Germany’s Catholic Fraternities and the Weimar Republic

by Jeremy Stephen Roethler (Author)
©2016 Monographs XVI, 231 Pages


Through the last century, Catholic fraternity alumni have served as German chancellors, presidents, federal ministers, state executives, and leading voices in Germany’s parliament. They have played leading roles in the Catholic press, in Catholic youth groups, in Catholic civic associations, and in the German Catholic hierarchy. After World War II, Catholic fraternity alumni played founding roles in the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU), the two parties that led West Germany’s transition from its catastrophic defeat («zero hour») to the economic miracle (1949–1969). This book considers the ideas that many of these Catholic leaders encountered as college students or as active alumni in their fraternities in the fifteen years before Adolf Hitler came to power.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Germany’s Catholic Fraternities
  • Chapter One: Catholic Fraternities and Confessional Conflict
  • Chapter Two: Catholic Fraternities at War
  • Chapter Three: A Republic in Crisis
  • Chapter Four: Catholic Parties and Fraternity Politics
  • Chapter Five: The Ethos of Catholic Community
  • Chapter Six: A Catholic Commentary on German Nationalism
  • Chapter Seven: The Catholic Fraternities and National Socialism
  • Chapter Eight: Accommodation, Dissolution and Revival
  • Conclusion: The Significance of the Catholic Fraternities in German History
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index


← viii | ix →Illustrations

  1. 1. Coat of arms of “Aenania München,” the oldest and founding fraternity chapter of the Catholic CV fraternity
  2. 2. Student leadership (including Konrad Adenauer) of the fraternity chapter “Arminia zu Bonn,” of the Catholic KV network (1896/97)
  3. 3. Founding members of the CV fraternity chapter “Rheno-Franconia,” Munich (1899)
  4. 4. Page 1 of the KV Catholic fraternity newspaper, Academic Monthly Pages (1918)
  5. 5. Social hall of the CV Catholic fraternity, “Saxo-Bavaria,” Prague (1907–1913)
  6. 6. Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)
  7. 7. Heinrich Krone

← ix | x →image

Figure 1. Coat of arms of “Aenania München,” the oldest and founding fraternity chapter of the Cartel Union of Catholic German Student Fraternities (“Cartellverband der katholischen deutschen Studentenverbindungen”) or CV. Founded in 1856, the CV is the largest of Germany’s three major Catholic national fraternity organizations. Reproduced with permission from the CV.


← x | xi →Preface

For ease of explanation, I use the term “fraternity” in this study to describe a variety of student organizations, believing it would be the term most familiar to a reader in the English language. In the German language, the terminology is more complicated. Up to the early 1800s, the terms “Corps” or “Landsmannschaften” were used to describe student organizations that were roughly equivalent to contemporary American college fraternities in structure, practice and ritual. In 1818, the Deutsche Burschenschaft (DB) officially formed. From this point forward, the word “Burschenschaft” could be used to describe any fraternity hailing from the nationalist tradition inaugurated by the DB. Other fraternities used the title of “Bund,” such as the Akademischer Turnbund or the Allgemeiner Deutscher Burschenbund. Others used the term “Verbindung,” as in, the Verband der akademischen Sport-Verbindungen. All fraternal organizations maintained individual university chapters known by any of the following: “Korporation,” “Burschenschaft,” “Verbindung,” “Verein” or “Bund.” The older Corps did not use any of these titles, but used the abbreviated appellation “SC” (Senioren-Convent) at the end of their names, as in, the “Kösener SC.” Unlike American fraternity chapters (consistently identified by Greek letters), Germany’s individual fraternity chapters typically have their own unique names, such as “Alamannia,” “Cimbria” or “Danubia” (often, but not always in reference to the Latin names for ancient Germanic tribes). Through much of their history, the Corps and the nationalist-oriented Burschenschaften, ← xi | xii →Verbindungen and Bünde generally endorsed the duel, and starting in 1919, agreed to form the Allgemeiner Deutscher Waffenring, a highly visible organization during the Weimar years. The Protestant confessional unions, which opposed the duel, usually used the term “Bund” to describe themselves. Jewish fraternal organizations also operated during the late Imperial and Weimar periods, including the Kartell-Convent der Verbindung deutscher Studenten jüdischen Glaubens, the Bund zionistischer Korporationen, the Kartell Jüdischer Verbindungen and the Bund jüdischer Akademiker.

