December 1998 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia


Newsletter- December1998- Vol. IV, no. 12

Dear Friends,
With this issue of our Newsletter, we come to the completion of Vol. IV.
Editing these issues has been a labour of love for me, which has been
sustained largely because of the encouragement I have received from so many
of you. Let me assure you all that I continue to welcome your contributions,
so that we can more fully produce a truly international and
interdenominational bulletin of value to our world-wide readership from
Poland to Western Australia.
I shall be returning to Vancouver in mid-month, so individual correspondence
may be somewhat disrupted. But I want to take this opportunity to wish each
and all of you my very best wishes for a blessed Christmas and a happy and
successful New Year.
Contents: 1) Repetition of invitation to supply biographical resumes
2) Forthcoming International Historical Conference
3) Journal issue
4) Thesis abstract: Karl Barth. Covenanted Solidarity. M.Lindsay
5) The Erosion of Conscience
6) Book review: M.Kalusche, Der Schloss an der Grenze
1) Repeat invitation to supply biographical and research interest
As we noted last month, list-members are invited to become better known to
each other by sending in a short resume of your career and research
interests, along with your e-mail and postal addresses, and home page if you
have one. Please send this to Randall Bytwerk
The results can be read at
2) Forthcoming conference
It is not too early to take note of the opportunity to take part in the next
meeting of the International Congress of Historical Sciences to be held in
Oslo, Norway from 6th-13th August 2000.
The whole programme can be obtained from
This is the largest most ecumenical gathering of the world’s historians, so
its themes have to be very broad and general. But one of the major subjects
to be discussed will be “Millennium, time and history” including a section
on ‘eschatology, millennial movements and visions of the future”, while
among the special topics are “Religion and Gender” and “Christian Missions,
modernisation, colonisation and de-colonisation”.
In addition a number of affiliated organisations will hold simultaneous
meetings. Amongst these should be the Commission Internationale d’Histoire
Ecclesiastique Comparee (CIHEC). If I can establish contact with any of this
group’s executive, I will and get more details of the two-day programme, and
how to contact the organizers.
3) Journal issue:
The Journal for the History of Modern Theology/Zeitschrift fuer neuere
Theologiegeschichte, Volume 5, no 2 1998 has now been published and includes
the third part of a deocumentary edition of the exchange of letters between
Rudolf Bultmann and Gerhard Krueger 1924-1974, also interesting reviews of
new books in our field. The web-site is
4) Thesis abstract
Covenanted Solidarity. The theological basis of Karl Barth’s opposition to
Nazi antisemitism and the Holocaust.
In the historiography of Holocaust and Church Struggle studies, the figure
of Karl Barth occupies a strangely marginalised position. Historians have
acknowledged his seminal role in the founding and leadership of the
Confessing Church, including his pivotal involvement in the writing of the
Barmen Declaration. Thus, his significance as a ‘Founding Father’ of the
ecclesiastical campaign against the Nazi regime has been widely recognised.
Conversely, his vehement rejection of National Socialist antisemitism and
the resultant Holocaust, as well as his forceful advocacy on behalf of the
persecuted Jews, have received scant attention. Historians have displayed an
unwillingness to encounter in any penetrating depth the theological issues
involved in Barth’s position, and have shied away from Barth’s massive
“Church Dogmatics” in which his most profound defences of the Jews are
located. The results of these failings has been that most historical
monographs about Nazi antisemitism and the Holocaust that do mention Barth
do so in critically negative fashion, usually assuming that Barth was either
anti-Judaistic himself or simply uninterested in the question.
This thesis counteracts this received wisdom by presupposing that any
historical assessment of Barth must take in utter seriousness his
theological work on its own grounds. Consequently, while the thesis falls
within the discipline of history, it is the theological bases of Barth’s
resistance to Nazism and its antisemitism that forms the material core of
the project.
This approach focusses not only on Barth’s explicitly political pamphlets,
but also on his dogmatic theology from the early 1920s through the “Church
Dogmatics” period. It looks not only at how Barth treats the motif of
“Israel” but, more importantly, how his conceptions of revelation,
Christology and election stand in self-conscious antithesis to the
voelkisch, Nazified versions of the same. The National Socialists adopted
and then perverted these theological motifs in an effort not only to deify
the regime and Hitler, but also to demonize the Jews and thus to justify
their extermination. This thesis seeks to show that Barth’s usage of these
concepts was both a recapturing of the theological orthodoxy and, as well, a
basis from which his defence of the Jews could be, and was, launched.
