October 2003 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

Newsletter- October 2003- Vol. IX, no . 10
Dear Friends,

“Nothing is more unfair than to judge the men of the
past by the ideas of the present. Whatever may be said of morality,
political wisdom is certainly ambulatory. . . It behoves wise statesmen
to consider how their policy will appear to imaginations aglow with
excitement and rhetoric.”
D.A.Winstanley, Lord Chatham and the Whig opposition.


1) Book reviews

a) H.Hesse ed, Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses
b) ed Woolner, Kurial, FDR, the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church, 1933-1945
c) Gallo, For Love and Country: The Italian Resistance

2) Journal articles:

a) Moses, Australian Anglicans in the first world war
b ) Fletcher, Anglicanism and National Identity in Australia since 1962
c) Koch and Falcke, Coming to terms with German guilt

3) Book notes: Hermann Rauschning, ed. Hensel and Nordblom

1) Book reviews

1a) Hans Hesse ed., Persecution and Resistance of Jehovah’s
Witnesses during the Nazi Regime 1933-1945. Bremen: Edition
Temmen 2001. 405 pp ISBN 3-86108-750-2.

This review is re-printed from Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte, Vol. 14,

The story of the persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses under
Nazi rule was little known by historians some twenty years or so ago.
Even among Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves, whilst stories of bravery
under harassment and torture were recounted, there was little
systematic analysis of what had happened and how it had happened.
Witnesses had a very clear theological understanding about why it had
happened but had no evidence that either scholars or the general public
would be interested in their story. Not until professional researchers
began to document and legitimate the experience of non-Jewish victims
of the Third Reich, did the Witness record come into its own.
This book is a landmark in the study of the persecution of the
Jehovah’s Witnesses by the Nazis. It is comprised of an eclectic
collection of essays which add to our understanding both of the details
of individuals” lives and of the complex issues surrounding the whole
area. It makes use of a considerable range of documents not published
before and offers both case studies and a series of broader and
thoughtful analyses.

The authors are all experts, in one way or another, in this field.
They are a mixture of Jehovah’s Witnesses and non-Witnesses. In this
the book is unique. The preface is written by Michael Berenbaum, a
distinguished voice in the study of the Holocaust and a former Director
of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.
The translation is by the late and deeply respected scholar Sybil Milton,
once Senior Historian at the Museum, who also offers two important
essays as a contribution to the book. There are important essays by
other leaders in this field of study and essays by Witnessses who are
workers and researchers for the Watch Tower Society.

Although the emphasis is on the experience of this one group of
people, there is an understanding throughout and a respect for the wider
picture. The story, valuable and important in its own right, needs to be
seen in the context of the horrors of the Holocaust. As Jolene Chu,
author of one of the essays reminds us, “it is a sad and sobering fact
that the Nazi regime executed a brilliant and ruthless war against the
Jews and nearly won”. Michael Berenbaum, in his preface, sets the
context clearly: “Jews were victimized not for what they did but for
who they were. They were targeted for destruction because of what
their grandparents were”. Jewish people in the Third Reich, as we
know, had no choice.

Jehovah’s Witnesses had come to Germany from America in
the 1890s and by the time of the Nazi seizure of power had some
25,000 members in Germany. They had already met some harassment
under Weimar from the SA and other emerging Nazi gangs. From
1933 to the end of the war, the Witnesses found themselves thrown into
a violent and pitched battle with the Nazi authorities, during which
some of the children were taken away to be educated in Nazi homes
and a large number of members of the group were imprisoned and
tortured. Many lost their lives.

The conflict was one of ideologies. The Witnesses had a clear
view of History and their sacred role in it. As a result of these beliefs,
and in spite of the fact that within the limits that their faith allows they
were law-abiding citizens, conflict with the new state was rapid and

The Jehovah’s Witnesses were different to other categories of
what the Nazis identified as “enemies of the state”. They were targeted
and persecuted because of their beliefs and the consequences of their
beliefs. Witnesses refused to give the Hitler salute because their
religious beliefs taught them that such a salutation was due only to their
God. Because of their view of history and their role in it as “witnesses”
to their God, they refused similarly to enlist or to bear arms. Equally,
they disobeyed the injunction to cease their missionary work and they
continued to hold their religious meetings. The beliefs and practices
which stimulated the Nazi persecution were also at the heart of the
Jehovah’s Witness resistance.

Resistance, as we know, was both rare and dangerous. If we
look at the behaviour of other minority Christian and secular groups in
the Third Reich, we see, on the whole, a process of compromise,
assimilation or denial. Some members of small religious groups hailed
Hitler as the Messiah and others expunged from their liturgy all
references to anything “Jewish”. Thus hymns and liturgies were
amended to omit the words ‘sabbath” or Jerusalem”. Others were
prepared to hand over to the Nazis the names of any of their members
who had Jewish blood. Many very small groups simply went
underground or ceased their activities.

In the distribution of their literature and in door-to-door
missionary work, the Witnesses, however, offered a real and visible
challenge. Whether at large or in prison or camps, the majority of
Witnesses simply refused to give to the state what they knew belonged
only to God. No compromise, no changing words or re-interpreting,
just a simple standing firm to what they had been taught and believed
as individuals and as families. This was no orchestrated mass
resistance movement; this was a set of individuals, linked by their
beliefs, who refused to bow the knee.

The persecution that followed was relentless. Witnesses found
themselves in prisons and camps all over the Reich. Some of their
stories are told in this book. Margaret Buber, herself an inmate, told us
first of the women Witnesses in Ravensbrück; here their story is retold,
together with the story of women Witnesses in Moringen. We read the
letters of Hans Gartner, set alongside the picture of him as a young man
alongside his four sisters. Hans served sentences in prison and in
Dachau and Mauthausen. His letters are concerned with the welfare of
his wife and children and we follow through these simple earnest
letters, following his fate until we learn that on April 26,1940, he died
in Dachau aged 33. Shortly before his death, close to starvation,
Gartner begged an SS officer for a piece of bread and had in response a
finger cut off.

The Witness story is important in its own right. It is also
important to the continuing and necessary process of studying the
complexity of the dreadful tapestry of horrors that was woven by the
Nazis. There is now an insurmountable degree of evidence to testify to
the courage and steadfastness of numbers of Jehovah’s Witnesses: men,
women and children. These essays offer more detailed case studies of
the lives of Witness prisoners in the camps, wearing with pride their
purple triangle.

As a (non-Witness) scholar of this period, there are of course
some areas I would like to have seen covered here but which are not.
There are some which I would not have included. I wonder, for
example, about the wisdom of including under this title an essay on the
current situation for Witnesses in Germany. I would like to have seen a
different structure in which the historical framework was laid down
more overtly at the outset. All these comments are, however, a measure
of my engagement with the book. Here is the work of a very particular
group of specialists, with a deep understanding of the faith that forged
this resistance. Historians of religion welcomed the publication of this
book in German in 1998. It has been well used by scholars and by
students. This English version is very much to be welcomed. There is a
great deal of interest in this subject. The work and the sources now
become available to a very wide range of scholars in England and
North America. It will also be of interest to the general reader for it is
both scholarly and accessible.

Christine King, Vice-Chancellor, University of Staffordshire, Stafford,

b) ed. D.B.Woolner and R.G.Kurial, FDR, the Vatican, and the Roman
Catholic Church in America, 1933-1945. New York: Palgrave
Macmillan 2003. 295 pp. ISBN 1-4039-6168-9

In reviewing this volume of collected papers from a major
international conference, held five years ago at Franklin Roosevelt’s
home, and now Presidential Archive and Library, at Hyde Park, New
York, I must beg your indulgence, since I was one of the participants.
My contribution on Myron Taylor’s war-time mission to the Vatican is
however likely to be superseded by the thorough research of Alexander
Schoerner, as outlined earlier in our July Newsletter. Some other
contributors, such as Michael Phayer, David Alvarez and Peter Kent –
all list members – have in the meanwhile published more substantial
monographs on their respective topics. But this volume brings the
differing points of view together in an attractive, scholarly and readable

F.D.R. was an unfervent Episcopalian, i.e. Anglican, whose
acute political senses taught him the importance of maintaining good
relations with the Roman Catholic hierarchy, including the Pope. In
the opening chapter, Michael Barone surveys the relationship between
this patrician Protestant president and the largely Catholic and urban
voters who provided his political power base, first in New York and
then nationally. Roosevelt’s success, he believes, lay in his
inclusiveness, his warm and humorous optimism and above all his
resolve to take energetic measures to overcome the economic disasters
of the Great Depression. In addition he openly distanced himself from
the kind of Protestant bigotry which in 1928 had so fatally destroyed
the candidacy of his rival, the Catholic New York slum kid, Al Smith.
Catholics of a reformist trend, such as the supporters of the Catholic
Worker, were also attracted by Roosevelt’s social reform mentality.
The only exception was the outspoken, provocative and wholly biased
Fr. Coughlin of Michigan, who proved to be an unwelcome thorn in
Roosevelt’s side.

Readers of this Newsletter will probably be most interested in
the chapters dealing with Roosevelt’s international involvement,
especially with the Vatican. Already in 1937, FDR was concerned
about the looming danger of war, the likely effects on the United
States, and the need to promote the cause of peace. Having served
under Woodrow Wilson, Roosevelt had learnt at first hand the
disadvantages of placing too much faith in the League of Nations, but
also of ignoring the potential influence of the Vatican. Pius XII, too, as
Cardinal Secretary of State, had earlier seen the need for good
relations, had come to the USA, and had visited Roosevelt’s home for
just this purpose in 1937. The difficulty lay in the fact that no structure
was in place for diplomatic exchanges, as Congress had closed down
its Vatican embassy several decades earlier for financial reasons.
Given the anti-Catholic sentiment in many Protestant communities,
especially in the south, Roosevelt could not risk asking for its

But with the outbreak of war in Europe, Roosevelt felt impelled
to establish contact with the Pope, using the means of a Personal
Representative who would not need Senate approval. The Vatican
signaled immediate agreement. Myron Taylor, a prominent business
man was then appointed and at once set off for Rome. Pius was greatly
relieved to have this support from Roosevelt at a time when his
diplomatic efforts to preserve peace had so signally failed. He very
much hoped that together they could persuade the warring parties to
accept a mediated peace, and that Roosevelt would understand and
support the Pope’s strict impartiality. But it was not to be.

In fact, after Pearl Harbour, Roosevelt and the State Department
became as insistent as others that the Pope should abandon his neutral
stance and join in condemnation of the Axis. Inevitably there was a
cooling of the relationship, especially after the Germans surrounded
and nearly occupied the Vatican in 1943-44. Not until Rome was
liberated could Myron Taylor hasten back to find the Pope now
concerned about the growing menace of the Russian military advance
and the dire needs of the Italian people for relief supplies.

In his chapter, Michael Phayer is highly critical of Pius XII for
his failure to protest sufficiently against the Nazis” crimes, especially
the atrocities of the Holocaust. This was due, he claims, to the
misplaced emphases in the Pope’s mind, when saving the architecture
of Rome was given top priority. By contrast, Peter Kent is also critical
of the Pope, but for protesting too much about the dangerous
encroachments of Soviet Communism. The inflexibility of the Papal
war-aims and the refusal to consider compromises, lest these be seen as
a retraction of earlier denunciations, is seen by Kent as too high a price
to pay. Certainly from 1943 onwards, American policy diverged from
the Vatican’s. Pius regarded the demand for unconditional surrender as
“idiotic”, and was equally appalled by the concessions made at Yalta
and Potsdam. Kent’s later book expands this indictment by suggesting
that the Papal rigidity, though welcomed by many Poles, left the
bishops in eastern Europe with little or no room for manoeuvre. But by
1948, American policy towards Stalin and Communism had changed
dramatically. The Vatican and the State Department supported each
other closely during the crucial elections in Italy in that year.
But even so, there were still strong feelings in the United States
against too close a collaboration with the Vatican, as could be seen in
the unprecedented uproar in 1951 when Truman tried to appoint a
popular General, Mark Clark, as Ambassador to the Holy See. Volumes
of mail from outraged Protestants poured in, and forced Truman to
back down, as Michael Carter relates in his chapter.

