September 2000 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia


Newsletter- September 2000- Vol.VI, no. 9
Dear Friends,
I trust that you have had a rewarding time over the summer months, either on
holiday or busy with research. If the latter, please share some of your
ideas or findings with other members of this Newsletter. We shall be glad to
hear from you.
For our part, Ann and I had a splendid holiday in the South Tyrol, in the
shadow of the Dolomites, where I am glad to say we found Counter-Reformation
popular piety flourishing in the traditional manner. Since then, the lure of
serendipity and of Vancouver’s sun-kissed beaches has led me to Simon Schama
‘s massive but magnificent tome, Rembrandt’s Eyes, which is wonderfully
evocative of the early seventeenth century. Or, for those wedded to
detective stories, I can recommend
Antonia Fraser’s recounting of “The Gunpowder Plot Terror and Faith in
1605”, written with sympathy for the persecuted Catholics, and explicit on
the religious intolerance of those days.
1) Editorial
2)Bonhoeffer House appeal
3) Book reviews:

a) The Gestapo and Gertrude Luckner
b) Pogany, In my Brother’s Image
c) Religionspolitik in Deutschland: Greschat Festschrift
d) Safranski, Martin Heidegger. Between good and evil

4) New articles

a) J.Moses: Bonhoeffer and Church Unity
b) G.Johnson, British Social Democracy and Religion

1) Editorial:
Our distinguished colleague, Reg Ward, once remarked that
“nineteenth-century critics were entirely mistaken in supposing that
political economy was the dismal science; it is in fact ecclesiastical
history”. From this almost Anabaptist viewpoint, the long centuries of what
Ward called “the ingrained lovelessness of organized Christianity” do not
encourage much cheerfulness. But even those of us who adopt a more balanced
stance might well want to support the thrust of his saying, at least as far
as the teaching of ecclesiastical, or as some would prefer, church history
Over the past thirty years there has been a slow melting of the frigidity
with which church history was regarded in most “secular” universities in
North America. Defended by many as a necessary adjunct to the separation of
church and state, this disdain was in fact due to the ideological hostility
of the majority of the professoriate towards religion in general, and
Christianity in particular. The controversial misinterpretation of the
alleged conflict between science and religion took its unfortunate toll. And
while, for most history departments, it was inconceivable to teach the
history of the middle ages without reference to religion, the opposite was
true for the more recent centuries. Even today, European or World Surveys
can charge through twentieth century events with no, or only the barest,
mention of religion, let alone the church.
To be sure, recent decades have also seen the growth of departments of
Religion or Religious Studies. But these have not always been a blessing to
church history. In fact, all too often, the subject has been tossed around
between History and Religion, and departmental barriers have usually
prevented any profitable collaboration. Or again, the whole matter is
regarded as one which should be left up to the nearest theological seminary.
So one may assert that the teaching of church history has not advanced in
any significant way in recent years.
Part of the problem lies in the subject’s vastness and incoherence. Anyone
faced with teaching a survey of church history in one academic year is
confronted with an overwhelming task. But to select certain periods as
singularly significant is invidious. Of course, the choice is usually made
on denominational grounds, since Catholics prefer the patristic period,
Anglicans and Lutherans have to emphasize the sixteenth century, while those
in the Puritan-Protestant tradition stress the seventeenth or later
centuries. Sadly, despite the growth of ecumenical understanding, the
plethora of rival and mutually exclusive accounts of the church history of
the past still exist, and still influence current attitudes, as can be seen
in Bosnia, Serbia or Northern Ireland. Sadly, too, in this situation, the
most recent church history of the twentieth century is often sacrificed from
the curriculum, even though a convincing case can be made for its being much
more relevant to today’s students than the niceties of earlier periods.
