Letter from the Editors (September 2021)

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 27, Number 3 (September 2021)

Letter from the Editors (September 2021)

By Kyle Jantzen, Ambrose University

Dear Friends,

In the midst of another busy beginning to the new academic year in many of our universities, the editors of Contemporary Church History Quarterly are pleased to present a new issue of book reviews and reports on the history of twentieth-century German and European Christianity and Christian churches. As is our usual practice, we examine a mix of Catholic and Protestant individuals and institutions.

The Mutterhaus of the Halle Evangelisches Diakoniewerk, built in 1929. The Diakonie is the Germany’s Protestant social welfare agency. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HAL-Lafontainestr15-DiakonieMutterhaus.JPG#/media/Datei:HAL-Lafontainestr15-DiakonieMutterhaus.JPG

Leading off is Dirk Schuster’s review of Hagen Markwardt, Fruzsina Müller, Bettina Westfeld’s  study of Protestant church welfare institutions in central and eastern Germany during the Nazi era, Konfession und Wohlfahrt im Nationalsozialismus. It contains a series of case studies examining the ways in which Protestant social welfare institutions were caught up in the process of co-ordination to the National Socialist regime (Gleichschaltung), sometimes quite willingly.

Martine Menke follows with a lengthy review of Wilfried Loth’s “Freiheit und Würde des Volkes”: Katholizismus und Demokratie in Deutschland, a collection of essays that probes “Catholics’ contributions to the development of democracy in Germany since the mid-nineteenth century.” As Menke points out, in the book Loth “argues that while the institutional Church opposed modernity until after World War II, lay Catholics, especially those organized in political parties, contributed significantly to the development of modern democracy in Germany.”

Rebecca Carter-Chand contributes two reviews of works which are out of the ordinary, in terms of the usual content of the journal. First she assesses a social scientific study of the rescue of Jews in the Low Countries, Robert Braun’s Protectors of Pluralism, noting that the author tests his “hypothesis that religious minorities are more likely to assist or rescue persecuted groups from mass violence or genocide” using a “detailed geocoding of Jewish evasion in the Netherlands and Belgium, combining spatial statistics, archival sources, contemporary newspapers and other published materials, and postwar testimony.” Next, Carter-Chand reviews Steve Pressman’s film, Holy Silence, which discusses the role of the Vatican at the time of the rise of Nazism and during the Holocaust. It draws on the expertise of various scholars, including members of the CCHQ editorial team. Carter-Chand sums up the film as “a balanced and accessible primer to audiences, both newcomers and those well-versed in this history.”

This issue of CCHQ also features reviews of three books that move from history towards popular writing: Beth A. Griech-Polelle enjoys Fergus Butler-Gallie’s Priests de la Resistance! The Loose Canons Who Fought Fascism in the Twentieth Century, finding hope in the stories of clergy who resisted Fascism and Nazism (and American racism too); Dirk Schuster ponders Carsten Linden and Craig Nessan’s short biography of Paul Leo, a Lutheran pastor persecuted under Nazi racial laws who found his way to a new life and ministry in the United States; and Andrew Chandler appreciates John A. Moses’ collection of essays on the state of Anglicanism in Australia, which pays homage to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Hans Küng, Martin Luther, and John Henry Newman.

As for shorter notes, we have included just one shorter news item: an announcement for an upcoming webinar on the significance of the Vatican Archives of Pope Pius XII, scheduled for October 17.

Finally, we have made a correction to a conference report from our June issue, on the conference Martin Niemoeller and His International Reception.

On behalf of the editorial team, I wish you a pleasant and above all safe autumn season (in the northern hemisphere).

Kyle Jantzen, Ambrose University


Review of Hagen Markwardt, Fruszina Müller and Bettina Westfeld, eds., Konfession und Wohlfahrt im Nationalsozialismus. Beispiele aus Mittel- und Ostdeutschland

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 27, Number 3 (September 2021)

Review of Hagen Markwardt, Fruszina Müller and Bettina Westfeld, eds., Konfession und Wohlfahrt im Nationalsozialismus: Beispiele aus Mittel- und Ostdeutschland (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 2021). 372 pages. ISBN 978-3-428-15753-2.

