February 2001 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia


Newsletter- February 2001- Vol. VII, no. 2

Dear Friends,

1) Book reviews: a) Hubert Locke, Learning from History
b) Schaefer, Catholic Church in the GDR; Schmid,Dresden Churches
2) Book notes: Eikel, French Catholics in the Third Reich
3) Journal issues: Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte, 2000/1
4) New journal: Religion – Staat – Gesellschaft
5) Journal articles

1a) Book reviews:
Hubert Locke, Learning from History. A Black Christian’s Perspective on the
Holocaust. Westport, Conn./London: Greenwood Press 2000 129pp
Hubert Locke is a distinguished Black Christian scholar, and a Dean Emeritus
of the University of Washington, Seattle. His long-felt interest in the
Holocaust was aroused by his recognition of the profoundly disturbing
lessons and implications to be learnt. The experience of growing up Black in
a racially segregated America led him to be aware that the history of Jewish
suffering in Europe “could have been, or, God forbid, could yet be my own
history”. The legacy of the Holocaust is not therefore solely a Jewish
The ten essays in this sensitive and insightful book are written from a
special perspective, and explore particular aspects of both Jewish and Black
experience, showing both the commonalties as well as the differences. This
is not a work of archival research, but rather an example of valuable,
on-going and percipient reflection. Locke’s Christian point of view makes
him especially aware of the need for humility in the face of the Holocaust
tragedy. “This is a difficult position for scholars and academics; it is a
necessity for Christians”. His objective is eirenical, desirous of finding
common ground between Blacks and Whites, between Jews and Gentiles, between
Christians and Jews above all. All of us, he believes, should learn from
history, and must do so if we are to live in peace in one world.
Locke begins by comparing the history of the Black and Jewish people as mino
rities living within the Western world. Most did not choose to do so, were
subjected to discriminatory laws and practices imposed on them, and remained
essentially aliens in a civilization which prided itself on its pursuit of
liberty, equality and fraternity. But even today integration for these
minorities remains illusory. Their very presence is a constant reminder that
Western civilization is not a grand saga of human triumph. Nor can their
members take their future status for granted. The spectre of the Holocaust
reminds Jews of the fragility of their place in western societies. But
Blacks also know that they exist apart from the mainstream, and are likely
to be treated as marginal by the majority. Locke calls for co-operation
between Jews and Blacks in a constant need to challenge this majority to
live up to its claims of justice and equality.
Despite their separate existence, both Jews and Blacks have similar
histories of exploitation, discrimination and persecution. Both need to
stand guard against the facile optimism so often voiced that such things
belong in the past. “Never again” has become the watchword of many Holocaust
observers. Behind this remark is the fear that it could recur. But all of us
need to reflect on what can happen when racial hatred overwhelms a nation,
and the rest of the world is indifferent to the outcome.
In combating such dangerous forces, Black Americans have for two centuries
borrowed heavily from the Jewish Biblical tradition and have been nurtured
on the notion that their history parallels that of the ancient Israelites.
They frequently share with Jews a social vision designed to advance the
cause of civil rights and social justice. But the issue of identity still
remains. While Jews can in fact choose to renounce their minority status,
one who is Black can never choose not to be so.
At the present time, the success of the Jewish community in North America is
making it difficult to maintain the link with the Holocaust victims of sixty
years ago, or to persuade non-Jews that Jews deserve special consideration
as a result. Some Blacks are particularly suspicious that this is a
misplaced emotion, especially when the fact of their own victimization is
much more pervasive and still felt daily. The Holocaust, so long ago and so
far away, is thus likely to become a non-problem, even for some Jews. But
overcoming this loss of historical consciousness, is a problem for Jews and
others alike.
For sixty years debate has continued as to whether the Holocaust was a
unique event, or to be regarded as the latest outrage in the long history of
man’s inhumanity to man. Locke warns against this latter stance. The Nazi
regime was the most genocidal in world history. By enfolding the Holocaust
indiscriminately in the sordid story of other modern human tragedies, we
