December 2004 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia


Newsletter — December 2004— Vol. X, no. 12

Dear Friends,
A Prayer for the Christmas Season

Living God,
Through your incarnation you fill us with new hope.
which we have known in word and sacrament,
in the life of the church,
and in the witness of saints and martyrs
May the power of your love,
continue your saving work among us,
and bring us to the joy you promise for all your holy creation.


1) Book Reviews: a) Krieg, Catholic Theologians in Nazi Germany
2) H-German debate: The Rosenstrasse film
3) Journal articles:

a) Lawson, The Anglican Understanding of Nazism
b) Ederer, Propaganda wars
c) articles in Religion,State and Society, June 2004

4) Conference report: Hastings, Munich Catholics in the 1920s
5) Book notes: Simon Phipps: A Portrait
6) Research in progress: Slater, John Nelson Darby
1a) Robert A.Krieg, Catholic Theologians in Nazi Germany, New York/London: Continuum 2004. ix + 234 pp.
ISBN 0-5264-1576-8.

Professor Robert Krieg of Notre Dame University, Indiana, has given us a valuable addition to the English-language studies of German Catholicism during the Third Reich. Together with the work of some younger scholars, such as Kevin Spicer, Mark Ruff, Derek Hastings and Oded Heilbronner, we now have a much more balanced picture than in Gunter Lewy’s initial survey forty years ago. And in contrast to many of the German-language accounts, Krieg has the merit of both clarity and brevity. This will be an excellent work for undergraduates.

These studies have all begun with the inherent question: why did the Catholic Church not forestall or resist more forcefully the tide of Nazi totalitarianism? Or put more sceptically, why did the Church compromise and capitulate so fatefully to the Nazi menace?

Krieg’s answer looks carefully both at the history of the Catholic milieu, and at the theological leaders, five of whom he examines at greater length, while placing them very ably in their context. He points out that German Catholicism was in a unique situation, and, as others have already done, he stresses as major factors the lasting impact of Bismarck’s Kulturkampf, and the hierarchy’s search for stability and security thereafter. At the same time, he shows that the prevailing trend in Catholic theological teaching concentrated on the somewhat abstract ideas of Thomas Aquinas, and seemed to give little guidance to the faithful for their political stance in everyday politics. Krieg could possibly have made more of the impact of the loss of the first world war, which in the 1920s disconcerted both Catholics and Protestants alike, resulting in confused and conflicting responses to the challenge of the secular world.

Three of the five theologians whom Krieg analyses, Eschweiler, Lortz and Adam, achieved later notoriety for their open support for the new Nazi regime, at least to begin with. Together with lesser-known figures whom Krieg discusses, their motives were extremely varied. In fact, as he points out, none of these men can be seen as representative of the whole Catholic milieu. Despite the prestige of these professors, their affirmations were matched by the opposing views held by their colleagues and bishops. Karl Eschweiler would seem to have been a firm authoritarian. Hitler’s leadership against modernity and especially against the Bolshevik danger was the main attraction. Joseph Lortz however had a much grander vision. He looked for the renewal of Western civilization, whereby Hitler’s political energies could be united with Catholic spirituality. Such co-operation, as Mussolini had shown, could be beneficial in rebuilding a spiritually vibrant society along organic lines. It was, as Victor Conzemius pointed out, “idealism separated from reality”.

To be fair, Lortz soon enough began to recognize that the Nazi movement contained other and more dangerous elements. His subsequent withdrawal was sufficient to enable him to resume a long and fruitful academic career after the war.

The most noteworthy of these scholars was Karl Adam, professor of systematic theology at Tübingen University, who already in the 1920s had gained a world-wide audience, and indeed may be considered one of the most creative theologians of the early twentieth century. But, in Krieg’s view, he was also most naive in his assessment of National Socialism. As a result, in 1933, he enthusiastically endorsed Hitler’s new regime, believing that here was a leader of messianic capabilities, who would rebuild the national community and revive Catholicism in the process. To his credit, he
recognized the need for a new start, and the spiritual hunger caused by the confusions and uncertainties of political affairs. He agreed with Lortz and Oswald Spengler that the West was suffering a spiritual and cultural breakdown. His answer was to reject the corrosive influences of modernity and individualism, and return to the authority of the church. Faith and culture should find a new synthesis.

