October 2004 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia


Newsletter — October 2004— Vol. X, no. 10

Dear Friends,

It is with regret that we learn of the death on August 11th of Dr Robert Ross, formerly of the University of Minnesota, the author of the significant book “So it was true. The American Protestant Press and the Nazi Persecution of the Jews”, (1980) which ably showed that the church press in the United States had reported about these crimes very fully to a largely apathetic audience.


1) German Studies Association Conference, Oct. 7-10th, Washington, D.C.
2) Conference Report: Imshausen, Hessen, July 2004
3) Book reviews:

a) Gilbert, The Righteous; Benz, Uberleben im Dritten Reich
b) Weitensteiner, Catholic Parishes in Frankfurt

4) Journal articles.

a) O’Sullivan, Catholic Youth
b) Greschat, Protestant theologians on the wars
c) McDaniel and Pierard, Politics of appointments in Protestant Theological Faculties: E.Geldbach
d) Schneider, Oswald Spengler reception
e) Kracht, Fritz Fischer and German Protestantism
f) Ketola, Wartime Anglican visits to Scandinavia

1) The following sessions, which may be of interest to list-members, are being offered at the G.S.A. conference on October 7th-10th:
a) Session 44: The Dissolution of the Catholic Milieu, 1870-1960 (List-members: J.Zala, R.Sun,D.Hastings, M.Ruff).
b) Session 49: Religion and Politics- Churches and Politics in Germany,East and West (Marcus Meckel)
c) Session 154: German New Testament Research and Nazism
(G.Besier, G.Lindemann).

2) Conference Report: Die Oekumene und der Widerstand gegen Diktaturen, July 16 – 18th July 2004.

In 1986 a foundation was established to honour Adam von Trott, murdered by the Nazis because of his part in the plot to assassinate Hitler. Its director is now Joachim Garstecki, and its motto is “Remember the Past, Build the Future”. It is housed in Trott’s old family home at Imshausen, near Solz not far from Fulda in the rolling hills of Hessen. It is a pleasant and poignant environment, still intimately familial, but now also given over to public dialogue, debate, study and reflection. There are bedrooms for guests, each named after particular figures known to Adam von Trott himself, a well-stocked library, an elegant meeting hall, a subterranean chapel, and beautiful grounds. Nearby, a lay religious community, cordially linked to the house but separate from the foundation itself, lives in a further complex of buildings at the foot of the nearby hill. The purpose of Imshausen seems to be to clear the decks and to allow those who come to have an opportunity to reflect again with some quality of freedom and vision.

The purpose of this year’s gathering was in part to dedicate the guest house to the memory of Willem Visser’t Hooft, the first General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, and a plaque was accordingly unveiled on one of the outer walls. Many of the ‘t Hooft family were present, as were also many of the Trott family, including Adam’s widow Clarita.

Two services took place, on the first evening in the crypt chapel, and then at the open air chapel high on the hill beside the house on the Sunday morning, this service being taken by members of the community. We were given an opportunity to support the work of the Kreisau (Kryzowa) Foundation in Silesia, the former home of Trott’s close friends Helmuth and Freya von Moltke, which seeks to build the future on the basis left by independent thinkers in Nazi Germany. Guests who remained at Imshausen for the sixtieth anniversary of the 20 July 1944 plot returned to this site to find themselves in a congregation of at least 150 local people, for whom this anniversary is a annual observance.

The first day of the conference was committed to the Ecumenical Movement and Resistance in the National Socialist era, and was chaired by Otto von der Gablentz. Konrad Raiser, now retired as one of Visser ‘t Hooft’s successors as General Secretary of the W.C.C., discussed the development of the ecumenical movement itself in the context of National Socialism and total war, tracing connecting lines between historical developments and theological perspectives (and lessons). Andrew Chandler from Birmingham outlined the reputation of Bishop George Bell of Chichester as a ‘patron’ of resistance, with particular reference to his private diplomacy with the British Foreign Office and his public discussions with the virulently anti-German Lord Vansittart. Rolf-Ulrich Kunze from Karlsruhe discussed the work of Visser ‘t Hooft himself, placing his connections with resistance in Gemany and in the Netherlands within an overarching internationalism. Bjorn Ryman from Uppsala explored, on the basis of archival sources held in Sweden, the impact of the group of theologians who worked at Sigtuna and traced their relationship with resistance outside Sweden’s own borders, in both Germany and Norway. Jurgen Zeilstra from Hilversum gave an overview of ‘European unity in ecumenical thought in the period 1937-1948’. This was followed by a detailed reflection by Andreas Schott from Hamburg on Adam von Trott’s own European thinking. In the evening, Keith Clements, General Secretary of the Conference of European Churches, from Geneva discussed the extent to which Bonhoeffer’s resistance may be understood – if at all – as an expression of his ecumenism.

