June 2002 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia


Newsletter- June 2002- Vol. VIII, no. 6

Dear Friends,
This month we are indebted to Matthew Hockenos, an
assistant professor of history at Skidmore College,
Saratoga Springs, New York, for kindly arranging to
edit this issue of our Newsletter. Matthew’s research
focuses on the various and conflicting ways in which
German Protestants attempted to come to terms with the
church’s complacency and complicity during the Nazi
years. His most recent project addresses the
Protestant Church and the Jewish Question in Germany,
1945-1950, so it is most appropriate that the
contributions this month are connected with this
theme. I am most grateful for this help, and invite
others who may care to do so to volunteer to edit
another month’s issue. If you would like to contact
Matthew, his address is mhockenos@skidmore.edu
1) Research Report: German Catholics and Forced labour in World War II
2) Book Reviews:

a) Feldman, Catholics and Jews in 20th century America
b) Lindsay, Covenanted Solidarity. Karl Barth and antisemitism

1) Research Report:
Recent Revelations Concerning the German Catholic
Church and Nazi Forced Labor during World War II
During the Second World War, Nazism’s military
conquests sent millions of Germans abroad thereby
aggravating a labor shortage at home. As a result,
over seven million foreign laborers were recruited or
forcibly transported to Germany by war’s end. Most
remained trapped in the Reich until 1945. Many of
these civilian workers, POWs, forced laborers and
slave laborers came from Eastern Europe. The general
plight of these millions was usually grim, capable of
being quite cruel, and even deadly.
Only recently has Germany decided to partially
compensate a portion of the survivors with a package
of public and private funds. German companies, long
known to have profited at the expense of forced labor,
were urged and expected to contribute. Some
businesses resisted the call to provide the requisite
funding but others heeded it. By the summer of 2000,
Germany’s compensation package neared realization.
Increasing social awareness broadened expectations of
wider institutional responsibility and financial
support for the state’s fund. Thus any organization
that had utilized forced labor was asked to
contribute. On July 12, 2000 developments suddenly
took a dramatic turn. Germany’s Evangelical Church
announced that it had utilized forced laborers. It
acknowledged guilt and contributed a sum of 10 million
DM to Germany’s compensation fund. That admission and
gesture raised more questions in political circles and
the media about possible Catholic involvement with the
Nazis’ deployment of forced labor. Germany’s Catholic
Church responded that examinations of records in its
many bishopric archives barely addressed the issue and
in some archives not at all. The very few indicators
encountered did not warrant the action called for by
those who assumed significant church involvement. The
situation, however, changed dramatically on July 20th.
Monitor, a national news magazine show, aired a
stunning report of forced laborers having been
utilized at a seminary in Paderborn and at two
Bavarian abbeys. The evidence produced included
videotaped interviews of former forced laborers in
Poland, memories of a German Catholic eyewitness of
the Nazi period, municipal records from Bavaria,
credible statements by a German priest, and a
chronicle from Ettal’s Benedictine Abbey, one of the
identified monasteries. The weight of that alarming
evidence and Monitor’s editorial accusations provoked
the German Catholic Bishops Conference to launch a
nation-wide research project.
Within days, dioceses and archdioceses established
high-profile historical commissions, which headed
intensive research efforts and worked in conjunction
with archivists and officials at the local level.
General Vicars instructed every parish, religious
order, and Catholic institution in Germany to proceed
rapidly in determining whether and to what extent
forced labor was utilized in their areas of authority
during the Nazi period. Local church officials were
to search out and forward copies of any and all
pertinent information. These same officials issued
public appeals for information in circular letters,
diocesan newsletters, church newspapers, and on the
Internet. Those and subsequent appeals asked
eyewitnesses, and those possessing any evidence, to
contact designated historians or historical
commissions. German Caritas launched a website in
five languages urging former laborers of the church to
contact them directly. The German Catholic Bishops
Conference invited Dr. Karl-Joseph Hummel, Director of
Bonn’s church-related Kommission für Zeitgeschichte,
and Father Wolfgang Schumacher O.Carm., General
Secretary of Vereinigung der Deutschen Ordensobern, to
summarize the preliminary findings in an initial
The Bishop of Mainz, and current Chairman of the
German Bishops’ Conference, Karl Lehmann, announced
the findings at a press conference of August 29, 2000.
He acknowledged that church institutions had utilized
“foreign workers” or Fremdarbeiter during the Nazi
period. Their numbers, he stated, “probably did not
reach 1%” of Nazi Germany’s wartime high figure of 7.6
million foreign workers/POWs. His choice of words, it
appears, aimed to undercut the accusations made by
Monitor and Der Spiegel that the church had used
forced laborers “im großen Stil” i.e., “on a large
scale” or “to a large extent.” Try though he did to
soften the blow, 7,000 amounted to a very large
number– and that turned out to be a low estimate. By
early October, the Bishop and other leading church
officials revised the estimate to 10,000 based on
subsequent research. Moreover, and more urgent, was
that up to 1,000 of those people could still be alive.
