January 2004 Newsletter
Association of Contemporary Church Historians
(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)
John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia
Dear Friends,Today, on my 74th birthday, I have pleasure in sending you the
first issue of Vol. X of our Newsletter to usher in 2004. I am of course
delighted to hear from any of you with any comments you would like to
share. Do contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thought for the month:
“The pursuit of history requires of its practitioners that vital
minimum of ascetic self-discipline that enables a person to do such
things as abandon wishful thinking, assimilate bad news, and discard
pleasing interpretations that cannot passs elementary tests of evidence
and logic. . . .Genuine historical scholarship is painstaking: it builds
detail upon detail, avoiding casual inference and thin deduction. This is
the difference between real history and politically or religiously
1) Book reviews
a) M.F. Coady, biography of Fr. A.Delp
b) ed. G.Besier, Zwischen nationaler Revolution und militarischer Aggression
c) H.Schmidt, Hilde Schneider – biography
2) Journal articles:
a) Herderkorrespondenz 57 (2003) no 8: K-J. Hummel, Catholic research today – continued.
b) D.Goodhew, The rise of C.I.C.C.U.
c) A.Chandler, Quest for historical D.Bonhoeffer
1a) With Bound Hands: A Jesuit in Nazi Germany. The Life and
Selected Prison Letters of Alfred Delp. By Mary Frances Coady.
(Chicago: Loyola Press. 2003. Pp. xv + 239. Paperback $13.95.)
Well known in Germany, where numerous streets and schools bear his
name, the German Jesuit, Alfred Delp, is known in the
English-speaking world chiefly through Thomas Merton’s edition of
Delp’s Prison Meditations, published in 1963, now largely forgotten.
Delp was born in 1907 to an unmarried Catholic mother and a
Protestant father (they married shortly thereafter). He was raised as a
Protestant, receiving Lutheran confirmation in 1921. After a quarrel
with his Lutheran pastor, the headstrong teenager sought refuge with
the local Catholic priest, who prepared Delp for first communion and
confirmation in the Catholic Church. He entered a minor seminary the
year following and, at age eighteen, the Society of Jesus.
Delp’s fierce independence, his overdeveloped critical faculties, and
his indifference to the opinions and feelings of others soon caused
difficulties with peers and superiors. Following ordination to the
priesthood in 1937, Delp received permission from his superiors to
pursue a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Munich. When the
Nazi authorities refused him admission, Delp was assigned to the
editorial staff of the respected Jesuit monthly Stimmen der Zeit. In
April 1941 the Nazis suppressed the journal, and Delp moved to a
suburban parish where, among his other activities, he became “an
address” for Jews fleeing on the underground route to Switzerland.
In 1942 Delp was recruited into the “Kreisau Circle” organized by the
Protestant Count Helmuth von Moltke. This was a group of German
intellectuals who met secretly, mostly at the Moltke estate in East
Prussia, to discuss plans for a “better Germany” following Hitler’s
removal or defeat. Delp was valued for his expertise in the areas of
labor and social justice. This activity was to prove his undoing.
In January 1944 von Moltke was arrested and sent to a concentration
camp. A week after the July 20, 1944, unsuccessful attempt on Hitler’s
life by the Catholic army officer Claus von Stauffenberg, Delp (who
had met with Stauffenberg shortly before but knew nothing of the plot)
was arrested at his parish near Munich. The ostensible reason was his
supposed knowledge of Stauffenberg’s plans. “The actual reason,” Delp
would write from prison following his death sentence, “was that I
happened to be, and chose to remain, a Jesuit.” This was a reference to
the Nazis’ offer to spare his life if he would renounce his Jesuit vows.
Delp was hanged at Plötzensee Prison in Berlin on February 2, 1945.
Coady’s account of Delp’s life is straightforward. It is enriched by
many of the letters he wrote, with manacled hands (hence the book’s
title), during his six months’ imprisonment. These show him
alternating between hope and despair, while clinging always to his
unflinching faith. In addition to his difficulties from the Nazis, Delp
suffered from his Jesuit Provincial’s refusal to permit him to take final
vows. He was considered, Coady writes, “too independent, tending to
act without proper permission,” with “an extravagant manner” which
gave “the impression of unseemly worldliness.” Delp was overjoyed,
therefore, to receive on December 8, 1944, a visit from a Jesuit brother
authorized to receive his final vows in prison.