By Dirk Schuster, University of Vienna / Danube University Krems

Denomination and welfare under National Socialism – a topic that at first glance is not directly related to the National Socialist mass crimes. However, right at the beginning of their introduction, the editors help the reader understand the importance of welfare in the Third Reich. During the nineteenth century, there was a massive expansion of charitable institutions in Germany. With the seizure of power by the National Socialists in January 1933, a new understanding of the tasks of a health policy would develop based on the party ideology, which was fundamentally opposed to the previous ideas. Accordingly, the institutions owned by religious associations were faced with the crucial question of how to deal with the reorientation of health policy from 1933 onwards.

The focus on the regions of Central and Eastern Germany is a response to the current dearth of research on that region. Because denominational institutions were relatively autonomous at that time, such a regional delimitation makes perfect sense. Due to the denominational character of the region, then, most of the contributions deal with institutions and actors from the Protestant (evangelisch) spectrum, which is understandable. This will allow comparisons to be drawn between the various actors and institutions in different regions of Germany at a later point in time. It is regrettable that the editors did not succeed in soliciting contributions on the Thuringian region. They have focused on Silesia, however, which has also been rarely examined by research so far. A positive point to be emphasized here is the approach of the editors, acknowledging that the “relationship between the Christian-denominational institutions and the Nazi rule [are] not to [be understood] from the outset as dichotomous” (p. 11). Even if this approach should be a matter of course from this reviewer’s point of view, recent works show again and again that an ideological opposition between Christians and National Socialists is frequently assumed from the outset. Therefore, as self-evident as it may be, the editors’ basic attitude as it is formulated and implemented in the book is to be appreciated.

In the first, very well-structured article, Norbert Friedrich examines the developments within the Kaiserwerther Verband (KWV) in the ‘Third Reich.’ The KWV was the umbrella organization of the German deaconess mother houses. The head of the KVW is at the center of Friedrich’s examination. The KWV, to which around 30,000 deaconesses were subordinate in 1936, quickly introduced self-enforced conformity with National Socialist policies in 1933 without government coercion. In the same year, the national-conservative and anti-democratic executive committee accordingly abolished the democratic structures remaining from the times of the Weimar Republic, which were not popular anyway. By the end of March 1933, antisemitic propaganda from the National Socialists was also being echoed by the KWV. During the same year, the leadership of the association also clearly positioned itself in favor of German Christian Movement, which illustrates anti-democratic and antisemitic thinking. Due to the increasingly strong position of the Thuringian German Christians, the association distanced itself from the German-Christian spectrum from 1934 onwards, but this should not obscure its support for the Hitler state. Even if the state increasingly tried to restrict the deaconry in its actions, the KVW remained an important point of contact over the years.

In his contribution, Uwe Kaminsky analyzes the Expert Committee for Eugenics of the Inner Mission (“Fachausschuss für Eugenik der Inneren Mission”), which was founded in 1931. He concentrates on the Saxon representatives of the committee – those tasked by the regional church to discuss eugenics and euthanasia. That discourse was not without consequences, as Kaminsky rightly states, in reference to the approximately 25,000 Saxon victims of eugenics policies during the period from 1933 onwards. In the essay, Kaminsky presents biographical analyses of the individual Saxon representatives and concludes that many who had previously advocated voluntary sterilization went on to support the compulsory sterilization enforced by the National Socialists in 1933. Nevertheless, even though they agreed to the plans of the new authorities for mass sterilization, the representatives rejected euthanasia.

