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Centre Party (Germany)

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The German Centre Party (Deutsche Zentrumspartei or merely Zentrum), often called the Catholic Centre Party, was a Catholic political party in Germany during the Kaiserreich and the Weimar Republic. The party dissolved itself on July 6, 1933, shortly before the conclusion of a Concordat between the Holy See and Germany. After World War II, the party was refounded, but could not rise again to its former importance. However, the Centre party still exists to this day as a marginal party, based mainly in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Contents

Origins of Political Catholicism

The Centre Party belongs to the political spectrum of Political Catholicism that, emerging in the early 19th century after the turmoil of the Napoleonic wars, had changed the poltical face of Germany . Catholics had found themselves mainly in Protestant states, one's that frequently interfered in internal Church matters.

The first major conflict between the Roman Catholic Church and a Protestant state was the "Colonian Church conflict", when the Prussian government interfered in the question of mixed marriages and the religious affiliation of children resulting from these. This led to serious aggressions against the Catholic population of the Rhineland and Westphalia and culminated in the arrest of the Archbishop of Cologne. At that time, one of the founding fathers of Political Catholicism was the journalist Joseph Görres, who called upon Catholics to "stand united" for their common goals, "religious liberty and political and civil equality of the denominations". The conflict relaxed after 1840, with Frederick William IV's accession to the throne.

The Revolution of 1848 brought new opportunities for German Catholics. In October, the bishops had their first meeting in 40 years in Würzburg and the local "Catholic Federations" assembled in Mainz to found the "Catholic Federation of Germany". In the National Assembly, which was convened to draw up a German constitution, a "Catholic club" was formed. This was not yet a comprehensive party, but a loose union aimed at protecting the Church's liberties in a future Germany, supported by many petitions from the "Pius federations for religious liberty". The later demise of the National Assembly proved to be a major set back for "Political catholicism".

Catholic groups in the Prussian Diet

In Prussia, the revised constitution of 1850 granted liberties, which in parts even exceeded those of the Frankfurt draught constitution,yet two years later the minister for culture, von Raumer, issued decrees directed mainly against the Jesuits. In reaction this led to a doubling of Catholic representatives in the subsequent elections and the formation of a Catholic club in the Prussian Diet. In 1858, when the "New Era" governments of William I adopted more lenient policies, the club renamed itself "Fraction of the Centre" in order to open itself up to include non-Catholics. This name stemmed from the fact that in the Prussian Diet the Catholic representatives were seated in the centre, between the Conservatives on the right and the Liberals on the left. Faced with military and constitional issues, where there was no definite Church position, the group soon disintegrated and disappeared from parliament after 1867.

The Soest programme and the founding of the "Centre party"

Growing anti-Catholic sentiment and policies, including plans for dissolving all monasteries in Prussia, made it clear that 'group' reorganization was urgently needed in order to protect Catholic minority rights, enshrined in the 1850 constitution, and to bring them over to the emerging nation state.

In June 1870 Peter Reichersberger called on Catholics to unite and, in October, priests, representatives of Catholic federations and Catholic gentry met at Soest and drew up a election programme. The main points were:

  • Preservation of the Church's autonomy and rights, as accepted by the constitution. Defense against any attack on the independence of Church bodies, on the development of religious life and on the practice of Christian charity.
  • Effectual implementation of parity for recognized denominations.
  • Rejection of any attempt to de-christianize marriage.
  • Preservation or founding of denominational schools.

There were also more general demands such as for a more federal, decentralized state, a limitation of state expenditure, a just distribution of taxes, the financial strengthening of the middle classes and the legal "removal of such evil states, that threaten the worker with moral or bodily ruin".

With such a manifesto, the number of Catholic representatives in the Prussian Diet rose considerably and in December 1870 they formed a new "Centre" fraction, also called the "Constition party" to emphasize its adherence to constitutional liberties.

Three months later, early in 1871, the Catholic representatives to the new national parliament, the Reichstag, also formed a "Centre" fraction. The party not only defended the Church's liberties, but also supported representative government and minority rights in general, in particular those of German Poles, Alsatians and Hannoverians. The Centre's main leader was the Hannoverian advocate Ludwig Windthorst and other major figures included Karl Friedrich von Savigny, Hermann von Mallinckrodt, Burghard Freiherr von Schorlemer-Alst, the brothers August and Peter Reichensperger, and Georg Count Hertling.

