December 2000 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia


Newsletter- December 2000- Vol. VI, no. 12

Dear Friends,

I take this opportunity to send you all greetings for this festive and
joyous season. As we approach the reputed 2000th anniversary of the birth of
Jesus of Nazareth, we surely have complex feelings as we contemplate the
long centuries of Christian history. On the one hand, we must rejoice at the
achievements of Christian life and culture; on the other, we can only lament
the numerous occasions on which the Church has failed to live up to the
ideals of its founder. So too, church historians are not exempt. Twentieth
century church history, which is the focus of our Newsletter, has been an
exciting voyage of exploration; but at the same time, we have seen frequent
examples where partisanship has obscured the pursuit of historical accuracy.
May we hope that the new century will provide us with opportunities to heed
the wise admonition of Pope Leo XIII: “Let nothing untrue be said, and
nothing true be left unsaid”, or the saying of our good friend, the late
Klaus Scholder of Tübingen, “Truth may be painful for the Church, but
untruth is even more so”.
This issue completes the 6th Volume of this Newsletter, which has now had a
life far more extended than at first envisaged. But I have been sustained by
the encouragement and sometimes the written contributions you have sent in,
and am most grateful for your continued support. Particular thanks are due
to Doris Bergen for her kindness in editing the April issue. The benefits of
technology in bringing us together from all parts of the world continue to
amaze me, but I rejoice in these opportunities to make so many good friends,
even if too often unseen. I therefore greet you with heartfelt best wishes.

1) The Pius XII Controversy continued
2)Book reviews: a) Michael Phayer, The Catholic Church and the Holocaust
b) Kloczowski, History of Polish Christianity
3) Book notes: Nordblum, Fur Glaube und Volkstum
4) Journal articles: Kirby, Temple, Pius XII, natural law and the post-war
Kirby, Anglo-American Cold War alliance and defence of Christianity

1) The Pius XII Controversy continued:
We are particularly fortunate that one of our subscribers, Michael Marrus,
Dean of the Graduate School, University of Toronto, is also a member of the
International Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission appointed a year ago to
look at issues relating to the pontificate of Pius XII. Specifically the
mandate of the Commission, which consists of three Catholic and three Jewish
members, is to examine critically the archival material published in the 11
volumes of Actes et Documents du Saint Siege between 1965 and 1981. Despite
the large amount of documentation contained in these volumes – mostly in
Italian – polemical attacks have been made against the adequacy of Pius XII’
s actions during the Holocaust. It was the Commission’s task to see whether
any desirable further steps should be taken to clarify this picture, given
the fact that the published documents represent only a selection of the
Vatican’s holdings. The Commission recently completed an 18-page Preliminary
Report, and earlier this month went to Rome to present it. Unfortunately, a
version was leaked to the press, leading to several critical articles in,
for example, the New York Times. Nevertheless the Report has now been made
public and can be found on the website:
One of the concerns voiced relates to the editorial policy when the Actes
were issued decades ago. On that occasion, it was decided to print only
documents which originated from the Vatican’s own officials. So some highly
significant pieces of evidence, which were supplied by outsiders, were
referred to only in footnotes. One example to which the Commission drew
attention was the memorandum sent by the World Jewish Congress in Geneva in
March 1942 about the mass murder of the Jews. Another example to which the
Commission could have referred was the noted eye-witness report on
conditions in Auschwitz which was presented by two escapees, A.Wetzler and
R.Vrba, to an official of the Papal Nunciature in Bratislava in June 1944.
The Commission rightly asks “What was the Holy See’s reaction, and what
discussion followed the reports that flowed in describing evidence of the
‘Final Solution’?”
So too, the Commission believes that historians’ curiosity should be
satisfied as to whether more documentation exists which would give a much
clearer picture, not only of what the Holy See attempted to do for the
victims of the war, including the Jews, but also of what was not done, as
for example the Vatican’s well-known opposition to the resettlement of Jews
in Palestine.
In all, the Commission raises its concerns in the form of 47 questions to
which they would like specific answers. While they recognize that it is
impossible for every piece of paper to be published, nevertheless they
believe that “there are numerous internal communications that every
administration leaves behind – diaries, memoranda, appointment books,
minutes of meetings, draft documents and so forth that detail the process of
how the Vatican arrived at the decisions it made” They also believe it would
help to have access to other archives such as those of the Society of Jesus,
and to the papers of numerous officials in the Vatican during those
traumatic years.
In conclusion the Commission states: “We appreciate that even if full access
were granted, this would not necessarily lay to rest all the questions
surrounding the role of the Holy See and the Holocaust. Nevertheless we
believe that this would be a very significant step forward in advancing
knowledge of the period and enhancing relations between the Jewish and
Catholic communities. . . . Ultimately, openness is the best policy for a
mature and balanced historical assessment.”

