Bishop von Galen

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German Catholicism and National Socialism

Beth A. Griech-Polelle

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Clemens August Graf von Galen, Bishop of Münster from 1933 until his death in 1946, is renowned for his opposition to Nazism, most notably for his public preaching in 1941 against Hitler’s euthanasia project to rid the country of sick, elderly, mentally retarded, and disabled Germans. This provocative and revisionist biographical study of von Galen views him from a different perspective: as a complex figure who moved between dissent and complicity during the Nazi regime, opposing certain elements of National Socialism while choosing to remain silent on issues concerning discrimination, deportation, and the murder of Jews.

Beth Griech-Polelle places von Galen in the context of his times, describing how the Catholic Church reacted to various Nazi policies, how the anti-Catholic legislation of the Kulturkampf shaped the repertoire of resistance tactics of northwestern German Catholics, and how theological interpretations were used to justify resistance and/or collaboration. She discloses the reasons for von Galen’s public denunciation of the euthanasia project and the ramifications of his openly defiant stance. She reveals how the bishop portrayed Jews and what that depiction meant for Jews living in Nazi Germany. Finally she investigates the creation of the image of von Galen as “Grand Churchman-Resister” and discusses the implications of this for the myth of Catholic conservative “resistance” constructed in post-1945 Germany.

Beth A. Griech-Polelle is assistant professor of modern European history at Bowling Green State University.

“Griech-Polelle effectively shows how neo-Scholastic theology with its bias against political resistance helped shape the worldview of this prelate, who struggled to maintain the institutional presence of the church within the terroristic and manipulative culture created by the Nazis. . . . [She] synthesizes the data in a way that can help contemporary readers understand how and why the Catholic Church surrendered its moral leadership during the Nazi and postwar eras.”—Donald J. Dietrich, American Historical Review


“Von Galen is a fascinating figure, and his action raises important questions concerning resistance in totalitarian regimes. This clearly written book about von Galen is backed by meticulous scholarship.”—Walter Laqueur

“Griech-Polelle debunks the myth of von Galen and writes with authority not only in history but also in theology, understanding well the inner workings of the Church and the climate in which von Galen worked.”—Michael Berenbaum

"[A] clear, convincing study. . . . [Griech-Polelle's] portrait of Galen is, indeed, compelling."—Neil Gregor, Journal of Modern History
ISBN: 9780300209099
Publication Date: May 13, 2014
272 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4