The History of Caritas in Germany
Werthmann founded the Charitas-Comité (Charitas Committee) in Freiburg in 1895 and thus paved the way for the Charitasverband für das katholische Deutschland (Charitas Association for Catholic Germany), which he founded in Cologne on 9 November 1897. The new association soon began to offer help to many people in need: seasonal workers, sailors, vagabonds, alcoholics, people with physical and mental disabilities and people with sexually transmitted diseases. It also provided childcare, corrective training for youths, protection for girls, nursing for the ill and women's services.
The Beginning of the 20th Century: The Association Builds Sustainable Structures
The First World War not only brought with it new situations of dire need for people in Germany, it also exposed the vulnerability of the young association with its inadequate infrastructure, financial planning and framework of objectives. In 1916, the bishops of Germany officially made the German Caritas Association the social services arm of the Catholic Church, meaning the Association’s funding was thereby ensured. By the time the Association’s founding president Lorenz Werthmann passed away five years later, the Association had achieved a solid, organisational basis. Werthmann’s successor, President Benedict Kreutz, made sure this process continued. Most importantly, in the 1920s Kreutz was able to establish an impressive network of educational institutions offering training for social care occupations and further education for members of the Association. These institutions primarily offered instruction in child and youth welfare, nursing for the ill and counselling.
Under the Third Reich: Caritas Remains Active despite Surveillance
The cooperation between the German government and non-government welfare associations came to an end when the Nazi dictatorship took power in 1933. Welfare work could not escape its statism and gleichschaltung (forcible coordination). Although the German Caritas Association was under close surveillance, and despite its activities being limited and its workers in the main and local offices being intimidated by arrests, it was able to continue its work as an active and non-consolidated institution of Christian brotherly and sisterly love. This was made possible by President Kreutz’s tenacious, careful and astute negotiation skills, and his great courage and humility. The significance of this feat became all the more apparent after Nazi Germany collapsed in 1945.
After the Second World War: Caritas as Reliable Help for People in Need
After the Second World War, the German Caritas Association and the newly founded welfare association of the Evangelical Church in Germany were the only national organisations that were operational and able to help the people of Germany who were in need. Caritas helped coordinate aid from abroad, assisted refugees and expellees, reunified families and contributed to mending much of the damage caused by the war. President Kreutz died in 1949, the year the Federal Republic of Germany was founded. By then, the worst situation of need after the war had been overcome.
1950 – 1990: Caritas Begins to Help Abroad
At the end of the 1950s, the German Caritas Association expanded its traditional work to provide international emergency relief and disaster aid for the first time. This was partially motivated by the aid Germany had received after the Second World War. The International Department of the German Caritas Association continues to provide emergency relief and disaster aid in Europe and in developing countries all over the world today. The bishops of Germany have designated the International Department of the German Caritas Association as its relief organisation.
After the Reunification of Germany: Caritas Establishes a National Network
The political reunification of Germany in 1990 was also of great significance for Caritas. The Caritas Associations in the former GDR were founded or re-founded, registered as associations and became member organisations of the German Caritas Association. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Caritas Germany has also been actively working toward systematically building social services in the countries of eastern and southeastern Europe.