The other central element is the demonstration that Barth was no mere
armchair theologian, but was socially and politically active throughout his
career. This theme is developed by showing how Barth’s pro-Israel
hermeneutic found practical expression during the Nazi years. This was no
aberration, but rather the extension of Barth’s social(ist) praxis from his
earlier pastoral work in rural Switzerland.
There are undoubtedly points at which Barth’s theological and practical
political can be criticised. Nevertheless the overwhelming weight of
evidence shows that, in contrast to previous historical assessments, Barth
was both actively involved in resisting Nazi antisemitic violence, and that
this praxis was grounded securely in his profound Christocentric theology.
Mark Lindsay, Dept of History, University of Western Australia.
5) The Erosion of Conscience
On a recent visit to the University of Western Ontario, Prof Peter Baehr of
Memorial University, Newfoundland, had these pertinent comments on the
problem of the loss of moral standards in Nazi Germany, as discussed by
Hannah Arendt in her well-known book “Eichmann in Jerusalem”:
A particularly disturbing fact for a civilisation ostensibly based on
Judaeo-Christian principles, is that such principles were not sturdy enough
to forestall the Holocaust, Though the Nazis themselves were decidedly
anti-Christian, Germany had been a Christian region, with Christian
traditions, for centuries. What had then happened to the commandment: Thous
shalt not kill? To be sure this injunction had everywhere been previously
qualified to allow for capital punishment or war. But the Jews were not
criminals in the conventional sense – they had broken no law until they were
put outside of it – or in a position to assault Germany. In her book “The
Origins of Totalitarianism”, Arendt delineated a number of historical, macro
elements that had prepared the way for the temporary triumph of the Nazis,
among them the disintegration of the nation-state, the emergence of
minorities and millions of stateless peoples, and the development of racism
which denies the common origins of Man. All of these had weakened the
conventions, customs and traditions on which moral scruples are based.
In “Eichmann in Jerusalem” Arendt deepened the analysis by providing a
phenomenology of the factors and phases by means of which conscience is
eroded, to such an extent that it is only exceptional people who are able to
behave “normally”.
Arendt was emphatic that someone like Eichmann “commits his crimes under
circumstances that make it well-nigh impossible to know or to feel that he
is doing wrong” But what were these “circumstances” that disabled people
like Eichmann from knowing or feeling that they were doing wrong?
Concentrating primarily on the environment within which Eichmann and people
like him moved, Arendt enumerated a number of factors that contributed to
the erosion of conscience. The first of these was linguistic. A conspicuous
feature of the bizarre world inhabited by the Nazi hierarchy was a roster of
slogans and catch-phrases – the SS motto “My Honor is my Loyalty ” – that
leant their deeds an inflated importance, and that substituted the plain
fact of murder with “language rules” (euphemisms like ‘final solution’
‘special treatment’, ‘resettlement’) whose purpose was to conceal the
enormity of what was being done.
During the war, the slogan was “the battle of destiny for the German people”
(der Schicksalskampf des deutschen Volkes) “coined either by Hitler or by
Goebbels, which made self-deception easier on three counts: it suggested,
first, that the war was no war; second, that it was started by destiny and
not by Germany; and third, that it was a matter of life and death for the
Germans, who must annihilate their enemies or be annihilated”.
Moreover, it became evident that such terminology had survived the war when,
during Eichmann’s trial, his defence counsel, Dr Robert Servatius declared
Eichmann “innocent of charges bearing on his responsibility for ‘the
collection of skeletons, sterilizations, killings by gas, and similar
medical matters'” Whereupon Judge Halevi interrupted him: “Dr Servatius, I
assume you made a slip of the tongue when you said that killing by gas was a
medical matter” To which Servatius replied: “It was indeed a medical matter,
since it was prepared by physicians; it was a matter of killing, and
killing, too, is a medical matter”.