In the absence of a regular diplomatic establishment,
maintaining a harmonious relationship fell on the Apostolic Delegate,
Amleto Cicognani, whose 25 years of service in Washington are
excellently described by Fr. Robert Trisco. This is clearly a synopsis of
a much longer work which we may hope Fr. Trisco will soon complete.
So too, David Alvarez’s short chapter is a prelude for his recent book,
Espionage in the Vatican (reviewed here in the July Newsletter). He
summarizes the American contribution to such operations as adding
“little but misdirection, confusion and uncertainty to American policy
toward the Vatican”. Presumably things have improved since then.
The two editors, David Woolner and Richard Kurial, are
respectively Director of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute,
and the Dean of Arts at the University of Prince Edward Island. So this
is a valuable piece of international collaboration, which raises
significant historical issues, but avoids religious or political polemic.
As such it usefully complements the earlier studies by Flynn and
Fogarty, and can be highly recommended to students at all levels.

c) P.Gallo, For Love and Country. The Italian Resistance. Lanham,
Maryland,: University of America Press. 2003 362 pp
ISBN 0-7618-249-0

Professor Patrick Gallo, who teaches at New York University,
has written a useful narrative account of the resistance movement in
Italy in the final stages of the second world war. He adopts a lively
style, including material from interviews with several surviving
participants amongst the resistance fighters during those dramatic days
in Rome and its surroundings. Given the nature of their underground
activities, it is inevitable that little documentary evidence exists, but
Gallo has skillfully exploited a large number of secondary sources in
various languages. It is a pity, however, that the book is marred by
numerous printing errors.

Following the overthrow of Mussolini, and the occupation of
Italy by the German army in September 1943, there were in fact three
wars going on concurrently. First, the struggle to fight the Germans
and their Fascist allies; second, the struggle to see who would emerge
to hold the reins of power in a future Italy; and third, the class struggle
when left-wing elements believed the time had come to implement a
full social revolution and to abolish the past altogether. The
intricacies, rivalries and overlapping of these various factions
inevitably makes for a complex picture. And Gallo’s narrative jumps
rather awkwardly from event to event, perhaps reflecting the confusion
that prevailed. He evokes very well, however, the dangers and miseries
which engulfed Rome during the nine months of German occupation.

His stance is naturally sympathetic to the Italian partisans
whose bravery in urban street attacks on the German occupiers resulted
in unprecedented and horrible reprisals. Here Gallo goes over the same
ground as Robert Katz and others, but corrects numerous details. He
also has a more sympathetic approach to the Vatican, whose members
he believes should also be seen as part of the resistance. He
appreciates the political dilemmas of the Pope, and praises the church’s
humanitarian efforts to assist the victims of Nazi and Fascist
repression. Thus he disagrees with those who believe that Pope Pius
XII could and should have effectively prevented either the deportation
of the Roman Jews in October 1943, or the terrible mass murders in the
Ardeatine Caves in the following spring. Both episodes are here well
described from the victims” point of view.

Gallo is more critical of the Allies for their military mistakes,
such as the failure to move quickly from the Anzio beachhead to
liberate Rome. Likewise he deplores Churchill’s readiness to try and
prop up the Italian monarchy, and his support for outdated right-wing
politicians. Most critically of all he attacks the Germans, whose
ruthless atrocities inflicted on both civilian and military elements were
compounded by their attitude of arrogant superiority towards the
population as a whole. His final chapter, dealing with the post-war
trials of these criminals, expresses his view that more severe sentences
should have been imposed.

Above all, Gallo seeks to uphold the reputation of the freedom
fighters, some 63,000 of whom lost their lives. The memorial
subsequently built over the site of the Ardeatine massacres succinctly
expresses Gallo’s sympathies:

We have been massacred here because we fought against
tyranny and against the foreign enemy for the independence of
our country. Our dream was that of a free, righteous, and
democratic Italy. May our sacrifice and our blood be the seed
of it and a warning for the coming generations.

2) Journal articles:

a) John Moses, Australian Anglican Leaders and
the Great War 1914-1918: The “Prussian Menace”, Conscription and
National Solidarity, in The Journal of Religious History, Sydney, Vol
25, No.3, October 2001.