Karl Adam saw himself as a mediator between the church and the Nazi state. This led him to approve the Nazis’ antisemitic policies because each nation has a duty to strengthen its racial identity. But Catholics should relate to individual Jews with justice and love. In Krieg’s view, Adam’s fault lay in not recognizing that Nazism’s goals were incompatible with Christianity, despite overlapping terminologies.
But there were others. Romano Guardini was professor of theology in Berlin until dismissed by the Nazis in 1939. He early on recognized the “barbaric” character of the movement and wrote books implicitly criticizing the Nazi manipulation of the public through their invasive propaganda. But Guardini’s upholding of Christian tradition was muted during the war and only flourished afterwards in rebuilding the Bonn republic on good Christian lines.

A lesser-known figure was the Freiburg dogmatic theologian, Engelbert Krebs, whose broader vision of the church’s mission separated him from those colleagues searching for a political leader who would somehow restore Christendom. Krebs was singular in writing and speaking in favour of Judaism, and thus challenged both the Nazis’ antisemitism and the church’s theological anti-Judaism. But he paid the price of being removed from his professorship in 1937. Like Guardini he was silenced for the rest of the Nazi era.

The variety of these theologians’ responses to the Nazi regime reflected views prevalent throughout German Catholicism. The leading bishops sought to preserve its institutional autonomy, and on the whole succeeded. The result was an absence of any strong prophetic witness on behalf of the suffering and oppressed. Catholics had not been armed by their theologians with the moral fervour or compelling arguments which would have been required for such a stance. None of the German bishops or theologians supported an overthrow of the regime, even when its tyranny became clear. But the limited ecclesiology they espoused did inoculate them against Nazi infiltration or subversion. Their passive resistance saved the pastoral life and ensured institutional survival. However, as Krieg notes, their moral authority was eroded by their silence over Nazi atrocities. Subsequent commentators have rightly criticized this model for the church, and the failure to equip the laity for a more active role in defending freedom and justice.
Krieg is ready to acknowledge the inadequacy of the Catholic ecclesiology adopted during the Nazi era, and blames the popes and theologians who suppressed any more relevant stance. Indeed he goes so far as to affirm that the majority of theologians of the 1920s and 1930s failed to understand the real consequences of the first world war. Not until after the Nazi onslaught did younger theologians like Karl Rahner begin to forge a newer more appropriate response to the secular challenges of political radicalism and modernity. It was only then that the lessons of the church’s struggles with Hitler were learnt.


2) H-German debate: Rosenstrasse

The recently released film Rosenstrasse, made by the veteran German filmmaker Margarethe von Trotha, describes the events which took place in early 1943 in a shabby back street in east Berlin. The Gestapo summoned to a dilapidated Jewish community centre there nearly two thousand Jewish men, who had not been included in the earlier round-ups and deportations to death camps. They and their wives, most of whom were not Jewish, were of course terrified. But on this occasion, these wives, partners in what the Nazis called “Mischehen” (mixed marriages), took action to protest their husbands’ detention. For several days they organized a clamorous stand-off outside the building, even though the guards were armed and menacing. At the end of a week, the husbands were released and sent home.

This film is based largely on the book by Nathan Stoltzfus of Florida State University, – Resistance of the Heart. Intermarriage and the Rosenstrasse protest in Nazi Germany (1996). His interpretation makes a heroic tale out of these womens’ defiance of the mobilized might of the Gestapo. He claims that this singular demonstration of public protest on behalf of the victimized Jews was a success in preventing the Nazis from sending these men to their deaths in Auschwitz. The Nazi hierarchy was forced to recognize the likely consequences if they violated the feelings of the majority of non-Jews, especially those with connections to the Christian churches. The courage of these valiant, but mostly unknown, women is therefore to be celebrated and honoured. The Rosenstrasse protest could have set an precedent if only its message could have been heard and the example followed elsewhere.
This interpretation has however been challenged by a noted German historian, Wolf Gruner, most recently on H-German, 14 September 2004. In Gruner’s opinion, there was never any question of this particular group of Jewish partners in these “mixed marriages” being deported. Heroic as the women’s’ behaviour undoubtedly was, it should not be seen as a victory for popular protest, let alone a sign that the Nazi totalitarian grip could be successfully challenged.

