Article Note: Martina Cucchiara, “The Bonds That Shame: Reconsidering the Foreign Exchange Trials Against the Catholic Church in Nazi Germany, 1935/36”

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Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 22, Number 4 (December 2016)

Article Note: Martina Cucchiara, “The Bonds That Shame: Reconsidering the Foreign Exchange Trials Against the Catholic Church in Nazi Germany, 1935/36,” European History Quarterly 45, no 4 (2015): 689-712.

By Doris L. Bergen, University of Toronto

This fascinating and meticulously researched article demonstrates the importance of including the often-forgotten middle years of National Socialism in studies of the churches under Hitler. Martina Cucchiara examines a series of trials in 1935-36 against Catholic orders accused of contravening Germany’s regulations about foreign currency. The details turn out to be intriguing in themselves—we catch a glimpse of Der Stürmer’s blend of misogynist, antisemitic, anti-Catholicism and get a helpful lesson in the functioning of the bond market and the entangled economies of Germany and the United States in the 1920s—but most significant is Cucchiara’s central finding. The foreign exchange trials and the Nazi propaganda campaign that went with them, she argues, were first and foremost an effort by the regime to push the Catholic church “out of the public sphere.” Although she leaves open the question as to whether or not the regime succeeded in this attempt, Cucchiara strongly suggests the answer was “yes.”

Cucchiara’s nuanced analysis indicates that indeed the regime benefited in several ways. The trials were just one of a series of initiatives that stirred up crises and fomented division in Catholic circles. Lack of resolution around the concordat and the issue of lay associations, the episcopate’s pusillanimous responses to the trials, and the resulting alienation of the laity all served to increase what Cucchiara calls the regime’s “leverage” over the church. In addition, she shows, regional and local officials, like sharks who smell blood, “piled on” to pursue their own political agendas at the expense of weakened Catholic institutions. It is outside the purview of Cucchiara’s discussion, but one wonders whether Protestants, looking on, took pleasure in the disciplining of their old confessional rivals or felt a chill of dread as they pondered their own standing in the Nazi German order.

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