March 2008 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

March 2008— Vol. XIV, no. 3

Dear Friends,


1) Journal issues:

a) Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Vol. 21, no. 3, Winter 2007
b) Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte, Vol. 20, no. 1, 2007.

2) Book review, Paldiel, Churches and the Holocaust

1a) Almost the whole issue of this issue of the leading journal in Holocaust history is devoted to the role of the churches during the Nazi years, presenting several valuable articles which raise interesting new perspectives and will serve to dispel some of the more prevalent misperceptions

Michael Marrus of Toronto University describes the meetings between leading Jewish representatives and Vatican officials after the end of the war in 1945 when they raised the issue of the missing Jewish orphans, many of whom were presumed to have been placed in Catholic institutions. They asked for the Pope’s explicit intervention and assistance. Their concern was to rescue these children as the future of the whole Jewish race which had been brought so closely to total extinction. The Pope and his officials naturally asked for details and lists, but it would seem that these were only occasionally forthcoming. Nevertheless the Vatican urged its subordinates on the local level to ensure that Jewish children whose parents had survived were given back, while those orphans already baptized and participating in Catholic riutals should choose for themselves. In France, at least, there were few conflicts, even though the Catholic authorities refused to make any general appeal to assist Jewish agencies. Subsequent attempts to portray the Vatican in pejorative terms, or to see Pius XII as an infamous kidnapper, are here shown to be motivated by extraneous reasons and have no historical substance.

In Germany, the Nazis’ deliberate but deceptively-organised campaign in 1940 to murder mental patients by so-called “euthanasia” was first detected and opposed by the director of a large Protestant institution near Berlin, Pastor Paul Braune, as described by Leroy Walters. Before 1939 both the Protestant and the Catholic churches ran numerous homes and institutions for the mental handicapped, so the Nazi decress ordering the transfer of some of these buildings and their patients to state control aroused alarm. In Braune’s case, this concern was only heightened when he received orders that some young women patients should be”transferred” to a state-run institution beyond his immediate purview. Shortly afterwards news came that several of these young women had died. Braune tried to detect what had happened, and soon found that similar steps were being taken in other parts of the country. The alleged excuse of military necessity caused by the war was palpably false. The upshot was that Braune prepared a strong remonstrance which he delivered to the health offices in Berlin, but to no avail. He was himself arrested by the Gestapo for supposedly defeatist attitudes, but was later released on promise of “good behaviour”. But the “euthanasia”programme continued, and was to lead to the Catholic bishop Galen’s more spectacular protest in the following year. Leroy Walters’ article most valuably shows what a determined church leader could find out, as well as the formidable difficulties which opponents of these measures faced.

Michael Phayer, who has been a strong critic of the Vatican’s war-time policies in earlier publications, provides an interesting and in-depth analysis of the considerations uppermost in 1942-3 in the Pope’s policy towards the catastrophes inflicted on the Jews. Pius XII’s “silence” on these matters, culminating in October 1943 when the Jews of Rome itself were deported, has been widely attacked, but Phayer now seeks to show that other factors played their part. He rejects the view that the Pope was uncaring about the disasters sweeping over all of Europe, or about the especially cruel fate of the Jews. But he was at the same time very conscious of the even greater harm which could result from some Papal pronouncement. Phayer lays stress on the Pope’s 1942 Christmas message which had already condemned, in very general terms, the fact that hundreds of thoiusands of persons, solely because of their nationality or race, had been consigned to death. The Dutch bishops took this an an encouragement to make their own publicly-read protest, openly referring to the Jews. But the violent reaction of the German occupiers which led directly to the deportatation and death of Dutch Catholic Jews was profoundly shocking to the Vatican’s leaders. In the following months, increasing numbers of reports were received indicating the scale of the Nazis’ extermination plans. The Holy See was obliged to come to terms with this indescribable horror. But also increasingly the Vatican officials were forced to recognize that they were helpless to stop the process.

