When the Nazis came to power, policy towards the Freemasons was equivocal. Efforts to eliminate the Freemason did not receive top priority. Those lodges that espoused tolerance and equality and had international connections or connections through their leaders to the Social Democrats or liberal democrats were subject to persecution and often pressured into “voluntary” dissolution. A few conservative German lodges that were willing to accommodate themselves to the regime were able to continue some form of existence for only a little longer. Nevertheless, the regime intended to exclude those who refused to give up their Masonic connections.
In early 1934, the chief of the Nazi Party Court System ruled that Masons who did not leave their lodges prior to January 30, 1933, could not join the Nazi party. That same month, Prussian Minister of the Interior Hermann Goering issued a decree calling upon the lodges to “voluntarily” dissolve, but requiring such voluntary actions to be submitted to him for approval. In addition, lodges and their branches in various cities throughout Germany were exposed to arbitrary violence from local SS and SA units, though this terror does not appear to have been centrally directed.
Increasing pressure in the public and professional sectors forced individuals to choose between remaining in their lodges or limiting their career opportunities. Many former lodge members holding positions in the civil service were forced or harassed into retirement. In May 1934, the Ministry of Defense banned membership in lodges to all personnel -- soldiers and civilian employees. During the summer of 1934, after Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich completed their takeover and centralization of the Gestapo, the German police forcibly closed down many Masonic lodges and branch headquarters of the Masons and confiscated their assets, including their libraries and archives.
On October 28, 1934, Reich Minister of the Interior Wilhelm Frick issued a decree defining the lodges as “hostile to the state” and hence subject to having their assets confiscated. Finally, on August 17, 1935, citing the authority of the Reichstag Fire Decree, Frick ordered all remaining lodges and branches dissolved and their assets confiscated.
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(Photo: A reconstruction of a Masonic lodge from the Isle of Jersey, on display in an anti-Masonic exhibition in Nuremberg. Germany, 1938.)