The German Protestant church was split in its dealings with the Nazis. Nazi supporters became known as the German Christians, whereas opponents broke away and became known as the Confessing Church.
While the ‘Confessing Church’ opposed the Nazis, they did not challenge the passing of anti-Jewish legislation. Some members tried to encourage Jews to convert to Christianity, but a small group of the Confessing Christians did help Jews by hiding them or assisting them to escape from Germany.
Initially, many leading Protestants supported the Nazis; however, when Nazi policy grew more extreme, they changed their minds.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer is an interesting example. In the beginning he had supported Nazi actions against the Jews. However, he spoke out against the persecution of Jewish converts to Christianity. For this he and his brother were arrested in 1943 and he was executed in April 1945.
Pastor Martin Niemoller also supported the Nazis and Hitler’s racial views. However, when Hitler appointed a Nazi as head of the Protestant Church, Niemoller protested and became head of the ‘Confessing Church’. He then began to condemn those who were bystanders and allowed evil to happen. He was imprisoned but did survive the war.
They came first for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
Pastor Martin Niemoller (1892 - 1984)
There were certain individuals and groups who did not stand by and do nothing. One example is the French village of Le Chambon-Sur-Lignon. Encouraged by their priest, the villagers saved and protected some 3,000 Jews. The Scandinavian churches were also strong in their opposition to the Nazis.