Gruner bases his case on a close reading of numerous Gestapo documents. For example, he quotes a circular from the Reichssicherheitshauptamt issued on 20 February 1943, i.e. a few days before these men were ordered to appear in the Rosenstrasse, which specifically excluded Jews living in mixed marriages from any further deportation measures. The same exemption was ordered a month earlier in January by Eichmann personally for Jews in France. To be sure, these moves were all part of a monstrous and grandiose campaign to get rid of all other Jews as soon as possible.
Gruner pertinently points out that, had the Gestapo really intended to deport these men, they would have been told to report to some much less accessible railway station – as had happened to earlier contingents of such victims. Nor would some have been released even before the women mounted their watchful protest. Gruner suggests that this group of men was called in for more pragmatic reasons. The Gestapo wanted to find out which of them could be employed to fill the vacancies in various institutions and firms, left open by the deportation of the “full Jews”. These men were repeatedly interrogated about their qualifications, especially if they were fitted to work, for example, in a Jewish hospital. In the end, some 200 were told to report for employment as replacements for “full Jews” ruthlessly deported to Theresienstadt in mid-March.

At the same time the Gestapo could do a double-check on these men’s actual marital status and weed out impostors.
Far from the Rosenstrasse episode leading to any amelioration in Nazi policy, the evidence is that the ferocity of their antisemitic campaign was stepped up. Rumours had been circulating that the Nazi leaders planned to pass a law compulsorily “divorcing” all Jews from their non-Jewish spouses – hence enabling their deportation without repercussions in the civilian population. Not surprisingly this proposal aroused vigorous opposition amongst the churches. Cardinal Bertram, the Presiding Catholic bishop, made it clear to the government in November 1942 that any such move would endanger the whole structure of matrimony and the family, and would be morally disastrous. Millions of Germans would be involved – and that was certainly a factor the Nazis did not want to risk at that juncture of the war. The measure was not implemented, but the threat remained.

One of the most determined activists for justice for the oppressed Jews , not only for those converted to Christianity, was Margarethe Sommer, who worked for the Catholic Bishop of Berlin, von Preysing. She has rightly earned a place of honour in the tributes paid to her later, most recently by Michael Phayer. She resolutely compiled information about the Nazis’ attacks on the Jews, and regularly sought to get Cardinal Bertram’s intervention on their behalf. Equally regularly, the Cardinal refused, and in the end forbade her to visit him in Breslau with her importunate petitions.
In the case of the earlier deportations, Margarethe Sommer had diligently prepared lists of the Catholic families affected, organized local parish workers to visit where possible, and if needed helped to make preparations and packing for those who would not likely return. So she was ready to do the same for those summoned to the Rosenstrasse. On 2 March she again traveled to Breslau to call for energetic steps to be taken. She asked for a national declaration by the Catholic bishops to be issued on the following Sunday, 7 March, and recommended that the Pope be requested to send out a pastoral letter over the Vatican radio.

Despite the fact that her advice was not adopted by her superiors in the Catholic hierarchy, she could still draw the conclusion that the vigorous protests that were made, not only by the wives on the spot, but also by their supporters elsewhere, were effective in securing these men’s release. She recorded this opinion in a memorandum to the German bishops in August 1943, later published in the large-scale documentation of the German Catholic bishops’ papers, produced in the 1980s.

Another valiant fighter in the same cause was Gertrud Luckner of Freiburg, whose tireless efforts on behalf of Catholic Jewish families led her to travel across Germany contacting, warning, encouraging, inspiring, sympathizing and helping where she could. But she too was chased down by the Gestapo and shortly after the Rosenstrasse incident was sent to Ravensbrück where she remained until 1945. But her hope that her fate and that of those she sought to protect would arouse the general Catholic population to make vigorous and vocal protests against their rulers’ injustices was to be disappointed. For the majority of German Catholics, including their Presiding Bishop, the Jews lay outside their circle of obligation. The churches’ record of lack of support for the persecuted Jews remains a shocking and regrettable failure.