In the absence of the surviving documents – still not available for the period in question – Phayer necessarily has to speculate but his observations are based on a close study of the contemporary publicized reports, including those written by the resident diplomats within the Vatican’s walls. Almost universally these convey an atmosphere of apocalyptic gloom, which was only heightened when German troops directly surrounded the Holy See, following Mussolini’s overthrow in July 1943. There was a widespread expectation that Hitler would take steps to carry the Pope off into captivity – a fear that was only relieved when the German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop gave repeated assurances that this would not happen, and that Germany would respect the Vatican’s territorial sovreignty. More worrying was the growing fear that Germany’s defeat would lead to a massive victory for Soviet Communism. Perhaps most pervasive was the fear that the cumulative effect of all these disastrous developments woudl mean that the whole of Christian civilization was doomed. Hence the strenuous efforts to get the western allies to proclaim Rome and its Christian treasures as an open city, not to be bombed. But the contradictions still remain, such as the Pope’s letter to the Berlin bishop expressing concern for hidden Jews, even while he was admiring Germany’s struggle against Soviet Communism. As Phayer notes, historians have still to find satisfying explanations for the behaviour of this enigmatic Pope.

Coming to terms with the past is the subject of Tom Lawson’s spirited essay on the Holocaust reception in later years. He points out that many commentators adopted a Christian interpretation of the evils inflicted on the Jews, not in the sense that they deserved this punishment, as mediaeval Catholic theology had taught, but rather in the looser sense that a Christain vocabulary and imagery was deployed to seek to give meaning to these events beyond Auschwitz. In part, at least, this was because the horrors of the Holocaaust were so often so extrreme that no existing language could be found to reveal what had happened. Hence the most widely available imagery was found in the Christian heritage dealing with suffering and death. Especially in more popular forms, such as the numerous films about the Holocaust, the alleged need to provide the audience with some morsels of hope or “resurrection” has coloured the general apprehension by the use of Christian language, often in a very traditional sense. So too commemorative events often seek to find meaning through Christian imagery. The visits of Pope John Paul II to Auschwitz necessarily saw the evocation of Christian symbolism.

Lawson attributes the trend in part to the fact that the Nazi persecution of the Jews was first seen as part of the Nazis’ wider perversion of European – i.e. Christian – civilization. Nazism came to be portrayed as the inversion of Christianity, and propaganda to this effect was useful during the war. Christian sympathy for the Nazis’ victims in the churches could easily be extended to the Jews, and efforts to assist the Jews were recommended for Christian reasons. So the whole Jewish catastrophe was fitted into a wider Christian framework, which continued in many of the post-war assessments. Even the word Holocaust with its connotations of sacrifice and martyrdom uses a language which, if not speciically Christian, is at least subject to Christian interpretation. So too, Lawson claims, such well-known Holocaust figures as Anne Frank and Oscar Schindler are popularized because they offer a messge of hope beyond the tragedy.

Lawson suggests that this kind of expropriation, however well-meaning, can or even ought to be a hundrance to improved Christain-Jewish relations. Theologians need to take note. Lawson has yet to develop his own ideas of how the Holocaust should be more fittingly understood and commemorated. It is a task which will require a different vocabulary, a different imagery, and the renunciation of the language of the perpetrators. We shall follow this undertaking with great interest.

1b) Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte/Contemporary Church History, Vol 20, no 1, 2007

This international journal for theology and history has been edited for twenty years by Professor Gerhard Besier, who now teaches at the University of Dresden. This is a remarkable achievement by a scholar who has consistently upheld high standards in the journal’s articles and book reviews. In more recent years, there has been a deliberate effort to increase the bilingual character of the journal, with articles written by English-speaking authors and printed in the same language. Such contributions make for interesting contrasts, since the English-speaking scholars usually adopt a narrative and historical approach very different from the more heavily theoretical and abstract Germans! Despite the sad decline in the number of professorships in church history, and especially in contemporary church affairs, nevertheless the quality of this journal speaks to the continued interest in recent church developments in a wider, mainly European, context.

