January 1996 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor.

University of British Columbia

Newsletter no 12 – January 1996


1. Forthcoming Conferences

2. Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany

3. Works in Progress

4. New Books

a) 1894-1982 Kreuz und Hakenkreuz im Leben eines pfalzer Pfarrers und Landesbischofs, reviewed by John S. Conway.

b) The rescue of Jews in wartime Poland, reviewed by John S. Conway.

5. Index for 1995: Books reviewed or noticed


1. Forthcoming conferences:

German Studies Association, Seattle, October 10-13th 1996.

Deadline for proposed papers, Feb 25.


2. Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany (contd.)

A German court ruled on December 14th 1995 that the J.Ws religious group can be defined as a church and must be placed on equal level with the major traditional churches in the country. The religious group thus obtains the right to receive income from the church tax, to provide a ministry for the prisons and send representatives to public radio boards. The court rejected an appeal by the Berlin city government, which argued that the group had adopted an “antagonistic attitude” towards the state and showed signs of “totalitarian behaviour”. There are about 166,000 (sic)Witnesses in Germany.


3. Work in progress

Dr Uwe Rieske-Braun, Theological Institute, Technical University, Aachen, is currently editing the letters of Adolf Harnack and Christoph Luthardt between 1873-1894, which shed light on Harnack’s methodology and insights regarding the early Christian “Dogmengeschichte”, and on his relationship with Albrecht Ritschl.


4. New books

a) Hans L.Reichrath, Luwig Diehl. 1894-1982 Kreuz und Hakenkreuz im Leben eines pfalzer Pfarrers und Landesbischofs, Evangelischer Presseverlag Pfalz GMBH, Speyer 1995, 207pp.

The Protestant Landeskirche of the Palatinate is a largely rural backwater, stretching westwards from its head office in Speyer on the middle Rhine to the French border. Despite its earlier significance in Reformation times, it has been largely unheard of since. During the Nazi period, this church had the misfortune of being led by the undistinguished figure of Ludwig Diehl, whose brief biography has now been written by Hans Reichrath, and published by the house press. (It is a pity the proof- reading was not better, i.e. in the Index, the section on the Jews is erroneously entitled “die Jugendfrage”.

Diehl came from very humble peasant origins, became a pastor during the first world war (from which he was exempt) and lacked any adequate theological training. His fervent personal piety and limited academic qualifications were however matched by considerable oratorical gifts. In the 1920s he was recruited by the incipient Nazi Party as a competent spokesman who could be relied on to denounce the evils of Bolshevism and to uphold a highly simplistic idea of German nationalism, especially against the danger of French incursions – the Palatinate being then occupied by French troops. As a reward he was given the Nazis’ Golden Party Badge, and became the leader in the Palatinate of the faction of so-called “German Christians” who gave their enthusiastic and uncritical support after 1933 to the new Nazi regime. Like so many of his colleagues, and also of his congregations, Diehl was deluded into thinking that Hitler was just the man to rescue Germany from her alleged humiliation under the Versailles settlement and from the threat of Bolshevik revolution. He was never a democrat, and so had no hesitation in accepting the Nazi view of the need for the Fuhrerprinzip, even in church affairs. On the other hand, theologically, his simple piety saved him from falling for some of the German Christians’ wilder heresies, like the view that Jesus was really an Aryan hero. It also led him to value the Old Testament as an essential part of his churchmanship.

As Landesbischof from 1934 onwards, Diehl played a lack- lustre role in keeping his church out of trouble. At first he had no hesitation in expressing his fantasy that the German Christians would be the soul and spirit of the Nazi Party, uniting church and people in the great work of national revival undertaken by Hitler. “All members of the Palatinate Protestant church are united behind the Fuhrer in unswerving loyalty and readiness to sacrifice in the assurance of God’s will”. But from 1937 Diehl began to recognise the true nature of the Nazis’ hostility towards the Church, and so was driven to take defensive measures to protect his pastors. Soon enough he began to feel the Gestapo’s heavy hand, and his disillusionment only increased. But his loyalty to Hitler remained. Although disturbed by such brutalities as the Crystal Night pogrom, and the so-called euthanasia action, he never considered abandoning his previous stance or supporting any more active opposition. Unfortunately for Reichrath, little documentary evidence survives to record this change of heart. Indeed, as an amateur historian, he is often forced to rely on family memories, which are obviously not the most critical source.

On June 1st 1945 Diehl resigned his position as Landesbischof, and retreated to his former rural parish in Mackenbach. As might be predicted, given the “restoration” climate prevailing in such provincial church circles in the immediate post-war period, his “denazification” trial ended in his favour, with only a small fine. The Court acknowledged that “he had always maintained his dogmatically correct and biblically- influenced belief in Christ. In his sermons, which often contained sharp criticism of the Party’s extremism, he was continually concerned to proclaim the Word of God”. He finally retired unwillingly in 1964, and died in 1982.