The three largest Catholic organizations described in this study used the general term “Verband” to reference the national umbrella entity. As will be explained, the Verband had its own leadership, set the rules for individual fraternity chapter practice, represented the fraternity chapters at the national level and organized national fraternity activities and conferences. The color-wearing chapter fraternities of the Catholic CV referred to themselves as “Verbindungen.” The non-color wearing fraternity chapters of the KV and Unitas elected to use the more general term “Verein,” although both otherwise followed fraternal forms of practice and organization. Later, the color-wearing Ring katholischer deutscher Burschenschaften (“RKDB,” referred to in this study as “the Ring”), formed in 1924, notably elected to use the term “Burschenschaft,” which up to this point had been used exclusively by the nationalist-oriented fraternities. As was generally the case with other fraternal organizations on Germany’s campuses, each Catholic fraternity chapter had its own unique name, as in, the “Aenania” chapter of the CV at the University of Munich.

Throughout this study, I generally refer to the three Catholic fraternity organizations by their abbreviated names of “CV,” “KV” and “Unitas.” Where appropriate, I use English equivalents for their full names. Their official names in German are, respectively, Cartellverband der katholischen deutschen Studentenverbindungen (CV), Kartellverband katholischer deutscher Studentenvereine (KV), and Verband der Wissenschaftlichen Katholischen Studentenvereine Unitas (Unitas).


Research for this project was conducted at the Württembergische Landesbibliothek, Stuttgart, and at the Institut für Hochschulkunde at Würzburg University, under the financial support of Rondeau Evans and Maclyn Burg, made available by my home institution of the University of Washington. I expresses my gratitude to my Doktormutter, Uta Poiger, my doctoral committee of Glennys Young, James Felak, John Toews, and Sarah Stein, and the scholars who have provided their kind guidance and input subsequently, including Martin Menke, Charles Gallagher, Michael Gross, Gerald Fogarty and Jeffrey Zalar, and the participants at recent conferences of the American Catholic Historical Association and the German Studies Association. I also thank the institutions that kept me employed, including the University of Washington (Seattle and Bothell campuses), Seattle University, Antioch University, Shoreline Community College, Concordia University-Texas, Texas Lutheran University, Schreiner University, Sul Ross State University-Rio Grande College and the University College of Texas State University. I am also grateful to the families Geiss and Porschitz, who graciously opened their homes to me in Germany. I also acknowledge two editors who read painstakingly and with a great deal of patience and forgiveness: my longtime friend, spiritual mentor and godfather of my children, Duane Weilnau, and my mother, Evelyn Dianne Bardoulas-Roethler. Finally, and most importantly, I express my gratitude and love to my wife, Karin Joy Hilker-Roethler.

← xiii | xiv →Grateful acknowledgement is hereby made to use the following materials:

CV Fraternity, coat of arms of “Aenania München,” reprinted from the fraternity’s national website.

CV Fraternity, founding members of fraternity chapter “Rheno-Franconia,” reproduced from Wikimedia commons.

CV Fraternity, social hall of CV fraternity chapter “Saxo-Bavaria,” reproduced from Wikimedia commons.

CV Fraternity, photograph of Joseph Ratzinger, reproduced from the fraternity’s national website.

KV Fraternity, student leadership of the fraternity chapter “Arminia zu Bonn,” reproduced from Wikimedia commons.

KV Fraternity, page 1 of fraternity newspaper Academic Monthly Pages (November 15, 1918).

