April 2004 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia


Newsletter — April 2004— Vol. X, no. 4

Dear Friends,
A reflection for Lent —

On the virtues of inter-faith dialogue:
It is neither to flatter nor to refute one another, but to help
one another; to share insight and learning, to cooperate in
academic virtues on the highest scholarly levels, and what is even
more important, to search the wilderness for well-springs of
devotion, for treasures of stillness, for the power of love and care
for man. What is urgently needed are ways of helping one
another in the terrible predicament of here and now by the
courage to believe that the word of the Lord endures for ever as
well as here and now; to cooperate in trying to bring about a
resurrection of sensitivity, a revival of conscience; to keep alive
the divine sparks in our souls, to nurture openness to the spirit of
the Psalms, reverence for the words of the prophets, and
faithfulness to the Living God. Rabbi Abraham Heschel

It is with great sadness that we learn of the death on March 22nd
of Prof. F.Burton Nelson of North Park Theological Seminary,
Chicago at the age of 79. Although he had been in poor health
recently, he had continued a full teaching load to the last – a sign
of his devotion both to his subject and his students. Burton was
one of those recruited by Franklin Littell in 1970 to launch the
Annual Scholars’ Conference on the German Church Struggle
and the Holocaust, to which he made many significant
contributions. He was considered one of the top scholars on
the life and work of German Lutheran pastor and Nazi
opponent Dietrich Bonhoeffer and was a close friend of the
Bonhoeffer family. Several years ago, together with Geffrey
Kelly, he put together a lengthy anthology of Bonhoeffer’s
seminal thought, A Testament to Freedom, which was followed
by the publication last year of an important study, again with
Geffrey Kelly, The Cost of Moral Leadership. The Spirituality of
Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was also a leading member of the
English-speaking section of the International Bonhoeffer Society,
and served as a consultant for the 90-minute film
documentary on Bonhoeffer’s life that opened in Chicago in
March last year.

Burton was blessed with a cheery and welcoming personality. He
always seemed to have time for those who came to him for
scholarly or personal advice, and his Christian witness was
admired by friends and students alike. He will be greatly missed.

1) Conference Report – Building religious communities
2) Present situation in the Czech republic
3) Book review: Roseman, Past in Hiding
4) Journal articles:

a) Stehle, Secret Vatican documents sold to Russia
b)Wacker, Pearl Buck and the waning of the missionary impulse
c) Wang, Protestant missions to Chinese immigrants in Canada, 1885-1923.
d) Buscher, The Catholic Church and refugees

1) Conference Report:
A conference held in Chicago last October for younger German
and American scholars took up the interesting theme of “Forms
of religious communities in 19th and 20th Century Germany.”
Herewith an abbreviation of the report submitted by Daniel

Once viewed as casualties of modernization, religion and
religious community have, in recent years, begun to resemble less
the victim than the hydra of modern European history. Where
historians formerly emphasized the decline of adherence to
traditional beliefs and practices, recent scholarship seems to
unearth the religious (often confessional) imagination
everywhere: in political discussions and symbolism, changing
gender roles, common notions of spirituality, and certainly in
new, informal communities of worship.

Noting the ever more fluid and informal participation
during this period, the conference sought to determine whether
‘religion in modern society’ might be understood best as an
on-going process of ‘re-communalization’, whereby new
religious groups and the sentiments that unite them are formed,
cultivated and dissolved. This approach is, in part, an attempt to
find more dynamic alternatives to a secularization paradigm that
appears to offer diminishing returns for further research. By
emphasizing religious diversity over decline, the conference
offered a starting point for evaluating processes that reveal the
limitations of this much-maligned theory.

But what is a religious community? Where do the
boundaries lie? For the purposes of coherent investigation, the
conference proposed looking at the means of differentiating
members from non-members; practices that engage members in a
search for transcendence; rituals and symbols that provide the
common basis for a common experience of worship; and the
development of organizations that ground these characteristics in

The conference looked at new religious communities in
five thematic and chronological contexts. The first examined
non-conformist movements in post-Napoleonic Europe. The
second took up the theme of the gendering of religious devotion
during the nineteenth century. The third covered the expansion
of religious options at the end of the century, pursued mainly by
those estranged from the established churches. Both Catholic
anti-clericalism, and Protestant disaffection with dogmatic and
state-run churches played a large role, but did not mean that those
affected should be seen as ‘anti-religious’, or as turning to
secular forms of enchantment. It was argued, rather, that
movements associated with atheism or iconoclasm actually
worked to uphold religious worldviews.

