In the original programme of the Nazi Party drawn up by Adolf Hitler, Anton Drexler and Gottfried Feder in February, 1920, promised religious freedom for all those religions except those which endangered the German race.
Once Hitler gained power he was quick to express his hatred of the Jews. Based on his readings of how blacks were denied civil rights in the southern states in America, Hitler attempted to make life so unpleasant for Jews in Germany that they would emigrate. The campaign started on 1st April, 1933, when a one-day boycott of Jewish-owned shops took place. Members of the Sturm Abteilung (SA) picketed the shops to ensure the boycott was successful.
The hostility of towards Jews increased in Nazi Germany. This was reflected in the decision by many shops and restaurants not to serve the Jewish population. Placards saying "Jews not admitted" and "Jews enter this place at their own risk" began to appear all over Germany. In some parts of the country Jews were banned from public parks, swimming-pools and public transport.
Germans were also encouraged not to use Jewish doctors and lawyers. Jewish civil servants, teachers and those employed by the mass media were sacked. Many Jewish people who could no longer earn a living left the country. The number of Jews emigrating increased after the passing of the Nuremberg Laws in 1935. Under this new law Jews could no longer be citizens of Germany. It was also made illegal for Jews to marry Aryans.
The Jehovah's Witnesses were also persecuted in Nazi Germany as they refused to do military service. Nazis also hated the sect because they believed in the imminent return of a Messiah. The rejection that this was not Adolf Hitler led to its members being sent to Germany's concentration camps.
Leaders of the Protestant and Catholic churches remained silent throughout this period. The main opposition to Hitler came from a group of young pastors led by Martin Niemöller, Dietrich Bonhoffer and Heinrich Gruber. Initially the main complaint was the decision by Adolf Hitler to appoint Ludwig Muller, as the country's Reich Bishop of the Protestant Church. With the support of Karl Barth, a professor of theology at Bonn University, in May, 1934, these rebel pastors formed what became known as the Confessional Church. Over the next few years hundreds of these pastors were sent to concentration camps and some were executed.
In 1934 Michael von Faulhaber, the Archbishop of Munich, published Judenum, Christentum, Germanentum, that defended the principles of racial tolerance and humanity and called for the people of Germany to respect the Jewish religion. However, Faulhaber, and other Catholic bishops, made no open protest against the atrocities being committed against the Jews in Germany.
Faulhaber occasionally condemned racial intolerance in his sermons and during Crystal Night he provided a truck for the Chief Rabbi of Munich to salvage religious objects from his synagogue before it was destroyed by the Nazis in November, 1938.
Pope Pius XI condemned the Nuremberg Laws in July, 1938, and was preparing an encyclical against anti-Semitism, but died in 1939 before it could be completed. His successor, Pius XII decided not to speak out against the atrocities being carried out in Germany.
In 1941 August von Galen, the Archbishop of Munster, spoke out in a sermon against the Nazi practice of euthanasia (the killing of those considered by the Nazis as genetically unsuitable). Adolf Hitler wanted Galen arrested but Joseph Goebbels warned against this as Galen was a popular religious leader. It is claimed that Galen's sermon inspired the formation of the anti-Nazi White Rose group.
Martin Niemöller spent the Second World War in Dachau Concentration Camp. As he was a First World War hero Adolf Hitler gave orders for him to be left alive. His colleague, Dietrich Bonhoffer, was arrested in April, 1943 and was charged with planning the July Plot. He was held in Buchenwald Concentration Camp until being executed in April, 1945.