Digital Humanities Highlight: American Christians, Nazi Germany, and the Holocaust in the USHMM’s Experiencing History: Holocaust Sources in Context

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 25, Number 2 (June 2019)

Digital Humanities Highlight: American Christians, Nazi Germany, and the Holocaust in the USHMM’s Experiencing History: Holocaust Sources in Context

By Rebecca Carter-Chand, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Experiencing History is a digital teaching and learning tool developed by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Organized thematically, the tool provides carefully curated collections of primary sources intended for classroom use. Sources are contextualized with brief introductions and users can view the original sources, translations, and transcriptions.

In March 2019, Experiencing History launched a new collection, “American Christians, Nazi Germany, and the Holocaust,” which is part of the Museum’s current emphasis on Americans and the Holocaust (see also the current special exhibition, much of which can be viewed at

Developed by the USHMM’s Programs on Ethics, Religion, and the Holocaust (with helpful feedback from CCHQ Managing Editor Kyle Jantzen), the collection explores American Christians’ responses to events in Europe in the 1930s and 40s and the ways in which many Americans viewed the rise of Nazism, World War II, and news of the Holocaust through the lens of their Christian identity. The collection presents a cross-section of American Christian life, with sources by Catholics, mainline Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, and Quakers, as well as ecumenical and interfaith bodies and faith-based relief organizations. Taken together, the sources point to a number of broad trends, including an early focus on the German Church Struggle (and a tendency to interpret Jewish persecution as part of a broader Nazi hostility to religion), the widespread outrage at Nazi antisemitism and violence in the wake of Kristallnacht (users can listen to a fascinating radio broadcast excerpt from Catholic University of America), and the lack of organized aid to Jewish refugees (with the exception of the American Friends Service Committee).

Several sources also illuminate the ways in which Christian leaders from both sides of the Atlantic shaped Americans’ perceptions of Nazi Germany. Protestant minister Henry Leiper is one example of an American church leader who traveled to Europe in 1932­-33 and subsequently published a personal reflection of his experience. Germans also travelled to the United States in the 1930s, sometimes with support of the German government, to shape public opinion of Nazi Germany. The collection includes a letter by an American Adventist woman who was the interpreter for one such German representative, pointing to the difficulties that Christian denominations faced in navigating international relationships with co-religionists.

More collections on topics relating to religion may be developed in the future. The Experiencing History team welcomes feedback, especially from professors who have used the tool in the classroom. The tool can be found here: