December 1999 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

Newsletter- December 1999- Vol.V, no. 12

Dear Friends,
This month marks not only the end of the year, and supposedly of the
Millennium, but also the completion of Volume 5 of this Newsletter. When I
launched this project – as a retirement occupation – I never imagined that
it would continue for so long, nor that the volume of materials relating to
contemporary church history would be so large. Nor had I any idea who might
be interested in receiving these brief bulletins about recent books and
events in this particular field. So of course I have been pleasantly
surprised and encouraged to find that some 300 colleagues around the world
subscribe to this Newsletter, and – what is more important – that there
continues to be a valuable output of new books on our subject, indicating
not only an active pursuit of new archives and sources, but also a lively
interest in the on-going debates which engross the church history
fraternity. This Newsletter can only hope to cover a small portion of the
total field, but I am vastly encouraged by the messages you have sent
indicating that you feel the endeavour is worth while. My hope is that I
will be able to continue this service to the cause for some time yet, but my
task would be much easier, and the quality doubtless enhanced, if you would
avail yourselves of the invitation to contribute items you would like to
share. Please feel free to write or E-mail me anything which would have this
wider interest. And together I trust we shall be able to mark the advent of
the new century with suitable contributions to remembering the achievements
of the past.
To mark the advent of the new century, the Newsletter is launching a
Millennium Prize of $100 for the best essay – to be submitted in either
English or German – on the topic:
“The Christian Churches in the Twentieth Century”
You are invited to contribute an essay of no more than 10 single space
The deadline for entry is March 31st 2000.
Since this is the season of Advent and Christmas, let me take this
opportunity of expressing to you all my hopes that you will be able to have
a blessed celebration of these Feasts, and to send you by this means my
very best wishes for your well-being in the New Year.
John Conway
1) Conference reports, a) Protestant Churches under Communism, Sandbjerg,
b) German Studies Association, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
c) Bonhoeffer Conference, Pennsylvania State University
2) Book review: The Cambridge Companion to Dietrich Bonhoeffer
3) New journal issue, Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte
4) Book notes: Dorothee Soelle, Memoirs; L.Spitzer, Hotel Bolivia
1a) Protestant Churches in Central and Eastern Europe under Communist
rule. This international conference held in Sandbjerg Manor, Denmark, at the
end of October, was a part steering-committee and part conference weekend.
This project is sponsored by the Danish state and by Volkswagen funds, and
is managed by an international steering committee under Prof. Jens-Holger
Schjorring, Church History and Practical Theology, Aarhus University. Its
aim is to sponsor, where it can, archival research leading to monographical
publications by a new generation of central and eastern European church
historians working on the contemporary history of their Protestant churches.
Periodic conferences are projected mixing general papers and current
research reports. This was the initial introductory meeting, made all the
more pleasant by being held in the fine late eighteenth-century Reventlow
and Dahl family home, now managed by Aarhus University.
The following general papers were given: The Iron Curtain and its
repercussions for the Churches in East and West – Nicholas Hope, Glasgow;
The Estonian Evangelical Church and its relations with the Protestant
churches of Latvia and Lithuania – R.Altnirme; The Protestant Churches in
Slovakia before and under Communist rule – D.Vesely; Thoughts on the
contemporary church history of the Balkans – C.Riis and P.Lodberg; The
Protestant Churches in the Soviet Occupied Zone of Germany and in the GDR –
Methods and Research so far – Martin Greschat; Hungary: Theologies of Church
Perspectives from above and below – T.Fabiny; The Protestant minority in
Rumania under communist rule – C.Klein; Destruction and Renewal of the
Protestant Churches in the Soviet Union – G.Stricker.
Of particular interest were several reports on very recent research by young
central and eastern European scholars. Sandbjerg’s mix of plenary sessions
and informality was an excellent start to a project which aims to promote
and share, in both east and west, the work of a new generation of church
N.M.Hope, University of Glasgow

1b)This year’s meeting of the German Studies Association in Atlanta,Georgia,
included several panels of particular interest to scholars of church
Several of these papers were clearly sequels to those given at last year’s
conference, see below, under New journal issue,KZG.
i) “German Protestants Face German Guilt, 1945-1950,” with papers by Robert
Ericksen (Pacific Lutheran University); Rainer Hering (Staatsarchiv
Hamburg); and Hartmut Lehmann (Max-Planck Institute for History,
Goettingen); moderator and commentator Peter Steinbach (Freie Universitaet,