2) Book reviews: a) Michael Phayer, The Catholic Church and the Holocaust
1930-1965, Bloomington: Indiana University Press 300 pp. $29.95 US.
Michael Phayer is a professor of history at Marquette University, with a
notable record of publications in numerous scholarly journals. His aim in
his new book, The Catholic Church and the Holocaust 1930-1965, is to go
beyond the issue of the silence of Pope Pius XII to explore how the Church
in various countries, and through various individual Catholics, responded to
the Holocaust, and how that response eventually led during the Second
Vatican Council to the Church’s official rejection of antisemitism.
In contrast to the unfortunate diatribe by John Cornwell, Hitler’s Pope,
Phayer does not portray Pius XII as a Nazi sympathizer, or as a closeted
antisemite. But his indictment of Pius is still draconian. He claims that
Pius “did little for Jews in their hour of greatest need” (xi). While
acknowledging that he was able to save Jewish lives through the actions of
his papal nuncios, Phayer claims that his “greatest failure . . lay in his
attempt to use a diplomatic remedy for a moral outrage.” (xii) At the same
time, he charges that the “image that emerges of Pope Pius is that of a
pontiff whose deep concern about communism and the intact physical survival
of the city of Rome kept him from exploring options on behalf of the Jewish
Phayer further charges that in the immediate post-war period the Vatican
under Pius XII consciously assisted Nazi war criminals to escape and “worked
against U.S.policies that sought to make German society responsible for the
murder of the Jews”.(xvi) Why? To maintain a strong Germany in response to
the communist threat, and to keep unsullied the enhanced image of the Church
in Europe as a result of its actions during the war.
While Phayer spends a small portion of his book presenting heroic stories of
individual Catholics who engaged in rescue work, he returns consistently to
the theme of a silent, almost cowardly pontiff, whose only desire was to
limit communist expansion, even if it meant ignoring the plight of the Jews.
Yet Phayer is unable, or unwilling, to produce the evidence on which to base
this interpretation. He relies too much – as did Saul Friedlander before him
thirty years ago – on Nazi documents and their interpretation of the Vatican’s motives.
This flaw is compounded by the unfortunate and unhistorical repetition of
speculative and unproven hypotheses. For example, Phayer asserts that, had
Pius XI lived a further five years, Church reaction towards Nazi Germany and
the Holocaust would have been very different, in view of Pius XI’s more
robust condemnation of Nazi racism in his Encyclicals, and his desire to
have a new one dealing specifically with the Jewish issue, which Pius XII,
as one of his first acts in 1939, suppressed. But there is simply no
evidence of any change of papal strategy under Pius XII, nor explanation
that as Secretary of State under Pius XI, the future Pius XII was intimately
involved in his predecessor’s policies. Phayer’s claim is purely the result
of wishful thinking, and does not acknowledge what Pius XI did not face: the
onset of World War II.
So too, Phayer deplores the fact that Pius XII did not, after the outbreak
of war, condemn Nazi atrocities in Poland, and instead limited his
interventions to actions behind the scenes. This was to set a pattern, which
Phayer equally deplores, of stressing the Vatican’s impartial stance which
would enable the Pope to act as a mediator to achieve a cessation of
hostilities. But Phayer dismisses this stance as no more than an excuse.
The policies of Pius, Phayer believes, were much more due to preference for
Germany as over against his main enemy, the Soviet Union. Furthermore, this
diplomatic activity was far less desirable than a moral approach, though
Phayer fails to spell out what such a moral approach would have been, or how
it could have been either feasible or successful in the face of Nazi
Admittedly, the Vatican’s hope of achieving a diplomatic end to the war was
unsuccessful. The Allies’ adoption of the policy of unconditional surrender
in 1943 closed the door on their side; Hitler’s fanatical determination to
