Protestant Church of Reconciliation

View of the Church of Reconciliation from the east side

The Protestant memorial, called the Church of Reconciliation, is located in the northwest corner of the Memorial Site, which now occupies the grounds of the former Dachau concentration camp. During the time when the present-day Memorial Site was the Dachau prison compound, the spot where the Protestant church now stands was the location of the camp greenhouse and gardens.

Protestant Church, May 1997

The Church was dedicated on April 30, 1967 at a ceremony at which a speech was made by the Rev. Martin Niemöller, one of the most famous prisoners in the Dachau camp. In his capacity as the leader of Germany, Hitler had issued an order that German Jewish converts to the Christian faith were forbidden to be ordained as priests or ministers. Hitler had united all Protestant denominations into one church with himself as the head of the Church. The Rev. Niemöller was one of the founders of the Confessional Church which defied Hitler's orders. He was put on trial and convicted of treason. After being sentenced to time served while he was awaiting trial, the Rev. Niemöller was sent first to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp and later to Dachau because he continued to defy Hitler's orders.

The Church of Reconciliation was designed by Helmut Striffler, a German architect from Mannheim, after he won a competition among seven architects for the best proposed plan. According to Striffler, his design is intended to make a statement against the Nazi obsession with order and tradition. Striffler specified that his church should be surrounded by gravel and built of unfinished concrete.

Protestant Church of Reconciliation

The Protestant church is a neutral gray color which makes it blend in with the surrounding sea of coarse gravel. The front entrance of the church, shown in the photograph above, features a series of steps down to the interior of the church which is below ground.

The walls of the Protestant church are curved and the steps were designed to have wide angles, as a protest against the Nazi concept of order, which is exemplified by the precise right-angle placement of the barracks buildings in the former camp.

Front entrance to the Protestant Church of Reconciliation

The architecture of the church is modern, which is the direct opposite of the Nazi concept of beauty. The Nazis favored neo-classical buildings in orderly surroundings including plenty of grass and flowers. The Protestant church is an example of what Hitler called entartete Kunst or degenerate art.

The photograph below shows the Protestant memorial on the far left with 16 rectangular beds of gravel which indicate the former location of half of the wooden buildings which were torn down in 1965. The barracks were surrounded by grass and flowers when Dachau was a concentration camp.

Gravel beds show orderly placement of Nazi buildings

In the center of the picture above, you can see the Catholic memorial, a round building at the end of the main camp road lined with poplar trees, which are planted exactly the same distance apart. The Jewish memorial building is barely visible on the right between the trees. Behind the Catholic Church is the Carmelite Convent, located just outside the camp wall.

The idea to construct a Protestant church at the Memorial Site was suggested by Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler, the Catholic Bishop of Munich, who was a "special prisoner" in the camp bunker along with the Rev. Martin Niemöller. After the Catholic church, called the Church of the Mortal Agony of Christ, was completed and dedicated in 1960, Dr. Neuhäusler suggested that a Jewish memorial and a Protestant memorial be added on each side of the Catholic church.

The photo below shows the rear entrance of the Church of Reconciliation, on the west side of the building; this view is the first thing that visitors see when they exit from the gate into the crematoria area. When the concentration camp was in operation, this gate did not exist.

Rear entrance on the west side near the crematoria area

The austere design of the Church of Reconciliation, as shown in these photographs, tends to confuse visitors, especially since the building has no Christian cross on top to immediately identify it as a church. When I visited the Memorial Site in May 2001, I was asked by another American tourist whether this was the gas chamber where the Jews were murdered at Dachau. For anyone who doesn't know that the Nazi gas chambers were typically located inside traditional-looking brick buildings, this was an understandable mistake.

Top of Russian Orthodox Chapel is visible behind church

Interior of Protestant church

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This page was last updated on August 5, 2009