September 1996 Newsletter
Association of Contemporary Church Historians
(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)
John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia
Newsletter no 21 (Vol II, no 9) – September 1996
Bonhoeffer on Inter-Net
German Studies Association Conference, 1996
Michael Phayer, “The German Catholic Church after the Holocaust,” Holocaust and Genocide Studies Fall 1996, pp. 151-65.
Thomas M. Schneider, Reichsbischof Ludwig Muller: Eine Untersuchung zu Leben und Personlichkeit. Arbeiten zur kirchlichen Zeitgeschichte, Series B: Darstellungen 19, Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1993, 384 pp. reviewed by Doris Bergen
Klaus Erich Pollmann ed., Der schwierige Weg in die Nachkriegszeit. Die evangelisch-lutherische Landeskirche in Braunschweig 1945-1950. Studien zur Kirchengeschichte Niedersachsens: 34. Gottingen; Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1995, 335 pp. reviewed by John Conway
Joan Marshall, A Solitary Pillar. Montreal’s Anglican Church and the Quebec Revolution. Montreal-Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press 1995. 220 pp. reviewed by John Conway
G. Passelecq and B. Suchecky, L’encyclique cachee de Pie XI. Une occasion manquee de l’eglise face a l’antisemitism, Paris: Editions La Decouverte 1995, 321 pp. reviewed by Michael Phayer
German Church leadership is once again the theme of this issue, since the plethora of books appearing on this theme seems to be continuing. However, I append a short review of a more local situation, here in Canada, where momentous political changes are also causing a critical situation for a long-established church community; and also a short note about the “missing” encyclical due to be issued by Pope Pius XI in 1939.
Bonhoeffer on Inter-Net.
The Bonhoeffer-list on Internet has now been amalgamated with one for Paul Tillich. Messages can be sent to DBPTemail@example.com. Lately the in-coming mail has been desultory and not of much interest to historians. But there is also now a new Bonhoeffer Web site Home Page:
I would be interested to know how you find this service.
German Studies Association Conference
The 1996 meeting of the G.S.A. will be held from Oct. 10th-13th at the Red Lion Hotel, Sea-Tac Airport, Seattle, Washington, USA. Several sessions relevant to our theme of contemporary church history will be give by members of our Arbeitsgemeinschaft, viz Doris Bergen, Susannah Heschel, Bob Ericksen and Gerhard Besier. For my sins, as one of the surviving founding members of GSA, I have been dragooned into giving the Banquet speech! I look forward to seeing several of you there.
Michael Phayer, “The German Catholic Church after the Holocaust,” Holocaust and Genocide Studies, 10/2 Fall 1996, pp. 151-65. Mike Phayer describes the belated and reluctant attitude of German Catholics to realise the full extent of the Holocaust in the immediate post-war period, and then outlines the change brought about in the 1960s, not least due to the valiant efforts of Gertrud Luckner, the redoubtable editor of the very significant Freiburger Rundbriefe. Gertrud Luckner died last year, and this is a heartfelt tribute to her memory.
Nicholas Hope, German and Scandinavian Protestantism 1700-1918 (Oxford History of the Christian Church) Oxford: Clarendon Press 1995, pp xiii,685. $120.00. (To be reviewed in German Studies Review, February 1997).
Thomas M.Schneider, Reichsbischof Ludwig Muller: Eine Untersuchung zu Leben und Personlichkeit. Arbeiten zur kirchlichen Zeitgeschichte, Series B: Darstellungen 19, Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1993, 384 pp.
There is no shortage of biographies – inspirational, critical, and scholarly – of the leading figures of the Confessing Church. The same cannot be said for the German Christian movement. Among historians of the Kirchenkampf, Joachim Hossenfelder, Reinhold Krause, and Siegfried Leffler may be household names, but the details of their lives remain obscure. Thomas Schneider’s biography of Reich Bishop Ludwig Muller is an important effort to end this state of affairs by examining close-up probably the most famous German Christian of them all. His thorough research pays off, by producing a useful work which fills in some gaps and confirms much of what others have said about the Protestant church under Nazism. This is a valuable addition to the literature of the church struggle, even if it might be thought to present more than we need to know about the life of the “Reibi”, Ludwig Muller.