One of his most poignant prison letters, written January 23, 1945, to the
newborn son of close friends in Munich, contains the spiritual fruit of
his terrible six-month ordeal: “Only in adoration, in love, in living
according to God’s order, is a person free and capable of life.” Before
his walk to the gallows, Delp told the Catholic prison chaplain: “In half
an hour I’ll know more than you do.”
His Jesuit confreres would remember him, Coady writes, “as an enfant
terrible: a maverick, and at times a Jesuit superior’s headache.” Their
concise and fitting epitaph: “He lived as a sinner and died as a martyr.”
John Jay Hughes, St. Louis.
1b) Zwischen “nationaler Revolution” und militärischer Aggression.
Transformationen in Kirche und Gesellschaft 1934-1939.
Edited by Gerhard Besier. ‘Schriften des Historischen Kollegs.
Kolloquien 48′. Munich: R.Oldenbourg Verlag. 2001.
xvii + 276 pp. ISBN 3-486-56543-5
(This review appeared in German History, Vol 21, no 3)
The prestigious Historisches Kolleg in Munich every year
invites its Research Fellows to organize a Colloquium around the
subject of their researches. So in 1998 Professor Gerhard Besier
(Heidelberg) brought together a distinguished group of international
colleagues to share their investigations on the topic of the initial stages
of the German Church Struggle between Hitler’s coming to power and
the outbreak of the second world war. These Colloquium papers are
now reprinted in full. In the meantime Besier’s own comprehensive
narrative of the years 1934-37, which is the sequel to two earlier
volumes written by the late Professor Klaus Scholder, has been
published under the title Die Kirchen und das Dritte Reich. Spaltungen
und Abwehrkämpfe 1934-1937 (Berlin: Proplyläen Verlag, 2001).
Together these volumes provide us with a valuable guide to the
present state of research. Particularly helpful are those contributions
which place the German Church Struggle in the wider international
context, a perspective not hitherto treated systematically.
Over the past fifty years, the historiography of the German
Church Struggle has gone through various phases. The initial defensive
and apologetic accounts sought to portray heroically the Churches’
reactions to Nazi persecution, culminating in the outspoken resistance
of a Bishop Galen or the martyrdom of a Dietrich Bonhoeffer. But the
second phase was much more critical, pointing to the widespread
accommodation of the church authorities, or even support for the
Nazis’ extremist ideological goals. Now a more balanced and nuanced
approach is evident, which has the added value of adopting a
comparative dimension whereby the Nazi harassment of and the
developments within the churches are not seen in isolation. Thomas
Fandel’s study of the local area of the Palatinate, showing how both
Catholic and Protestant priests fared, is an excellent example of this
trend. Hans Mommsen and Julius Schoeps contribute thoughtful essays
on Nazism as a secular or political religion, and attribute much of its
success amongst church members to its skillful propaganda techniques
using religious vocabulary for nationalistic and racist goals.
Klaus-Michael Mallmann’s detailed analysis of the Gestapo and secret
police intelligence services , and their policies towards the churches,
confirms the picture, both of intense competency conflicts within the
Nazi hierarchy, as well as of the escalating radicalization of Nazi
policy. The resulting inconsistencies, when for instance Pastor Martin
Niemöller was sent to a concentration camp, but Bishop Galen
remained free, only added to the confused picture of the German
Church Struggle prevailing abroad.
Both Andrew Chandler on British Church attitudes towards
Nazism and Ingun Montgomery on the Swedish reactions point out the
many conflicting and ambivalent stands, affecting church members in
these countries, even those most closely involved, like Bishop George
Bell of Chichester. Sympathy for fellow Protestants, outrage at Nazi
violence, belated but insufficient assistance to the Nazis’ victims, and
fervent longings to do all they could to prevent another war,
characterized these responses between appeasement and condemnation.
So too in North America, the initial pacifist and pro-German mood of
the early 1930s was eventually replaced by a reluctant awareness of
Nazi intolerance and racial persecution. This ‘metanoia’ did much to
justify the post-1939 readiness to take up arms again in order to combat
the evils of Nazi domination. So too the essays describing the
churches’ reactions in France, Austria and Czechoslovakia add
valuable new material to the wider picture.