3) Journal articles:

a) Tom Lawson’s article on “The Anglican Understanding of Nazism 1933-1945: Placing the Church of England’s Response to the Holocaust in Context” in Twentieth Century British History, Vol 14, No.2, 2003, pp.112-37 deals in fact only with the leading personalities of the Church of England. The rest of the world-wide Anglican communion is ignored. And Lawson’s purpose is more narrowly to take issue with the generally favourable opinion expressed by such reputable historians as Sir Ian Kershaw, Richard Gutteridge, Andrew Chandler, R.C.D.Jasper and Marcus Braybrooke, as to the extent to which the Church of England was aware of and took steps to protest the Nazi persecution of the Jews.
He claims instead that these church leaders failed to recognize the centrality of the Nazis’ campaign to eradicate Judaism, and so interpreted its antisemitic atrocities as significant only as a sign of its totalitarian character. He seeks to explain this failure as resulting from both theological and social factors, even though some of these would seem to be mutually exclusive.

Lawson knows well enough, and has researched thoroughly enough, to realize that the Church of England contained – and contains – a very broad range of opinions which make his generalizations suspect. Nevertheless he asserts that the Church of England’s response to Nazism was far too churchly, arousing sympathy for all those persecuted by the Nazis, to be sure, but stressing particularly such well-known church cases as Pastor Martin Niemöller. These were all seen as the victims of totalitarianism. After 1939, the war was to be waged to overcome this ideological and political threat to Christian civilization. Such an interpretation, he claims, obscured the Nazi persecution of the Jews, which could not be interpreted with any consistency of purpose as important for its own sake.

Thus he ignores the fact that the only two public letters of protest which the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lang, wrote about internal German affairs between 1933 and Sept 1939 were not about the Christians or the Socialists or pacifists, but the Jews. And here he did not mean ‘Non-Aryan Christians’ but Jews altogether. So too Lawson is led to downplay the notable proclamations by Lang’s successor, Archbishop William Temple, and by the united bishops of England and Wales, who in January 1943 published a collective statement of protest at both the Nazi persecution of the Jews, and at their government’s refusal to accommodate more refugees.

Lawson is led on to suggest that these utterances made only a superficial change in Anglican attitudes. The British government’s refusal to listen led to an abandonment of church protests, and so, Lawson asserts, to a lack of lasting understanding of the real nature of Nazism.
Indeed, he believes, these church leaders were increasingly preoccupied with the need for post-war reconstruction, including the “re-Christianization of Europe”, in order to guard against the rebirth of Nazism. In his view, such a post-war world would not have been one in which a Jew could safely be a Jew.

Tom Lawson evidently belongs to that group of historians – especially Holocaust historians – who are busy rewriting history as it should have happened. By indulging their wishful thinking in large measure, they can impose their own interpretation on what was said and done, or not said and done, and thus chide their elders severely for their presumed failures. At the same time, there is considerable grinding of axes, when politically-loaded points are scored which can be useful in more current controversies.

The result is that a distorted view of the actual past is presented. Those of us who can recall the circumstances of that time can only deplore the misreading of people’s attitudes and arguments. In fact, the whole story of British attitudes towards Nazism, and church attitudes in particular, is much more complex than Lawson suggests. His one-sided approach may stir up debate, but it should be seen as a provocative rather than as a definitive contribution.

b) M.F.Ederer, Propaganda wars: Stimmen der Zeit and the Nazis, 1933-1935 in Catholic Historical Review, Vol. 90 no. 3, (2004) pp. 456-72.
Ederer examines how the prominent Jesuit journal Stimmen der Zeit reacted to, or mostly against, the new Nazi regime in its early years. The editors were careful not to engage in open polemics, since they were certainly aware of the Nazis’ open antipathy. But in more subtle ways, they conducted a campaign to keep Catholic ideas unspotted from Nazi associations, and in particular to oppose any form of syncretism. The issues of the journal in these early years reflect a growing alarm at the Nazis’ anti-clerical and indeed anti-Christian, let alone anti-Jewish, policies. Rosenberg’s myths were especially attacked. Ederer follows the evolution of these ideas through the three years under his microscope.

c) Two notable articles in the recent issue of Religion, State and Society, Vol. 32 no.2, June 2004
Serge Flere, Slovenia. Not a perfect religious market, pp 151-7.

