March 1997 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

Newsletter – March 1997 – Vol III, no 3

Dear Friends,

This issue is coming to you a little late, since I have been away in Germany to attend a Colloquium in Bensheim on the Rhine, about which I hope to give you a short resume next month.


1) Web-site change


3) Obituaries: Heiner Grote, Jorgen Glenthoy

4) New issue of journal: Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte Vol 8, no 2, 1996

5) Video review: Hanged on a twisted cross.

6)Book reviews: Bishop Galen of Muenster




1) Gordon Mork, Purdue ( reports that our Web-site has been changed to:





2) Congratulations to our colleague Gerhard Besier, Professor for Church History in Heidelberg, on his being nominated for membership at the prestigious Historisches Kolleg in Munich for 1997-8. This distinguished appointment brings together two or three German historians, and one foreign scholar, for a year’s sabbatical in Munich, so that they can finish their on-going researches without any teaching burdens. Dr Nicholas Hope of the Dept. of History, Glasgow, another of our members and the author of an impressive study of German and Lutheran Protestantism in the 18th and 19th centuries, has been appointed to take over Besier’s responsibilities in Heidelberg for next year. I see this as an excellent example of international collaboration. Now, if only the Scots would select a Canadian! We are all delighted by this news, and wish them both a very successful tenure.




3) Obituaries:

Heiner Grote: 1934-1996

Those of us who were privileged to have known Heiner Grote will be greatly saddened to learn that he passed away on Oct 23rd 1996, after thirty years as a scholarly expert at the Konfessionskundliches Institut, Benheim, Germany.

As a result of a swimming accident, Heiner was paraplegic since his teens, but overcame the myriad difficulties beyond those dictated by his condition: leaving behind his beloved Leipzig for West Germany in the late 1950s to become an ordained pastor and social historian, and to devote his professional life to the questions tangential to German Protestantism in our times. Among essays on such subjects as Christian-Jewish relations or Luther, Heiner Grote wrote several volumes, making a valuable contributionto our understanding of the relationship between Socialism and Religion in the Bismarck era (Sozialdemokratie und Religion: eine Dokumentation fuer die Jahre 1863 bis 1875, Tuebingen 1968); to the history of the ‘Evangelischer Bund’ (Protestanten auf dem Wege. Geschichte des Evangelischen Bundes, Goettingen 1986 – co-authored with Walter Fleischmann-Bisten) and shortly before his early death, to an important interpretation of the pronouncement of the Roman Church from Pius IX to the present (Was verlautbart Rom? Eine Dokumentation fuer die Praxis, Goettingen 1995).

Firmly committed to, but just as often equally critical of the role of Protestantism in German history, Heiner, along with his wife Nora, was a most tolerant “Gespraechspartner” and gracious host to many of us over the years. My own dialogues with him go back to the 1970s, and I am sure a number of other scholars will also have lively recollections of some of the many discussions held in his Bensheim office, and equally of valuable correspondences over the years. It is moreover a measure of the man that, in the face of determined opposition of his church superiors, including their special dispensation to marry (Frau Grote is of Jewish origin), his ecumenical spirit, his pronounced sense of independence, his formidable intellectuality, all vanquished such impediments, making his ideally suited to participate in an open debate with men and women of many persuasions on both sides of the Atlantic. His friends and colleagues will miss him very much.

