November 1995 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway,

Editor, University of British Columbia

Newsletter No. 10, November 1995


1. Book Notices

2. 19th Century German Protestant Church History

3. Next issue

Dear Friends,

Now that I have returned from India, I am glad to resume our correspondence. Unfortunately I seem to have picked up a case of amoebic dysentery there, which is making life a bit tough. So it is good to have the chance to write to all my friends world-wide.


1. Book notices

Here are three new books on the French churches during the Third Reich, in three different languages, which I have not seen reviewed elsewhere:

a) Horsta Malinowski-Krum, Frankreich am Kreuz. Protestanten Frankreichs unter deutschen Okkupation 1940-1944, Wichern Verlag, Berlin 1993

b) John Hellman, The Knight-Monks of Vichy France Uriage 1940- 1945, McGill-Queens U.P., Montreal 1993

c) Charles Molette, Pretres,Religieux et religieuses dans la resistance au Nazisme 1940-1945, Fayard, Paris 1995

At the end of the 17th century, the Elector of Brandenburg built a church in Berlin for the Hugenots expelled from France by Louis XIV. By 1933 this congregation had become so assimilated that it had forgotten its origins as a persecuted minority, gave willing supported Hitler’s rise to power, and even approved the Nazis’ antisemitic campaigns. As an act of reparation, the present pastor Horsta Malinowski-Krum has provided for German readers a short lively account of how the French Protestants remained true to their Hugenot heritage despite all the sufferings imposed on them by their German conquerors during the second world war. French Protestants were, and are, a small elite minority. But, especially in the rural areas of southern France, the memory of the persecutions endured by earlier generations remained very much alive. Hence their readiness to resist for both national and theological reasons.

France’s defeat in 1940 led many Frenchmen to give their support to the policies of collaboration adopted by Marshal Petain and his henchman Laval. But the more resolute wing of the Protestants drew their inspiration from the witness of the German Confessing Church, and from the writings of its chief theological champion, Karl Barth. His younger disciples drew up in 1941 their Pomeyrol theses, which owed much to the earlier Barmen declaration, but which added an express condemnation of all edicts against the Jews, conspicuous by its absence in the German case. Their role as guardians of Christian morality and active critics of the government’s actions was matched by heroic service to the Nazis’ victims.

We are given the story of the intrepid rescue efforts for Jews, not only in Chambon-sur-Lignon, made famous by Philip Hallie’s “Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed”, but also in the internment camps such as Gurs. Madeleine Barot recapitulates the work of CIMADE, the Protestant youth group which actively organised escape routes to Switzerland. Several survivors, Jewish and Christian, record their experiences in the resistance movement. Pastor Roland de Pury recalls how he was dragged from his pulpit and imprisoned for months. Aime Bonifas spent two years in the brutal hell of Buchenwald. The book concludes with a moving poem written by a survivor of the women’s concentration camp, Ravensbruck. Here was costly discipleship and impressive witness to the strength of the Hugenot faith.

A large-scale history of the French Church and parish in Berlin during the Nazi years has been written by Ursula Fuhrich-Grubert, Hugenotten unterm Hakenkreuz (Veroff. d. Hist. Komm., Berlin no 85) 1994.

John Hellman who teaches at McGill presents us with another side of the story, namely an account of those Catholics who saw France’s national humiliation as an opportunity to bring the people back to the Catholic faith, under the leadership of a charismatic and aristocratic group of Knight-Monks, who founded a kind of training school/monastery at Uriage. The history of the Vichy years remains highly controversial, not least among those Catholics, who like Fr Molette (see below) would like to claim that all good Frenchmen were on the side of the Gaullist resistance. But in fact, there were numerous Catholic intellectuals, who wanted to reform society by getting away from the selfish individualism of the Third Republic, and by mobilising the idealism of youth for a totally new vision, drawn from ideas long hostile to the legacy of 1789. The Uriage school resulted from the dream of a new knighthood, a chivalrous order of the young, who would exercise leadership – the shock troops of the spirit. This venture was designed to celebrate their own religious culture’s authoritarianism, dogma, discipline, doctrinal coherence and dedicated celibate clergy-elites, even though with very apparent anti-democratic, anti-parliamentary, and even antisemitic overtones. Manly virility was a cherished virtue. They wanted to create communities which would neutralize the poisons of permissive liberalism, rampant individualism, communism and the erosion of spiritual values, while restoring prestige and influence to the Catholic Church. The Uriage graduates were to create the guidelines of, and become the leaders for, a post-liberal and post-Republican society. They enjoyed the full support of the Marshal.

