January 1997 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

Newsletter – January 1997 Vol. III, no.1


Doris Bergen, “The Goldhagen Debate”

Ranier Laechele, “Anselm Doering-Manteuffel and Kurt Nowak, eds, Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte. Urteilsbildung und Methoden. (Konfession und Gesellschaft, Beitraege zur Zeitgeschichte), Vol 8, Stuttgart: Kohlhammer 1996”

Kurt-Victor Selge, “Theological Studies in Berlin”

Dear Friends,

A very joyous and successful New Year to you all! I am most grateful for all the contributions which have reached me, as you will see by the attributions enclosed. Please keep them coming.




The Goldhagen Debate:

We are much obliged to Doris Bergen for sending us the text of an address she gave on the recent book by Daniel Goldhagen, which I thought would be interesting for church historians to share.

Daniel Goldhagen, Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, Knopf, New York 1996, 619pp

Goldhagen’s new book focuses on the perpetrators of the Holocaust. His questions are simple. Who were the killers? What motivated them? How did they perform their murderous deeds? The answers he offers are just as straightforward. The killers were first and foremost Germans, motivated by a uniquely German variety of “eliminationist antisemitism”. Far from reluctant or indifferent, he argues, they were “willing executioners”, enthusiastic and even eager to perform their grisly tasks.

Goldhagen describes his book as a “radical revision of what has until now been written” about “why the Holocaust occurred” Probably no single work could live up to such a claim, and Goldhagen too falls short of his ambitions. Nevertheless he has done more than stir up another round of debate in the often fractious field of Holocaust studies. His insistence on the centrality of antisemitism is an important corrective to some recent trends. However, a propensity to overstate and oversimplify his case and to dismiss the work of others makes him vulnerable to criticism.

In the first and least compelling part, Goldhagen argues that antisemitism was both the necessary and sufficient condition for the Holocaust. He dates what he considers the uniquely German variety of eliminationist antisemitism back to the 19th century, and contends that, as soon as conditions became propitious, what had been a latent murderous urge burst forth into genocidal reality. He is right to point out that some studies of the perpetrators have played down or ignored antisemitism altogether. But the sweeping overview of German history that he offers is not likely to convince sceptics. Other scholars – people like Uriel Tal, Robert Wistrich, James Harris and Donald Niewyk – have written more carefully and subtly about German and European antisemitism. Readers interested in the role of Christianity and the churches are likely to be particularly frustrated by Goldhagen’s sweeping generalizations and failure to make crucial distinctions, between confessions, regions, eras and individuals. In general, his tendency to repeat himself, lapse into social science jargon and make inaccurate, sometimes unsubstantiated claims can turn reading these early chapters into a chore.

In Part II, Goldhagen establishes himself as a member of the “intentionalist” historiographical camp. In this section, he opts for finer distinctions, and refers repeatedly to the specific Nazi leaders who devised an ideology of death and developed the agenda for its implementation, even if the specific means toward that destructive end evolved in response to changing conditions. Readers in the field will find little new here.

Parts III, IV and V present the core of Goldhagen’s original research. These sections examine three “case studies”: the police battalions, Jewish “work”, and the death marches. His detailed look at the police battalions posted in eastern Europe is powerful and brutally graphic, but much of the material is familiar since the 1992 publication of Christopher Browning’s acclaimed “Ordinary Men”. Goldhagen does make two important correctives: unlike Browning he does take seriously the antisemitism of the killers, and he tries to give a clearer picture of what these men did when they were not slaughtering Jews. His reconstruction of the off-duty life of the killers makes for chilling reading. He juxtaposes their bowling matches, theatre events, and spousal visits with their sadistic, vicious killing of Jewish children, women, and old people. The result is a view of the members of the police battalions as perpetrators of a genocide embedded in specific social and cultural contexts.

His discussion of the brutal, murderous “work” used to kill Jews is passionate and draws our attention to conditions in some lesser- known camps. Work was not a productive relationship but a means of torture, humiliation and death. Nevertheless this depressingly familiar view brings little new to anyone who has read even a small part of vast memoir literature written by survivors.

Goldhagen’s most significant contribution may be his description and analysis of the forced death marches. Survivor testimony and memoirs, such as those of Elie Wiesel and Gerda Weissman Klein have given us many powerful accounts of these atrocities. But Holocaust scholarship has been largely silent on this aspect of the Shoah, perhaps because of the lack of documentation. Goldhagen brings this part of the story to the centre and raises important questions about how we explain the tenacity of the killers, even in the face of certain defeat. His answer, not surprisingly, is to point to the eliminationist antisemitism identified in the opening pages of his book. It was the Germans’ “lust” for “Jewish blood”, Goldhagen would have us believe, that drove them to continue hounding, torturing and killing their victims even when that carnage meant violating orders rather than obeying them.