As the fifteen-page conclusion suggests, Schneider’s argument does not lend itself to concise synopsis. But if there is one red thread throughout, it is the view of Muller, as a man of his times, extraordinary neither in his motivations nor in his values. Ludwig Muller was shaped throughout his life, Schneider tells us, by the piety of the Erweckungsbewegung of his native Minden- Ravensberg, and his mother remained for him the model of Christian devotion. World War I was a crucial moment in his development, and in this regard, as in his fervent nationalism and ardent anti-Communism, he paralleled his subsequent antagonist, Martin Niemoller. Significantly but not surprisingly, Muller’s antisemitism also emerges as a constant factor, from his schooldays to his viciously anti-Jewish speeches in the Weimar years and his chauvinistic publications during World War II. In 1934, he coldly refused his own niece’s plea for help when her “non-aryan” husband lost his job. (p.304)
Schneider’s picture does not shock or astound, but it does offer details that show a more human side of the “Reibi”. Even as a child, Muller displayed some musical talent and distinguished himself as both a flautist and a pianist. His ambition was to be a marine officer, but in deference to the wishes of his family, he entered the ministry. Service as a naval chaplain during World War I in Turkey and subsequently as a military pastor in Konigsberg, allowed him to keep alive his fantasy of being a :fighting man:. One of the nicknames he acquired early in his career as Reich Bishop – Lugenmuller – appears to have been well deserved. Although Schneider’s tone remains scholarly throughout, he cannot refrain from showing many occasions on which Muller lied, deceived, and connived. Indeed the Reich Bishop emerges as even weaker, less principled, and more opportunistic than one might have suspected. In 1920, during the Kapp putsch, Muller tried to collaborate with left-oriented sailors who seized control of the Wilhelmshaven base (p.56). After World War II, in another volte- face, he claimed to Soviet occupation troops that he had broken with Hitler over the Fuhrer’s policy towards the Jews (p.312).
Muller’s intellectual reputation gets no boost from this biography either. Another of his nicknames – Bettknuller – suggests that his “reign” as Reich bishop included little productive activity, theological or administrative. Schneider does credit Muller with considerable strategising, much of it successful, and all of it intended to improve his own professional and personal standing. From dumping one fiancee for a wealthier woman to scheming with Goering against Niemoller, Muller never stopped wheeling and dealing. Even his death has the making of a con job. Schneider provides a careful discussion of the evidence of what killed Muller in July 1945: heart attack or suicide. His findings are inconclusive, but he seems to lean towards a s sort of combined explanation which echoes Hossenfelder’s 1956 claim: “perhaps his (Muller’s) heart was quicker than his hand” (p.314).
Schneider’s overall assessment of German Christian thought and the church struggle adds little to the accounts of Klaus Scholder, Hans- Joachim Sonne and others. The German Christian movement as a whole appears just as anti-intellectual, banal, and internally contradictory as Muller himself. Rather than analysing that banality or seeking an explanation in it for the “Reibi’s” appeal, Schneider is content to describe it, often in list-like detail, and leaves his readers to draw their own conclusions. To the extent that Schneider accounts for Muller’s successes, he attributes them to Hitler’s backing. That assumption is problematic on its own account. Many of the claims that Hitler supported Muller originated with the Reich bishop himself, a notorious liar. Moreover, even if Hitler were willing at times to intervene on Muller’s behalf, we would still need to know something about what motivated the Fuhrer, himself capable both of immense opportunism and extreme disloyalty, to take such steps. Perhaps a better key to understanding the relationship between the two “leaders” is Schneider’s own comparison of Muller to Diederich Hessling, Heinrich Mann’s Untertan (p 9). Hessling’s power did not require the direct support of his patron, the Kaiser. He needed only the blessing of a society that rewarded bullies, applauded attacks on those deemed outsiders, and surrounded its own brutality with sentimentality and cheap piety.