Also in other German states Catholic parties were formed, cooperating with the Prussian Centre Party in the Reichstag:

  • in Bavaria, the "Bavarian Patriotic Party", with a particularistic-conservative bent, since 1887 called the "Bavarian Centre".
  • in Baden, the "Catholic People's Party", since 1881 formally linked to the national "Centre Party" and since 1888 adopting the name "Centre Party".

Kulturkampf

In the age of nationalism, Protestant Germans, whether Conservative like Otto von Bismarck) or Liberal, accused the Centre of Ultramontanism or having a greater loyality towards the Pope than to their own nation. After the First Vatican Council, Bismarck launched the Kulturkampf, or "cultural struggle" against the Catholic Church, but this neither crippled the Church permanently nor did it hurt the Centre party, which gained greater support from the Catholic population. Following Bismarck's 1878 turn from free trade to protectionism and from the National Liberal party to the Conservative parties, he also abandoned the unsuccesful Kulturkampf Some laws however, for example Civil marriage, the Pulpit paragraph and the anti-Jesuit laws, remained in force.

The Centre party remained a party of opposition to Bismarck, but after his resignation in 1890, it frequently supported the following administrations' policies in the Reichstag, particularly in the field of social security.

The party became known for its pragmatism - the party was willing to support a wide variety of policies so long as the interests of German catholics and of the Catholic Church itself were advanced. The party was also notable for the mixture of class interests it represented, ranging from Catholic trade unions to aristocrats.

"Out of the tower!"

The Kulturkampf had re-inforced the Catholic character of the Centre Party, but even during it Ludwig Windthorst had defended the party against Bismarck's accusation of being a "denominational party" in describing the Centre as "a political party with a comprehensive political programme and open to anyone, who accepts it." However, only a few Protestants took up this offer and the Centre remained -by the composition of its members, politicians and voters, a Catholic party.

Loyal to the Pope in church matters, the Centre party steered a course independent of the Holy See on secular matters. This became appearant in the "septennat dispute" of 1886. Since the Centre Party rejected Bismarck's military budget, the Chancellor negotiated with the Holy See and promised to abolish some Kulturkampf laws and to support the Pope in the Roman question, if the Vatican persuaded the Centre Party to accept his bill. Despite this agreement, the Centre Party rejected the Budget and Bismarck called new elections. He also published the letters with the Vatican, intending to drive a wedge between Catholic voters loyal to the Pope and the Centre Party with the slogan: "The Pope against the Centre!" Windhorst managed to avert this by reaffirming the Party's autonomy, which the Pope had accepted, and by interpreting the published letters as expression of papal confidence in the party.

As the Kulturkampf ceased as a uniting force, debates about the character of the party emerged culminating in the Centre dispute, in 1906, after Julius Bachem had published the article "We must get out of the tower!" He called upon Catholic public and politicians to fulfill Windthorst's word and get out of their perpetual minority position by an effort to increase Protestant numbers among their representatives in parliament. His proposal was met with passionate opposition by the greater part of Catholic public, especially since it also included the Christian trade unions and other Catholic organisations. No side could win the upper hand, when the outbreak of World War I ended the dispute.

After the war, Adam Stegerwald, leader of the Christian trade unions, made another attempt at transcending the party's Catholic character and of thus uniting Germany's fragmented party spectrum. In 1920 he advocated the formation of a broad Christian middle-party, that would transcend denominations and social classes and which could push back the Social Democrats' influence. Since this would have meant the dissolution of the Centre Party, reactions were cool and reserved.

In War and Revolution

The party supported the government upon the outbreak of World War I, but it also used the debates about war bonds to push for a repeal of the last remnants of anti-Jesuit laws. As the war continued, many of the leaders of the Centre's left wing, particularly Matthias Erzberger, came to support a negotiated settlement, and Erzberger was key in the passage of the Reichstag Peace Resolution of 1917. The same year, the Centre's Georg Count Hertling, formerly Prime Minister of Bavaria, was appointed Chancellor, but he could not overcome the dominance of the military leadership of Hindenburg and Ludendorff. When a parliamentary sytem of government was introduced in October 1918, the new chancellor Max von Baden appointed representatives from the Centre party, the Social Democrats and the left-liberals as ministers.