Paradoxically however, recent years have also seen a splendid flood of
monographs, especially in the field of contemporary church history. When I
began to edit this Newsletter nearly seven years ago, I never expected the
appearance of so many excellent and scholarly works. German church history
scholars, in both the major churches, of course, have the benefit of
established university positions, support for doctoral candidates and for
publication. But even where such advantages are not available, we have
notable studies in many different languages, exploring many different
aspects of the churches’ life. Outstanding biographies, such as Eberhard
Bethge’s unrivaled study of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, have set an impressive
standard for this genre. Alternatively, it could be argued that the
long-running and heated controversy seen in the numerous studies of Pope
Pius XII helps the cause of contemporary church history, by revealing
clearly enough the dangers of political bias and one-sided partisanship. At
least they serve to show that ecclesiastical history is not as dismal as
might be thought. In fact, one might suggest that, in the kind of
publications reviewed in this Newsletter, we have a most encouraging
testimony to the intellectual industry and integrity of contemporary church
historians. Long may it continue.

2) Bonhoeffer House appeal
A recent letter has been received inviting donations towards the upkeep of
the house in Berlin where Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived with his parents from
1935 until his arrest in April 1943. The hope is to maintain the house as a
centre of witness to the German Resistance movement, where mementos of
Bonhoeffer’s life and work can be displayed, and where seminars and
educational tours can be held. Anyone wishing to help should contact either
J.P.Kelley, International Bonhoeffer Society, 4236 White St., Lynchburg,
Virginia 24502, USA, or The Bonhoeffer House, Marienburger Allee 43, D-14055
Berlin-Charlottenburg, Germany.
3a) ed. Hans-Josef Wollasch, “Betrifft: Nachrichtenzentrale des Erzbischofs
Gröber in Freiburg”. Die Ermittlungsakten der Geheimen Staatspolizei gegen
Gertrud Luckner 1942-1944. Konstanz: UVK Universitatsverlag 1999. 254pp
If I may be allowed an autobiographical note, one of the most vivid and
fascinating evenings of my career was spent dining with Gertrud Luckner,
when she recalled for me her eighteen months’ ordeal in the Nazi
concentration camp for women, Ravensbrück, from 1943 to 1945. Gertrud was
born in England, but was taken shortly afterwards to Germany until she
returned as a student at the Quaker college at Selly Oak, Birmingham. There
she was greatly attracted by the ideals of pacifism and internationalism, of
which she became a life-long champion. After she returned to Germany to take
a doctorate in social work, she joined the Catholic Church and was
subsequently employed by the main Catholic Welfare agency in Germany,
Caritas. Her humanitarian concerns, her indefatigable readiness to assist
the victims of injustice, and her often outspoken criticism of Nazism, all
joined to impel her to do what she could for those attacked by the new
regime. In particular she became the champion of those Catholics of Jewish
origin, who were often cold-shouldered by their fellow-Catholics influenced
by Nazi propaganda, but also rejected as renegades by existing Jewish
organizations. Not surprisingly she used her contacts with Quaker friends
abroad to seek help, and if necessary to assist in emigration. But as the
Nazi net tightened, such activities became more and more dangerous, and
Gertrude herself attracted the unwelcome notice and surveillance of the
One of the few collections of Gestapo records to survive the war was in
Düsseldorf. Amongst them was a file several hundred pages thick dealing with
Gertrud Luckner. In 1947 she and her lawyer were allowed to see this and to
photostat some 200 pages, but the originals have since disappeared. She
hoped to make use of these copies for her own autobiography, which alas! was
never to be completed. But now Caritas’ senior archivist, Hans Josef
Woillasch, has put together a scholarly edition of the surviving pages,
which clearly record the diligent ferocity and professional inhumanity of
the Gestapo agents.
By 1942 the Gestapo was fully convinced that the Catholic Church sided with
their enemies, and that Archbishop Gröber, despite his earlier enthusiasm
for the Nazis in 1933, was now an implacable foe. In August 1942, the
Gestapo determined to follow up the news that the Catholic bishops had
decided to establish, under Gröber’s auspices, an Aid Committee for baptized
Jews, with headquarters in Freiburg. They immediately concluded that this
was a disguised espionage and information centre designed to conduct
ideological and political exchanges with enemies of the Reich both at home
and abroad, through contacts in a number of European countries, the USA and
the Vatican.
