February 2003 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

Newsletter- February 2003- Vol. IX, no . 2

Dear Friends,
May I remind you once again that any reply you send to the address:
kirzeit-l@interchange.ubc.ca will go out to all 370 members around the
world. This should therefore be used only for notifications of general
interest to all the members. If you wish to get in touch with me directly,
then please use my own address = jconway@interchange.ubc.ca
This will then prevent “spam” from cluttering up other members’ mailboxes.
My apologies to those of you who received unwanted or unintended mail.
Of course, I should add that I am very glad to hear from any of you with
your comments on the contents of these Newsletters.

1) Archbishop Williams’ Dimbleby Lecture
2) Conference Report: Lessons and Legacies, Minneapolis
3) Book reviews:

a) Griech-Polelle, Bishop von Galen
b) Voigt, Villa Emma

4) Articles
5) Short Notices
1) In December, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, delivered
a most stimulating public lecture on the present situation of the relations
between the individual and the state in western democracies, which raised
important moral issues. It deserves to be read as a significant
contribution from the side of a leading churchman. For the full text see:

2) From November 1-4, 2002, the Lessons and Legacies conference on the
Holocaust met at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. This was the
seventh Lessons and Legacies conference, and like the first six, it
featured a program packed with scholars from the United States, Canada,
Europe, and Israel. The roundtables, panels, and workshops were roughly
organized around a broad theme, “The Holocaust in International
Perspective.” In keeping with that focus, one of the three plenary speakers
and an entire panel were devoted to the role of the churches in the Holocaust.

According to the program, Michael Marrus of the University of Toronto was
scheduled to speak on “Looking for a New Approach: The Vatican as Neutral.”
Instead, Professor Marrus decided to respond to Daniel Goldhagen’s new
book, _A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust
and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair_. With characteristic wit and
thoroughness, Marrus proceeded to take apart Goldhagen’s work, which he
described as simplistic, misinformed, and detrimental to the cause of
understanding the complex past (and present) of the Vatican. It was a
compelling and spirited presentation, which led at least one person at my
table to remark that Professor Marrus must be a deeply committed Catholic
to feel so strongly about Pius XII. Michael would probably be surprised at
that observation, but it is a useful reminder of the (often misleading)
assumptions people tend to make about scholars of religion. Although almost
everyone in the room seemed to share Marrus’s critical view of Goldhagen,
some of those present were disturbed at the sharp tone of the speech.

Another large crowd–perhaps 200 people–gathered the next day for a panel
titled “Current Discussions on the Role of the Christian Churches in the
Holocaust.” Michael Marrus chaired the session, and Suzanne Brown-Fleming
from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum; Bob Ericksen of Pacific Lutheran
University; and Michael Phayer from Marquette University presented papers.
Each of the three speakers seemed to understand their charge somewhat
differently, which made for an unusual but also very interesting session.
Brown-Fleming spoke on recent scholarship on the Catholic Church and the
Holocaust. Her thorough and well organized historiographical presentation
showed how much exciting work has been done in the field. At the same time,
it seemed from her talk that somehow the cumulative effect of all the
research tends to make things look worse and worse for the Vatican. Suzanne
ended with some insights from her own project on Bishop Aloisius Muench
that led her to the simple yet powerful conclusion that the Catholic church
during the Holocaust was an institution “more human than divine.”

Bob Ericksen followed with a very different presentation. Rather than an
historiographical survey of scholarship on the Protestant Churches,
Ericksen gave a personal account of what he sees as some persistent
theological and moral problems in the field. He based his reflections on a
recent conference he hosted at Pacific Lutheran on “Christian Teachings
About Jews in the Shadow of the Holocaust.” (John Conway reported on that
event in this newsletter). Observations at that meeting, Bob told us,
reminded him of how far we still had to go toward a historical scholarship
that promotes Christian-Jewish understanding rather than asserting
Christian triumphalism/supercessionism or perpetuating old antisemitic
stereotypes. Ericksen gave a number of examples to illustrate his points:
for example, he described the situation of one scholar, whose decision to
research Christian antisemitism met with a punitive response from
superiors. He also offered some grounds for optimism, however, not the
least important of which (in the opinion of this reporter) is his own
level-headed contribution to the field.