But as Gerhard Besier pertinently points out, the crucial factors
were the German churches’ own willingness to accommodate the Nazi
regime and to applaud its amazing successes between the so-called
‘National Revolution’ of 1933 and the outbreak of deliberate military
aggression in 1939. The German church leaders’ nationalist
sympathies and their desire to retain their positions as members of the
establishment prevented them from facing the realities of the Nazi
ambitions. For these reasons no coherent or compelling Christian
resistance to Nazism was ever developed. The central issue of how
Christian churches can deal with totalitarian regimes still remains
unresolved. But this volume gives us an excellent case study of the
problems and issues involved. The German Church Struggle was
indeed exemplary of the churches’ dilemmas in many societies during
the twentieth century. We can confidently say, however, that no
comparable situation has been so fully or comprehensively researched
as Germany’s. This volume adds yet again to the large corpus of
historiography on this topic, bringing with it significant findings from
new points of view.
1c) Hartmut Schmidt, Zwischen Riga und Locarno. Bericht über Hilde
Schneider, Christin jüdischer Herkunft, Diakonisse, Ghetto- und KZ
Häftling, Gefängnispfarrerin. Berlin: Wichern Verlag 2001. 298 pp.
There has recently been a surge of interest in the German
Evangelical Church about the careers of those pioneer women who, in
the course of the last century, resolutely sought to obtain the
qualifications and status of professional clergy. For decades their
progress was blocked by the male-dominated ecclesiastical
bureaucracies. Only in the last few years have women gained senior
positions in the various provincial churches.
This process, of course also happened in other countries. But in
Germany, the period of Nazi rule had a particularly deleterious impact.
The Nazi Party was well known for its antipathy to professional
women. But, even more fatefully, the Nazi supporters in the
Evangelical Church, known as the ‘German Christians’, pursued their
own vision of anti-feminism by propagating their ideas of a ‘manly’
church devoted to national and military goals, in which women’s roles
were clearly subordinate. No less traumatic was the fate of the small
number of Christians converted from Judaism, who were often
abandoned by their fellow Christians to the full horrors of Nazi
Such was the situation of Hilde Schneider, who is apparently
now in her late ‘eighties, and whose remarkable reminiscences have
been ably written and researched by Hartmut Schmidt, a senior member
of the Evangelical Church’s press service. His achievement is to bring
to our attention the story of this lengthy and often painful odyssey by a
bravely courageous but self-effacing woman in her struggle to become
a pastor for the sake of the neediest of her sisters.
Although both her parents had much earlier been converted and
joined the Evangelical Church, Hilde was treated by the Nazis as
“fully” Jewish. Her early upbringing and her training as a nursing
sister in the largest Evangelical Church hospital in Hannover counted
for nothing. After the November 1938 pogrom, all the hospital director
could do was to advise her to emigrate as quickly as possible. The lack
of sympathy for her plight even amongst the sisterhood was notable.
The outbreak of war, however, put an end to her hopes for
escape. When the Nazi net closed tighter in 1941, Hilde was deported,
along with 1000 Jews from Hannover, to the specially created ghetto
for German Jews in the slums of Riga. Only 40 were to survive.
Hartmut Schmidt’s reconstruction of the cruelties and sadism of the
oppressors, as of the humiliations, degradations and sufferings of the
ghetto’s inmates, is both painful and shocking, even though soberly
recalled. He has skilfully and convincingly interwoven Hilde’s own
memories of this appalling experience with surviving documents of the
Riga and Latvian Holocaust.
Hilde’s survival was only accidental. But throughout she was
able to keep her Bible, from which she drew consolation, especially
from the psalms. For years afterwards, however, her health remained
In 1945 she finally got back to Hannover, resolved that she must
put her personal sufferings at the service of others, by becoming a
pastor for women prisoners. Hartmut Schmidt notes very clearly the
obstacles she and other women would-be pastors faced at that time. It
took her years to get the necessary training and experience, very often
over the dismissive attitudes of church officials. Finally in 1959 she
obtained the post she most desired in the women’s prison in Frankfurt
and served fourteeen years until her retirement. Her sincere dedication
to Christ, her instinctive sympathy for women in trouble and her
readiness to stand by them in their suffering, are here well described.
The title of the book comes from the depth of her own
sufferings in Riga to the joyous openness she shared in Locarno at an
ecumenical guesthouse, supported by the World Council of Churches.
