Conrad Gröber (April 1, 1872, Meßkirch – February 14, 1948, Freiburg im Breisgau) was a Catholic priest and archbishop of the Archdiocese of Freiburg. Historian of the German Resistance Joachim Fest nominates Gröber, alongside August von Galen and Konrad von Preysing as one of the individual senior clerics who came to lead Catholic resistance to Nazism in Germany.
Youth and education
Gröber was born in Messkirch in 1872. He first attended the gymnasium in Donaueschingen, then the Heinrich Suso-Gymnasium in Konstanz, and was an alumnus of the reopened Konradihaus (St. Conrad's Archdiocesan House of Studies). Already as a gymnasium student he had decided on a ministerial career. At the Albert-Ludwigs University in Freiburg im Breisgau he studied philosophy and theology starting in the winter semester of 1891-1892. In 1893 he became a student at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He was ordained a priest in 1897, and completed his time in Rome in 1898 with a doctorate in theology. After a short time of activity as a vicar in Ettenheim he was a curate for two years at the St. Stephanskirche in Karlsruhe, where he became familiar with the specific problems of a city pastorate. Gröber was a member of the Wildenstein German Catholic Student Fraternity of Freiburg im Breisgau, a member association of the Cartellverband der katholischen deutschen Studentenverbindungen.
Teacher and pastor in Konstanz
In 1901 he became rector of the Konradihaus in Konstanz. There he met the students Max Josef Metzger, later a priest murdered by the Nazis, and Martin Heidegger, whom he actually started on the path of philosophy, and toward whom he had a lifelong but tense relationship. In 1905 he assumed the pastorate of Holy Trinity Church in Konstanz, and in 1922 he became rector of the Münster, the former cathedral church in Konstanz.
During the Konstanz years, Gröber was particularly active in publicity and scholarship. Under his direction the Holy Trinity Church and later the Konstanz Münster were thoroughly restored. He was not only involved in the work of church-linked organizations, but was active as a member of the Centre Party and as a representative in the Konstanz city council. Through his manifold initiatives, through the 800th anniversary observance he conceived of the canonization of bishop St. Konrad of Konstanz, celebrated in 1923, and through his collaboration at the diocesan synod of 1921 he became known throughout the region.
His ecclesiastical career took a step forward in 1923 when he was named a monsignor (a Chaplain to His Holiness); in 1925 he gained election to the cathedral chapter of Freiburg. In the diocesan curia he was assigned responsibility for liturgy and church music, in which capacity he introduced a new and warmly received diocesan hymnbook in 1929.
In this time, Gröber also became active as a preacher in the new medium of radio. At the Freiburg Katholikentag (Catholic assembly) of 1929, he met Eugenio Pacelli (later Pope Pius XII), on whose behalf he was decisively involved in the negotiations toward a concordat with the Reich.
Archbishop of Freiburg
Accommodation toward the Nazi regime
Gröber remains controversial to this day because of his stances during the Nazi era. In particular, in the first two years after the National Socialists' seizure of power, he hoped that the Church would be able to come to terms with them, and that it would be better to dialogue with them than to support resistance. For tactical reasons, Adolf Hitler repeatedly encouraged such hopes. Thus Gröber wrote in an exhortation dated November 8, 1933 on the subject of the vote and plebiscite regarding Germany's withdrawal from the League of Nations, that it was a duty to the fatherland to show unanimity with one's fellow countrymen. Among the populace, his policy of cooperation gained Gröber the nickname of Conrad the Brown. Thus during the course of the subordination of provincial governments to the Nazi central government, he directed a congratulatory telegram to the National Socialist politician appointed as proconsul in Baden, Robert Heinrich Wagner, containing the following message: "At the mighty task which lies before you, I place myself as the chief shepherd of Catholics in Baden unreservedly at your side." At the diocesan synod in Freiburg from April 25–28, 1933, he advised the diocesan clergy: "no provocation and no useless martyrdom."
In the negotiations to conclude the Reich concordat between Germany and the Holy See, even the German Bishops' Conference was kept at arm's length until shortly before the accord, but Gröber provided preparatory information for the negotiations through his friend, Centre Party president Msgr. Ludwig Kaas; he also eagerly promoted the process and thereby isolated himself from his fellow bishops. On June 3, 1933 a joint pastoral letter appeared from the German Bishops' Conference, the drafting of which the bishops had entrusted to Gröber. It contained a statement that if the State would only respect certain rights and requirements of the Church, the Church would gratefully and happily support the new situation.