John Hellman’s study is the first book in English to describe the activities of this ambitious, though fatally flawed experiment. The headquarters were in a seventy-room 12th century castle high up in the Alps, where the great knight-hero Bayard was supposed to have spent time. The man in charge, Captain Pierre Dunoyer de Segonzac, saw himself as the embodiment of the best mediaeval tradition, combining the military, aristocratic and spiritual values which he sought inculcate into his teams. The Catholic altruism which permeated the place had a strong social conscience, drawn from the writings of prominent Catholic intellectuals of the 1930s. Uriage saw itself as becoming the “spiritual university of French youth”. Daily life was a mixture of the soldierly and the contemplative. Both were needed to forge the destiny of the new France.

This promise of a kind of idealistic communism that, as in great orders of the Middle Ages, could transcend theological and political differences enjoyed a highly successful first year, was lavished with support from Vichy, and gave its cohorts great hopes for the future. But this backward-looking ideology, which hardly mentioned anything since 1789, and never spoke well of the Third Republic, was hardly likely to appeal to other groups – workers, peasants, women and Gaullists. Its absolute loyalty and total submission to Marshal Petain proved to be handicaps as the Vichy regime proved only too weak and compliant with the Nazis. After 1942, as the progressive deterioration of the Vichy experiment became obvious, so Uriage and its ideals disintegrated. The church hierarchy remained cool to what it saw as a state-directed totalitarian youth organisation. The more progressive Catholic intellectuals found no room for their more critical insights. Loyalty to Petain was not enough.

With the German invasion of southern France in November 1942, and Laval’s complete subordination to Nazi wishes, Uriage’s days were numbered. Segonzac withdrew to another mountain fortress, and dreamt of keeping alive the idea of a better national revolution. In late 1943 he secretly made his way to Algiers to see De Gaulle, who was not surprisingly cool to this Vichy supporter. But Segonzac returned believing that, now, De Gaulle was the saviour France needed, and urged his supporters to join the resistance and to lend their efforts to combat the danger of the communists, Americans and old-style Republican politicians.

Uriage graduates came to play significant roles in the post-war France, such as Beuve-Mery who led the newspaper Le Monde to world-wide fame. It was part of the need to educate Frenchmen to a new discipleship. As such its successes were striking,even though the legacy of its Vichy past and totalitarian temptation still reverberates.

John Hellman’s excellent analysis of this movement, though sometimes repetitive, is an important study of one section of French opinion, and its search for a deliberate French Sonderweg, which deserves to be better known.

Fr Charles Molette leaves no doubt that his sympathies are entirely with those French clergymen, monks and nuns who threw themselves wholeheartedly in the struggle against Nazism and its evil racist and anti-Christian policies. This short book is designed to expurgate the record of those Frenchmen, who by serving the Vichy regime, assisted the machinations of the nefarious Nazi anti- Christian ideology. Instead he seeks to honour those insufficiently remembered Catholic priests and nuns who took up the challenge to defend the “true” faith.

Two Nazi-imposed policies prompted the greatest display of such resistance – first, the Nazi brutality in rounding up and deporting the Jews, and second, the compulsory transfer of young Frenchmen to work in Germany. Fr Molette gives numerous examples of the mercy and charity extended towards the Jews, including those “righteous Gentiles” already recognised by Yad Washem in Israel, but suggests that there are many others still to be honoured. So too should be those priests who volunteered to accompany the young slave workers to Germany as well as those martyrs who died in Nazi concentration camps. According to his findings, 231 priests and nuns lost their lives at German hands, as well as 400 others deported to Germany, and 500 more interned in France. He also pays tribute to those, like the authors of Temoignage Chretien, who gave theological leadership against the insidious infiltration of Nazi ideas. Here was the truly Christian basis for the whole resistance movement, which he feels has been overlaid by purely political or national considerations.