But only at the end of her career has she found a diligent and
supportive biographer and has been able to overcome the barrier of
silence imposed after the war by the reluctance of so many Germans to
acknowledge what crimes were committed in their name. Hilde
Schneider’s witness throughout is both instructive and inspiring, and
we must be grateful to Hartmut Schmidt for his enlightening
2a) The German Catholic Church’s researches: Nazi dictatorship and
the Second World War – Part II, translated by Olav Zachau
The debate over the Catholics’ relationship to the Jews during the Third
Reich is closely linked to the controversy over Pope Pius XII. The
shining picture of this pope’s conduct during the Third Reich painted by
Christians and Jews alike was turned completely upside down by
Hochhuth in 1963. On the stage, Pius XII turned into a Nazi
collaborator. The two positions could not have been more
contradictory, and both views continue to find supporters.
The scope of judgements ranges from “Hitler’s Pope” (John Cornwell,
1999) to “Il Papa degli Ebrei” (“The Pope of the Jews”, Andrea
Tornielli, 2001). The discussion seemed to have bogged down into a
ritualized exchange of the same tired arguments. The examination of
the role of the Vatican in the Second World War has increasingly
narrowed to the relationship between the church and the Jews and in
turn, turned this debate into a stalemate.
New insights may be gained by expanding the perspective beyond the
personality of Pope Pius XII through international comparisons. This
means looking at the conduct of the Church and its representatives at
all levels of the hierarchy as well as reconsidering the standard of
values according to which the Pope should be measured. Was he, above
all, the protector of the Catholics all over the world? Was he a diplomat
acting on the same level as the governments of other states or was he
even the personified conscience of this world? The answer to these
questions and the question of how Pius’ positioned himself within this
spectrum will produce quite different judgements and interpretations.
The answer to these questions, however, can only be found by way of
interdisciplinary and international cooperation. It is, first and foremost,
absolutely essential to work with church historians who have the
necessary theological knowledge to understand these internal debates.
It is equally necessary to broaden the perspective towards a
international, or at least a European, perspective, which is only possible
by working with historians from abroad.
The question of the perspectives and weak spots of the research on
Catholicism 1933-1945 leads directly to the question of the sources
available and the overall conditions in the archives.
Since February 2003 new archival material from the Vatican has
opened far reaching new possibilities, and large scale work on them has
already begun. Files from the Vatican’s State secretary, the nunciatures
of Munich and Berlin, and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith are now available for the years until 1939 and allow new insights
into the much debated relationship between the Catholic church and
Nazi Germany. The papers of Cardinal Faulhaber, which have been
prepared to an exemplary standard, were made available in Munich a
year ago, and in Rome the analysis of the influential and controversial
Austrian Bishop Alois Hudal has begun. Even if this work will not
revolutionize previous results, new source material may
yield findings that will further clarify the internal process of decision
making, the working process and internal connections; older
conclusions will be confirmed or explained in more detail. Surprises,
however, cannot be ruled out, by any means. Nuncio Cesare Orsenigo,
for instance, always seemed to be a weak figure, who was not recalled
apparently only because that the Vatican was afraid it would not be
allowed to appoint a successor. In the nunciature’s reports, he appears
as a reflective, clear-sighted analyst with surprisingly sound political
The files from the reign of Pius XII (1939-1958), however, are still
unavailable. The newly available files only tell us about Eugenio
Pacelli, who was to become Pius XII, as nuncio in Munich and Berlin,
and as State Secretary. A further opening of the archives, propably in
2006, is not only desirable from a scholarly point of view, but also
regarding the transparancy in dealing with the history of the church.
The public still thinks that those who hide something have reasons for
Even a full opening of all archives will not be able to silence
conscious ignorance and prejudice. Critics will still bring forward the
accusation that the files have been previously purged, which could
hardly be disproved. Still, science must do its duty and make it possible
that all who want to know better can know better.
The wish for free access to more archival material is a legitimate one.
However, the research deficits until now are not only due to the
problematic situation in the Vatican archives. First, materials on the
Catholic church are to be found not only in the Vatican. Numerous
American, European and Israeli archives contain materials that could
shed light on the role of the Pope during the Second World War and the
Holocaust from several perspectives. In particular, archives in East and
Southeast Europe have not been used to the fullest extent.