Doris L. Bergen, University of Notre Dame
Klaus Erich Pollmann ed., Der schwierige Weg in die Nachkriegszeit. Die evangelisch-lutherische Landeskirche in Braunschweig 1945-1950. Studien zur Kirchengeschichte Niedersachsens: 34. Gottingen; Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1995, 335 pp.
This collection of essays about the denazification process in the small church of Brunswick tells much the same story as already described by Gerhard Besier for the neighbouring church in Hannover, but with a sharper, more critical tone. The same sad tale emerges of evasion, denial, prevarications and protection of establishment figures. It was difficult enough to get rid of the Nazi Landesbischof, incarcerated for two years by the Yugoslavs as a prisoner-of-war. Even more notable was the survival in office of several prominent German Christians, while the only three pastors dismissed by order of the British military government were all reinstated in their parishes shortly afterwards. The pastors’ widespread reaction to the denazification fiasco was one of outrage that they should have been so (mis)treated at all. No one expressed regret over his past support for the Nazi regime, let alone any sympathy for the Nazis’ victims. The most scandalous case involved the presiding judge of one of the Nazi special courts, responsible for at least fifty death sentences for mainly trivial crimes. This man was subsequently rehabilitated, elected to the diocesan synod in 1946, appointed by the church authorities to the Church Executive Council, and even became a member of the national General Synod in 1949. Only in the 1970s did questions begin to be asked about such compromising cases, to which the excellently researched accounts by Dr Pollmann and his associates provide dispiriting answers.
Joan Marshall, A Solitary Pillar. Montreal’s Anglican Church and the Quebec Revolution. Montreal-Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press 1995. 220 pp
Local histories of parishes or dioceses, especially in the Anglican church, tend to become antiquarian in focus. So Joan Marshall’s insightful analysis of the contemporary Anglican diocese of Montreal, especially of five cross-section parishes, is much to be welcomed. Over the past thirty years, Montreal’s Anglicanism has suffered a drastic decline of approximately 70% of its membership, due to the general trend away from regular attendance, but also because of heavy out-migration of Anglophones from Quebec. Marshall’s study of the Anglicans’ reaction to the determined attempts by the Parti Quebecois to become “maitre chez nous” concentrates on the strategies adopted by the survivors. She examines how Anglicans have responded to the challenge to their previously dominant identity, personal and collective, and how they have sought to preserve their sense of history and shared memories, while maintaining their community structures in an increasingly minority situation. She also discusses the impact of liturgical changes on parish life, the role of women in leadership, and the character of their socio-political engagements. These congregations have made major financial sacrifices in order to maintain their churches as places of communal identity and tradition. Yet it is also notable that these predominantly English- speaking Anglicans have shown little willingness to engage in significant encounters with French-speaking or French Catholic fellow Christians. As a study of the religion-society relationship at a time of high political drama, this account has much to tell us all.
G.Passelecq and B.Suchecky, L’encyclique cachee de Pie XI. Une occasion manquee de l’eglise face a l’antisemitism, Paris: Editions La Decouverte 1995, 321 pp.
The authors, an American Jew and a Belgian Benedictine, have done a great piece of historical sleuthing to put this book together. It shows that Pius XI (1921-1939) was extremely concerned about racism and, among other things, commissioned three Jesuits – an American, a German and a Frenchman – at the end of 1938 to write an encyclical for him that would condemn racism and antisemitism. After the manuscript was finished – humani generis – intrigue set in. For some months it was “lost” in the Vatican, probably through the machinations of a Polish and a Spanish Jesuit. By the time it arrived on the Pope’s desk, he had only a few days to live, and died at the end of February 1939. The book shows that had he lived longer, sparks would have been flying between the church and the Nazis over racism. But at the same time the authors are balanced in their judgement: the encyclical would have broken no new ground theologically concerning Jews and Christians. The new Pope, Pius XII, used part of the manuscript in his first encyclical, but left out the condemnation of racism and antisemitism. Michael Phayer, Marquette University.
With best wishes