On the second day the conference was chaired by Joachim Garstecki and turned towards ecumenism and ‘anderen Diktaturen’, though what was now clearly in view was the East Germany of the Cold War. Now the talks were more often given by those who had themselves participated in the drama itself, and this produced a quite different dynamic. John Arnold from Canterbury, and Paul Oestreicher (whose name it is still hard to disconnect from Coventry, but who now comes from Brighton) discussed their own experiences and perceptions of the various imperatives which had fashioned their work. Katherina Kunter from Aarhus, who is one of the most important new voices to emerge from a maturing academic commitment to the history of religion in the Cold War, introduced her own incisive perspectives on this topic, before Laurence Hogebrink from Amsterdam reflected on lessons learnt, or not learnt.

One of the attractive features of this Imshausen conference was the fact that local pople attended individual sessions and participated freeely and generously in many different ways. In an age when academics are more than ever found to be talking only to each other, this imparted not only a sense of context for those of us who had come as guests, but ensured that the affairs of the weekend lived and worked in something better than an academic parallel universe. The conference was reported at length in the pages of the local newspaper.

There are plans for the publication of all the papers in Germany, edited by Benigna von Krusenstjern of the Max Planck Institute, Göttingen. In the meanwhile, three of these contributions will be published in the next number of the journal Humanitas: the Journal of the George Bell Institute.

Andrew Chandler, Birmingham, U.K.
3a) Martin Gilbert, The Righteous. The unsung Heroes of the Holocaust. Toronto: Key Porter Books 2003 529 pp ISBN 1-55263-512-0
ed. W. Benz, Überleben im Dritten Reich, Munich: Beck Verlag 2003. 350 pp ISBN 3 406 51029 9

Sir Martin Gilbert has added to his immensely impressive list of publications with this latest popular, but well-researched, study of a rather neglected aspect of Holocaust history: how Gentiles and non-Jews saved Jews from the persecution and annihilation launched by the Nazis during the second world war. This story has already been told earlier by the Israeli Mordecai Paldiel, and, for the Christian rescuers, by David Gushee, but Gilbert’s skillful presentation will undoubtedly reach a wider audience.

This topic is controversial, since many of the Holocaust Jewish survivors are very conscious that so little was done by their non-Jewish neighbours or fellow citizens to protect them in their hour of danger. Nevertheless Gilbert is convinced that, even if such rescue efforts were far too few, they should be suitably acknowledged and gratitude expressed to the individuals who risked their own lives in such a cause.
This is the view consistently practised by the official Israeli Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem, which has devoted great energies in preserving the records of such rescuers, has granted them collectively the title of “the Righteous among the Nations” or “Righteous Gentiles”, and has planted a tree with a suitably named plaque for each rescuer along the avenue leading to the museum. Gilbert’s accounts are largely drawn from Yad Vashem’s archival holdings, though supplemented by his own researches and personal interviews.