After the fall of the monarchy, conflict arose between the party and the new Social Democratic government. Adolf Hofmann, the Prussian minister for culture, attempted to decree a total separation of church and state, forcing religion out of schools. This stirred up a wave of protest among the catholic population, and bishops, Catholic organisations and the Centre Party itself united to combat the "red danger". This conflict bridged internal tensions within the party and secured its continual existence despite the turmoil of the revolution.

The party however was weakened by its Bavarian wing splitting off and forming the Bavarian People's Party (BVP), which emphasized autonomy of the states and also took a more conservative course.

In the 1919 elections for the National Assemby the Centre Party gained 91 representatives, being the second largest party after Social Democratic Party of Germany. The Centre's Konstantin Fehrenbach was elected president of the National Assembly. The party actively cooperated with Social Democrats and left-liberal DDP in drawing up the Weimar Constitution, which guaranteed what the Centre had fought for since its founding, namely liberty, equality and autonomoy of the Catholic religion and of the Roman Catholic Church in the whole of Germany. The party was less successful in the school question, for though religious education remained a ordinary subject in most schools, the comprehensive, inter-denominational schools became default.

In the Weimar Republic

The Centre Party, whose pragmatic principles generally left it open to supporting either a monarchical or republican form of government, proved one of the mainstays of the Weimar Republic, continuing the cooperation with SPD and DDP in the Weimar Coalition. This combination however lost its majority in the 1920 elections.

The Centre had a share of the odium attached to the so-called "Weimar Establishment," which was blamed, especially on the right, for the "stab in the back" of the German army at the end of the war, as well as for the humiliations of the Versailles Treaty and reparations. Erzberger himself, who had signed the armistice, was assassinated by right-wing extremists in 1920.

Although the parties of the Weimar Coalition remained the base of the Weimar Republic, they could not agree to resume a formal coalition government, especially because of disagreements between the Centre Party and the Social Democrats on issues like religious schools or a nationwide Concordat with the Holy See. Between 1919 and 1932 the Centre participated in all administrations, providing mainly the ministers for finance and labour and, on four occasions, the Chancellor.

After the break-up of the Weimar Coalition, in June 1920 the Centre's Konstantin Fehrenbach formed a new cabinet that also included the left-liberal DDP and the national-liberal DVP.

In May 1921 the Weimar Coalition once again resumed government under the Centre's Joseph Wirth as Chancellor, but this Coalition collapsed again in November 1922. After this, the Centre participated in the non-affiliated Wilhelm Cuno's "government of the economy", together with both liberal parties and the BVP.

In August 1923 the National Liberal Gustav Stresemann formed a Grand Coalition administration, comprised of the Centre, both Liberal parties and the Social Democrats, which lasted until November, when the Social Democrats left the coalition and the Centre's Wilhelm Marx became chancellor of a cabinet of the remaining parties.

In January 1925 the non-afiliated Hans Luther was appointed chancellor and formed a coalition between the Centre, both Liberal parties, the BVP and, for the first time, the right-wing German National People's Party (DNVP). The Centre, the BVP and the DNVP jointly supported legislation to expand religious schools.

In the same year Wilhelm Marx was the Centre's candidate in the presidential elections. In the second round, combining the support of the Weimar coalition parties, he gained 45,3% of the vote and finished a close second to the victorious right-wing candidate Paul von Hindenburg with 48,3%.

In May 1926 Chancellor Luther resigned and Marx again assumed his former office.

In June 1928, after general elections had resulted in losses for the government parties and in gains for the Social Democrats and the Communists, now was resumed the Grand Coalition of 1923, this time including the BVP under in gains for the Social Democrat Hermann Müller as chancellor.