Ronald Webster, York University, Toronto, Canada




Jorgen Glenthoy: 29.11.1922 – 24.10.1996

Jorgen Glenthoy’s Interesse fuer das Zeitgeschichte wurde in seinen Studienjahre geweckt. Als Student der Theologie waehrend der deutschen Okkupation verfolgte er mit Befriedigung das Heranwachsen einer nationalen Gegenwehr gegen die Besatzungsmacht. Ein Schluesselereignis war dabei die Rettungsaktion fuer die daenischen Juden im Oktober 1943. Jorgen Glenthoy lebte in einem Wohnheim in unmittelbarer Naehe der Synagoge und wurde direkt an der Planung und Durchfuehrung der Flucht beteiligt. Mit gleicher Anteilnahme reagierte er empoert auf die Nachricht von der Ermordung des daenischen Dichterpfarrer Kaj Munk am 5 Januar 1944. Mit solchen Erfahrungen als Hintergrund nahm Jorgen Glenthoy wenige Jahre spaeter, als er inzwischen Pfarrer in Jutland geworden war, ein wissenschaftliches Studium der kirchlichen Zeitgeschichte auf, insbesondere Leben und Werk von Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In der fuenfziger Jahren fuehrte er mehrere laengere Archivreisen in Deutschland durch. Damit leitete er eine enge Freundschaft und Zusammenarbeit ein mit Pioniergestalten wie Wilhelm Niemoeller und Eberhard Bethge. Die ersten Ergebnisse seiner Forschung waren Aufsaetze wie “Bonhoeffer und die Oekumene” (Mundige Welt II) sowie Uebersetzungen ins Daenische von Bonhoeffer- Werken wie “Widerstand und Ergebung” u.a. Sein wissenschaftliches Hauptwerk was indes “Dokumente zur Bonhoeffer-Forschung 1928-1945” (mit auswertenden Kommentaren und Analysen), 1969 erschienen und als Lic. Abhandlung von der Theologischen Fakultaet der Universitaet Aarhus angenommen. Jorgen Glenthoy war an der Herausgabe von der neuen Ausgabe von Bonhoeffers Werken massgeblich beteiligt, insbesondere Bd 16: Konspiration und Haft 1939-45. Dieser Band ist kurz nach seinem Tod in Herbst 1996 erschienen. Aber ueber die Bonhoeffer-Forschung hinaus uebte Jorgen Glenthoy eine umfassende Taetigkeit als Schriftsteller aus. Nicht zuletzt widmete er sich Fragen der daenischen Kirchenpolitik wie Widerstand gegen die Ordination von Frauen, gegen Zuege einer staatskirchlichen Politik oder einer “Entsakralisierung” der gottesdienstlichen Liturgie. Seine erbitterte Oppositionshaltung gegen die mehrheitliche Tendenz in der Volkskirche brachte ihn zunehmend in die Rolle des Aussenseiters, wobei er eine leitende Verantwortung fuer eine hochkirchlich orientierte Minoritaet uebernahm und darin eine Paralellitaet zu dem deutschen Kirchenkampf in den Jahren der Hitler-Herrschaft erblicken wollte. Jens Holger Schjorring, Aarhus




4) The latest issue of KZG is devoted entirely to South Africa, with articles by A.Boyens, G.Besier, R.Mayer and Keith M. Zondi, along with a useful bibliography on this area, as well as the usual 100 page bibliography of recent books in our area of study.




5)Video review: Hanged on a twisted cross: The Life,Convictions and Martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, produced by Lathika International Film and Entertainment Inc, distributed by Vision Video, Box 540, Worcester, Pennsylvania 19490,USA 120 mins/color 1996 US $29.95 approx