Christian Romocea, Reconciliation in the ethnic conflict in Transylvania. Theological, Political and Social Aspects, pp 159-76.

4) German Studies Association Conference report:

D.Hastings, Nursemaid or Nemesis: The Catholic-Nazi Relationship revisited.

Derek Hastings seeks to show the extent to which Catholicism in Munich can be said to have acted as a sort of “nursemaid” to the early Nazi movement, helping it to attain an important degree of viability in its earliest and most vulnerable years. Contrary to the view taken by many scholars that the early Nazi movement comprised either outright opponents of Christianity, lapsed Catholics, or bemused Protestants, Hastings shows that a number of Catholics, even priests, gave hearty support to the fledgling political party. One prominent Bavarian politician wrote to Cardinal Faulhaber in October 1923 to lament that “even Catholic priests are being caught up with National Socialist ideas and are allowing themselves to be misused as Nazi agitators”. Some of them, like the Abbot Schachleiter, quite willingly gave their services to the new movement. It was he who conducted a funeral mass for the Nazi thug and terrorist Albert Schlageter, whose brutal exploits were framed as the embodiment of a heroic Catholic-Nazi synthesis. Many young Munich Catholics, including Heinrich Himmler, were “literally transported by Schachleiter into a holy rapture”.

However, in the following year, most of these converts were lost after a wave of anti-Catholic venom was launched by the völkisch activists led by Erich Ludendorff and his wife Mathilde. Relationships were never the same again, though many Catholics still deluded themselves that agreement was possible and so eagerly supported the 1933 Concordat. And the readiness of so many Catholics during the whole Nazi era to believe they could be both good Catholics and good Nazis owes something to this initial period when Munich Catholics acted as the “nursemaid” of the Party.
(precis by JSC)

5) Book Notes:

Simon Phipps: A Portrait, ed. David Machin, London: Continuum 2003 ISBN 0-8264-7138-2 144pp.

Bishops and biographies belong together, especially if they were bland, blameless and boring. How to steer between open hagiography or critical assessment is the issue in most such episcopal obituaries. This tribute to Simon Phipps, Bishop of Lincoln 1974-1986, certainly leans more towards the former formula, but is of help in depicting an Anglican leader who responded effectively, and not at all boringly, to the challenges of his office. Particularly Phipps was known to have given leadership on social issues, as an industrial chaplain in Coventry, where his left-wing politics were appropriately relevant. It was therefore paradoxical that he should then have served as bishop in two rural dioceses, first in Horsham in Sussex, and then in Lincoln, still a largely agricultural county, full of ancient churches but few parishioners. This ministry called out all his pastoral skills, first deployed as Chaplain at Trinity College, Cambridge. In the words of one contributor, Simon Phipps was a gracious and courteous God-fearing radical. The sketches in this small book bring the various chapters of his career to life with affection, but also lead on to consideration of the wider task of how to exercise episcopal leadership in the late twentieth century.


6) Research in progress:

Jonathan Slater, University of Toronto, writes:

The area of interest for my doctoral dissertation is the reconstruction of Christian understandings of God, Christ and Salvation in nineteenth-century England. I plan to focus on F.D.Maurice, Thomas Erskine and John Nelson Darby. Darby was a prolific writer whose influence upon nineteenth and twentieth century religion extends far beyond the exclusive sect that still claims to hold to his teachings. If, as some argue, Maurice and Erskine represent the birth of certain trends in liberal theology, Darby lays claim to representing the birth of the most significant trend in conservative theology, i.e. dispensationalism. Darby’s novel proposal regarding divine providence, the relationship between Israel and the Church, and, in particular, his apocalyptic eschatology, has had a significantly formative influence upon the development of conservative theology in North America. At the centre of this relationship was a debate concerning the suffering humanity of Christ, a topic which would reappear in numerous forms throughout Darby’s writings.

Darby’s understanding of the suffering Christ provides a point of comparison with Maurice and Erskine, as an example of a significantly different response to a common historical and cultural context. I am especially interested in how these men reacted to the growing historical understanding associated with German biblical criticism and the search for a historical Jesus on the one hand, and the increased appeal to experience and feeling associated with nineteenth century Romanticism and the post-Kantian turn to the subject on the other.

Best wishes to you all,
John S.Conway