February 2002 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

Newsletter- February 2002- Vol. VIII, no. 2

Dear Friends,

We revert this month to Europe, as follows:

1) A Quotation from Martin Luther:

“Dear Germans, take advantage, because our moment
has come. Gather in, while it still shines and is good weather.
Use Godís grace and Word while they are present. For you
should know that Godís Word and grace is a traveling object that
rains blessings. It does not return to where it once has been. It
was with the Jews, but away it went and now they have nothing.
Paul brought it to Greece. But again it went away through
neglect, and Greece now has the Turks. Rome and the Latin
lands have also had it, but away it went and now they have the
pope. And you Germans are not allowed to think that you will
have it forever because it cannot be retained by those who show
ingratitude or contempt. Grasp it and retain it, whoever can.”

2) Book review: G. Besier, Die Kirchen und das Dritte Reich

3) Pius XII – revisited

4)Book notes: Historisches Jahrbuch 2001
Zeitgeschichte in Lebensbildern

5) Future conferences: a) Annual Scholarsí Conference on the
Holocaust and the Churches, March 2-5th 2002
b) 22nd Millersville Annual Holocaust Conference,
April 14-15th, 2002

2) Gerhard Besier, Die Kirchen und das Dritte Reich.
Spaltungen und Abwehrkampfe 1934 bis 1937. Propylaen:
Munich 2001, 1262 pp.

The author is to be congratulated for giving us at long last some
sixteen years later the next volume of the massive unfinished
two-volume torso on the Christian churches (1933-34) left by his
mentor, Scholder (d.1985); as it happened at a time of
passionate historical debate prompted by the fiftieth anniversary
of the Barmen Declaration. Continuation is, as it was then, a
labour of love. And there is more to come. Nine impressive
chapters cover the period November 1934 to March 1937.
These were years of crisis for Christians and Jews. Increased
Nazi church control was accompanied by religious and racial
persecution: inter alia, the Interior Minister Frick’s prohibition
of open discussion of church questions in the press, books, and
pamphlets (November 1934); the arrest and brief detention of
some 700 Prussian pastors, and the start of state control of
church finance (March 1935); the establishment of Kerrl’s Reich
Ministry for Church Affairs accompanied by Frick’s and
Goering’s calls for the suppression of Christian church influence
in public life (July); show trials against members of religious
orders for alleged violation of the foreign currency laws and a
bitter struggle over Catholic schooling (spring 1935 onwards);
the discriminatory anti-Jewish Nuremberg laws (September); the
establishment of the Church Committee system under
the aged Superintendent Zoellner (October); Kerrl’s dictatorial
abolition of the executive functions of church organizations
(December); show trials for alleged sexual perversity by
members of religious orders (May 1936); the Oldenburg crucifix
struggle (November); renewed Catholic persecution after the
publication of the encyclical ‘With Burning Anxiety’ (March
1937); and renewed state-abetted Jewish emigration (1936-37) –
some 150,000 by mid-1938. New and revelatory in this
context are chapter 3 “Revolutionierung des Religiosenî
(1934-37), and a final chapter 9 on the Christian Church
(singular!) and Nazi Racial policy. This reviewer would have
preferred closer proximity of these two chapters. In all, the
reader is presented with a daunting 900 pages of text. Telling
photographs are collected in the centre as in volume one. There
are 261 pages of footnotes, and 69 pages devoted to Sources and
Bibliography. It is a volume which is meant to impress at an
affordable price (45 Euros) using good quality paper with sewn
covers and a gold bookmark tassel.

