March 2004 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia


Newsletter — March 2004— Vol. X, no. 3

Dear Friends,

1) Film Review: Bonhoeffer

2)Book reviews

a) Zasloff, A Rescuer’s Story
b) Klempa and Doran, Certain Women amazed us

3) Book notes:

a) ed. M. Raphael, Holocaust in literature and film
b) Boehm, Germans in Rumania

4) Journal Articles

a) Geschichte und Gesellschaft, October 2003
b) Davis, Russian Orthodox Church
c) Danielson, American pacifists
d) Gregor, Remembrance in Nuremberg, 1945-56
e) Protestantism in Russia

1) Film Review:

The newly released film Bonhoeffer, produced
and narrated by the American filmmaker Martin Doblmeier,
makes excellent and extensive use of archival film footage, home
videos and hitherto rarely seen photographs to depict the story of
the short, tragic but eventful life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In
contrast to such fictionally reconstructed productions as “Agents
of Grace”, Doblmeier sticks firmly and skillfully to the
historically verified events. He thus follows in the footsteps of
the similar earlier version of Bonhoeffer’s life made by Malcolm
Muggeridge in 1974. His excerpts from newsreels go back as far
as the first world war, bring to life a number of Bonhoeffer’s
more famous contemporaries, both in the political as well as
theological spheres, and hence give an authenticity to the whole
production. While film-clips – in black and white – of such
figures as Hitler or Goebbels are well known, we are also given
here contemporary and rarely-seen images of church leaders like
Martin Niemöller and Karl Barth.

Doblmeier’s narrative follows the line taken in the
magnificent biography written forty years ago by Bonhoeffer’s
closest friend Eberhard Bethge. He describes how the young man
in the 1920s, to the surprise of his rather non-religious but
distinguished liberal family, decided to study theology as a
possible clue to Germany’s ills. We see him going off to New
York in 1930, where he was greatly influenced by a fellow Swiss
student, and by the fervent devotion of the Abyssinian Baptist
Church – here very nicely depicted in ecstatic worship. He returns
to Germany fully committed to the cause of pacifism, which was
expressed most forcibly at an ecumenical conference in Denmark
in August 1934, from which remarkably enough film footage
survives. But in the subsequent years of Nazi rule, as he and his
family begin to realize the enormity of Hitler’s designs, he turns
away from pacifism to eventually join the ranks of the
conspirators against the dictator, and even to approve of the idea
of assassination of the head of state – for reasons of Christian
morality to prevent the continuation of Nazi crimes and

In early 1943 Bonhoeffer was arrested and put in prison
His romance with Maria von Wedemayer was thus cut short, and
his association with others connected to the July 1944 plot led to
his condemnation and eventual execution in April 1945.
Necessarily this latter period can only be reconstructed through
subsequent film shots of the places involved, but Doblmeier has
successfully built up his account to show both the courage and
the moral leadership of one who was not afraid to face to the very
tragic end the consequences of his Christian faith.
The historical footage is interspersed with short insightful
commentaries by members of Bonhoeffer’s family, including
both Eberhard Bethge and his wife Renate, as well as Maria von
Wedemayer’s sister. We are also given the views of three of
Bonhoeffer’s erstwhile pupils from the 1930s, and the pertinent
tributes of notable theologians, such as the Bishop of Berlin, and
Archbishop Tutu, as well as assessments of Bonhoeffer’s
significance in German history by historians such as Peter
Hoffmann, Victoria Barnett and your reviewer. Where these
testimonies are given in German, English subtitles are provided.
This kind of film footage is, of course, less able to convey
the development of Bonhoeffer’s theology and the genesis of the
remarkably prescient insights which he first wrote down in letters
and papers from prison, and which were to become the
foundation for much of the “liberation theology” of the post-1945
years. Nor can this media be successful in outlining what was
surely, at the time, his most significant teaching, namely his
views on suffering and discipleship, which consist in sharing the
sufferings of God in Christ in this tortured world, and thereby
finding, not release, but redemption.

But Doblmeier’s contribution is to repristinate the
historical setting and to show the course of events which led this
one faithful witness to Christ to become involved in the attempt
to free his country from the evils of Nazism. Its failure led to his
death and martyrdom in April 1945, but his legacy was
summarized in the message he sent to his friend Bishop George
Bell on the very eve of his execution: “Tell him that for me this
is the end but also the beginning – with him I believe in the
principle of our Universal Christian brotherhood which rises
above all national interests, and that our victory is certain”.

