August 1997 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

Newsletter August 1997 – Vol III, no 8


1) Niemoller debate

2) Conference paper precis

– Bergen: “Military chaplains . . .”

– Munro: “The Reich Church Ministry . . . ”

3) Book reviews:

Carpenter, Robert Runcie

Misselwitz, Nicht laenger mit dem Gesicht nach Westen

Swoboda, Revolution of the Candles

Holmes and Keele, When Truth was Treason

4) Journal articles:

R.Sun, “Catholic-Marxist competition . . .”

R.Birn, Goldhagen review

5) Book note: Mission Matters

1) Niemoller’s most famous quotation: “First they came for the Communists . . . ” In the June issue of this Newsletter, I drew attention to an article by Ruth Zerner on this subject in the book “Jewish-Christian Encounters”. Drew Kadel of the Burke Library, Union Theological Seminary, New York has now sent me a response he published in the Journal of Religious and Theological Information, Vol 2 (2) 1996, which disputes Zerner’s findings. Instead, Kadel asserts, this quotation was probably first made during the Cold War of the 1950s, and did not include any reference to Jews. He bases this claim on his view that the purpose was to point to the failure of organised groups to co-operate together in resisting evil. Hence the inclusion of the Communists, Socialists and the Trades Unions, but also the omission of the Jews who were in no position to mobilize resistance He believes the quotation stems from the time of Niemoller’s active opposition to Adenauer’s anti- Communist and pro-armament policies, i.e. any time between 1950 and 1959. He therefore disputes Franklin Littell’s long-held view that this quotation was first and frequently used during Niemoller’s visits to the United States in 1946-7. Littell recalls conversations with the staff member of Church World Service at the time, Marlene Maerten, affirming this earlier date. Kadel dismisses this as the “somewhat equivocal report of an eyewitness many years after the fact (which) should not be regarded as entirely authoritative”. Littell, he avers, only put his view in writing in 1986 i.e. “forty years after Niemoller’s American tour – a longer lapse of time than between the crucifixion and the writing of Paul’s epistles”. But Kadel himself blatantly claims as his authoritative source a letter from Niemoller’s daughter written in 1991! To be sure Kadel is right in saying that such famous and evocative quotations take on a life of their own, and get adapted and adopted for different purposes. But the fact that they have not (yet) found written documentation from the 1940s does not prove Littell and Zerner’s view incorrect. As a librarian, Kadel should know that just because a book is not on the shelf does not mean it doesn’t exist. Furthermore I find Zerner’s explanation of the saying’s origins more convincing, i.e. that Niemoller listed the Nazis’ victims in the order in which they were attacked. First the Communists, then the Socialists and the Trades Unions, and then the Jews. This also explains the omission of the Catholics whom Niemoller always believed had compromised any possible resistance by signing the Concordat. (It is all the more curious to find the Catholics included on posters and cards being sold at the U.S.Holocaust Memorial Museum!) Niemoller emerged from seven years of concentration camp deeply impressed by the sufferings of those oppressed by the Nazis, and hence it was only to be expected that he should mention them in his immediate post-war speeches. Even though he had earlier held traditional anti-Judaic prejudices, his experiences in prison opened his eyes to the enormity of the Nazi antisemitic persecution, as clearly proved by the Kristallnacht, the news of which shocked even the inmates of Sachsenhausen. In my view, identification with the victims, and regret at the indifference of the bystanders, rather than the need to organise political resistance in the 1950s, was the main purpose of this quotation. JSC

