May 2000 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

Newsletter- May 2000- Vol.VI, no. 5

Dear Friends.

I would like to thank Doris Bergen very much on your behalf for guest
editing last month’s Newsletter, and producing such a rich and interesting
fare that we had to split it into two parts. Judging by the response, we
very much hope we can prevail on her to take up the responsibility again in
the future.

Contents: 1) New Website
2) Obituary – Dieter Albrecht
3) Book reviews a) The Holocaust and the Christian World
b) U.Werner, Anthroposophism under Nazism
c) H.Roggelin, Franz Hildebrandt
d) G.Besier, Kirche, Politik und Gesellschaft im 20 Jahrhundert
4) Book notes a) Building the Church in America
b) H.Troper, The Ransomed of God
5) Journal articles: Zalar, Borromausverein ,Jones, Catholic conservatives

1) Thanks to the generous help of Randy Bytwerk, Calvin College, Grand
Rapids, Michigan, we now have a new website. This is henceforth:
and contains the index of all the issues of this Newsletter since its
inception in 1995. This will now be kept up to date. By the end of the
summer, the website will also include the full text of each issue back to
January 1998, and will be searchable for key words.

2) Obituary: Dieter Albrecht
Greg Munro, Australian Catholic University, Brisbane writes:
Subscribers to this Newsletter will be sad to learn of the death of Prof.
Dr. Dieter Albrecht on 8 October 1999. Prof. Albrecht achieved international
recognition for his research in the history of the Catholic Church during
the Church Struggle against the Nazi state. His principal areas of research
were the relationship between the Third Reich and the Vatican, Bavarian
history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and the history of the
Thirty Years War. Born in Munich in 1927, Dieter Albrecht studied History
and Germanistik at the University of Munich and completed his doctorate
under Max Spindler. From 1951 to 1953 he worked for the Kommission fur
bayerische Landesgeschichte. He completed his Habilitation in 1958 and
lectured at the University of Munich until 1963. From 1963 to 1967 he was
Professor of Modern History at the University of Mainz, before taking up the
chair of Modern and Contemporary History at the University of Regensburg
which he held until he retired in 1992. Prof. Albrecht was one of the
founding members of the Kommission fur Zeitgeschichte in September 1962,
which quickly emerged as one of the leading research centres for the history
of the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Nazi dictatorship,
as well of Catholicism in Germany during the past two centuries. The
Kommission published a number of his works, including the massive three
volumes of Der Notenwechsel zwischen dem Heiligen Stuhl und der deutschen
Reichsregierung (1969-1980). He was a member of the Historical Commission of
the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and was awarded the Verdienstkreuz (Class
1) of the Federal republic of Germany.