This new American video, with a script loosely based on the book “Bonhoeffer: A life in Pictures” edited by Bonhoeffer’s biographer and closest friend Eberhard Bethge, has the merit of presenting Bonhoeffer’s life and death through a skilful collage of family photographs, interwoven with news-reel clips from the 1930s, mainly of Nazi rallies, and too frequently of Adolf Hitler at his bombastic worst. The tone throughout is one of the struggle between one individual’s Christian conviction and the intimidating power of a totalitarian dictator, determined to wipe out all opposition. So the emgmorksis is placed firmly on Bonhoeffer the political martyr with full illustrations of the prisons and concentration camps in which he was incarcerated and finally murdered. His early life and theological training is well depicted to show the importance of his family connections, and rightly suggests that it was these, and his international and ecumenical friendships, which led Bonhoeffer in 1933 to oppose the enthusiastic support given by the majority of the German Protestants for the new Nazi regime. His participation in the Confessing Church’s struggle to preserve the truth of the gospel against all nationalistic and racist perversions and propaganda is equally well stressed. On the other hand, despite extensive quotations from his writings – in voice-over translation – the significant influence of Bonhoeffer as a theologian is underplayed. Only limited excerpts from the later “Letters and Papers from Prison” are read, and none of his more challenging pronouncements on the future on the church are mentioned. As a result Bonhoeffer’s enormous and world-wide influence in the 1950s and 1960s is left unmentioned and unexplained. The film seems designed to honour a dead conspirator rather than a living theologian. One can only assume that this political, untheological bias arises out of the compilers’ aversion to Bonhoeffer’s challenges to their kind of theology. It is also not helped by an American commentator who glaringly and unnecessarily mispronounces names, which can only offend the purist.

Trying to cover all the political events in a short two hours also gives a rather rushed and breathless impression. The awful dilemmas and ambiguities of intelligent Germans are hinted at but not fully developed, even though the tragedy of the man Bonhoeffer is well portrayed.

I preferred the shorter but deeper compass of the earlier BBC film produced some years ago by Malcolm Muggeridge. Viewers of this video would do well to go on to tackle Bethge’s magnificent and more thoughtful biography, or turn to the latest editions of Bonhoeffer’s works, now being translated and published by the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. John Conway




6) Book review

A Catholic Bishop in Nazi Germany

(This review appeared earlier on H-German)

ed. P. Loeffler, _Bischof Clemens August Graf von Galen: Akten, Briefe und Predigten 1933-1946 _ , Vol I: _1933-1939_, Vol II: 1939-1946_, Second revised and enlarged edition (Veroeffentlichungen der Kommission fuer Zeitgeschichte, Reihe A: Quellen, Vol. 42) Paderborn: Schoeningh 1996 1476pp DM ISBN 3-7867-1394-4 (cloth), 3-506-79840-5 (paper)

These two volumes are a second, revised and enlarged edition of a work first published in 1988 (also in two volumes), and edited by the former archivist of the Muenster diocese, Freidrich Loeffler. The enlargement, in fact, consists only of 12 additional documents, amounting to forty-two pages in all, none of which substantially changes the picture we already have. Although admirably edited, as before, to the commendably high standards of the Catholic Commission for Contemporary History, the horrendous cost of this work, despite undoubted subsidies from the Catholic church in Germany, will make it unlikely to be a best-seller. But, presumably for the sake of completeness, this now appears a second time in order to include a few more items which have turned up since 1988, as well as adding an updated bibliography of the most recent publications relating to the career of the subject. Given the enormous initial task of reconstructing this material, much of which was lost when the diocesan archive was almost totally destroyed by British bombing during the war, the editor’s perseverance is to be commended.

Bishop Galen is now best remembered for his outspoken sermons of July and August 1941 denouncing the crimes of the Gestapo, especially the murder of thousands of German mentally- handicapped patients in specially controlled mental hospitals during the so-called “euthanasia” programme. These sermons were delivered at the very moment when the Nazi course of military aggression was at its peak, and, if Goebbels had had his way, would have led to the bishop’s being strung up on a lamp-post outside his own cathedral. He only survived because Hitler decided to delay vengeance until the war was won.

It was this act of defiance which presumably led Pope Pius XII to create Galen a Cardinal at his first Consistory after the war in late 1945 – the first time the diocese of Muenster had been so honoured. Unfortunately Galen died suddenly only a few weeks after returning from receiving his red hat in Rome.

Clemens August Graf von Galen came from a highly aristocratic Westgmorklian family, which had been accustomed to holding high office in both church and state. As such, Galen could not be described as having sympathies for the democratic Weimar Republic, and was even more staunchly opposed to the threat of communism. His disdain for Adolf Hitler and his mob of rowdy thugs was equally obvious, though in 1933, when the Nazis achieved power, Galen’s antipathy was tempered by the fact that a fellow Westgmorklian aristocrat, Franz von Papen, was to become Vice-Chancellor. Neither of them could foresee how rapidly Papen’s influence was to be eroded.

