struggle for the highest truth, particularly for a position of faith in this faithless world’ (J. Scheiner 1933, 156). Scheiner here projected a supposedly ideal condition of community onto the activities of National Socialism, which, differently than the church, would again foster that community feeling. The pastor therefore urged the church and its representatives to reach out to National Socialism because ‘God may hold us accountable if we withdraw from this call to mission’ (J. Scheiner 1933, 157).

A divine message indirectly reached the Third Reich, which would manage to recreate that idealized community of the Transylvanian Saxons. The church should therefore not shut itself off to such a great matter. The Heidendorf pastor and later chief counsel of the national church, Andreas Scheiner, described it in a similar way: fixation on the racial idea as in the case of National Socialism was ‘very welcome’ because there is no mere individual, ‘but only one through a belonging in a natural life context of certain people [...]’ (A. Scheiner 1933, 157). At this point, a community is formed only by the link to a race, and National Socialism rejuvenated that knowledge. Also, in the case of Andreas Scheiner, the ideal of community earned Christian legitimacy in that he pointed out that the Bible always speaks of people and ‘our kin’, hence, community, and not the individual or individuality (A. Scheiner 1933, 157).

Bishop Glondys spoke out in church publications with an editorial at the turn of 1934 in which the connection between people and Christianity as a racial link clearly stands out. First, the bishop made it clear that all German-speaking minorities outside the Reich were part of the German and now National Socialist national community: ‘The foreign German community warmly welcomes the miracle viewed by the world in the revival of the German people from pitiful disunity to a powerful unity of German nations in the German Reich and the evolution of a great, blood and culture-based German national community throughout the world and across all boundaries’ (Glondys 1934, 1).

Glondys attributed the divine mission to National Socialism and declared that the ‘wishes and prayers’ of Transylvanian Saxons would accompany Hitler’s work (Glondys 1934, 2). Although the Gospel remains the ‘supreme measure of everything, including the people’, the ‘Transylvanian Saxons also know that their church has vitally helped in their coming together as a people and that ultimately they are not strictly a people’s or church community, but rather a nationalist-religious community’ (Glondys 1934, 2). The bishop at this point linguistically created an insoluble connection between the church and a blood-bound national community that could not survive independently.

The Brenndorf Pastor Fritz Schuller, who from 1933 had given biblical legitimacy to Nazi racial laws, went one step further:

In the Old Testament we find not only racial theory, but practical racial politics with removal of foreign elements from the core of a people. That appears very inhuman and unchristian, but it is good for the race because blood is a special juice and the order of God’s creation requires it to remain pure. Sterilization and race law in Germany is much milder than this method [of racial politics] of ancient Jews (Schuller 1934, 180 f.).

The anti-Semitic policies of the Nazis, as well as their crackdown on political opponents found a divine legitimacy, but with the repeated addition that Jews had supposedly invented racial theory and that measures of the Nazi state against them were therefore legitimate. The national community as well served as the base element of such policies, as Schuller points out further:

God commands in the Old Testament. A leader accumulates supreme power in the Reich and everyone obeys his will. The enemies of the people – the alien gods of Marxism – will be vanquished in concentration camps; the example of Elijah will be followed who curtly dealt with the priests of Baal. Authority wherever extended is a nation-building element (Schuller 1934, 181).

Marxism and Bolshevism as an enemy of the German people naturally meant Judaism because the anti-Semitic view of Marxism and Bolshevism saw it purely as a Jewish movement to gain world domination (see Pufelska 2010). According to the priest, such influences had to be eliminated from the community and by force if necessary. ‘Enshrined in the Bible is a model for all times of how a people rise under the call of eternal norms. Punishment and destruction will come if they abandon these standards [...]. The Bible writes these laws with flames of fire in world history’ (Schuller 1934, 181).