During the years of the Weimar Republic debates about the Catholic character of the party, as described above, persisted. The left wing of the party, whose leaders were Erzberger and Wirth, had close ties to the Christian trade unions led by Adam Stegerwald. An increasingly vocal right wing, among them Franz von Papen, advocated a move towards the right and a closer cooperation with the national movements. The middle-ground insisted on their loyalty to the Church and rejected both extremes. To mediate the tension between the wings and to strengthen their ties with the Bishops, the party in September 1928 elected the Prelate Ludwig Kaas chairman.

The Brüning administration

In 1930 the Grand Coalition fell apart and the Centre's Heinrich Brüning, from the moderate conservative wing of the party, was appointed chancellor. Brüning was confronted with economic crises exacerbated by the Great Depression and had to tackle the difficult tasks of consolidating both budget and currency when faced with rising unemployment, and of also negotiating changes to the reparation payments. His course of strict budget discipline, with severe cuts in public expenditure, and tax increases made him extremely unpopular among the lower and middle classes as well as among the Prussian Junkers. In the 1930 elections, the parties of the Grand coalition lost their majority, forcing Brüning to base his administration not on the support of a party coalition, but on on that of the presidential decree ("Notverordnung") of article 48 of the Constitution. This provided for the circumventing of parliament, and the informal toleration of this pratice by the parties. For this way of government based on both the President and cooperation of parliament, Brüning coined the term "authoritative (or authoritarian) democracy".

The Centre consistently supported Brüning's government and in 1932 vigorously campaigned for the re-election of Hindenburg, calling him a "venerate historical personality" and "the keeper of the constitution". Hindenburg was re-elected against Hitler, but his moving further to the right shortly resulted in Brüning's resignation on 30 May, 1932.

President Hindenburg, advised by General Kurt von Schleicher, appointed the charming Catholic nobleman Franz von Papen as Chancellor, a member of the Centre's right wing and former cavalry captain. The intention was to break the connection of the Centre with the other republican parties or to split the party and integrate it into a comprehensive conservative movement. However, the Centre refused to support Papen's government in any way and criticized him for " distorting and abusing good old ideals of the Centre, acting as the representative of reactionary circles". Papen forestalled being expelled by leaving the party.

Between coup d'etat and "authoritarian democracy"

Following Brüning's resignation, the Centre Party entered the opposition, Though they also opposed the National Socialists, their energies were directed mainly against the renegade Papen, whom they – not without cause – accused of lusting for dictatorship. Also some Centre politicians were soothed by Hitler's strategy of legality into downplaying the Nazi threat. This hampered their ability of being a bulwark of the republic against the rising National Socialists.

In regard to the government, the Centre Party rejected a "temporal solution", such as Papen's presidial cabinets, and rather advocated a "total solution", i. e. a government according to the the rules of the constitution. Since the Centre considered Papen's administration of being "in a dangerous way dependent on radical right-wing parties", chairman Kaas advised the President to recognize this connection by basing the government on a coalition with the rising right-wing parties, the "logical result of current development". This would force the radicals to "take their share in responsibility" and "acquainting them with international politics". The Centre would then act as the party of opposition to this administration.

As Papen was faced with almost uniform opposition by the parties, he had the Reichstag dissolved. In the subsequent elections, the Centre Party campaigned on two fronts, against both the Papen government and National Socialists and reaffirmed their stance as the "constitution party" opposed to "any measure contrary to consitution, justice and law" and "unwilling to yield to terror". The July elections brought further losses to the mainstream parties and gains to the extremist parties. The National Socialists supplanted the Social Democrats as the largest party in parliament.

As Communists and National Socialists together had won the majority of seats, no government coalition could be formed without one of them. Papen tried to justify his authoritarian style of government by pointing out that parliament could no longer function properly. Countering this reasoning, the Centre and the BVP tried to of re-establish a working parliament by cooperation with the National Socialists, since the three parties together had attained 53% of the seats. When Papen called upon the people to "reject the dictatorship of a single party," the Centre Party agreed "without reservation," but it also stated that "with the same resolution we reject the dictatorship of the nameless party, now in power, … even if cloaked with the illusion of non-partisanship."

