February 2000 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

Newsletter- February 2000- Vol.VI, no. 2

Dear Friends,



1) Obituary: Dr L.Siegele-Wenschkewitz

2) Forthcoming Conference: 30th Annual Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches, March 4th – 7th

3) Book reviews:

a) S.Selinger, C.v.Kirschbaum and K.Barth

b) E.Voegelin, Hitler and the Germans

c) N.Railton, German Evangelicals and Third Reich

4)Book notes:

a) A.Lindemann, Esau’s Tears
b) B.Chiari, Alltag hinter der Front
c) ed.P.Smith, After the Wall
d) Kretschmar, Das bischoefliche Amt
e) Mensing, Pfarrer und Nationalsozialismus

5)Journal articles:

a) R.Shaffer, Japanese Internees
b) G.Besier, East German Churches
c) B.Schafer, East German Catholics
6) Correction: H.Kreutzer, Reich Church Ministry

7) Technical Note



1) It is with great regret that we learn of the recent death of Frau Dr. Leonore Siegele-Wenschkewitz (1944-1999) in Frankfurt, Germany. As a former associate of the late Professor Klaus Scholder in Tubingen, she developed a keen interest in the history of the Church Struggle, and published her researches on this topic. most notably in her valuable study Theologische Fakultaeten im Nationalsozialismus, Goettingen 1993. From 1983 she worked as Moderator of Studies at the Evangelical Academy in Arnoldshain, near Frankfurt, of which she became the Director in 1996. The numerous conferences and seminars she helped to organize there played a significant role in the life of the church in western Germany. At the same time she was an adjunct professor at Frankfurt University, when she had an opportunity to express her interest in the role of women in the church She served for many years as a member of the Evangelical Church’s Board for Contemporary History, and since 1988 was its vice-chairman. In view of the sad illness of the chairman, she was called on to take a very active role in the Board’s affairs in the last year of her life. In 1999 she was awarded the Edith Stein Prize, and was fortunately able to go to Gottingen to receive this honour and to deliver an appropriate speech in recognition of Edith Stein on this occasion.

2) The 30th Annual Scholars’ Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches will be held at St. Joseph’s University and the Adams Mark Hotel, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from Saturday, March 4th to Tuesday, March 7th. The key note address on Sunday, March 5th will be delivered by Elie Wiesel. Registration and information can be obtained from the Annual Scholars’ Conference, P.O.Box 10, Merion Station, Pa 19066, FAX 610-667-0265.

3a) Suzanne Selinger, Charlotte von Kirschbaum and Karl Barth. A Study in Biography and the History of Theology. University Park, Penn: Penn.State U.P. 1998. 206pp

Female theologians are still a rarity: how much more so seventy years ago! The career of Charlotte von Kirschbaum, secretary and theological assistant to Karl Barth for over thirty years, has long intrigued, and sometimes scandalized, admirers of the most prominent Protestant theologian of the 20th century. Feminists have long accused Barth of exploiting “Lollo”, as she was always known, and Suzanne Selinger, herself an accomplished theological writer, shares a lot of the anger at what she sees as Barth’s
selfishness in not promoting von Kirschbaum’s own career. On the other hand, Lollo herself was an intelligent, devoted and faithful interpreter of Barth’ s often complex theology and accepted, apparently willingly, her indispensable role as part of his household.
Suzanne Selinger recognizes that the secrets of their personal relationship are hardly recoverable and instead seeks to elucidate more about their professional links. She regrets that Lollo only published a small amount on her own account, but senses in this accomplishment signs of the kind of influence she may have had in her daily discussions with Barth. Selinger rightly sees that, in order to achieve the kind of theological writing in which he excelled, and especially in his great work Church Dogmatics,
Barth needed a dialogical partner – someone to function as sounding board and, most characteristically, someone with whom to think things through. In his earlier career, Eduard Thurneysen had played this role. But after Barth moved to Germany, and needed more direct assistance in his academic affairs, it was only natural that he should seek out someone whose sympathy for his ideas and understanding of his mental processes and doctrinal positions, was matched by an incredible capacity for more humdrum tasks. Not only did Lollo type out Barth’s drafts, answer his letters, “manage” his students, organize his timetable of meetings, lectures and speaking engagements, but even found time to compile a vast collection of useful excerpts from a huge variety of Christian writers, which could then be turned to at will.