Preservation of the racial national community was thus made a God-given law by church representatives, especially in the official communication channels of the church, which accepted and justified all measures for its implementation. This basic understanding, which even the bishop similarly articulated, shows that the church itself helped shape a racist world image and thus solidified the idea of a community based on the exclusion mechanism: ‘we’ and ‘others’. The church and its representatives, however, cannot be seen as initiators of such thought. Yet, the fact that large parts of Transylvanian Saxon society still saw the church as a supreme authority and defender of its own culture accorded a type of voluntary legitimacy ‘from the top’ in the sense of divine justification, even though such justification was not required. One finds here the mechanism described by Neitzel and Welzer: there is participation without having to directly belong, that is, without having to join forces with National Socialist organizations. Nevertheless, one feels a belonging to the great whole, to a national community and, thereby, at the same time assumes its exclusion mechanisms.


From national community to ‘dejudaization’

Whereas the inclusion-exclusion of ‘we’ and ‘others’ focused more at the start of the 1930s on Transylvania’s Romanian majority population and less on the Jews, ‘the Jew’ as a counterpoint to the national community took centre stage in church promotion of a national community at the latest with the election of Wilhelm Staedel as its new bishop in 1941.9 Before Staedel was elected as the new bishop through active support of the now entirely Nazi German minority in Romania, the national church placed the matter of Jewish exclusion with reference to a government decree within its own sphere of competence. In a circular dated 15 October 1940, the church informed all school and kindergarten heads that ‘those children whose have two parents or only a father who are Jews, regardless of religion, cannot attend Romanian or private schools, or schools of other Christian ethnic groups’ (Rundschreiben [circular] 1940a, 531 f.).

Even if the last part of the sentence noted that Jewish children or children considered to be Jews could still be taught, for example, in church schools, the church pushed through the exclusion of these children from its own schools within several months (Möckel 2016, 97). Merely a week after the circular on ‘the situation of Jews in schools’, another circular followed to all school leaders subservient to the church. It stated that in an ‘Announcement of the Ministry of National Education, Culture and Arts’ that:

1. the purchase of textbooks, books and school props is only permitted to students in Christian bookstores,

2. Christian authors of textbooks cannot conclude any publishing contracts with Jewish publishers. (Rundschreiben [circular] 1940b, 544)

The national church appeared to meet the call of Ion Antonescu and Horia Sima’s new national Legionary government, whereby the now publicly celebrated discrimination and repression of Jews began to take shape in the sphere of the control of the church. 10

The newly elected Bishop Wilhelm Staedel in 1941 was a follower of the German Christians, an anti-Semitic movement within the Protestant church, which promoted a symbiosis of Protestantism and Nazism (Schuster 2016). Accordingly, Staedel and his followers attempted to dejudaicize their own national church according to the model of German Christians in the Third Reich in that it joined the Institute for the Study and Elimination of Jewish Influence on German Church Life in late 1941 and founded their own branch of this institute in Sibiu-Sibiu (Schuster 2013a). It aimed to transfer the idea of a ‘dejudaicized’ Christianity onto its own national church, as well as to practically implement this idea. For example, it created a new curriculum for school religious education in which the Old Testament as a ‘Jewish religion book’ was entirely swept aside while Jesus and Christianity were represented as fighters against Judaism for this purpose (Wien 2007). This branch, which was established in the presence of nearly forty pastors and laymen in March 1942 and which published the ‘dejudaization of Christian teaching and church life’ as an aim, served as a recruitment agency for pastors sent on behalf of the national church to conquered Transdnistria to propagate this new understanding of Christianity and humanity among local German-speaking settlers. At the request of the SS, the national church also sent pastors from that branch to the government to ensure the religious care of local ‘new settlers’ (Schuster 2013b).