After Papen's attempt to attain Hitler's support for his administration had failed, the Centre began their own negotiations with the National Socialists. They started in the state of Prussia, where the Weimar Coalition had lost its majority. An alternative majority could be not found and the Papen administration had seized this oppurtunity to assume control of Germany's largest state in the "Prussian coup" via presedential decree. Now, the National Socialists proposed to end this direct rule by forming a coalition with the Centre Party, promising an equal share in government. Since this went too far for the Centre's national leadership, the negotiations were transferred to the national level, where Brüning confered with Gregor Strasser. During that period the anti-Nazi polemics ceased in order not to disturb the negotiations. Since the NSDAP were the larger party, the Centre was willing to accept a Nazi as Chancellor, provided he could gain the trust of the President.

The negotiations were bound for failure, since the aims of the two groups were largely incompatible. The Centre argued that the vote of July had "called Hitler not to dictatorship but to responsibility, to getting in line with law and constitution". They hoped to "build a strong government without touching the substance of the constitution", to create "clear responsibilities" and to "preclude anti-constitutional experiments". The Centre advocated a return to Brüning's "authoritarian democracy", which they considered up to the times and tested by experience, against Papen's "omnipotent state and independent leadership", while the Nazis would only accept a coalition that would serve their prupose of achieving total dominance. Not expecting a succesful conclusion, Hitler used the Centre negotiations in order to put pressure on the Papen administration.

The negotiations were also met with criticism from within the Centre Party. Some rejected them as "currying favour with the National Socialists" and giving credence to Hitler's strategy of legality. The journalists Fritz Gerlich and Ingbert Naab dismissed as "illusionary" the attempt to "uphold the constitution and the legal order" with a man such as Hitler with his "unconditional propensity to evil". Instead of "driving out the devil by Belzebub", the Centre should act as the parliament's conscience. The party leadership answered their critics by calling it a "duty of conscience" to try to achieve a consitutional government.

Thoug Papen did not expect the negotiations to succeed, he was nonetheless concerned as a success would have lead to a presidential crisis, as Hindenburg was unwilling to have a coalition parties dictate the administration. In September he ended all speculations by dissolving the Reichstag again, almost immediately after its first meeting.

Papen's act did not end the negotiations between Centre and NSDAP. In fact, it made further meetings possible, since the Centre Party's leadership blamed the failure not on the parties' incompatibility but on Papen calling for new elections. Since the NSDAP vote dropped again in the elections of November 1932, the Centre Party considered their strategy successful and resumed negotiations resumed, this time under the slogan of forming a "Notgemeinschaft (community of need)," even though the Centre, BVP, and NSDAP together no longer formed a majority in parliament.

Chairman Kaas advised President Hindenburg not to continue Papen's "administration of conflict"; he advocated "national concentration including the National Socialists", but did not comment on an alternative Chancellor, since was the "personal pregorative of President". Hindenburg's negotiations with Hitler failed, however, as did Kaas' attempt to form a coalition in parliament. By avoiding a clear statement, Hitler managed to pin the blame for this failure on DNVP's Hugenberg, who had rejected Kaas's proposals.

In December, the President appointed General Kurt von Schleicher Chancellor, since the cabinet had refused to support Papen's planned coup d'état, a permanent dissolution of the Reichstag. The Centre Party contributed to the failure of Schleichers "Querfront (cross-front)" policy, since it could not bring itself to supporting the new administration actively. This pushed the General-Chancellor further in the direction of Papen's proposed coup d'etat, a move the Centre Party, as well as the other parties, refused to condone. Under these circumstances, President Hindenburg refused to back the coup and Schleicher accordingly resigned on 28 January, 1933.

The Hitler government and new elections

Meanwhile Papen had formed an intrigue to oust his successor. He confered with Hugenberg and industrial magnates and bankers and after a feverish night, in which the outcome was unclear to all participants, In the morning of 30 January, Hitler was appointed Chancellor with Papen as Vice-Chancellor and Hugenberg as minister for economics.

Though seeing their adversaries Papen and Hugenberg join forces with Hitler, the Centre Party still did not give up building a broad coalition government. Since the new administration was still lacking a majority in parliament, the Centre was ready to support it, either by toleration or by coalition. Hitler intended to minimize non-Nazi participation, but feigned a willingness to cooperate with the Centre and blamed Papen and Hugenberg for denying cabinet posts to the Centre. When Kaas requested a broad outline of his government's objectives, Hitler used his questionnaire to declare the talks a failure and obtain the President's approval for calling for new elections for the third time in about half a year.