Selinger is particularly good at tracing Lollo’s nuanced view of gender issues, in the light of the christologically-based anthropology she shared with, or adopted from, Barth. She certainly rejected the patriarchal view of much of her German tradition-bound society, as also the romanticized view of women as inherently dependent on men, or alternatively more religious than man. Such stereotyping had to be rejected in favour of the kind of relational existence of both men and women in response to God’s command. In the later chapters, Selinger examines closely Barth’s doctrines of the image of God, the gender question and his innovative theories of dialogical personalism. Lollo’s contribution to such ideas is impossible to unravel, but Selinger clearly believes she played a significant role in their eventual formulation, especially in stressing the creativity of women, including a mutual fellowship in the constructive building of community. To understand all this, a close acquaintance with Church Dogmatics is recommended.

Charlotte von Kirschbaum was criticized, both in her time and since, by feminists unable to comprehend her spiritual approach, who saw only exploitation of her undoubted gifts by the dominant male. Yet she chose to be freely herself for Barth – a perfect realisation of I – Thou relationship. It was a one-sided partnership, yet clearly rewarding for both. Perhaps, as Selinger suggets, Barth’s need to have Lollo’s constant presence was the result of a weakness, a loneliness, which demanded the company of the other. Her legacy is to be found buried in his comprehensive theological work. It is not therefore to be disparaged.


3b) Eric Voegelin. Hitler and the Germans. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999.

This book is based on lectures Eric Voegelin gave at the University of Munich in 1964, that are being published now for the first time. The lectures were given in German, and they have been ably edited and translated into English by Detlev Clemens and Brendan Purcell. In this work, Voegelin seeks to address questions such as these: What were the spiritual conditions in Germany which allowed Hitler to rise to power and gain the support of so many average people?, Why did the Christian churches respond to Nazism so weakly?, How did a regime rooted in illegality and murder take over the legal system in Germany?, Why do intellectuals and academics in Germany after the war have such a poor understanding of Nazism as a spiritual phenomenon?, Why are many former Nazis who are war criminals living openly and prospering in Germany after the war?

Those who are already familiar with Voegelin’s philosophy will find here the basic concepts which he has developed elsewhere: human existence occurs “in between” materiality and the transcendent realm of God; human beings have a marked tendency to avoid living honestly with this reality of the “between”; this leads them to create false “second realities” in which they attempt to exist autonomously, apart from God; the flight from reality has led to the modern neo-gnostic regimes of mass murder such as Stalinism and Nazism. In these lectures, Voegelin focuses on the historical circumstances of Nazism, making this volume more concrete and accessible than his other more abstract and philosophical writings, which have a tendency toward dense argument and complex terminology. This volume would serve very well as an introduction to Voegelin for someone who has not read him.

There is a clear undercurrent of anger animating this text, which is understandable given Voegelin’s personal history of persecution at the hands of the Nazis. Voegelin doesn’t allow his anger to derail his central purpose, however, which is to analyze the various dimensions of the “abyss” into which Germany descended: the academic abyss, the ecclesiastical abyss, and the legal abyss. In the academic realm, Voegelin’s principal target of attack is P. E. Schramm, the historian who edited Hitler’s Table Talk. Voegelin pillories Schramm for producing an “anatomy” of the dictator which reveals a fundamental lack of understanding of the subject. This lack of understanding is reprehensible in Voegelin’s eyes because the intellectual tools needed for correct understanding were available to Schramm–in classical philosophy, biblical theology, and the writings of contemporaries such as Karl Kraus, Robert Musil, Thomas Mann, Hermann Broch, and Heimito von Doderer.

Voegelin comments on the ecclesiastical situation in two substantial chapters which are devoted to the Catholic and Protestant spheres. In each case his critique is very harsh, emphasizing the idea that most Christians knew of the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis and either applauded it or did not care about it as long as they themselves were not being persecuted. When the reach of the Nazis’ power did begin to negatively impact the churches, then Christians all of sudden began to realize that they should be concerned about their fellow human beings who are being murdered. Voegelin reveals the narcissism at the root of this morale debacle as a massive failure of the Christian church to hold fast to the central biblical teaching regarding the creation of all people in the image of God. On pages
199-201, Voegelin puts forward a list of ten biblical and philosophical points which are necessary to teach German clerics and theologians “the elements of Christianity.” His wish for the use of this list: “Lower clergy, copy it out daily ten times; bishops and theologians, daily a hundred times; theologians who have received a Cross of Merit from the Federal Republic, daily two hundred times until they have got it.” Voegelin’s anger and sarcasm make the book lively, but they don’t set the stage for a balanced and comprehensive historical account. He pays very little attention to the Confessing Church, for example, mentioning Bonhoeffer only in passing and Karl Barth not even once. His judgment that there was “no good theology” being produced in Germany at the time seems very odd in light of Barth’s works (162). But in hindsight, the impact of the Confessing Church was minimal in stemming the tide of Nazism, and Voegelin’s portrait of the situation is generally accurate. I make this comment without being a historian of that period myself. I would be very interested to read a review of this work written by such a person. It may be that members of the historical guild will not be as favorable in their attitude toward this work as I am, representing the guild of theological ethics.