Bob Ericksen began with a paper on, “Protestant Evasion: `Persilscheine’ and
Other Guilt Avoidance Measures,” examining the role of German Protestant
leaders in evading early denazification efforts. As his title suggested,
Ericksen told a story of moral failure. Prominent Protestant leaders such as
Martin Niemoeller and Bishops Wurm, Meiser, and Faulhaber, all opposed plans
of the military governments to carry out denazification. Protestant pastors
produced numerous so-called Persil certificates attesting to the “clean
hands” of their bearers; such statements from clergy did help people get off
in many cases. It was not only small-fry who sought and got help from
Protestant clergy. A Confessing Church pastor in Frankfurt wrote in support
of Professor Verscheuer, Director of the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute in Berlin
and Josef Mengele’s mentor. Bishop Wurm interceded on behalf of Hans
Heinrich Lammers, head of Hitler’s Reich Chancellery, as well as SS
Hauptsturmfuehrer Hans Sommer, even though Sommer had left the church in
1933. Protestant pastors even defended leaders of the notorious
Sonderkommmandos who had slaughtered Jews and other supposed enemies of the
Reich in the Baltic states. According to Ericksen, Protestant church leaders
never considered denazification to be legitimate. They thought that a purge
of National Socialists would strengthen what they considered the church’s
own enemies–leftists and Jews. Moreover, they could not accept
denazification because they had been Nazis themselves, or if not themselves,
certainly they had friends and family members in Nazi ranks.

Rainer Hering’s paper was called “Did the Allies Make a Concentration Camp
out of Germany? Paul Schuetz (1891-1985), the Third Reich, and the Question
of War Guilt.” Hering used one individual, the churchman Paul Schuetz, to
examine the ambiguity of German Protestant responses, both to National
Socialism in its time and to dealing with that chapter of the German past.
Schuetz, a pastor and Privatdozent during the Nazi years, became a leading
representative of the church in Hamburg. Neither a member of the Nazi Party,
a “German Christian,” nor a vehement antisemite, he even had one of the
books he authored seized by the Gestapo in 1935. Nevertheless after 1945, he
considered the real victims of the war to have been gentile Germans. Schuetz
equated the destruction of Jews with what he called the Allies’ postwar
“psychological terror” against Germans. It was Schuetz who claimed that the
Allies had turned all of Germany into a concentration camp. Hering concluded
with reflections on Schuetz’s theology, which came out of a tradition that
emphasized God’s forgiveness for human sin much more than the need for
reconciliation and forgiveness between human beings. This was not the only
case where churchmen showed a startling disrespect for and obstruction of
attempts at an accounting with the Nazi past.

Hartmut Lehmann’s paper asked “Muss Luther Nach Nuernberg?” As suggested in
the subtitle–“Deutsche Schuld im Lichte der Lutherliteratur
1946/47”–Lehmann looked at how Luther’s legacy was assessed in Germany
after the war. Nazi propaganda had made much use of Luther’s anti-Jewish
writings, but as Lehmann showed, postwar Protestants found ways to avoid
confronting that stain on their hero. It was Hans Asmussen who asked, “Muss
Luther nach Nuernberg?,” but most of his counterparts avoided a direct
answer to that question. Gerhard Ritter insisted that Luther had nothing to
do with the crimes of the Third Reich; he did not mention Luther’s
anti-Jewish writings even once. Theologians who had supported Hitler as well
as those who had criticized or opposed National Socialism had little or
nothing to say about Luther’s antisemitism; at most they conceded that he
had been misused. Some, like Heinrich Bornkamm, altered their earlier
writings to present a sanitized, “denazified” Luther. The net result,
according to Lehmann, was that German Protestant theologians after the war
declared Luther–and by extension themselves–innocent of any wrong. Their
cleaned-up version of Luther seemed to provide a comfortable foundation on
which to build a new church for the future.

ii) “Resacrilizing the Secular: Protestantism and the Making of Modern
Germany,” with papers by Edward Mathieu (University of Michigan); Timothy
Kaiser (University of Michigan); and Richard Steigmann-Gall ( St. Francis
Xavier University, Nova Scotia); moderator Dagmar Herzog (Michigan State
University); comment by Doris Bergen (University of Notre Dame).
There was a smaller crowd for the presentations by three younger members,
but a lively discussion followed. Ed Mathieu spoke on “Public Ritual and the
Bourgeois Religious Project in Imperial Germany,” focusing on the Luther
Festival of 1883. According to Mathieu, the late nineteenth century was a
“time of continuing religious antagonism and perceived Protestant decline”
in Germany. The Luther Festival provided the German Protestant bourgeoisie
with an opportunity to define and assert themselves and their values
vis-a-vis German Catholics, Jews, workers, and “the masses.” In Thuringia,
every town and city staged its own Luther Festival in the anniversary year
of 1883; those events show the blending of religious and national action in
local settings.