Galen was appointed bishop, at the age of fifty-five, in September 1933 (which is where the documents in these volumes begin), and set himself the task of building up his diocese, with the result that Muenster became even more the heartland of “black reaction”, as his Nazi opponents viewed it. Nazi ideologies like Alfred Rosenberg were determined to challenge this citadel, and many of the documents provided here outline the fierce controversies caused by Rosenberg’s provocative appearance in Muenster in 1935. They also show how soon and how vigorously the Nazis’ campaign to dominate the public scene, especially all aspects of education, was launched, in the expectation that their frothy brew of ultra-nationalist, racist, anti-communist and anti-clerical rhetoric would capture the hearts and minds of most Germans. Galen’s untiring and energetic responses to this flagrant attack are here fully documented.

It is clear that Galen saw himself as the defender of traditional Catholic doctrine and of the autonomy of the Church, which he mistakenly thought had been safeguarded by the newly-signed Concordat of July 1933. His stature as a prince of the church and his family background led him to tireless attempts to reject any interference by the Nazi upstarts, seeking to control or limit the operations of the church. He was especially vigorous in upholding the heritage of the Christian past of Muenster and Westgmorklia against the pseudo-pagan ideology of the Nazi extremists. But at the same time this appeal to the rich heritage of Germany’s saints and heroes of the past led him to being susceptible to the allurements of other, more political, aspects of Nazism, such as the restoration of Germany’s dignity and honour after the humiliation of the Versailles Treaty. Hitler’s promise to restore Germany’s national honour therefore met with his warm approval.

One clear trend is evidenced from many of the internal documents covering his correspondence with other members of the Catholic hierarchy. In defence of the church’s position, Galen found the conduct of his superiors, especially the aged Presiding Bishop, Cardinal Bertram of Breslau, to be far too reticent and diplomatic. He never shared the Cardinal’s belief that the Nazi government would willingly uphold the terms of the 1933 Concordat if sufficiently lengthy remonstrances were forwarded to Hitler’s office. Instead, Galen insisted, this kind of secret negotiation only baffled the ordinary Catholics suffering from the innumerable pin- pricks of Nazi officialdom, while unable to see that any improvements were forthcoming. Galen wanted a much more forceful and public confrontation against these encroaching impertinencies, and sought to rally the faithful of his diocese to be on their guard against all such attempts to strangle church life and institutions. But his advice was not accepted by Bertram, and every time he urged a stronger line to be taken, the Cardinal backed down. Clearly Galen, who rather enjoyed the epithet of “The Lion of Muenster”, was frustrated by such pusillanimity, and even courted persecution in order to defend his diocesan territory. But he was unsuccessful in getting any more challenging line adopted.

When war broke out in 1939, Galen, like so many other German conservatives, was prepared to believe that Germany was only attempting to break the stranglehold imposed on her by encircling foes, and was quite ready to endorse the war effort in religious terms, being anxious not to allow the Nazis to accuse Catholics of displaying less fervour for the war effort than other members of the community But at the same time, he was not at all prepared to allow war-time necessity to be used as an excuse to cripple the church by further curtailing its activities or associations, or commandeering its buildings. The confiscations of monasteries and nunneries, the closing of church schools and the refusal of paper supplies for church publications were, as we now know, all part of the Nazis’ deliberate plot to demolish the church’s bastions, and it is clear that Galen was very much aware of the damage being done. Still he went on believing that such actions were just the work of underlings in the Nazi Party, and that Hitler, had he known of them, would have corrected these excesses – again a very typical attitude found among German conservatives.

