Conference Report: “Soldiers, Sex, Chaplains, and Horses: A Panel on the Wehrmacht in Honor of Gerhard L. Weinberg”

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 25, Number 4 (December 2019)

Conference Report: “Soldiers, Sex, Chaplains, and Horses: A Panel on the Wehrmacht in Honor of Gerhard L. Weinberg,” German Studies Association, Portland, OR, October 2019.

By Christina Matzen, University of Toronto

At the 2019 German Studies Association conference in Portland, OR, four scholars convened a panel in honor of esteemed military historian Gerhard Weinberg. Two of the three papers from former Weinberg students provided insights into the history of Christianity and the Second World War. Sandra Chaney’s paper, “Behind the Lines in the Ukraine and Caucasus, 1942-1943: The Wartime Diary and Photo Album of Senior Staff Veterinarian, Dr. Eugen Kohler,” offered a brief yet telling glimpse into the daily life and belief systems of Wehrmacht officials on the Eastern Front. Kohler was a devout Christian and attended worship services every Sunday while living in Donetsk. More Nazified Wehrmacht members tolerated Kohler’s religious practices and moderate political views because he was an occupation official in a specialized field. In “’For Members of the Wehrmacht Only’: Chaplains in German-Occupied Territories, 1942-1943,” Doris Bergen analyzed how military chaplains in occupied territories negotiated four key relationships: with the troops, with their superiors, with local populations, and with Germans at home. Each aspect of the chaplains’ work was enmeshed in the violent practices of occupation, including forced labor, theft, and killing. Bergen demonstrated that many of the chaplains’ duties served a dual role—providing spiritual support to individual soldiers while simultaneously performing institutional functions for the Wehrmacht. Taken together, Chaney and Bergen’s papers highlighted the fact that religion played an important role in the lives of many people across the various units of the Wehrmacht, and Christianity helped provide a sense of normalcy and relief—as well as opportunism—in the midst of war.