The bishops chose not to join the state fund which
held little to no prospect of compensating church
workers (i.e., a category of laborers not placed in
labor camps, concentration camps, or in guarded
barracks and working in gangs for German industry).
It is worth noting that the state fund’s neglect of
church workers dawned on Evangelical Church officials
only in the wake of their quick pledge and
contribution. The resulting disappointment within
their ranks reached deep. In rejecting the state’s
fund, the Catholic bishops indicated the Church’s
responsibility for its own foreign workers instead.
They set aside 10 million DM for two special church
foundations: one to provide direct compensation
amounting to 5,000 DM for individual laborers who
worked for the church; and a second to initiate
projects of reconciliation in affected communities of
Eastern Europe.
The events of the past two years are far from over.
Much is still unfolding and much more is planned,
including: regional conferences, special publications
of individual dioceses and most importantly, a
thorough and methodical Kommission für Zeitgeschichte
compilation of documentation and source material. The
diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart and the archdiocese of
Munich and Freising have, for example, already
published the proceedings of their initial
conferences. The reports and documentation made
available to date have placed forced laborers at a
wide range of church institutions. The long list
includes parishes, monasteries, abbeys, and convents.
Church educational and charitable institutions such as
nursing homes, homes for the disabled, schools for
troubled youth, vocational schools, Catholic schools,
and hospitals depended on forced laborers to carry out
their missions. Much more research will follow as
state archivists, historians inside as well as outside
the church, and local church officials delve into this
seemingly forgotten chapter in the history of the
Lack of postwar conscientiousness within the church
and silence in broad circles of the church at the
local level managed to bury an entire chapter of very
important and recent church history. The result was
an inexcusable institutional lapse or loss of memory.
For the sake of those who toiled, died without
compensation, were never approached for forgiveness,
and lastly, for the sake of the Church itself, there
needs to be effective institutional fix. It needs to
be one that at the very least fights against future
institutional losses of memory. Historians of the
Church need to exercise a vital and role in that
process through the influence exerted by their work.
John J. Delaney (Kutztown University of Pennsylvania)
2) Book Reviews
a) Egal Feldman, Catholics and Jews in
Twentieth-Century America (Urbana: University of
Illinois Press, 2001)
Inter-group relations between American Catholics and
Jews have traveled a long way since the dreaded 1930s,
when the notoriously antisemitic radio priest, Father
Charles Coughlin, dominated American broadcasting;
when Jewish and Irish street toughs came to frequent
blows on the sidewalks of Brooklyn and Boston; when,
as a matter of course, Catholic liturgy made reference
to perfidious Jews; and, more generally, when
reciprocal suspicion underscored many of the everyday
interactions between members of each community.
In Catholics and Jews in Twentieth-Century America,
Egal Feldman has presented a lively, informative and
eminently readable account of the sometimes-halting
journey away from mutual animus and suspicion, toward
popular reconciliation and understanding. For Feldman,
an Emeritus Professor of History at the University of
Wisconsin at Superior, this welcomed historiographical
contribution crowns a long and successful career
dedicated to chronicling and examining the American
Jewish community’s varied experiences with
Christianity. It is a topic that has surely assumed
new urgency over the past several months, given the
complicated political and theological jockeying
currently underway over the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Readers will find Feldman’s book a highly useful
introduction to certain key topics, including: Jewish
and Catholic responses to the Holocaust and the
founding of the State of Israel; the development of
Catholic liturgy and religious doctrine; Catholic
proselytizing in Jewish communities; and the
interfaith movement that took root after the Second
Vatican Council (1962-1965). While experts will
benefit from this comprehensive review (they will also
find some of the author’s primary sources both
revealing and instructive), the book is strongest in
its appeal to non-experts. For the graduate student
preparing for his or her general exams, the new
instructor developing lectures from scratch, or the
generalist looking to solidify his or her grasp of
these topics, Catholics and Jews is an invaluable
interpretive and informational source.
These praises notwithstanding, the book suffers a
structural flaw. In his preface, Feldman sets out to
examine how Jews and Roman Catholics learned to
accommodate each other and live more comfortably with
their differences (p. xi). In truth, Feldman’s title
and preface are misleading. His book is not a social
history, or a broad, integrative account of
interactions between American Jews and Catholics. It
is an intellectual and political history that follows
the development of religious doctrine, liturgy and
official group policy. This is an important
Readers hoping for a synthetic history will find
Feldman’s book disappointing. Conspicuously missing
from his bibliography, for instance, are standard
community studies of Jewish-Catholic relations, like
Ronald Bayor’s Neighbors In Conflict (New York City),
and John Stack’s International Conflict in An American