Michael Phayer chose to use his time to present some of his recent research
on Vatican finances. Less intensely personal than either of the two
presentations that preceded him, Phayer’s richly empirical paper offered a
hint of where he is going with his next book. The charge of
oversimplification that Marrus leveled against Goldhagen certainly does not
apply to Phayer, whose material was as complicated as one might expect
Vatican finances in the 1930s and ’40s to have been. In this case too,
however, it seems clear that more information–and more complexity–are
likely to reveal additional problematic aspects of the Vatican’s past.
Doris Bergen, Notre Dame

3)Book reviews:

a) Beth A. Griech-Polelle, Bishop von Galen: German Catholicism and
National Socialism. (New Haven: Yale University Press. 2002. Pp. 259.

Bishop of Münster from October 1933 until his death in March 1946, five
weeks after receiving a cardinal’s hat from Pope Pius XII, von Galen is
described in the Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche thus: “A conservative
Catholic, von Galen initially regarded the Nazi regime as acceptable at
the start of his episcopate. Very soon, however, he became an open
opponent of its totalitarianism and violations of justice. Called ‘Lion
of Münster’ for his three dramatic sermons against the suppression of
religious houses and the dispersal of their inhabitants, and the killing
of the mentally ill, preached in 1941 at the height of Hitler’s military
victories, von Galen defended the German people after the war against
the charge of collective guilt.”

Beth A.Griech-Polelle believes that this assessment overstates her
subject’s achievement. “I do not dispute”, she writes, “that von Galen
was a symbol of what was possible in the way of resistance under the
Third Reich.” She charges, however, that von Galen protested only when
church interests were at stake; that he never encouraged others to
resist the regime, let alone to mount a revolution (a charge repeated
six times over); and that he did nothing to help Jews.

Many of the primary sources for Galen’s career were lost in wartime
bombing. The secondary literature is in German. Griech-Polelle
deserves credit for having read this material, for archival research in
Germany, and for having written the first scholarly study of von Galen
in English. Unfortunately her understanding of the evidence is faulty;
and her interpretation of it demonstrably false at crucial points.
She appears to lack an insider’s familiarity with things Catholic. How
else to explain the book’s title: “Bishop” rather than “Cardinal”?
(She mistakenly awards this title to the papal Nuncio in Berlin, Cesare
Orsenigo, a bent reed from whom Pius XII withheld the customary red
hat.) She mistranslates Paul’s words on the church as the body of
Christ (1 Cor. 12:26) in order to criticize a sermon von Galen preached
on this text in 1938. The public reception of von Galen in Münster’s
Cathedral Square on March 16, 1946, following his return from Rome, was
not “his last Mass.” It was not a Mass at all, simply his last public
appearance. And it is untrue that Galen’s “canonization process was
officially closed in 1987.” The process of beatification (the
necessary prelude to canonization) is ongoing.

The charge that von Galen protested only to defend church institutions
cannot withstand close inspection. His protest against the killing of
the mentally ill had nothing to do with church interests. Moreover, it
directly contradicts the author’s charge that “von Galen lost sight of
the larger, more humane questions involved in the brutality of the Nazi
regime.” His protest against the suppression of religious houses, the
subject of the first two of von Galen’s three sermons in the summer of
1941, was concerned not with buildings but with people. What moved von
Galen, a deeply emotional man who is reported to have wept as he uttered
these denunciations, was the sudden expulsion from their homes of people
he revered for their decades of selfless service: nuns, religious
priests and brothers – especially Jesuits, “my teachers [in Innsbruck],
tutors and friends, [to whom] I remain bound in love and gratitude until
my last breath.”

That von Galen encouraged passive but not active resistance, let alone
insurrection, is manifest. He expressed this forcefully in the
rhetorically brilliant metaphor which runs like a golden thread through
the second of his three sermons. “We are the anvil, not the hammer!
… The object which is forged on the anvil receives its shape not alone
from the hammer but also from the anvil. … Become hard! Remain firm!
If it is sufficiently tough and firm and hard, the anvil usually lasts
longer than the hammer.”