Second, and relatedly, the Nazis created amongst their functionaries a
pseudo-morality through warping a component that all ethical ideas contain:
the notion of obligation and sacrifice. Such a grotesque twist was required
precisely because the majority of murderers were not “sadists or killers by
nature”. Members of the Einsatzgruppen, for instance, the mobile killing
units of the SS, were typically reasonably well-educated, Himmler’s
stratagem for dealing with feelings of pity they may have harboured
consisted in ramming home the message, not “what horrible things I did to
people!” But rather “what horrible things I had to watch in the pursuance of
my duties, how heavily the task weighed upon my shoulders!. And since it was
an unpleasant “task” for which “sacrifice” was required, and not a pleasure
experienced for its own sake, such a rationalisation could assume the
tincture of duty and anaesthetise other moral qualms. A similar phenomenon
was evident amongst those who built the installations of mass death. In many
cases, these were the same functionaries who had been involved in the
euthanasia drive to which around 50,000 Germans had fallen victim between
December 1939 and August 1941. The phraseology of “mercy killing” which
justified this policy – and which, again, implied that the killers were
working with an elevated motive – prepared them well for their next job.
Third, the sheer fact of war itself, the multiplication of death it
involved, and the ever-present sense that one’s own life now hung in the
balance, lessened the value of life more generally.
Fourth, and finally, the atmosphere of collusion was so complete – among the
Nazi Party hierarchy, the Foreign Office, legal experts, the Ministry of
Finance – that there was nothing, and no-one, to convince Eichmann that he
was doing anything wrong. The absence of dissenting opinions, the fugitive
and opaque character of resistance, such as it was, spun a cocoon in which
crime was transformed into orthodoxy. Who, Eichmann asked, was he to
protest? The very success of the regime made obeying it seductive, and a
virtue out of opportunism. But the situation was made even worse, Arendt
argued, because of the way the Jewish Councils cooperated with the Nazi
functionaries in the deportation of their own people. Through the practice
of establishing privileged categories of Jewish persons – “German Jews as
against Polish Jews, war veterans and decorated Jews as against ordinary
Jews, families whose ancestors were German-born as against those recently
naturalised, etc ” – through formulating various exceptions, the Jewish
leaders had seemed to accept the rule. As a result, it was all too easy for
the Nazi functionaries to feel “that by being asked to make exceptions, and
by occasionally granting them, and thus earning gratitude, they had
convinced their opponents of the lawfulness of what they were doing”.
“Nobody”, Eichmann explained, ” came to me and reproached me for anything in
the performance of my duties. Not even Pastor Gruber [a Protestant minister
with whom Eichmann had negotiated, and who gave evidence at the trial: PB]
claims to have done so . . . He came to me and sought alleviation of
suffering, but did not actually object to the very performance of my duties
as such”. For Arendt, this and other episodes revealed “the moral collapse
of Jewish society”. And accompanying it, of course, was the moral collapse
of Christian society too. Peter Baehr, Memorial University of Newfoundland.
6) Book review:
Martin Kalusche, Das Schloss an der Grenze. Kooperation und Konfrontation
mit dem Nationalsozialismus in der Heil- und Pflegeanstalt fuer
Schwachsinnige und Epileptische Stetten i. R.. Heidelberg:DWI Verlag 1997
(Diakoniewissenschaftliche Studien, Bd 10) 412 pp DM 32-
(English summary: Ed. The tragic history of the mistreatment and even murder
of the mentally-ill in Nazi Germany is now being explored more fully,
especially on the local level. Many of these patients were placed in
church-run institutions, such as the one at Stetten in Wuerttemberg, which
is the subject of this capable analysis. The author makes clear that the
clash of loyalties between Christian compassion and Nazi racial demands was
felt by all the staff, but particularly by the directors. He gives a full
account of the dilemma of Pastor Ludwig Schlaich, but suggests that his was
not a strong personality able to withstand the constant pressures to
conform. Stetten showed how easily all in charge got used to the poisonous
impact of Nazi ideas. The initial Nazi programme in 1934 was for compulsory
sterilization of Stetten’s patients as a “sacrifice for the sake of national
health purity”, as Schlaich justified such steps.
From May 1940 onwards, the deportations from Stetten began, despite
ineffective protests. Within seven weeks nearly half the inmates had been
put to death. The author rightly expresses his inability to describe
adequately their feelings, or the conflicts felt by the hospital staff,
especially when heartrending choices had to be made in the hopes of saving
some of the victims.
The third part of the book is more analytical and discusses the whole issue
of “euthanasia” in its wider context, as also a comparison with the story at
other German institutions. The author successfully combines an
identification with the theme’s subjects, but also a due scholarly distance.
