November 2005 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia


November 2005— Vol. XI, no. 11

Dear Friends,

To mark the November Days of Remembrance:

Jesus bleibet meine Freude,
meines Herzens Trost und Saft,
Jesus wehret allem Leide,
er ist meines Lebens Kraft.
meiner Augen Lust und Sonne,
meiner Seele Schatz und Wonne;
darum lass ich Jesum nicht,
aus dem Herzen und Gesicht.
(from a Bach Cantata)


1) Book reviews

a) Gerdes, Okumenische Solidarität
b) Leugers ed. Berlin, Rosenstrasse 2-4
c) Tent, In the shadow of the Holocaust

2) Journal articles:

a) Crang, Compulsory church parades
b) Sykes, Popular religion in the Black Country

1a) Uta Gerdes, Okumenische Solidarität mit christlichen und jüdischen Verfolgten. Die CIMADE in Vichy-Frankreich 1940-1944. (Arbeiten zur Kirchlichen Zeitgeschichte, Reihe B: Darstellungen Bd 41). Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2005 ISBN 3-52555741-8. 380pp.

French Protestants are very conscious of their community’s Huguenot history and of the persecution they suffered for their beliefs from successive French monarchs in earlier centuries. This still leads them to express their solidarity with victims of state oppression. In the circumstances of the Second World War, this was the main motive which very rapidly led to the mobilization of concern among French Protestants for those persons suffering from Nazi political, racial or religious persecution. Especially among young French Protestants, the desire to help led to their joint efforts to create the Comite inter-mouvements auprés des evacués, commonly known as CIMADE. Drawn from the YMCA, the YWCA, the Scout movements of both sexes, and from the French Student Christian movement, these young people undertook a mission of social assistance as a sign of their Christian witness and dedication. They were not to know how quickly this commitment would lead them to become involved in far more demanding and dangerous endeavours, which broadened their horizons and challenged their faith. But their efforts to assist the Nazis’ victims, both Christian and Jewish, deserve to be recognized as a paradigm of Christian growth and obedience in an age of menacing ideologies, and as a small but valiant contribution to the story of the Second World War’s resistance movements.

Dr Uta Gerdes’ scholarly and valuable account of CIMADE’s activities deserves high praise for a variety of reasons. Firstly, she brings this story to a wider, German-speaking, readership. Although CIMADE’s humanitarian record has been extensively set out in French accounts of the war, German readers have only now begun to look beyond their own nation’s debates and controversies for or against participation in resistance against Nazism. Secondly, Dr Gerdes has taken advantage of the passage of time to avoid the kind of heroizing treatment of earlier years, but instead to give us a critical reconstruction of the activities of this small Christian group in the context of their contemporary setting. At the same time, she notes particularly their especial contribution to the growth of international and inter-faith understanding and service. Thirdly, she draws out in new ways the significance of the co-operation between various international church agencies in the vital tasks of rescuing those persecuted by the Nazis. Finally she offers an analysis of the importance of these experiences for the young women involved, and the extent to which they became empowered to take a larger role in the church, as well as to challenge its male-dominated power structures in subsequent years.

CIMADE was formed in late 1939 in the first instance to look after those persons from Alsace evacuated to other parts of France after the outbreak of the war. But its mission was soon extended to those civilians interned as non-French aliens. Some 25,000 emigrants, refugees or fugitives from the Spanish Civil War were now rounded up and herded together in overcrowded and unsanitary camps in remote areas, such as Gurs in the Pyrenees and Rivesaltes near the Mediterranean coast. CIMADE was only one of the voluntary agencies which sought to alleviate the harshness of these internees’ plight, in what rapidly became a notorious situation of hardship and squalor. But CIMADE successfully sought to be allowed to establish in each camp a foyer where their workers could provide some comfort and cheers to the inmates. Their particular objective was to assist any Protestant detainees and to provide opportunities for educational and cultural programmes with a specific religious tone.

