February 1997 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

Newsletter (Vol III, no 2) – February 1997.


1) New Web-site

2) Conference announcement

3) Gordon Mork, “Situation update – Oberammergau Today”

4) Book Reviews:

a) Peter Hoffmann, Stauffenberg reviewed by John S. Conway

b) Theodor Thomas, Women against Hitler reviewed by Doris Bergen

Dear Friends,



1) New Web-site: Thanks to the kind efforts of Gordon Mork, Purdue, our Association’s Newsletters are being “archived” on the following web-site, and can be retrieved from





2) The 27th Annual Scholars’ Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches: “Hearing the Voices: Teaching the Holocaust to Future Generations”, will take place at the Tampa Airport Marriott Hotel, Tampa, Florida from March 2nd-4th. Not many sessions are devoted to our theme, but our members Mark Lindsay, Perth, Australia and Robert Levy, Eastern Washington are due to give papers. We shall look forward to their report on the proceedings.



3) Situation Update:

Oberammergau Revisited

by Gordon Mork

Throughout 1996 controversy continued in the village of Oberammergau over the Passion Play. In March the town council was elected, and the future of the Passion Play was the major local issue; the council will have a major role in preparing and presenting the play in the year 2000. Local elections in Oberammergau are complex because, in addition to the well-known Christian Social Union and Social Democratic Parties, there is a proliferation of local parties with names like “Dorfpolitik neu ueberdacht”, “Fuer unser Dorf” and “Freie Waehlergemeinschaft”. The March election created a divided council, with some members whom we might call “traditionalists”, some “reformers” and a shifting “moderate” group which holds the balance of power. In key test votes for leadership positions in the new council, the traditionalists won, 14 votes to 7.

Among the town councillors elected were Dr Rudi Zwink and Christian Stueckl, each of whom had ambitions to be the play director for 2000. Zwink, a practising dentist, had portrayed Chrust in 1980 and 1984. He led the list “Fuer unser Dorf”, which ran under the banner “auf den Wurzeln bewaehrter Traditionen”. Stueckl, employed as a theatre professional in Munich, was on the list “Dorfpolitik neu ueberdacht”. His position was “auf dem Vergangenen aufbauend neue Wege suchen, die den Menschen von heute gerecht werden”. As a long-haired young man in his 20s, Stueckl had been elected play director for 1990 by a council vote of only 9 to 8. Over substantial local objections he had introduced several significant reforms, seeking to purge the play of antisemitism and allow women a wider role, while retaining the basic framework of the play.

In the council election Zwink appeared to be the most popular man in town, winning his seat with the largest popular vote of any candidate.

In an attempt to settle the situation once and for all, a group of citizens used the new Bavarian initiative and referendum procedure to force a decision on whether or not the traditional 19th century text and music by Othmar Weis, Joseph Daisenberger and Rochus Dedler would be used again in 2000. The referendum took place on April 1996, when an overwhelming majority, 74%, supported the traditional form.

Traditionalists and reformers each then began competing initiative petitions for another referendum to name either Zwink or Stueckl as the new play director, which proved to be hotly contested, both men making public presentations. Each mounted their own exhibition in the community centre, showing their theatrical experience. Numerous handbills were mailed to all households.

Zwink wrote: “Als einer der Christusdarsteller von 1980 und 1984 ist mir das Daisenberger-Dedler Passionspiel so sehr ans Herz gewachsen, dass es mein grosstes Anligen ist, dass unser Passionspiel in der Form erhalten bleibt, wie wir es kennen und lieben gelernt haben. . . ”

Stueckl responded: “Sollten sich die Oberammergauer mehrheitlich fuer mich entscheiden, werde ich meine berufliche Erfahrung und meine ganze Kraft dafur verwenden, dass die Passionspiele im Jahre 2000, auf den Erfolg von 1990 aufbauend, noch aussagekraftiger, ueberzeugender und erfolgreicher werden”. Stueckl’s new photo showed a shorter haircut, and he announced that he would appoint experienced men from prominent local families as his co-workers.

The campaign was vigorous, but not as bitterly divisive as some of the controversies of previous years. Neither side claimed that “outsiders” were trying to manipulate “their” play. Both contenders agreed to observe the guidelines set forth by the town council, and both pledged they would turn over all intellectual property rights to the town.