To be as brief as possible with initial remarks. The production
of this single-authored volume in such lengthy detail with the
promise of more of the same to come is almost impossible
today, certainly in a busy British university environment. The
labour of Research Assistants is essential. Besier’s thanks (p.10)
– and ours – are therefore more than justly deserved by his team
whose Herculean effort is hidden in the 337 pages of footnotes,
archives and libraries visited, and bibliography. Their
impressive work on the documents presents problems for the
reviewer, however. How much does Besier see through the eyes
of his research assistants? Could the evidence have been
interpreted differently? Should Besier and his team follow the
same aims and objectives of Scholder in 1977, or those in the
1985 posthumous second volume today? In the latter his
assistants including Besier emphasized the need for distance
from the interpretations given by the Catholic and Protestant
Commissions for Contemporary Church History and the
so-called ‘Dahlem Trend’ of the 1960s. What we now know
twenty-five years later is so much more than the ‘Grosse Politik’
of Germany’s Protestant and Catholic church leaders, however
fascinating the labyrinthine intrigue recorded here. Does Besier’s
coverage convey adequately what it meant to be a Christian (and
Jew) in an increasing climate of fear? Besier makes no
concessions either to changes in historical fashion such as the
recent move to the view from downstairs. Even a contemporary,
Birger Forell, chaplain to the Swedish embassy in Berlin, Bell’s
reliable informant about the crisis in the German churches,
warned Bell in a letter dated 17 October 1936 apropos the
pastoral letters, memoranda, and high-profile diplomacy of
Germany’s Catholic bishops, that ìthe real danger for the
Christian church today is to be too diplomatic. The only thing
which impresses a totalitarian state and its representatives is to
show strengthî (p.742). Does not a preoccupation with the
formal etiquette visible in the carefully chosen photographs
really mask what Besier admits, following Hans Mommsen and
Ian Kershaw, namely, that the Nazi system underwent a
cumulative radicalization, especially during these years? Can
today’s reader, with little sense of life under this racial regime, or
even Christian belief and its values, really grasp this religious
Crisis? And we are promised possibly a further three volumes, if
we assume coverage of two to three years at a time. Besier gives
the reader no simple year-by-year chronology of events, and
concludes with only an Index of names. Might it not be best
after all to leave this kind of treatment to the Protestant
Commission and its published documents? The recent
impressive third and fourth volumes edited by Grunzinger
and Nicolaisen cover July 1935 to August 1939, and are much
shorter – 447 and 476 pages respectively.

And then there is the emphasis placed by Besier. It seems that
the heart of this book consists of Protestant chapter 5 (The
Struggle over the Committees October 1935 to February 1936)
followed by a massive Protestant chapter 6 (The Failure of
Committee Policy March 1936 to February 1937). The latter
contains 226 pages with 1736 footnotes – more than twice the
size of each of the other seven chapters, of which chapters 2, 7,
and 8 concern the Catholic church, and chapter 9 the Jews.

This reviewer would like to leave the reader with two thoughts.
A fundamental Nazi attack on the substance of Christian and
Judaic belief encapsulated in Frick’s public phrase of July 1935,
‘Entkonfessionalisierung des offentlichen Lebens’, became
obvious in 1936 and 1937. Hans Ehrenberg’s correspondence in
which he begs not to be named or to name his friends contained
in the Bell Papers in Lambeth Palace Library (mentioned briefly
by Besier in very informative sections on the ecumenical
perspective) are, for example, still very moving to read today as
warnings. Ehrenberg was possibly more important than either
Franz Hildebrandt and Bonhoeffer in making Bell aware that the
phoney ‘positive Christianity’ period 1933-34 was now over. On
this reading, Crisis is not to be seen in the detailed interaction
between institutional churches and the Nazi State; in the
increasing disarray amongst Protestants after Barmen or in an
allegedly united Catholic defence of the Concordat, in questions
of power, in this period. It was rather, as Besier himself admits
in the flyleaf, but does not pursue sufficiently enough in the text,
a question of what a Christian or Jew could possibly do in a
climate where ‘uncompromising ideologues of the (Nazi) regime
forged (subtly masked) plans for the total subjugation of the
Churches or a radical division of Church and State’. Secondly,
the years 1935, 1936 and 1937(-38), were ones where the Nazis
made a concerted effort to capture the minds and hearts of young
people including Protestant and Catholic clergy. They used Nazi
youth training camps and the Hitler Youth to combat Christian
youth organizations, and they staffed school and university with
their own ideologues and sympathisers. For a young ordinand
who took Christian teaching and principles seriously, this was an
extremely frightening world – the more so because Nazi
anti-religious policy was often disguised. To stand for the
integrity of what one believed in, or to preach it openly, was
often a one-way curate’s ticket to imprisonment as a common
criminal and to loss of citizenship. It needed a sense of fun and
ready wit which youth could supply to hoodwink the Gestapo in
the pew. Young parish clergy of both mainline churches bore
the brunt. They were not necessarily tactless hotheads disliked
by church leaders in an age where rank and form mattered. In
this context, it is a pity in the Protestant chapters, that Besier
prefers to dwell on the growing chasm between the so-called
‘Dahlemites’ and the ‘intact’ Lutheran churches of Hanover,
Wurttemberg, and Bavaria; on the opposing views
north and south of the river Main (p.417). There were others,
particularly those schooled by Schniewind and Iwand in
Konigsberg, or those who supported Stuttgart’s
Kirchlich-Theologische Sozietat, who thought like Niemoller.
The Barmen Declaration, however flawed a statement of
Christian teaching, was under the circumstances the best
doctrinal compass suited to Christian emergency. The problems
of ecclesiology, what Besier calls the constantly aired question
of a Volkskirche or a Freikirche 1933-45 (p.53), could be dealt
with at a later date. What to do as a Christian was a hard daily
learning curve. Besier is disingenuous to insert in his fascinating
chapter 3 Niemoller’s later Dachau thoughts about conversion to
Catholicism (pp.276-7, 284) as evidence of a Confessing Church
clergy’s ‘sterile’ intellectual emphasis on religious truth, or to
state that it was not by chance that intensive discussion about
Rosenberg’s ‘Mythus’ really began when signs of internal
dissolution appeared in Confessing Church circles in the winter
of 1935-36. That is to push aside the question of what to do as a
Christian when the substance of Christian belief was under
attack. What is also significant about this particular period is
the way both mainline churches, clergy and congregations,
moved to the essential in worship and to more informal
worship which emphasized congregational participation. On
this Besier says little, if nothing at all. Theodor Mass Ewerd’s
pioneering studies of Catholic liturgical reform, ‘Liturgie und
Pfarrei’ (1969) and ‘Die Krise der Liturgischen Bewegung (1981)
are passed over.