could easily fail to learn from its especial history. In particular, one
lesson stands out: the Nazi state was the first to mobilize its entire
resources in a successful attempt to control, and, if desired, to destroy
the life of the individual citizen. It systematically and deliberately
overthrew the moral barriers built up over centuries to preserve the value
of individual life. Instead both bureaucracy and technology were harnessed
for the Nazis’ infamous racial purposes. Once the Nazis had shown that this
could be done, the temptation remains for other tyrannies to do the same. As
Locke says, these are chilling lessons.
Another lesson is to have a chastened view of patriotism. The Nazis’ ability
to cover their crimes behind the cloak of nationalism was matched by the
failure of so many Germans, especially in the churches, to see that
patriotism was not enough. Only a small handful of German Protestants, as
early as 1934, recognized that their first loyalty should be to God, not the
State. “We reject the false doctrine that the State, over and beyond its
special commission, should and could become the single and totalitarian
order of human life”. A brave statement, but alas! often compromised under
the pressures of inflated nationalism. Accusations of national disloyalty
kept almost all dissenters in line. And intimidated by incessant propaganda,
these church leaders limited their protests to their own immediate horizons.
They failed to stand up for the Jews because they did not belong in the
Christians’ circle of obligation. But an equal failure was the readiness to
accept the Nazi definition of nationalism as paramount in their political
How shall the lessons of the Holocaust be learnt? Especially now that the
number of survivors is rapidly diminishing. One misguided route is to
promote an artificial category of second or third generation “survivors”.
But this only encourages a sense of Jewish exclusiveness. What is needed,
Locke believes, is a readiness to overcome such parochialism and a
recognition that others too, especially Blacks, as well as Sinti and Native
Americans, have their own experience of communal suffering. This should
create a bond of sympathy, but too often we find only misunderstanding and
hostility. In recent years relations between Blacks and Jews in America have
deteriorated. The memory of the Holocaust has become a divisive rather than
a uniting factor. Locke seeks reconciliation lest both communities again
lose out to racial bigotry in the guise of political conservatism.
In his final chapter Locke takes up the problematical role of the churches
during the Holocaust. He rightly observes the difficulty of tackling this
subject without seeming to rationalize or to be defensive. Yet, having
studied this topic closely for forty years, he can with authority claim that
“it is an uncomfortable fact that the more one focuses the harsh and
unremitting light of scholarly enquiry on the churches and the Holocaust . .
the less definitive and declamatory one can be.” (p.102) To be sure, the
churches failed to do what, in the light of hindsight, we now feel they
should have done to help their Jewish neighbours. But Locke rightly stresses
that their principal failure was their unwillingness to abandon their
long-held theological prejudices against Jews, or to combat Nazi racism in
general. The German Christians’ support of such pernicious views is
impossible to overlook. Black Christians cannot forget that the Nazi
pseudo-anthropology, which placed ‘Aryans’ at the top of the human ladder,
set not Jews but Blacks at the very bottom. Only their absence from Europe
saved them from sharing the same fate. They are hence sensitively hurt when
they hear claims that the Holocaust was solely a Jewish event, or that no
one else suffered so much. For in fact Black Americans have always looked to
the Jewish people for a sympathetic understanding based on their common
experience of slavery, discrimination and oppression.
Jews and Blacks both face the danger of reductionism, when their stories of
suffering are simply dismissed, treated as irrelevant or relativized. But
the opposite tendency is also regrettable, when each victimized group seeks
to emphasize its misfortune and downplays that of others. The particularity
and authenticity of the Holocaust or of Black slavery is not an issue. But
building bridges of understanding requires a willingness to recognize
comparable occurrences. Locke hopes that the Christian churches, which have
resolutely begun the task of atoning for their past silence, and have
rethought their theologies towards both Jews and Blacks, can be allowed to
play a constructive role in the combating of racism and antisemitism. These
forces cannot be regarded as superseded. Rather, the Holocaust stands as a
grim reminder of the recent past and an eternal warning for the future.

