June 1997 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway,Editor. University of British Columbia

Newsletter June 1997 – Vol III, no 6


Dear Friends.

1) New books

2) Journal article: Minkenberg, Civil Religion and German Unification

3) Book reviews:

Gilbert, The Boys
McLeod, Piety and Poverty

4) Holocaust Conference in Russia

5) Bonhoeffer Website.

1) New Books

a) Those interested in the post-war reconstruction of German universities may like to note the excellently factual and critical account by Peter Respondek, Besatzung, Entnazifixierung, Wiederaufbau. Die Universitaet Muenster 1945-1952, Agenda Verlag, Muenster 1995,

b) The Legacy of the Holocaust: Two separate collections of essays drawn from the proceedings of the Second Remembering for the Future Conference held in Berlin in 1994, but edited by the same people, have recently appeared. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science dedicates its November 1996 issue to this theme, published by Sage Periodical Press, Thousand Oaks, London and New Delhi, and _From Prejudice to Destruction: Western Civilisation in the Shadow of Auschwitz_ is published by LIT Verlag, Muenster. Both contain articles by several of our Association’s members. giving a thoughtful analysis of the events and consequences of the Holocaust, with numerous references to the impact of Christian antisemitism, and the need to take remedial measures. Luckily, and thanks to the editing of Jan Colijn and Marcia Littell, there is no overlap between the volumes, and both deserve to be studied as an excellent commentary on the present state of Holocaust enquiries in its widest international context.

c) A similar work in the same area of studies is _Jewish-Christian Encounters over the Centuries. Symbiosis,Prejudice, Holocaust,Dialogue_ American University Studies, P.Lang, New York 1994, edited by Marvin Perry and Frederick Schweitzer. Their aim is clearly to present this topic in a positive setting, in the hope that “two millenia of strife can be replaced by a new era in which common interests and shared commitments can be the basis for our relationships, even while recognising the deep divisions which divide us”. “If in fact Jews and Christians are really members of the same family, who have suffered a long and painful estrangement, reconciliation should be possible”. In any case, “Christians and Jews must now, more than ever, share sentry duty against evil”. One of our members, Susannah Heschel, contributes an informative article on “The Image of Judaism in New Testament Scholarship in Germany (in the 19th Century)”, and John Pawlikowski ably sums up the present state of research on the Vatican and the Holocaust, finding himself much in agreement with the judgements of Michael Marrus. Ruth Zerner has a nice short piece on the origins of Martin Niemoller’s famous dictum about the indifference of the bystanders, and Michael McGarry evaluates the positive impact of Nostra Aetate #4 in 1965 which he believes moved Catholics from a position of ignorance to interest, from contempt to appreciation, and from proselytism to dialogue. This Declaration is to be taken as a striking example of the most significant change in Christian doctrine in this century. The essays in this book provide excellent witness to this hopeful development.

2) Journal Article:

Michael Minkenberg’s interesting paper given to the GSA in Seattle last October on Civil Religion and German Unification is now printed in German Studies Review, Vol XX, no 1, February 1997, p.63-81.

3) Book reviews:

Martin Gilbert, The Boys. Triumph over adversityWeidenfeld and Nicolson, London 1996, 511 pp.

The most horrifying book I have read this year is Martin Gilbert’s newly-published The Boys, an account of the Holocaust by child survivors. In the summer and winter of 1945, 732 teenagers, mostly from Poland, were brought to England under the auspices of the Committee for the Care of Children from Concentration Camps. Nearly fifty years later more than a hundred of them were persuaded to set down their reminiscences, and from these Martin Gilbert has skilfully compiled a collective biography, whose cumulative impact cannot fail to have a sober, even shattering effect.

The first half of the book is a chronological description of the waves of suffering and adversity which engulfed these children as the Germans began their deliberate and systematic campaign to eradicate the Jewish communities of eastern Europe. From September 1939 they were successively and irrevocably deprived of their of their childhood security, their schooling, their possessions, their relatives and their immediate families. Each chapter describes in detail the infamous process which overwhelmed these children – the ghettoisation, the deportations, the slave labour camps, the transfer to Auschwitz, Buchenwald or Belsen, the death marches, and, for this handful, their often miraculous survival in the midst of mass murder and brutal exploitation. Deprived of their parents and siblings, often at the flick of an SS guard’s truncheon, the majority were also forced to endure a constant regimen of fear and hunger. Necessarily they developed survival skills, even when survival seemed pointless. But somehow they endured to the end. Incident after incident from these memoirs is collated into a collective picture of atrocity and horror. Gilbert’s skill lies in fitting together each interlocking instance into the larger picture in order to let the recollected stories stand as a factually accurate record with a minimum of connecting commentary. At the same time his sensitivity and sympathy for these orphaned victims shines through.