2) Conference Paper Precis. a) The following is a digest of Doris Bergen’s presentation at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in May on the topic of “Between God and Hitler: German military chaplains and the crimes of the Third Reich”. Scholarship over the past decades has exploded the myth that the German military had little to do with the crimes of the Third Reich. But what about the Wehrmacht chaplains? What roles did they play? My paper used military and ecclesiastical records, chaplains’ memoirs and papers, and soldiers’ letters to address this question. I focussed on two points: first, that German military chaplains, whether they embraced Nazi ideology or not, were eye- witnesses to atrocities against civilians, including genocide of the European Jews. Secondly, the chaplains’ presence and overwhelming silence was not neutral. Instead, the moral prestige of their office, together with their ties to the historic Christian churches, helped to legitimate the Nazi war of annihilation in the eyes of its proponents. Contemporary evidence allows us to situate specific chaplains in locations where it was impossible not to witness the mass murder of civilians. Moreover, hostile Nazi authorities required chaplains to place themselves in areas of heavy fighting (the so-called Uriah law). About a thousand German clergymen, Protestant and Catholic, served as military chaplains throughout the war. Their responses to German brutality varied: some echoed Hitler with their own crusades against Jews, Communists, and Slavs; many sought to deflect criticism from a heavily propagandized military by downplaying or denying Christianity’s Jewish roots. Some tried to obstruct the crimes of the regime. But even combing archives and published sources uncovers fewer than ten such heroes. And on close examination, only one of these cases of resistance involved official military chaplains. I recounted in some detail that one case – Belaya Tserkov, Ukraine, August 1941 – where two chaplains tried but failed to stop the slaughter of Jewish children. Two factors, I suggested, help explain the weakness of resistance among military chaplains. The first was the selection procedure. Candidates were carefully screened by military authorities, church officials, and the Gestapo. All three agencies worked to keep out potential trouble-makers. Secondly, chaplains themselves were acutely aware of their precarious situation as representatives of the church in the hostile Nazi cause. Afraid of confirming anti- Christian views that they were traitors who softened up the troops, they insisted instead on their manliness, anti-Judaism, and ability to boost morale. In the process, they replicated in their own work the very Nazi ideas that threatened Christianity. Doris Bergen. Notre Dame University

b) Gregory Munro teaches at the Australian Catholic University, Brisbane. His paper was given at the Australian Conference of European Historians, July 1997 “The Reich Church Ministry in Nazi Germany 1935-1938.” By the beginning of 1935, Nazi church policy was in serious disarray. Within the Nazi leadership fears were held concerning the adverse impact on domestic and foreign policy of the volatile relationship between Church and State. In 1933 Hitler had given his support to the formation of a single unified Protestant church, dominated by the German Christian Faith Movement,under a Reich Bishop. But this had been frustrated by the opposition of the Pastors’ Emergency League and by the 1934 Barmen Declaration’s theological resistance to any such attempt to reduce the Churches to a mere instrument of Nazi policy. Since the latter half of 1934 negotiations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Reich government for the implementation of the Concordat had largely broken down amidst accusations of bad faith on both sides. In this situation Hitler summoned Hanns Kerrl (1887-1941) to be Head of a newly-created Ministry of Church Affairs in July 1935. Kerrl was the only Minister with an explicit commitment to reach a synthesis between Nazism and Christianity. Much to the ire of leading Nazis, Kerrl maintained that Christianity provided an essential foundation for Nazi ideology and that the two forces had to be reconciled. In the short term, at least, it appears that Hitler hoped to recover the initiative in the Church Struggle by returning to the official NSDAP policy of neutrality. The available documents suggest that Hitler temporized between two approaches to the question of the Churches. On the one hand, the predominant radical elements in the Party wanted to reduce clerical influence in German society as quickly as possible – and by force if necessary. On the other hand, Hitler clearly had much to gain from any possible peaceful settlement whereby the Churches would give at least implicit recognition to the supremacy of Nazi ideology in the public realm and restrict themselves solely to their internal affairs. In 1935 Kerrl scored some initial successes in reconciling the differing parties in the Church Struggle. However, by the second half of 1936, his position was clearly undermined by NSDAP hostility, and by the refusal of the churches to work with a government body which they regarded as a captive or stooge of the Nazi Party. Hitler gradually adopted a more uncompromising and intolerant stance, probably under the growing influence of ideologues such as Bormann, Rosenberg and Himmler, who were loathe to entertain any idea of the new Germany having a Christian foundation even in a token form. This paper is based on the records of the Reich Church Ministry, formerly in the GDR and now available more readily to western scholars. This material allows a more detailed investigation into the functions and objectives of the Reich Church Ministry than has hitherto been possible. Greg Munro

3) Book reviews:

a) Humphrey Carpenter, Robert Runcie – The Reluctant Archbishop, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1996