These elections in March 1933 were already marred by the SA's terror, after the Reichstag building had been set on fire and basic rights had been suspended by President Hindenburg. Still the Centre Party campaigned hard against the Hitler administration and managed to preserve their former vote of roughly 11%. The government parties NSDAP and DNVP however jointly won 52% of the vote.

This result shattered the Centre Party's hopes of being indispensable for obtaining a majority in parliament. The party was now faced with two alternatives – either to persist in protesting and suffer reprisals like Communists and Social Democrats', or to declare their loyal cooperation, in order to protect their members. As shown by subsequent events, the party, though deeply uncomfortable with the new government, opted for the latter alternative.

The Enabling Act

The government confronted the newly elected Reichstag with the Enabling Act that would have vested the government with legislative for a period of four years. Though such a bill was not unprecedented, this act was different since it allowed for deviations from the constitution. As the bill required a two-thirds majority in order to pass, the government needed the support of other parties.

The Centre Party, whose vote turned out to be decisive, was split on the issue of the Enabling Act. Chairman Kaas advocated supporting the bill in parliament in return for the government giving guarantees. These mainly included respecting the Church's liberty, her involvement in the fields of culture, schools and education and the concordats signed by German states and also the continued existence of the Centre Party itself. Via Papen, Hitler responded positively and himself addressed the issues in his Reichstag speech, but he repeatedly put off signing a written letter of agreement.

Though Kaas was aware of the doubtful nature of such guarantees, but when the Centre fraction assembled on 23 March to decide on their vote, he still advised his fellow party members to support the bill, given the "precarious state of the fraction", he described as follows: "On the one hand we must to preserve our soul, but on the other hand a rejection of the Enabling Act would result in unpleasent consequences for fraction and party. What is left is only to guard us against the worst. Were a two-thirds majority not onbtained, the government's plans would be carried through by other mwans. The President has acquiesced in the EA. From the DNVP no attempt of relieving the situation is to be expected.

A considerable part of parliamentarians however opposed the chairman's course, among these former Chancellors Brüning, Wirth and former minister Stegerwald. Brüning called the Act the "most monstrous resolution ever demanded of a parliament", and was also sceptical about Kaas' efforts: "The party has difficult years ahead, no matter how it would decide. Sureties for the government fulfilling its promises have not been given. Without a doubt, the future of the Centre Party is in danger and once it is destroyed it cannot be revived again."

The opponents also argued in regard to Catholic social teaching that ruled out participating in an act of revolution. The proponents however argued that a "national revolution" had already occurred with Hitler's appointment and the presidential decree suspending basic rights and that the Enabling Act would contain revolutionary force and move the government back to a legal order. Both groupings were not unaffected by Hitler's self-potrayal as a moderate seeking cooperation, as given on the Day of Potsdam, over against the more revolutionary SA led by Ernst Röhm. Even Brüning though it to be "decisive which groups of the NSDAP will be in power in the future. Will Hitler's power increase or will he fail, that is the question."

In the end the majority of Centre parliamentarians supported Kaas' proposal. Brüning and his followers agreed to respect party discipline by also voting in favour of the bill.

The Reichstag assembled under turbulent circumstances. Some SA men served as guards, while others crowded outside the building, both to intimidate any opposing views. Kaas gave a speech, voicing the Centre's support for supporting the bill amid "concerns put aside", while Brüning notably remained silent. In the end, all parties except the Social Democrats, voted in favour of the Enabling Act.

The end of the Centre Party

With the passing of the Enabling Act the Centre Party had in fact acquiesced in its own demise, as it had played the part Hitler had assigned to it and was no longer needed. As promised during the negotiations, a working comitee chaired by Hitler and Kaas met a few times without any major impact.

At that time, the Centre Party was weakened by massive defections by party members, often to the NSDAP. Loyal party members, in particular civil servants, and other Catholic organisations were subject to increasing reprisals, despite Hitler's previous guarantees. The party was also hurt by a declaration of the German bishops that, while maintaining their opposition to Nazi ideology, lifted the ban on cooperation with the new authorities.