2a) Tela Zasloff, A Rescuer’s Story. Pastor Pierre-Charles
Toureille in Vichy France. Madison, Wisconsin: University of
Wisconsin Press 2003. 272 pp.

Le Chambon-sur-Lignon is a small holiday resort in
south-central France, whose French Huguenot Protestant
inhabitants during the Second World War turned it into a secret
sanctuary, successfully rescuing several thousands of Jewish
victims of Nazi oppression. Their story was subsequently told by
an American Jewish philosophy professor, Philip Hallie, in his
book Open Thy Mouth for the Dumb, and by Pierre Sauvage’s
brilliant film Weapons of the Spirit, both of which paid tribute to
the strengths of the Huguenot tradition of service to those in

Now another American Jewish scholar, Tela Zasloff, has
given us a portrait of the French Protestant pastor, Pierre
Toureille, who also organized large-scale and clandestine rescue
missions in Vichy France, prompted by the same spirit of
humanitarian compassion derived from his Huguenot

Huguenot Protestants are a small minority in France, only
slightly larger than the number of French Jews. But their
collective folk memory of the persecutions they suffered three
hundred years ago under Louis XIV has been etched into every
generation. Their congregations across the centuries have
inherited the conviction that resistance to unjust political
authority and the need to provide refuge to the oppressed is a
religious duty. So the Nazi persecution of the Jews brought forth
a collective determination to mobilize their spiritual resources
and to organize effective rescue measures.

Leadership in the Huguenot community has come from a
small number of distinguished families, and very often the
responsibility of being pastor has been handed down from father
to son for several generations. Pierre Toureille also had
numerous pastors in his background, so it was quite natural that
he should decide on this career. He brought to it a strong, a vivid
intelligence and an interest in the wider world, particularly the
Slavic peoples of eastern Europe. And it was hardly surprising
that, as a young pastor in the 1920s, he joined the World Alliance
for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches.
This ecumenical group sought to bind up the grievous wounds
caused by the First World War and to undertake a ministry of
international reconciliation. In 1930 Toureille was given the
responsibility of acting as joint Secretary for the World
Alliance’s Youth Commission, collaborating closely with his
German counterpart, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. At the time, both men
were strongly influenced by pacifist ideas and hugely admired
Mahatma Gandhi for his advocacy of non-violent resistance. But,
after the Nazis had seized power in 1933, both Toureille and
Bonhoeffer began to realize that idealistic pacifism was not
enough to combat the evils of Nazism and racism. A more active
stance was demanded.

After France’s humiliating defeat in 1940, Toureille was
appointed Chief Chaplain of Protestant refugees and internees in
France. This necessarily involved some co-operation with the
Vichy government and the French Protestant ecclesiastical
authorities. But increasingly Toureille’s indignation at the
injustices being imposed on these refugees compulsorily locked
up in internment camps across southern France led him to take a
much more confrontational stance. Furthermore he was not
willing to limit his efforts to Protestants, but extended his help to
the threatened Jews, whether converted or not. After 1942 when
the Nazi noose tightened around the refugees, especially the
foreign Jews, Toureille turned more and more to clandestine
activities designed to rescue these victims by arranging their
escape. Hiding places, new identity documents, courier sevice to
the frontiers of Switzerland or Spain, and contact with all sorts of
resistance groups, increasingly became Toureille’s pastoral
responsibility, with the consequent increase in his personal
danger. Frequently interrogated by the Vichy police and German
Gestapo agents, he nevertheless drew on his Huguenot heritage to
resist all attempts to compel his submission.

Zasloff’s skillful use of surviving records fills in the
background of Vichy France’s shameful collaboration with the
Germans, and the dilemma of the Christian churches, torn
between their loyalty to the French state, and their humanitarian
sympathies with those suffering at the Nazis’ hands. In addition,
Toureille’s widespread duties imposed a heavy burden on his
own family. Like everyone else they suffered from the appalling
food shortages and the spiritual horrors of war-time.
The summer and fall of 1942 was one of the blackest
periods of the war, when massive number of refugees were
deported from France to the death camps in eastern Europe.
Despite protests by both the Protestant and Catholic Church
leaders, the Vichy politicians capitulated to Nazi demands.
Toureille and his friends however refused to follow this craven
example. Their own tradition of solidarity with the oppressed,
their ideal of an international Christian conscience, and their
hatred of the evils of racism and tyranny, upheld their faith
throughout these dark days.

