Also cross-posted here.
The title is taken from an open letter to Hitler, published March 20, 1932 in Der Gerade Weg (The Straight Way) newspaper, and written by Father Ingbert Naab, who was hoping to appeal to the leader’s conscience only a week after a contested general election which Hitler’s National Socialists lost to President Hindenburg by a slim margin. Fr. Naab was right to be alarmed, because Hitler had no intention of accepting his loss. The Nazi’s political maneuvering resulted in a runoff election, intrigue, bullying and eventually, the unthinkable. Hitler became Chancellor the following January despite the opposition of most of the German people, nevertheless cheered on by an adoring press who hailed him as a “God-given prophet,” according to Fr. Naab. This post contains just a few paragraphs of commentary followed by the complete English translation of the letter from Der Gerade Weg. It’s a long letter, but I think it provides a valuable view into the perilous national situation in early 1930’s Germany. That situation involved the clear danger of a smitten and careless national press, ambivalence about public lies and a political party that, in Fr. Naab’s words, “promises all things to all men, even the most contradictory things.” I’m not the first to recognize that the German situation closely mirrored some of the elements of the United States at the current time. In early 2009, Michael Walsh posted excerpts of Fr. Naab’s letter with the observation that all you have to do is “change the names and dates.” Like Mr. Walsh, I strongly wish to avoid the horrific and unjustified direct comparison of Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler. That would be a mistake, of course. However, in my view, it’s completely appropriate to hold up Fr. Naab’s observations as a warning to U.S. voters that the conditions in which we now find ourselves are extremely dangerous.
Are we learning from history? Let’s not blather on endlessly on the obvious; the answer is no. Do we even care about learning from history? Obviously not, or our children would be taught more than the cliches about past events. They would know, for example, that long before it was obvious to their grandparents that Stalin was an evil man who would purposely starve ten million of his own people to death, our own newspapers knew about it and conspired to keep the American people from knowing it until it was far too late to act in any way. Our most notable newspaper, in fact, the esteemed New York Times, received the Pulitzer Prize for the reporting of their man in Moscow, Walter Duranty(at right), on the progress of the Stalinist regime. He purposely suppressed information about the murderousness of that regime because of two reasons. First, they gave him a very nice life while he was writing his dispatches, including a beautiful live-in girlfriend with whom he had a son while he was there. Also, there was the matter of his ideology which, like almost all journalists, then and now, leans toward socialism. He really didn’t want to believe what he observed while he lived there, and neither did his bosses. So they could be forgiven for…. wait a minute. There’s no way in hell they should be forgiven for that. That Pulitzer, which is supposed to reward journalistic courage, should have been revoked, and the NY Times should have been humiliated for it and possibly ceased to exist after its customers realized that they were being misled and manipulated. But that’s not what happened.
Examples like this, of journalistic suppression of terrible facts about socialist regimes, are too numerous to recount here. Some, like NY Times writer Anthony Lewis’ apologetics for the monstrous Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, spanned decades. It’s no surprise, then, that the very same thing was happening in the years of Hitler’s ascent to power. All the clues were there, but the natural skepticism expected of the press was thoroughly suspended. The paper Der Gerade Weg, a page of which is pictured above, was an exception. Fr. Naab, shown at left, was also an exception, but he was not the only one among the politically aware who recognized the obvious signs of Hitler’s power lust and his absolute corruption and untrustworthiness. Many spoke out, but as Fr. Naab pointed out, it was clearly an uphill battle. “Your newspapers idolize you to a sickening degree,” he told Hitler. “You are surrounded by flattery wherever you go.”
But the personality cult was not the only warning sign. Fr. Naab made it especially clear that even though Hitler made use of his baptism as a Catholic to calm the fears of the religious, he was not sincere in his actions, he “confuse[d] moral principles,” corrupting them and using them for his advantage. The Father quoted Proverbs to criticize Hitler’s grossly transparent lying, saying that “lies are shortlived, even when spoken by eloquent men.” He further criticized Hitler for inciting class warfare by falsely promising the jobless and disenfranchised and indebted that others less deserving would be made to pay. Does any of this sound familiar?
The following letter by Fr. Ingbert Naab was originally published in the newspaper Der Gerade Weg in 1932. It was reprinted in 1979 by the Konnersreuth Circle (in Bavaria) with the expressed desire that it be disseminated widely. Since this letter does not exist currently anywhere else on the internet, it was necessary to transcribe it from documents, so any transcription errors are the fault of Mr. & Mrs. Grunt, and we apologize for those.
Dear Mr. Hitler,
It Is not my profession to make politics and I do not have political intentions in writing this letter. But your political activities have one side that is deeply intruding into the conscience, into responsibility before God. These lines are meant to remind you of that.
