Vera Bücker, Nikolaus Groß. Political journalist and Catholic member of the resistance- group Kölner Kreis. With an essay about the letters sent from prison, by Alexander Groß
(Adaptation, self-assertion, resistance. Vol. 19),Münster - Hamburg - London 2003.
This impressive biography of Nikolaus Groß, who was editor of the Westdeutsche Abeiterzeitung (WAZ) over many years as well as one of the resistance fighters of July 20, 1944, was written as part of the documentation collected for Groß' beatification on October 7, 2001, for which Vera Bücker worked up the academic background. Vera Bücker has won reputation with several papers on the history of social Catholicism. She describes the political development of the miner, who was born in 1898 in Niederwenigern and later took over the position as the secretary of the trade union of Christian miners. She also traces how he turned into an oppositional against Hitler. Her paper is exceptionally well researched. It represents an important and in many regards innovative contribution to the research on the developments leading up to July 20, 1944.
After 1927, Groß rapidly advanced to the position of leading editor of the WAZ and turned into a leading member of the Catholic Workers' Movement (KAB). Soon he established a close working relationship and a division of tasks with Bernhard Letterhaus. Both men decidedly opposed the Catholic Action as well as the conservative forces that were fighting for prominence within the Zentrum-party . Groß excelled through his unconditional support of the social politics of the Weimar republic. He supported the new law of the Arbeitslosenversicherung insurance in 1928 he called the mass exclusion of workers in the north-western steel industry a "general attack by employers". He decidedly defended Joseph Wirth's concepts and clearly, if with self-restraint voiced his criticism of the rightist developments of the Zentrum-party under its leader prelate Ludwig Kaas. In all this he never questioned his basic loyalty to the party. In the contest for political leadership within the party, Groß took over the position maintained by Joseph Joos towards Adam Stegerwald, a leading member of the Christian Trade Union. He agreed with the political leadership of the Zentrum that an integration of the NSDAP in the coalition with the Zentrum-party was the only way to prevent the NSDAP taking over undisputed powers. Groß supported a well-considered, aim-directed collaboration, which resulted in Hermann Göring's election as president of the German Reichstag (parliament). Groß shared the - illusionary - wish to persuade the NSDAP to return to the parliamentary arena. Similar to Heinrich Brüning he considered the National Socialists, whom he justifiably accused of a lack of ideas, as a "temporary phenomenon that will disappear as political common sense returns". Yet he soon understood that National Socialism intentionally rejected any constructive collaboration and claimed dictatorship for itself: "Hitler claims unlimited political powers, he does not want to accept any restriction through any consideration for the Constitution, and he refuses to be forced to answer for his policies before the people in ensuing general elections." Groß supported Brüning's political ideas, including the leader-principal which Brüning. continued to defend after his downfall as chancellor of the Reich, and agreed to the principle of a "constitutional democracy". When Hitler formed his cabinet, Groß, the main editor of the WAZ, adapted to the new regime. The KAB, as well as the Catholic Youth Organisations took over the bulk of the political activities.
Vera Bücker investigates in detail the defensive strategy followed by the main editor of WAZ, which as a result of Bishop Berning's urging, was renamed Kettelerwacht following the contract between the German Reich and the Vatican from 1933. Groß' strategy was primarily intended to maintain the Church's autonomy in matters of faith. Yet, he more and more failed to fight the progressive restrictions imposed on the range of action granted to the WAZ, which experienced another blow in 1934, when double membership was forbidden. Despite the pre-censorship forced upon the Kettelerwacht, it was illegalized at the end of 1938. Bücker recognises the paper's continual attempts to conform while being true to its own convictions, trying not to take any wrong steps which had lead other Catholic papers to be prohibited. This, however, also progressively restricted the paper's possibilities of publishing covert and indirect criticism of the system, including its racist ideas. In spite of the partial adaptation by the Kettelerwacht, which Bücker calls the "unintended stabilisation" of the NS-regime, and its restriction to policies intended to maintain religious faith, a prohibition by the NS-regime could not be prevented.
Thus being freed of his work as a main editor, Groß concentrated on his efforts to keep his ideological friends in the KAB united. The Cologne "Kettelerhaus" turned into their contact centre, though Groß established contacts throughout the country by means of numerous travels. When Joseph Joos was interned into a concentration camp and Letterhaus was draufted, he intensified his work as a contact person and co-ordinator. His work in the Centre for Männerseelsorge proved to be of great importance. From here he formed a small work group, which later turned into a centre of opposition, as Bücker shows in her paper. This is also where the Kölner Kreis established contacts to the priest Alfred Delp , this contact being forged before relations to Carl Goerdeler intensified.
