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Nazi voting paradox emerges in tale of two villages

BERLIN (Reuters) - The village in Germany that formed the most united front against the Nazis nestles next to one which was once hailed for its total support of Adolf Hitler.

This unlikely tale of two villages, one Catholic, the other Protestant, lies at the heart of a new book that sheds light on how age-old religious differences influenced politics in Nazi Germany -- and how much has changed in the country since.

In March 1933, the village of Hauenstein cast over 92 percent of its votes for a joint Catholic ticket fronted by the Centre Party -- the highest share received for any non-Nazi grouping in the last multi-party elections before World War Two.

Three years earlier, the nominally Protestant Darstein 2.5 miles away had become famous as the first village to vote exclusively for Hitler. It did so again in 1933.

“There was only a mountain between the villages, yet their voting behavior was worlds apart,” said historian Theo Schwarzmueller, author of “Hauenstein gegen Hitler” (Hauenstein against Hitler) and resident of the southwestern village.

Schwarzmueller’s book joins a growing body of work exploring domestic resistance to Hitler, which for years received little attention as Germany sought to avoid re-awakening divisive memories as it tried to re-establish itself internationally.

Though local voting records during Hitler’s dictatorship are known, the book by the 46-year-old Schwarzmueller is the first to address the extreme polarities of Hauenstein and Darstein.

“It was taboo for Catholics and Protestants to intermarry in those villages before,” he said. “Now, it’s no issue at all.”

So far the extent of local German Catholic resistance to the Nazis has not been properly addressed, said Schwarzmueller.

“More attention must be paid to confessional allegiance to understand history better -- particularly voting patterns,” he said. “Electoral research shows that Catholic areas put up the stiffest resistance to the lure of National Socialism.”


As Germany takes a more prominent global role again under Angela Merkel, its first Chancellor born after World War Two, interest in the “good Germans” from the Nazi era is growing.

“None of the voters are still alive,” said Schwarzmueller. “But my generation, who only heard reports about those events -- and a lot was kept quiet -- wants to know what really happened.”

Among the book’s cast of characters are Hauenstein’s priest Georg Sommer, a stern authoritarian whose views on law and order extended to how long women’s hair should be. Arrested several times, Sommer shielded his parish from the Nazis and battled anti-Semitism.

Mistrust of Nazis reflected the discrimination Catholics had suffered in Germany since the rise of Protestant Prussia under Otto von Bismarck, a policy intensified by Hitler -- even though he and a number of other top Nazis had Catholic backgrounds.

When Germany unified in 1871, the country was a patchwork quilt of Catholic and Protestant areas because of the political settlements of religious wars in the 16th and 17th centuries.

In Weimar Germany, Darstein belonged to the predominantly Catholic Bavaria, which helped to stoke anti-Catholic sentiment among locals during the hardships of the Great Depression.

“The irony is that the only Catholic in Darstein was the local Nazi party leader,” said Schwarzmueller.

The book, which coincides with renewed German interest in the Church since Joseph Ratzinger’s election as Pope in 2005, yields other surprises: a Berlin street still bears the name of Darstein which the Nazis gave it in honor of the loyal village.

Editing by Keith Weir