Only a person utterly unfamiliar with life under a totalitarian regime
which rules by ruthless terror, and unable to imagine such conditions,
could criticize a leader for failing to encourage open rebellion in such
circumstances. In Nazi Germany active resistance, however modest, meant
immediate arrest, usually death. The Catholic Church honors martyrdom.
It does not encourage it.

A newly published book by Sebastian Haffner, a young anti-Nazi jurist
who emigrated to England for political reasons in 1938, shows vividly
how limited were the possibilities for resistance to Hitler as early as
1933. Published in English in 2002 under the title Resisting Hitler,
the book was written in 1939 and discovered only after Haffner’s death
in 1999. Anyone unconvinced of the effectiveness of Nazi terror by
Haffner’s testimony should read that of an actual martyr to Hitler:
Count Helmut von Moltke, hanged in Berlin in January 1945 for organizing
the “Kreisau Circle” which discussed building a better Germany after
Hitler’s defeat. In a wartime letter to a friend in England von Moltke
described the virtual impossibility of resistance in wartime Germany:
inability to communicate by telephone, post, or messenger; the danger of
speaking openly even to trusted friends (who might be arrested and
tortured); the exhaustion of people whose energies were fully occupied
with the ordinary tasks of day-to-day survival; nineteen guillotines
executing an estimated fifty people daily, the relatives cowed into
silence for fear of suffering the same fate. (Cf. Beate Ruhm von Oppen
[ed.], Letters to Freya 1939- 1945 [New York, Knopf: 1990], pp.

It is tempting to think that if the German bishops had acted together
things would have been different. Griech-Polelle cites a comment to
this effect by Konrad Adenauer in 1946. “I believe that if all the
bishops had together made public statements from the pulpits on a
particular day, they could have prevented a great deal.” From March
1933, however, Adenauer refused all contact with opponents of the
regime. His biographer writes: “Adenauer respected the courage of those
who opposed the Nazis, but not their prudence. His ice-cold realism was
confirmed by the history of the opposition from 1938 to 1944.”
(Hans-Peter Schwarz, Adenauer. Der Aufstieg: 1876-1952 [Stuttgart:
Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1986] p. 408.) If the bishops could not count
on a staunch anti-Nazi Catholic like Adenauer, where was their support
to come from?

Like Pius XII, von Galen confronted the agonizing dilemma of knowing
that the price of any protest he might launch would be paid by others.
The Nazis preferred to go after the “little people,” rather than their
leaders. “The fact that he was never interrogated or arrested … after
delivering the sermons,” Griech-Polelle writes, “suggests that [von
Galen] could have risked more.” That is hindsight. Contemporaries
testified that von Galen expected arrest: he mentioned the possibility
in his first sermon. He also reckoned with the possibility of
martyrdom. Griech-Polelle herself reports that people were executed for
the mere crime of distributing copies of von Galen’s sermons. How many
more might have died had he “risked more”?

The book’s treatment of Vatican policy is seriously deficient.
Griech-Polelle garbles the chronology of the 1933 Concordat negotiations
and errs in saying that the treaty made Rome “the first legal partner to
Hitler’s regime.” That honor belongs to the Soviet Union, which
concluded a trade agreement with Hitler two months before the Concordat.
The claim that Pius XI’s 1937 encyclical Mit brennender Sorge, in the
drafting of which von Galen had a hand, “contained no outright
condemnation of anti-Semitism” is seriously misleading. It contained an
outspoken condemnation of Nazi racial doctrines; and no one was in any
doubt about their target – least of all the Nazis, who unleashed a
furious persecution of those who had printed and distributed the
document. Almost half the copies were circulated in the diocese of
Münster, a fact which is hard to explain if its bishop was indifferent
to the persecution of Jews. Griech-Polelle herself concedes that von
Galen “protested the racism of the Nazis” as early as January 1934.
It is of course true that none of the German bishops mounted the
defense of Jews which we today, with knowledge of the Holocaust, would
wish. Von Galen, with his episcopal cousin von Preysing in Berlin,
tried to move the bishops to say more, but without success. For the
Nazis, on the other hand, whose propaganda constantly portrayed the
bishops, as well as Pacelli in Rome, as traitorous and shameless
supporters of the “international Jewish conspiracy,” the bishops said
far too much.