City (Boston). This omission seems deliberate.
Feldman is concerned with the evolving ideas of
leading clerics, theologians and group policy makers
— not with the grassroots-level experience of regular
Jews and Catholics. Absent from these pages are famous
Catholic-Jewish encounters like the 1949 Peekskill
riots, or historiographical debates over the sources
or Catholic anti-communism (e.g., was it partly rooted
in a reflexive antisemitism?). This caveat aside,
Feldman’s book is in many ways a great success.
The author argues provocatively (but not without
ample documentation) that the basic causes of
inter-group tensions were Catholic religious doctrine
and historiography, broad intellectual currents
running back two millennia, which singled out Jews for
their betrayal of Jesus Christ, for their consistent
refusal to embrace the one true church, and for their
alleged misdeeds (think, blood libel) and
ill-intentions (think, international communist
conspiracy). In this sense, Feldman’s argument is an
entirely one-sided charge to which he would probably
admit freely. Perhaps rightly so, he does not appear
to consider seriously that Jews also may have harbored
a long-standing distrust of, or animus toward,
Catholics. In effect, his book begins with a measured
indictment of Catholicism (though, importantly, not
Catholics) and focuses disproportionately on its
development over the course of a century.
Feldman’s chronicle of Catholic policy and doctrine
culminates with a fascinating chapter about the
development of Nostra Aetate, No. 4., the Church’s
famous revision of its position on Jewry and Judaism,
adopted during the Second Vatican Council. The author
especially credits leading American bishops like
Richard Cardinal Cushing and Francis Cardinal
Spellman, who argued forthrightly and consistently for
a correction of the Church’s traditional anti-Jewish
bias. Only after the Catholic Church freed itself
from the shackles of antisemitism, Feldman argues,
could American Jews and Catholics find common
political, social and religious ground. Only then
could they seriously discuss matters of long-standing
division, including the role of Israel in Jewish life,
and the Church’s complicity or non-complicity in the
Feldman ably demonstrates that, even after Vatican II,
these topics were not easily resolved. While many
Jewish leaders embraced new opportunities for
inter-group dialogue, others — like the scholar Jacob
Neusner and the Orthodox rabbi, Joseph Soloveitchik —
remained politely wary of the potential for a
meaningful religious accord between two groups with
such fundamentally different theological positions and
Likewise, though post-Vatican II Catholic
intellectuals and church leaders clearly seized the
chance to forge better and lasting ties to the
American Jewish community, nagging questions about the
Holocaust (did Pius XII do enough to aid Jews? was
the Church in Germany and Poland complicit in the
destruction of European Jewry?) and Israel (should
Jerusalem be an international city? should there be a
Palestinian state?) continued to serve as sources of
friction. Feldman’s book does a great service by
implicitly challenging the reader to consider whether
cordial disagreement is in fact an improvement over
outright (but entirely honest) animosity.
Because Feldman is primarily concerned with leading
theologians and intellectuals (prominent examples
include Abraham Joshua Heschel, Augustin Cardinal Bea,
and Robert Drinan), he neglects other possible causes
of inter-group tensions, like the Jewish-Catholic
divide over communism, which receives only a few
pages. He altogether ignores others, like economic
grievances and urban political competition. Here, a
more integrative approach might have been useful. By
the same token, it is odd that the author devotes
significant space and praise to Drinan, without
mentioning that the Jesuit priest and Boston College
law school dean represented a heavily Jewish district
in Congress for ten years. Again, these oversights
betray the limitations of a strictly intellectual
Likewise, at times Feldman is given to
over-statements. He claims that Catholics shared with
other Americans in the 1930s a dislike of Jews (p.
49), but he doesn’t produce polling or survey
information that might — and probably would
substantiate either charge. He writes that American
Catholics had reason to be concerned about the
security of the Spanish church (p. 56) after 1936; yet
on the next page he acknowledges that the Catholic
community was deeply divided on the question of the
Spanish Civil War. Since Feldman’s focus is on big
thinkers and religious leaders, he is weakest when he
tries to generalize about public opinion.
These criticisms notwithstanding, Catholics and Jews
in the Twentieth Century is an important intellectual
history that will surely serve students and scholars
well. As such, it ably fills a conspicuous void
heretofore filled mostly by popular writers and
Joshua Zeitz (Brown University)b) Mark R. Lindsay, Covenanted Solidarity: The
Theological Basis of Karl Barth’s Opposition to Nazi
Antisemitism and the Holocaust (New York: Peter Lang, 2001)
Mark Lindsay, who is currently teaching at the
University of Melbourne, presents a contentious thesis
in his published dissertation titled Covenanted
Solidarity: The Theological Basis of Karl Barth’s
Opposition to Nazi Antisemitism and the Holocaust. He
argues that not only did Karl Barth actively oppose
the persecution of Jews during the Third Reich, but
also that Barth’s opposition to antisemitism was
theologically grounded in his doctrine of revelation
and election. By combining the methodological
approach of a historian and a theologian Lindsay
offers insights into Barth’s theological approach to
Israel by interpreting it within the historical
context of the growth of antisemitism in central