It was not just Staedel’s radical circle who drove forward the exclusion of Judaism as a means of creating a community of ‘we’. Bishop Friedrich Müller, as a representative of the old conservative elite and opponent of the church politics of Staedel, in internal discussions opposed the national church’s efforts to join the noted institute. However, he officially stated that the protection of the race was in the spirit of Martin Luther, but that this task solely lay with the state. Even though he had to vote against church accession to the institute, this did not hinder ‘dealing with issues imposed upon us by the opponents of Christianity, Jews’. 11 Also, the aforementioned Konrad Möckel rejected membership in the institute through a mixture of religious and political concerns, but admitted that there is ‘no harsher anti-Semitic scripture as the Old Testament in which the Jews were seen through the eyes of a court. He could agree with academic research in this form [the “dejudaicization” of Christianity].’ 12

Also, as of 1941 anti-Semitism was an integral part of public church pronouncements on national community construction. In 1943 alone, there was a wide variety of statements in the church’s information bulletin that presented ‘evangelical information and served as a dissemination body in Romania’ (Schlarb 2006, 145) and which received appropriate attention. For example, August Schuster addressed the Jewish Question in detail and concluded: ‘Anyone who studies the history of revolutions with some attention, who observes the forces of decay in all areas, especially the religious and social, encounters the Jewish Question, whose entire earnestness has never been so clearly exposed as now’ (Schuster 1943a, 286).

Six months later, Schuster attributed Jews with lies, plans for world domination, etc., whereby Christianity was exactly the opposite of all this (Schuster 1943c). Also, ‘the Jew’ who seeks to destroy the ‘sanctuaries of Western Christendom’ stood behind the Allied bombing raids on the Third Reich (Schuster 1943b).

These are just a few of the many examples that show that the church also used ‘the Jew’ as a counterpoint to the national community. Thus, the church created a moral legitimacy to ostracize the Jews in Transylvania. Even though not all Saxons approved this, it was the German national group in Romania, the organizational merger of all German-speaking inhabitants of Romania, that from 1940 onwards benefited from the expropriation and expulsion of Romanian Jews. In Mediasch (Mediaş) alone, it took over all major Jewish enterprises in the city in November 1940 (Weber and Danecke 2016, 219). The ‘Romania Germans’ particularly benefited from the expropriation of Jews to such a degree that even the Antonescu regime viewed this development with concern and tried to curb it (Baier 2016). 13 Even if this trend could not solely be blamed on the church, the latter nevertheless contributed to it through openly conveying a racial national community concept promoting the exclusion of ‘others’ – whereby this involuntary role of ‘others’ from the late 1930s semantically meant Jews. Accordingly, Pastor Hoffmann was in agreement with SS-Obersturmführer Hoffmann and SS-Hauptsturmführer Weingärtner regarding the Jewish Question during his mission in occupied Transdnistria. 14 Against the background of the mass murder of Jews in this area, this shows that some church representatives understood a ‘solution to the Jewish Question’ was a necessary measure that had been legitimized by the national church.



The example of the Transylvanian Saxons shows that the national-community concept initially provided cultural support for the German-speaking minority in south-eastern Europe. Early on, there was a distinction between ‘we’ and ‘others’, whereby the ‘we’ mainly referred to a racially understood bond with the German people. The ‘others’ were not only Jews, gypsies and communists, but rather initially referred to a distinction between ‘German’ and ‘non-German’, in the light of the status of Saxons as a minority in the Romanian state. However, such a mind-set enabled it to refine its image of ‘others’ to the ‘Jews’. The anti-Semitic policies of the Legionnaires and Ion Antonescus (Glass 2014), coupled with the anti-Semitic policy of the Third Reich and its early military successes, undoubtedly encouraged Jewish exclusion within the region.

The binding force that rendered National Socialism a ‘dominant moral system’ justified the exclusion of ‘others’ as a higher principle and created a range of standards whose transgression created a feeling of action against the community, the national community (Gross and Konitzer 1999, 49). In light of a selfimage of a threatened minority, binding forces emanating from the Third Reich further reinforced acceptance of a promised community ideology.

The national church, which as early as the 1920s faced increased secularization and a distancing by the public, unconditionally supported the idea of a national community, as its image was the unifying bond of Transylvanian Saxon culture. It is not surprising that the idea of faith and race or blood prevailed as an inseparable unity relatively quickly, with the active participation of Bishop Glondys. On the one hand, this reflects an early reception of Nazism and therefore racial thought in Transylvanian society. The church did not want to turn its back on this, especially since quite a few church officials were among the active agitators of the Transylvanian Nazi movement. On the other hand, this allowed the church to present itself as a vital part of the national community and thereby help to counter its gradual loss of leadership among the Saxons.