On 8 April, Hitler send Vice-Chancellor Papen to Rome to offer to the Pope negotiations for a nationwide concordat. Throughout the years of the Weimar Republic, the National Socialists had always been a staunch opponent of such an agreement, but now Hitler intended to deal a decisive blow against Political Catholicism and also of gaining international prestige. Shortly before Papen, the Centre Party's chairman Kaas had arrived in Rome and because of his expertise in Church-state relations, he was authorized by Cardinal Pacelli to negotiate terms with Papen, but pressure by the German government forced him withdraw from visibly participating in the negotiations. Though the Vatican tried to hold back the exclusion of Catholic clergy and organisations from politics, in the end it had to accept the restriction to the religious and charitable field. On 14 July Hitler finally accepted the Concordat, that was signed a week later.

The issue of the concordat pro-longed Kaas' stay in Rome, leaving the party without a chairman, and on 5 May Kaas finally resigned from his post. The party now elected Heinrich Brüning as chairman. At that time, the Centre party was subject to increasing pressure in the wake of the process of Gleichschaltung and after all the other parties had dissolved (or were banned as the SPD), the Centre Party dissolved itself on 6 July – to Cardinal Pacelli's dismay, even before the Roman negotiations had been concluded. The day after government issued a law banning the fouding of new political parties, thus turning the NSDAP into the party of the German state.

Refounding and post-war history

After the war, the Centre party was refounded, but it was confronted with emergence the Christian Democratic Union, a new party formed as a Christian party comprising both Catholics and Protestants. As many former Centre party politicians, e.g. Konrad Adenauer, joined the CDU and also Cardinal Frings of Cologne endorsed the new party, the Centre lost their positition as the party of the Catholic population.

For some time however, the party managed to hold on to regional strongholds in North Rhine-Westphalia. In 1945 the Centre's Rudolf Amelunxen had been the new state's first prime minister and the Centre party participated in the state government until 1958 , when it dropped out of the state parliament. Until 1959 the Centre was also represented in the state parliament of Lower Saxony.

On the national level, the Centre party in the elections of 1949 won ten seats in the first Bundestag. In 1953 the party (with the aid from the regional CDU) could retain two seats and in 1957 the party dropped out of the Bundestag completely.

This demise is at least partly due to Helene Wessel. In 1949 she was one of the Centre's representatives in the Bundestag and also was elected chairwoman of the party, the first woman ever to lead a German party.

In 1951 she vocally opposed Konrad Adenauer's policy of German rearmement and joined forces with the CDU's Gustav Heinemann, the former Minister of the Interior. The two formed the the "Notgemeinschaft zur Rettung des Friedens in Europa" (emergency community for saving peace in Europe), a initiative intended to prevent rearmament.

Since the party resented Mrs Wessel's unilateral move, she resigned from her post and in November 1952 left the party and also gave up her seat in parliament. Immediately afterwards, Wessel and Heinemann turned the "Notgemeinschaft" into a political party, the "Gesamtdeutsche Volkspartei" (Whole-German People's Party, GVP), that however failed utterly in the elections of 1953. In 1957 the GVP dissolved and most members joined the SPD.

Meanwhile the Centre party tried to forge an alliance of small parties of christian persusasion, to offer an alternative to disappointed CDU/CSU voters, but it only gained the support of the "Bavarian Party". The two parties joined forces under the name "Federalist Union", first in parliament since 1951 and in 1957 the general elections, but the results were disappointing.

In 1988 the right wing of the party split off formed the new party "Christian Middle".

In 2003 the evangelical "Christian Party of Germany" (CPD) joined the Centre party.

Since their demise on the national level, the Centre party focuses on local politics and remains true to its democratic, social and pro-family traditions of the post-war period. The party is represented in some city councils in North Rhine-Westphalia and Saxony-Anhalt.

Despite its marginal numbers, the Centre party emphasizes continuity to its history by sometimes referring to itself as the "oldest political party of Germany"da:Zentrum de:Deutsche Zentrumspartei es:Partido de Centro (Alemania) fr:Zentrum no:Deutsche Zentrumspartei

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