The relationship between the National Socialists State and the Salvation Army still remains a very sensitive issue, both to those who remember this period in Germany and also to those of a later generation who have no personal recollections but feel burdened with the legacy of the Nazi past.
Through the research and writing of my dissertation a number of big themes were recognised and followed through, and were defined as the following:
- The way in which the relationship between the National Socialist State and the Salvation Army reflects the relationship between state and society during this period in Germany.
- Parallels which can be drawn between the N.S.D.A.P. and the Salvation Army through features of its organisation and its practices.
- Can the Salvation Army be regarded as a resistance movement within the Third Reich? To what extent was there compromise and compliance on the part of the Salvation Army?
The radicalism of the early day Salvationists is perhaps reflected in the attitude of German Salvationists during the Third Reich and this can be seen in the refusal to close the work of the Salvation Army. There was an incoherence of Nazi policy towards the Salvation Army and this reflects the incoherence of Nazi policy as a whole. The Nazis were giving reassurances to the Army that they would be left alone to carry on as normal yet would renege on this decision and, for example, would arbitrarily ban open air meetings and collections. This is perhaps also indicative of Nazi procedures because the leadership would often not know what was happening at grassroots level. The Führer was giving assurances that the Salvation Army's work would not be interrupted yet Himmler and Heydrich were trying to restrict the Army's work as much as possible.
The Führer and the Reich Chancellor has recently said that he is not opposed to the activity of the Salvation Army which has never engaged itself politically, and also out of consideration for foreign policy he wants no action taken against them" (Helmreich, E. The Churches under Hitler. Detroit, 1979).
Hitler ordered the Gestapo in Berlin to send out this message on 8 December 1934, which was duly relayed to Salvation Army Headquarters on 15 January 1935 via the German Embassy in London.
The Salvation Army was never completely subsumed in to the Nazi organisation and although activities such as Sunday School were made impossible by the compulsory membership of the Hitler Jugend and activities taking place on a Sunday, the Army's presence remained in Germany throughout the hardship. This was thanks greatly to men such as Colonel Johann Bülsing, who was appointed to Germany as Chief Secretary in 1935. Following the death of Commissioner Franz Stankuweit in 1940, the Colonel became Territorial Commander. Colonel Bülsing was ordered to attend many meetings with the Gestapo and other Nazi officials but never crumbled in the face of adversity and encouraged his fellow Salvationists to carry on, being an inspiration to them all.
The Salvation Army in National Socialists Germany was, on many occasions, seen to resist the Nazi State through its actions and its often outright disobedience of the orders of the State. However, despite this, the Salvation Army continued to exist in Germany and demonstrated the limitations of the State through its remaining with a degree of independence from State control. The Salvation Army did appear to have the partial consent of the State through the sole fact that it was allowed to remain even though all other institutions or organisations were brought under the jurisdiction of the State or made illegal. The existence of the Salvation Army after the war showed the inability of the Nazis to erase the moral and religious norms and values that existed.
However, there was also a degree of compliance, for example, Salvation Army marches were headed with the swastika flag and all communications with the headquarters in London were severed in 1940. Also, when ordered to stop the use of military ranks, the response was to change the terms which were used and make them civilian and less offensive. The Army realised that the N.S.D.A.P were particularly suspicious and distrusting of them because they were unsure of their motives. After all, this was a foreign organisation with its international headquarters in England, Germany's principal enemy, and was different to other churches through its methods of worship alongside their social institutions.
Perhaps the guiding principle for the N.S.D.A.P. and the Salvation Army was expediency. They were both prepared to compromise their ideals to a certain extent; the Salvation Army to maintain their position and the N.S.D.A.P. to best promote and further their cause.