“Stetten” ist fuer viele Menschen in Wuerttemberg ein Synonym fuer eine
Anstalt, aus der zur Zeit des Nationalsozialismus behinderte Menschen zur
Ermordung abgeholt wurden. “Stetten” – das verbindet sich schliesslich mit
einer zentralen Gestalt, Pfarrer Ludwig Schlaich (1899-1977), dem
Hauptprotagonisten dieses Buches. Basierend auf einer 1100 Seiten dicken
Chronik der Anstalt Stetten widmet sich der Autor in acht Kapiteln der
Grundfrage: “Wie war es moeglich, dass vor zwei Generationen fast die
Haeflte der Bewohnerinnen und Bewohner verschleppt und auf der Schwaebischen
Alb ermordert werden konnte? Inwiefern war die Anstalt Stetten an den
nationalsozialistischen Verbrechen an behinderten Menschen beteiligt?”
Drei Hauptteile sind es, in denen diese Frage aus jeweils veraenderter
Perspektive angegangen wird. Im ersten Teil “Leben und Arbeiten in der Heil-
und Pflegeanstalt 1933-40” (S 33-142) orientiert Kalusche die Leser ueber
die Vorgeschichte der Anstalt Stetten wie ueber die Hauptpersonen. Er
informiert ueber die finanzielle Situation der Anstalten. Stetten ist im
Dritten Reich ein oekonomisch prosperierendes Unternehmen, was aber durch
grosse Sparsamkeit und einer damit einhergehenden Verschlechterung von
Lebens- und Arbeitsbedingungen erkauft wird. Dabei orientiert sich der Autor
stark an dem Begriff der “Grenze”. Er thematisiert ihn am
(Nicht-)Verhaeltnis der Anstalt zur Gemeindee Stetten, wie er auch die
Grenzen der geistlichen Gemeinschaft in Stetten aufweist: Mitarbeiter und
Bewohner gehen getrennt zum Abendmahl; viele Bewohner, die nicht konfirmiert
werden koonten, sind vom Abendmahl ausgeschlossen.
Ein erster Hohepunkt des Buches liegt im zweiten Kapitel, in der Stetten als
Teil der NS-Volksgemeinschaft untersucht wird. Dabei wird deutlich, wie sehr
NSBO und KdF die “Betriebsgemeinschaft” Stetten praegen wollen. Natuerlich
muss sich im Herbst 1937 auch die gesamte Mitarbeiterschaft sich auf Hitler
verpflichten. Zweifellos – so folgert der Autor – war nach dem Willen der
Verantwortlichen die Anstalt Teil des NS-Volksgemeinschaft. Daneben steht
jedoch, und dqs wirkt vielfach paradox, die Feststellung, dass hier
weiterhin im Rahmen des christlichen Menschenbildes der eigene Wert jedes
behinderten Menschen vertreten wurde, was der Autor zu Beginn des dritten
Kapitels mit vielen Belegen zeigt. (S.120) Hier wie an vielen anderen
Stellen wird die schwierige Gratwanderung Ludwig Schlaichs deutlich, die
zwischen dem Kosten-Nutzen-Aspekt und der positiven Bedeutung der
behinderten Menschen entlang fuehrt.
“Brauchbare-Auslese” heisst der Begriff, mit dem sich Schlaich
auseinandersetzen muss. Zusammenfassend muss Kalusche feststellen, dass bei
aller Paradoxie Stetten nicht der Ort war, an dem sich aus christlichen
Glauben, Ablehnung des NS-Terrors und einem Patriotismus, der Freiheit und
Menschenwuerde verpflichtet ist, eine Widerstandshaltung entwickeln konnte.
