October 1995 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway,

Editor. University of British Columbia


Newsletter no 9- October 1995


1. Notices from the International Bonhoeffer Society

2. Work in progress

3. Book notices


1. Notices (from the International Bonhoeffer Society Newsletter)

The Presbyterian Church U.S.A.’s July-August 1995 edition of Church and Society Magazine is a special issue commemorating the 50th anniversary of Bonhoeffer’s death. It contains articles by the Bethges, Barbara Green, Bishop Schonherr and L Rasmussen, and can be ordered from Distribution Management Service, Presbyterian Church USA, 100 Witherspoon St, Louisville, Kentucky 40202-1396.

In connection with the International Bonhoeffer Congress in Cape Town next January 7-12, Explorations Travel of Atlanta is offering a special fare from Miami to Cape Town on Jan 4th, as well as two safari tours around the country. Contact: Explorations, 4200 Paces Ferry Rd, Suite 357, Atlanta GA 30339, 1-800-451-9630.


2. Work in progress

Kyle Jantzen of Montreal kindly sent us a resume of his paper delivered to the International Historical Congress:
“Getting the Message: German Protestant Pastors and their parishes during the Nazi era.”

The history of the Kirchenkampf is, on the Protestant side, the history of the conflict between the Nstional Socialist regime, the German land churches and the two main church-political groups, the pro-Nazi German Christians, who strove to establish a centralized Reich Church conforming to Nazi leadership principles, and the Confessing Church, which held to the purity of faith and doctrine, based on the Word of God and the Reformation Confessions. While scholars have interpreted the Kirchenkampf primarily at the national level, much less has been done to investigate its development within the individual land churches. In fact, very little attention has been directed at the effect of the national church struggle on local church life, especially in the smaller cities and the rural parishes. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the Kirchenkampf in three church districts: Nauen in Brandenburg, Pirna in Saxony, and Ravensburg in Wurttemberg. In particular it will examine the nature of the Kirchenkampf at the parish level, as demonstrated in the career of a prominent Wurttemberg pastor, Karl Steger. . . .

My conclusions point to a broader principle for religious historical research. It is not enough to interpret a church-state conflict such as the Kirchenkampf only at its highest level. In order to create a full and legitimate historical picture, the conflict in question must be followed down to its lowest levels, into the districts and the parishes. Only then can there be an understanding of its effect upon the ordinary Christians and citizens who comprise both the church and the larger body politic.”

(N.B. This last point has already been well made by Herwart Vorlander,NS-Staat und Kirchen als Thema des Historikers, in G van Norden ed., Zwischen Bekenntnis und Anpassung, Cologne 1985, and by Kurt Meier, Kirchenkampfgeschichtsschreibung, Theologische Rundschau 46 (1981) and 54 (1989) Ed.)

David Diephouse, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich. is in the early writing stage of a comprehensive biography of Wurttemberg bishop Theophil Wurm. His working title is: Between Fatherland and Kingdom of God – Theophil Wurm and German Protestant Identity, 1868-1953.

Michael Phayer, Marquette U, Milwaukee, Wisconsin is about half finished writing a book on The Catholic Church and the Holocaust 1940-1965.

Marion Grau of Tubingen is writing a short essay on the “Stuttgart Churches and the Jews”, and is finding the volumes by Rohm and Thierfelder, Juden-Christen-Deutsche very helpful.


3. Book notices

As a sequel to his earlier study, Erzbischof Conrad Grober und die nationalsozialistische Diktatur (Karlsruhe 1986), Bruno Schwalbach has now published Erzbishof Conrad Grober und die deutsche Katastrophe. Sein Ringen um eine menschliche Neuordnung, Badenia, Karlsruhe 1994. This consists largely of the official statements and pastoral letters issued by this bishop in the post-1945 years, and tributes after his death in 1948, in order to show his considerable efforts to alleviate the plight of his fellow Germans in their hour of need. Among these activities are printed the texts of various Persilscheine the bishop wrote on behalf of keen Nazis, whose behaviour he nonetheless found to be consonent with their Catholic beliefs, as well as his pastoral letter protesting the forcible evacuation of Germans from eastern Europe. The editor seeks to defend Grober’s sympathy for Heidegger and to excuse his insensitive treatment of those of his priests taken off to concentration camps, and even quotes with approval Grober’s own view of 1946 that “ich zu den bevorzugten Opfern des Nationalsozialismus gehorte und durch die Gestapo und ihre Helfershelfer seelisch mehr gelitten have als viele von jenen, die in Dachau misshandelt wurden oder starben” ! Given “Brown” Conrad’s well-known sympathy for the Nazi regime in 1933, it is interesting to find here the full text of his 1947 recollections “Meine Mitarbeit am deutschen Konkordat” (p. 120-183) Grober’s point of view is well summed up in his conclusion: “Wenn man in der Atmosphare der ersten Jahres des Dritten Reich noch hoffte and auch spater sich bemuht, das drohende Unheil aufzuhalten, das zuletzt auch einem Blindgeborenen die Augen geoffnet hatte, so erachten wir es fur vollig verkerht und sogar fur beleidigend und ungerecht, die Erkenntnisse der spateren Jahre auch fur die noch ungeklarten und heuchlerischen des ersten Jahrfunft vorauszusetzen. Oder was es ein Unrecht, was man kirchlichseits optima fide im Anfang der Hitlerherrschaft erstrebte?.” How far this kind of ecclesiastical apologia and hagiography will convince outsiders remains to be seen.