His stance towards these unsung heroes of the Holocaust is highly positive, and has thus led him to refute the sweeping generalizations of such writers as Daniel Goldhagen. In his view, given the undoubted horrors of the mass murders, every act of rescue was remarkable, and deserves to be widely known. He also seeks to use these examples as a means of fostering a warmer relationship between Jews and non-Jews.
On the other hand, while praising the courageous initiatives of these individuals, Gilbert does not seek to exonerate the major institutions, such as the Christian churches, which so dismally failed to give a lead, or to support, these singular efforts on behalf of the Nazis’ victims.
Gilbert divides his material country by country, which enables him to provide useful examples of the settings in which the Nazi anti-Jewish campaigns took place, the extent to which the national authorities abetted or resisted these plans, and the responses of the local population. Needless to say, Gilbert’s survey has to be selective. Yad Vashem has already acknowledged nearly 20,000 persons as Righteous Gentiles, but, as Gilbert makes clear, the courageous acts of many more will never be known. So he can only provide examples to show the generosity of heart which could lead to such unparalleled altruism.

There were, however, many ambivalences in such situations, which Gilbert often overlooks. The rescuers had many and mixed motives for assisting Jews. Some were born-again Christians, others were moved simply by humanitarian sympathies, others acted on the spur of the moment when they saw a need and fulfilled it. Gilbert does not attempt to produce any overarching theory, but claims that collectively their behaviour made them all heroic.

Few of these rescuers have written about their rescue activities. Most, like the Protestant parishioners in the southern French village of Le Chambon, or the Catholic nuns in Poland, regarded their behaviour as the only decent thing to do. It is only in the testimonies of the Jewish survivors that the abnormality and bravery of these individuals comes to life. Inevitably Glbert’s narratives share this viewpoint and at times become somewhat repetitious. But he is clearly aware of the danger that certain well-known rescuers, like Oskar Schindler or Raoul Wallenberg, might loom larger than life, so he balances their achievements along with similar cases, being meticulous in giving names, dates and places.

Since Gilbert was so dependent on the records assembled at Yad Vashem, it was perhaps inevitable that he accepts their criteria for who was a Righteous Gentile. Yad Vashem has never recognized the efforts of non-Jewish spouses in saving their partners, nor those of any person paid to rescue Jews, nor the work of groups or networks of rescuers. Thus individual Mother Superiors are frequently mentioned, but we hear little about the work of their nuns. Furthermore, Yad Vashem has been notably sticky about acknowledging anyone connected with the German Resistance movement as “righteous”. They refused to grant this favour to the martyred German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was certainly involved in a successful plot to smuggle 14 Jews out of Germany. As a result Gilbert makes no mention of his name.
But even with these limitations, Gilbert’s narrative account is both heart-warming and heart-rending. His detailed record of what these Righteous Gentiles achieved has to be matched with regret that not more of them were ready to act in this heroic mould. But his comprehensive selection does serve to show that, from one end of the Nazi empire to the other, Righteous Gentiles were to be found, who rejected the dominant and vicious propaganda and upheld an alternative standard of values.

Gilbert avoids analytical comparisons between the various societies in favour of concentrating on the acts of heroic individuals. But the cumulative effect and the plethora of detailed case studies he provides allows the reader to make his or her own overall conclusions. Gilbert has also found a number of illuminating photographs, and has supplied useful maps, as is his wont. The bibliography is particularly helpful.
As Gilbert states: ” Recognition and remembrance continue into the twenty-first century, even as the number of those rescued, and the number of surviving rescuers, declines”. These stories, he affirms, should not be regarded merely as footnotes to the past, but as lanterns for all humanity. Nor is this legacy to be confined just to one ethnic group. Rather, when the challenge is greatest and the dangers most pressing, each of us, Gilbert believes, has to ask: “Could I have acted like this, in the circumstances would I have tried to, would I have wanted to?”
A similar theme runs throughout the collection of essays edited by the Director of Berlin’s Centre for Antisemitism Research, Wolfgang Benz. Most of the stories relating to how survivors managed to hide from their persecutors, or were assisted to do so by “righteous Gentiles” are set in Berlin, where the largest number of German Jews found some form of refuge. The contributors also make good use of the files of the office subsequently set up in West Berlin to honour the “unsung heroes and heroines” of those days. Again even on this more limited scale, the motives of the rescuers were so varied as to defy categorization. Each individual story is a remarkable feat, and luckily even now such valiant behaviour is being recognized both in Berlin and in Jerusalem. Remarkably, no mention is made of the now well-known but controversial protest in Berlin’s Rosenstrasse when several hundred non-Jewish wives gathered to demand the release of their husbands – the only known protest action of this kind to be successful.