immolate his whole empire before capitulating equally destroyed Papal hopes.
Yet Phayer ignores the very real evidence of the Pope’s frustration,
disillusionment and despair, and instead insists that a better result could
have been achieved by thunderbolts from the Vatican denouncing the Nazi
crimes. And he depreciates even those statements Pius did make, such as his
Christmas message of 1942, which Phayer claims was not understood. “No one,
certainly not the Germans, took it as a protest against the slaughter of the
Jews” (49) In fact that was exactly how the New York Times on Christmas Day
1942 rightly interpreted the papal statement, as did the Nazis.
The central thesis of Phayer’s book is that Pius refused to speak out
against the Holocaust because he wanted a strong Germany to face down the
threat of Soviet expansion. Yet nowhere can he cite documented statements by
the Pope or his officials to that effect. In fact, the recently appointed
international Christian-Jewish Commission, [see Item 1 above] which has been
investigating the available material came to the conclusion: “We are struck
by the paucity of evidence to this effect and to the subject of communism in
general. Indeed, our reading of the volumes presents a different picture,
especially with regard to the Vatican promotion of the American bishops’
support for the alliance between the United States and the Soviet Union in
order to oppose Nazism.”
Some parts of Phayer’s book are both interesting and worthy. He outlines
well what the Church – and individual Catholics, even within Nazi Germany –
were able to accomplish in rescuing Jews. He makes clear that the Church did
not sit by idly as the Jews were taken to slaughter. His descriptions of the
acts by these brave women and men are notable, though he cannot help but add
that they went “further than Pius XII”.
Phayer clearly belongs to the school which believes that outspoken
denunciations of Nazi crimes could have saved more Jewish lives, even if he
has to admit that there was nothing the Holy See could do to force the Nazis
to end their campaign for a “Final Solution”. Such wishful conjectures are a
tribute to Phayer’s moral sensitivity, but do not enhance his historical
What stands out is that the Holy See, under the leadership of Pius, saved
more Jewish lives than did any other agency in war-torn Europe. Phayer has
failed to show how any different policy or strategy could have saved more
lives. It can certainly be argued that a public crusade by Pius would have
made these accomplishments impossible.
Phayer’s attacks on the Vatican for its alleged assistance to ex-Nazis
fleeing their due punishment lack any convincing proof that any such
organized help was approved by the Pope or his immediate entourage. To the
contrary, we now know that the man most clearly involved, Bishop Hudal, had
long been isolated and relegated in the Vatican’s eyes. He was not received
by Pope Pius, and was clearly in high disfavour. Presumably he was the kind
of prelate who could be hoodwinked by any clever scoundrel or persuaded that
doing good to such persons, in the name of anti-communism, would earn him
Finally Phayer claims that coming to terms with Christian antisemitism was
delayed until after Pius’ death, allegedly because of this pontiff’s
unbending conservatism and pro-German stance. The fact is that the climate
was changing dramatically and that theological and scriptural studies, which
were in fact begun during Pius’ period of office, laid the foundation for
the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.
Phayer’s stance is perfectionist. Of course, one can conceive of ways in
which more could have been done to ameliorate the lot of the Jews. But it is
not enough to assert the failings of the Papacy in this grave crisis. The
responsible scholar also has to come to terms with, and to describe the
reality of, the historical situation as it was understood by those involved
at the time, and not as we would now like it to have been.
The reality is that the Vatican’s record in helping Jews was far better than
any other governmental entity in that terrible time. This is the undeniable
fact that critics of Pius, whatever their motivation, must answer. Phayer
does not.
Robert P.Lockwood, Fort Wayne, Indiana