Vera Bücker shows Delp's influence on Groß's ideas since 1942, even though Groß disagreed to Delps later appeal to the Kölner Kreis to join the Kreisauer Kreis and oppose Goerdeler. Delp criticised the Catholic Church for retreating to "pure pastoral care" and underlined the overall social responsibility carried by the Church.. Any engagement in renewed pastoral care he said, must take the reform of the "natural order of things" as its starting point and work for the saving of the human being as well as a "demassification" of the individual, thus taking the social question seriously. Although the two basic studies "Is Germany lost? " and " The great task.", which Groß wrote in co-operation with Wilhelm Elfes have been lost, it is very likely that Groß supported Delp's concept of the "Third Idea". Vera Bücker therefore ascribes great importance to the so-called Fulda Männerseelsorge" within Nikolaus Groß's process of growing into German anti-Nazi opposition.
Bücker's research then draws an impressive picture of the conspirative connections into which Groß entered as the spokesperson of the Cologne Circle. After Letterhaus had been transferred into the OKW , a regular contact to Goerdeler was established. Apart from that there were contacts to Delp and - through General Hammerstein - to opposition groups among the military as well as to leading Catholic representatives such as Karl Arnold, Josef Wirmer, Johannes Schauff, Andreas Hermes, Joahnn Albers and Paul Franken, and equally to politicians from the SPD and the Trade Unions. Vera Bücker traces a certain division of work between Bernhard Letterhaus and his close friend Groß. While Letterhaus was dominant in conceptional matters the latter concerned himself mainly with extending the opposition network and planning possible staff management after a downfall of the regime. From 1943 on Groß co-operated in the central discussions among the various circles of resistance and took a decisive part in working out the suggestions for the instalment of "political deputies" by army
Vera Bücker's paper toils thus far unresearched aspects also in her description of the broad scale of concepts maintained by members of the Kölner Kreis, which had until now receded behind the ideas held by the Trade Union representatives around Jakob Kaiser, Wilhelm Leuschner and Max Habermann. She uncovers characteristic differences to the plans developed by the Kreisauer Kreis and the Goerdeler-group. There were numerous variations, ranging from Pater Laurentius Siemer and Eberhard Welty's ideas, the representatives of the monastery of the Dominican order Walberberg to those held by Wilhelm Elfes, which show liberal influences. Remarkably, the ideas of the Kreisau-group, which were strictly associated with professional ranks were not discarded as such although the political direction of the new collective party that was to replace the Zentrum were judged differently. Groß' main interest was in maintaining the rights of the Catholic Church, which, however, did not exclude a creation of an inter-confessional organisation. Finally the author draws the conclusion that Groß and the Cologne Group followed Goerdeler's ideas rather than condemning the parliamentary system as realised in Weimar.
In her description of Groß' immediate reaction to the assassination, of his internment, the capital sentence and his execution, the author underlines that Groß knew about the assassination plans from very early on and that, having discussed the topic very thoroughly with members of the Kölner Kreis, he considered murdering a tyrant a justified means. Next to patriotic considerations, Groß' main concern was the defence of the Catholic faith and the Church. His development as a resistance fighter, she points out, is a consequence of his wish to save the chances of the Church and religion to exist and to have an influence. His being sentenced to death together with Delp and the leading Kreisau-representatives is a consequence of the initially adopted, then however failed intention developed by Roland Freisler to turn this legal proceeding into an case against the Church and to accuse the Church itself of high-treason.
This meritable description of Nikolaus Groß's biography throws new light on the social basis of the July 20-movement itself and the part played in it by the Catholic part of the people; also it illuminates the failure of the high clergy, which left the faithful alone in anti-Nazi resistance. Introduced by a preliminary essay about Groß' letters written from prison as well as selected other texts, the study strives for maximum scientific objectivity, restrains from shielding darker aspects and controversies and is far from creating a legend around Nikolaus Groß, as could wrongly be concluded from the mainly external connection with the beatification process. It is an indispensible contribution to a more differentiated historical view of the anti-Hitler resistance.
Prof. em. Dr. Hans Mommsen, Ruhr-University Bochum, Feldafing