The Regional Association of Saxony of the Inner Mission is the focus of Bettina Westfeld’s contribution. Particularly shocking is the fact that in 1931 three of five clergymen in this regional association were members of the NSDAP. It is therefore not surprising that, immediately after Hitler came to power, the Inner Mission made declarations of loyalty to the new regime throughout Germany. Even before 1933, there was an endorsement of sterilization measures in the Regional Association of Saxony, citing as the reason for such measures the cost of care for mentally and physically handicapped people. In the years that followed, the Regional Association found itself in a field of tension within the divided Saxon regional church, which certainly did not make it easier for them to act. Westfeld’s contribution is shocking in some places, as she repeatedly refers to the number of victims and the individual fates of victims of the Nazi terror. She also addresses the attempt by individual deaconesses to hide patients to prevent them from being transported to killing centers like Pirna-Sonnenstein. However, these were individual actions and not measures by the regional church and the Inner Mission, which were hardly able to act anyway. The positive attitude towards sterilization measures also weakened the arguments of the Inner Mission to act against further measures aimed at “racial hygiene.” In the end, there was the terrifying number of 432 deaths from the homes of the Inner Mission, as well as a still unknown number of deaths of people over whom the Inner Mission held guardianship.

Christoph Hanzig examines another important aspect of this history, namely, that most of the facilities for the care of handicapped people in Saxony were not church-owned, but state-sponsored. Accordingly, Hanzig offers biographical information about the Protestant pastors in those state care facilities, in which pastors functioned as state officials. None of the pastors portrayed in detail belonged to a democratic party before 1933, but some were members of the NSDAP. So, it is hardly surprising that from 1933 almost all those pastors were actively involved in the Nazi state, supporting Nazi health policy.

The six contributions by Jan Brademann, Annett Büttner, Fruzsina Müller, Helmut Bräutigam, Manja Krausche and Elena Marie Elisabeth Kiesel all deal with empirical studies on one or more deaconess houses in Saxony or Saxony-Anhalt. For example, Kiesel examines the internal correspondence between headmasters and the sisterhood, using the case of the houses in Halberstadt, Magdeburg, and Halle/S and focusing on the “Schwesternbriefe” as a primary source. These were private in nature, which is why they offer an exclusive insight into the actual correspondence between the various staffing levels. As can be seen in the other contributions, the superiors of the houses examined by Kiesel also endorsed the appointment of Hitler as Reich Chancellor and called on the sisterhood to participate in “building up the Volksgemeinschaft.” Despite the increasing pressure from the National Socialist People’s Welfare (NSV), loyalty to the state was never in question. In 1940, an antisemitic appeal was issued to fight the Jews on the home front as well. The persecution of the Jews and the practice of euthanasia were almost never mentioned. Only in 1943 does a change in the content of the letters become visible, in which the previously loyal position to the regime was given up in favor of a stronger orientation toward peace.

Maik Schmerbauch provides a study on nursing and welfare for the poor in Breslau, while Jürgen Nitsche and Hagen Markwardt examine Jewish care facilities. Nitsche’s contribution illustrates the pressure that Jewish communities faced beginning in 1933. Increasingly deprived of infrastructure and government grants, they had to try on their own to organize care for older and handicapped community members. Accordingly, the Jewish community in Chemnitz, which serves as an empirical example, was forced to build a rest home.

Even though the regional focus is on Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, the knowledge gained through the anthology is expansive. The respective contributions impress with their empirical depth, so that the reader gets an insight into the connection between welfare and church denomination during the time of National Socialism, from the level of regional associations down to the very local level. However, the anthology deserves a summarizing conclusion. The individual contributions are highly informative and contain many new findings. A summary by the editors would have made it possible to systematically analyze the empirical contributions again, articulate special features and point out new research perspectives. Unfortunately, the editors missed this opportunity to broaden the perspective. Nevertheless, the anthology generates a multitude of new findings regarding the role of welfare institutions under religious sponsorship during the period of the ‘Third Reich.’


Review of Wilfried Loth. “Freiheit und Würde des Volkes:” Katholizismus und Demokratie in Deutschland

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 27, Number 3 (September 2021)

Review of Wilfried Loth, “Freiheit und Würde des Volkes:” Katholizismus und Demokratie in Deutschland, Religion und Moderne, Vol. 13 (Frankfurt am Main: Campus Verlag, 2018). ISBN 978-3-593-50838-2.