b) Jerzy Kloczowski, A History of Polish Christianity, Cambridge University
Press, 2000. 385pp
Jerzy Kloczowski is Poland’s most distinguished senior church historian.
Despite having lost an arm during the Warsaw Uprising against the Nazi
invaders, he went on to have a notable career at the Catholic University of
Lublin, which took courage of a different sort. For some time he was a
colleague of Karol Wojtyla, now John Paul II. His special research interest
is in ecclesiastical topography, and he has built up a splendid library of
maps, demonstrating the growth of religious institutions in eastern Europe,
particularly for the Middle Ages.
Kloczowski recognized the need for a comprehensive history of Polish
Christianity at the time of its millennium in the 1980s. But little could be
done to publicize its record or achievements during the period of Communist
rule. Once Communism fell, the opportunity came to give Kloczowski’s work a
wider audience. This abbreviated but well translated English version will
therefore introduce its foreign readers to a rich but largely unknown
The twentieth century gets 90 pages, i.e. nearly a quarter of the book. The
independent Poland re-established in 1918 was both a multinational and a
multidenominational state. Kloczowski gives a comprehensive and sympathetic
description of the various branches of the church and depicts the notable
growth of Catholic institutions and religious life during this period. But,
at the same time, waves of chauvinism and nationalism produced much
religious conflict, including virulent antisemitism. Anti-clericalism was
also rife among the intelligentsia. In any case, Poland’s rapacious
neighbours, both west and east, within twenty years destroyed the nation and
sought to enslave its peoples. Both Nazis and Soviets persecuted the church
brutally and consistently. Under the Nazis, nearly a fifth of all Polish
Catholic priests were killed; 1760 Polish priests were sent to Dachau, where
860 died; 3 bishops were murdered in concentration camps. The material
damage destroyed all the achievements of the interwar period; the moral
damage was incalculable. But the identification of Polish nationalism with
Catholicism gave rise to examples of heroic resistance and defiance, such as
the self-sacrificing death of Maxymilian Kolbe, later canonized. In
Kloczowski’s view, the Catholic Church suffered terrible losses, but its
position in 1945 was much stronger than in 1939, which was to be of
paramount importance in the subsequent years.
The forty-five years of Communist rule still need to be objectively
researched and analyzed. But it is clear that Poland was the most
significant arena where the dominant Communist totalitarian ideology was
challenged by the vitality of Catholicism, powerfully and deeply rooted in
the people at large. The 1945 revision of Poland’s borders strengthened
Catholicism by expelling other Christian communities, while the few
remaining Jews sought exile elsewhere. But the task of restoration was
deliberately obstructed by the anti-clerical policies of the regime, which
led to the arrest and detention of the Polish Primate, Wyszynski, for three
years from 1953-56. The stubbornness of the church was undoubtedly one
factor which forced the government’s new leader, Gomulka, to take a more
moderate stance after 1956. Despite the official propagation of communist
atheism, the popularity of the “church-in-chains” grew steadily, as did the
authority of its leaders, one of whom became Pope in 1978. The emphasis on
pastoral work was notable, but strengthened the church’s innately
conservative character. Not until 1970 was Polish first used in the Mass,
and the reforms of the 2nd Vatican Council were only slowly adopted.
Kloczowski acknowledges the danger of Polish-Catholic ethnocentrism, and
regrets that, for all its vitality, the church shows little willingness to
engage in ecumenical activities beyond its immediate horizons.
The election of a Polish Pope and his appeal to the moral foundations of
Christianity’s heritage undoubtedly played a significant role in undermining
the Communist regime. The regaining of independence was of course a welcome
development, even if it led to the appearance in Poland of scores of new
religious groups, Christian or other. Kloczowski notes that, despite the
numerical and organizational strength of Polish Catholicism, it also suffers
>from manifest weaknesses and inner divisions. Political quarrels over the
role of the church in society are notable. Theological consensus on
doctrinal questions is far from complete. But such tensions could be
expected at a time when the social order in Poland, the Polish state, the
Church in Poland and all of Poland’s Christians have entered a new phase and
face challenges different from the one encountered under totalitarianism.
This eirenic and scholarly history gives an excellent introduction to the
present situation, and we are indebted to Professor Kloczowski for his lucid
guidance and appreciation. JSC