Tim Kaiser’s paper was called “Fight the Good Fight: Protestant Youth and
the Battle against `Schund und Schmutz’.” He looked at a German Protestant
organization in the 1920s and early 1930s that sought to combat publication
of material its members considered distasteful and morally dangerous. Kaiser
argued that the so-called Protestant Schundkaempfer called on their
religious beliefs and traditions to create a unique and separate identity
for themselves. Protestantism, he said, was an explicit part of these young
men’s motivational structure. Like other youth groups, they used the
language and images of military combat to describe their activity, but they
also presented their fight against Schund and Schmutz as an element of a
much larger spiritual struggle of good against evil. Bible study and prayer
were central to their activities, although they also used the amenities of
the modern “big city” to help promote their cause.

Richard Steigmann-Gall’s contribution, “Apostasy or Religiosity? The
Cultural Meanings of the Protestant Vote for Hitler,” dealt with the
question of who voted for Hitler and investigated the roles that German
Protestantism played among the Nazi electorate. Steigmann-Gall identifies
what he calls a “Protestant affinity” for Nazi politics leading up to
January 1933, when Hitler became chancellor of Germany. Protestantism was
the single most important factor in determining who voted for Hitler, he
said, and it was not just the institutional affiliation that made the
difference. According to Steigmann-Gall, the extent of support for National
Socialism correlates directly to the degree of allegiance to Protestantism,
rather than, as has been so often suggested, apostasy from it.
Steigmann-Gall’s historiographical survey called for a dual reassessment: on
the one hand, he suggested, social and political historians need to take
seriously issues of religiosity; on the other hand, scholars who study the
ideas of Nazism and the churches in the Third Reich need to consider
Nazism’s connections to Protestantism rather than simply assuming it to be
inherently anti-Christian.

iii) A session on ‘Human Rights in Democratic Germany’ included a paper on
Jehovah’s Witnesses by Gerhard and Renate-Marie Besier (Heidelberg). This
paper focused on the legal request by Jehovah’s Witnesses to be acknowledged
with the status of a corporation under public law (i.e., instead of being
considered a sect without legal rights). Gerhard explained the background,
including the ironic fact that Witnesses, who suffered so much under
National Socialism, still suffer stigmatization under a democratic regime.
Renate added a statistical analysis to show that, according to the very
indices considered significant for German society, including employment, job
satisfaction, family stability, etc., Jehovah’s Witnesses would seem to
represent a positive rather than a negative force in Germany. [See also
below, item 3]
Doris Bergen, U. of Notre Dame and Bob Ericksen, Pacific Lutheran University