Thanks to information supplied by two employees of Caritas, it didn’t take
the Gestapo long to discover that Gröber’s principal agent for this task was
Dr Gertrud Luckner, whose background and activities were promptly
investigated and recorded in detail.
More specifically she was suspected of contacting Jewish circles throughout
the whole country and giving them support, or alternatively of helping them
to conceal their property. She was also accused of organizing measures to
let Jews escape illegally from German territory.
As a result, from September 1942, investigations were intensified. Luckner’s
mail was opened and censored, and the names of her correspondents were
noted. In January 1943, the Gestapo in Berlin ordered their agents to put
her under personal surveillance and to report on her travels around the
country. It is clear that she was already aware of the dangers involved, and
had taken various measures to avoid detection of her movements. But in the
end the trap closed. In March 1943, she was arrested on the train while
attempting to elude her pursuers by going to Berlin.
To the Gestapo’s fury, news reached Freiburg almost at once that Gertrud had
been arrested. The Archbishop protested – in vain. It was months before it
was known where she was being held, let alone why. In June 1943, the
Archbishop wrote to his superior, Cardinal Bertram, to say that he had heard
rumours that she had been “dealt with”. Personally he believed she would
survive because she was entirely innocent, and had devoted herself solely to
the welfare and charitable assistance of Catholic “non-aryans”. But the
Gestapo clearly thought otherwise.
The editor rightly notes that, although the documents do not specifically
say so, her arrest may well have been connected with the simultaneous
Gestapo investigations into illegal smuggling of endangered Jews to
Switzerland, which resulted in the incarceration of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and
his brother-in-law, Hans Dohnanyi, only two weeks later in April 1943. Small
wonder that the Gestapo demanded that this “extremely cautious and
experienced agent” should be sentenced to protective custody, since “her
behaviour is conducive to endangering the existence and safety of our people
and state, in particular by her pro-Jewish activities and connections to
circles hostile to the state. If released, she would be likely to continue
to act in a manner damaging to the Reich”.
Putting her in protective custody in a concentration camp meant that no
regular trial would take place, which might well have set off alarm bells in
the Catholic community. Instead she was held in Ravensbrück until liberated
in April 1945.
Despite, or more probably because of, the sufferings she had endured and
witnessed, Gertrud resolved to redouble her efforts on behalf of the Nazis’
victims, and successfully championed this cause for the next fifty years. At
the same time she became one of the principal advocates in Germany for a
revision of Catholic theological attitudes towards Judaism, a struggle in
which she was notably vindicated at the Second Vatican Council. It remains
to be hoped that a full biography will soon be written in order to pay
tribute to one who was truly a “righteous Gentile”, and, by her valiant
resistance, a symbol of the “other Germany” during those disastrous Nazi
b) Eugene L.Pogany, In my brother’s image. Two brothers separated by faith
after the Holocaust. New York,Viking 2000, 327pp
Gyuri and Miklos were born shortly before the first world war to a Hungarian
Jewish family, but were brought up as Catholics from an early age. They
lived through the trials of inter-war Hungary, which included the rising
tensions between Jews and Christians, especially after the Nazi shadow fell
over eastern Europe. Gyuri became a priest but fortunately was allowed to
travel to Italy in 1940 and remained there for the rest of the war, acting
as secretary to the renowned faith healer, Padre Pio, in a remote rural
sanctuary where the issue of his Jewish origins never caused any problems.
Miklos, however, was caught up in the increasing hostilities in Hungary.
