Hast thou not signed a decree, that every man that shall ask a petition of any God, save of thee, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions?

The fundamental message of Oberammergau, based on scripture, is clear and unequivocal. Its origins in the seventeenth century as a psalm of thanksgiving for deliverance from the plague are part of a religious tradition that goes back to before David composed his psalms. But then we begin to look at the other part of its reality – it shares its origins in a sense that although its message is scriptural its governance was civil, started by the governing body of the village and adapted by committees over the centuries what starts as an exercise in piety becomes and exercise in commerce. Feed my flock becomes fleece my flock and God becomes the servant of Mammon and driving the money changers from the temple becomes a difficult proposition.

Since long before Daniel was thrown into a den of lions because he dared to defy the law requiring him to only pray to a statue of the Babylonian king Darius those in power have always been reluctant to admit that there is an authority greater than theirs. The Old Testament contains repeated instances of this fundamental lesson and the New Testament reinforces and carries on the primacy of man’s relationship to God and in many ways the Western idea of freedom owes more to its Judeao Christian than its Greek origins.

The Passion Play at Oberammergau was a mystery play in that its action revolved around the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection which is the pinnacle not only of the conquest of sin but of the superiority of the individual over the state – after all Christ had been sentenced to death by Pilate, the sentence had been carried out, but even the supreme sanction of the state was rolled back like the stone in front of the tomb. To a leader like Hitler that was simply unacceptable.

Like the Soviets and their Gulag the Nazis established prison camps to isolate and exterminate people who did not fit into their social order. In the Nazi camps two largest groups of prisoners were the Polish Jews and the Soviet POWs. However large numbers of Gypsies, political prisoners, people with disabilities, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and both Catholic and protestant clergy were both interred and executed – or exterminated – at the camps. Many of these victims shared the fundamental message of Oberammergau – that man, each and every individual, is superior to the state and bends his knee to only God – the rest of the story is merely and object lesson of the perils of ignoring the fundamental story.

Oberammergau in the Nazi era: the fate of a Catholic village in Hitler’s Germany New York: Oxford University Press, 2010 Helena Waddy Catholics Germany Oberammergau History 20th century Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. xii, 335 p.: ill.; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG   

The Bavarian mountain village of Oberammergau is famous for its decennial passion play. The play began as an articulation of the villagers’ strong Catholic piety, but in the late 19th and early 20th centuries developed into a considerable commercial enterprise.

The growth of the passion play from a curiosity of village piety into a major tourist attraction encouraged all manner of entrepreneurial behavior and brought the inhabitants of this isolated rural area into close contract with a larger world. Hundreds of thousands of tourists came to see the play, and thousands of temporary workers descended on the village during the play season, some settling permanently in Oberammergau.

Adolf Hitler would attend a performance of the play in 1934. But, Helena Waddy argues, it is a mistake to brand Oberammergau as a Nazi stronghold, as has commonly been done. In this book she uses Oberammergau’s unique history to explain why and how genuinely some villagers chose to become Nazis, while others rejected Party membership and defended their Catholic lifestyle.

She explores the reasons why both local Nazis and their opponents fought to protect the village’s cherished identity against the Third Reich’s many intrusive demands. As a local study of the rise of Nazism and the Nazi era, Waddy’s work is an important contribution to a growing genre. As a collective biography, it is a fascinating and moving portrait of life at a time when, as Thomas Mann wrote, “every day hurled the wildest demands at the heart and brain.”


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