1b) Bernd Schaefer, Staat und katholische Kirche in der DDR, (Schriften des
Hannah-Arendt-Instituts für Totalitarismusforschung, Bd 8),
Koeln/Weimar/Wien: Bohlau Verlag. 1998 501 pp ISBN 3-412-04598-5.
Josef Schmid, Kirchen, Staat und Politik in Dresden zwischen 1975 und 1989.
(Geschichte und Politik in Sachsen Bd 7), Koeln/Weimar/Wien Bohlau Verlag
521 pp. ISBN 3-412-11497-9.
(This review is appearing on H-Soz-u-Kult)
Bernd Schaefer’s 500 page study of the complex relationship between for the
Communist regime and the Catholic Church in the German Democratic Republic
is a comprehensive and well researched account. He was, of course,
particularly fortunate that the overthrow of this unlamented government in
1989 led to the opening of its archives, such as those of the Party hierarchy, its secret police agency –
the Stasi – and of its Secretariat of Church Affairs, all virtually
complete. So too the Church authorities gave him permission to see their
papers. The contrast with the much more restricted access to the equivalent
sources for the western part of Germany is notable. Schaefer seized his
opportunity, and now builds on a series of preliminary findings published
earlier in articles.
He divides his material into five chapters each tackling roughly a decade,
but adopting the same format: first, a general analysis of the Communist
regime’s wider policies, then an account of the specific policies and
tactics towards the churches, and finally a description of the Catholic
Church’s response. As is already well known, the Catholic minority – never
more than ten percent of the population – was always on the defensive.
Despite an obvious sympathy for his fellow Catholics, Schaefer’s principal
stress is on the policies of those who organized the persecution, or more
latterly the restrictive obstruction, of the churches. He traces the various
stages from the initial outright determination to stamp out the churches
entirely to the later awareness of the impossibility of success. In contrast
to the similar practices adopted towards the Protestants, Schaefer makes the
good point that the Catholics were always more suspect because of their
links to the Vatican, and hence a disproportionate amount of the Stasi’s
resources were deployed against these alleged “puppets of revanchist
imperialism directed by the superstitious clique in Rome”.
This account is primarily written from the top downwards, so that the
leading Party officials and the members of the Church hierarchy take a
prominent place. But their interplay is well described. He also shows that
how well the Stasi was informed about church affairs, due to the diligence
of their agents, including several Catholic priests, or to secretly-planted
listening devices. “Der Forscher beginnt die Lektuere zunaechst als
distanzierten Voyeur, bis er selbst in zahlose Biographien aus allen Teilen
der DDR und die Perspektiven der MfS-“Fuehrungsoffiziere” unvermeidlich
hineingezogen wird”. (p.25)
The outlines of this cat and mouse story are now well known. Schaefer adds
the details of the campaign against the Catholics. The Communist ideological
onslaught could however at times be combined with a variety of tactics,
which only added to the churches’ difficulty in assessing the best response
to defend their interests. On the whole, the Catholics took refuge in
withdrawal into the sacristy, refusing to take part in the so-called
socialist remodeling of German society. This was a tactic for survival, and
held at bay some of the ham-handed attempts either to seduce the church
leaders into approving “real existing socialism”, or to recruit agents for
the Stasi.
Following the Second Vatican Council, some progressive Catholics wanted to
risk a more positive encounter. But neither the Catholic hierarchy nor the
regime’s authorities encouraged such behaviour, and suppressed it as long as
they could. Not until the late 1980s did the Catholics begin to join the
Protestants in giving support to those antagonistic policies which in the
end brought the regime crashing down.
Josef Schmid’s account of the Churches’ political stances in Dresden chooses
a regional study for the final years of the GDR regime, but covers in more
depth many of the themes in Schaefer’s book. He takes issue with one-sided,
monocausal and moralistic treatments, such as those of Gerhard Besier. At
the same time, he devotes more space to the affairs of the local
congregations, both Catholic and Protestant, and thus usefully complements
Schaefer’s study. And. not surprisingly, Schmid emphasizes the leading role
of the Saxon Protestant Church, whose leader Johannes Hempel was a towering
figure not only in his own church but on the wider world ecumenical stage.
Dresden became an important centre already in the early 1980s for church
activities seeking to mobilize a following for “peace action”. The leaders
rediscovered the resources for Christian pacifism, despite its long absence
>from Lutheran theology. They sought thereby to provide a focus against the
Communists’ propagation of militarism, and to be a part of the wider protest
against the regime’s totalitarian control.
Schmid gives an excellent and full account of these struggles, skillfully
blending his sources, similarly drawn from the Party, Church, State and
secret police archives.
At the same time he clearly outlines the dilemmas of the church authorities,
discouraging open political provocation while insisting on the biblical
basis for any protest. But in 1988 and 1989 this balancing act gave way to a
more open espousal of the Church’s political witness and opposition to the
regime, especially, in Dresden, on ecological questions. At last, the
Catholic Church emerged from its reticent stance. But Schmid also makes
clear that the Churches’ involvement, though significant, cannot be seen as
the main instigator of the regime’s downfall. There still remained, and
indeed still today remain, too many theological reservations within the
churches’ ranks, so that their political witness can only be described as an
adjunct to the revolutionary events of 1989. But Schmid’s account is an
impressively solid piece of research.