Treated as a Jew, despite his Catholic allegiance, he was drafted in to a
labour service battalion, was badly mistreated and eventually sent to
Bergen-Belsen, where he barely survived. The experience of the Church’s
failure to stand by him or the Jewish community as a whole led him to
renounce his Catholic faith and return to his ancestral Judaism. After the
war both men emigrated to the United States and were reunited after nearly
twenty years apart. But each came to regard the other’s religious stance as
a betrayal, so the bond between them as identical twins could never be fully
Miklos’ son, Eugene, has now recorded this tragic story on the basis of his
family’s memories. By a striking act of imaginative reconstruction, he
succeeds in recovering his relatives’ interactions and even in elaborating
the nuances of their characters. His account consists largely of
conversations, fictionally composed, but representing a genuine attempt to
participate in their lives and to explore the many critical turning points
they faced. Above all, his concern is to portray the religiously and
historically turbulent landscape of Jews and Christians in the century of
the Holocaust, by
depicting his family’s struggles to survive throughout the awful
circumstances of the war, as the Nazi antisemitic tide swept across Hungary.
The support given by so many nationalist Hungarians, and more particularly
the absence of protest by the Catholic authorities against such crimes is,
for Pogany, the central pivot of his account, symbolized by the failure to
prevent the deportation, amongst so many others, of his grandmother, a
devout Catholic, to her death in Auschwitz
The intense discussions among the survivors, as here related, serves to show
how deeply the wounds and memories of suffering continued to haunt them all
with unspoken rancour and unredeemed anguish. The basic questions remained
unresolved. And the evident inadequacy of the attempts made by both
Christians and Jews to come to terms, both personally and theologically,
with the enormity of the Holocaust is here spelled out in the fictionalized
conversations between the family members. But the author nevertheless hopes
that, with this act of filial piety to all his relatives, he may contribute
towards the eventual reconciliation of the two faiths, based on their shared
loyalty towards the peace of Jerusalem.

c) ed. A.Doering-Manteuffel and Kurt Nowak, Religionspolitik in Deutschland.
Von der fruehen Neuzeit bis zur Gegenwart. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer 1999, 279
This Festschrift produced on the retirement of Martin Greschat, one of our
most esteemed colleagues in Germany, covers the whole range of his interests
from the Reformation to the present. Equally significant has been his
concern to link the traditional form of church history – too much concerned
with its own affairs – with the social and secular history in which the
church operates. So the essays contributed by his colleagues, including two
foreigners, one from Britain and one from Poland, seek to pay tribute to
Greschat’s fine record of publications in this genre. Predictably, a range
of occasional essays by different authors cannot claim to be systematic.
They are either detailed accounts of some particular episode, previously
unknown or neglected, or else a useful broad survey of some particular
period, analyzing the present state of debate and research. The former
category is exemplified in the piece on the churches and the cold war in the
1950s by Doering-Manteuffel, while the latter is demonstrated in
J.Thierfelder’s helpful summary of the position of the churches during the
Weimar Republic. It is a pity that no German scholar could be found to
produce a similar overview of the churches in the Nazi period, since we need
to have an update on the present state of the controversies aroused over the
“German Christians” and the Confessing Church and their respective legacies.
The essay which I thought best fulfills Greschat’s desiderata is by the
Birmingham scholar, Hugh McLeod, “Comparing secularisations: Germany and
Britain”, which examines the social factors governing church expansion and
contraction at the end of the nineteenth century. McLeod points out that a
major difference was the toleration given in Britain to so many rivals to
the established church, whereas in Germany the heavy hand of the state
proved to be a source of weakness in the long run. “British pluralism had
led to weak institutions and relatively weak confessional identities,
together with low levels of secularism and anti-clericalism, and medium
levels of individual religious participation. The German situation, with its
two ‘big churches’ had led to more powerful institutions, more strongly
developed confessional identities, higher levels of secularism and
anticlericalism, and strongly contrasted patterns of Protestant and Catholic
religious practice.” In both countries, political and social factors brought
about a significant loss of prestige and adherence, but, as McLeod shows,
for a variety of differing reasons. These kinds of international comparisons
can indeed be highly fruitful, and deserve to be promoted more fully, in
line with Greschat’s own splendid contributions to this kind of writing.