By Martin R. Menke, Rivier University

Wilfried Loth is a well-known German historian. In addition to research on nineteenth-century German Catholicism, he has also published on the early Cold War, on the history of France, and on European unification. In this collection of fourteen previously published essays, Loth analyzes Catholics’ contributions to the development of democracy in Germany since the mid-nineteenth century. Loth offers a nuanced analysis based on an impressive command of the scholarly literature and archival sources. He argues that while the institutional Church opposed modernity until after World War II, lay Catholics, especially those organized in political parties, contributed significantly to the development of modern democracy in Germany.

Loth argues that much relevant scholarship has rested on Rainer Lepsius’ theory of a closed Catholic milieu, largely dominated by ultramontane clergy.[1] According to Loth, instead of a stereotype of German Catholicism dominated by clergy and uniform in thought and practice, German Catholics learned early that defending modern goals such as the constitutional order, a responsible ministry, and the defense of civil rights was the best way to defend Catholic faith and values against in a secularized world. Loth’s analysis represents a strain of scholarship dating back to Margaret Lavinia Anderson’s Practicing Democracy: Elections and Culture in Imperial Germany and including Margaret Stieg Dalton’s Catholicism, Popular Culture and the Arts in Germany, 1880-1933, as well as Mark Edward Ruff’s The Wayward Flock: Catholic Youth in Postwar West Germany, 1945-1965, and others. [2]

One might question why a collection of Loth’s articles, which are generally well known, is needed. In the introduction, Loth warns that, “a quarter century after the collapse of the Soviet bloc, western pluralism, parliamentary democracy, and European unification suddenly no longer belong to the secure elements of the social order in Germany and Europe.”(9) Loth blames this decline on the alienation of social elites, middle strata and lower classes. He claims that reviewing the contribution of German Catholics to the country’s democratization might be useful to the development of a vigilant and self-asserting democracy, which the national Catholic convention of 2018 demanded. Keeping this admonition in mind lends the essay additional coherence.

In the first essay, Loth reviews the ultramontane attitude of the nineteenth-century Catholic hierarchy. Rather than considering Leo XIII, author of rerum novarum, as a modernizer, Loth reminds the reader that the church rejected all Catholic organizations beyond the control of the hierarchy, which impeded the social integration of Catholics. By the early twentieth century, however, German Catholics desired full integration into the majority society. To this end, the Center Party, the Volksverein, and the Görresgesellschaft were founded to further the Catholic laity’s political interests free of the hierarchy, to educate the lower classes, and to create a forum for Catholic scholars and intellectuals.  Loth argues in his second essay that Bismarck’s Kulturkampf did more for Catholic unity than the ultramontane faction could ever have done.

In the third chapter, Loth convinces the reader that assumptions about a coherent and homogeneous Catholic milieu are erroneous. This is both Loth’s most important and most controversial contribution to scholarship, first made in his Habilitationsschrift of 1984. He describes a Catholic bourgeoisie bent on emancipation in the Reich, populist tendencies among peasants and freeholders, as well as among the petit bourgeoisie, and finally, a Catholic labor movement. In this essay in particular, Loth offers such a nuanced and differentiating analysis to prove generalizations about “the” Catholic milieu become impossible. Rather, it is resistance against discrimination that brings Catholics together in support of the Center Party as the broadest Catholic organization.