The current issue covers two topics: the churches’ reactions to the striking political changes in eastern Europe since the 1980s, and theology and society in the 1920’s and early 1930’s.

Professor Renöckl who teaches ethics at the University of Linz, Austria, seeks to evaluate the impact of Christian social and ethical ideas in Europe today. Such an assessment can only be tentative, particularly in central and eastern Europe where the political developments of the last twenty years have led to such profound social consequences. But one thing is clear. The hope that the overthrow of the atheist communist system would lead to a revival of church adherence has not been realized. Indeed, in the Czech Republic, for example, the number of church members has markedly declined. But the opposite is true, at least for Catholicism, in the rump state of Slovakia. A similar pattern can be seen in Poland, Croatia, Roumania and Bulgaria, whereas in formerly strongly Protestant areas such as the Baltic states or East Germany, the decline is marked. All have been affected by the changes in economic activity, and also by the political attractions of joining the European Union. But it has to be acknowledged that, in the new Europe, the Christian presence is relatively weak.

Church history affords few pointers in this situation. But can Christian social ethics make a significant contribution? In the face of often inhumane technical and scientific debelopments, the need for a forceful discussion of ethical values seems clear. The rival claims of economic efficiency or of social justice have to be examined in a global context. On the other hand, each individual requires guidance for his or her personal stance.

Europe presently stands at a crossroads. Even though many seek to reject the institutions and ethical systems of the past, nevertheless Christian thinkers have an opportunity to show that the values proclaimed by Christian social ethics are both relevant and helpful. It is good to note that such proclamation is now more than ever made ecumenically.

On a somewhat narrower scale, Josef Pilvousek of the newly recreated University of Erfurt, examines the role of the Catholic Church in the former East Germany since 1985. During the years of communist rule, the Catholic Church withdrew into its own milieu, took protective measures against the undermining tactics of the Stasi, and resolutely refused to accept the premises of Marxism-Leninism. It was an unheroic stand. Compared to the Protestants, the Catholics played little part in the decomposition of the regime. But by the end of the 1980s the spirit of openness to the world, as proclaimed at the Second Vatican Council, found its expression in a number of well-attended conferences on the subject of Justice and Peace and the Preservation of Creation. Several of the leaders were to play a fuller role in politics after the regime’s collapse. Catholics were now urged to take a more active part in political life and to leave the ghetto mentality behind.

But Catholics were only a minority in East Germany, compared to the unreligious or Protestant majorities. They had gained the reputation of having abandoned their social responsibiolituies in the face of communist pressures. Since 1989 they have been repeatedly urged to become more active in their pastoral work, which can now be deployed freely. This process has been helped by the Vatican’s willingness to establish new dioceses, even though contacts with their former linkages in West Germany are actively propagated. In the meantime, such temporal matters as the church tax or religious education in schools has been assimilated to the West German practice. Catholic social work agencies have been given a new lease of life. But much will depend on whether the church can call on more of the East German population back from the secularized existence propagated under communist rule. Herein lies the main challenge for the years ahead.

Most welcome is the English-language contribution by the Finnish scholar Mikko Ketola, on the Baltic Churches since 1985. The fate of these small countries is not well known, and their complex church history even less so. So Ketola’s splendidly precise description is helpful. He first notes the striking changes in the religious map of the Baltic states since the 1930s. The dual invasions by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, and the long years of Soviet domination, reduced the Lutheran churches in both Estonia and Latvia to minorities in a highly secularized society. Immigrants or settlers from Russia have increased the Orthodox church populations, even though these are divided between the supporters of the Moscow Patriarchate and those who looked to Constantinople. Only recently have these two groups been able to merge.

Lithuania presents a different picture since Catholicism was the predominant denomination, though again much weakened during the Soviet period. Yet its followers made few compromises with the dominant regime and may now be able to recover lost ground. Its members were certainly active in the struggle to regain independence and have a strong commitment to human rights. In Latvia, by contrast, the entire Lutheran hierarchy was voted out of office for its subservience to Soviet wishes. In Estonia, the same thing happened but their Archbishop was allowed to continue on the grounds of his personal piety.

