Wednesday, April 21, 2021

CHURCH AND WAR CRIMES

Cut / Standartenweihe des NSKK im Berliner Grunewald, Sommer 1933 / Pfarrer Hoff (Copyright: bpk / Carl Weinrother)

Research assignment: Where the House of One is being built, Pastor Hoff, an ardent anti-Semite, led the congregation of St. Peter during the Third Reich in Berlin

 

Where Jews, Christians and Muslims are jointly planning the House of One in Berlin, an ardent anti-Semite, Pastor Walter Hoff, preached from the pulpit of St. Peter's Church during the Third Reich. The Protestant house of worship, on whose founda-tions the multi-religious House of One is being built, was damaged in World War II and finally demolished in the 1960s by the government of the GDR. It seems that with it, the memory of the Nazi past of the congregation and its pastor was also erased. "We want to break with this long-standing tradition of looking away," says Rabbi Andreas Nachama of the House of One, who is also chairman of the General Rabbinical Conference in Germany. "And it reminds us to resolutely oppose any form of anti-Semitism and other inhuman hatred also today."

"The history of the old priory St. Petri is part of the House of One," says Roland Stolte, theologian and Director of Concepts of the House of One Foundation. "Just as the building will emerge from the old church foundations, we are also incorporating the 800 years of history of this place and the people who worked here into the idea of the House of One. A history-free interreligious dialogue would be insubstantial and naive. Therefore, the work of Walter Hoff must become a topic."

Marion Gardei, Pastor and Representative for Remembrance Culture in Berlin‘s Protestant Church (EKBO), emphasizes this responsibility: "For our credibility as a church, it is important that we also face up to the failures and guilt of its ministers during the Nazi era. The Hoff case is an example of how theological anti-Judaism can escalate into hatred and murder, but also of how this was suppressed and covered up by the church in the postwar years."

The House of One Foundation, together with the EKBO, has now commissioned the historian Manfred Gailus to create a documentation. Gailus was the first to deal scientifically with the Hoff case, to create a documentation. "I am pleased that the founda-tion has decided to work on the Hoff case," says the historian. "By taking on this challenge, I think the House of One gains in persuasiveness." He had already given the clergyman a good deal of attention in his 2001 book "Protestantism and National Socialism" where he dedicated him a chapter. Gailus taught until recently at the Center for Research on Anti-Semitism at the Technical University in Berlin.

Part of Gailus' mission is to document the current state of research as well as to look more closely at the history of the parish of St.Peter and at the church's problematic dealings with Pastor Hoff in the postwar period. Although the clergyman boasted in a 1943 letter when he was as an officer in Belarus, "I helped to liquidate a considerable number of Jews, namely many hundreds“ this fact was not investigated in the course of disciplinary proceedings in the postwar years. Instead, in 1957 he was rehabilitated. Pastor Hoff is the only known case to date of an Protestant theologian who, by his own admission, actively participated in the Holocaust in Eastern Europe during the war.

Walter Hoff first came to Berlin in 1930. He never left any doubt about his National Socialist convictions. As early as 1931, Gauleiter and later Reich Minister of Propa-ganda Joseph Goebbels praised the pastor, who had held several church services for the SA (abbreviation of Sturmabteilung "Assault Division"), as one of the "unfortunately still few courageous clergymen". Hoff joined the NSDAP, was active in the "German Christians" movement, was active in the SA and not afraid to take part in street fights. Hoff repeatedly denounced fellow pastors of the Confessing Church who were critical of Hitler.

As a fanatical pastor of the "German Christians", Hoff had been appointed consistorial councilor in the consistory of the Mark Brandenburg. This position allowed him to give preference to fellow believers when filling pastorates and to vigorously persecute cri-tics in his own ranks. In 1936 he began his service as "Provost of Kölln" with parish office in St.Petri and was to remain there until 1945. It was a parish completely in his sense, where the "German Christians" had already celebrated a festive service for the Führer's birthday in 1933.