The defeat of France in June 1940, the division of the country into occupied and non-occupied areas, the establishment of the Vichy regime and the imposition of German-dictated policies towards foreigners, refugees and internees obliged CIMADE to concentrate its resources on the needs of the internment camps’ inmates. Their situation was soon to be made even more demanding in October 1940 when a large contingent of 10,000 Germans of Jewish origin was forcibly transferred to these camps in southern France. CIMADE’s social diaconate was now obliged to extend its services to these Germans, particularly to the minority among them who were Protestants. But their workers always tried to be inclusive, and made their facilities, their libraries, and their cultural and educational events available to all in the spirit of international and interconfessional friendship. Their mission was to meet as many of the physical and spiritual needs of the inmates as they could. The surviving evidence is that they brought a touch of humanity and civility to the often downtrodden and despairing prisoners.

The resources for this task were never enough. But CIMADE’s leaders had deliberately established links to their international counterparts, especially to those like the YMCA, YWCA and World Student Christian Federation who had their main European offices just over the Swiss border in Geneva. In addition CIMADE was actively supported by the newly-created of the World Council of Churches (in process of formation), whose Dutch General Secretary, Visser ‘t Hooft, proved to be a tower of strength. The refugee secretary of this agency, Dr Adolf Freudenberg, himself a refugee from Nazi Germany, was to play a even more active role in assisting CIMADE’s endeavours. In the early months he actively organized a large programme to send food parcels, books and clothing to the camps, all of which were greatly appreciated as a sign that the recipients had not been abandoned but were in fact very much a concern of the ecumenical church family in the outside world.

By the end of 1941, the extension of the war and the Nazis’ apparent success at dominating Europe were deeply depressing for the young French idealists in CIMADE’s ranks. The leaders, particularly the redoubtable Madeleine Barot, herself only in her early 30s, became all too well aware that their relief efforts were only palliative. Moreover, since they could only operate with the permission and under the control of the Vichy government regulations, they came to see that in many ways they were condoning or compromising with the repressive policies of this regime. Protests against the inhumanity of the internment system would however certainly lead to the rapid closure of their work, to the detriment of those they were trying to help. This moral dilemma was to become even more acute in the following year.

By the summer of 1942, the Nazis’ plans for the complete extermination of European Jewry were in high gear. At the end of July the Vichy authorities gave permission for foreign Jews in France to be deported to ‘unknown destinations in the east’. The inmates in the internment camps were amongst the first to be affected. No one knew what lay ahead, but all surmised that conditions could only be worse The first selections were made at the end of August, leading to 5000 persons being deported from southern France to the notorious collecting point of Drancy outside Paris, and thereafter to Auschwitz. Scenes of horrendous anguish took place in the camps. CIMADE’s workers tried desperately to intercede on behalf of their charges, invoking the list of exemptions – that they were too old, too young, too sick or too engaged in running the camp. But too often they were confronted with the moral dilemma that the selection teams were under orders to find a set contingent. If one person were exempted, another would have to be selected.

At the same time, CIMADE set up refuges outside the internment camps and successfully obtained the transfer of a considerable number of the internees, both Christian and Jewish, to their new homes. Some of these were situated in Protestant areas, such as Le Chambon, where already Pastor Trocm?? was mobilizing his parishioners to assist refugees and fugitives from the Nazis. CIMADE gave valuable assistance in working out a strategic plan, whereby the appearance in the locality of any Vichy or German police units led immediately to the evacuation of these refugees to hiding places in outlying farms or woods – an operation already known to English-speaking readers from Philip Hallie’s splendid book Lest Innocent Blood be Shed.

But this marked an important change for CIMADE. Up to this point they had been a duly authorized social work agency, co-operating with the Vichy authorities. But from 1942 onwards they necessarily were drawn into illegal activities, through the deliberate attempt to protect Jewish refugees from deportation, and eventually by adopting far-reaching schemes to smuggle them out to safety over the border to Switzerland.