In the fourth essay, Loth addresses the milieu thesis more directly, again with notable differentiation. He distinguishes between frequenting the sacraments and the liturgies on the one hand and living a life of Catholic daily practices and habits. What milieu may have formed would arise regionally to defend against discrimination. After 1945, the milieu disappeared completely. Loth concludes, “Political Catholicism and Catholic milieu constituted transitional phenomena. If these were created to resist modernity, Catholics instead ended up helping shape modernity.”(107)

In the following essay on the priest Georg Friedrich Dasbach, as in the essays on the resister Nikolaus Groß and on the Center Party’s colonial politics, Loth inserts case studies to illustrate his broader arguments. Father Dasbach established a publishing enterprise in which he supported small freeholders.  His calls for reform led to a Prussian state repression against him. Dasbach’s engagement for small freeholders, vintners, and the miners of the Saar brought him the disapproval of Catholic notables. Against the wishes of the Center Party leadership, the voters returned him to the Reichstag with 92 percent of the vote. This man’s fight against both state repression and the Catholic elites demonstrates the impossibility of a homogeneous Catholic milieu.

In the sixth essay, Loth describes the work of late nineteenth-century Catholic social thinkers such as Georg Hertling, Father August Pieper of the Volksverein, and the future Reich labor minister, Father Heinrich Braun, who openly rejected ultramontane attitudes and demanded Catholic teaching be rendered effective in laws to protect workers and their families. Loth further discussed the Volksverein in a separate chapter. He explains its transitional character to facilitate the entry of Catholic workers into the broader trade union movement. It began as an organization to protect Catholic workers from socialist temptations, then briefly became the voice of Catholic labor as a whole. After World War One, however, Catholic workers no longer needed the Volksverein as interdenominational Catholic unions now provided an attractive venue for the political and social formation of workers. Analyzing Catholic unions more specifically in a separate essay, Loth explains the eventual victory of Catholic workers over the ultramontane pressures of the hierarchy.  Despite near-condemnation from Rome, the Christian unions prevailed and thrived until 1933.

The ninth essay is probably the least satisfactory, largely because it addresses too great a time span. Loth addressed the development of political Catholicism from the Wilhelmine empire to the end of Weimar. Of the thirty pages of the essay, only five are devoted to the Weimar period before 1930. Loth concisely summarizes the Center Party’s struggles against the ultramontane hierarchy, against increasingly marginalized Catholic notables and nobles, and against the distrust of the Reich’s leadership. Loth convincingly argues that the Center drove towards the establishment of responsible government in a parliamentary democracy even before 1914. He cites the Center’s role in colonial politics, in the military budget. While in 1912, Matthias Erzberger, one of the Center’s young hotheads, openly demanded parliamentary democracy, the Center’s leaders avoided risking an open break with the government. Soon, however, the party’s labor wing demanded more radical measures to protect its interests, which amounted to reforms limiting the power of the dynasty, the nobility, and other elites. In this chapter, Loth argued the Center Party downplayed its demands for parliamentary government in 1918 due to the rapidly evolving constitutional crisis. One might argue, however, that by late summer, the Center’s role in the mixed committee of political parties (the Interfraktionelle Ausschuß) in the Reichstag amounted to the that of a party with governing responsibility, especially in uncovering the navy’s falsification of data claiming great achievements in submarine warfare and then, after August 1918, exercising de facto legislative and increasingly executive power. Also, describing the 1920’s, Loth exaggerates the degree to which the Center Party leadership adopted utopian notions of organic corporatism and revived medieval Reich. In fact, the Center focused primarily on quotidian demands and needs until 1933, perhaps too much so. Loth further argues that Heinrich Brüning, the last Center Party chancellor, actively sought to exclude the SPD from government, which is questionable. Loth agrees with Larry Eugene Jones and others that German parliamentary democracy ended in 1930, not later.

The essay on colonial politics is oddly placed between the essay on the role of the Catholic Center Party before 1930 and the chapter on 1933. Loth claims that Catholic support for colonial expansion reflected the end of Catholic rejection of capitalism.  Furthermore, Loth argues that Catholics supported colonialism to demonstrate loyalty to the Reich’s leadership and as a means to exploit its crucial role in the Reichstag. Colonial politics, however, alienated small freeholders and workers from the Center. The burden of naval armaments and the fear of social decline led many Catholics to reject Germany’s drive for global influence.