d) Ruediger Safranski, MARTIN HEIDEGGER. BETWEEN GOOD AND EVIL, trans. Ewald
Osers. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard UP, 1998.

SEINE ZEIT, published by Ruediger Safranski in
1994. The book gives one of the best accounts yet of Martin Heidegger,
his life and work. There are, nevertheless, basic problems with it that
need to be addressed in any future work on Heidegger. Thus it should be
seen as a benchmark of how far research into Heidegger has progressed,
and how far it still has to go.
Heidegger was one of the leading philosophers of the 20th century, and one
of the most controversial. Major questions remain about the moral, political
and philosophical significance of his life and work. Safranski was venturing
into a large minefield with his book,and he knew it: “Heidegger’s story is a
long one–whether the story of his life or
of his philosophy. It covers the passions and disasters of a whole
century” (ix). Though Safranski’s conclusions remain unfortunately
ambiguous, his work does clarify the most prominent issues at stake.
The main threads of the story deal with Heidegger’s life and times; in this
Safranski is a good historian. He has gathered material from the most
important sources on Heidegger, and provides a largely balanced version.
There is little that is really “new” here, but Safranski does offer a
compelling overview of the man and his context..
He tells of Heidegger’s childhood in Messkirch, near Lake Constance, and of
his early commitment to the Catholic Church (1-54). Until the outbreak of
the First World War, Heidegger seemed to “have a chance of getting the
still-vacant chair of Christian philosophy” (55) at the University of
Freiburg. From 1914 until 1927, however, with the publication of
BEING AND TIME, Heidegger underwent a major transformation of his
perspective. By 1919, because of his new interest in time and history,
Catholicism had become “problematic and unacceptable” to him (107). Under
the influence of Edmund Husserl, Heidegger turned to phenomenology to deal
with “factual life” (109). In addition he began studying St.Paul and Luther,
which seems to have encouraged him in a more “Protestant” direction. By the
mid-1920s, Heidegger wanted to “tear life loose from God” (112). During this
time, he had extensive discussions with and considerable influence on the
Protestant theologian Rudolf Bultmann. He also began an affair with Hannah
Arendt, who became “his muse for BEING AND TIME” (140).
He had moved away from the strictly Catholic understanding of good and evil
of his youth, and was attempting to find a new set of values following the
leads of the Greeks, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche. Though he never accepted
the label, Heidegger’s work would eventually be linked to that of Karl
Jaspers and others under the rubric of “existential philosophy” (132). The
problem with this development in Heidegger’s case was that it did not have
enough ethical content to resist the enthusiasms of the Nazi movement in the
1930s. Safranski tells the awful and mysterious story of his involvement
with Nazism in considerable detail, from the first explicit remarks in
1931-2 (226-28) to the infamous
“Rector’s Speech” in 1933 (242-47), to “denazification” under French
occupation after the war (332-52). One of the most absorbing chapters
deals with the question: “Is Heidegger Anti-Semitic?” (248-63). Safranski
reaches a split decision: “Certainly not in the sense of the ideological
lunacy of Nazism” (254); “Nor, on the other hand, did the (soon to be
revealed) brutality
of Nazi anti-Semitism deter him from the movement. He did not support its
actions, but he accepted them” (256). Furthermore there is the dubious tale
of “Heidegger’s silence” (420). He never accepted responsibility for the
crimes of Nazism, and never publicly acknowledged either his complicity with
the movement nor his change of heart against it.
One of the problems of Safranski’s book is his own ambiguity over the case,
for his formulations seem to gloss over the terrible irony of both
Heidegger’s political complicity and his philosophical greatness. In the
first place, Heidegger had enthusiastically supported the Nazi movement in
the early 1930s; later, however, he had withdrawn from his university
rectorship under its auspices. One of the greatest philosophers of the
century had gone along with one of its most criminal regimes. His case is an
example of the problems philosophers–at least since Plato–have had with
politics. Evidently, Heidegger’s career did not fall “between good and
evil”, as Safranski’s English title suggests, but rather, both in his
politics and his philosophy, he managed to exhibit a highly regrettable
ethical ambivalence.