3) Book reviews a)
ed. Carol Rittner, Stephen Smith, Irena Steinfeldt, The Holocaust and the
Christian World. Reflections on the past: Challenges for the future. London:
Kuperard 2000
278 pp GBP 14.95
The chief value of this collection of short essays by Christian and Jewish
scholars lies in its comprehensiveness. Virtually all those aspects of the
Holocaust in which Christians were involved, both personally and
institutionally, are here explored in a scholarly and critical fashion,
providing not only a most useful reference work, but also guidance as to the
latest findings in the continuing historical debates over the role of the
Christian community during the tragic era of Jewish persecution and death.
Excellently produced, well illustrated, sensitively edited, the book is
intended as a resource for informed church laity or study groups or visitors
to Holocaust memorial centres such as Yad Washem in Jerusalem.
What Christians did or failed to do during the Holocaust continues to haunt
and challenge the Christian world. Few Christians risked their lives to help
Jews escape the Nazi perils. Most stood aside as bystanders. The authors’
search for explanations for these stances avoids too much moralizing
lamentation, but certainly pinpoints the deficiencies in Christian
theological and ecclesiastical attitudes. Included along the edge of the
pages, in side-bars, are useful quotations, questions for reflection and
suggestions for further English-language reading. Also helpful are a
comprehensive 10-page chronology, an up-to-date videography, and a list of
international on-line resources. The editors hope this volume will spur
church members to recognize that the Holocaust was not just a Jewish event,
but one which affected Christianity too, and which should lead them to take
action on behalf of others in need, as part of the task of healing and
reconciliation shared by Jews and Christians alike.
Because the contributors are all from western countries, the articles
reflect an emphasis on the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches in western
Europe, but there is a short chapter on the non-established churches and
sects, and another on the non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The situation
in 1933 in both the major German churches is suitably analyzed, and
criticism expressed of the unwillingness amongst either Protestants or
Catholics to see the now-threatened Jewish community as falling within their
circle of obligation, after so many centuries of antipathy and disdain. More
pertinently, the absence of any philo-semitic tradition could have been
noted. It is this feature – a positive willingness to support Jews – which
is excellently described in the chapter entitled “A glimmer of light” which
outlines the few but heroic Christian rescue efforts in various countries.
Particularly among Reformed church members, such as the family of Corrie ten
Boom in Holland, or the French villagers of Le Chambon, this motive gave
strength and courage to these “Righteous Gentiles”. It is also good to have
recorded the actions of lesser-known figures such as Metropolitan
Chrysostomos of Greece or Mother Maria Skobtsova, a Russian nun in France,
murdered at the very end of the war.
The chapter on the reactions of the churches in Nazi-occupied Europe is
informative, especially on little-known areas such as Bulgaria, Slovakia and
Denmark. However, Norway, Greece and Yugoslavia are omitted, while Italy is
included in the chapters on the Vatican where the recurrent differences of
opinion about Pus XII’s policies are well aired.
The final part covers the post-holocaust period, showing how Christians have
responded in interfaith dialogue since the 1960s to bring about a striking
change. Both the initiative of Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican
Council, as well as equivalent measures adopted by many Protestants, have
ushered in a wholly new relationship with Judaism, which must be seen as the
most significant theological development of the twentieth century. This
clearing away of the Church’s unfortunate legacy now offers both Catholics
and Protestants an opportunity to begin a new chapter, with the shadow of
the Holocaust as a constant reminder of the dangers of the past. Several
short chapters outline the activities which could further this goal, and the
issues which remain to be confronted. These are particularly valuable for
discussion groups or parish seminars, and as such can be warmly commended.

b) Uwe Werner, Anthroposophen in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus
Munich: R.Oldenburg Verlag 1999, 473 pp.
It is good to see yet another solidly researched account of the fate of a
small sect persecuted by the Nazis, namely the Anthroposophists who were the
followers of Rudolf Steiner. Before his death in 1925, Steiner had moved the
headquarters of this movement to Switzerland, leaving various small groups
in Germany to propagate his ideas, the most successful of which were the
Waldorf schools. Steiner’s views were individualistic, international and
highly ethical. Hence there was no sympathy for Nazism, even though some of
the members were overwhelmed by the apparent success of the Nazis in 1933.
For their part, the Nazis looked on antrhroposophism as an eclectic
conglomeration of exotic ideas, and its followers as sectarian and dangerous
to the regime. Consequently the Nazi radicals, especially in the SD and the
Gestapo, were soon prepared to take measures to suppress the sect’s
activities and even its existence. And even though some anthroposophists
tried to protect their institutions by stressing their national loyalty,
this did them little good. In fact, it took six years before these policies
of persecution were fully effective. But resistance from such a small group
of basically unpolitical enthusiasts could only be limited, especially as
there was no centrally directed organizational structure.
Uwe Werner has searched the relevant archives and presents his material with
flair. His task was made easier by the opening of official records
previously held in Moscow and East Berlin, but on the other hand hindered by
the evident reluctance of leading members of this group after 1945 to record
their immediate recollections or to attempt to come to terms with their
past. But the Nazis’ own files provided him with significant material to
depict their campaign of persecution. Already in 1933 accusations were
directed against Steiner and Steinerism, lumped together with Free Masonry,
Communism and Judaism. The influence of spiritism, occultism and hypnotism
which Steiner’s followers allegedly practised was enough to call forth
vehement attacks from Nazi propagandists. In November 1935 the Gestapo
prohibited the Anthroposophist Society throughout Germany as being “a danger
to the state”, even though leading members were still negotiating with
various Nazi offices about how to continue their activities. It was another
sign of Himmler’s winning the battle for totalitarian control in the Nazi
polycratic structures. Yet, the Fuehrer’s deputy, Rudolf Hess, showed some
interest in the anthroposophists’ ecological policies. So, when Hess fled to
Scotland in 1941, his opponents were quick to blame Steiner’s occultism as
the cause of his highly damaging defection. And it is clear that Hitler
ordered even more drastic measures against this sect as a result. However,
the Gestapo did not order mass imprisonments, or only for short durations.
Luckily, therefore, enough anthroposophists were able to maintain their
beliefs so that Nazism did not succeed in extinguishing the group entirely,
any more than was the case with other small prohibited sects. And after 1945
they were to reemerge to begin all over again.