The second half of the book which gives details of their rehabilitation and adapting to British life is necessarily anti- climatic. At first the Home Office granted them a two-year temporary stay, expecting them all to emigrate further. But the Mandatory authorities in Palestine blocked the way until 1948 for those who desired to share the Zionist-inspired goal of Aliyah. The majority opted to stay in Britain and were finally allowed to do so. The Central British Fund which paid their expenses worked hard to integrate them as quickly as possible and to find opportunities for gainful employment despite their lack of schooling for so many years. For those who came to London, a thriving club was established which provided them with the comradeship so desperately sought as an antidote to the burden of the past. The ’45 Aid Society, later called the Primrose Club, enabled many to find their way in this new setting, and still brings them together for an annual banquet. Most have since become extraordinarily well settled, and lovingly record their success in rebuilding their lives with children and grandchildren, who form a replacement, though never a substitute, for the families they so horrendously lost. As their chairman recently remarked: “On the one hand we have recovered. On the other hand we have been damaged, a damage that is not outwardly visible. We have integrated so well that even our own families are not aware of our trauma. Yet there is not a day that goes by that does not evoke some painful memory of the past. Nothing, but nothing, has eased the suffering. We have enjoyed the luxury of living. But we lost our parents when we were young, and the family life that could have been ours was denied us. That is why the memory is so painful. It gets worse. I do not talk about it, but I feel like screaming: Why?, Why?, Why?”

This tribute to the collective will to survive by this small handful of youngsters is not only a valuable historical account but a striking record of their ability to triumph over adversity. It will rightly take its place in the large body of survivors’ testimonies, so that those fortunate enough never to share such appalling tribulations will be enabled, indeed obliged, not to forget.


Hugh McLeod, Piety and Poverty: Working-Class Religion in Berlin, London and New York 1870-1914. New York: Holmes and Meier 1996, US $45.00

(The following review appeared first on the H-Net list H-PCAACA)

High McLeod challenges the widespread assumption that members of the industrial working class are likely to be alienated from religious life. McLeod’s three case studies offer abundant evidence of varied religious practices and attitudes among sections of the working classes in Berlin, London and New York from 1870 to 1914. Yet the author is not content to criticize theoretical approaches that cannot account for this diversity. Instead, he offers useful models for the analysis of working-class religion beyond the three cities he has studied.

To explain complex patterns of religious belief and practice, McLeod examines the social, ethnic, and intellectual environments in which working-class religion developed. In Berlin, close links between the conservative elites and the dominant Lutheran church inspired liberal and bourgeois hostility to religion and this influenced working-class estrangement from the church. An “extensive and deep alienation, not only from the church, but from Christianity in general” (107) developed further as socialists created an alternative working-class culture in the city. In contrast, religious pluralism in London encouraged strong religious commitment among middle-class liberals and provided politically attractive religious environments for some workers. While most others spurned regular church attendance, London’s working-class culture was usually not hostile to Christianity. In New York, churches became the focus of identity for many members of the ethnically fragmented working class, particularly the Irish. The most exciting sections of the book for students of popular culture are the last two chapters, investigating the fabric of working-class religious life beyond church attendance. McLeod rejects the view that working-class religious life was an exclusively female phenomenon. Relying mainly on evidence from London, he argues that working-class men participated in some religious activities, including debates, church-affiliated sports activities, and services led by particularly notable speakers. Women embraced different religious practices, such as mothers’ meetings and life- cycle observances. Though in Berlin conflict between secular men and their more religious wives was relatively common, in London – and to some extent in New York – “male and female forms of religiosity” coexisted, though women’s religious activity was often more “intense” (173).