On Sept. 29th the election took place, all votes being cast at the local schoolhouse. Christian Stueckl won with 1449 votes against Rudi Zwink’s 1150. In the local paper, Stueckl was quoted as saying “ich freue mich, dass es mit der Passion weitergeht und nicht still steht. Dieses Ergebnis ist auch ein Votum dafur, dass sich das Spiel weiter entwickeln soll.” On both sides individuals called for “reconciliation”.

The result is therefore something of a surprise. Apparently the majority of Oberammergauers favour moderate reforms, as long as the framework and the musical score handed down from the 19th century remain the basis of the play.



4) Book reviews:

a) Peter Hoffmann, Stauffenberg. A Family History, 1905-1944, Cambridge University Press 1995, 424 pp.

Peter Hoffmann is without doubt the leading English-speaking authority on the German Resistance movement against Hitler. He now adds to his numerous publications on this topic with this revised and translated edition of his biography of the Stauffenberg brothers, which first appeared in Germany in 1992. Claus, Count von Stauffenberg’s crucial role in the unsuccessful plot to murder Hitler on July 20, 1944 has, of course, been exhaustively researched and argued about. Hoffmann’s present objective is to put him into his family setting and background, and to give as true a picture as possible of the Stauffenberg brothers without distorting the evidence.

Readers of this Newsletter will be looking for the moral or spiritual roots of the anti-Nazi conspirators. To what extent were they religiously motivated? Hoffmann states that Stauffenberg, as a good Catholic, was led to his decision to undertake the plot, not by the prospect that Germany would lose the war, as some critics have mistakenly claimed, but by his revulsion against the Nazi atrocities, especially the mass murders of Jews and Poles on the eastern front. The proclamation he helped to prepare for the day after Hitler’s overthrow emphasised the persecution of the Jews as a major reason for the insurrection by including it in a general condemnation of the Nazi crimes.

Stauffenberg and his two brothers, Berthold and Alexander, were born as aristocrats and educated as elitists. When in 1918 the institutional support for such values was overthrown, these young men turned instead to the kind of elitist and esoteric nationalism espoused by the elderly poet Stefan Georg, whose mystical dreams about national and philosophical rebirth were sufficiently vague and romantic to attract an idealistic following. Under his auspices these brothers saw themselves as modern knights in armour, ready to defend their country against all its foes. Hoffmann’s account of Stauffenberg’s involvment in this circle, which has never before been described in depth, is very welcome Undoubtedly this was a powerful and lasting bond, but Hoffmann does not suggest that Stefan Georg’s ideas, more than other factors, led to the July plot. Nor does he enter at all into the delicate debates about the homosexuality or at least homo-eroticism of the Georg circle.

From the absence of any sustained reference to the Stauffenberg wives, one can only assume these relationships were not too significant.

Inevitably the central chapters, covering the preparations for and the execution of the July plot, re-tell this sad story, as revealed often before. But Hoffmann adds significant new details, culled from his latest researches. These in fact only show more explicitly the dilemmas and problems such an insurrection faced For example, it is clear that, in the midst of war, the idea of radically altering the nation’s leadership by violence must be both personally and politically risky. To obtain the support of the army’s generals, the conspirators had to show that Hitler was a dangerous criminal. But any challenge to Hitler’s authority could be accused of stabbing the nation in the back in its hour of danger. At the same time, to obtain a hearing abroad, these men had to declare themselves opposed to all Nazi gains, but to gain support at home, they could not offer less than the Nazis. So too, the only opportune time would come when the populace, as well as the generals, were sufficiently disillusioned by the war, but before the enemy armies enforced capitulation. In the eyes of several commentators, such as Patricia Meehan in her book “The Unnecessary War: Whitehall and the German Resistance to Hitler”, the British and Allied Governments were greatly to blame for their failure to support the resisters, as equally they had been culpable in not calling Hitler’s bluff in 1938. This debate is, in my view, wrong-headed in its over-estimation of British capabilities, and Hoffmann is surely right to show, on the basis of his most careful assessment of all the evidence, that the conspirators were aware that there was no chance of getting such support from abroad. But they nevertheless felt compelled to carry out their plot even without any realistic prospect of success, as the only way of showing to the world that there were men in Germany who opposed the Nazi evil and staked their lives upon their opposition. As Berthold Stauffenberg said: “the most terrible thing is knowing that we cannot succeed and yet that we have to do it, for our country and our children”.