Since Barth never systematically developed a doctrine
or theology of Israel, Lindsay points us in the
direction of Barth’s doctrine of revelation and
election for an understanding of the Swiss
theologian’s interpretation of the role of Israel in
God’s salvation plan. Lindsay proposes to undermine
the prevailing thesis held by many American scholars
that Barth’s occasional interventions on behalf of the
Jews had little to do with his theology, which was,
some argue, anti-Judaic. In support of his claim
Lindsay maintains that for Barth there was an
unbreakable solidarity between Israel, i.e., the Jews,
and the Church based on God’s election of Jesus, which
made opposition to antisemitism the duty of every
Christian. While historians and theologians
universally praise the pro-semitic stand of Dietrich
Bonhoeffer, who in April 1933 drafted his acclaimed
reply to the Nazis’ Law for the Reconstruction of the
Civil Service, (the so-called Aryan Paragraph),
Lindsay contends that Barth too should be lauded for
developing his theologically based opposition to
antisemitism around the same time.

Lindsay takes issue with earlier studies on the German
Evangelical Church and the Jews by Richard Gutteridge
(1976) and Wolfgang Gerlach (1987), as well as Klaus
Scholder’s two-volume study of the early years of the
Church Struggle (1972, 1985). He claims that these
widely respected works either give short shrift to or
entirely deny Barth’s political and theological
struggle against antisemitism. He reserves his
strongest criticism, however, for Katherine
Sonderegger’s thesis that “Barth represents the
broadest tradition of Christian anti-Judaism,
preserving, sharpening, and elaborating the
controversial theology that has been standard in
Christian apologetics since Justin Martyr” (That Jesus
Christ was Born a Jew [1992], p. 6). Lindsay
recognizes that Barth is guilty of using unflattering
and even hostile language to describe Jews and that he
often spoke as if God elected the Jews only to reject
them. But Lindsay insists that a close reading
reveals that “Barth’s theology is (and was) a bulwark
against theological and socio-political Antisemitism”
(p. 298). And, to support of his controversial
reading of Barth’s Church Dogmatics, Lindsay relies on
the recent works of Bruce McCormack (1995) and
Eberhard Busch (1996).
Lindsay contends that Barth developed the theological
basis for his opposition to antisemitism within the
context of “the bankruptcy of German Christianity
during the interwar years” (p. 19). During these
years a number of völkisch-nationalist theological
movements attempted to replace the liberal theology of
the nineteenth century by building on the
late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century
conservative Lutheran doctrine of revelation, which
sought to include the German family, Volk and race as
secondary revelations parallel to the primary
revelation in Jesus Christ. The perversion of the
Lutheran Schöpfungsordnungen (orders of creation) by
völkisch-nationalist theologians to include the
deification of Hitler and Nazism in the 1930s went
hand-in-hand with the de-judaizing of Jesus and the

In opposition to religious nationalism and attacks on
the Jewish origins of Christianity Barth developed an
alternative doctrine of revelation that entailed a
rejection of antisemitism. Lindsay contends that
Barth’s vocal opposition to natural theology and
rejection of völkisch perversions of revelation
(September 1933 Rengstorf Theses critique; January and
May 1934 Barmen declarations) constitute, in fact,
opposition to antisemitism. By stating in the Barmen
declaration that “Jesus Christ, as he is attested for
us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we
have to hear . . . trust and obey . . . ” and
rejecting the notion that the church “could and would
have to acknowledge . . . still other events and
powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation” Barth
was mounting, according to Lindsay, “a confessional
critique of the church’s anti-Semitism” (p. 180). He
acknowledges that this is a maverick thesis. Many
historians/theologians including Richard Gutteridge,
Martin Stöhr and Jörgen Glenthoj are critical of the
(May 1934) Barmen declaration precisely because it
fails to directly address the “Jewish Question”. But
Lindsay maintains that from Barth’s perspective, his
emphasis on the one Word of God “implied not only the
rejection of all natural revelations but also a
critical challenge to both ecclesiastical and
political antisemitism” (p. 179).