If von Galen “refused [in 1942] to believe the unconfirmed reports of
mass murder,” he was in good company. Even after the deportation from
Holland of over 15,000 Jews, the Jewish Council in Amsterdam refused to
believe eye-witness accounts of mass murder by people who had been in
Auschwitz, and dismissed BBC reports of such killings as “anti-German
propaganda.” (Cf. Louis de Jong, “Die Niederlande und Auschwitz”, in:
Vierteljahreshefte f. Zeitgeschichte 17/1 [Jan. 1969] 1-16.)

The book’s treatment of Pius XII is especially faulty. Griech-Polelle
accepts uncritically the black legend of the Pope’s “silence” in the
face of the Holocaust. She gives a totally false account of a papal
letter to Bishop von Preysing of Berlin on September 30, 1941.
Griech-Polelle translates the Pope’s words as follows: “We emphasize
that, because the Church in Germany is dependent upon your public
behavior … in public declarations you are duty bound to exercise
restraint.” She continues: “He continued his admonishment by claiming
that although bishops such as von Galen who championed the things of God
and the Holy Church would always have his support, he nevertheless
‘require[d] you and your colleagues not to protest.'” The Pope said
nothing of the kind.

The letter said that von Galen’s recently delivered three sermons had
given the Pope “more consolation and satisfaction than we have felt for
a long time.” Such forceful protests by the bishops in Germany were
especially important, the Pope wrote, “since the very difficult and
often conflicted general political situation requires the head of the
whole Church [i.e. the Pope, not the German bishops!] to exercise
reserve in his public statements.” (Cf. Burkhart Schneider [ed.], Die
Briefe Pius XII. an die deutschen Bischöfe 1939-1944 [Mainz:
Matthias-Grünewald, 1966] 155; emphasis supplied.)
Far from requiring the German bishops “not to protest”, as
Griech-Polelle claims, Pius XII explained in a letter to von Preysing of
April 30, 1943, that he must leave it to bishops with knowledge of the
local situation to decide whether protests would do more harm than good.
(Cf. Schneider, op. cit.. 240.) Griech- Polelle’s suggestion that von
Galen’s red hat may have been given him in part for “adopting the pope’s
priorities and curbing his own behavior after the 1941 denunciations” is
totally without foundation. The honor, unprecedented in Münster as in
Berlin (whose bishop received the hat in the same consistory with von
Galen) was Pius XII’s accolade for two bishops whom he deeply admired
for their courage in speaking the truth to tyrannical power in Germany’s
darkest hour.

Coming less than a year after the war’s conclusion, the creation of
three German cardinals in February 1946 was also the Pope’s reminder to
the world of “another Germany” which, despite the crimes committed in
her name by criminals who had declared war on their country’s historic
Christian values, still deserved an honorable place in the company of
nations. Both Pius XII and von Galen rejected the notion of collective
guilt. In Catholic teaching guilt is always personal. It was this
truth which inspired the Second Vatican Council to declare that “neither
all Jews indiscriminately at that time [of Jesus’ death], nor Jews
today, can be charged with the crimes committed during [Christ’s]
passion.” (Nostrae aetate 4.)

One is reluctant to criticize so severely the work of a young scholar
just embarked on her career. To have one’s first book published by a
prestigious university press is no small achievement. Would the same
publisher, or any other major house, have accepted her manuscript had it
been favorable to von Galen? One may be permitted a doubt.
Like the Pope who gave him his red hat, von Galen was a man of his
times, limited in a hundred ways by his upbringing and experience of
life in a world already in its death throes when Hitler became Germany’s
Chancellor on January 30, 1933. An aristocrat imbued with the
traditions of nineteenth-century nationalism, von Galen shared the
widespread horror of German conservatives at the political disorder and
social licentiousness of the Weimar republic. Like most of his fellow
bishops, von Galen found it difficult to believe (as von Preysing told
friends after Hitler’s seizure of power in 1933) that their country was
“in the hands of criminals and fools.” (Cited from Walter Adolph,
Kardinal Preysing und zwei Diktaturen [Berlin: Morus-Verlag, 1971] p.
16.) Even when the evidence for von Preysing’s words could no longer
be denied, von Galen still tried to show that he was a patriotic
German. Griech-Polelle herself gives many examples. As late as March
31, 1945, when American troops entered Münster, von Galen could still
speak of “this day of shame, when the enemy enters our city.”