For another two years, the dilemma of weighing up the
personal risks as against the moral imperative for action
continued to plague refugee aid workers like Toureille. Had they
made the right choices? Could more have been done? How
could the evident evils of occupation and persecution by the
Germans be most effectively resisted and overthrown? For many
years afterwards, Toureille was to be haunted by a sense of
failure rather than by any satisfaction with his successful rescuing
of numerous Jewish individuals and families.

Years later, the Israeli Yad Washem Martyrs’ Memorial
honoured him by naming him a Righteous Gentile, and invited
him to plant a tree in commemoration. But Toureille himself
depreciated any recognition, convinced that he and his associates,
as in Le Chambon, had acted only as Christians should behave in
obedience to the call of his Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.
It was therefore left to Tela Zasloff’s well-researched
account to provide the wider world with a sensitive tribute to this
courageous, quirky and essentially God-driven Huguenot pastor.

2b) L.Klempa and R.Doran, Certain Women amazed us. The
Women’s Missionary Society. Their story 1864-2002.
Toronto: Women’s Missionary Society, 2002 446pp.

The Presbyterian Church of Canada may be counted as
one of the more conservative branches of the Christian
community. Not until the 1960s did its male-dominated hierarchy
agree to the ordination of women and subsequently admit women
to its governing councils. But a hundred years earlier,
Presbyterian women were already throwing themselves
energetically and devotedly into mission work on behalf of their
church. By the 1870s there were three major branches, one for
overseas missions, one for home missions, and one operating in
the Maritime provinces. Each strove to build up auxiliaries in the
local parishes, mobilizing and spending their own funds, and
determining their own policy. It took fifty years before the
church authorities persuaded them that rivalry and duplication
could be avoided by creating one combined Women’s Missionary

This book tells us of their efforts for nearly a hundred and
fifty years. To do so, the authors have used the bulky records
held in the church archives, its extensive publications, and some
personal reminiscences for the later years. From these sources we
are given a picture of the activities launched around the world,
particularly in India, China, Formosa, Korea, as well as in
remoter parts of Canada. The strength of the Women’s
Missionary Society lay in the close personal bonds, often
affection, between the local sending parishes in Canada and their
representatives in the field. In all these placements, evangelistic,
medical and teaching services were organized, and the dedicated
contributions of these women missionaries are here suitably

The tone is predictably positive. These women’s stories
are shown to have often involved hardship, danger and shortage
of resources, but also endurance, courage and triumphant faith.
So the book emphasizes the dedication and self-sacrificing
devotion of the women missionaries and the long-lasting support
of their admirers and backers at home. In short, this is missionary
history of the old-fashioned kind, written to enhance future
efforts by praising those who have gone before in response to the
call to serve the Lord in his harvest around the world.

Sadly, these amateur writers seem not to be aware that
missionary historiography has developed in striking new
directions in recent decades. Today, the interest is on the
character and responses of the recipients of Christian
evangelism, the challenges and changes which these culture
contacts involved, and the impact on the mind-frames on both
sides. These were, however, not themes taken up in the pages of
such missionary magazines as the Presbyterian Glad Tidings,
from which these authors quote extensively. The result is that
nowadays missiography adopts a far more critical tone, often to
the dismay of the missionaries and their supporters. They often
still assume, as the editors of Glad Tidings always assumed, that
their well-meaning offering of the Gospel would be appreciated
and respected. But, as in the example shown here of the
survivors of the church-run residential schools for native
Canadians, the opposite could be true. The Women’s Missionary
Society of the Presbyterian Church too often reflected the white
man’s cultural mind-frame, and the same goes for the
hardworking authors who have detailed the Society’s notable