Uta Gerdes makes clear that this step was no light matter. But after the disastrous scenes in the camps in late1942, the boundaries of Christian obedience to the Vichy state had been reached. Thereafter, the whole organization came to realize that they now needed to do more than provide palliative and humanitarian care, but rather to go beyond the norms of legality in the cause of a justified resistance.

As was the case in other countries, these French Protestants found overcoming their moral scruples against illegal political acts to be difficult and costly. But they were much helped by a series of theological reflections, conferences and statements put out by their leaders after France’s humiliating defeat in 1940. In order to guard against the danger of compromising their faith by capitulating to the seductions of Nazi-led totalitarianism, these French Protestant theologians wrote a strong statement of their beliefs, which was largely based on the similar declaration made by the German Confessing Church at Barmen in 1934. The Pomeyrol theses of September 1941 reaffirmed the supremacy of God’s commandments over all human affairs, and saw the state’s legitimate role only as a vehicle for implementing divine laws. The task of the state should be to uphold the values of justice and freedom, not to claim an absolute authority over and above biblical precepts. The Church had to accept the consequences of the national defeat, but was under the spiritual necessity of resisting any form of totalitarian or godless influence.

Even more significantly, these French theologians went beyond their German counterparts in adding an extra thesis, which clearly and deliberately affirmed that ‘the Church recognizes in Israel God’s chosen people, in order to send a Saviour into the world and to remain a constant witness in the midst of the nations to the secret of His loyalty. Therefore the Church must protest strongly against any law which seeks to exclude the Jews from the human community’.

It is notable that Madeleine Barot was one of the twelve signatories of this document.The result was to unite CIMADE’s workers in accepting the necessity of opposing the police whenever the lives of Jews were threatened, and to engage in underground or illegal activities in order to rescue them. But at the same time CIMADE refused to join the armed resistance movement, or themselves to carry weapons. Unarmed resistance, they believed, was the truer form of Christian discipleship – a stance which reflected their pacifist and idealistic preferences. But, as Dr Gerdes points out, the major emphasis in the historiography of the French Resistance has been on the armed and militant exploits of such groups as the Maquis – necessarily a largely masculine group – as part of the national struggle against the German invader. So Madeleine Barot’s vision of resistance as primarily one of service to the victims, particularly the persecuted Jews, has been largely overlooked or ignored. Dr Gerdes’ notable achievement is to redress this omission. She rightly asks why rescuing Jews and other victims, at the risk of their lives, should be dismissed as mere non-conformity, whereas the heroics of assassination attempts, sabotage acts, or paramilitary exploits are seen as the truer forms of the Resistance. In fact, she claims, the real honour should be given to all those who sought to challenge the murderous intentions of the dictators and their collaborators. Christians who witnessed in their own way by protesting against such inhumanity likewise deserve to be recognized as vital and valid resisters.

The most exciting chapter of this study comes at the end where Dr Gerdes describes CIMADE’s secret steps taken to smuggle Jews across the frontier to Switzerland. Needless to say, no written records of these rescue efforts were kept. But postwar reconstruction from the Genevan archives suggest that a minimum of 500 persons were saved directly because of the co-operation between CIMADE and the refugee service of the World Council of Churches. In France, the CIMADE workers provided the fugitives with false papers and escorted them by bus or train to the frontier area, mainly in the neighbourhood of Geneva. Here they often had to stay overnight in friendly houses or convents until locally recruited scouts were available to take them to the border itself, to evade the police patrols and to assist them across the barbed wire, walls or streams which separated the two countries. Once in Switzerland, the WCC contacts had to be alerted to receive them. The dangers were obvious. Anonymity was obligatory. Little acknowledgment could be later made on either side. But the achievements of this small band of 53 women and 27 men were not negligible, They were rightly and honourably characterized in later memoirs as ‘les clandestins de Dieu’. And we can therefore be grateful to Dr Gerdes for telling their story, and describing the significance of their contributions, in such an illuminating and convincing manner.