Not all church representatives wanted to foster National Socialism with their rhetoric. However, the still prevailing high social status of the church and its representatives – either intentionally or unintentionally – legitimized the image of ‘we’ and ‘others’ as a racial categorization. Through reference to Hitler’s divine mission, the national church also created an additional justification for anti-Semitism. Social pressure exerted by National Socialism, 15 coupled with the influence of the national church on people’s thinking in a racial way, impeded the individual from acting outside expected norms. The idea of being a member of an imagined great German community made many Saxons, also outside the borders of the Reich, ‘obedient members of the Nazi national community’. The national church, as an institution that always bound society, reinforced this effect through the early use of a racial exclusion rhetoric. 16 It was not at first explicitly directed against Jews, but nevertheless was able to serve as a new definition of ‘others’ as a negative image in relation to its own community.

Translated from German into English by Edward Assarabowski



Dirk Schuster

Dirk Schuster was born in 1984, and studied medieval and modern history and religion at the University of Leipzig and in 2011–14 undertook a PhD scholarship at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom. In 2016, doctoral studies ensued on the academic understanding of self at the Eisenach ‘Dejudaisation Institute’ of the Religious Studies Institute at the Free University of Berlin. Since 2014, he has been an academic researcher at the Institute for Jewish Studies and Religious Studies of the University of Potsdam. His research has focused on the interdependence of religion and politics, the Transylvanian Saxon church, as well as atheism in modern societies.




1 For a discussion of this concept, see Steber et. al 2014.

2 For the state of research, see Steuwer 2013.

3 An exception is Götz 2005. In the collection on the National-Socialist regime of migration and the national community, only the article by Michael Wedekind (Wedekind 2012) deals with ‘foreign Germans’. Elizabeth Harvey rightly draws attention to the special potential for research on ‘foreign Germans’ in relation to the community debate (Steber et. al. 2014, 450).

4 Also, for Schmidt a ‘strengthening of the national community’ through a purerace approach was among those tasks underlying the slogan ‘Common interest precedes self-interest’ (Schmidt 1942c, 72).

5 It must be concurred with Michael Wildt in his research summary on the national community that it was a social utopia of the future, which promised to overcome social inequalities, but did not (Wildt 2013, 356).

6 This, of course, took place before Schmidt. So, the Association of Germans in Romania from 1935 was called the German national community in Romania.

7 Timo Hagen demonstrates this fact in the use from 1919 of motifs of the Teutonic Knights to symbolize the biological affiliation of the Saxons to the German ‘national body’ (Hagen 2013).

8 The onset of the Great Depression in 1929 tied the Saxons even more strongly to the German Reich because they saw a better market there for their own products (Gross 2016, 179).

9 Developments occurred within the national church in the 1930s against the background of the establishment and consolidation of National Socialism under the Transylvanian Saxons: Wien 2013; Frühmesser 2013.

10 Andreas Möckel writes, for example, in his memoirs about how gunmen drove the Jews of Kronstadt onto the main street in broad daylight (Möckel 2016).

11 Central archive of the Lutheran Church in Romania [ZAEKR] 102: minutes of the 6th national consistory meeting of 3 November 1941, agenda item 58.

12 Ibid.

13 Mariana Hausleitner attained the same result for the Danube Swabians in Romania and Serbia (Hausleitner 2014, 250–74).

14 ZAEKR 103 (1942), 138 [unfoiled] (Report of Pastor Hoffmann from Zuckmantel on his work in Transnistria).

15 The Nazis in Bessarabia demanded the exclusion of those German-speaking people from the community who opposed to National Socialism because this was seen as an act of treason (Schroeder 2012, 322).

16 Lida Froriep also refers to the fact that people’s thought, the idea of being German, as well as the Church as an inseparable triad promoted the turn towards National Socialism (Froriep 2012, 155).

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