2) Book Notes: Markus Eikel, Französische Katholiken im Dritten Reich. Die
religiöse Betreuung der französischen Kriegsgefangenen und Zwangsarbeiter
1940-1945. Freiburg-im-Breisgau: Rombach Verlag 1999. 330 pp. Mgr.Charles
Molette, Resistances chretiennes a la nazification des esprits, Paris: F.-X.
de Guilbert 1998, 258 pp
Prisoners-of-war, unless they build escape tunnels or fantastic railway
bridges, are unglamorous. Hence their life of boredom, deprivation and exile
is largely forgotten. Markus Eikel deserves much credit for shedding light
on one attempt to relieve the plight of those thousands of French soldiers
who were carried off to Germany after the defeat of their nation in 1940.
The French Catholic hierarchy, though politically divided about the German
occupation and about collaboration, sought to provide chaplaincy services
for their countrymen, and had some limited successes with the German
military authorities. Much riskier was the attempt to provide the same
chaplaincy to the equally large numbers of French civilians, conscripted for
labour in Germany. Special priests secretly worked in German cities for
months, even years, until caught and sent to concentration camps, The
ruthlessness of the Gestapo, the dilemmas of the French bishops, and the
courage of these chaplains/worker-priests are fully and excellently
described. It is a heroic tale, hitherto unknown. All the more creditable
for being told by a young German scholar.

Fr Molette’s extended essay seeks to pay tribute to those French Christians,
priests, religious and laity, who fought Nazism primarily for spiritual
reasons. He believes that too often their struggles have been overlooked or
ignored, in favour of those motivated for purely political reasons. He too
focusses on the witness of Catholics in German camps, whose determination to
maintain their religious practices and beliefs frequently led to their
murder. Their memorial is unalterable and inalienable. In appendices,
Molette prints some moving contemporary documents, showing how faith was
maintained in those dark days.