Such views challenged the widespread opinion as to the
influence of Nietzsche, and were critical of the substitution
model of secularization. More pervasive, perhaps was the fourth
theme of urbanization, when the very lack of opportunity for
religious contact, because of a lack of churches and pastors in
growing cities inspired new forms of religious observance less
dependent on the traditional parish in answer to a pervasive crisis
of faith.

In the fifth section, dealing with the post-1945 scene, this
crisis was obvious at the core of the noted theologian Dorothea
Soelle’s theological quest. Her attempt to close the gap between
atheism and God, and the political engagement that followed
from it, raised significant issues, such as whether secularization
is itself a product of Judeo-Christian principles; or whether
“Christian defensiveness” against elements of modernity has
played a substantive role in twentieth-century European
antisemitism. A more focussed paper on the German Catholic
Church during the 1960s attributed its decline not to the usual
suspects, but more to the collapse of the “integralist” Catholic
milieu after the war. As German Catholics were successfully
integrated into the cultural and political mainstream, its separate
structures no longer seemed relevant.

Where does this leave the concept of secularization now?
Although the conference participants had many questions, few
were prepared to relegate the notion to the dustbin of outdated
theories. But it should take account of the variety of religious
phenomena that take place outside the doors of the parish.
Furthermore, attention has to be paid to religious groups which
do not lend themselves to static narratives, and to the process by
which new communities are formed and stabilized. But all
agreed that pursuing the idea of the formation of religious
communities is a concept which deserves a more systematic and
thorough articulation.

2) The present situation in the Czech Republic.

A report from our
list-member, David Giesbrecht, recently visiting in Prague.
There are presently 10.2 million people in this country,
comprised of eight ethnic groups. Czechs are a relatively young
population with the median age being 38.4 years. They take some
pride that in recent history they have peacefully negotiated two
major political transitions: a “Velvet Revolution” ending
Communist rule in 1989; and a “Velvet Divorce” with the
partition of the country into two entities in 1993. Further in the
past decade the nation has learned with admirable dexterity to
build a market economy, run by a newly emerging set of leaders.

A Czech friend observed that upper management in business and
industry is disproportionately comprised of young leaders, since
those already at middle age have been so shaped by
authoritarianism that they find it difficult to take entrepreneurial
initiatives. Having now discovered relatively unfettered
capitalistic enterprise, Czechs are busy catching up on what has
for so long been withheld from them; and to an extent probably
doing so at the expense of spiritual reflection.

Given their turbulent history, it is not surprising that many
Czechs harbour a suspicion bordering on disdain towards the
institutional church. Two Czech writers, Petr Fiala and Jan Hanus
in a 2001 British publication, The Month, cite several studies
indicating that this nation “belongs among the least religious
countries in Europe”. In contrast to other East European
countries, occupied and controlled by the Soviet Union after
1945, Czechs exhibit “an unusually high degree of both
secularization and what can be called atheisation”. This latter
coinage is interesting, suggesting widespread denial of belief.
Several scholarly studies, indeed, indicate that 70% of Czechs
profess no religion at all. The 2002 CIA World Fact Book, on the
other hand, states that 39.8% of the population professes to be
atheist, 39.2% Roman Catholic and the rest a smattering of
Evangelical, Orthodox and that often undefined group “other”.
By contrast, 95% of Poles and 73% of Slovaks declare
themselves to be Roman Catholic.

An informative Internet document “The Czech Spiritual
Landscape in the Post-Communist Era” states that approximately
500,000 people, representing 5% of the population, attend Mass
regularly. The modern day Hussite Church, which has morphed
in several ways since its birth in the early twentieth century,
claims a membership of several hundred thousand, followed by
Lutherans with 50,000 and Orthodox with 20,000 members.
Evangelical churches (Baptist, Moravians, Brethren Church)
constitute one half of one per cent with some 50,000 members in
all. But there are reports that the Baptists are growing rapidly
and adding three new churches a year.

Within this milieu is a small Jewish community. A 1939
statistic indicted there were then 50,000 Jews living in Prague.
By the end of the war, and post-war emigration, only a few
hundred were left. Today that number is again increasing, with a
population now estimated at 7,000. Rather prominently, six
synagogues dominate the small Jewish quarter of this city,
suggesting a considerable socio-cultural if not spiritual revival.
One of these structures, the gorgeous Spanish Synagogue, also
contributes an elegant architectural monument to this already
beautiful city.