All of these states, Ketola shows very graphically, have had to come to terms with the past. Each set up a historical commission to investigate the crimes committed by the Nazi and Soviet occupiers. Because of its longer duration, the Soviet period has been considered to be the more harmful and destructive. But another factor is the persistence of a cultural antisemitism, which has limited the investigations of Nazi atrocities. Yet the Lithuanian church has followed Pope John Paul II in asking for forgiveness for individual Catholics (but notably not for the church institutionally).

In Latvia, a new “Christian” party, drawing its ethos from American right-wing circles, has won a position in politics, adopting a rigid progarmme of social conservative values, and attacking homosexuality and abortion as convenient targets to mobilize its supporters. Protestant preachers are prominent in the membership. Their espousal of family values parallels the demands for more religious education in schools. So too the widespread support in the Baltic countries for the adhesion to the European Union can be seen as a means of rejecting both the Soviet past and of repelling the renewed Soviet pressures or assimilative moves, which are reputed to be on the rise again.

Theological education is a top priority. But after so long a period of isolation, only the more conservative brands of Lutheranism have been welcomed. These churches are very sensitive to real or imagined pressures from western church bodies to update their ideas, for instance on female ordination. This has led to a strained relationship with their most generous donors in Sweden and north Germany. But Catholics also have difficulty in coming to terms with the innovations of the Second Vatican Council. Such factors have undoubtredly hindered the task of fitting these churches for the twenty-first century.

Keith Robbins, a distinguished British historian, and former Principal of Lampeter Collge in Wales, examines the relationship between the British churches and eastern Europe over the past decades. This is a lucid but at times controversial account of this chapter in the wider dealings between Communist countries and a limited, if influential, number of British churchmen. In the decade after the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. British churchmen began to become concerned about how these churches in eastern Europe, as institutions, were surviving under Communist rule. The British Council of Churches appointed a working party whose report, published in 1974, was written by an Anglican clergyman and journalist, Trevor Beeson. It was entitled Discretion and Valour, referring to the two basic stances adopted for Christian witness under Communism. On the one hand, there were those who sought to accommodate themselves to their new situation and to promote their faith discreetly. On the other hand, there were those who refused to make any compromises, and were ready to face the possible consequences of persecution and even martyrdom. This they believed was the more valourous path.

In Britain, only a tiny handful of church members were openly sympathetic to the Soviet system, notably the “red” Dean of Canterbury, Dr Hewlett Johnson. The majority were divided as to whether discretion or valour was to be preferred in combatting totalitarianism. Some urged that a policy of constructive engagement should be attempted, whereas others believed that the experience of Nazi Germany had shown that resolute opposition was the only permissible stance, lest Christians fall into the trap of collaborationism.

During the 1970s and 1980s British church visitors were involved on both sides of this debate. Some supported the cause of Christian-Marxist dialogue or the activities of the Christian Peace Conference, based in Prague. The leading figure in this group was Rev. Paul Oestreicher, who worked for the British Council of Churches, and was also chairman of Amnesty International. Others were more concerned to make public the abuses of religious rights in Communist countries. Especially valuable were the publications of a group at Keston College, first in Kent and later in Oxford, led by Reverend Michael Bourdeaux. The rivalry between Oestreicher and Bourdeaux, though very polite, was an indication that British church opinion remained divided. In one sense, the events of 1989 surprised both groups. The wishful thinking of those who believed that Communism would soon “improve” or reform itself was shown to be a fanciful error, while on the other side, the overthrow of the Soviet system in all its satellite states, largely deprived Bourdeaux’s supporters of their raison d’etre. After 1991 there was no more need to smuggle bibles into Russia. The end of the Cold War ushered in a new period of religious life in all of eastern Europe, which was wholly welcome to the British church community. But more energetic steps are now needed to take advantage of this freedom to build more solid bridges of Christian fellowship between east and west.