In a crucial chapter on the rise of National Socialism, Loth adopts the arguments generally accepted today. Neither the Church nor the party chairman, Monsignor Ludwig Kaas, sacrificed the party for the concordat. Loth does argue, however, that while Kaas and the hierarchy did not stab the party in the back, they did not explore possible alternatives to supporting the Enabling Act or negotiating the Concordat.

In an essay on the Catholic resistance to the National Socialist regime, Loth largely summarizes well-known scholarship about the internal divisions in the German hierarchy. He criticizes the Church for not doing more to mobilize German Catholics against the regime. Here again, Loth adds an essay illustrating his point. This time, he focuses on the Christian union official Nikolaus Groß. Groß opposed the regime and eventually collaborated with members of the Abwehr in the planning of the July 20, 1944 attempt on Hitler’s life, for which Groß paid with his life.

In a last essay, published in 2012, Loth summarizes the argument made in this volume. He emphasizes the ambiguity between the anti-modern ultramontane positions of much of nineteenth century Catholic leaders on the one hand and the development of lay Catholic movements and initiatives on the other. The latter, Loth argues, stemmed from the laity, not the hierarchy, with the intention both of securing Catholic rights in a modern secular world but increasingly also to shape the values and policies of that world. German Catholicism became an advocate for workers, for Poles, Alsatians, for peasants and small freeholders. The Kulturkampf resulted in German Catholics’ advocacy of the civic rights and equality for all Germans, which led the Center Party to the defense of parliamentary democracy in the Wilhelmine period and to participation in many Reich cabinets of the Weimar Republic. Resistance to National Socialism led Catholics to prize cooperation of all democratic forces, regardless of religious identity. After 1945 all over Europe, Catholics actively participated in Christian Democratic parties, which in turn contributed much to the development of post-war democracy. Loth concludes, “In the long run, the ideas of solidarity and subsidiarity in contemporary debates about the future of the social welfare state in continental Europe can be considered a legacy of Catholic experience.” Loth hopes this experience and these principles will contribute to remedies for the weakening of state instruments across Europe.

While in a collection of essays representing the span of Loth’s career one cannot expect new archival discoveries or interventions in contemporary scholarly debates, this volume nonetheless serves useful ends. Loth reminds the reader of the milieu-debate, still smoldering among scholars of German Catholicism. By his argument against a homogeneous, national, and persistent milieu, Loth gives one the impression that those who insist on the existence of a milieu might be those who wish to simplify German Catholicism in order to offer over-generalized critiques.[3] Loth himself, however, limits his argument against the existence of a milieu by referring to regional milieux created against outside pressures. Kicking off this debate, by his own admission unintentionally might be Loth’s greatest scholarly legacy. Loth also argued that the Center’s contribution specifically and German Catholicism generally to the parliamentarization and thus to the democratization of Germany is one of its most unrecognized merits. In this volume, now published three years, ago, Loth reminds Germans how dear the price paid for the establishment of parliamentary democracy and the firm commitment to civil rights has been. To support his warning about the endangerment of parliamentary democracy in the early twenty-first century, Loth’s work analyzes the historical example of the alienation between Catholic nobles, notables, and middle class from Catholic workers and small freeholders, which eventually contributed to the collapse of Germany’s first attempt at parliamentary democracy. It might be beneficial for colleagues teaching German history and the history of Christianity in history to integrate his analysis into their lectures.


[1] M. Rainer Lepsius, “Parteiensystem und Sozialstruktur. Zum Problem der Demokratisierung der deutschen Gesellschaft” in Wilhelm Abel et al., eds. Wirtschaft, Gesellschaft und Wirtschaftsgeschichte: Festschrift zum 65. Geburtstag von Friedrich Lütge (Stuttgart: G. Fischer, 1966).

[2] Margaret Lavinia Anderson, Practicing Democracy: Elections and Political Culture in Imperial Germany (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), Margaret Stieg Dalton, Catholicism, Popular Culture and the Arts in Germany, 1880-1933 (South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005), and Mark Edward Ruff, The Wayward Flock: Catholic Youth in Postwar West Germany, 1945-1965 (University of North Carolina Press, 2005).