A sub-theme of the book is role played by the WMS is
seeking to achieve equality in the Presbyterian Church. Too
often it seems the male church leaders took women’s
subordination for granted, and refused to accept the notion of
partnership in leadership or decision-making. Yet., on the other
hand, when finally in the 1960s the women’s contributions were
recognized, pressure was placed on the WMS to amalgamate its
activities in the name of rationalization and economy. These
authors obviously share large doubts about the wisdom of this

So too, very loyally, they downplay the shocking
disruption of the church of the 1920s, when 60% of the
Presbyterians left to join the new United Church of Canada.
Unfortunately we are not given any of the aguments expressed on
both sides at the time, let alone any theological analysis of the
reasons why the minority doggedly determined to continue in
existence, despite the crippling losses in both women- and
man-power, including whole mission fields abroad. But such an
account would require the talents of a trained
theologian-historian, and the evidence is clearly not to be found
in the WMS publications. The book closes with a chapter
questioning how the earlier spirit of dedication to missions can
be upheld in the context of the 21st Century.

3) Book notes:

a) ed. Marc Lee Raphael, The Representation of
the Holocaust in Literature and Film,The College of William and
Mary, P.O.Box 8795, Williamsburg, Virginia 23187-8795, USA
US $ 18.00

This is a useful collection of essays about a difficult theme. In
the view of its most noted practitioner, Elie Wiesel, “the
holocaust defies literature” The narrator/survivor does not
possess the language, nor his audience the imagination, to
comprehend the actual atrocities which took place. “The secret
must remain inviolate”. Nevertheless successive generations,
and not only Jews, are still trying to make sense of this
catastrophic experience, and these essays will be of help. Can
the terrifying truth about the fate of human beings in
Nazi-occupied Europe be conveyed, either in writing or still more
(less) on film, with the inevitable difficulty of this media to
create an adequate “suspension of disbelief”. How to make the
fate of individuals typify the fate of millions? And in which
language? To the dangers inherent in the incommensurability of
language, add the perils of communicating a minority’s
experience with radical evil to audiences almost entirely spared
such a history. These are the themes explored in these essays.
The discussion is certainly valuable, even if the basic dilemma is
unresolved, and probably unresolvable. Perhaps no event in the
past has been more fully documented. Yet the Holocaust does not
thereby seem more accessible to understanding. The Shoah
remains unimaginable and impenetrable. As these authors rightly
note, all attempts must be tentative, to be approached with the
greatest of care or awe or fear.

b) Johann Boehm, Die Deutschen in Rumänien und das Dritte
Reich 1933-1940, Frankfurt/Bern/New York: Peter Lang 1999
Boehm has written a trilogy about the German minority in
Rumania, of which this is the second, covering the years after
Hitler came to power. Amongst these Volksdeutsche, even those
settled in Transylvania for hundreds of years, the Nazi revolution
gave rise to enormous expectations, even that they would soon be
part of a new Grossdeutsche Reich. The deliberate and radical
politicization of the exiled community by Nazi agitators was of
course deeply disturbing to the established authorities, especially
those of the Lutheran Church, who had long played the role of
defending the interests of their people and assuring their legal
and linguistic rights against the inroads of the vibrant but often
corrupt Rumanian authorities, who themselves were intent on
nation-building of a different kind. The resultant squabbles and
tensions are here fully described, and the role of the church
analysed. Basically the Nazi demands for renewal in a völkisch
direction appealed to the younger members, while the old guard
of the church hierarchy sought to defend their positions and their
comunity’s place in the nation. But the rapidly changing political
scene throughout south-eastern Europe produced convulsive
developments, which were to boil over in the subsequent years of
the second world war.

4a) The whole of the October-December issue of Geschichte und
Gesellschaft, Vol. 29, no.4, is devoted to the topic
“Protestantismus und Nationalsozialismus”. The contributions
are all summaries of the larger works of the authors, namely
Manfred Gailus, “1933 als protestantisches Erlebnis:
emphatische Selbsttransformation und Spaltung” – an analysis of
the Berlin churches and clergy in 1933, and of the factors which
produced so many “German Christians” there; Thomas Fandel,
“Protestantismus und Nationalsozialismus in der Region” – the
Palatinate pastorate and the Nazi Party; Doris Bergen, “Die
Deutsche Christen: ganz normale Gläubige und eifrige
Komplizen?” – the reasons for their rise and fall; Gerhard
Lindemann, “Antijudaismus und antisemitismusin der
evangelischen Landeskirchen während der NS-Zeit” – a
description of the measures taken to exclude Jews from the
Protestant community.