b) Antonia Leugers ed., Berlin, Rosenstrasse 2-4: Protest in der NS-Diktatur. Annweiler: Plüger/Mooshausen 2005 ISBN 3-89857-187-4

At the end of February 1943 a group of women led a protest in the back streets of Berlin demanding the release of their Jewish husbands from a Gestapo lock-up. At the end of a week the men were sent home. Much controversy has occurred in recent years about this episode. One side argues that this represents a successful popular defiance of Nazi rule, which saved at least these victims from deportation to Auschwitz, and hence forms a significant episode in the whole Holocaust development. The other side claims it was simply due to a change in Gestapo directives or that the popular protest had no influence. This debate is now updated in this new book edited by Antonia Leugers, who is herself a strong supporter of the view that here at least German women made their influence felt and succeeded in their show of solidarity. Her own chapter deals specifically with the redoubtable career of Margarete Sommer, a social worker for the Catholic diocese of Berlin, whose sense of outrage led her to urge her superiors in the Bishops’ Council to issue a public protest through all the churches and a call for intervention by the Pope. The bishops rejected both suggestions, but did at least send their emissary to meet with Eichmann. But it is not clear whether this step had any effect on the Nazis’ decisions.

Another of the contributors believes that the most helpful step taken by the Catholic church workers was their information service, which enabled the victims’ partners to be alerted about their incarceration in the Rosenstrasse, and about the possibility of joining the demonstration. But exact evidence seems to be lacking – possibly because the later fate of the whole of Berlin was so much more awful. One of the most extraordinary incidents concerned the 35 Jewish men, rounded up and taken to the Rosenstrasse, and a week later deported direct to Auschwitz. After two more weeks, however, they were brought back and released – being among the very few Jews ever to be released from Auschwitz. Their story is mentioned by Nathan Stoltzfuss in his well-researched book Resistance of the Heart, and again in his chapter for this anthology. The reasons for their return can only be speculative, but the fact remains that their wives were among the vocal protesters.

The most convincing explanation is surely that internal conflicts within the Nazi hierarchy between the extremist fanatics wanting mass extermination and the more pragmatic exploiters of Jewish labour for the war effort were played out in the Rosenstrasse episode. The women’s protests were certainly a factor and caused Goebbels, for one, much concern. But it would surely be presumptuous to place too much weight on this one rather limited instance. In any case, it was only a matter of timing. The Nazis’ programme for mass murder of all the Jews was unchanged, even if such protests led to the postponement for some of their ‘Final Solution’. Nor did the Rosenstrasse protest alter the immediate situation, since the Nazi decision to exempt, temporarily, Jews in mixed marriages was already in place.

Heroic defiance would have to have happened much earlier and on a much larger scale to bring about any significant change in the Nazis’ intentions. Even when the Dutch and French Catholic bishops issued their belated protests, the deportations to Auschwitz continued. So the belief that women’s or church protests could have changed the course of history is only wishful thinking. But the thorough research displayed in this book deserves attention and congratulation.

c) James F.Tent, In the shadow of the Holocaust: Nazi persecution of Jewish-Christian Germans. Modern War studies. Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 2003. xvi + 280 pp. ISBN 0-7006-1228-9

(This review appeared first on H-German, and is reproduced by permission of the author).

Forgotten victims of the Holocaust: Germany’s Mischlinge

James F.Tent’s monograph emerges explicitly out of his encounters with Germans of partial Jewish descent who survived the Holocaust. The book is essentially an account of the experiences of some of the roughly 72,000 Mischlinge, Germans with either one or two Jewish grandparents, during the Third Reich. In the preface, Tent explains how he was led to pursue this topic of research by an encounter with a retired East German professor during a 1978 train journey, and by subsequent friendships with other Germans of partial Jewish descent who had survived the Holocaust and gone on to study at the Free University of Berlin. These relationships motivated him to write a ‘history that showed how people of partial Jewish ancestry coped with conditions on a day-to-day basis from the time of the Nazis’ seizure of power until they were vanquished, and then to show how the legacy of that antisemitic hatred has lingered in the minds of the victims ever since’ (p.xii). Rather than replicate the comprehensive studies of Nazi policy concerning the Mischlinge (the term he uses throughout the book), Tent acknowledges the groundwork done by other historians and declares that his interest lies in ‘personal accounts and case histories’ (p. xii). [1]

