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While Article 24 of the NSDAP party platform called for conditional toleration of Christian denominations and the 1933 Reichskonkordat treaty with the Vatican purported to guarantee religious freedom for Catholics, the Nazis were essentially hostile to Christianity and the Catholic Church faced persecution in Nazi Germany.
Its press, schools and youth organisations were closed, much property confiscated and around one third of its clergy faced reprisals from authorities.
When president Hindenberg died in August 1934, the Nazis claimed jurisdiction over all levels of government and a referendum confirmed Hitler as sole Führer (leader) of Germany.
A Nazi program known as Gleichschaltung sought control of all collective and social activity and interfered with Catholic schooling, youth groups, workers and cultural groups.
Mary Fulbrook wrote that when politics encroached on the church, Catholics were prepared to resist, but that the record was otherwise patchy and uneven, and that, with notable exceptions, "it seems that, for many Germans, adherence to the Christian faith proved compatible with at least passive acquiescence in, if not active support for, the Nazi dictatorship".
By 1937 the church hierarchy, which initially sought dètente, was highly disillusioned.
The church insisted on its loyalty to the nation, but resisted regimentation and oppression of church organizations and contraventions of doctrine such as the sterilization law of 1933.
Hitler's ideologues Goebbels, Himmler, Rosenberg and Bormann hoped to de-Christianize Germany, or at least distort its theology to their point of view.
While Nazi antisemitism embraced modern pseudo-scientific racial principles, ancient antipathies between Christianity and Judaism contributed to European antisemitism.
During the Nazi era, the church rescued many thousands of Jews by issuing false documents, lobbying Axis officials, hiding them in monasteries, convents, schools and elsewhere; including in the Vatican and papal residence at Castel Gandolfo. The Reich Security Main Office called Pius XII a "mouthpiece" of the Jews.