The second half of this journal’s issue is devoted to studies in the theological trends of the 1920s. Ricardo Bavaj, who teaches in St Andrews, describes Paul Tillich’s political thought in the early 1920s, which was prompted by his sense of eschatological despair and by his traumatic wartime experiences. Tillich’s theology was one of crisis – or Kairos – and often took a mystical and antirationalist tone, full of idealism but too vague to be easily grasped. His political leanings were antinomian, almost anarchistic. He was also to be accused of undermining the rational democratic political system of the Weimar Republic. But in fact his influence was limited to his academic circles. His attempts to find a highly abstract synthesis between Christianity and Socialism aroused considerable opposition even amongst his univesrity colleagues. His appeal to the Social Democratic Party to recapture its earlier revolutionary impetus was also unsuccessful. But his early warnings against the dangers of National Socialism grew ever more urgent. In Bavaj’s view, Tillich’s political thought revealed very clearly the deficiencies of either the decided refusals to accept the existing political situation or cloudy projections of vague alternatives. Such ideas were characteristic of left-wing intellectuals in this decade.

Tillich was one of the first professors to be dismissed from his post in April 1933, and subsequently sought refuge in the United States, where a new and more positive chapter in his thinking began.

Charlotte Methuen, who teaches theology in Oxford, provides an excellent account of the three meetings between German and English theologians at the end of the 1920s (even though her article is mistitled as The Anglo-American Theological Conferences). These began as a result of Archbishop Nathan Soderblom’s lead at Stockholm in 1925. He nelieved that theologians had a significant role to play in binding up the wounds left by the first world war. He was supported by Geroge Bell, then Dean of Canterbury, and later Bishop of Chichester. Bell was amongst those who had been appalled by the readiness of his German colleagues to give unstinted support to their nation’s war efforts, or even to attempt to preempt God on their side and to demonize their enemies. He was equally shocked when similar features were found in Britain.

The records of these conferences offer a fascinating glimpse of the theological concerns of the day. They were an attempt by high-minded churchmen to find some appropriate language and methodology for a common witness to the cause of peace. A careful choice of delegates, almost all theology professors, was made to ensure harmony. Although fundamental dissent was voiced, it was not as much between the English and the Germans as within each delegation.

The first conference held in 1927 took up the subject of “The Kingdom of God” as an explicit continuation and deepening of the theological work started at Stockholm. In the following year the conference considered “Christology” since the first debates had shown a need to include a full treatment of this topic. The third meeting was held in Chichester in 1931 to discuss the nature of the church, about which there was much less agreement. The friendships established undoubtedly enabled both sides to learn more about the other’s theological traditions or presuppositions. But, as was soon to be revealed, even such an ecumenical approach did not lead to any lessening of the support these men gave to their own nation’s cause. In fact, on the German side, Gerhard Kittel and Paul Althaus warmly supported the Nazi cause, while Bell, warned by the young Bonhoeffer, became a strong champion of the Confessing Church.
For his part, Arne Rasmussen begins his account of the theological trends in Germany during the Weimar Republic by pointing to the controversial views of Karl Barth. Barth attacked his fellow theologians either for their vaporous liberalism or for their ultra-nationalist conservatism. For example, Barth accused Harnack and Troeltsch for being Kulturprotestanten, while Emanuel Hirsch and Paul Althaus were attacked for their collaboration with the Nazi Party. During and after the second world war, Barth’s views predominated, especially among Anglo-American theologians and supporters of the anti-Nazi Confessing Church. Only in more recent years have Trutz Rendtorff and his colleagues in Munich attempted to put forward a revisionist view. They criticized Barth for his supposedly rigid dogmatism, and suggested that Barth’s dialectical theology only served as a hindrance to the liberal basis of the Weimar Republic’s democracy.