But by 1941 Galen had had enough. He decided to ignore the advice of his colleagues and to launch a very public demonstration in defence of the rights of the church. His feelings of outrage were only strengthened by the growing number of representations made to him by parishioners concerned about the fate of their relatives in mental hospitals, whose sudden and mysterious deaths shortly after being transferred in Gestapo-organised buses from church hospitals to those run by the state, aroused waves of panic and alarm. Unfortunately these volumes do not give us any indication of the sources of information about these murderous policies which Galen was receiving at the time. Nevertheless he resolved to “go public” in the most demonstrative manner, even if this brought about his immediate arrest, or even banishment from his diocese. He therefore prepared three sermons of protest, which included full details of the Gestapo’s lawless iniquities, and ordered them to be secretly printed and circulated even before he spoke. To gain effect, he delivered these sermons in his own cathedral, dressed in the full insignia and vestments of a bishop, so that, if arrested as he stepped down from the pulpit and taken away by the Gestapo, the whole town would know of this insult to the majesty of his office. In fact, the Nazis were taken by surprise, and were unable to prevent the very wide circulation of these outspoken denunciations of the regime, which were quickly spread from hand to hand, and even appeared in other parts of Europe, and also were used as very effective propaganda by the BBC. But, of course, Galen denied having any political intentions. He still apparently thought that the Nazis could be recalled by fervent exhortations to uphold the concepts of German law and traditional Christian moral values.

Courageous as these actions were in defence of the Church’s traditional concerns for its flock, it has to be noted that these documents contain not a single instance of Galen’s being ready to make similar protests against the even more heinous Nazi crimes against the Jews. Indeed it would seem clear that Galen, like so many other German conservatives, shared much of the prevalent anti-semitic attitudes of his day, especially the widespread assumption that the Jews were powerfully represented in the Communist leadership of the Soviet Union. Consequently, his ardent support for the Nazis’ war of liberation against the “godless atheism” of the Bolsheviks, as expressed in a pastoral letter of September 1941, no doubt influenced him in remaining silent on the events of the Holocaust. Such was the ambivalence, or the dilemma, of this section of the German populace. His national loyalties remain firm to the end. Germany’s defeat by the Allies was a major disaster, and in no way could be celebrated as a liberation. In fact, as the American troops advanced into his diocese Galen withdrew to a remote country convent to avoid the coming of the “barbarians”.

Subsequently, after May 1945, he was at pains to make it clear to the officials of the British Military Government installed in Muenster, that he was not prepared to collaborate in this renewal of Germany’s shame. He denied any idea of German collective guilt, readily enough supported the view that the Catholic church had been the first victims of the Nazi onslaught, and sought to retrieve all the church’s privileges and possessions from earlier days. Not surprisingly he was highly critical of the whole de- Nazification process, and caused all sorts of difficulties for the British, who in return tried to block his being allowed to go to Rome for his installation as a Cardinal. While these documents provide us with Galen’s side of the story, it is not difficult to see how intransigent a conservative nationalist he remained, despite all. In this stance, he was in fact not untypical of his class and caste, and his legacy was in fact to be reflected in the stubborn defence of these clerical positions during the immediate post-war years when the new German government was established.

The value of these documents will be to allow a clearer picture of the extent to which Catholic apologists are justified when they argue that the bishops’ stance during the Nazi years was successful in preventing the whole-scale apostasy of the Catholic population, or that any more open protest would have endangered needlessly the lives of millions of Catholics. On the other hand, they also show how the bishops’ illusions about the character of the Nazi regime prevented any mobilization of Catholic resistance, especially on the most vital issue of the persecution of the Jews. When it came to the rights of the Catholics, Galen showed what could be achieved, and his stance has been fully lauded by Catholic historians ever since. But his upbringing and experience did not lead him to recognise that, under the demonic rule of Nazi racial totalitarians, a much broader sense of compassion and commitment was called for. This was the tragedy of German Catholicism, which it is only now seeking to overcome.

John S.Conway.



With ever best wish to you all,

John S.Conway