Since the 1960s, there had been an important exception concerning
the Vatican’s documents for the period of the Second World War. Pope
Paul VI. authorized the publication of the momentous, because
unprecedented, 11 volumes of the edition “Actes et documents du Saint
Siège relatifs a la Seconde Guerre mondiale”. The first appeared in
1965. This series contains a representative selection of documents from
the time of the Second World War, as edited by four Jesuit priests who
had been given access to the files. These volumes have now
been supplemented by the comprehensive editions of other
documentary sources that have been published by the Commission for
Contemporary History in Germany since the 1960s.
The abundance of information on various aspects of Catholic life in
Germany and the relationship of the German bishops to the Vatican
seems, however, to have had a rather intimidating than encouraging
effect. Apart from sheer volume of the material, language barriers have
until now prevented these materials from being better received. Large
parts of the “Actes et documents” are in Italian ( the working language
of the Curia), as well as numerous documents in English, French, and
Latin, and therefore present difficulties to scholars who only function
Language barriers have also been the main obstacle for greater
international cooperation in research on Catholicism. Many recent
publications, especially on the American market, have ignored the
German literature and present results as new that have been available in
German for some years. On the other hand, even German standard
works have not been translated into English. The paradoxical result,
e.g. in the case of the controversy over the treaty between the German
Reich and the Vatican (Reichskonkordat) (Scholder/Repgen) is that
American scholars draw a different conclusion than the Germans, in
part because Klaus Scholder’s contributions were translated into
English, while those of Konrad Repgen’s were not. It is imperative to
fill this deficit.
Since the summer of 2000, having been provoked by Klaus Bednarz’s
research on the use of forced labour in Catholic institutions during the
Third Reich, which left much to be desired, scholars in all German
dioceses have begun delving into this history of forced labour for the
church at the request of the German Bishops’ Conference (Deutsche
Bischofskonferenz). And they have discovered a number of other
unresolved questions relating to the history of the two major Christian
churches during the war. One of these questions involves the use of
church facilities by the Nazi state; this question is directly connected to
the problem of moral judgement and reparations payments to the
victims. Research into the history of the Churches during the second
half of “these twelve years” has begun and will be a focus not only of
future research on Catholicism but also of studies that cut across
The debate on forced labour, for which scholars of German
Catholicism were so unprepared, makes clear that they will not only
have the task of carrying out their long-term research on church history,
but also of dealing with more immediate and pressing issues that will
arise. They have to ask themselves whether more “time bombs” are
ticking like the forced labour question, how they could disarm them in
advance, and they have to develop strategies of communicating to the
public and of limiting the damages, in case one of these bombs does
b) D. Goodhew, The Rise of the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian
Union, 1910-71 in Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Vol 54, no 1,
Jan. 2003, pp.62ff. Fifty years ago when I was a student in
Cambridge, the religious scene was preoccupied by the rivalry between
the Student Christian Movement and the C.I.C.C.U. The former was
liberal, ecumenical and open to new ideas; the latter was conservative,
evangelical and rigorous in its doctrinaire stance. The competition for
the souls and minds of the undergraduates was intense, and is now
brought to life in this excellently researched article by David Goodhew.
He rightly makes the point that C.I.C.C.U.’s strength was its adherence
to a fixed evangelical line, which could be traced back to the Clapham
Sect, Wilberforce, and Rev. Charles Simeon. In the post-1945 period
they had the advantage of attracting a host of excellent speakers, such
as John Stott, and held missions led by Billy Graham. They were far
better organised than other student societies, and so had a greater
impact, as they still do.
c) A Chandler, A quest for the historical Dietrich Bonhoeffer in
Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Vol 54, no 1, January 2003, p.89-96.
This sprightly account of the present state of the Bonhoeffer legacy
shows that very solid memorials of this young German theologian now
exist. On the one hand, his statue is placed on the portal of Westminster
Abbey in London, as one of the 20th century martyrs; on the other
hand, the publication of his Werke is now complete in seventeen
volumes, luckily finished shortly before the death of his most noted
champion, Eberhard Bethge. (The English translation, which has now
seven volumes in print, continues, and will presumably eventually be
complete.) Chandler rightly points out that Bonhoeffer’s appeal was
in part due to his provocative remarks in the paper-back edition of
Letters and Papers from Prison, and in part from the fact that he was
murdered by the Nazis at the very end of the war. He also shows that
some exaggerated claims made about his role in the Church Struggle or
the German Resistance Movement need to be modified, but that
shouldn’t distract from the important insights he gave us, especially in
the field of ethics.
With all my good wishes for the start of the New Year. I trust you all
had a blessed Christmas holiday.