Other problems in Safranski’s account represent the classic difficulties
historians have in dealing with philosophy. As he tells the story of the
life, Safranski gives an account of the writing, from the earliest to the
latest examples.
Whereas his account of the contents is clear enough, his conclusion is
that Heidegger offered little to the history of philosophy: “He did not
create any constructive philosophy in the sense of a world picture or a
moral doctrine. There are no ‘results’ of Heidegger’s thinking, in the
sense that there are ‘results’ of the philosophy of Leibniz, Kant, or
Schopenhauer” (429). Yet surely a philosophy that emphasized “authenticity”
can not be seen as basically empty. And if this work were empty, then why
has it inspired so many, from Arendt herself to Sartre, Gadamer, Derrida,
and Richard Rorty? Instead of trying to brush aside the vexed question of
Heidegger’s real significance, Safranski would have been better off to have
acknowledged that a probably very nasty person was an outstanding
philosopher, and that that very complexity could explain the significance of
the case.
Any biographer of Heidegger needs a more complicated conception of
philosophy in order to integrate more effectively the story of his life and
And any such biographer writing in German also needs a different
translator, or perhaps a different publisher. To be sure, the translation
captures the basic qualities of Safranski’s original. Yet one of the crucial
ironies of the story is lost in the mistranslation of the title. In German,
title is EIN MEISTER AUS DEUTSCHLAND. The words are a citation from Paul
Celan’s poem, “Death Fugue,” which reads: “Death is a master from Germany”,
and deals with an imagined concentration camp. The English subtitle,
“between good and evil,” further obscures the reference to the poem and the
Holocaust. In sum, Safranski’s work represents a step forward in our
understanding of Martin Heidegger. But the real work of synthesizing the
historical and the philosophical accounts, as well as the problem of
finding the proper title for this enterprise, remains to be done.
Steven Taubeneck, Vancouver



4) New articles:
a) John Moses, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Prioritization of Church Unity
(Oekumene) in
The Journal of Religious History (Sydney), Vol 24, no. 2, June 2000,
This helpful analysis of the centrality of Bonhoeffer’s ideas about church
unity points out that he saw the universal ecumenical church as the
theologically correct answer to the challenge of the German Christians’
acceptance of a nationalist and racist creed. Already from 1932 Bonhoeffer
recognized that the ecumenical movement must become more than a polite
collection of liberal enthusiasts, but rather should be the chief weapon in
forging a true unity, preferably through an ecumenical council, to give
expression to the will of Christ through His church, especially in the
pursuit of peace. Ecumenical solidarity was vital for the survival of
Christianity in Germany, and the credibility of the ecumenical movement
depended on how it assessed the German church struggle. These themes were
forcibly expressed in 1934 and 1935, but the results were disappointing –
and indeed have remained so ever since. Moses joins with those who believe
the churches still need to devise a model for a peace council which not only
discusses the possibility of peace but really does establish peace.
b) Graham Johnson, British Social Democracy and Religion in The Journal of
Ecclesiastical History, January 2000, 94 ff
At the end of the nineteenth century the drive to promote social democratic
goals brought together a broad spectrum of idealists. Some were outright
secularists, others materialists of a more or less Marxist variety, others
however drew their inspiration from Christian roots. While the former group
saw organized religion, and Christianity in particular, as the enemy of the
working class, the latter section still believed it possible to derive a
political platform from the teachings of the New Testament. Johnson capably
shows how these two groups lived in considerable tension during the
formative years, and indeed how these seemingly incompatible positions were
and are still present in the British Labour Party.
With best wishes to you all
John Conway