In fact, as in secular history, the period of the 1920s saw a remarkable pluralism in theological views. Liberal theologians like Troeltsch provided justifications for the nascent political democracy after 1919. But their opponents in the nationalist and conservative camps had also given theological justification for Germany’s war efforts and for the demonization of its enemies. They remained highly visible anad vocal and were later to give significant support to the völkisch movement which supplied many of the Nazi Party’s recruits. In Rasmussen’s view, Barth’s criticisms of both the modern German nation state and of the theologians who justified its existence were very plausible.

In Rendtorff’s view, however, the tragedy was that so few theologians and church leaders followed Troeltsch, Harnack and Martin Rade in supporting the democratic experiment. He criticizes Barth for his refusal to sacralize any political form, since the Kingdom of God was not to be found in human terms or by human effort. Yet Barth was equally attacked by the nationalist anti-liberals, such as Hirsch, Althaus and Elert, for his lack of support of the German state which they regarded as the primary carrier of God’s historical action.

In fact, all of these German theologians had been traumatized by the loss of the war and the fall of the Empire. Each “school” sought to come to terms with these unexpected and unwelcome developments. But no consensus could be found.

In 1933 Barth’s chief concern was only to defend the independence of the church and to protect it from political interference by the now dominant Nazis. He was not concerned with politics because to him the church was more important.than the future of Germany. His protests were also ethical, since he recognized the danger of state dictation overwhelming Christian convictions. In the same year, however, many liberals and democratic Protestants, such as Martin Rade, threw their support behind Hitler. Their nation was going to be rejuvenated. And in the interests of the nation, the church must not be left behind. Cultural homogeneity was more important than defending pluralism or protecting individual human rights. Friedrich Siegmund-Schultze was almost the only German liberal theologian who made any stand on behalf of the Jews.

Rasmussen’s defence of Barth takes issue with Rendtorff’s apologetic revisionism in the current theological scene. It is all part of a continuing debate.For, as he says, historiography cannot be separated from theology, and theology cannot be separated from historiography.

2) Mordecai Paldiel, Churches and the Holocaust, Unholy teaching, Good Samaritans, and Reconciliation. Jersey City, New Jersey: KTAV Publishing House, 2006. 443pp. The following appeared first in Holocaust and Genocide Studies, as above, p.488

In 1953 the Israeli government established the Yad Vashem center as a memorial to the millions of Jews murdered in the Holocaust. Ten years later this commemoration was extended to include non-Jews who had rescued or assisted Jews to escape from death at the hands of the Nazis or their associates. Over the years some twenty-one thousand of these “Righteous Gentiles” have been identified, after careful scrutiny of the depositions made on their behalf. Each was remembered with the planting of a tree in the stately Avenue of the Righteous Gentiles and a plaque giving the name and country of origin.

Mordecai Paldiel, director of this section of Yad Vashem’s activities, has now selected the stories of some three hundred Christian clerics, both male and female, of a variety of denominations across the European continent. (Their names are listed by country in a useful appendix). While much of this material is already known, his convenient and comparative summary is welcome. His aim is to show that, despite the long history of Christian intolerance towards Judaism, nevertheless there were Christian clergy who acted with humanity and generosity towards Jews in their hour of peril. In so doing, he claims, they paved the way for the striking change in Christian theological attitudes implemented in the 1960s, particularly at the Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II and his memorable visit of repentance to Jerusalem in 2000 set the seal on this unprecedented process of reconciliation, and opened the way for a whole new era in Christian-Jewish relations.

Paldiel’s narratives, which are organized by nationality, are designed to offset the feelings many Jews share that Christian anti-Semitism is ineradicable. He seeks to show that there were clergy who had shed such views, or who acted despite them. “The overwhelming motivation of clergy rescuers of Jews was compassion for their sufferings coupled with a Christian duty to help others in need; motivations powerful enough to overcome the traditional Christian anti-Jewish prejudice” (p.225). In Poland, for instance, where Catholic anti-Semitism was widespread, the Christian rescuers faced not only danger from the brutal German occupiers but also from their own anti-Semitic kinsmen. Their heroic deeds deserve particularly to be honored for “Polish rescuers occupy an elevate position of selfless devotion and great courage, unmatched in any other country” (ibid.).

