Volk, Ludwig: Der bayerische Episkopat und der Nationalsozialismus 1930-1934
Kommission für Zeitgeschichte, Research Center, Bonn

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Volk, Ludwig: Der bayerische Episkopat und der Nationalsozialismus 1930–1934,
Mainz 1997

(Veröffentlichungen der Kommission für Zeitgeschichte, Reihe B: Forschungen, Bd. 1)

Ludwig Volk: Der bayerische Episkopat und der Nationalsozialismus 1930–1934.

Ludwig Volk: Der bayerische Episkopat und der Nationalsozialismus 1930–1934.

Until 1933, the Bavarian Catholic Bishops’ Conference at Freising maintained a confident independence. Although it represented only a third of all German bishops, the Conference gained great influence over the difficult decisions the German Church had to make regarding National Socialism, thanks to the authority of its chairman, Cardinal Faulhaber. This volume spans the period from Faulhaber's calling in 1917 to head the Munich diocese until the Röhm crisis in 1934, when the attempt to institutionalize the Nazi revolution in Bavaria through SA special commissars, first described in these pages, collapsed.

Beginning with an examination of German bishops’ uncertain attitude toward Weimar democracy, the author moves on to their warnings about National Socialism and the inadequate resonance these found within the broader Church. Volk extensively treats the dramatic developments during the crisis months that followed 30 January 1933. Containing a wealth of citations, the study draws an authentic picture of the conundrums that Hitler’s onslaught and seizure of power presented the German episcopate. The book’s insights into the Bavarian bishops’ internal discussions cast light on the background to decisions that are highly controversial today. Thanks to this unmediated view of the responsible Church leaders’ thoughts and plans, the reader can understand the unrest and fear, the euphoria and concerns, the illusions and the disappointments that these leaders experienced, as they sought the right standpoint in the turbulences of the revolutionary year.

Volk’s investigation receives its urgency and expressive force from a trove of unexplored documents, among which the official and personal correspondence of Cardinal Faulhaber assumes pride of place. These show the Munich archbishop in the hour of unfamiliar encounters and lonely decisions – sometimes leading, sometimes dithering – and make possible, for the first time, a historically persuasive portrait of this controversial Church leader’s character. In Faulhaber’s case, the sharp contrast between the concerns he repeatedly expressed in his letters and his outward optimism about the »New Order« is characteristic. The compulsion to issue disguised statements, a feature of totalitarian systems, is as clear here as the need to consult internal correspondence when retrospectively interpreting episcopal pronouncements.

A self-critical sobriety and first-rate source materials characterize this account of the confrontation between the Bavarian bishops and National Socialism, both before and after 1933. These qualities enable Volk’s study to guide the often passionate debate over the actual and the proper conduct of Catholics toward the Nazi regime, and totalitarian systems in general, back onto the unassailable terrain of objectivity.

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