Conference Report: 40th Annual Scholars’ Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches

ACCH Quarterly Vol. 15, No. 2, June 2010

Conference Report: 40th Annual Scholars’ Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches, March 6-8, 2010, St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, PA.

By Suzanne Brown-Fleming, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Plenary Session: “Three Institutional Responses to the Early Persecution of the Jews and to Kristallnacht: The Canadian churches, the Vatican, and the Federal Council of Churches in the United States.”

This plenary session, organized by the Committee on Church Relations and the Holocaust of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, featured three presentations. The first, by Victoria J. Barnett, Staff Director of Church Relations in the Museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, was titled, “Seeking a United Voice: The Federal Council of Churches (FCC) and the Kirchenkampf, 1933-1938.” Barnett argued that some of the most activist early responses, both to the German Kirchenkampf and the Nazi measures against the Jews, came from the Protestant ecumenical Federal Council of Churches in New York. FCC officials worked with Jewish organizations in the United States, visited Germany and issued public statements, and in particular pressed their German colleagues to condemn the Nazi anti-Jewish measures. As the Kirchenkampf progressed, however, the FCC position shifted to a more neutral tone.  Her comments focused particularly on the reasons why the FCC reactions changed and the way in which FCC officials helped shape the U. S.reaction to Kristallnacht.

Barnett’s presentation was followed by Suzanne Brown-Fleming, Director of Visiting Scholar Programs in the Museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies. Brown-Fleming’s paper, “The View from Rome: The Vatican’s Response to Reichskristallnacht,” contextualized the decision by the Holy See to decline an open condemnation of the 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom, despite receiving full reports about this landmark event. While many U.S. religious groups responded swiftly and sharply, Brown-Fleming offered, in contrast, insight into the concerns and preoccupations that shaped the Holy See’s muted response to Kristallnacht.

The final paper, by Kyle Jantzen, Associate Professor of History at Ambrose University College, Calgary, Alberta, Canada and Jonathan Durance, Graduate Student, University of Calgary, was entitled “‘Our Jewish Brethren’: Christian Responses to Kristallnacht in Canadian Mass Media.” Jantzen and Durance examined the early responses of Christian clergy and lay people in the Canadian Protestant churches to Kristallnacht through an analysis of newspaper coverage from across the nation in November and December, 1938. In contrast to the “silence” often attributed to Canadian churches, they presented evidence that many Canadian Christian clergy and lay people engaged in principled protests against Nazi brutality and made energetic calls for government action to alleviate the growing refugee crisis in Germany by allowing Jews into Canada.

The session was lively and well-attended, with many questions raised (perhaps inevitably) concerning the record of Eugenio Pacelli (Pope Pius XII) during the Third Reich. While (also perhaps inevitably), no definitive conclusions could be reached on the topic, the discussion pointed to the need for more research not only on the role of the Roman Catholic Church, but also on the Protestant Churches worldwide during the Nazi era.