1c)”Bonhoeffer’s Dilemma: The Ethics of Violence”: conference held at
Pennsylvania State University, October 28-31, 1999.
Interest in the German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was
executed by the Nazi regime on April 9, 1945, shows no sign of decreasing.
One reason for this may be the unusual scope of Bonhoeffer’s interests and
activism, which went far beyond the realm of his own church. He was not only
actively involved in the German church struggle; he had a strong interest in
(and opinions about) the European ecumenical movement and the religious
scene in the United States. His movement into the political resistance was
unusual for a theologian, and his theological reflection on this move is one
factor that makes his writings seem so relevant today.
Thus, scholars who study Bonhoeffer in depth are compelled to go beyond the
boundaries of their own disciplines. Historians who examine Bonhoeffer’s
role in the German resistance, for example, are helped by understanding the
controversies that marked the German church struggle, as the context for
Bonhoeffer’s own ethical and theological reflections on resistance and the
role of the church.
These aspects make Bonhoeffer an ideal subject for interdisciplinary study
and an intriguing case study in ethics. The recent conference, organized by
the Institute for the Arts and Humanistic Studies at Pennsylvania State
University, focused on a specific dilemma: how to resist violence without
creating an equal or greater evil. Drawing upon Bonhoeffer as a case study,
speakers from very different disciplines brought their expertise and insight
to bear upon this question.
The result was an extensive exploration of Bonhoeffer and his legacy. The
nature of evil, nationalism and resistance were discussed, both within the
limited context of Nazi Germany and on a more universal level. Several
speakers addressed Bonhoeffer’s relevance for African-American theologians
and his political legacy in the United States civil rights movement and, as
John de Gruchy described, in the South African anti-apartheid movement (as
well as in the painstaking process of reconciliation that has followed).
This proved to be a fascinating and thought provoking exchange.
John Pawlikowski offered a valuable overview of which Catholic theologians
have dealt with Bonhoeffer (and which have not), and concluded by comparing
key tenets of Catholic social teaching with some of the central themes of
Bonhoeffer’s thought. Another panel, including Klemens von Klemperer, as a
nearly contemporary witness, contrasted Bonhoeffer’s approach to the ethic
of resistance and tyrannicide with the larger context of his notions of
Christian love and existence. This counterpoint showed how his ethical
thinking changed as the brutality and oppression of the Nazi regime
Because the two Jewish scholars invited had to withdraw, a Jewish
perspective on these issues was missing. This was particularly unfortunate,
since much recent scholarship has focused on the significance of
Bonhoeffer’s theological perspective on Judaism and the extent to which his
political resistance was motivated by outrage against the Nazi persecution
of the Jews. Since both these questions continue to be debated, a Jewish
response to some of the points raised in other papers would have been a
valuable addition to the meeting.
The true strength of the conference was its interdisciplinary nature and the
dialogue between scholars from different fields. An added attraction was the
moving recollections of retired East German bishop Albrecht Schönherr, who
was one of Bonhoeffer’s seminarians in Finkenwalde, and one of the few men
still alive who knew Bonhoeffer personally. Schönherr’s own ministry and
leadership after 1945 gave him a unique perspective from which to reflect
back upon his early teacher and the ongoing legacy, in very difference
circumstances, of Bonhoeffer’s life and work. [see also below, items 2 and
3] Victoria Barnett, Washington, D.C.
2) Book review: ed. Gruchy, The Cambridge Companion to Dietrich
Bonhoeffer, Cambridge University Press 1999 281 pp.
The series of Cambridge Companions is intended to provide an accessible and
stimulating introduction to significant events or personalities for the
intelligent non-specialist or new readers. Each volume contains specially
commissioned essays by international scholars, who do not seek to advance
new theses or research but to sum up the state of debate so far. In the case
of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, this aim is well fulfilled by an expert team of a
dozen English-speaking scholars and a lone German, led by John de Gruchy,
Professor in Cape Town. Fifty and more years after his martyrdom, Bonhoeffer
‘s importance is still, even increasingly, recognized both as theologian and
Christian witness. A current evaluation is therefore timely.
The book falls into two halves: Bonhoeffer’s life and legacy, and the major
themes in his theology. The Australian scholar John Moses leads off with a
finely balanced account of the political context of the time, when so many
of the intellectual trends led Germans to see Nazism as a desirable solution
to their political woes. Burton Nelson of Chicago follows with a brief
biographical sketch which De Gruchy complements with an examination of why
Bonhoeffer’s life and thought continues to inspire and challenge Christians
This account is not purely hagiographical. Keith Clements, for example, can
ask some penetrating questions about the realism of Bonhoeffer’s pacifist
commitment and the ecumenical church movement’s role in world affairs. Ruth
Zerner points out that Bonhoeffer’s statements about the Jews in 1933 now
seem unconvincingly patronizing, though she believes, had he lived, he would
have taken the lead in dismantling Christian anti-Judaism. Larry Rasmussen