The degree to which ordinary Czechs appear to be
alienated from the church is intriguing. Some observers suggest
that the widespread religious disinterest can be attributed to the
Catholic Church itself. The nefarious martyrdom of Jan Hus on
July 6th, 1415 has not been forgotten. And the subsequent
success of the Catholics in expunging Hussitism created a lasting
rift. “It was a religious struggle between Hussites and the Roman
Catholic Church, a national struggle between Czechs and
Germans, and a social struggle between the landed and peasant
classes”. (Fiala and Hanus). Later with the conquests of the
Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Catholic Church aligned itself
closely with the state, forming a alliance with central Europe’s
strongest power. But this affiliation led to the Czech
intelligentsia’s alienation which then declared itself openly to be
“anti-Church and anti-Catholic”. The forcible occupation of the
country by Nazi forces in 1939, and the equally oppressive
Communist takeover a decade later, hardly provided fertile
ground for the cultivation of a Christian spirituality. Increasingly
the stance of Czechs toward religion became a private matter and
not one that merited public advocacy or discussion. Indeed
some Czechs profess that they make little distinction between
Communist compulsion and Catholic coercion. Both are
therefore censured by locals.

There appears to be a widespread perception that these
entrenched anticlericalism and antichurch sentiments were
carried over even after Communism was overthrown. Indeed, it is
interesting that this decline of trust in the church seems to have
accelerated since Communism’s collapse, precisely at a time
when one might have anticipated an increased return to church
allegiance, on the grounds of its having been a focus of
opposition to Communist hegemony. According to Tomas Halik,
a philosophy professor at Charles University, the Church had a
brief opportunity to exert influence in the country following the
Velvet revolution but “failed because it was unable to hold its
ranks together and its words were not followed by sufficiently
tangible and credible actions”. In addition, the well-publicized
attempts of the Catholic Church’s leaders to regain control of its
confiscated properties seem to have engrossed all their attention.

As a result studies suggest that less than a quarter of the
population considers the Church authoritative or credible as a
source of moral guidance in political, social or family affairs.
Religious disenchantment has left its mark in another real
but perhaps less tangible way. A Czech citizen, Pavel Raus, in a
thoughtful analysis, notes that owing to a secular mindset, Czechs
rarely use religious language in ordinary discourse. For instance,
very few people will make comments about religious matters
such as prayer or faith. “Christian vocabulary is non-existent”
asserts Raus.

Several consequences flow out of such a deep spiritual
scepticism. Public interest groups which find religion irrelevant
or even offensive are putting pressure on government to limit the
influence of churches. Such negative perceptions have
undoubtedly hampered the Catholic Church’s recovery of its
property, prompting a spokesperson for the Czech Catholic
Bishops’ Conference to comment: “The resentments, prejudices
and lies they learned under Communist rule are still in the air
here”. Missionaries and Christian charities coming into this
country find it very difficult to proselytize, as for instance with
the attempts to launch a Christian radio ministry. Results in terms
of committed followers have been few. Some commentators
argue that the lack of a Christian spiritual moorage has resulted
in considerable social dysfunction, undermining especially family
stability. Compared to a group of 30 other European countries,
the divorce rate among Czechs was the third highest. So this
rather sweeping judgement would appear to have some statistical
backing. And whatever the cause, concern has been expressed
about the extent of “marital tension, economic pressure, problem
behaviour, depression and incidence of mental disorder”, which
may or may not be attributable to the evident consequences of
David Giesbrecht, Prague

3) Mark Roseman, The past in hiding, (Penguin, 2001), xiii +
577 pp. £18.99 hb, £9.99 pb.

(This review appeared first in Humanitas, the George Bell
Institute’s international ecumenical cultural review, available
from achandler@queens.ac.uk Although not directly in our
field, Roseman gives such an excellent picture of Nazi Germany
and its victims that I include this review here for your

In 1989 the English historian Mark Roseman received a
telephone call from the Ruhrland Museum in Essen. The museum
was beginning to put together an exhibition on life in the city
during the Second World War and had come across an article
written some five years before, by a woman who had been a
member of the Jewish community there. The author was
Marianne Ellenbogen, née Strauss, and she was now believed to
be living in Liverpool. Would Roseman be willing to read the
article and then to interview her?