The remarkable thing is not that von Galen’s resistance was “selective”
(as Griech-Polelle says), but that a man who continued as bishop to
mourn the disappearance of the patriarchal and authoritarian world of
his youth could mount the resistance that he did. The spectacle of von
Galen’s towering six foot seven inch figure thundering from the pulpit
on July 13, 1941, “Wir fordern Gerechtigkeit (We demand justice)” –
knowing that he could be carried off that same night to a concentration
camp and death – will always command respect.

Perhaps the best judgment on von Galen may be the one said to have been
pronounced on Pius XII by his longtime German secretary, Fr. Robert
Leiber SJ: “Grande si, santo no.”
John Jay Hughes. St. Louis
b) Klaus Voigt, Villa Emma. Jüdische Kinder aud der Flucht 1940-1945
(Solidarität und Hilfe für Juden während der NS-Zeit, Bd 6)
Berlin; Metropol Verlag 2002. 384 pp

This is a chapter of Holocaust history with a happy ending. Klaus Voigt’s
account of how some eighty Jewish teenagers escaped the Nazis’ clutches
while fleeing across half-a-dozen countries is not only a first-rate piece
of research. It isalso gripping. Will they manage to elude capture?
How will they all succeed in crossing the border, wading through the river
in the middle of the night? Will they be able to find shelter, or will
they be sent back into the Nazis’ arms? How will they be treated by the
local inhabitants?

Voigt describes the war-time fortunes of this group of Zionist youth
from Germany and Austria, first recruited in 1939 to be part of a youth
“aliyah’. They reached Zagreb by the end of 1940, but were denied entry
certificates to Palestine by the British Mandate, and were caught in
Yugoslavia by the German invasion. They first took refugee in a remote
hunting lodge in western Slovenia which fortunately was in the Italian zone
of military occupation. From there they were brought by Italian Jewish aid
groups to a dilapidated mansion on the outskirts of a small town near
Modena in the Po valley.

This was the Villa Emma, which forms the centre piece of Voigt’s
story, largely because of a splendidly preserved cache of documents held by
the Jewish community in Modena. He sticks closely to his sources, amplified
by survivors’ testimonies, and produces a vivid picture of these refugees’
situation. For sixteen months the young people lived as best they could
in war-time circumstances, all the while being trained as potential members
of a Zionist ‘kibbuz’, learning Iwrith and Italian, as well as their future
trades as farmers or carpenters. The Italian authorities treated them

All this changed on September 7th 1943, when Italy changed sides.
The leader of the group, a young Croatian Zionist, instantly recognized the
danger. If the Germans took over, the children’s fate might well be
deportation and death. In this emergency he turned to the local priest and
asked for sanctuary in the town’s Seminary. It was readily granted. Within
minutes, the Villa Emma was emptied. The priests hid the boys in the high
school dormitory, whose pupils were fortunately still on holiday. The nuns
took care of most of the girls. And thirty other local families –
presumably all Catholics – were willing to take in the rest of these Jewish
children, not knowing what the consequences might be. The Germans indeed
arrived, but were preoccupied in hunting down partisans or escaped
prisoners-of-war, not kids, even Jewish ones.

This gave time for preparations to smuggle the whole group across the
frontier to Switzerland near Lugano. By the end of October 1943, they had
all, except one boy left behind in hospital, gained refuge in Switzerland,
and eighteen months later reached Haifa on board a Spanish freighter. But
they all fondly remembered the Villa Emma outside Nonantola and the
assistance so generously extended to them as a gesture of Christian
friendship by the priests, nuns and parishioners of this memorable small town.
The book’s story and its message clearly deserves to be made into a film
along the lines of Pierre Sauvage’s notable account of a similar rescue
effort at Le Chambon in southern France. Highly recommended to all who
read German.


