A GROUP of German priests and parishioners have begun a politically sensitive fundraising campaign to save the country’s last Nazi-era church.
The Martin Luther Memorial Church in Berlin has embarrassed the authorities for six decades.
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.
“There was a bust of Adolf Hitler in the nave,” Isolde Boehm, dean of the church, said. “A carved face of Hitler has been replaced by one of Martin Luther.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.”
“There is no other church in Germany that is so obviously fascist-designed,” said Ilse Klein, a parish councillor and local historian. Fundraising activities to preserve this fascist monument are likely to include bring-and-buy sales and sponsored runs.
“Look at the face of Christ on the cross,” Herr Jungnickel said. “It is the face of a victorious Aryan, with a bodybuilder’s frame, not the suffering Jesus.”
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 World Cup final this summer will be played in the Berlin stadium designed for the 1936 Olympics. Part of the German Foreign Ministry used to be the Nazi central bank, while the Finance Ministry served as Hermann Goering’s air force headquarters with a roof so broad that he could land aircraft on it.
A Nazi church, however, is even more politically sensitive: it highlights how clearly the Protestant Church aligned itself to Hitler.
In 1932 Nazis were encouraged to become “German Christians” and joined their local parishes to undermine the Church’s 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.
But 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. “That required a great deal of courage from the priest,” Herr Jungnickel said.
Friday, March 10, 2006
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