When you were staying, guarded by 20 “SA” men, at the “Waldschlosschen” here at Eichstatt for the night of 13-14 March in order to confer with a friend of your organization, you arrived tired and and rushed by your strenuous speech-tour, and doubly tired and beaten by the outcome of the election. There was no necessity to be guarded here, because in our “black town nobody will harm you, even though your press coined a certain slanderous phrase: “black-red murder bunch.” The townspeople said: “Hitler is on the run.” You were not on the run, because nobody hunted you. In the morning in Munich you were able to issue your feeble proclamation without hindrance. Nevertheless, you are constantly on the run, on the run from your own conscience. You no longer allow yourself a quiet hour, and therefore your conscience is no longer able to make itself heard. Without pause you are hustled all over Germany. Only with difficulty are you able to reach the location on your next oration. The physical powers are strained to the utmost, and naturally your appearance is one of exhaustion. Your nerves no longer allow a quiet examination of conscience.
You are surrounded by flattery wherever you go and the frenzy of enthusiasm surrounding you at your gatherings prevents you from having any thought about whether your work will pass muster before God; because you are of the opinion: Germany is on my side. Your newspapers idolize you to a sickening degree. You are dubbed the “Great Redeemer from Want.” You are yourself convinced of this, ascribing to your one and only personality all the attributes necessary to rebuild Germany. In the future you will need nothing at all by which to set your course. Your will is meant to be the only maxim for Germany and your command the only signpost. Has your conscience at any time reminded you of what a degree of self-assessment this conviction represents? Who among your followers dares to destroy this belief? How many from among the ranks of your own movement are hoping for an influential post? Will all these climbers and future party-book civil servants ever be critical of you? Your whole entourage is one conscience-narcotic for you.
You have many violent, fanatical persons among your followers, also among your sub-commanders. You wished for the wildest fanaticism, as especially expressed in our book Mein Kampf. But this wild fanaticism is driving you into situations you yourself must shudder to behold. If ever you should be tempted to follow a sensible thought, your sub-commanders would come to present you with accomplished facts. Only one way is then left open for you: to ridicule your subordinates, or yourself. Since you don’t want either, safeguarding the interests of your movement before the eyes of the public, you submit to the situation and allow yourself to be hustled on and on. Not your conscience will be able to say the last word, but the hurry.
How necessarily you do need some quiet days, nobody speaking to you but your conscience. Days where you yourself do not speak, not to the populace nor to individuals – for when you do speak to individual people, you speak just as if you had the masses before you – and where you yourself re not spoken to. Then your conscience could come into its own.
You and your press are stating: “The Future Germany,” “The Elite of the Nation.” There are indeed quite a number of idealists within your ranks who earnestly hope for everything good from you. These idealists do not know the true National Socialism, do not know what you are planning nor what you personally, or your agents, have negotiated. Could you risk showing your cards? You know, you would be stoned by the masses. You have indeed accused the Minister of Defence that the whole of Germany knew about your program except himself. But do be honest: does the mass of your adherers really know about your true program? Do not your papers proclaim loudly: “At first we just want to get to power; what we then do with this power remains to be seen.” You have instilled such blind trust in your personality into the idealists that they see you as a God-given prophet to whose mission one has to submit. Seldom has a human being demanded so much servility of spirit as yourself, the “Herald of German Freedom.”
Who has voted for you? People with anti-Roman Catholic tendencies! You have been baptized and raised within the Roman Catholic Church. One has never heard of you formally seceding from the Church. One of your Members of Parliament has in fact stated in the Berlin Sport Stadium that anyone maintaining you to be a R. Catholic was a common liar and a blackguard. No one familiar with our train of thought and your actions will assume you to have remained true to the Faith of your Church. You have never repudiated Arthur Dinter’s statement giving your disclosure that the R. Catholic Church would have nothing to laugh about once you were in power. Your leanings are known, and therefore certain Protestant circles place all their hopes in you. When you observe the distribution of election results on a map, you will clearly notice that it is the Protestant areas who see you as their candidate, at least as regards the middle classes. The working class had rejected you. Protestantism leaves the Socialist working class cold; this aspect does not matter to them. Your future, Mr. Hitler, lies in the North. Certainly, there were some R. Catholics who gave you their vote. But they are Catholics who look upon themselves with peculiar feelings, obviously not seeing in what direction they are drifting. Men like Rosenberg [author of the official partly line] and Stark could surely enlighten the Catholics. Mr. Goebbels [Minister of Propaganda], too, living in excommunication—as you well know, having been one of his marriage witnesses—could open the eyes of these Catholics. Mr. Hitler, speaking between ourselves: what do you think of the Catholics who voted for you? Blind herd or voters, what? You smile endorsement. I do not remind you that it would be an extremely serious question of conscience that you should ask yourself sometimes, being a Catholic, baptized but at variance with the Faith of the Church: can I justify myself before my God? But you may settle that with Him who will judge you.