3b) Hans K.Weitensteiner, ‘Warum denn wir, immer wir . . . ? War dieser Stadt Frankfurt schuldiger als London?’
Katholische Gemeindeleben im Dritten Reich und während der ersten Nachkriegsjahre 1932-1950. Dokumente und Darstellung.
Frankfurt/Main: Haag + Herchen 2002 230 pp.

Local accounts of the struggles between the Nazis and the churches at the parish level can add useful details, even though the main outlines of the campaigns, both offensive and defensive, are well known. Most of these descriptions come from Protestant parishes, so it is a welcome addition to have this useful account of a Catholic dual-parish in a Frankfurt suburb. The priest, Fr Rudolphi, served there for more than twenty years during the whole Nazi period and beyond and most fortunately compiled a Parish Chronicle of some thousand pages in which he recorded all the main parish events, and added his own commentaries on the wider political scene, as well as some of his contemporary sermons and his personal reflections. All these were used by a school-teacher parishioner, Hans Weitensteiner, to provide an excellent portrait of this Catholic milieu.

Fr. Rudolphi was born just after the end of Bismarck’s Kulturkampf, when German Catholics were fervently eager to demonstrate that they could be as loyal to the new state as their Protestant counterparts. His military service in the first world war only reinforced this ardent nationalism. Like so many others, he returned disillusioned by defeat, outraged at the iniquitous Versailles Treaty, alarmed by the dangers of Bolshevism and eager to see Germany’s reputation restored. It is not surprising that his initial reaction to the rise of Nazism was favourable.
The Catholics’ hopes that the 1933 Concordat would enhance their position in society were dashed on the rock of Nazi radicalism and intransigence. But for Fr. Rudolphi and so many of his flock, the Nazis’ true ambitions were obscured by their wishful thinking that they could simultaneously pledge support to their church and to the new political regime Only very reluctantly and very late did they realize the incompatibility of these divergent loyalties.

Fr. Rudolphi was an assiduous pastor. He had two new churches built, looked after his parishioners, especially after 1939, remained in contact with serving soldiers and evacuated families, and deplored the disasters brought on by the war’s events. His sympathies for the Frankfurt citizens bombed out in the devastating air raids were certainly genuine, and led to the frustrated question asked in the book’s title. But throughout he remained a staunch German nationalist. The sufferings of others, such as the Jews, gypsies, Poles or Russians were hardly mentioned. But the comments he jotted down of his own and his parishioners’ reactions in those traumatic years are interesting as a contemporary record.
It is noteworthy that, despite his strong nationalist feelings, Fr. Rudolphi did not succumb to the Nazi antisemitic propaganda, or allow this poison to be repeated in his parish. But there is no record of any more active measures to support the Nazis’ victims. Even after the war, he was reluctant to believe the evidence of the concentration camps, or the extent of Nazi crimes. In this he was not alone. And the Catholics’ sense of duty to support established authority prevented them from encouraging any idea of resistance to the Nazi state, even after their own first-hand evidence of the Gestapo’s ruthless high-handedness. In Weitensteiner’s view, it was just this blending of Catholic mythology and Germanic nationalist ideology which made German Catholics so susceptible to the Nazi allurements. Fr. Rudolphi, the conscientious priest and devoted nationalist, may be seen as typical. Hence the value of this memoir of his parish and his political positions.


4a) Michael O’Sullivan, An Eroding Milieu? Catholic Youth, Church Authority and Popular Behaviour in North-West Germany during the Third Reich, 1933-1938 in Catholic Historical Review, Vol. 90. no 2, April 2004, pp.236ff.