c) Holger Roggelin, Franz Hildebrandt. Ein lutherische Dissenter im
Kirchenkampf und Exil. (Arbeiten zur kirchlichen Zeitgeschichte, Reihe B,
Darstellungen 11) Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1999. 350pp
Franz Hildebrandt was a close friend of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. They met in
1927 as young students of Adolf von Harnack, and remained close until the
outbreak of war in 1939 broke off all contact. He has often been seen as a
foil to his more famous friend, but Holger Roggelin successfully undertakes
to portray Hildebrandt in his own light. Hildebrandt was three years
younger, but came from a similar upper bourgeois academic background, and
strangely enough wanted to study theology to make sense of the confused
world of the 1920s. From 1931 the two men were drawn together by the
increasing political tensions which spilt over into the church. The rise of
the Nazis to power was particularly ominous for Hildebrandt since his mother
was of Jewish origin. The victory in mid-1933 of the pro-Nazi “German
Christians” and their demand for the purging of all “non-aryan” pastors, led
both young friends to seek a post abroad, in Bonhoeffer’s case successfully
but not so for Hildebrandt. However, he at once supported Martin Niemoeller’
s opposition group, the Pastors’ Emergency League, and sought to mobilize
church opinion against the nazification of church life, especially against
the denial of the rights of the Jewish Christians. In October 1933 he
resigned his curacy and went to London as Bonhoeffer’s guest. But in January
Niemoeller summoned him back to Berlin to help defy the ruling church
authorities. At that time, the model he sought was that of Thomas Chalmers
who had led his followers out of the Church of Scotland a hundred years
earlier to found a Free Church, based solely on biblical truth. But he was
to be disappointed. Too many of his colleagues still hankered after some
attachment to the national church, so that the dissenters had to be content
with a Confessing Church instead, which audaciously claimed to be the “true”
German Evangelical Church and condemned the “German Christians” as heretics.
Such a stance inevitably involved compromises, as the Confessing Church
members sought to reconcile their national and ecclesiastical loyalties, to
be good Germans and good Christians at the same time.
As Roggelin makes clear, Hildebrandt shared this dilemma. On the one hand he
encouraged and promoted efforts to protect the Nazis’ victims, especially
the Jews, but yet could still believe that the Nazi state could be brought
to behave along Christian ethical lines. Too many of his colleagues shared
this illusion – right up to 1945. And, with regard to the Jews, too often
the Confessing Church showed by its language and expressions how much it
participated in the Nazified atmosphere of disdain. Hildebrandt grew
increasingly dismayed by this readiness to abandon the Christian
“non-aryans”, and rightly believed this would be the test case for the
ethical stance of the Confessing Church. At the same time, he still retained
a very traditional Christian view towards the Jews in general, affirming
their eventual destiny to be converted to Christianity. Nor did he have any
particular sympathy for Zionism.
In 1937 the situation became critical. The Gestapo pounced on the leaders of
the Confessing Church. On July 1st they arrested Niemoeller, who thus began
his eight years’ incarceration. Hildebrandt was also arrested on a lesser
charge, but after a month was released. He realized he had to emigrate. So
he fled to England, where he was warmly received as a welcome reinforcement
by his staunch friend Pastor Julius Rieger, who was upholding the Confessing
Church among the German community in London. Hildebrandt quickly became
involved with other emigres and refugees, and realized how much the church
had left them in the lurch. But the Berlin church authorities threatened
reprisals if he were to preach or more actively campaign in England, a step
supported by the majority of the German pastors in Britain whose put their
national loyalties above any solidarity with the refugees. It was largely
this opportunistic behaviour and the subsequent refusal of such church
leaders to acknowledge any sense of guilt even after Hitler was overthrown
which deterred Hildebrandt from returning to Germany or ever setting foot in
Berlin again.
Attempts to find Hildebrandt a teaching post in Britain failed. But in 1939
he was enrolled as a graduate student in one of Cambridge’s theological
colleges, and at the same time was given the task of ministering to the
group of exiles and refugees gathered in this city. The local clergy gave
strong support and even arranged for joint Anglo-German services to be held,
the first of which took place on the very day war was declared. As the
English vicar noted: “The fact that two congregations of two nationalities
at war could meet together in common worship at such a moment was a pledge
that here, at any rate, the anti-German hysteria which disgraced Church and
Nation in 1914 would not occur again.”
Nevertheless in the summer of 1940 security reasons led to all enemy aliens
including Hildebrandt being interned on Whit Sunday, immediately after
preaching in Holy Trinity Church. Appointed to be “camp speaker” he was
saved from being sent to Canada or Australia, and at the same time became
even more heavily involved in pastoral work for his fellow internees for
whom the uncertainty about their future was often traumatic. Bishop Bell’s
support gave the refugees, and especially the pastors, enormous
encouragement. Thanks to his intervention, most of the clerics were
released, and in October Hildebrandt was able to return to Cambridge.
Roggelin’s account of the Christian Fellowship in wartime, along with the
inevitable nationalist and theological tensions which ensued, is excellently
done Notable was the warm reception given to these German preachers even in
places suffering from German bombing. Hildebrandt’s pacifist inclinations
were however suspect from some of the more militant English Christians. Long
debates about using him for the BBC broadcasts to Germany continued for
several months, but finally from the end of 1942 he was able to take part,
even though very well aware that such services could be misused for
political purposes. His staunch adherence to his Lutheran theological
heritage, however, increasingly separated him from Anglicanism and the
Church of England, as represented in Cambridge by Charles Raven, Master of
Christ’s College, with whom Hildebrandt had a notable theological
controversy, opposing what seemed to him to be the English sin of liberal
Pelagianism and universalism.
After the war ended, his reluctance to return to Germany, and his
unwillingness to undergo re-ordination into the Church of England, led him
to become a Methodist, all the more gladly since he noted the connection
between Luther and the Wesleys. After serving a parish in Edinburgh, he was
appointed to the Methodist Drew University in New Jersey and served there as
teacher and pastor for several years. He died in Edinburgh in 1985.
Roggelin’s final chapter is devoted to an insightful analysis of Hildebrandt
‘s complex relationship with Bonhoeffer. In the post-war years he was
frequently invited to contribute to the vigorous controversies about the
significance of Bonhoeffer’s witness and theology. But he continually
refused. “The friendship was of an intimacy which makes it impossible for me
to enter the debate about him”. But undoubtedly, Roggelin believes,
Hildebrandt was not enamoured with the more popular exploitation of
Bonhoeffer’s catchy slogans of “the world come of age” or “religionless
Christianity”, and still less with the interpretations of such commentators
as Bishop John Robinson in “Honest to God” in the 1960s. Robinson’s attempt
to replace the traditional orthodox doctrines of God he regarded as merely a
On the other hand, Roggelin asserts, Hildebrandt did have a considerable
influence on Bonhoeffer in the early years, especially through his deep
knowledge of the Bible and his pacifism. Both men were fated to become
outsiders in the Lutheran world of their day. And this characteristic marked
Hildebrandt’s career for the rest of his life. As a champion of Christian
eschatological hope and humanitarian ethical obligations, Hildebrandt
deserves to be known in his own right. This initial biography gives us an
insightful picture and a fair tribute to one who was destined to be a
continual dissenter and who thereby exemplified the cost of discipleship.