Humphrey Carpenter, the son of a former Bishop of Oxford, the chronicler of J.R.Tolkien and his coterie, and the biographer of Benjamin Britten, would seem well-qualified to write an archiepiscopal biography. However, this attempt is highly disappointing, consisting largely, as Carpenter admits, of transcriptions of taped interviews, spiced by unsubstantiated speculation about the Runcie’s private lives. One chapter is devoted to the adventures of Terry Waite, and another to the unfortunate suicide of an Oxford don – neither of which adds much to any understanding of the archbishop’s career. It is hardly surprising that both Runcie and his wife were stringently caustic and disappointed with the result – a sentiment shared by this reviewer. Carpenter does however point out correctly that the job facing every Archbishop of Canterbury is an impossible one. His hugely varied levels of involvement in both Church and State, his primacy among the world-wide Anglican Communion, and his pastoral responsibilities in an often divided and fractious Church of England have to be carried out with only the slenderest of staff appointments. The expectations placed on one man’s shoulders are horrendous, and frequently competing. It is small wonder that Runcie’s skill lay in steering a middle line and avoiding too strong a stand on issues, such as the ordination of women, until at least some sort of consensus had emerged. Carpenter spends too much time tracing how this equivocal stance was due to Runcie’s use of multiple script writers whose services were infrequently acknowledged, but whose contributions enabled him to keep the Church on an even keel. But any deeper analysis is lacking. This is more of a gossip column than a biography. As such it is an opportunity missed, and fails to meet the standard set by George Bell’s life of Archbishop Davidson. Scholarship has suffered, but presumably the documents remain available for another and a better attempt later. J.S.C.

b) Hans J.Misselwitz, Nicht laenger mit dem Gesicht nach Westen: Das neue Selbstbewusstsein der Ostdeutschen, Berlin: Dietz Verlag 1996, 128 pp. Hans Misselwitz, director of politische Bildung for the Land Brandenburg, left a career as a biochemist to study theology in the mid-1980s at the Protestant church seminary in East Berlin. He and his wife organized one of the most important peace groups in the East German church. After the “Wende”, he served in the first freely-elected East German Parliament and helped to negotiate unification with West Germany. Misselwitz describes the political and economic demoralization of East Germans since unification, as West Germans take the lead in transforming East German society. He argues that East Germans too often see themselves – or let themselves be defined – as victims of history. He calls on them to draw on their experience of living under Communism and participating in the “Wende”, and to become active political agents seeking a more just and socially- conscious political order. Key to the future, he argues, is that the two Germanies remember their common history. The division of Germany followed from the rise and fall of Nazism. Germans now need to make common cause in representing “the other Germany”, i.e. those who opposed Hitler and his totalitarian ideology, the Communists, Social Democrats and members of the Confessing Church. This book will be of particular interest to historians who wish to trace the aspirations and frustrations of East Germans who helped to bring about the “Wende” and who now try to find their own voice in a new country. John Burgess

c) Jorg Swoboda, The Revolution of the Candles: Christians in the Revolution of the German Democratic Republic, ed. Richard Pierard, trans.Edwin Arnold, Macon,Georgia: Mercer U.P. 1996 pp xxxii + 203. The cover to this book, a Dore etching of the New Jerusalem, is misleading. As a translation, abridgement, and revision of a book first published in Germany in 1990, this work draws on diaries, letters, and other first-person accounts of East German Baptists, who participated in the “Wende”. Of particular interest is a chronicle of events from the end of 1987, when the state began to clamp down on alternative groups meeting in the church’s free space, to the beginning of 1990, when church leaders helped to organize and moderate the Round Tables that ran the country until free elections were held in March. This book persuasively demonstrates that events in Berlin, Leipzig and Dresden took place independently, yet came to a head at the same time. The American editor, Richard Pierard (who personally experienced some of these events) provides an excellent overview of key developments in East German politics and church-state relations. The book also documents the church’s response to the emigration question, police mistreatment of peaceful demonstrators, and the hope, as well as the ambivalence, that characterized East German reactions to unification. A set of concluding reflections by Pierard touches on issues which have emerged with greater clarity since the “Wende”, such as whether or not the church accommodated itself too much to the state. No other book in English captures the East Germans’ own voices so well, though scholars will desire access to German materials that provide a more complete picture. John Burgess

d) ed. B.R.Holmes and A.F.Keele, When Truth was Treason. German Youth against Hitler. The story of the Hellmuth Huebener Group. Based on the narrative of Karl-Heinz Schribbe, with documents and notes. Urbana and Chicago: U of Illinois Press 1995. 425pp