The strength of this book is the meticulous detail, especially about Claus Stauffenberg’s military career. His brother Berthold is a more shadowy figure, while Alexander played almost no role. Claus was attracted to the professional army for the noblest of reasons His upbringing naturally taught him that service to the state was the aristocrat’s true and highest destiny. Of course, it helped to have connections in the establishment. Hoffmann rightly points out the extent to which antagonism to the Nazis was caused by their anti-aristocratic radicalism. But Stauffenberg belonged to the younger set of the conspirators, disappointed by the caution of the old guard, and looking for more than a return to the good old days of Weimar or even of the Empire. Hoffmann is unrelenting in giving an unexpurgated account of Stauffenberg’s betrayal by some of his fellow-conspirators. But the question still remains as to why, even given his undoubtedly courageous resolve, was he, as a heavily-injured man, the only one offering to carry out the assassination attempt?

Hoffmann’s excellent re-telling of the fateful developments on July 20 is as gripping as before. The technical difficulties of the plot were enormous, the political difficulties even more so. He guides us through these events, making clear his admiration for the plotters’ heroism even in failure. He is surely correct that Stauffenberg had little hope of success or survival, but believed it imperative that Germany should attempt to liberate herself from the criminals who governed her. This account will undoubtedly help to clarify some of the fifty-year old debates about the political realism of the plot, though there will still be those who wonder whether, given the probability of failure, and the subsequent execution of at least two hundred leading individuals who would undoubtedly have played a prominent part in rebuilding Germany after the war, the conspirators would not have been more prudent to wait until the Nazis were defeated anyway. Hoffmann is however critical of those who have cast doubts on Stauffenberg’s integrity, and of those plotters who so hastily tried to dissociate themselves. In his view, “the impulses which made the Stauffenberg brothers mortal enemies of the National Socialists arose from their views on service and justice.” Their hopes for national regeneration and a renewal of Germany’s honour was to be cruelly thwarted; yet “their deliberate self-sacrifice presents a continuing challenge to contemporaries and successors alike”. This well-crafted tribute to their memory will undoubtedly help to keep alive this aim.

John S.Conway

John Conway



b) Theodore N.Thomas, Women against Hitler: Christian Resistance in the Third Reich, Westport CT; Praeger/Greenwood 1995 261pp, $US 49.95

(This review appeared earlier on H-German)

Theodore Thomas’ book pays tribute to the women of the Confessing Church. Through his attention to these women and their roles, he puts a human face of the Church Struggle – the much documented contest for control of institutionalized Protestantism in Nazi Germany. Thomas’ argument has two main parts. On one level, he seeks to recover the presence of women for the record of the Protestant church under Nazism. To that end, he demonstrates the ways in which women played active and indeed “crucial roles in the Confessing Church, although historians have ignored them” (p.23). The second component of his argument is more speculative. He suggests that the post-war “emergence of women as recognized, official leaders within the Protestant Church” in Germany was a direct result of women’s engagement in the cause of the Confessing Church (p.xxiii) Unlike their predecessors in the Reformation, Thomas maintains “the Confessing women succeeded in establishing the social and ideological gains they won during the Church Struggle” (p.115). He summarizes his findings and his focus in three words: resistance, persecution, and emergence.

The first chapter, giving an overview of the Church Struggle, draws on standard accounts by John Conway and Klaus Scholder. The rest of the book relies heavily on information gathered through “eyewitness interviews” with 28 participants in the Confessing Church. The result is both intimate and very readable. His “narrative introduction”, for example, sets a poignant tone by telling stories of three Confessing Church women – Felicitas Veder, Tabea Immer, and Emmi Hof. Use of oral testimony and personal correspondence enables Thomas to examine aspects of German church life in the 1930s and 1940s that are invisible in the written records. Chapter Two on “Confessing laywomen in the church struggle” identifies some of the church secretaries, patronesses, and teachers who made the Confessing Church function at the local level. The third and most personal chapter deals with pastors’ wives. Here his efforts generated numerous and detailed accounts. Chapter Four, on “Theologinnen” in the Confessing Church, necessarily involves a much smaller group of women and hence a narrower source base. In this case too oral sources are imperative.