Despite their undoubted sincerity and dedication, Fr.Molette’s style of hagiography makes his heroes seem uni-dimensional, like saints in stained glass. By contrast, John Hellman’s description of his knight-errant-monks portrays them as modern Don Quixotes, with their mistaken political romanticism and their delusions of mediaeval mysticism. His success in depicting the vagaries of modern French Catholicism is all the more commendable.


2. 19th Century German Protestant Church History

John Moses of Canberra has very kindly contributed the following review:

Oliver Janz, Burger besonderer Art. Evangelische Pfarrer in Pruessen 1850-1914, Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1994, pp. xv+615. No price given.

Much of German historical research since 1945 has been designed to answer the question, “In what ways were the Germans different from other Europeans?” The search for the roots of German “peculiarity” has, of course, encompassed the various professions. One thinks of the studies by Charles McClelland, Konrad Jarausch and Fritz Ringer, all of whom have focussed on aspects of German university life in the 19th and 20th century. Others such as Michael Kater and Paul Weindling have advanced knowledge of the German medical profession. Scientists and engineers have also attracted their investigators, and the behaviour of some theologians in the Third Reich has been explained by scholars such as L. S- Wenschkewitz and Robert Ericksen. Now, our knowledge about the Prussian-German pastorate as a discrete professional group has been vastly enhanced by this work by Oliver Janz, a former student of Prof. H. Kaeble at West Berlin’s Freie Universitat

Janz’s wide-ranging study is a milestone in the social history of the clergy as an “academic profession”. It is not only distinguished by its thoroughness, but also by its methodological rigour. An impressive range of archives has been consulted and most useful statistics compiled. All this is narrated in an unpretentious, accessible style. The work exhibits all the virtues of Sachlichkeit, no embroidery, only hard supporting evidence which illustrates the social transformation of the “first estate” in Prussia-Germany throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. This process saw the gradual diminution of a professional group which at the end of the 18th century enjoyed the highest prestige by virtue of the government duties it performed alongside of the normal clerical ones, to one of seeming insignificance a century later.

Janz notes that on the eve of the industrial revolution the pastors constituted beside the military, the judiciary and the public service one of the main pillars of Prussian social and political order. Indeed, at mid-nineteenth century every fourth university educated man in Germany was a Protestant pastor. As highly educated Burger the pastors had made significant contributions to German science and letters since the Reformation. Not only in theology and in the Church, but also through the education system and the public service, the sons of pastors were represented to an overwhelming degree right down to recent times. The cultural impact of this social group was enormous. It was a section of the Burgertum, however, which has been overlooked by historians, a deficit which Janz has now more than adequately made up for.

Burgertum is usually translated by “middle class” or “bourgeoisie”, but neither of these render the essential meaning of the German adequately. This is because in both French and English the terms have a distinct commercial connotation which is not applicable to the German situation until after the industrial revolution. And even thereafter in Germany one has to distinguish between Besitz- and Bildungsburgertum, i.e. the bourgeoisie of property on the one hand and education on the other. The pastors, while obviously part of the latter, increasingly formed a separate and distinctive sub- group during the evolution of the 19th century. It is Janz’s great merit to show how this happened.

As noted, prior to industrialization and urbanization in Protestant Germany, the pastorate occupied the dominant social position by virtue of their semi-government function in rural parishes. How did they lose it? Largely because by mid-century other professions were emerging which not only drew off young male talent to serve in alternative vocations, but also these in turn rivalled the clergy as the Honorationen (i.e. the local dignitaries) especially in the countryside. With the advancing modernization/urbanization of Prussia-Germany the professional group which had once exerted a virtual leadership monopoly in bourgeois society became increasingly marginalized. Its previously obvious influential status all but disappeared.