Charles Bellinger, Regent College, Vancouver

3c) Nicholas Railton, The German Evangelical Alliance and the Third Reich. An analysis of the ‘Evangelisches Allianzblatt’, Bern: Peter Lang 1998, pp. 265 £27

Railton, who has already written an assessment of the German Free Churches and the Third Reich, has now produced this revealing study of the German Bible belt. Consisting of about one million adherents in the 1930s, and stretching from the Saxon Erzgebirge through Thuringia and Hessen to Baden and Wuerttemberg, it gave a depressingly rosy response to Hitlerism as a force standing for ‘positive Christianity’. Railton shows us quite clearly how much German evangelicalism (‘evangelikal’ used in its Anglo-American sense can be dated only as far back as 1965) in its modern phase, beginning with the loose inter-denominational Gnadau Association (1897) of Lutheran, Reformed and United Church evangelicals and their new missionary press (1890: c. 5,000), owed to the early modern and habitual German home-town environment and mentality of Pietism, Moravianism and early nineteenth-century Revivalism. Wilhelmine and Weimar successors, simply put, could not adapt either spiritually or morally to the challenges posed by our modern industrial age. It appears also that authoritarian political values investing the ‘state’ and those who ran it with an almost divine aura over-rode a religious ethos associated with being ‘born again’. The ideals of 1789, western Liberalism, Marxism, Bolshevism, post-1918 democratic republicanism and an alleged Jewish ‘materialism’ were lumped together, with not so much as the odd tweak of conscience, as poisons. These supposedly contaminated a German muscular evangelical post-1918 culture which drew its main inspiration from the recent hurrah patriotism of Bismarck’s Second Reich, and the ‘ we-are-so-hard-done-by’ interwar German Nationalist Party.

It does seem extremely odd today, that the two years 1933 and 1934, marking Nazi ‘co-ordination’, should be seen by the German Free Churches and evangelicals as giving far greater freedoms and opportunities than the years of the Weimar Republic, which had awarded the Christian Churches and other religions freedoms and financial support on a scale unheard of in Germany before 1918. It repays to read again and again, however bleak one’s frame of mind, this German ‘evangelical’ way of thinking and speaking during 1930-3. Railton summarizes it in the following way: ‘Hitler talked of “God”, ” the Lord” and “Providence”, so now they began to talk of the “Zeitenwende”, the “nationaler Aufbruch” and “Vorsehung”. The language of the Third Reich was already becoming the language of German evangelicalism’ (p.27) Chapter vi, ‘Evangelical social concerns’, and chapter vii, ‘The Jewish question’, recording adulation for Hitler as Mr Clean, and overt evangelical support for Nazi public moral hygiene, meaning clearing the streets of pimps,
prostitutes, homosexuals, Jews and assorted riff-raff, and approval of Nazi anti-abortion policy, pile a murky Pelion upon Ossa. The teaching of the Bible, purged, one might add, of the Old Testament, seems to have been completely dispensed with.

Nicholas Hope. (This review appeared first in the Journal of Ecclesiastical History, July 1999, p. 612-3)

Book notes:

4a) A.S.Lindemann, Esau’s Tears: Modern anti-semitism and the rise of the Jews, Cambridge University Press 1997. 568pp

The object of this large-scale history of anti-semitism is basically to take issue with the prevailing view found in simplistic surveys such as those by D.Goldhagen or Lucy Dawidowicz, which have blamed outside forces, including the Christian church, for this henomenon. Lindemann instead seeks to advance the polemical and provocative view that some aspects at least of this intolerance were due to the Jews’ own behaviour and their “rise”. On the historical role of the Church, Lindemann makes the following statement:

“One can unquestionably pinpoint Christian tendencies towards demonizing Jews, but such tendencies are balanced by others. The evidence is hardly persuasive that within Christian belief is contained a strongly determined predisposition, drawing in all Christians, to violent hatred of Jews. In modern times Christian peoples have differed enormously in their reactions to Jews, from mild philo-Semitism to murderous loathing. This range of sentiment cannot be convincingly connected to various traits within varieties of Christianity, whether Catholic, Protestant, or Greek Orthodox, sincere or lax, popular or elite.. . . Religion, though often seen as the ultimate or fundamental source of anti-Semitism, is too elastic and ambiguous a category to offer much more than conjectural, ahistorical and woolly explanations, in which the preconceptions and emotional agendas of the authors play a decisive role.” (p.xvi)

b) B.Chiari, Alltag hinter der Front. Besatzung, Kollaboration und Widerstand in Weissrussland 1941-1944 Dusseldorf, Droste Verlag 1998

This belated study of the German occupation of White Russia (Byelorussia) has a few pages dealing with the role of the church under Nazi rule (pp103ff). As in the Ukraine, the initial hopes for deliverance from the Communists led to exaggerated expectations amongst the upper Orthodox clergy which were soon enough disillusioned. As for the Catholics, who constituted some 20%, they were always regarded as hostile, and were treated accordingly. This is another mosaic in the wider picture of the fate of the Soviet churches which still remains to be written up. But B.Chiari has researched the Russian sources thoroughly as far as this aspect of his topic goes.

c) ed. Patricia Smith, After the Wall. Eastern Germany since 1989, Boulder, Colo. Westview Press, 1998

Detlef Pollack, a sociologist who teaches at Frankfurt an der Oder, contributes a chapter on the situation of religion since 1989, which draws on various interviews and samples to show that in fact the differences between religious practices and beliefs in east and west Germany are not all that great. Despite 40 years of deliberate secularization, the churches survive, though noticeably weaker in eastern Germany. On the other hand the anticipated loss to other faiths or cults has not happened. The expectations of what the churches should be like are similar, and the level of commitment, as for example to be seen in baptism or confirmation, are remarkably constant, but can not lend comfort to those who had hoped that the end of Communism would see a re-christianisation of the east German

d) Georg Kretschmar, Das bischoefliche Amt. Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1999 355pp

The former Professor of Church History in Hamburg and Munich, and subsequently the bishop of the revived Lutheran Church in the Baltic States, has contributed these studies in the episcopal office which cover the office of the bishop in the Early Church, its rediscovery and renewal of the ministry during the Reformation era, and its ecumenical relevance. e) The study by Bjorn Mensing, Pfarrer und Nationalsozialismus, which was reviewed here by Prof.Gerhard Besier in November 1998, has now achieved a
second edition with a new publisher, Verlag C. u. C. Rabenstein, Bayreuth. The author has taken the opportunity to make suitable corrections in the light of a vigorous response, extending from helpful additions by surviving eye-witnesses to personal attacks and threats of legal action, even anonymous denunciations.

5) Journal articles:

Jacques Kornberg, Ignaz von Dollinger’s Die Juden in Europa: A Catholic Polemic against Antisemitism, in Journal for the History of Modern Theology/Zeitschrift fur neuere Theologiegeschichte, Vol. 6 no 2, 1999, pp. 223-245

Kornberg, a professor at Toronto, brings to light a long forgotten lecture given in 1881 by this most distinguished Bavarian academic, who unfortunately had been excommunicated by the Vatican for his opposition to the policies of Pope Pius IX. Kornberg sees this attack on the kind of vulgar anti-Judaism in one persistent strain of Catholic thought as part of Dollinger’s overall campaign against the ultramontane authoritarianism being imposed by Rome. On the other hand, Dollinger still adhered to the kind of triumphalism which looked forward to the eventual voluntary conversion of Jews to (liberal) Christianity. The sentiments expressed are very reminiscent of those adopted 8o years later at the 2nd Vatican Council, and contributed to Dollinger’s recent rehabilitation.

Robert Shaffer, Opposition to Internment. Defending Japanese American rights during World War II, in The Historian, Vol 61, no. 3, Spring 1999, 597ff

This article describes the small number of sympathizers with the Japanese Americans interned in 1942, often pastors and missionaries, who had some contact with these congregations on the American West Coast, and sought to alleviate their plight.