This said, this volume will no doubt become an indispensable
guide, provided that the reader can rise above the immense
detail. Besier tells us much, not only about institutions and
personnel like Kerrl’s ministry, but also about Nazi surveillance,
the Ecumenical perspective given in British and American
sources, and about Christian and Jew in these eventful years.
There is still room, perhaps in a volume to follow, for the
contemporaneous remarkable religious pamphlet war peaking in
the years 1935-38 despite massive censorship; for what church
worship and parish life was like; and on how average Christians
and Jews coped with a constant sense of fear and foreboding.
Nicholas Hope, Glasgow University





2) Pius XII and the Holocaust- revisited

At the risk of inciting what might be called ìPius fatigue
syndromeî, we should note that this debate continues with
seemingly unabated intensity. In the past three years no fewer
than a dozen authors, with a wide range of perspectives, have
written books in English on the career of Pope Pius XII and the
Vaticanís policies during the Second World War, and in
particular have examined the Churchís responses to the Nazisí
mass murder of the European Jews. A further work on this
topic appeared this week: Jose M.Sanchez, Pius XII and the
Holocaust. Understanding the controversy, Washington, D.C.:
Catholic University of America 2002, 197 Pp. This will be
reviewed by Rev. J.J.Hughes in the June issue of this Newsletter.
In the meanwhile, the controversy was not lessened by
the unfortunate demise of the joint Catholic-Jewish Commission
established to examine the adequacy of the already published
Actes et Documents du Saint Siege relatifs a la seconde guerre
mondiale. The regrettable frustration of this unprecedented
experiment was reported in last Septemberís issue of this
Newsletter (http:www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/akz)
But, since then, the debate has flared up again in two influential
magazines in the United States. Kevin Madigan, a Chicago
professor, wrote an article for Commentary (October 2000),
entitled ìWhat the Vatican knew about the Holocaust and
whenî. This article refuted some of the more extreme views,
such as that Pius XII was in Hitlerís pay, or was a secret
sympathizer with Nazi antisemitism, but still adopted an
adversarial stance. The best response to this article came from
Professor Doris Bergen, a Canadian Protestant, teaching at Notre
Dame University, South Bend, Indiana, who rightly pointed to
the failures of sympathy and imagination shared by almost all
Christians towards the Jewish minorities in their midst. The
Vaticanís war-time failures should be seen as part of the wider
ìsins of commissionî by large segments of the Christian
churches, especially in Germany.
Last month a still more strident view was expressed by
Daniel Goldhagen in the January 21st issue of The New
Republic, Vol 226, no.2, 21-45, with a glossy cover of Pius XII
in full regalia and the provocative title ìWhat would Jesus have
done?î Goldhagen is not known for his expertise on the
Vatican, but his command of invective is undoubted. His
outburst prompted the following response from Professor
Michael Marrus, Dean of Graduate Studies and Chancellor Rose
and Ray Wolfe Professor of Holocaust Studies at the University
of Toronto, and one of the members of the above-mentioned

ìTo the Editors of The New Republic:

Readers familiar with Daniel Jonah Goldhagenís 1996 work,
Hitlerís Willing Executioners, will recognize the flavour of his
ìPope Pius XII, the Catholic Church, and the Holocaustî: an
unrelieved bitter attack on his subject, a sneering disparagement
of other analysts for moral equivocation, a dismissal of most
contemporary scholarship, and a hunger for the black-and-white,
the simplest of historical explanations. Unfortunately, this is a
subject in which tunnel vision and a highly selective use of
evidence is becoming rampant, producing distorted images of
Pius XII as a vicious antisemite, on the one hand, or as a saintly
rescuer of Jews on the other. It is high time – as Goldhagenís
rant reminds us – to examine the events of more than half a
century ago with an eye to the culture of that day, and not our
own. The Church could assist this effort by making available, to
all responsible researchers, its full range of archival material on
the subject. Writers could also help by putting aside their angry
self-righteousness, or a zest for denunciation or exculpation. To
an important degree, Pope John Paul II and many within the
Catholic Church have pointed the way forward with indisputable
efforts for Catholic-Jewish reconciliation. The work is far from
complete. Those who take up this question should do so
responsibly, even-handedly, and with a spirit of openness to the
full range of evidence.î

Marrusí eminently sane words should help to limits the defects
noted in his letter. The whole subject will be explored in depth
at the forthcoming conference planned for April 14-15th at
Millersville University, Pennsylvania. (see below). But while
we can support this plea for more open access to the
long-withheld Vatican archives, we have to recognize that this
goal is still a long way off. I should be surprised if the papers
became available in my life-time. I should be even more
surprised if they produced significant new evidence on this
disputed topic. Of course, the sad fact is that those who accuse
Pius XII as being co-responsible for the Holocaust will believe
that, so long as the archives are not open, the Vatican has
something to hide; once they are open, they will say that the
incriminating documents have already been removed. In the
meanwhile, I can only recommend a more thorough and
perceptive study of the already published evidence in the
under-used, much-neglected but enormously valuable Actes et
documents. The Vatican would do us all a great favour by
sponsoring an English translation of the whole series.

4) Book notes: Historisches Jahrbuch, im Auftrag der
Goerres-Gesellschaft, hrsg. F.Felten et al, 121 Jahrgang 2001
Freiburg/Munich: Verlag Karl Alber 592 pp
ISBN 3-495-45278-8
This compendious volume of essays mainly on Catholic themes
is put out by Germanyís most reputable conservative historical
society. For our readers, the fifty-page essay by one of our
list-members, Christoph Koesters, Katholische Kirche und
Katholizismus in der SBZ/DDR. Ein Bilanz neuere Forschungen
will be most helpful, since the author provides a collective view
over the whole 40 year period of Communist rule, and seeks to
place previous publications, both before and after 1989, in their
context. Here the various opinions about the tactics of the
Catholic Church vis-a-vis the Communist state and its notorious
Stasi are outlined. It is still too soon to have a definite
reckoning, but most of the material is now available from one
source or other.
A shorter essay by Kartsen Ruppert analyses two
biographies of the significant Catholic politician of the 1920s,
Joseph Wirth, taking up the issue of whether he or the Centre
Party could have more effectively prevented the rise of Nazi

Volume 10 of Zeitgeschichte in Lebensbildern – Aus dem
deutschen Katholizismus des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts, ed.
J.Aretz, R.Morsey, A, Rauscher (Munster: Aschendorff) has now
appeared. This is a useful compilation of short biographies of
Catholic notables, and this volume contains essays by two of our
list members, Marie-Emanuelle Reytier and Greg Munro,
covering the careers of Alois Furst zu Lowenstein and Georg
Moenius respectively. As well the volume contains essays on
Cardinal Schulte of Cologne, Rupert Mayer, the courageous
anti-Nazi preacher in Munich, and on Heinrich Boll.

4) Future Conferences: a) The 32nd Annual Scholarsí
Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches, with the theme
ìThe Genocidal Mindî will be held from March 2-5 at Kean
University, Union, New Jersey. Details can be found at website:


b) The 22nd Annual Holocaust Conference at Millersville
University, Pennsylvania will be held on April 14 – 15th. The
Theme is Pius XII and the Holocaust. Keynote presenters
include Richard Rubenstein, Michael Phayer, Susan Zucotti,
Ron Rychlak, Jose Sanchez, Seymour Reich, John Pawlikowski,
James Carroll and John Conway. Registration is $25 and can be
made by contacting Maggie Eichler at 717-872-3555 or by
e-mail, maggie.eichler@millersville. edu
Millersville University is located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania
and we have a limited number of rooms available at our Best
Western located on campus. Reservations can be made by
contacting Ms Eichler at the above addresses.í


Best wishes
John Conway