In August 1933 the Archdiocese of Freiburg published in its official newspaper, which was under Gröber's responsibility, a directive of the Baden Ministry for Culture and Education about offering the Hitler salute in religious instruction, and thereby officially sanctioned this behavior, which led to considerable outrage among the faithful of the diocese. On October 10, 1933 at a large Catholic event in Karlsruhe Gröber expressly thanked the "men of the government" for their appearance: "I will not betray any secret if I explain that in the course of the last few months the contacts of the Church government in Freiburg with the government in Karlsruhe have proceeded in the most friendly way. I also believe that I will not be betraying a secret, either to you or to the German people, if I say that I place myself unreservedly behind the new government and the new Reich."
The Baden Interior Minister Pflaumer honored the cooperation promised by Gröber and sent the following directive to police headquarters on November 13, 1933: "Forceful measures against Catholic clergymen outside the framework of the general laws are not permitted in the future," which indirectly allows the inference that the Nazi state basically did not consider itself bound by laws. At the end of the year 1933 Gröber complained in a letter to the Cardinal Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli about priests critical of the regime, who had been taken into "protective custody" (Schutzhaft), that it had not always been possible to obtain from the clergy the intelligent reserve and opportune reflection that, under a full evaluation of the fundamental situation, protect individual clergymen from inconveniences.
Also in this time came his decision, together with a few men of the cathedral, to become a "supporting member" of the SS. After the war Gröber explained this by saying that at the time the SS in Freiburg was considered the most decent organization of the Party.
In 1941 Gröber, whilst supporting attempts to help persecuted Jews, wrote in a pastoral letter that the sad state of the Jews resulted from the curse that they had brought upon themselves when they murdered Christ. Anton Rauscher has said that Catholic theology of the era reflected “a view of the Jews which provoked anti-Semitism on the one hand, while on the other undermining the ability to oppose it.”
On Good Friday of 1941 he gave a sermon whose vocabulary came very close to the anti-Semitic vocabulary of the Nazi rulers:
- "As a driving force behind the Jewish legal power stood the aggressive toadyism and malevolent perfidy of the Pharisees. They unmasked themselves more than ever as Christ's arch-enemies, deadly enemies.... Their eyes were blindfolded by their prejudice and blinded by their Jewish lust for worldly dominion." As for the "people" or, in his words, the "wavering crowd of Jews", the archbishop said, "The Pharisees' secret service had awakened the animal in it through lies and slander, and it was eager for grisly excitement and blood."
- About Judas: "This unspeakable wretch... sits sycophantically at the Lord's Supper... at which Satan went into him... and placed him at the lead of the present-day servants of Judas.... In true Jewish fashion, he bargained with the high priests.... He [Christ] is betrayed with the sign of love bubbling over, with a smacking kiss from dirty Judas lips."
- Finally at the scene of the Ecce Homo: "All the sympathy of the Jews is hidden under barbaric rawness. The beast has smelled human blood and wants to slake its wild-burning thirst with it.... At the same time the insane but truthful self-curse of the Jews screams: His blood come upon us and our children! The curse has been frightfully fulfilled. Unto this present day..."
Resistance to the Nazi regime
Conrad Gröber was among those in the Catholic hierarchy in Germany who came to articulate and support resistance to the Nazis. From the early Nazi period, Gröber made statements critical of the regime. In contrast to the majority of the German bishops, he supported a public protest of the Catholic Church against the call on April 1, 1933 to boycott Jewish businesses ("with consideration for innocent persons and converts"). In his Lenten pastoral letter of February 10, 1933 Gröber exhorted the faithful of the diocese, each according to his abilities, to take care that lying and slander, demagogy and hate, acts of violence and murder not further besmirch the name of Germany.
Like the Catholic Church in general, Gröber was targeted for attacks by the authorities. Besides the ban on other parties and the dissolution of many Catholic non-church associations, the authorities resorted to personal insults. In 1936 Julius Streicher went on a speaking campaign in Baden in which he attacked the Church and personally attacked Gröber over an alleged love relationship with a Jewish woman, and filed a morals complaint against him. The resulting rumors were also fostered by a Catholic priest, the Nazi party member Dr. Heinrich Mohr, who had hopes of gaining a bishop's seat after Gröber's removal.
From 1935 on, Gröber fought against the Nazi regime, notably only within the framework provided by law and in particular the concordat.
On 15 July 1938, Britain's Catholic Herald reported that Groeber had released "An amazing document... giving a picture of the religious situation in Germany after five years of Nazi rule". The document protested a religious persecution of Catholics in Germany, detailing attacks on clergy, interference in the practice of the faith and operation of welfare organisations, confiscation of church property, restrictions on preaching the Gospel, and suppression of the Catholic press and Catholic education.