d) G.Besier, Kirche, Politik und Gesellschaft im 20. Jahrhundert, Munich:
R.Oldenbourg Verlag, 2000. 184pp
This compact volume of 184 pages is in reality a handbook, one of a series
of approximately 100 titles which together comprise a vast project to
provide an Encyclopaedia of German History. Prof. Besier has already written
the volume for the churches in the 19th century, and now gives us this
concise but insightful survey of the 20th.
The book falls into three equal parts: the first 60 pages describe the major
events from 1918 to 1989 in which the churches were involved, which is
necessarily a very quick hop,skip and jump over such a turbulent and often
traumatic period.
The second 6o pages analyze the historiography and research trends, covering
the range of controversies which have sprung up over the past few decades,
as well as indicating the gaps and shortfalls in this coverage.
The third section lists the major works in this field, concentrating on the
most recent publications which have appeared in the last twenty years.
Almost exclusively this bibliography consists of German authors.
Students in our field will no doubt be interested in Prof. Besier’s views in
the central section where he examines some of the disputes among historians
of the churches, including several in which he himself has been involved.
For example, he takes issue with the kind of apologetic historiography of
the immediate post-war years, not only from the formerly pro-Nazi group of
churchmen, but also from supporters of the Confessing Church, and points out
the defects of these approaches. He outlines the debate between Klaus
Scholder and Konrad Repgen over the origins and political effect of the 1933
Reich Concordat, where the overtones of Catholic-Protestant antipathy were
unmistakable, Equally he is stringent about the defensive positions adopted
by some of the supporters of the stance adopted by the Evangelical Churches
of the now unlamented German Democratic Republic. But he also points out the
unresolved tensions in this historiography between the advocates of a less
church-centred approach, which instead argues in favour of a more integrated
stance with secular techniques and values, or those who still argue in
favour of making church history a separate endeavour with its own criteria
for evaluating events, which resists the attempt to see church history as
just another branch of social, let alone socialist, historiography. Besier
does not hide his opposition to the kind of historiography which smacks of
‘Kulturprotestantism’ with its fateful readiness to compromise with the
powers that be, whether of right or left, even with dictatorships. He points
out how readily such an approach has benefited those who collaborated with
such regimes.In place of former decisive condemnations, we now have a
pluralistic view which denies any ultimate moral values in history. The
danger of a marginalisation of theological standards is readily apparent,
and, according to Besier, should be steadfastly opposed lest church
historians once again fall into the sin of opportunistic accommodation to
modernity. He quotes with approval one of his few English-language sources:
“In the past two hundred years, many liberals have sold out under the
influence of modernity. What unites such diverse thinkers as Rudolf
Bultmann, Paul Tillich, . . . and Karl Rahner? Accommodation to modernity.
This underlying motif unites the seemingly vast differences between many
forms of existential theology, process theology, liberation theology, and
demythologization – all are searching for a more compatible adjustment to
modernity”.At the same time Besier also shows clearly enough how this debate
has been a continuing one ever since the early years of the twentieth
century. The legacy of Harnack, Troeltsch and Barth is still very much alive
and still controversial.
Such considerations lead Besier on to take up the prospects for the future –
presumably as a topic which deserves further research. His criticism of
liberal theology gives him the opportunity to point out the disastrous
tendencies of such secularizing trends, with the watering-down of doctrinal
beliefs, the substitution of secular-political social service as a major
emphasis amongst many of the clergy, the possibility of a separation of
church and state, and the rise of ersatz religions in both the political and
intellectual spheres. At the same time he can be readily critical of the
present policies of the German church leaders, both Catholic and Protestant,
designed to maintain a kind of hierarchy in church-state relations. Far from
accepting the declared freedom of religion, which would regard all
denominations as equally worthy of social acceptance, the major churches
have continued for the past fifty years to insist on a vertical scale with
themselves at the top in positions of privilege, while lower down come the
free churches, and lower still the sects and foreign imported religions, and
lowest of all such dangerous phenomena as Scientology. How long such a
system can be preserved, let alone propagated, especially when its
theological content has been so reduced, is rightly questioned.
Besier’s listing of the sources is helpful. For outsiders, even this much
selection shows how active the pursuit and writing of church history is in
Germany – a valid criticism of other countries’ efforts! But yet, it is also
clear that the Protestants are by far the largest contributors, and
virtually every one is masculine. This situation should indeed give us all
pause to reflect!