Part of his work in progress on the Catholic response to the Nazi challenges, especially amongst youth.
b) Martin Greschat, Begleitung und Deutung der beiden Weltkriege durch evangelische Theologen in Erster Weltkrieg: Zweiter Weltkrieg. Ein Vergleich, ed. B. Thoss and H-E Volkmann, Paderborn: Schöningh 2002, pp 497-518.
Very well worth exploring these comparisons

c) C.McDaniel and R.V.Pierard, The Politics of Appointments in Protestant Theological Faculties in Germany: the case of Professor Erch Geldbach in Journal of Church and State, Vol. 46, no 1, Winter 2004 pp 55-82. An interesting analysis of the (mis)fortunes of one of our own list members at the hands of a stiff unyielding church bureaucracy in very recent years.

d) Jörg Schneider, Oswald Spengler’s ‘Der Untergang des Abendlandes’ in Journal for the History of Modern Theology, ol. 10, no 2, 2003, p.196-223.

This essay concentrates on the reception of Oswald Spengler’s book by Protestant theologians in the early 1920s, who were more susceptible to Spengler’s influence than were philosophers. Just after the first world war, for example, Werner Elert, Karl Heim and Ernst Troeltsch – not to mention Emanuel Hirsch, Friedrich Gogarten and others – had to cope with the deeply interconnected crises in faith, church, theology and nation. Spengler’s ideas of cycles in history seemed to help their understanding of Germany’s 1918 defeat, not as due to military exhaustion but to a sort of divine destiny. But it also gave hope that this destiny would help to overcome the crisis. These scholars drew on certain aspects of Spengler’s thinking to establish their theory of Christianity. However the influence of Spengler vanished soon enough. As a result the story of his reception is an example of the struggle to locate Christianity within post-first world war German society.

e) Klaus G.Kracht, Fritz Fischer und der deutsche Protestantismus in Journal for the History of Modern Theology, Vol. 10, no. 2, 2003, pp. 224-252.

The Fischer controversy of the early 1960s broke the widespread view among the German elite of their nation’s innocence for the outbreak of the first world war, and by implication their justification of the second. Instead, Fischer argued, the German leaders had actively sought opportunities to launch a crusade for imperial expansion.

As a young man, Fischer had joined the Nazi Party, but after a lengthy term of post-1945 incarceration, began his career as professor of history at Hamburg University. He was moved to oppose those who blamed the rise of Nazism on either the mob psychology of the easily moved masses, or on the spellbinding – and hence – demonized – character of the Nazi leaders and on their capacity for political manipulation.
Rather Fischer concentrated his fire on the unfortunate teachings of Lutheranism to blindly obey political authorities. This had led to the abandonment of the ideas of freedom or resistance. Only Calvinists had upheld these views. Ernst Troeltsch was the only theologian to support them after 1919. Instead a vast majority of Lutherans allowed themselves to be misled into regarding Hitler as a great leader and legitimate authority.

Fischer’s criticism of the tradional Lutheran-Protestant view of the state aroused enormous waves of opposition, but on the other hand his conclusions about the mistakes of the German leaders in 1914 received great support, especially amongst the young. His crucial point that Protestants had allowed their religious loyalties to be subordinated to their nationalist ambitions is now hardly deniable. This moral point of view was, however, largely lost to view by those who concentrated more on the details of the July crisis and its consequences.

f) Hanna-Maija Ketola, Teaching ‘Correct’ Attitudes: an Anglican emissary to Sweden and Finland in 1944 in Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 55, no 1, January 2004, p. 75ff

Drawing on the journals and reports of Rev. Herbert Waddams, an ordained official of the British Ministry of Information’s Religions division, this article describes the British efforts to influence church opinion in these Scandinavian countries. Contacts with Sweden had continued throughout the war, notably through Bishop George Bell. But Finland had only just signed a peace treaty (mainly with the Soviet Union) and so Waddams was sent to try to induce ‘correct’ attitudes in future relations, especially towards Britain’s Soviet ally. The Swedes were an important link to European Lutherans and should be persuaded that Britain’s objectives in the post-war settlement would be beneficent.
Waddams’ pro-Soviet stance met with some hostility in Swedish church circles and even more in Finland. But Anglo-Scandinavian relations were a more promising field. The Finns he found to be rather parochial and narrow-minded, but the Swedes could lay a larger ecumenical role. Despite his over-optimistic assessment of Soviet religious policy, Waddams went on to become general secretary of the Church of England Council on Foreign Relations in 1945.

With best wishes to you all,
John Conway