After the beginning of the organized killing of the mentally and physically handicapped, termed euthanasia, he protested in a letter to the Baden Interior Minister Pflaumer, and was the first of the German bishops to do so in writing, according to Schwalbach. On 1 August 1940, Gröber wrote to the head of the Reich Chancellery, and warned that the murders would damage Germany's reputation. He offered to pay all costs being incurred by the state for the "care of mentally ill people intended for death".
His courageous New Year's Eve sermons in the Freiburg Münster and his Lenten pastoral letters became especially effective with the public. In them he particularly lashed the Nazi regime's enmity toward the Church and, according to Schwalbach, assailed euthanasia, which he described as murder, in the New Year's Eve sermon of 1941.
Gröber held a protective arm over the German resistance worker Gertrud Luckner. Luckner organized, with the support of Gröber, an "Office for Religious War Relief" (Kirchliche Kriegshilfsstelle) under the auspices of the Catholic aid agency, Caritas. The office became the instrument through which Freiburg Catholics helped racially persecuted “non-Aryans” (both Jews and Christians). Luckner drove this relief effort, using funds received from the archbishop to smuggle Jews to Switzerland and communicate the conditions for Jews to the outside world. She personally investigated the fate of the Jews being transported to the East and managed to obtain information on prisoners in concentration camps, and obtain clothing, food and money for forced labourers and prisoners of war. Luckner was arrested by the Gestapo in November 1943, and imprisoned at Ravensbrück concentration camp.
The Kreisau Circle formed from around 1937 as one of the few clandestine German opposition groups operating inside Nazi Germany. Though multi-denominational, it had a strongly Christian orientation. Its outlook was rooted both in German romantic and idealist tradition and in the Catholic doctrine of natural law. Among its central membership were the Jesuit Fathers Augustin Rösch, Alfred Delp and Lothar König. König acted as an intermediary between the group and Conrad Grober.
For the Nazi authorities, Gröber was the "most evil rabblerouser against the Third Reich". The Baden Culture Minister Dr. Paul Schmitthenner described him in a file notation of August 8, 1940 as the greatest enemy of the NSDAP and the National Socialist State. Only his office as Archbishop had kept him, wrote Schmitthenner, from already sitting in jail for high treason.
Response to persecution of priests
On the other hand, he is still reproached to this day on the ground that he had not sufficiently supported the suffragan bishop Johannes Baptista Sproll who was driven out of his diocese of Rottenburg as early as 1938.
- Esteemed Mr. President of the People's Court!
- At this moment I am receiving the news of the proceeding that led to the death sentence of my diocesan priest Dr. Max Metzger. I lament most deeply the offense of which he has made himself guilty. If I depicted him as an idealist in my message addressed to Attorney Dr. Dix, this happened without any knowledge on my part of his criminal undertaking. I consider it important to share this with you, because it is utterly foreign to me to include his actions in the realm of idealism, as I depicted him.
While part of the literature considers this letter as a last-ditch approach used as a tactical measure, in order to obtain the conversion of the death sentence into a prison term, another part of the literature considers it a cowardly distancing from a man sentenced to death on invalid grounds. Yet source criticism is necessary here: other documents from those days show that Gröber in fact did take steps to gain a mitigation of the penalty. Thus it is clear Gröber believed that only by recognizing the grounds for the judgment could he have even a minimal chance of success vis-à-vis Freisler.
On November 12, Gröber informed his diocesan clergy of the sentence against Metzger, with, among others, the following words:
- This thoroughly sad case should teach us insistently that we refrain painstakingly from everything and anything that could hurt our Fatherland in any way in its difficult hour, and could hurt ourselves as well; that we honor, gratefully and prayerfully, the enormous sacrifices and successes of our soldiers in the field; strengthen the courage of our faithful in the homeland [...], consider the frightful disaster of a lost war with Bolshevistic consequences, and daily ask God... to protect our homeland and bless it with an honorable internal and external peace.
In the aftermath of the war
In a pastoral letter of May 8, 1945 he declared that no one should succumb to any extreme anti-Semitism. In his eyes the Holocaust was wrong because it forced the Jews into a defensive position from which they could cause the State greater harm than many a powerful enemy army.
Immediately after the war's end Gröber enjoyed great respect because of his courageous speeches against the regime, and was made an honored citizen of Meßkirch and Freiburg. Consulted as an advisor and mediator, he took a position against the re-establishment of the Centre Party, but instead supported the collection of all the Christian forces in the later CDU. Yet the bitter confrontations from the Nazi era remained: Gröber tried to silence an event for the so-called "concentration camp priests", initiated by Pastor Wilhelm Köhler and Richard Schneider, who was the first diocesan clergyman taken to the Dachau concentration camp in 1940, although 5 of the 16 clergymen from Gröber's diocese imprisoned in the camp were murdered.