Thomas’ energy in identifying these women and in conducting interviews with them is commendable. But his use of these findings is somewhat problematic and even misleading in places. There appears little effort made to verify the information received. Studies of human memory reveal its malleability and mutability. The best historical studies using interviews as sources test them against other voices or address issues of believability up front. Thomas does neither. As a result, some of the intriguing information he provides loses credibility. For example, he repeats the claim by Irmgard Vogel’s children that their mother, a pastor’s wife, regularly altered church records to conceal Jewish grandparents in people’s family trees (p.62). If this is true, it is a stunning example of a kind of resistance to the Nazi regime that is conspicuously absent from existing accounts of the German churches. But Thomas’ single sentence on this matter gives readers no way to assess the validity of this claim. How old were Vogel’s children at the time? How often did she commit such acts? Given the many reasons that either Vogel or her children might fabricate or embellish such a story, it is difficult to accept Thomas’ acceptance of their version of events at face value.

Throughout his study, Thomas emphasizes resistance. The title makes the point twice. But do these phrases accurately describe the situation he depicts? He shows how women furthered the cause of the Confessing Church, but is such activity tantamount to opposing Hitler? Loyal German nationalists and even committed Nazis were numbered among the Confessing ranks. The scholarly works by Uriel Tal and Wolfgang Gerlach have demonstrated that members of the Confessing Church were by no means immune to the antisemitism typical of many circles in German society. Although Gerlach’s book appears in the bibliography, Thomas nowhere acknowledges these findings. Instead, through his silence on the subject of complicity, he implies that the Confessing Church and its adherents, male and female, were resisters pure and clear. Sadly, that claim does not hold. Thomas scoured the cities and towns of Germany for the moving accounts of heroism that he presents. These stories are crucial, but in order not to mislead readers, they must be presented in the context of the indifference, passivity, and even active co-operation of the majority of Germans in the Third Reich. Thomas would have done well to heed John Conway’s warning against “hagiographical” accounts of the church struggle which try to demonstrate Protestant resistance, even if it means “suppressing certain facts”.

Thomas’ empathetic discussion of women’s struggle for official standing within the church is admirable, and his contention that advances made during World War II furthered the cause of women’s ordination is convincing. But he suggests that this progress towards equality occurred only within Confessing circles. In fact, women played very similar roles within the so-called German Christian movement, the pro-Nazi antagonist of the Confessing Church. Women served a German Christian vicars too, and wives of pastors in the movement also filled in for their husbands during wartime. Lay women were secretaries, publicists, organizers and patronesses of the German Christian cause. It may be tempting to assume that commitment to women’s rights went hand in hand with opposition to pro-Nazi variants of Christianity. But the facts do not bear out that assumption. As Claudia Koonz has shown, women, their traditional roles, and even their efforts to circumvent or expand these roles, could all be enlisted in the Nazi cause. Thomas knows Koonz but does not test his hypothesis against her conclusions.

An intriguing aspect of Thomas’ book is the attention he pays to so-called non-Aryans in the Confessing Church. Certain Confessing women, he observes, were defined as “non-Aryans” under Nazi law or took action on behalf of Jews and “non-Aryan Christians”. He attributes state and police measures against these women to the fact that they were Christians. But is this claim justified? His own evidence suggests probably not. For example, he claims (p.41) that “women as well as men sat in German prisons for their faith during the Church Struggle”. However, the people he goes on to discuss were not arrested for activities connected to the Confessing Church. Instead, they were charged with “conspiring to falsify documents, deal in grocery coupons on the black market, and transfer identification papers to Jews in hiding”. The director of the operation died for his activities. He was a “Jewish-Christian Physician”, Thomas tells us. In general the “martyrs” he describes are overwhelmingly people defined by the Nazis as “non-Aryans” – whom Thomas calls “Jewish-Christians”. Friedrich Weissler, Anneliese and Hans Kauffmann, Inge Jacobsen and Hildegard Jacoby, five of the six martyrs of the Confessing Church named (p.43-5), were all officially ‘non-Aryan”. Can they simply be counted among those who gave their lives for the Confessing Church? Without evidence to the contrary, it seems more accurate to describe them as victims of the Nazi assaults on Jews, Judaism and so-called Jewish blood.

Thomas has performed a valuable service with this book. The photographic essay alone provides a moving testimony to the women who gave so much to the Confessing Church. But readers who approach this book in isolation may come away with a somewhat skewed perception of the role of the Protestant churches in the Third Reich. “Resistance, persecution and emergence” are catchy and appealing. But they fail to capture the complex and often painful reality of Christian responses to National Socialism.

Doris Bergen,

University of Notre Dame



With best wishes

John S.Conway