In all three cities, religion played a role in working-class peoples’ lives. Observances with religious content often marked rites of passage, including baptism, confirmations or bar-mitzvahs, and in some places weddings and funerals. Working-class celebrations of holy days also reveal a vital religious sense, and in London and New York, McLeod suggests, private prayer was common among the working-class, even if regular church attendance was not. Many of the strengths of this book come from its comparative approach. This methodology is ideally suited to testing existing conceptual approaches and developing more viable ones with broad applicability, which McLeod does impressively. But, as he notes, the availability of different kinds of sources for each case complicates his task. The richest material comes from London, and oral histories are used to particularly good effect. The sources on Berlin are more institutional, which makes it difficult to study less formal religious practice in that city. While religion appears less important in the Berlin working class, perhaps the kinds of sources McLeod exploited so profitably in London would have revealed a more complex picture in the German capital as well. Overall, Pity and Poverty is a useful and interesting book. It challenges simplistic approaches and offers a range of compelling factors to consider in thinking about working-class religion. This reader found the rich evocation of religious belief and practice among working-class people – who attended church only rarely – particularly valuable.

Pennsylvania State University
Andrew August

4) Holocaust Conference in Russia

Gordon Mork, Purdue University, sends this personal report:

In Russia it is spelled with an X. From May 4-7th the Second International Symposium, “The Lessons of the Holocaust and Contemporary Russia” took place in Moscow, sponsored by the Russian Research and Educational Holocaust Centre and the Marc Bloch Centre of the Russian State University for the Humanities. There were over sixty speakers on the programme. most of whom were from Russia and the former USSR, but also from Israel, France, Poland, and the USA. It was an amazing experience.

The opening session coincided with a Yom Hashoa commemoration, which overflowed the auditorium of the “Central House of the Men of Letters”. Russian friends noted the irony of holding the ceremony there; as the seat of the “official” writers’ organisation in Soviet times, it had secluded all dissidents (including many Jews) prior to 1989. Participants that evening included survivors of both the Nazi camps and the Soviet gulags, the chief rabbi of Moscow, the ambassador of Israel, a men’s chorus, and a very upbeat children’s choir. Representatives of Christian rescuers were honoured. We ended by rising to sing the Israeli anthem.

The presentations over the next three days included a combination of scholarly papers, personal recollections, calls of concern about antisemitism today, and models for Holocaust education. The keynote address was by a dynamic woman. A.E.Gerber, the president of the Holocaust Centre in Moscow and a former member of parliament.

Only one of the papers focussed directly on religious issues of special interest to our Association. James N.Pellechia and Jolene Chu, of the Watch Tower Society, presented a well-crafted paper “Teaching Tolerance: A Case Study”, which explained the role of Jehovah’s Witnesses as “a second witness to the Shoah” in the Nazi camps. Much of the material was drawn from the documentary video entitled “Jehovah’s Witnesses Stand Firm against Nazi Assault” (See review in Newsletter no 24, Vol II, no 12 – December 1996), though this video was not shown in Moscow.

Other presentations dealt with themes familiar to scholars of the Holocaust, themes which implied much about the underlying relationships between Christians and Jews. Was the Holocaust “unique”? Was it exclusive to Jews? Did Christians help Jews, or did they support the Holocaust? How and to whom should the Holocaust be taught? It is clear that the opening of archives. and the new freedom to publish documents, monographs, and teaching materials will provide many rich (and often disturbing) sources for historians and educators.

One of the major points made was that there is a continuity of antisemitism in Eastern Europe, rooted in religious and economic prejudice. Antisemitism was officially suppressed during the Soviet period but in reality was still prevalent. It was vigorously and brutally promoted by Nazi propaganda during World War II. Now, in the post-Soviet world, it is becoming manifest again. Some of the same antisemitic authors who wrote for the Nazis are being published again in the 1990s. One of the most interesting exchanges was between a scholar who defended Christian peasants in the Ukraine who sheltered him and his family during the Holocaust. He could not have survived without such help, he emphasized, and he did not want to hear that all Christians in the Ukraine were antisemitic!

A Polish scholar, Dr. Monika Adamczyk-Garbowska, spoke on attitudes in Poland about the Holocaust in particular and Jews in general. She touched on the links between Polish nationalism and the Catholic Church, but did not fully analyse them. Other papers implied a relationship between the upsurge of Slavic nationalism (including antisemitism) and Orthodox Christianity, without exploring the issue in depth.

Overall there was a sense of exhilaration that issues, so long suppressed in Russia, were now open for full discussion. Another Symposium is planned, but a date has not yet been set. Inquiries can be sent to Dr Ilya A Altman, of the Russian Holocaust Centre in Moscow. = altman@glasnet.ru

5) Bonhoeffer Website

This has been revised and can now be found at
http://www.iscn.com/bonhoef/ [Update: This no longer works]

With every best wish,

John S.Conway
jconway@unixg.ubc.ca e