Who has voted for you? The suggestible masses. You wished for mass-suggestion, talked about the necessity to force a foreign will on the masses, of rendering them fanatical and hysterical. You have been in this business now for more than 10 years. Your press is attuned solely to suggestion . Claims are made over and over until one feels quite stupid and dull. Again and again facts are suppressed, lie after lie is printed. Are you not responsible for this method? Propaganda, too, knows the laws of conscience.
Who has voted for you? Those economically foundering. They hope for deliverance through you. The farmer facing Public Sale, the businessman seeing no way out. “It can’t get any worse,” they say, “for 7 years now Hindenburg has been at the helm and achieved nothing. Now we’ll give Hitler a chance, and if he is no good either we’ll get rid of him.” The psychology of those facing ruin is like that, Mr. Hitler. Your election is for many the least desperate measure, but not the last! There remains Bolshevism.
Who has voted for you? Those people who due to suggestion believed in the inevitability of you becoming President. “He’ll come anyway.” They said. And now one hears from many of them: “I’ll no longer vote for him, I don’t want to be ridiculed anymore.” What an atmosphere on Monday! Mr. Hitler! Your masses who believed in the absolute victory were stunned. They hardly dared to look one in the face. They furtively passed their differently opinioned acquaintances. It went through a great many people, who had been perturbed and ready to submit to the inevitable, like a reviving breath of air. “It could still turn out differently,” they said, relieved. The stupor began to lift.
Who has voted for you? The cowards who didn’t want to lose their positions. Many people had already accommodated themselves to your rule, especially among those in state employment. For weeks they had hardly dared to do anything that could be considered hostile or unfriendly towards your party. After all, they wanted to keep their positions if Hitler should gain power. Mr. Hitler, what a cowardly company you raised with your dog-whip and the threats of your press! I congratulate you to these “Free German Men of the Third Reich.” What do you yourself think of these people? Don’t you have to say three times “For shame!” to each one?
Who has voted for you? Position hunters and future party-book civil servants. Have you ever considered how many among your people are counting on getting a safe employment on the basis of their enthusiasm for your person? How many were fool enough to think the 14th of March would produce the guarantee for their social security? Whilst on a train on 14th March I listened to the conversation of railway workers who were obviously Socialists. How these people mocked the disappointment of their National-Socialist friends: “Nothing doing with district manager! Go on shoveling coals!” one hailed a passer-by through the window. Mr. Hitler, who has thundered more against party bosses and party-book civil servants than yourself and your press, and who, more sold on hopefully exclusive party protection? When you take over, then with your solely people of your own persuasion. You assert that again and again! Now then!
Will you ever again risk talking about party-book civil servants and party bosses when the whole structure of your state-to-be rests on just that? Where is your conscience in that? Mr. Hitler, there are grammar school pupils who have already pensioned off their grammars because they think their party loyalty will secure a position in the coming state even without a grammar. “Until Monday in the Third Reich!” was the farewell of such promising youths on the Saturday before the election. Would you call that sense of duty, or rather corruption of the worst kind? Mr. Hitler, your conscience will provide the answer.
Who has voted for you? People trying to escape their financial responsibilities. How many examples have come to my notice! There were people who defied their creditors with the message: “I don’t pay anymore. Hitler is coming now and then I don’t have to pay anything.” Do you know of such practices? Has your party-till counted on the fact that March 14th would recognize the altered circumstances and legislation would soon wipe away old liabilities? But have you also considered the decline of morals passed on to the masses by these dubious speculations in a “Third Reich”? Are these dishonest persons, who care nothing for property and legal liability, realy guarantors for Germany’s ascent? Doesn’t it rather smack of Bolshevism? And your are equally responsible with the others!
Who has voted for you? A mass of unripe young people. You pronounced that no should dabble in politics before the age of 30 years, and now you know nothing more important than to get just these unripe youngsters into harness. What do you think about yourself and the honesty of your principles?
Who has voted for you? Revolutionaries. There are masses simply waiting to hit out, to destroy and plunder. You are for these persons the man who will give the signal to start the onslaught. That’s why they give you their vote, they don’t care what happens if only the action starts.
Who has voted for you? The underworld of murder and intimidation of fellow-men. The phrase is crass but only too true. You know yourself how those who don’t conform are threatened by your own ranks. The gallows is a matter of course in the vocabulary of many of your followers. When someone does not know where to turn next, one says: “Wait, in the Third Reich there will be vengeance!” Isn’t it yourself who sets this stone rolling? Wasn’t the phrase: “Heads will roll!” the prelude to all these brutal intimidations? And this gangsterism reaches down to the phalanges of boys who know as much about politics as a calf does about science. In our peaceful Eichstatt the Cathedral Provost Wohlmut went one day to celebrate Mass in the Cathedral. A group of boys stood at the sacristy door; all greeted him except one. The sexton asked him, “Why don’t you greet him?” And the answer? “I’m not greeting that one! He’ll be shot when we are in power!” Who this boy is you may learn from any of your friends at Eichstatt. Do you know the name for such incitement? Is your conscience able to bear this corruption of the youth?