Konrad Adenauer Foundation, campaign poster for Heinrich Krone, reproduced from Wikimedia commons.


← xiv | xv →Germany’s Catholic Fraternities
and the Weimar Republic

← xv | xvi →image

Figure 2. Student leadership of the fraternity chapter “Arminia zu Bonn,” affiliated with the national Catholic KV fraternity network (1896/97). At the far right is Konrad Adenauer, mayor of Cologne during the Weimar period and first chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany starting in 1949. Arminia zu Bonn was established at the University of Bonn in 1863. The fraternity’s website quotes Adenauer as saying that his Catholic fraternity years left a deep impression on him for the rest of his life. Reproduced from Wikimedia commons.


Hardly anyone has kept his social and political work so oriented to the common good as Heinrich Krone. He has always kept his own priorities in the background, always remaining focused on what mattered. Krone is an example of a true public servant; through his deeply rooted faith in God and love for his people and his fatherland, he placed his entire political work in the service of humanity.


A Catholic Statesman

A son of a Catholic working class family, Heinrich Krone was born on December 1, 1895, in the province of Lower Saxony, when Germany was still ruled by an emperor. Although his father died when Krone was still a young child, through the unwavering support of his mother, the promising Catholic youth was able to attend college preparatory school and then the University of Münster as a student of theology starting in 1914. Krone’s university studies were interrupted by the outbreak of World War I, during which Krone served as a soldier starting in 1917. After the war was over, Krone finished his degree and then studied for his doctorate at the University of Kiel under the famed sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies. He also served during this time as an active ← 1 | 2 →national politician for the Catholic Center Party during Germany’s first ambitious, if ultimately doomed attempt to establish a democracy. As one of the youngest representatives in Germany’s parliament starting in 1925, Krone was also active at this time in leading and supporting Germany’s Catholic youth organizations.

In 1933, with Adolf Hitler’s assumption to power and the termination of the Weimar Republic, Krone would be compelled to leave political life, but he still managed to support the members of his faith in other ways. Starting in 1934, he served Germany’s leading Catholic charity organization. Under the oversight of the Catholic Bishop of Berlin, starting in 1938, Krone would focus his efforts on providing assistance to Catholic Germans, including converted Jews, who were being persecuted by Hitler’s government because it had determined (arbitrarily and criminally) that they were “non-Aryan” or not of the Germanic race. With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Krone served as a military paramedic in occupied Poland. In 1944, however, he would be arrested for having been implicated in the failed July 20 plot to assassinate Hitler. He would spend three months in prison, by a seemingly miraculous accident of fate, somehow avoiding being sent to a concentration camp.

In 1945, with the Second World War over, when he was approaching fifty years of age, Krone played a pivotal role in overseeing Germany’s remarkable recovery from catastrophe. Perhaps most importantly, Krone helped found the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, which along with its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), would govern West Germany at the national level for the first twenty years of its existence (1949–1969). During this period, when he led his party in the German parliament and served the national government at the ministerial level, the versatile Krone would be known in the German press as Chancellor Konrad Adenauer’s “Alleskleber,” a word that equates roughly to “right-hand man,” “jack-of-all-trades” or “the one who holds it all together.”2

In 1985, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who like Krone, was a deeply devoted member of the Catholic faith, honored the elder statesman on the occasion of his ninetieth birthday. On August 15, 1989, at the age of 93, Krone passed away, having served his German fatherland for over 70 years. Unfortunately, Krone thereby missed arguably the most important moment in modern Germany’s recent history, the fall of the Berlin Wall (November 9, 1989), by less than three months.


XVI, 231
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (December)
Catholicism National Socialism Fraternity parliament Church history Germany
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XVI, 231 pp., num. b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Jeremy Stephen Roethler (Author)

Jeremy Stephen Roethler received his PhD from the University of Washington. Currently he is Senior Lecturer and Program Coordinator in the General Studies Program at Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas. He is also an active member of the American Catholic Historical Association and the German Studies Association.


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