To this end, Tent bases his work largely on extensive interviews with twenty surviving Germans of partial Jewish descent, supplemented by other cases drawn from archives in Hessen, Berlin, and North Rhine-Westphalia.

In successive chapters, he follows the lives of these persons who were (generally speaking) driven from their schools, occupations, and social networks, and eventually compelled to perform forced labour during World War II. Lastly, he tries to understand the impact of the marginalization of these persons as they restarted their lives following the collapse of Nazi Germany in 1945. Each chapter consists of a synopsis of the issue at hand, followed by roughly twenty to twenty-five accounts of individual experiences. In a short conclusion to the book, Tent highlights the difficult choice most Germans of partial Jewish descent made to stay in Germany after 1945, and reiterates his motivation for writing the book, which was ‘to utilize the oral histories that only such eye witnesses can provide’. He goes on to praise their courage: ‘by volunteering such information, they have bequeathed to future generations further proof of the human cost of the Holocaust’ (p.241).

Tent’s case histories are the strength of this book. Indeed the stories of these Germans – many of whom would not have identified themselves with respect to their Jewish heritage before 1933 – are poignant. Young men and women, most of them school-aged at the time of Hitler’s seizure of power, generally lost their opportunities for education, careers, marriages and families. Instead, most were forced to eke out a living performing menial jobs, living as quietly and as privately as possible, coping with denunciations and police surveillance, and eventually serving in some form of forced labour, whether they were men toiling in heavy construction camps or women struggling in war-related industries. Their stories demonstrate the dreadful loss of opportunity they all suffered, but which has often been forgotten beside the greater tragedy of the slaughter of their Jewish relatives. Many of Tent’s subjects were successful at rebuilding their lives after the war, but only at the price of a deliberate and painful silence about their past.

This is not an analytic study of Germans of partial Jewish descent in Nazi Germany. The cases Tent studied are of too narrow an age and educational bracket to be representative (p.18). If anything, at times Tent tries too hard to read meaning into each story he tells, causing him to make conflicting generalizations, or generalizations based on only one or two cases. The result is that one often feels that the condition of Germany’s partially Jewish citizens rises and falls from page to page. For instance, in his chapter on education, after only one case involving a brother and sister, he concludes: ‘all over Germany similar scenes were taking place’. One case later he asserts ‘ a pattern of social exclusion for Mischlinge was emerging all over Germany as National Socialism permeated the educational system’ (pp.29-30). Later still, Tent adds that one student’s ‘school experiences demonstrated that teachers could inflict terrible emotional damage on children’ (p.36). In contrast to these assertions, other cases within the same chapter demonstrate that conditions did not worsen for every one of Test’s subjects and that a few of their teachers and school administrators were kind and helpful. As a result the conclusion at the end of the chapter – that ‘when the issue turned to multiethnic minorities, as far as the Nazis were concerned, Germany’s Jewish-Christian citizens had become by far the victims of choice in 1933’ is not especially convincing (p.59).

Both the Roma people and Afro-Germans suffered racial persecution at least as severe as Tent’s subjects, many of whom received nominal protection thanks to the presence of their ‘Aryan’ parent. It would have been far more effective for Tent to have argued that educational opportunities depended largely on the attitudes and actions of their teachers and local school administrators. A few managed to earn an Abitur, but most were pushed out of the system far earlier.