The existing studies of the behaviour of the Australian churches
during the First World War fail to evaluate adequately their perception
of the war, in particular that of the Anglican hierarchy. The latter were
the leaders of the then largest denomination in Australia and they were
in general highly educated and well informed about the causes of the
war and in particular about Prussian-German political culture, hence
German war aims. Failure to take this into account results in a flawed
assessment of the Anglican Church’s stance on recruitment and
conscription, and their cultivation of a concept of national
“brotherhood”. The essay takes issue with the view held by some
historians that Australian Anglicanism uniformly pursued a pro-British
agenda at the expense of a pro-Australian agenda during the 1914-18

b) B. Fletcher, Anglicanism and National Identity in Australia since
1962 in The Journal of Religious History, Sydney, Vol 25, no.3,
October 2001.

This paper examines the way in which the Anglican church in
Australia adapted itself to the social and cultural changes after 1962. In
that year the church gained a new constitution and a new freedom to
become more Australian. It also began to reposition itself on such
matters as race, multiculturalism and gender. By so doing it
incorporated the wider changes in Australian life into its institutional
structures and practices. Women and indigenous people came to play a
more important role. The author contends that this stance has
strengthened the church’s position in national life.

c) Two parallel articles in Evangelische Theologie, 2002, no.3 deal
with the issue of coming to terms with German guilt in the post-war
period. D.Koch covers the West German scene, outlining six stages by
which the churches and the wider public tried to cope with the rival
pressures of acknowledging the extent of the crimes committed in the
name of Germany, or of defending themselves by self-justifying
arguments. Even today, there is a reluctance to accept the full extent of
personal or national responsibility, and a danger that such tactics can
lead to further guilt-ridden situations. For his part Heiko Falcke, who
was one of the leading critics of the former communist regime in East
Germany, examines how the state’s manipulation of the term
“antifascism” sought to argue that the GDR and its citizens were
absolved from all Nazi crimes, which were “inherited” only by the
West Germans. Even the persecution of the Jews was downplayed by
the communist leadership, and therefore was never taken up
sufficiently by the churches. But a notable witness was performed by
the church youth group “Aktion Sühnezeichen” in concrete acts of
reconciliation to the Nazis” victims. Falcke too ends by warning that
dealing with the guilt of the past does not absolve the church from
facing the risk of incurring as much or even greater guilt in the future.

3) Book notes:

Hermann Rauschning. Materialien und Beiträge zu
einer politischen Biographie. ed. J.Hensel and Pia Nordblom. Warsaw:
Brostiana 2002. 180 pp.

This excellent collection of papers from an international group
of scholars raises anew the question of the controversial figure of
Hermann Rauschning, the one-time Nazi President of the Senate in
Danzig, who later defected from the Nazi cause, and then wrote the
best-selling exposé, Hitler speaks. The editors” contention is that
Rauschning has been badly served in post-1945 German historiography,
where he is made out to be either a traitor, an unrepentant conservative,
or a pure opportunist. The most interesting essay is by Anthony Carty
of Britain’s University of Derby who discusses Rauschning’s ideas in
his 1937 book The Revolution of Nihilism, a devastating critique of
Nazi radicalism from the pont of view of a German conservative
Catholic. Rauschning was alas! ignored at the time by his fellow
countrymen, but received a much greater audience when his more
famous, but often disputed, book on Hitler appeared just as war broke
out. Carty rightly stresses the fact that the Nazis” nihilistic radicalism
inevitably led with ever greater impetus to the chimera of world
domination and/or extermination of Germany’s enemies. Hitler was
thus more than a megalomanic dictator, but rather a purveyor of the
kind of nihilism brought on by the destruction of Christian moral
values in the first world war and after. It was a pity that, as a source of
direct quotations of Hitler’s own opinions, Rauschning has been heftily
disputed and discredited. But si non e vero, e ben trovato. This small
book will undoubtedly help those able to follow the German debate to
restore Rauschning to his due position as a valuable contemporary
observer of the crisis unfolding around him.

With best wishes to you all,
John S.Conway