Peter Longerich, Hitlers Stellvertreter. Fuhrung der Partei und Kontrolle des Staatsapparates durch den Stab Hess und die Partei- Kanzlei Bormann, K.G.Saur Verlag, Munich 1992

This careful study of the office of Hitler’s Deputy examines the ways in which this party office sought to gain increasing control over all aspects of the Nazi state. The section on the churches (p.234-255) will be of interest to our members. Longerich points out that, in 1933, the Nazis had three contradictory ideas about how to deal with the churches. First, there was a policy for the synthesis of Nazism and Christianity by incorporating the churches into the new regime, as with the Reich Concordat, or the victory of the “Deutsche Christen” in the Protestant churches. But by the end of 1933, this gave way to a policy of neutrality, which would lead to an eventual separation of Church and State. But this in turn gave way to a much more hostile policy, which believed that the Churches’ day was done, and that they were destined to be replaced by the glorious apotheosis of Nazi ideology.

Hitler’s Deputy Hess, and even more so his deputy, Martin Bormann, were ardent advocates of this last policy. Longerich gives a detailed analysis of the various steps taken to achieve this end, which was only restrained by Hitler’s desire not to provoke the churches into active opposition. By a shrewd policy of administrative measures, little by little the churches’ position in public life was restricted or squeezed out, even during the war, when Hitler himself recognized the need for public harmony. This did not stop the radicals from attacking church property, church schools, the church tax, divorce and health laws, and of course all attempts by the churches to curry favour with the ruling party. In summary, Longerich states: “Es kann kein Zweifel bestehen, dass Bormanns Kirchenhass nicht hinter der antikirchlichen Einstellung Himmlers, Rosenbergs und Goebbels’ zuruckstand; zusammen mit diesen fuhrenden Naztionalsozialisten bildete er den radikalen Flugel in der NS-Kirchenpolitik. Bormanns Ausserungen uber die christliche Religion und die Kirchen zeigen eine Gehassigkeit, die sich durchaus mit seinen antisemitischen Ausfallen vergleichen lasst; beide Feindbilder verschmolzen in seiner Vorstellungswelt. Im Staats- wie im Parteibereich besass seine Dienstelle eine relativ starke Stellung in der Kirchenpolitik, die er konsequenz nutzte. Auch wenn Bormann seine kirchenpolitische Massnahmen offiziell mit der Zielsetzung einer “Trennung von Kirche und Staat” begrundete, so kann dies nicht daruber hinwegtauschen, dass fur ihn das Ausloschen der Religionsgemeinschaften das Endziel der NS-Kirchenpolitik bildete. (p.239-40). The text of Bormann’s notorious directive, stating unequivocally that “Nationalsozialismus und Christentum sind unvereinbar” will be found in Conway, Nazi Persecution, p.383-6.

Gunter Brakelmann, Zwischen Widerstand und Mitverantwortung. Vier Studien zum Protestantimus in sozialen Konflikten, SWIVerlag, Bochum 1994
” ” Carl-Ferdinand Stumm, Chrisstlicher Unternehmer, Sozialpolitiker, Antisozialist, Bochum 1993
” ” Krieg und Gewissen. Otto Baumgarten als Politiker und Theologe im Ersten Weltkrieg, Vandenhoeck,Gottingen 1991

Gunter Brakelmann is one of the more forceful and radically critical amongst our German colleagues. He continues to write against the main stream, as in these three books. The first seeks to show how some 19th century Protestants sought to come to terms with the rapid industrialisation and urbanisation of Germany by proposing new courses for Protestant witness in the increasingly “de-christianized” cities. They did not get far, since their superiors and the majority of their fellow Protestants still clung to the image of the rural parish where the church could follow its traditional course, slumbering under the sound of church bells ringing across the fields. But these men tried to see some alternatives to the growing dangers of secularisation intellectually and social democracy politically. At least they were aware of the problem. As Friedrich Naumann warned: “Keine Zeit und keine Kirche hat in kirchlicher Versorgung der getauften Massen verhaltnismaessig so wenig getan als unsere Tage und unsere Kirche… Wir evangelischen Deutschen muessen es uns vorwerfen lassen: Berlin ist die kirchlich verwarholseste Stadt auf der ganzen Erde”. The second and third of these books have been extensively reviewed inKirchliche Zeitgeschichte, Vol 6,no 2, 1993, p 585. The book on Baumgarten would seem to be necessary reading for all those who assume that German Protestantism lacked any critical approach to the excesses of German nationalism.

N.Stoltzfus, History Dept, Florida State U.,Tallahassee “Widerstand des Herzens” Geschichte und Gesellschaft, Vol 21,no 2, April-June 1995,p 218-247.

This excellent article describes the successful protest by German wives against the imprisonment of their Jewish husbands in Berlin in April 1943, and analyses the dynamics of the possibility of “resistenz” by such spontaneous demonstrators. Stoltzfus asks whether the churches could not have carried out the same tactics, not just to prevent the removal of crucifixes, or against euthanasia, but on behalf of the wider Jewish population. There were limits to the Nazis’ power, as this incident shows. The churches’ failure to call their followers to the same kind of defiant behaviour as taken by these wives remains a sore comment on their lack of human solidarity with their persecuted fellow Germans of Jewish origin. A personal note: I had a most pleasant visit from one of our members, Marion Grau of Tubingen, who resolutely promised to try and recruit more of our German fraternity to take up E-mail. She thinks this is largely a generational question, so we can’t hope for quick results. But if any of you know of Germankirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler who have E-mail addresses, I will be glad to send them an invitation to join us.

Another personal note: I shall be away on holiday in India for the next month. But don’t hesitate to send me messages to be stored on my computer, so that I can then resume our correspondence on my return and make use of your contributions.

Every best wish
John Conway,
Dept of History, UBC, Vancouver V6T 1Z1, Canada



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