How Then Do You Mean To Go On?
I do not remonstrate on the political aspects, I leave that to those called to such things. I am appealing solely to your conscience. What do you say to the lie-propaganda? You had to have your attention drawn to the fact that your party promises all things to all men, even the most contradictory things. Any why? What else but the lust for power. Do you think the Almighty will suspend the Eighth Commandment for your sake? “Lying lips are an abomination before the Lord” (Prov. 12:22) in the service of politics, too! And “lies are shortlived,” even when spoken by eloquent men. Why don’t you come into the open? Isn’t your reticence in religious questions one great deception of the masses? Surely you yourself can only laugh about your program for a “Creed of Positive Christianity,” otherwise you would not have a Rosenberg at your side. Doesn’t your behavior in the question of religion strike even you as an intentional deception? How much longer to you intend to continue with it?
What do you say to the propaganda of hate? Your principal paper, Der Volkische Beobachter, published in this week’s Wednesday edition (Nr. 76, p. 3) an article by Gunter d’Alquen: “The fight goes on.” It stated: “To our love that gives sense to our labors, we now add hate, hate for all that is against us… Our best troops are not thrown to the fore. We are going over to the offensive, there will be no prisoners taken, no further pardon given. We will advance; the tiniest shell-hole, the smallest shred of trench, all will be wiped clean, shattered, burnt out. We will pounce upon the enemy day and night, come rain or shine, we smite him wheresoever we meet him.” That is the language of the insane. And “Positive Christianity”? A gospel of hate? Mr. Hitler, what does your conscience say?
Your Most Grievous Fault!
Mr. Hitler, the tearing apart of Germany, that is your fault, your conscience has to bear it. You want to unite the people? Do you consider these battle tactics suitable to unite a people? You could unite the people by exterminating all non-conformers, but not by any other means, at least not by you.
A possible civil war: that is your fault, your conscience has to bear it. You know you cannot rasp the helm legally in the near future. But your phalanges have been driven into such delusions that your are no longer able to keep them in a quiet mood. What will you do? Try to teach them reason? Then you are finished. Or drive them into further fantastic hopes? Your proclamation foreshadows that. You will then have to shoulder also all the results of these insane suggestions. Is your conscience able to bear that? Have you no fear that the dead will rise up against you to accuse you unceasingly during the lonely nights?
Despoilment of the youth: that is your fault, our conscience has to bear it. What you have sinned against the youth during the years of your influence, you will not easily wipe out. How often do we priests hear lamenting mothers say: “I can no longer make my son go to church. He thinks because he is a Hitler, he doesn’t need our Lord God anymore.” And how radical will this youth indoctrinated by our ideas become when they find themselves betrayed? You know it yourself: from your ranks to Bolshevism is but a step. For many the mental attitude is already the same. Prior to March 13th one heard from many of your people exactly the same slogans as at the time of the revolution [in 1914]. The lowliest employees have allocated all the posts—in readiness for March 14th, as if they had all commerce and civil servants’ posts at their disposal. It is true, you are not responsible for every slogan uttered, but you are able to recognize the fruits of your labors.
The confusion of moral principals: that is your fault, your conscience has to bear it. The “Boxheim Documents” are becoming a precedent. There are many who would like to arrange themselves accordingly rather now than later. And your followers are supposed to be the “Cream of German Lands”? Thank you very much! But you are so modest when you claim that!
I have not touched upon the purely political side of the situation that ought to be discussed. For your conscience, that which I have said may be sufficient. We are preaching not the gospel of hate but of love, towards you too. Love contains above all our duty to tell you the truth, however bitter. We do not hold with lies, and refute them just as sharply when used against you as when damaging someone else. But you must not expect us to emphasize the Divine Commandments any less when they are inconvenient for the Third Reich.
Mr. Hitler, do not forget your conscience! And when you have examined it, then stand up and face Germany and make your great confession of guilt as you recognize it before God, from whom nothing is hidden. Your followers published a pamphlet in Munich, reciting for March 13th the Psalm, “Judge me, God, and take up my cause against an unholy people. From the treacherous and cunning man rescue me!”
We recommend this verse of the Psalm as a daily morning and evening prayer. But ask yourself first where this unholy people is, and who is the treacherous and cunning man. When studying for the priesthood we were admonished to look at ourselves as often as we recited this verse during Holy mass, so that the Almighty might clean us of all self-deceit and injustice. It can only benefit you to give way to the same considerations.
Fr. Ingbert Naab, O.F.M. Cap.