Cardinal Innitzer, the head of the Catholic Church in Austria, initially welcomed the Anschluss, but subsequently became a critic of the regime as Nazi hostility towards Catholicism developed. Some Austrian Catholic priests actively resisted the regime and suffered persecution. The Nazis encouraged people to leave the Catholic Church and placed restrictions on Catholic schools, promoting instead a mixture of atheism, paganism and a strange, mystical form of Christianity (Deutsche Christen) that appealed to some Austrian Protestant minorities and was aligned with Nazi ideas about race. Nazism itself can be understood to be a kind of political religion.
Sexuality was one area of life in which Nazi and Catholic ideas clashed. Significant Nazi ideologists were critical of Catholics for ignoring sexual pleasure, for focussing only on reproduction, and viewed the prohibition of pre-marital sex as outdated. The ‘Strength through Joy’ movement, amongst other things, celebrated youthful, energetic (Aryan) bodies, and the encouragement of sex was associated with the aim of producing increased numbers of pure-bred Germans (‘pronatalism’). Sex education materials were distributed, often containing nude images. An Austrian woman living in a remote rural area recalls seeing an advice book on sexuality as a 17 year-old:
“[a woman selling the book] showed it to me, and I just went through the pages quickly, and I thought to myself I need to have it. It had all these colour pictures…and I bought it. Then I hid it. But I did literally study it, I really did! And from that very first day on I was, of course, fully sexually educated, I had gotten it all!” (Eder p. 105)
Of course, this encouragement of heterosexual relations between Aryans was accompanied by measures to restrict and punish homosexuality and heterosexual relations across racial boundaries.
Sources for this page:
Eder F. (2009) ‘The Nationalists’ ‘healthy sensuality’ was followed by America’s influence’: Sexuality and media from National Socialism to the sexual revolution. In Bischof G, Pelinka A, Herzog D. (eds) Sexuality in Austria: Contemporary Austrian Studies Volume 15. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers. pp. 102-130