This little book demonstrates all the weakness of much of the current writings on German church history. The biography of a former leader of the Church, published by the church’s own press, is bound to be hagiographical in tone. Any more critical approach would certainly not be appreciated. Any more critical author would face having his work emasculated or even suppressed. Any critical reviewer has to ask therefore whether we are being given the full picture, warts and all, or whether more damaging evidence has been either ignored or toned down to suit present requirements. To this reviewer, Reichrath has steered a fine line in giving his subject the benefits of most doubts, and accepting a face value the claim that “er wollte nur das Beste”. What is unclear is whether he himself thinks that strident political anti-Communism, unsophisticated theological dogmatism and rural obscurity were sufficient or suitable qualifications for the leadership of Palatinate Landeskirche. One suspects that he does, and they were.



b) I. Tomaszewski and T.Werbowski, Zegota. The rescue of Jews in wartime Poland. Montreal: Price Patterson Press 1994, 171 pp.

In view of the continuing accusations and recriminations about the relations of Catholics and Jews in Poland, this brief but highly informative account of the efforts made to rescue Jews during the Nazi occupation is very welcome. The authors, now living in Canada, one Jewish, one Catholic, describe the work of the Zegota orgaisation, founded by two women, an ardent Socialist and a devout Catholic, who established a whole network of conspiratorial and highly dangerous activities to assist Jews in the most heavily policed, yet totally lawless, country in occupied Europe. Particularly helpful are the plethora of names, addresses and dates of those who shared in this significant inter-faith enterprise, such as the young Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, most recently Poland’s Foreign Minister, or the redoubtable Mother Superior, Borkowska, who not only hid arms in her convent but instructed young Jews how to use them. On the basis of personal interviews with survivors, both recuers and rescued, the authors give some poignant case studies, and document their efforts over many eyars to bring recognition to this small but indomitable band of Christian women and men, many of whom have now been recognized by such institutions as Yad Washem in Israel. Given the draconian measure taken against any Poles who risked their lives in this endeavour, the rescue efforts of Polish Christians and the resistance of Polish Jews were remarkably heroic, and deserve to be better known.

This short book supplements other accounts, such as those by A. Polonsky and Nechama Tec, in bringing this often-overlooked chapter to the notice of the English-speaking world. But, for a more critical assessment of Catholic relations with Jews in pre-war Poland, one should consult the new book by the American Catholic theologian, Ronald Modras, The Catholic Church and Antisemitism: Poland 1933-1939, Harwood Academic Publishers 1994.



5. Index for 1995: Books reviewed or noticed.
(Newsletter no.in brackets).

Anderson,J: Religion,State and Politics in the Soviet Union (5)
Baltaden,S.ed: Seeking God. Recovery of religious identity in Russia and successor states (6)
Blackbourn,D; Marpingen (2)
Blashke O.R.; Der Altkatholizismus 1870-1914 (11)
Bleistein, R; Alfred Delp (7)
Bordeaux,M ed; The politics of religion in Russia (5)
Brakelmann, G; Zwischen Widerstand und Mitverwantwortung;
” ” Carl-Friedrich Stumm
” ” Krieg und Gewissen. Otto Baumgarten 
Fabre H; L’eglise catholique face au fascisme et au nazisme (7)
Garbe, D; Zwischen Widerstand und Martyrium. Die Zeugen Jehovahs im Dritten Reich (11)
Grotefeld,S; Friedrich Siegmund-Schultze. (5)
Hellman, J; The Knight-Monks of Vichy France (10)
Horwitz,G; In the shadow of death. Mauthausen (8)
Janz,O; Burger besonderer Art. Evang.Pfarrer in Preussen (10)
Krondorfer, B; Between Remembrance and Reconciliation (6)
Kushner, T; The Holocaust and the Liberal Imagination (6)
Longerich, P; Hitlers Stellvertreter (9)
Malinowski-Krum, H; Frankreich am Kreuz. Protestanten Frankreichs unter deutschen Okkupation 1940-44 (10)
Mitteilungen d. Evang.Arbeitsgem.f.kirchl. Zeitgeschichte (11)
Molette,C; Pretres, religieux et religieuses dans la resistance au nazisme (10)
Nowak,K and Raulet,G eds; Protestantismus und Antisemitismus in der Weimarer Republik (7)
Owings, A; Frauen (8)
Picard J; Die Schweiz und die Juden (6)
Pope,M; Alfred Delp im Kreisauer Kreis (7)
Rhodes,A; The Vatican in the age of the Cold War (7)
Schmidt, H-D; Anna Rosmus. Die ‘Hexe’ von Passau (7)
Schwelbach,B; Erzbischof C.Grober und die dt.Katastrophe (9)
Semelin, J; Unarmed against Hitler. Civilian Resistance (7)
Shaw,J; Turkey and the Holocaust (5)
Smith,H; German Nationalism and Religious Conflict (5)
Stehle, H; Geheimdiplomatie in der Vatikan (6)
Steininger,R; Der Umgang mit der Holocaust (6)
Thomas,T; Women against Hitler. Christian resistance in the Third Reich – review by D.Bergen, H-German 17 Nov 95 (11)

Best wishes to you all for 1996

John Conway

P.S. [Technical note: So far the Newsletter has been produced at virtually no cost – either to you as subscribers, or to me, since I have an E-mail connection anyway. I have been exploring the possibility of creating a list-server facility, since this would obviate the printing of all your E-mail addresses each time on the first page. However, it appears that this would prove to be quite costly, an expense I don’t want to incur unless it is really necessary. So I hope you will bear with the fact that this largely indiscipherable list of E- mail addresses continues to appear, and that you will persevere to read the meat of the Newsletter which then follows.