The short tragic life of Hellmuth Huebener was notable for two reasons: he was probably the youngest person sentenced to death for high treason by the notorious Nazi Volksgerichtshof and executed at Ploetzensee on October 27th 1942. He was also the only Mormon to suffer this fate. Subsequent attempts by some American Mormons to depict Huebener as a heroic example of Mormon resistance to Nazism foundered on the fact that the German Mormons quickly and decisively dissociated themselves from the actions of this17-year old member of their community. And the evidence clearly shows that most German Mormons supported the Nazis’ political programme, and like other American-derived sects, with the signal exception of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, were at pains to adopt a low profile about their religious affiliations for fear of repression. Huebener and his three friends were representative neither of German youth nor of German Mormonism. Nevertheless the story deserves to be better known of how they secretly listened to BBC broadcasts for several months, and subsequently distributed translations of this anti-Nazi propaganda in leaflet form in and around the working-class districts of Hamburg. The evidence makes it clear that Huebener was a precocious youth whose scepticism about Nazi propaganda drove him to tell the real truth – as revealed by the BBC. There is little to show that he was impelled to undertake this foolhardy action because of his Mormon upbringing, not that his small group of friends had any coherent idea of resistance or what it entailed. Neither theological nor political justifications seemed to be uppermost in these teenagers’ minds. Yet they paid a terrible price when telling the truth was treason. Huebener was guillotined, the other sentenced to lengthy terms of imprisonment. But even afterwards the German Mormon community was most reluctant to discuss their fate, or the lack of personal support they received in their hour of need. Holmes and Keele have now compiled as full an account of this episode as possible, on the basis of the memoirs of one of the group, Karl-Heinz Schribbe, who survived and later emigrated to Utah. Schribbe’s memoir is more of a personal narrative than an account of Huebener’s significance. But the editors have added useful notes to fill in the background, and have collated and translated surviving trial records in a valuable documentary section, which includes the texts of several of the incriminating leaflets. Making this material available in English to a wider audience is to be welcomed, even if the attempt to put Huebener into a larger context is rather strained. JSC

4) Journal articles: Raymond Sun, “Catholic-Marxist Competition in the Working-class districts of Cologne during the Weimar Republic,” in The Catholic Historical Review, Vol. LXXXIII, no 1, January 1997, p.20-43. Ruth Birn, Chief Historian, War Crimes Section, Canadian Dept. of Justice has written an incisive and highly critical review of Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners in The Historical Journal, Vol 40, no. 1, March 1997, p.195 ff.

5) Book note: eds, L Price, J. Sepulveda and G.Smith, Mission Matters, (Studies in the intercultural History of Christianity Vol 103) Frankfurt, Bern, New York: Peter Lang. 1997 232 pp This book is a collection of 16 essays, mostly by postgraduate researchers at the University of Birmingham and the Selly Oak Colleges under the supervision of Werner Ustorf, Professor of Mission. Section 1 is entitled ‘Mission History: Reassessing some Legacies’, and includes Ustorf’s own chapter on the inner history of the German Protestant Mission Boards from 1924-1949, drawn from the minute books compiled at the time. In this percipient chapter Ustorf discusses the problematic attitudes of German Protestant missionaries towards the Nazi movement and subsequent regime. Almost all missionaries were caught up in the excitement of 1933 and believed that here was a great opportunity to bring the nation back to God. But the accent on Germany’s special character and destiny under Hitler clashed with the whole ecumenical emphasis of the International Missionary Council. The result was an increasingly unresolvable dilemma of having to choose between contradictory loyalties, a struggle of distinguishing between God’s mission and a specific German-Protestant syndrome. The German missions headquarters had little hesitation in co- operating with Nazi organisations preparing for the return of the German colonial empire, while at the same time working with the IMC, which was still largely paying for the “orphaned” German missions seized during the first world war. But they were highly ambivalent about the ideas of giving independence to such “younger churches”. Equally ambivalent was the mission attitudes towards the Jews. Antisemitic sentiments were evident, but mission to the Jews could not be abjured or considered dispensable. The solution was to approve of the Nazis’ task of keeping the Jews in check, but only by Christian means i.e. trying to convert them. But even this provoked sharp reactions from the Nazi authorities. None of the German missions abroad survived the second world war unscathed, but nevertheless attempts were made after 1945 to revive the old pattern with stress on how much theses missionaries had suffered (by expulsion from the field or internment) and a good deal of self-pity for their being inextricably involved in the fate of their nation, but in the belief that their grave experiences under Nazism gave them “something very special to offer to the younger churches”. It was a good many years before a new climate appeared in Germany, and a recognition that the day of colonial foreign missions had ended. Only in 1994 was the former Berlin Missionary Society dissolved, and the old imperial ideas faded away. JSC

With best wishes to you all

John S.Conway