3) Journal issues: a) Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte, Vol 13, no 1, 2000
The latest issue of our “house journal” is devoted the themes of Catholicism
and Protestantism during the Third Reich and in the post-war years,
principally in Germany. It is notable that three of the eight articles are
in English. Manfred Gailus gives a succint summary of his recent book on the
political stances of the Berlin clergy and laity during the Third Reich,
examining the various factors which led to daggers drawn between the “German
Christians” and the Confessing Church. He looks at the clergy’s biographies
and careers, theological orientations and war experiences as causes of the
unbridgeable positions adopted in 1933.
The late Leonore Siegele-Wenschkewitz, in a significant lecture given
shortly before her death, describes the career of Edith Stein and outlines
the dilemma of doing justice to her as both a Catholic Christian and a
member of the Jewish people. She draws attention to the danger of making
Edith Stein’s canonization by the Catholic Church an alibi for its failure
to stand up for her and her fellow Christians of Jewish origin.
Alternatively making her a saint is not to be misconstrued as setting an
example for other Jews to convert. Instead Edith Stein’s attempts to build
bridges between the two faiths, and her resolute warnings of the dangers to
Catholics of the dangers of racial hatred remain a significant legacy.
Ronald Webster of York University, Toronto, gives a highly critical, indeed
scorching, account of the career of a Pastor of the Palatinate Evangelical
Church, whom he describes as an ardent nationalist and sometime antisemite,
who succumbed to the wiles of radical nationalism and eventually of aspects
of Nazism. Yet, in the post-war years, he sought to re-establish himself as
a heroic resistor to Nazi tyranny, denying his previous stances, and
engaging in the kind of self-pitying outbursts so common at that time.
Nicholas Railton contributes the remarkable story of the ministry exercised
by a Missouri Lutheran pastor, Henry Gerecke, from central USA, to the major
war criminals during their imprisonment in Nuremberg from 1945-6. His
research is largely based on Gerecke’s monthly reports, now deposited in the
US National Archives. The American army chaplains were given the
responsibility of providing chaplaincy services to these men, 15 of whom
were Protestants and 6 Catholics. Despite Gerecke’s limited knowledge of
German, he established a notable relationship with these major figures from
the Nazi hierarchy, such as Goering, Ribbentrop, Fritzsche and Keitel. His
sincerity and simple humbleness, completely avoiding any political
involvement, but concentrating solely on the need for repentance before the
Lord, earned him a high regard from the prisoners. Their willingness to
accept him as a Christian pastor, and to attend the simple services he
organized in a makeshift chapel, says a lot about his faithful witness. As a
result he could claim to have seen God working in the hearts of these
convicted criminals before their executions, which did not of course imply
any sympathy for their past misdeeds.
Dianne Kirby has given us a further installment from what is presumably her
forthcoming book on the political involvement of the Church of England at
the beginning of the Cold War. She describes how the British Foreign Office
officials were eager to recruit the leaders of the Church of England in the
construction of an anti-Communist ideological campaign. This seemed to
promise to go over better with the wider public than merely concentrating on
political or economic measures. And to this end, highly placed and
conservative leaders in the bureaucracy appealed to like-minded Anglicans
and provided them with information not otherwise available, to be circulated
for this propagandistic purpose. Kirby is critical of Bishop George Bell for
accepting such steps, as showing a lack of sufficient caution towards the
infiltration of the secular state. On the other hand, Bell was surely moved
by the experience of the 1930s when the danger of Nazi totalitarianism had
been so grossly underestimated. In the end, she concludes, the Church of
England provided a fertile soil in which hard-line anti-Communism could be
sown. The churches’ support “contributed significantly to the
intensification of the Cold War, as well as to the transformation of
Christian leaders into Cold War warriors and the transmogrification of
Christianity into a political doctrine”.
Students of Bonhoeffer will want to turn to the essay, written in memory of
Eberhard Bethge, by H-W Krumwiede on Bonhoeffer’s struggle against the
persecution of the Jews. This recapitulates Bethge’s previous summary of
Bonhoeffer’s position, which was percipiently outspoken in 1933 in
protesting the antisemitic mistreatment of Jews by the Nazis, but still used
language suggesting he maintained the anti-judaic stance of earlier
theologians. Subsequently Bonhoeffer was clearly in advance of the majority
of his colleagues in rethinking this attitude, but no clearly thought-out
statement of any pro-jewish stance survives. Krumwiede suggests that
Bonhoeffer’s part in the conspiracy to replace Hitler after 1938 made it
impossible to expect any such utterance. Nevertheless Bonhoeffer combined
both the insight early on to warn the church against the perils of Jew
hatred, and the courage to take up arms. Both in word and deed, he deserves
the memorial as a twentieth century martyr now placed over the door of
Westminster Abbey.