Marianne Strauss had survived the war in what was
known in Germany as a ‘U Boat’. In short, she had lived secretly,
without papers and in constant danger, in the homes of
sympathizers, friends and allies in her own city and across the
country. The details of the story which Roseman now read
seemed to him so astonishing that he found himself at once
drawn into a succession of critical, even sceptical questions. The
two met soon after. This book is, in effect, the story of Roseman’s
own relationship with a woman he came to know, if briefly, at
the very end of her life. It is a work of detection inspired by the
myriad patterns and dissolving perspectives of her own memory
and the reflections of those who had known her and survived
with her. It is also the story told by the contents of a number of
heavy trunks, crammed with documents of all kinds, which were
found stowed away in her house after her death, a private archive
of extraordinary, even miraculous richness. As the author follows
a crowded path from Essen to Berlin and Düsseldorf and, after
the war, to England, he finds himself travelling across Germany
itself, but also to the United States, to Israel and even to South
America. Letters, meanwhile, pass between Canada, Australia,
the Czech Republic, France, Sweden and Poland. For in such a
way do the fragments of a single private life, caught in the vortex
of the Final Solution and the war itself, shatter again and disperse
across continents and oceans.

But then there are so many layers at work in this book,
and they interrelate so thickly – and often surprisingly. Roseman
excavates them with a dogged assiduity. In his preoccupation
with the truth of every detail there is nothing staid or hollow, for
in such things the life of Marianne Strauss – and that of a whole
people – lies. Accounts converge and diverge; holes yawn open
and then are filled, suddenly and astonishingly, with new light.
The fragility and also the power of the human memory is at once
tantalizing and painful. There is a good deal of awkwardness and
self-justification. Roseman places sources of one kind or another
alongside each other with a sharp critical eye for tensions and
contradictions, and they, in their turn, send him off in pursuit of
new forms of corroboration – sometimes official material,
sometimes new encounters.

This book brings to life, appallingly, the inexorable power
with which the policies of the National Socialist state bore down
on the private intricacies of personal life. Though they faced
threats and encroachments which grew increasingly severe and
dangerous, until 1943 Marianne Strauss’s family escaped
deportation because a number of officers in the Abwehr, the
counter-intelligence department of the German Wehrmacht,
decided to protect them. Here, though they could not have known
it, the family became a feature of a wider, ongoing contest
between the Abwehr itself, parts of which worked stubbornly to
save a number of Jewish families while pursuing their own plans
for resistance, and the Gestapo, which was doing its best to
eradicate every single German Jew. In a world of official papers
the Abwehr had the power to issue its own guarantees,
immunities, directives – but so did its critics, and still further
powers would be called upon to arbitrate between them.
Successive plans to emigrate came to nothing. Marianne’s
mother and father eventually confronted two local Gestapo
officials brandishing deportation orders at their door on 31
August 1943 (she escaped by slipping, literally, out of the door of
the house after exchanging a silent nod with her mother). They
would die several months later. Her fiancé, Ernst Krombach,
worked with a desperate courage to sustain some scheme of
orderly life under mounting pressure, even maintaining their
correspondence at risk to his life from the ghetto at Izbica before
losing his sight and disappearing to Sobibor with his parents. In
the letters which remain his own humanity acquires a luminous
worth, as he protects what he can in whatever ways are possible
to him, before he, too, is extinguished. In Marianne’s survival
rests, in a sense at least, his own too. For such letters as these
would surely otherwise have been lost in the maelstrom itself,
and yet here we have them and other relics, too: a single
photograph, an inscribed gold ring.

Once she had gone underground, Marianne Strauss was
hidden by members of a now hardly acknowledged Essen circle,
known as the Bund, the creation of two Berlin teachers, Artur and
Dore Jacobs. This was more of a circle of friends than an
organization, and one woman in it, Sonja Schreiber, took
Marianne Strauss under her wing, offering her hospitality,
sharing her food and keeping her out of trouble. Subsequently,
between October 1943 and February 1945, Marianne was
constantly in transit across Germany with a forged pass (another
gift from the Bund) travelling unobtrusively and sometimes
ingeniously. Some of her escapes were narrow indeed. The end
of the war found her in Düsseldorf, and safe.