What Janz portrays is the evolution of a kind of intellectual- spiritual ghetto which on the surface seemed to be an irrelevance to the wider community. There were self-perpetuating theological faculties at the numerous universities which themselves, by virtue of the over-intellectualization of theology as a discipline, became alienated from the basis of the still religiously committed elements within the population. The so-called liberal theological enquiry pursued in the faculties contributed little to the pastoral needs of the relatively narrow hard core of church people and their particular spirituality (Frommigkeit), both in town and country. They required traditional ‘orthodox’ pastors, and these, increasingly, came to be trained in exclusively church-run seminaries with little or no contact with ‘university’ theology. As in all denominations, the gulf between the spiritually committed and the nominal adherents was great, and to the degree that the liberal (read: intellectualized) theologians manifested a spirituality, it was of an essentially different nature from that of the ‘ orthodox’.

All this is important for the history of Protestantism in Germany. The process of industrialization not only effected the marginalization of the clergy as an influential professional class, it precipitated a kind of schism within Protestant culture, which on the one hand was extremely scholarly and hence remote to the people in the parishes, and on the other led to the ghetto-ization of the parishes where only a Protestant orthodox piety could be practised. Interestingly, even at the universities, the theological students became largely isolated from the mainstream. The concentrated in Christian student fraternities, predominantly in the non-duelling Wingolf association, with the result that they were socialised differently from the law and medical students who did duel and who lived by the quasi military code of honour then in vogue.

Here, the re-production of “burgers of a special kind” became most evident. Even more so does it become evident when Janz investigates the social origins of the pastors and whom they married. By the mid-nineteenth century one third of pastors were the sons of pastors. Additionally, many were the sons of daughters of the parsonage, which was traditionally a place where extremely large families were raised. All this contributed to the development of a church-parsonage sub-culture which characterized the Protestant life of Germany, running parallel to the mainstream of the commercial and other educated bourgeoisie, but with very little over-lapping. The pastors’ enforced social isolation was compounded by an increasing loss of function (diminishing congregations) which tended to transform the pastor into a mere ‘parish manager’. Nevertheless, as Janz competently illustrates from his statistical analyses of all the above-mentioned relationships, the pastors formed a unique and enduring section of the German bourgeoisie. Because of their peculiarly Prussian- German Lutheran orientation towards the State, and the quasi bureaucratic way in which they ‘managed’ their parishes, this group made their own contribution to what has become known as the German ‘Sonderweg’.

Like Anthony Russell’s The Clerical Profession (1980), which investigates how the Church of England clergy were affected by similar social changes during the same period, Janz’s study is not concerned with the sacramental or liturgical functions of the pastorate, and does not investigate how, for example, they ministered or preached to their dwindling congregations. Theological issues are not touched upon here. The content of what they taught about the State is the subject for another kind of book But what has been unequivocally demonstrated is that, although the pastors lost both status and function over the decades, they remained in their self-perception a special kind of state official. By contrast to the English clergy, with whom many parallels can be identified, they remained a far more homogeneous group both socially and politically. In the Church of England before 1914 there were some 5000 priests affiliated with one of three Christian socialist groups. No comparable clerical pluralism existed in Germany. The pastors were infinitely more conservative, and the institutional church far more an arm of the State, than in England, and was at the base of what the Germans call cultural Protestantism. Although this Protestantism had long ceased to be a ‘people’s religion’, the history of the Landeskirchen where the monarch was ex officio the summus episcopus meant that Protestantism defined not only the ecclesiastical but also the political culture.

One would have wished, perhaps, for more investigation of the question of how, despite the apparent irrelevance of the church in everyday life in Prussia, because of its diminished status, Protestantism nevertheless retained its defining cultural hegemony. If, however, this question is to be answered, the scholarly world will have to start with this important study.


3. Next issue:

I hope to be able to send you another Newsletter before Christmas, which will feature the Jehovah’s Witnesses and much more!

In the meanwhile, do send in more contributions, and have a blessed Advent.

All the best,

John Conway