3) Book notes: Pia Nordblum, Fur Glaube und Volkstum. Die katholische
Wochenzeitung “Der Deutsche in Polen” (1934-1939) in der Auseinandersetzung
mit dem Nationalsozialismus. (Veroffentlichungen der Kommission fur
Zeitgeschichte, Reihe B. Bd 87), Paderborn 2000 DM 168
The Nazi policy of “Gleichschaltung” which affected so many aspects of
German life, also fundamentally altered the close relations between Berlin
and the German ethnic community in Poland, which had been established during
the Weimar Republic. One of the leading German Catholic politicians in this
community in Poland, Dr Edward Pant (1887-1938), early on recognized that
the new Nazi regime would try to exploit his community for its own political
purposes. However, he was unable to convince his compatriots of the accuracy
of his analysis of the situation. The German-Catholic minority split into
pro- and anti-Nazi factions. Following his isolation politically, Pant took
the counteroffensive journalistically, founding a new conservative Catholic
weekly newspaper in Upper Silesia, “Der Deutsche in Polen”. During its
publication run from 1934 to 1939, this newspaper quickly became an
important mouthpiece for German Christians living in East-Central Europe who
were opponents of Nazism, including recent emigres. The paper also served as
a forum for those German ethnic minorities in eastern European states who
did not want to be subject to “Gleichschaltung”.
The author, Dr Pia Nordblom, Heidelberg, has used rich and wide-ranging
source material from German, Austrian and Polish archives, as well as
extensive use of private papers, hitherto unknown. She has also analyzed the
contemporary press at length. As a result, she is able to paint a
comprehensive picture of the political and cultural life of the German
minority in Poland during the 1930s. Moreover, in describing the founding
and contents of Der Deutsche in Polen, as well as its organizational
profile, she makes an important contribution to the history of the popular
press. Finally, this study adds to the history of the German resistance
against Nazism – especially among Catholics in Silesia – and to the history
of German-Polish relations before the outbreak of the Second World War.