The "concentration camp priests", like the priests of the Münster diocese who were honored in a solemn way in a pontifical service by the bishop of Münster, wanted to commemorate their dead confreres and impress upon the public consciousness that the latter must not be allowed to have died in vain. The priests expressed the reproaches made against them in a resolution: "We are saddened when even now we have to hear from the clergy that we had only our own foolishness to blame, that we were victims of the Gestapo. We find it hard to avoid the impression that a priest was better liked by the church administration, the less he came into contact with the Secret State Police."
- Geschichte des Jesuitenkollegs und -Gymnasiums in Konstanz, 1904
- Das Konstanzer Münster. Seine Geschichte und Beschreibung, 1914
- Die Mutter. Wege, Kraftquelle und Ziele christlicher Mutterschaft, 1922
- Reichenauer Kunst, 1924
- Heinrich Ignaz Freiherr von Wessenberg, In: Freiburger Diözesan Archiv 55, 1927; 56, 1928
- Christus Pastor. Bildnisse des guten Hirten, 1931
- Kirche und Künstler, 1932
- Handbuch der religiösen Gegenwartsfragen, 1937
- Die Reichenau, 1938
- Der Mystiker Heinrich Seuse. Die Geschichte seines Lebens. Die Entstehung und Echtheit seiner Werke, 1941
- Das Leiden unseres Herrn Jesus Christus im Lichte der vier heiligen Evangelien und der neuesten Zeitgeschichte, 1946
- Aus meinem römischen Tagebuch, 1947
- Joachim Fest; Plotting Hitler's Death: The German Resistance to Hitler 1933-1945; Weidenfield & Nicolson; London; p.32
- Catholic Hierarchy - Archbishop Conrad Gröber
- Martin Rhonheimer. "The Holocaust: What Was Not Said". First Things Magazine (November 2003). Retrieved July 1, 2009. German original archived by WebCite at ; also available at 
- Thomas Breuer. "Die Haltung der katholischen Kirche zur Judenverfolgung im Dritten Reich".
- Joachim Fest; Plotting Hitler's Death: The German Resistance to Hitler 1933-1945; Weidenfield & Nicolson; London; p.32
- After Five Years of Nazi Rule; Catholic Herald; 15 July 1938; p. 9
- Bruno Schwalbach (1985). Erzbischof Conrad Gröber und die nationalsozialistische Diktatur. ISBN 3-7617-0234-5. (hagiographical, but with many original quotes)
- Richard J. Evans; The Third Reich at War; Penguin Press; New York 2009, pp.96
- The Righteous Among the Nations - Gertrud Luckner; published by Yad Vashem; retrieved 8 September 2013
- Gertrud Luckner; German Resistance Memorial Centre, Index of Persons; retrieved at 4 September 2013
- Alan Bullock; Hitler: a Study in Tyranny; HarperPerennial Edition 1991
- Peter Hoffmann; The History of the German Resistance 1933-1945; 3rd Edn (First English Edn); McDonald & Jane's; London; 1977; p 33.
- Graml, Mommsen, Reichhardt & Wolf; The German Resistance to Hitler; B. T. Batsford Ltd; London; 1970; p. 100-101
- Lothar König; German Resistance Memorial Centre, Index of Persons; retrieved at 4 September 2013
All references are in German.
- Hugo Ott: Conrad Gröber (1872-1948). In: Jürgen Aretz, Rudolf Morsey, Anton Rauscher (ed.): Zeitgeschichte in Lebensbildern. Aus dem deutschen Katholizismus des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts. Vol. 6. Matthias-Grünewald-Verlag, Mainz 1984 ISBN 3-7867-1140-2
- Hugo Ott: Möglichkeiten und Formen kirchlichen Widerstands gegen das Dritte Reich von Seiten der Kirchenbehörde und des Pfarrklerus, dargestellt am Beispiel der Erzdiözese Freiburg im Breisgau. In: Historisches Jahrbuch 92 (1972), 312 ISSN 0018-2621
- Klaus Scholder: Die Kirchen und das Dritte Reich. Vol. 1. Propyläen, Frankfurt am Main, 1977 ISBN 3-550-07339-9 (New edition: Econ, München 2000 ISBN 3-612-26730-2)
- Klaus Scholder: Die Kirchen und das Dritte Reich. Vol. 2. 1985 ISBN 3-548-33091-6
- This article incorporates information from the German Wikipedia.
- Conrad Gröber in the German National Library catalogue
- Thomas Breuer: Die Haltung der katholischen Kirche zur Judenverfolgung im Dritten Reich
Conrad GröberBorn: 1 April 1872 in Meßkirch Died: 14 February 1948 in Freiburg im Breisgau
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