rightly points out the centrality of Bonhoeffer’s search for new ethical
foundations at a time when traditional cultural and religious patterns were
being torn to shreds. His unfinished book ‘Ethics’ is an attempt to find
some responsible way for both individuals and societies to relate
dynamically to their actual situations when the Church could no longer lay
down moral laws for all.
Bonhoeffer’s concept of human autonomy in a world come of age is now so
well-known that Peter Selby’s recapitulation of the passages from the
Letters from Prison seeks to evoke once again the shock these seemingly
outrageous statements made when they were first read. But he does well to
point out that Bonhoeffer was depicting a situation derived from his own
German experiences. Nevertheless, his call for the Church to be a vehicle
for reconciliation and redemption, the church for others, in the service of
a suffering God, has been heeded universally with a world-wide impact. The
inspiration and the incentive still remains, even though it took nearly
three decades before his fellow Germans were prepared to accept his witness.
But fifty years after his death, as Geffrey Kelly reminds us, Bonhoeffer’s
spiritual pilgrimage and his combining prayer with action for justice and
peace is still enormously appealing.
These collected essays go a long way to explain why this is so. JSC
3) New issue of journal: Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte Vol 12, no 1 1999/1
This issue, just released, contains contributions by several authors already
noted above in the conference reports. The general theme is “Religions and
Denominations in European Society”, covering a wide range of twentieth
century aspects. Nicholas Hope, for example, gives a excellent overview of
the Scandinavian churches and their relationships to the national political
bodies in the first half of the century. Drawing on papers given at last
year’s German Studies Association conference, Richard Steigmann-Gall
analyses the “Furor Protestanticus: Nazi conceptions of Luther 1919-33”, Bob
Ericksen describes “Luther, Lutherans and the German Church Struggle”, and
Hartmut Lehmann depicts the views of the Erlangen theologian Hugo Preuss in
Hartmut Lehmann also contributes a longer piece in which he reflects on the
position of the churches at the end of the century. He believes that,
despite all the pressures and disruptions they have gone through, the
churches are still able to maintain their position in European society. “It
would be short-sighted, not to say false, to depict the development of
religion and denominations in Europe in the 2oth century purely from the
aspect of the secularization theory. What we have is actually a complicated
mixture of tendencies towards both a de-Christianisation, a secularization
as well as a de-mythification of the world on the one side, but also a
re-christianizing and a sacralising of at least some parts of both public
and private life, along with a rediscovery of new aspects of mystery/myth on
the other side”.
In addition, Inge Mager, having carefully studied Bonhoeffer’s so-called
‘Love Letters from Cell 92’ sees in his relationship with his fiancee Maria
an important factor in developing his ideas on the ‘worldly’ interpretation
of theological concepts. And Waldemar Hirsch outlines the sad story of the
persecution of the leading member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany by
the Stasi, using Nazi records to discredit him and his followers as
‘traitors’, in order to justify the GDR’s total ban on this sect’s
activities in its territory.
4) Book notes:
a) Dorothee Soelle’s autobiography ‘Against the Wind. Memoirs of a radical
Christian’ (Fortress Press, Minneapolis 1999) has now appeared in English,
in a sprightly translation by our two Nova Scotia colleagues, Barbara and
Martin Rumscheidt. This reflects very well Soelle’s struggle as a German
woman theologian, not only for academic recognition, but also to make
concrete her search for an appropriate theological response to the terrors
of today’s
world. As a leading champion of liberation theology for women and men,
Soelle has bravely borne her share of criticism, but has pursued her quest
for justice with both passion and prayer. She describes her arrival in New
York in the 1970s to teach systematic theology at Union Theological Seminary
as an ideal opportunity to pursue independent writing with a teaching
position in a very liberal theological school. The contrast with Germany was
notable. She laments the often reactionary political stance of her own
church in West Germany, but affirms the positive signs of penitence and
renewal she sees around the globe. This is a very personal memoir,
witnessing to an activist’s confronting suffering with commitment, pain with
protest, as often expressed through her poetry. She also shows a resolute
determination to affirm a radical Christianity which will not yield to
complacency or conformity, but pertinently asks the question: Does anyone
seriously believe we could live without hunger and thirst for justice?
b) One of the most perceptive new books on the Jewish refugees who fled from
central Europe in 1938-9 is Leo Spitzer’s Hotel Bolivia. The culture of
memory in a refuge from Nazism, (New York: Hill and Wang 1998). Based on his
own and his families’ memories and mementos, Spitzer describes the fortunes
of the small group who gained visas for Bolivia, and were transported to the
high plateaus of the Andes without any opportunity for climatic or cultural
adjustment, or desire for permanent settlement. Hence the book’s title.
Spitzer brings out with great insight the feelings of relief, guilt,
frustration and accommodation experienced by these refugees, almost all of
whom left Bolivia as soon as convenient after 1945. A model for Holocaust
survivor narratives.
John S.Conway