4) New Journal. The first issue of a new journal
Religion-Staat-Gesellschaft, published by Duncker & Humblot, Berlin, and
edited in Heidelberg by our good friend and colleague, Gerhard Besier, is
now to hand. Besier’s ten year’s editorship of Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte
will undoubtedly be of great help in launching this new venture, which is
designed to take a less historical, and more presentist, political stance,
and a broader mandate in covering all faith communities. It too is designed
to be at least bilingual, and the majority of the articles in this first
issue are in English. They include James Beckford: Religion, State and
Prison; M Introvigne, Freedom of religion in Europe; James Richardson,
Minority Faiths and Religious Freedom in Israel, Bassam Tibi, Secularization
and De-Secularization in Islam, while Besier himself contributes a
stimulating article on Neopaganism in the Nazi Reich. This new venture would
appear not to have any connection with a similarly named journal published
by the Keston community on Oxford, Religion, State and Society, now in its
28th year. So we shall have to hope that there is room for both ventures to
succeed. More information can be obtained from Frl.Piombo, Kisselgasse 1,
69117 Heidelberg, Germany.

5) Journal articles:
Mark Chapman, Anglo-German Theological relations during the First World War,
Journal for the History of Modern Theology, Vol 7, 2000, 109-126.
This article describes the course of personal relations between influential
theologians in Germany and England immediately before and during the First
World War. Despite the tense relations between the two countries some of
these contacts were maintained, although they became much more tenuous
during the course of the war. This article outlines the rhetorical attacks
launched by some Anglo-Catholic theologians against liberal theology of
German origin. The war in fact caused an increased and unprecedented
outburst against liberal theologians. After the war, this was the factor
which most of all caused the breach in relations between the two nations’
theologians. Two results followed: one the one hand, it led to a dominant
position for Anglo-Catholicism, and on the other to the development of a
specifically English variety of liberal theology, unaffected by what was
happening on the continent. Apart from certain notable exceptions, it would
seem that any fruitful and lively dialogue came to an end after the death of
Willliam Sanday.
[see also Stephen Sykes, England and Germany. Studies in theological
Peter Lodberg, The Nordic Churches and the Ecumenical Movement, Ecumenical
Review, Vol 52, no 2, April 2000, p137ff
Thomas Wieser, Reviewing ecumenical history, Ecumenical Review, Vol 52, no
2, April 2000, p 246ff This piece is in fact a review of two German books,
difficult to obtain and hence little known: ed A.Boyens, G.Besier,
G.Lindemann, Nationaler Protestantismus und Oekumene, Berlin: Duncker und
Humblot 1999, and Der Oekumenische Rat der Kirchen in der Konflikten des
kalten Kriegs, Frankfurt : Lembach 2000
Mark Chapman, Mandell Creighton’s Theological History, Journal of
Theological Studies,Vol 51, no 2, October 2000
Mandell Creighton was Bishop of Peterborough and then London at the end of
the nineteenth century. He believed that a recognition of human finitude was
part of the inner logic of the Christian faith. Hence he advocated a humble
and tolerant pluralism and attacked the dogmatism of so mnay of his fellow
clergy and countrymen His ideas about the Church of England led him to
oppose both Ultramontanism and individualistic Protestant sectarianism.
Detachment rather than involvement was the proper stance for a historian.
Creighton therefore opposed much of the myth-making about Anglican history,
which was being actively pursued during his life-time.
Manfred Weitlauff, Adolf von Harnack, Theodor Mommsen,Martin Rade,
Zeitschrift fuer Kirchengeschichte, Vol 111, no 2 (2000)
This extended 46-page review of three recent publications provides a
comprehensive look at the present scholarly views about Adolf von Harnack
and his association with Mommsen and Rade. The reputation of these three
giants of the late nineteenth century German theology declined precipitously
after 1918, and has hardly yet recovered. But Professor Weitlauff, of Munich
University, gives us a good insight of the significant issues they sought to
address, and recommends three new books to assist us in gaining a new
evaluation of their contribution: Adolf von Harnack als Zeitgenosse. Reden
und Schriften aus den Jahren des Kaiserreichs und der Weimarer Republik,
edited and introduced by Kurt Nowak, 2 Vols, Berlin/New York: Walter de
Gruyter 1996;
Stefan Rebenich, Theodor Mommsen und Adolf Harnack, Berlin/New York: Walter
de Gruyter 1997; Der Briefwechsel zwischen Adolf von Harnack und Martin
Rade. Theologie auf dem oeffentlichen Markt, edited and commented by Johanna
Jantsch, Berlin,/New York: Walter de Gruyter 1996.

With best wishes
John Conway