Er konstatiert vielmehr eine allmaehliche “Gewoehnung an das Gift des
Nationalsozialismus” (S.145)
Der zweite Teil der Arbeit, der den nationalsozialistischen Verbrechen an
den Behinderten in Stetten gewidmet ist (S 143-323) thematisiert zunaechst
in beklemmender Weise Begruendung und Realisierung der von der Inneren
Mission weithin begruessten Zwangssterilisierung. Der Autor beleuchtet
dieses Thema unter anderem aufgrund einer Rundfunkreportage, einem
“Hoerbericht aus der Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Stetten i/Remstal”, die die
Sterilisierung subtil an die Hoererschaft bringen will, spaeter gleichwohl
doch nicht ausgestrahlt wird. Im weiteren geht er auf den Kreis der
Sterilisierten ein, wie auch auf die traumatischen Folgen der
Sterilisierung. Der Autor zieht aus Schlaich’s Stellungnahmen und
praktischer Taetigkeit die Einsicht, dass ausgehend von einer politischer
Entscheidung fuer das Dritte Reich die theologische Urteilsbildung eindeutig
korrumpiert worden sei. So wird die Unfruchtbarmachung von Schlaich als
Bewaehrung des “Erbkranken” als Christ und “Volksgenossen” interpretiert,
als “Opfer” fuer den Staat, “um die weitere Untergrabung der Volksgesundheit
durch die Erbkrankheiten zu verhindern”. (Vortrag Schlaich 27.1.1935 in
Stuttgart, zit. bei Kalusche, S.196)
Am 22 Mai 1940 beginnt die Deportation von Bewohnern der Anstalt Stetten.
Sieben Transporte schildert Kalusche in seinem Buch, nicht ohne die
Korrespondenz der Anstalt mit den Angehoerigen zu dokumentieren. In diesen
Zusammenhang kann nur der Autor recht gegeben werden, wenn er schreibt:
“Dabei stossen wir immer wieder an die Grenzen dessen, was im Rahmen einer
wissenschaftlichen Arbeit moeglich ist. Wie soll es gelingen, das Schicksal
der Deportierten und Ermordeten, aber auch die Todesangst der mit dem Leben
Davongekommenen angemessen zu schildern? Wie ist es moeglich, dem tragischen
Konflikt gerecht zu werden, den die Anstaltleitung aushalten muss, wenn sie
Menschenleben opfert, um andere zu retten?” (S.286).
Der Autor resuemiert, dass die Leitung der Anstalt Stetten mit den
Deportation rechnen musste. Als die ersten Transporte angekuendigt werden,
habe man gegen die Deportation beim Reichsstatthalter und beim
Innenministerium interveniert, wenngleich weithin ohne Erfolg. Auch die
Bemuehungen der Angehoerigen waren nicht ganz fruchtlos, wenngleich sie
wenig daran aenderten, dass in zwoelf Wochen fast die Haelfte der
behinderten Menschen umgebracht wurde. Ende 1940 wurde die Anstalt Stetten
beschlagnahmt. Viele der in anderen Anstalten verlegten Menschen wurden dort
Opfer der “Euthanasie”.
Abschliessend geht der Autor im dritten Teil auf Fragen von Widerstand und
Nonkonformitaet ein, beleuchtet Schlaichs verklaerende Schrift
“Lebensunwert” aus dem Jahre 1947 und vergleicht Stetten mit anderen
Einrichtungen der Inneren Mission in Sueddeutschland. (S.324-384)
Das Buch endet mit der Frage nach zeitgenoessischen Herausforderungen in
Form von sieben sehr bedenkenswerten Thesen. Unter anderem konstatiert er
hier “Formen von Gewoehnung und Korrumpierung” und fordert ein offensives
Umgehen mit der “Realitaet eines internationalen
biotechnologisch-industriellen Komplexes”. Die wichtigste Einsicht aus der
Geschichte der “Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens” liege wohl darin, “dass
ein Verbrechen, auch wenn man annimmt, es sei zu gross, um jemals begangen
zu werden, dennoch veruebt werden kann” (S.384)
Nur wenige Buecher aus dem Bereich der Kirchlichen Zeitgeschichte, die in
den vergangenen Jahren erschienen sind, koennen sich mit dieser Heidelberger
Dissertation messen. Das gilt auf drei Ebenen. Zum einen liest man selten
eine so geglueckte Synthese vonb Identifikation mit dem Thema und
wissenschaftlich notwendiger Distanz. Zur anderen is beeindruecken, dass
sich der Autor nicht von herkoemlichen Schablonen blenden laesst, sondern
tief in die Quellen eindringt, um die Wahrheit herauszufinden. Schliesslich
bleibt er nicht in einer unverbindlichen historischen Beschaeftigung stehen,
sondern schafft es, im besten Sinne einen Lernprozess anzustossen. Dem
Rezensenten bleibt nur, die Lektuere dieses Buches vorbehaltlos zu
Rainer Laechele, Riesengebirgstr.2, D 73457 Essingen, Germany
It only remains for me to wish you all the compliments of the season, and to
hope that we shall all meet again in 1999.
John S.Conway