The German Catholic Diaspora in the Second World War

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This article analyses the impact exerted by the evacuation of civilians on the pastoral structures of Catholic dioceses in the Rhineland and Westphalia during the later years of the Second World War. It examines the religious lives of Catholic evacuees from these regions in other parts of Germany, such as Saxony and Thuringia, and also assesses how effectively their clergy were able to minister to them in these new surroundings. In so doing, this article contributes to historiographical debates concerning the role of religion in German society during the Second World War. Many excellent works claim that the later phases of the conflict witnessed a widespread return to religious faith on the home front. This article aims to challenge this historiographical assumption, by revealing the manifold ways in which Catholic life was profoundly disrupted by the evacuation of civilians during the last years of the war. Large numbers of evacuees from the Rhineland and Westphalia went for extensive periods without supervision by their clergy, and frequently displayed indifference towards religious matters. Rather than viewing the Catholic Church’s prominence in western Germany after 1945 as grounded in social developments under way during the war years, this article contends that it must be seen as the product of changed political circumstances in the later 1940s.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)80-99
Number of pages19
JournalGerman History
Issue number1
Early online date16 Feb 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2015


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