His evidence is compelling, and his use of photographs deepens the emotional impact of his discussion. His focus on the forced marches of women is especially valuable in a field sometimes characterized by a restrictive gender-blindness. But does the moving story he tells us in this section really substantiate his claim of a uniquely German eliminationist antisemitism? A more nuanced reading of the evidence might find additional – and perhaps complementary – explanations for the Germans’ persistence: a desire to destroy the evidence of their criminality, rage at the Jews for refusing to die and let Nazi war aims be realized, a desperate need to retain control of some part of the once massive Nazi “empire”, a pathetic attempt to prove their own usefulness in the safety of the home front rather than risk despatch to zones of combat either on the eastern or western front. After these vivid case studies, the last section seems rather anticlimatic and even redundant. His tone becomes more tempered and cautious, and he softens some of his introductory claims. In fact, these final chapters suggest that some additional editing of the earlier material might have reduced the amount of controversy and misunderstanding he aroused. Still, he ends on a confident note which conceals the many questions left unanswered and even unaddressed. How did German antisemitism fit into the network of interlocking prejudices – against people deemed handicapped, Gypsies, homosexuals, Slavs and so many others – that constituted Nazi ideology? Was “eliminationist antisemitism” really uniquely German, or commonly found elsewhere also? Or did the specific German contribution lie rather in the success in mobilizing the entire society in pursuit of this genocidal goal? Did the “excess” brutality and sadism of the killers reflect nothing but an unflinching hatred of Jews, or might it also have stemmed from a wider perverse attempt to purge the remnants of more universal moral instincts?

The book leaves us with much to ponder. It is all the more regrettable that there is no bibliography, which could guide readers to those questions here left open or outside the scope of his inquiry.

Doris Bergen, University of Notre Dame




Methodology in Contemporary Church History – the German view

Anselm Doering-Manteuffel and Kurt Nowak, eds, Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte. Urteilsbildung und Methoden. (Konfession und Gesellschaft, Beitraege zur Zeitgeschichte, Vol 8, Stuttgart: Kohlhammer 1996 288pp DM 79.-

Die mittlerweile zehn Baende der Reihe “Konfession und Gesellschaft” lassen klar erkenned, dass die Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte eine eigene, ernstzunehmende Disziplin innerhalb der Kirchengeschichte ist. Herausgegeben von A.Doering- Manteuffel, M Greschat, J-C Kaiser,W Loth und K.Nowak stehen diese Baende fuer eine ueberkonfessionelles Forschungskonzept, das die fortdauernde Durchdringung von Konfession und Gesellschaft, Kirche und Gemeinwesen, Theologie und allgemeiner Wissenschaftsentwicklung in den Blick nimmt.

Die dreizehn Aufsaetze dieses Bandes erfuellen in ihrem Bereich das Ziel der Herausgeber, naemlich eine Zustandsbeschreibung der Kirchlichen Zeitgeschichte im internationalen Zusammenhang zu liefern. Acht Beitraege widmen sich dabei zunaechst den Theorien in der deutschen kirchlichen Zeitgeschichtsschreibung. Wie ein roter Faden ziehen sich durch diese Texte die Fragen nach dem Verhaeltnis zwischen kirchlicher Zeitgeschichte und allgemeiner Geschichtswissenschaft sowie nach der Rolle der Kirchengeschichte im Zusammenhang der Universitaetstheologie.

Ueberaus lesenswert und abgewogen beschreibt der Erlanger Historiker Werner K.Blessing in seinem einleitenden Aufsatz, ‘Kirchengeschichte in historische Sicht’ den Erkenntniswert derselben fuer die ‘saekularisierte’ Welt des 19 und 20 Jahrhunderts. Auf dieser Spur kann dann der Leipziger Kirchenhistoriker Nowak am Phaenomen der ‘Zivilreligion’ klassische Themen zeigen, die der interdisziplinaeren Forschung noch harren. Thematisiert wird in diesem Band auch eine seit Jahren schwelende Auseinandersetzung in der deutschen Kirchlichen Zeitgeschichte zur ‘klerikalisierung’ der zeitgeschichtlichen Forschung im Umfeld der Zeitschrift “Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte”.

Doering-Manteuffel nimmt in seinem Beitrag ‘Griff nach der Deutung’ eine sozialgeschichtlich orientierte Kirchengeschichte in Schutz und wirft dem Heidelberger Kirchenhistoriker Gerhard Besier vor, in seinen Publikationen zu den Kirchen in der DDR moralischen Verurteilungen vor wissenschaftlichen Befunden der Vorzug zu geben. Besier wiederum weist in seinem stellenweise polemischen Text mit dem Titel ‘Methodological Correctness’ dies zurueck und belegt Doering-Manteuffel mit dem Vorwurf der ‘Etikettierung’.

Jenseits dieser Auseinandersetzung belaesst es der Giessener Kirchenhistoriker Greschat nicht bei der theoretischen Eroerterung von Kirchengeschichte und Sozialgeschichte. Vielmehr loest er das Postulat der Interdisziplinaritaet am Beispiel der Barmer Synode der Bekennenden Kirche von 1934 ein. Dabei kann er konkret die Gefahr einer Theologisierung von Themen der Kirchengeschichte beschreiben. Dass sich Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte auch erfolgreich mit der Geschichte des eigenen Fach beschaeftigen kann, zeigt der spannende Beitrag von J-C Kaiser, der schildert die Entstehung der Kirchenkampfkommission der EKiD wie auch deren Verwicklung in personal- und kirchenpolitische Querelen.