4) Journal articles: a) Dianne Kirby, University of Ulster, William Temple,
Pius XII, Ecumenism, natural law, and the post-war peace in Journal of
Ecumenical Studies, 26: 3-4, Summer-Fall 1999, 318-339

During his tenure of the archbishopric of Canterbury, 1942-4, the
internationally respected William Temple sought to bring together the Roman
and non-Roman worlds in order to transcend the divisions inflicted on
Christendom by World War II. Temple, a founder of the World Council of
Churches (in process of formation), hoped to make a personal visit to Pope
Pius XII to demonstrate to the world the agreement on principles for
peacemaking that existed on both sides of the Reformation divide. His
efforts engendered political opposition from the British Foreign Office,
less than enthusiastic at the prospect of Christian influence on post-war
plans. These officials saw no reason to assist Temple in realizing his aim
to reach an agreement with the Pope regarding the moral foundation of a
lasting peace. Temple also had to contend with embedded Anglican suspicion
of Roman Catholicism, including his own. Nonetheless, right up to his
premature death in 1944, Temple remained determined to effect an approach to
Pius XII which would show the world the way toward a Christian peace and the
churches a way toward the ecumenical ideal he cherished.

b) Dianne Kirby, Divinely Sanctioned: The Anglo-American Cold War Alliance
and the Defence of Western Civilization and Christianity, 1945-48 in Journal
of Contemporary History, Vol 35, no 3, 2000, 385-412
As the war-time alliance of the great powers fell apart to be replaced by
suspicion of the Soviet Union’s intentions, the leaders in both Britain and
the USA sought means for building a new relationship capable of stemming
this danger. Because of the divergence between the British Labour Government
‘s socialist stance and that of the Truman administration’s more right-wing
internal politics, the use of Christianity became a convenient ideological
justification for this new policy. This had the advantage of projecting the
Soviet regime as an evil power while at the same time consolidating the
‘special relationship’ across the Atlantic. So too the success of
establishing Christian Democratic parties in western Europe demonstrated the
usefulness of this religious motivation. Not only did this tactic contribute
to the intensification of the Cold War but transformed numerous Christian
leaders into Cold War warriors, as well as making Christianity a politicized


At the conclusion of the year, and of this volume, I want to send you all my
best wishes, in the hope that I may hear from you with your comments and
criticism in the year ahead.
John Conway


List of books reviewed in 2000
Barnett, V.J.: Bystanders. Conscience and complicity during the Holocaust
Baum, Gregory ed.,The Twentieth Century. A theological overview January
Besier, Gerhard: Kirche,Politik und Gesellschaft im 20 Jahrhundert May
Cornwell, John: Hitler’s Pope January
Devine, T.M. ed.: Scotland’s Shame. Bigotry and Sectarianism October
Doering-Manteuffel, A and Nowak, K: Religionspolitik in Deutschland
Festschrift für Martin Greschat September
Furuya, Y. ed: A History of Japanese Theology July/August
Garrard-Burnett, Virginia: Protestantism in Guatemala July/August
Hastings, Adrian: A world history of Christianity November
Hoover, Arlie J.: God, Britain and Hitler in World War II October
Ion, Hamish: The Cross in the Dark Valley March
Kääriäinen, Kimmo: Religion in Russia after the collapse of Communism
Kell,G and Seborg, C.J: Reflections on Bonhoeffer March
Kloczowski, J.: A history of Polish Christianity December
Lewy, Gunter: The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies June
Loveland, Ann: American Evangelicals and the United States Military April
Ludwig, Frieder: Church and State in Tanzania June
Phayer,Michael: The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, 1930-1965 December
Railton, Nicholas: The German Evangelical Alliance and
the Third Reich February
Rittner, C, Smith, S., and Steinfeldt, I: The Holocaust and
the Christian World May
Roggelin, Holger: Franz Hildebrandt May
Rychlak, Ronald: Hitler, the War and the Pope November
Safranski, Rüdiger: Martin Heidegger. Between good and evil September
Seliger, S: Charlotte v.Kirschbaum and Karl Barth February
Shapiro, James: Oberammergau October
Terray, Laszlo. He could not do otherwise. Bishop Lajos Ordass March
Thiesen, John D.: Mennonite & Nazi in Latin America? June
Vogelin, Eric: Hitler and the Germans February
Vuletic, Aleksandar-Sasa: Christen jüdischer Herkunft im Dritten Reich June
Werner, Uwe: Anthroposophen in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus May
Wilkinson, Alan: Christian Socialism: Scott Holland to Tony Blair March
Wollasch, Hans-Josef ed: “Betrifft Nachrichtenzentrale des Erzbischofs
Gröber in Freiburg”.Die Ermittlungsakten der Geheimen Staatspolizei
gegen Gertrud Luckner September

All reviews except those whose authors are specifically noted are written by
your Editor