Motivations are extraordinarily difficult to pin down. And Christian clergy rescuers would naturally express themselves in terms of compassion and mercy. But there can be no question that they were in a minority, and often without support from their superiors, which makes their risk-taking all the more notable. In Germany, even leading figures of the Protestant Confessing Church, such as Martin Niemöller, who opposed the Nazis openly, still held to the traditional Christian delegitimization of Jews. Paldiel includes Dietrich Bonhoeffer in this category. So too leading German Catholic bishops, such as Galen of Münster, even if opposed to some Nazi policies, did not take a stand for the Jews. Provost Bernhard Lichtenberg of Berlin was the only leading Catholic clergyman to pray for the Jews and was imprisoned for his daring. His Protestant counterpart, Hermann Maas, was equally isolated but survived to give courageous testimony after the war. Paldiel then recounts the names and stories of lesser-known German clergy rescuers who deserve recognition.

In describing events in successive countries across the continent, Paldiel adopts a convenient pattern. He first gives a survey of the situation of the Jewish community before and during the German occupation, followed by a section on the responses of the churches in general, which were all too often negative in tone, demonstrating the majority’s indifference or at least inaction. Then he gives details of the church rescuers, drawn principally from the files accumulated in Jerusalem, supplemented by comments from the numerous secondary sources. (A useful English-language bibliography is appended). In several situations, the desire to rescue Jews was undoubtedly seen as part of resistance to the German invader. But the motive of Christian compassion was clearly uppermost – at least in these sources. It is hardly surprising that, in some cases, those who cared for Jewish children should have desired their conversion, though in other cases, which Paldiel naturally applauds, this urge was not yielded to. For the same reason, in Holland for example, Christian rescuers who had become attached to the orphans in their charge, were most reluctant to hand them over after the war to unknown Jewish organizations, merely for the sake of preserving the Jewish race or building up the new Israel. But Paldiel fairly acknowledges the courage and open-mindedness of many of these helpers who were inspired by a genuine regard for God’s chosen people. Many of the stories he records are both touching and heart-rending. Not all rescuers were saints; many lost their lives as the price of their altruism. But their witness was a significant contribution, making it impossible for the pre-war climate of ideological hostility to remain unchallenged.

Paldiel’s lament over the failure of the church leaders to protest or prevent the mass murder of the Jews culminates in his chapter on Italy and the Vatican. He does not go into the heated and still continuing debates over the so-called “silence” of Pope Pius XII, which he attributes, not to anti-Semitism, but to an uncourageous prudence which amounted to a dereliction of moral leadership. Yet he argues that the fact that Pius did not publicly condemn the crimes of the Holocaust, does not mean that he did nothing to help the Jews. The thousands of Jews hidden in religious establishments throughout Italy were there with his knowledge and consent, and perhaps in some cases at his instigation. Paldiel then recounts a whole batch of notable rescue efforts by priests and nuns, implying that these were mainly spontaneous actions. The net result was that, thanks to these clergy, Italy was the Catholic country which saved the highest percentage of Jews, more so than any other country under German domination.

In conclusion, Paldiel contends that the higher ecclesiastical clerics were too much blinded by their anti-Jewish traditions to be able to act courageously in face of the moral challenge presented by the murderous Nazi anti-Semitism. But the lesser clergy and nuns were freer of these misguided doctrines and so acted humanely. Twenty years later, the shock of the Holocaust was sufficient to lead to an abandonment of the unfortunate teachings of contempt and supersession, and to create of a new climate which Jews should now embrace and welcome. Even if the belated Christian apologies for past intolerance fall short of what might be desirable, nevertheless he believes there is now room for dialogue and coexistence. The “Righteous” clergy can serve as role models for a new and constructive relationship between Judaism and Christianity.


With ever best wish
John Conway