Barth’s doctrine of election is also essential to
Lindsay’s thesis. By emphasizing the Jewishness of
Jesus and through Jesus the election of both Israel
and the Church as God’s chosen people, Barth
reinforced the necessary solidarity between Jews and
Christians. We cannot, Barth insisted in Church
Dogmatics (II/2), “call the Jews the ‘rejected’ and
the Church the ‘elected’ community. The object of
election is neither Israel for itself nor the Church
for itself, but both together in their unity.”
Lindsay is willing to admit that Barth’s portrayal of
Israel as “unbelieving,” “obdurate,” “disobedient,”
and a “vessel of dishonor” is “gloomy in the extreme”
(p. 219). Indeed it is. But isn’t it more than just
gloomy? Isn’t this anti-Judaic rhetoric and doesn’t
it therefore contradict his thesis? By Lindsay’s
reading, Barth’s theology is neither anti-Judaic nor
supersessionist because for Barth “the Jews remain the
original elect community, whose election is neither
abrogated nor suspended by their present resistance to
the gospel” (p. 222).
The central point of Covenanted Solidarity is that
Barth’s doctrine of revelation and election led him to
condemn Nazi racial policy toward Jews because Barth
equated it with “an attack upon the God of the gospel”
(p. 315). Even before 1935, when Barth was fired from
his professorship at the University of Bonn for
refusing to swear an oath of allegiance to Hitler and
returned to Switzerland, Lindsay insists he was
speaking out on behalf of Jewish-Christian solidarity
and in opposition to antisemitism. Unfortunately,
Lindsay must, time and again, qualify this contention
with comments like, “Certainly, Barth did not at this
time [June 1933] address himself to the plight of
non-Christian Jews, which was nothing less than a
regrettable omission” (p. 247). And, referring to
Barth’s lack of explicit protests against Nazi
antisemitism in 1934 Lindsay writes, “his stance can
only in retrospect–and to that extent unfairly–be
described as deficient” (p. 251). To bolster his
defense of Barth, Lindsay touts Barth’s work with the
Swiss Evangelical Society for Aid and other agencies
that provided “non-Aryans” with support. Barth served
on the society’s theological commission, which
declared in 1938, “The persecution of the Jews, and
with them the Christians of Jewish descent, is
becoming more horrible day by day . . . Rise up in the
power of the Holy Spirit [and] refrain from letting
Christendom be contaminated by Antisemitism” (p. 259).
In the same pamphlet, however, Lindsay notes that the
authors make “regrettable references to the Jews’
‘destructive influences’ and ‘parasitic existence'”
(p. 260). The reality was–and Lindsay should
acknowledge rather than rationalize these ambiguous
actions and words–that prior to Kristallnacht Barth
said very little explicitly about antisemitism and
when he did talk about Israel or the Jews he often
used degrading language.

Kristallnacht was a turning point for Barth. From
this time forward he began to specifically ground his
criticisms of the Nazi state on his opposition to the
Nazis’ exterminationist antisemitism. In December
1938 Barth described the physical and theological
attacks on Israel as an attempt “to strike a mortal
blow to the roots of the Church” (p. 264) and for
Advent 1938 Barth was one of the signatories of the
“Word of Reflection,” which declared that Christians
could not be indifferent to attacks on the Jews
because an attack on God’s chosen people was an attack
on Jesus Christ. During the war years Barth defended
the statement “salvation comes from the Jews” against
criticisms by Emil Brunner, who insisted on using the
past tense “came”. And finally, in the summer of 1944
Barth took his most concrete action on behalf of the
Jews when he was alerted to the fate of Hungarian Jews
and initiated a campaign to urge Swiss officials to
help stop the deportations.

Lindsay’s Covenanted Solidarity makes a significant
contribution to the debate over Karl Barth’s
theological and political interpretation of the
“Jewish Question”. In this volume he convincingly
challenges those who maintain that Barth’s doctrine of
Israel is nothing more than a contribution to the long
history of Christian anti-Judaism. Although he is
reluctant to address Barth’s anti-Judaic sentiments as
such, Lindsay must nevertheless be credited for his
sustained and convincing argument that Barth’s
political opposition to antisemitism was inextricably
intertwined with his firmly held belief in the unity
of Israel and the Church in God’s election of the Jew,
Jesus of Nazareth.
Matthew D. Hockenos (Skidmore College)