4) Book notes: a) ed. J.C.Linck,C.O., and R.J.Kupke, Building the Church in
America. Studies in Honor of Monsignor Robetrt F.Trisco, Washington, D.C.:
The Catholic University of America 1999, 283 pp.
This Festschrift for Fr.Trisco, the long-serving editor of the Catholic
Historical Review, exemplifies the qualities of meticulous scholarship and
broad-minded enquiry, which he himself has shown for so many years, thereby
enriching the whole Catholic constituency in North America. These essays are
written by scholars, many of whom were either pupils or colleagues at the
Catholic University, bringing a variety of interesting viewpoints to their
subjects, which range from the eighteenth century to the present.
For the historian, perhaps the most significant contribution concerns the
belated efforts of the Catholic hierarchy at the end of the 1930s to “deal
with” the problem of Father Charles Coughlin’s virulent anti-semitism. As
the object themselves of much calumny, the Catholic bishops were well aware
of the need to protect freedom of speech, and seemed to regard the
propagation of anti-Semitism as a lesser evil. By contrast, another essay
describes the sufferings of a German-American priest persecuted at the end
of the First World War for his national origins, and even convicted
evidently unjustly as a spy.
Such examples show the difficulties Catholics have had of combining their
church loyalties with their American situation, and hence the obstacles to
building the church in America.

