Catholic and Protestant faith communities in Thuringia after the Second World War, 1945-1948
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
In 1945, many parts of Germany lay in rubble and there was a Zeitgeist of exhaustion, apathy, frustration and, in places, shame. German society was disorientated and the Catholic and Protestant churches were the only surviving mass institutions that remained relatively independent from the former Nazi State. Allowed a general religious freedom by the occupying forces, the churches provided the German population with important spiritual and material support that established their vital post-war role in society. The churches enjoyed widespread popular support and, in October 1946, over 90 percent of the population in the Soviet zone (SBZ) claimed membership in either confession. This thesis is a social history that examines the position of the churches in Thuringia, as a case study, between 1945 and 1948 and aims to evaluate their social and moral influence on the population. It seeks to readdress the considerable dearth of historiographical attention given to the role of the churches in people's everyday lives. In summary, despite a general religious revival in 1945, the popularity of the churches was both short-lived and superficial. Although the churches were industrious in attempting to provide for everybody, the acute destitution encountered by the Thuringian population in 1945 was a chronic problem that undermined the authority of the churches. This was revealed in the inability of the churches to influence faith communities to regularly attend church, to welcome refugees and to feel some responsibility for the Nazi past. Meanwhile, by 1948, the dominant political party, the Socialist Unity Party (SED), had tightened its control over social life in the SBZ. Instead of heeding the voice and dictates of the churches, the population fell into an ideological apathy that favoured the SED, despite the party's own widespread unpopularity. The result was the almost unchallenged, increasing power of socialism in the SBZ that ultimately led to the establishment of the German Democratic Republic under the aegis of the SED with the churches' acquiescence.