Gerhard Besier, The German Democratic Republic and the State Churches, 1958-1989, in Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Vol 50, no 3, July 1999, p. 523ff

Designed to bring to an English audience the results of Prof.Besier’s enormous volume of research into the fate of the East German churches under Communist rule, this article is a valuable if much abbreviated summary. For those who want to explore further, the footnotes give useful help.

Bernd Schaefer, State and Catholic Church in Eastern Germany, 1945-1989, in German Studies Review, Vol. XXII, no 3, October 1999, p. 447ff

A useful summary of the Catholic Church’s position, on similar lines to the previous item.

6) Correction: Following our notice in last November’s Newsletter of Heike Kreutzer’s 1993 MA thesis on the establishment of the Reich Church Ministry in 1935, the author has now kindly sent us her more recently completed PhD thesis from Tuebingen University on the same topic, which is to be published later this year. She has expanded her earlier work with a full analysis of the documentation relating to the Church Ministry, which was for so long unavailable in East German archives. Although her treatment essentially stops in 1938, she again emphasizes her view that the Ministry’s failure and its fate was already decided by that date. Her researches confirm in detail what was already known – that the Minister, Hanns Kerrl, was an impulsive, semi-educated, naive and bungling politician. Moreover, he was incessantly caught in the cross-fire between the rival church camps, especially in the Evangelical Churches, on the one side, and at the same time, sabotaged by his supposed colleagues in the Nazi Party, who were much more skillful than he at interpreting Hitler’s often contradictory tactics towards the churches.

Kerrl started from the “idealist” position that the Churches and the Nazi Party should be integrated more closely together. “True Christianity and true National Socialism are identical” was typical of his approach, which was found to be absurd not only by orthodox churchmen, but also by the Party radicals. While Kerrl sought to bring the churches under state control, the Party radicals sought to diminish or even to abolish them. Kerrl found his only support in a handful of “German Christians”, but already by 1937, he had been effectively outmanouevred and his grandiose plans aborted. Heike Kreutzer’s contribution is to document the lamentable career of this
hapless Nazi minister in a manner which will not need to be done again. Her viewpoint is not new, and suffers from a considerable amount of repetition. Especially revealing is her account of the extent to which Kerrl was unable to gain the loyalty of his own staff, which included at least three clergymen regularly reporting on his actvities to the Gestapo. The official in charge of Catholic affairs, a renegade priest, was a determined opponent of the Concordat, and organized an extensive campaign to weaken the Catholic Church’s institutional life, thus playing into the hands of the Nazi extremists. On the Protestant side, the ministry’s officials did seem to have more sympathy for their “clients’, but again proved ineffective against the increasingly anti-church and anti-clerical camp led by Bormann, Goebbels and Rosenberg.

Ms Kreutzer clearly shows how this Ministry and its officials were part of the internecine rivalries within the Nazi power structures, which in the end led to its complete subordination and failure. It would be nice to think that this misbegotten attempt to use state power to manipulate and coerce the churches had been defeated by the churches’ united resistance against such unwanted provocation. But the evidence shows that this was not the case. Not only did the Catholic Church, for example, welcome the close association with the state by signing the Concordat with Hitler in 1933, but successfully campaigned to have it upheld again in West Germany in the 1950s. And the experience in East Germany, where the Ministry for Church Affairs, reappeared in a communist guise, was to prove equally lamentable on both the state’s and the churches’part. It was not a chapter of church history to be proud of.

7) Technical Note:

This Newsletter comes to you free, gratis and without cost. Anyone who is genuinely interested in contemporary church history is welcome to subscribe, whether or not they have teaching responsibilities in this area. As of January 2000, we have 275 subscribers, whose geographical location is as follows:

USA 103, Canada 61, Germany 44, U.K. 22, Australia 10, Sweden 4, Norway 3, France 3, Denmark 3, Switzerland 2, Belgium, Netherlands, South Africa, Poland, Austria, Ireland, Hungary, Finland 1 each, and a few in cyberspace. The subscribers’ list is NOT made available to any other agency or organization.

The contents of the Newsletter may be freely distributed, provided that appropriate acknowledgment of the source is made.
Written contributions or comments are most welcome and can be forwarded to me at the address below.

Anyone desiring to unsubscribe should also so indicate to me, and not to the list in general.
With best wishes

John S.Conway jconway@unixg.ubc.ca