Challenges received wisdom about the relationship between Catholics and Nazis


Recent scholarship has held that Germany's Catholic population, particularly in rural areas, consistently withheld support from the Nazi Party until its takeover of power in 1933. In Catholicism, Political Culture, and the Countryside Oded Heilbronner makes a careful study of an important counterexample, that of the southern part of the state of Baden, a Catholic region where the Nazi party enjoyed massive support from 1930 onwards.
The Nazi success in South Baden, Heilbronner finds, cannot be explained by the innovativeness of its organization and propaganda. Rather, Heilbronner contends that even before the economic crisis of 1929, the organizational frameworks of sociocultural life in the region, exemplified by the Catholic Church's Voluntary Associations (Vereine), had begun to disintegrate. The social and cultural vacuum created by the breakdown of these local organizational frameworks, the deepening economic crisis, and fear of a communist takeover all led to a search for a politically and economically meaningful alternative to political Catholicism and the bourgeois infrastructure. And thus, without any particular effort, and despite mistakes, mismanagement, and poor organization, the Nazi Party--the only political body to offer a non- establishment, non-Socialist alternative--was able to attract a large group of voters.
With its shift in emphasis from the Nazi Party to the society in which it operated, Catholicism, Political Culture, and the Countryside will be crucial reading for historians of Germany.
Oded Heilbronner is Lecturer in History, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Oded Heilbronner is Lecturer in History, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

"Oded Heilbronner advances an arresting thesis: namely, that German Catholics contributed to National Socialist electoral success much more than previous historians have supposed. . . . The reason for this success, he further argues, lies not in the aggressive tactics and brilliant propaganda strategies of the NSDAP but rather in the collapse of the Catholic milieu. . . . The result is a monographic study that constitutes a significant research effort, illuminating political processes in a hitherto ill-understood part of south-west Germany. In this sense, this is a pioneering work, which will encourage further research."
—Helmut Walser Smith, Vanderbilt University

- Helmut Walser Smith, Vanderbilt University

"This book represents a valuable contribution to our knowledge of the Nazi movement in southern Baden and clearly demonstrates significant support for the Nazi Party in a number of Catholic communities in that region. . . . Heilbronner has made a valuable contribution to the debate on the Nazi movement in Catholic communities in Germany."
—Johnpeter Horst Grill, Mississippi State University, American Historical Review, April 2000

- Johnpeter Horst Grill, Mississippi State University

"Heilbronner's careful study of the Nazi Party's origins in a predominately Roman Catholic region of Germany enlarges understanding of the social forces that made Nazism possible. The author prodigiously ferreted out archival materials and firmly anchored his work in the scholarly literature of Weimar Germany and National Socialism."
—R. V. Pierard, Indiana State University, Terre Haute, Choice, June 1999

- R. V. Pierard, Indiana State University, Terre Haute