b) Derek Davis, The Russian Orthodox Church and the Future of
Russia in Journal of Church and State, Vol. 44, no. 4, Autumn

Derek Davis’ useful survey of the present state of
Orthodoxy in Russia examines whether the unlamented Soviet
repression is fully overcome. Only partly, he concludes.
Although the Russian Orthodox hierarchy early on staked out its
claim for leadership in the renewed nation, it is still suspect in
wide circles for its compromises and collaboration with the
former dictatorship. Nevertheless it is experiencing something of
a revival at the local level, though most Russians remain passive
believers. But the 1990 law declaring Russia to be a secular state
opened the way for the penetration of many other religious
bodies from abroad, and finally led to a restrictive decree of 1997
putting the brakes on, and favouring the Orthodox Church’s sense
of its primacy. Despite protests from the Pope and a group of US
Congress representatives, the law was passed, and the religious
freedom of minorities and foreign missions curtailed. Orthodoxy
has since taken up the unofficially acknowledged role of the state
church, evidently with President Putin’s support. Yet the
patriarch has discouraged any open political participation.
Rather the Church’s role is to seek cultural and spiritual unity –
hence the strong opposition to its rivals such as Catholics and
Protestants. Whether this stance will be enough to counter the
strongly secularist ideologies remains to be seen. In Davis’ view,
Russia needs time to see how best to treat religion and religious
institutions within an emerging democratic order.

c) Leilah Danielson, “In my extremity I turned to Gandhi”:
American Pacifists, Christianity and Gandhian non-violence in
Church History, Vol. 72, June 2003, no 2, pp 361ff. This lively
article examines the influence of Gandhi on American
Protestants. For some his message of peace and the resolution of
disputes by non-violent means was seen as a remedy for the
selfish materialism and class struggles of early 20th century
America. Gandhi was elevated to great heights. As one minister
stated: “few men in history have borne so striking a resemblance
to the Divine Galilean”. Others were more reserved, seeing in
him “a curious mixture of ancient superstition and modern
democratic aspiration”. Most American pacifists, especially the
more evangelical, nonetheless saw Gandhi in Christian terms, as
someone who had evolved beyond his oriental origins. This
saintly figure did not challenge their continuing view of the
superiority of Christianity over other religions, and his pacifist
example was held to be evidence of his, and their moral,
superiority over all war-mongers. But the pacifists’ case in the
1930s was punctured by events, and by the resolute debunking in
Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society. However,
thanks to the valiant witness of A.J.Muste, and the Fellowship of
Reconciliation, Danielson believes, their influence can be seen in
the later struggle of the civil rights movements of later years.

d) Neil Gregor, “Loss, absence and remembrance in Nuremberg,
1945-56” in German History, Vol 21, no 2, 2003, p. 183-203.
“Rather than condemning the inability of West German society to
place the Holocaust in the centre of its concerns in a manner
which suits the cultural sensibilities of the post-Cold War era, we
should seek a proper historicization of the traumatic impact of
war and its aftermath in German society. To seek to persuade the
bereaved, traumatized and brutalized population who had
experienced what they had between 1941 and 1955 that their
suffering was a product of a uniquely destructive war and a
genocide for which they should regard themselves as directly
culpable was, arguably, to demand the impossible”.

e) Religion, State and Society, Vol. 31, no 4, December 2003,
has two interesting and informative articles about the revival of
Lutheranism in Russia since 1990, which make extensive claims
about the vitality and importance of this church. Mark Elliott’s
article on Orthodox-Protestant relations in the post-Soviet era in
Religion in Eastern Europe, Vol. XXIII, no 5, October 2003,
gives a critical assessment of the efforts made by Protestant,
mainly foreign, missionaries to establish relations with the
Orthodox Church, and also points to their failure to cooperate
with the indigenous Russian Protestant groups. Perry Glanzer’s
book The Quest for Russia’s Soul. Evangelicals and Moral
Education in post-Communist Russia (Baylor University Press
2002) examines the enormous push made by American
missionaries in the years 1992-1997, and its very mixed results.

With best wishes
John Conway