Along with too many unsubstantiated generalizations, there are frustrating inconsistencies and overstatements in the text. For instance, Tent describes extramarital sexual relations in National Socialist Germany as ‘frowned upon by large segments of society’ and ‘not the done thing’, while four pages later, in another case study, he argues ‘in the normal . . . scheme of things, such a relationship would have aroused little comment’ (p.112 and 116). Later there are conflicting signals about how determined Hitler was to get rid of the Mischlinge (pp.142-50). In the same section, before a series of two dozen stories of those who survived forced labour, Tent asserts that the labour camps were ‘an unmistakable indication of the steep descent of Germany’s Mischlinge into the category of outcasts being readied for slaughter just like Germany’s hapless Jewish citizens’ (p.149).

As a result In the Shadow of the Holocaust is a book which succeeds in spite of the author’s analysis, simply on the strength of the stories he tells Though difficult at times, it is worth reading for the reason that it was written – to put a human face on the suffering of the thousands of Germans of partial Jewish descent who were caught in the racial politics of the Third Reich.

Note: 1) Tent recognizes many of the newer works relating to Germans of partial Jewish descent in Nazi Germany, including Jeremy Noakes, The Development of Nazi Policy towards the German-Jewish ‘Mischlinge’ 1933-1945, Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook 34 (1989), pp. 291-354; Beate Meyer, ‘Juediche Mischlinge’: Rassenpolitik und Verfolgungserfahung 1933-1945, Hamburg:Doelling und Galitz 1999; Sigrid Lekebusch, Not und Verfolgung der Christen juedischer Herkunft im Rheinland, 1933-1945: Darstellungen und Dokumentation, Koeln: Rheinland-Verlag 1995; Gerhard Lindemann, ‘Typisch juedisch’: Die Stellung der Ev.-luth Landeskirche Hannovers zu Antijudaismus, Judenfeindschaft und Antisemitismus 1919-1949, Berlin: Duncker und Humblot 1998; Bryan Mark Rigg, Hitler’s Jewish soldiers: The untold story of Nazi Racial Laws and Men of Jewish descent in the German Military, Lawrence: University of Kansas Press 2002; Nathan Stoltzfuss, Resistance of the Heart: Intermarriage and the Rosenstrasse Protest in Nazi Germany, New York: W.W.Norton and Co. 1996; Alexandar-Sasa Vuletiae, Christen juedischer Herkunft im Dritten Reich: Verfolgung und organisierte Selbstilfe. Kyle Jantzen, Alliance University College, Calgary

2) Journal articles: a) Jeremy Crang, ‘The Abolition of Compulsory Church Parades in the British Army’ in Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 56, no. 1, March 2005, 92ff.

a) Crang neatly outlines the arguments for and against compulsory church parades, which finally led the British Army to order a change in its Regulations in 1946 after 300 years of British Army tradition. He shows that in fact the clerical leaders were more reactionary than the generals (except Montgomery), but the experiences during the Second World War with its mass conscript armies showed that true religion and compulsion could not be combined. The counter effect of church parades on this generation of young men was undoubtedly another cause for the post-1945 decline of religion in Britain.

b) Richard Sykes, ‘Popular Religion in decline: a study from the Black Country’ in Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 56, no.2, June 2005, 987 ff.

A combination of four major factors contributed to the decline of popular religion in England’s West Midlands in the period 1920-1965: the effects of war, particularly the second world war; an increasing emphasis on the importance of the private nuclear family and changing attitudes towards children; the disappearance of older working-class neighbourhoods and communities; and the increasing availability of secular leisure activities. These factors weakened the foundations of religious beliefs and experiences, and sapped religiously motivated behaviour. These social changes, so Sykes believes, whose anti-religious results were more accidental than deliberate, were more influential than intellectual onslaughts which presented a head-on challenge to the credibility of religion, as recently posited by Callum Brown. This places the debate back in the field of religious sociology, and while Sykes’ focus is rather narrow, the evidence suggests his findings are representative across Britain.

With best wishes,
John S.Conway