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Friday, 24 June 2011

A Salvation Army Officer in Nazi Germany by "S.B."

My grandfather was born in 1880 and became a Salvation Army Officer in 1912. He died in 1957, still at heart a Salvationist although no longer a soldier. He left some notes and papers which tell an interesting story. It will only have a brief airing here for personal reasons but a fuller account of his life might be published at a later date.

The early years as a young officer were clearly extremely harsh. There was little money, often little food, and Quarters were often damp and ill-furnished. However, the First World War seems to have caused him a great deal of worry. He was obviously aware of the spiritual difficulties of exhorting his fellow man to go out and kill yet it was expected of him to show his patriotism. He records little about this time although there is a comment that Headquarters stated that Officers should be guided by their conscience. (Ed: It is not known whether this refers to the THQ or IHQ).

We do not know where he served during World War One but in late 1919, he was with several other officers in Berlin. He records that there was considerable trouble and great agitation amongst the people, not least because the Allies were laying the blame for the War on Germany. Clearly his nationalistic sentiments were aroused and in subsequent notes he records the hunger, despair and outright anger felt by many Germans due to the Treaty of Versailles, the losses of menfolk and the huge inflation. During the 1920s things appear to improve for the country. In 1926, at a Salvationist rally in Munich, he records that there are great signs of wealth but also a large rich-poor divide still evident. "Prosperity and Poverty go hand-in-hand here". Obviously still a field officer, he believes that the Salvation Army can barely keep up with the spiritual (and physical) demands placed upon it.

In early 1930 officers, soldiers and the people at large are suffering again, this time due to widespread financial collapse. He records that no help can come from "our brothers abroad as their situation is as bad as ours". However, by 1935, he is clearly an admirer of Hitler. He records that Headquarters sought out a way to work with the Nazi Party as the ruling party. He goes on that there appears to have been a genuine desire by many to see Hitler succeed. partly because he appeared to keep his word and cut down unemployment and achieve unity. There was also the great fear of Communism.

Apparently like many in the Salvation Army, he willingly joined the Nazi Party although the exact date is unknown. He does make it clear that several Officers were anti-Nazi, at least in private. The latter appear to have aligned themselves with Salvation Army Colonel Busing who clearly worked hard to keep life smooth for all. It is obvious that there were disagreements about where an Officer's loyalty should remain. However, the fact that the Salvation Army was allowed to continue many of its activities at all was regarded by some as a sign of Hitler's interest in the Movement.

There is an old grainy picture of a band marching under the Army flag where the flagpole is topped by the Nazi symbol. Grandfather apparently used to tell the story that he visited England with some German Salvationists in the 1930s and marched under the swastika.

A clear rift had developed between some Salvation Officers by 1939. Grandfather remained an ardent follower of Hitler, believing that even with and after another war, an equilibrium would be reached. It was in the summer of that year he was asked to resign on the basis that a) his sermonising was to overtly pro-war and b) wearing a Nazi armband and badge on his Army uniform was incompatible with his Officership. He refused but decided to retire in favour of other work. However, given his age, it is unclear exactly what this would be. Apparently some friends found him an administrative post in a small South German town.

After the war he claims that his Nazi past were enough to make him unwelcome to many Salvationists. Officers ostracised him and although he volunteered to help work for the Salvation Army, he was told he was not wanted. He records his deep unhappiness at the Communist take over of half of Germany and appears to have become convinced in later life that wars in fact decided little. He would apparently talk fondly of his love for the Salvation Army and although he rarely went to a Salvation Army meeting after the war, he wanted to be remembered as a Salvationist first and a German second.

Editor: The above piece was submitted for publication after some chance correspondence between the CMHA and the granddaughter of the Officer. She did not want her grandfather's name in print at this stage.

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