b) H.Troper, The Ransomed of God, Toronto: Malcolm Lester Books 1999, 275pp
The title is irresistible for this Newsletter. In fact, Troper’s account
describes the indefatigable efforts of a Toronto woman, Judy Feld Carr, to
rescue Jews from Syria over twenty-five years until they were finally given
the right to emigrate in 1992. God takes a back seat in this book to the
resolute and often daring schemes undertaken to circumvent the political
barriers and heavy discriminations imposed on Syria’s Jews. Mrs Carr’s
ingenuity, as well as her capacity for raising vast sums for bribes, is
breathlessly recorded, but in the end she did manage to obtain the release
of several thousand victims of a inhuman dictatorship.

5) Journal articles:
Jeffrey Zalar, “Knowledge is Power”. The Borromausverein and Catholic
reading habits in Imperial Germany, in Catholic Historical Review, Vol
LXXXVI no 1, January 2000
This sprightly description of the work of the Borromausverein makes two
points: first, the desire of the more educated Catholics in Germany, in the
period after unification, to escape from the Protestant-led charge that they
were a backward superstitious community, still tied to clerical control and
lacking in progressive ideas. To overcome this, a huge system of Catholic
libraries was skillfully organized by the Borromausverein, which was
remarkably successful in reaching out, certainly to the urban Catholics, and
making up for earlier educational deficiencies. But secondly, the
Borromausverin sought to offset the more dangerous accusations of political
disloyalty or unreliability which their opponents had brought up during the
course of the Kulturkampf. Thus the educational work stressed their
nationalist sympathies, and as Zalar makes clear, they underwent a subtle
process of assimilation to the majority’s cultural views on political
questions. There was therefore a continual tension between the desire to
build up a separate Catholic existence, with its own identity and
institutions – as happened so successfully in Belgium and Holland – and the
desire to belong fully in the wider German nation. Zalar’s account
excellently recreates the atmosphere of these endeavours. And it is to be
hoped that he will be able to continue his study by looking at the even more
dramatic developments which happened after the downfall of the imperial
Larry E. Jones, Catholic Conservatives in the Weimar Republic. The politics
of the Rhenish-Westphalian aristocracy, 1918-1933 in German History, Vol 18,
no 1, 2000
Larry Jones gives us a sweeping condemnation of the activities of the
Rhenish-Westphalian aristocrats after the first world war. Their deliberate
undermining of the legitimacy of the new republic, and their strong
influence on the local Catholic population against democracy and
parliamentarianism are here carefully but damningly outlined. It is
impossible to ignore the fact that this same reactionary group supported the
rise of Nazism and that many of these aristocrats played leading roles in
this area of Germany, at least in the initial years. By giving
respectability to the Nazi cause, they became a willing and integral part of
the conservatives’ close alliance with totalitarianism. Jones’ essay sheds
light on the political stance of Bishop Galen and his relations, which is
hardly flattering, despite the attempts after 1945 to portray them as heroes
of the Resistance.

With best wishes,
John Conway