Eine ‘Diskussionsbeitrag’ will Ute Gause mit ihrem Beitrag ‘Geschlecht als historische Kategorie’, leisten. Auf dem Hintergrund der wichtigen Positionen der Geschlechtergeschichte fordert sie eine feministische Kirchengeschichtsschreibung, die die Frauen als ‘Subjekt der Geschichte’ ernst nimmt. Dass die katholische Seite nicht zu kurz kommt, zeigen die drei Beitraege von A.Holzem, K.Gabriel und W.Schroeder. Holzem stellt gaengige Theorien im Umfeld der Katholizismusforschung vor, wobei dem Rezensenten der Abschnitt zur Froemmigkeitsgeschichte besonders anregend erschien. Gabriel und Schroeder wiederum wenden sich konkreten Forschungsvorhaben in Gestalt des deutschen Katholizismus der fuenfziger Jahre zu. ‘Katholische Milieu’ und ‘katholische Gewerkschaftsbewegung’ lauten hier die Stichworte.

Die ‘Perspektiven des Auslands’ schliesslich nehmen J.M.Mayeur, Hugh McLeod und D.Diephouse wahr. Der tour d’horizon des Pariser Historikers zur histoire religieuse folgt die ausserordentlich anregende Studie McLeods, der seinen Blick auf die kirchlich- religioesen Verhaeltnisse in London, New York und Berlin richtet. Differenziert und selbstkritisch praesentiert der Verfasser ein Stueck urban history, dass so manche liebgewordenes Klischee zerbrechen laesst. Zum Schluss, prasentiert Diephouse, ungeruehrt von den hiesigen Auseinandersetzungen, ein gelungenes Beispiel dafuer, dass in der Vielfalt der Ansaetze eine ‘creative combination of ideas’ liegt. Anhand der Biographie des wuerttembergischen Landesbischofs Wurm benutzt er Ergebnisse der modernen Sozialgeschichte, um den Kirchenfuehrer in seinen Widerspruechen zu verstehen.

Alles in allem liegt hier ein gelungenes Buch vor, das eine ausgezeichnete Basis fuer die weiteren Bemuehungen im Bereich der Kirchlichen Zeitgeschichte darstellt und zugleich zum Nachdenken ueber das Verhaeltnis von Theologie und Geschichte anregt.

Rainer Laechele, University of Giessen




Theological Studies in Berlin by Prof. Kurt-Victor Selge (translated by JSC)

1) When the Berlin Wall came down, there were four separate Protestant theological faculties or institutes in Berlin:

a) the “Theological Section” of the Humboldt University, heir to the great tradition of Schleiermacher and Harnack, with 70 students, but under state control

b) the “Sprachenkonvikt” in East Berlin, with about 120 students, a church-run facility, which after 1961 developed into a full Faculty, but did not have state accreditation for its degrees.

c) the Kirchliche Hochschule in West Berlin-Zehlendorf, founded first in 1935, and refounded in 1945, with around 700 students

d) the Protestant Theological Institute of the Free University, mainly for the training of teachers of religion.

2) With the reunification of the country, there was a clear desire to reunify theological studies in Berlin. In fact, the only feasible solution was to unite them all under the umbrella of the Humboldt University, which from 1812 to 1935 had been the only and widely- respected Faculty. This process took two stages: first, in October 1990, on the same day as political unification took place, the Sprachenkonvikt was united with the Theological Section; in July 1992, the Kirchliche Hochschule moved from Zehlendorf and was similarly incorporated in the Humboldt University, bringing with it its fine library, now housed at Waisenstrasse 28, 10179 Berlin. Several Professors and lecturers from the ‘Section’ were dismissed as former agents of the Stasi, while a larger number from all three institutions retired on age grounds. The new Faculty has 22 professors (reducing by 2002 to 18) and some lecturers. At the moment the Faculty has some 700 students. Lectures and seminars are held in the old university building on Unter den Linden, in the Theological Seminar rooms in the Burgstrasse, in a tower of the Berlin Cathedral, and in the Faculty Library, which is 15 minutes away. This is where the future development will take place when a new building is erected, and the Burgstrasse building, where the Dean now is, reverts to other purposes.

3) In the seven years since the reorganisation of the Faculty, it is still possible to notice the differences between the students coming from West or East. The Faculty is one or the four or five largest in Germany, but many students come there just because it is in Berlin. Financial pressures affect all of Berlin’s three universities: the chair of Ancient Church History is, for example, still not filled. Nevertheless the example set by this Faculty shows how unification can be achieved successfully, and a great deal of money saved thereby. Its academic strengths lie in the field of patristics and early Judaism, as well as in Protestant history from the Reformation to Schleiermacher. Prof-Dr.K-V. Selge



With every best wish for your endeavours in 1997

John Conway