Roseman is a modest and quiet – but determined –
presence in all this, patiently sifting and organizing his material;
confining himself to a few, sharp observations. He knows better
than to intrude, but he also knows when he is needed. A disputed
and dubious presence in the story, Christian Arras – possibly an
S.S. officer, perhaps a Wehrmacht officer – is for a while
suspended between an allegation of opportunism and the
possibility of startling altruism. For several months Arras
succeeded in bringing food parcels and letters into the Izbica
ghetto. But why? At first Roseman, too, shares the general
scepticism, but he is haunted by the sheer danger of these stealthy
enterprises. In time, Arras is vindicated; a genial, generous but
solitary figure, we glimpse him for the last time in another
source, haplessly turning up at the homes of Jewish families in
Essen, warning them of the realities of extermination, urging
them to escape, and – finding them suspicious and unmoved –
walking away from us all, shaking his head.

Roseman is never carried away by the emotional force of
what he has encountered. The book is, at every turn, a methodical
and restless pursuit of critical questions. Every participant is
placed with care in an environment of political contexts and
social currents. All the material is set down meticulously before
us and Roseman himself writes with a modest, even circumspect
style,placing himself entirely at the disposal of the subject. In
such ways is The past in hiding an eloquent exposition of the
historian’s craft. But it also offers an intricate evocation of the
human condition itself, as it emerges before our eyes on the
smallest and quietest scale, but also the greatest and the most
Andrew Chandler, Birmingham

4) Journal articles:

a) Hansjakob Stehle, Geheimes aus Bonn für
Moskau vom Vatikan in Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte,
Vol 51, no.2, April 2003. 263 ff

A highly interesting article by a veteran German journalist
concerns the activities of a former Vatican official who obtained
documents from the Vatican files and sold them secretly to the
Soviet Union, having earlier been in the pay of the American
OSS. Monsignor Edoardo Prettner-Cippico had a murky career
and was even defrocked, but somehow returned to favour and
exploited his colleagues in the Vatican bureaucracy to give him
interesting material, copies of which survived in his Nachlass.
Stehle has picked out the reports sent by the Nuncio in West
Germany for the period 1966-1971, of which he prints 18.
Whether the Soviets learned much of value is doubtful, but this
publication is helpful in opening up for the general reader
documents which will probably not become generally available
in Rome for at least another 70 years.

b) G.Wacker, Pearl Buck and the waning of the missionary
impulse, Church History, Vol 72, no.4, December 2003, p.852ff
Pearl Buck was the most famous American writer about
missions in China. Grant Wacker’s able description of the
development of her ideas shows how she began with highly
traditional evangelical notions of the superiority of the
missionary and the difficulty of the task dealing with the
depravity of the heathen masses amongst whom she lived. After
the first world war, however, she moved to a much more liberal
stance, began to doubt the truth of Christian supernaturalism,
advocated a humanitarian social gospel, and took a much more
positive view of Chinese culture. Although she left China in
1934, and repudiated her own past, she remained fascinated by
China, a fact which is clearly replicated in her large output of
books and which won her the Nobel prize for literature.

c) Jiwu Wang, Organized Protestant missions to Chinese
immigrants in Canada, 1885-1923, Journal of Ecclesiastical
History, Vol. 54, no 4, October 2003, p.671 ff

This sprightly article concentrates on British Columbia,
where the majority of Chinese immigrants to Canada were
brought, mainly for building railways But from the earliest days,
the European immigrant majority was totally hostile. The
Chinese were accepted only as necessary for labouring jobs, or
later on as laundrymen or domestic servants. Despite the overt
social prejudices, Methodists, Presbyterians and Anglicans tried
to establish missions to the Chinese communities. But their
success was minimal, not so much because of the lack of
resources or Chinese-speaking evangelists, as because of the
endemic anti-Chinese sentiment. Other clergymen, for example,
led the way in promoting anti-Oriental hostility, which
culminated in the ban on Chinese immigration in 1923. Lack of
mutual trust in the missionaries, who were seen as outsiders
trying to dictate conditions for survival to the Chinese, certainly
doomed the early hopes of large-scale conversions. And even
sympathetic Protestants maintained an attitude of racial
superiority towards Asians, which, in 1942, turned into outright
hostility against the Japanese-Canadians.

d) Frank Buscher, “The Great Fear. The Catholic Church and the
anticipated radicalization of expellees and refugees in post-war
Germany” in German History, Vol 21, no.2, 2003 p.204-24.

An analysis of the records of the Archdiocese of Cologne dealing
with church attitudes and policies towards refugees and expellees
in the immediate post-war period. Follows much the same line as
Ian Connor (Ulster) in earlier articles.


With every best wish for a happy Easter,
John Conway