Stewart Stehlin, New York University, has recently contributed “Päpstliche
Diplomatie im Zweiten Weltkrieg: Pius XII, Deutschland und die Juden” in
Eichstätter Universitätsreden, Bd 109. This is a German text of a lecture
on the same theme which he delivered to the Pontifical University of the
Angelicum in Rome. In this paper, Stehlin defends Pius XII from some of
his detractors by concentrating on the political factors which affected the
options available to the Vatican at such a perilous time. At the same time
he warns his readers not to indulge in the dangerous practice of looking at
historical events through the wrong end of the telescope, or of making
anachronistic ethical judgments.

Patrick Porter, Oxford, has published an article on “The Sacred Service:
Australian Military Chaplains and the Great War” in War and Society, Vol.
20, no. 2, October 2002.

Shannon Ty Bontrager contributed “The Imagined Crusade: The Church of
England and the Mythology of Nationalism and Christianity during the Great
War” in Church History, Vol 71, no 4 (December 2002), p774 ff. This
traces the Church’s various attempts during the period 1910-20 to reverse
the trend towards de-Christianization (or secularization), and the
pejorative impact of the Great War on such endeavours. Since Bontrager is
a graduate student at Georgia State University, this is a most encouraging

Xenia Dennen, The dissident movement and Soviet Christians in “Humanitas.
The Journal of the George Bell Institute” (Queen’s College, Birmingham,
UK), Vol 4 no 1, 7-58. This full report on the relationship between the
political dissidents of the former Soviet Union and their Christian
sympathizers makes clear that both groups were linked by a fundamental
opposition to Marxist dictatorship, and instead wanted to preserve man’s
dignity and freedom of spirit at all costs. This extensive and
well-researched article gives a comprehensive picture of the underground
movement which gave impetus to the churches to adopt a more critical stance
towards the Soviet government.

Donald Dietrich (Boston College) contributes an extensive review article to
the latest issue of Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Vol 16, no.3, Winter
2002 with the title “Antisemitism and the institutional Catholic Church”.
This assesses four of the recent works on the Catholic Church’s role in the
Holocaust, by Carroll, Phayer, Zucotti and Kertzer, all of them with highly
critical views which Dietrich would seem to share. We may certainly agree
with his conclusion that “Catholics and all Christians must rethink the
roles their faith communities played in the process that led to Auschwitz.
Both institutions and individuals can funnel evil into the world . . . The
logic of institutional preservation can hinder moral reasoning and
decision-making”. At the same time he could have pointed out that all
these authors’ wishful thinking about the past and their desire for future
reform of the church have clearly biased their views.

Peter Kent (University of New Brunswick) similarly gives a percipient
review to two of the same books, by Phayer and Zucotti, in International
History Review, Vol. XXIV, no. 3, September 2002. He rightly praises their
assiduous researches, but is also critical of Phayer’s counter-factual
lapses into speculation, and Zucotti’s readiness to indulge in polemical
denunciation, which serve to limit the impact of their findings.
Rainer Hering in Zeitschrift des Vereins für Hamburgische Geschichte, Bd
85, 1999, has written a hard-hitting article on the career of a highly
zealous pro-Nazi pastor in Hamburg, Johannes Vorrath. He points out how
reluctant the post-1945 church leaders in Hamburg were to face up to the
political extremism of some of their clergy and laity. It is time now, he
suggests, that such examples of silence and amnesia are no longer allowed
to damage the credibility of the church. Only an honest facing up to the
past will suffice.

5) Short notices:

For future review: a) Horst Dähn/Joachim Heise ed., Staat und Kirchen in
der DDR. Zum Stand der zeithistorischen und sozialwissenschaftlichen

Frankfurt/Berne/Vienna 2003. This collection of essays provides an
up-to-date summary of the current state of debate about this controversial

b) ed. Diane Kirby, Religion and the Cold War. Basingstoke:
Palgrave-Macmillan 2003 A collection of essays mainly by British
scholars, this work explores the immediate post-1945 scene.

Please note that the next i.e. March issue will come to you a few days
late, due to my absence at a conference in Germany.

My best wishes to you all.
John S.Conway