[3] Loth includes Olaf Blaschke among those whose use of the milieu concept is problematic.  See Olaf Blasche, Frank-Michael Kuhlemann, eds. Religion im Kaiserreich: Milieus, Mentalitäten, Krisen (Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2000).


Review of Holy Silence (directed and produced by Steven Pressman, 2020)

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 27, Number 3 (September 2021)

Review of Holy Silence, directed and produced by Steven Pressman (Seventh Art, 2020)

Rebecca Carter-Chand, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum*

* The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent those of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Filmmaker Steven Pressman often tells the story of the moment he heard Pope Francis’ announcement in March 2019 that Vatican archival materials related to the pontificate of Pius XII (1939-1958) would soon be made available to researchers for the first time. At the time, Pressman was in the editing stage for his new film, Holy Silence, which offers a fresh take on the longstanding questions about the role of the Vatican during the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust. Pressman has said that although he was initially concerned that the opening of the archives would eclipse his film and render it outdated before it was even released, he soon realized that the timing was fortuitous. With more than 16 million pages spread across several archives in Vatican City and Rome, historians will be filling in missing puzzle pieces and bringing nuance to polarized debates for years to come. COVID-related delays have extended these timelines even further. In this context, Holy Silence offers a balanced and accessible primer to audiences, both newcomers and those well-versed in this history.

The film features several academics familiar to CCHQ readers, including members of the editorial team Kevin Spicer and Suzanne Brown-Fleming. Interviews with Robert Ventresca, Susan Zuccotti, Michael Phayer, Maria Mazzenga, and many others are interspersed with historic footage, and occasional re-enactment to explore the actions of popes Pius XI and XII and some of the innerworkings of the Vatican. Pressman offers a range of voices, including a few outliers like Norbert Hofmann, Secretary of the Holy See’s Commission for Jewish Relations, who views Pius XII in a sympathetic light. We also hear contrasting viewpoints from Sister Maria Pascalizi of the Roman Convent of Santa Maria dei Sette Dolori and Micaela Pavoncello, a local Jew, about the Vatican’s role in sanctioning or encouraging the hiding of Jews in churches.

The film is centered on the Vatican, but it employs a distinctly American lens, featuring several American individuals who intersected with this history. The contribution of American Jesuit priest John LaFarge and the so-called “hidden encyclical” drafted in 1938 is explored in detail. Unfortunately, the film does not mention the pre-Vatican II supersessionist and anti-Judaic themes of Humani generis unitas (“The Unity of the Human Race”). Instead, it focuses on LaFarge’s formative experiences ministering in African-American communities, highlighting the transatlantic context in which some people were formulating their critiques of racism in the 1930s and 40s.

Holy Silence concludes with the end of World War II and does not address the postwar entanglements of the Vatican with Nazis fleeing Europe; doing so would require a much longer film than the current 55 minutes. Like any good documentary film, it presents a narrative but asks more questions than it answers. As the debates around the role of the Catholic church and Pope Pius XII in the Holocaust receive new breath due to the opening of the archives, this film provides an entry point for productive discussion about the role of religious leaders, the relationship between large religious institutions and governments, and local dynamics between religious majorities and minorities.

Holy Silence is available to stream through PBS and Amazon Prime. Recordings of multiple panel discussions about the film co-sponsored by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum are available on YouTube.




Review of Robert Braun, Protectors of Pluralism: Religious Minorities and the Rescue of Jews in the Low Countries during the Holocaust

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 27, Number 3 (September 2021)

Review of Robert Braun, Protectors of Pluralism: Religious Minorities and the Rescue of Jews in the Low Countries during the Holocaust (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019).

By Rebecca Carter-Chand, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum*

* The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent those of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Social scientist Robert Braun has made an important contribution to the study of rescue during the Holocaust, up-ending much of the conventional wisdom and modes of analysis about rescue and rescuers. Braun argues that most studies of rescue are insufficient because they focus too much on motivation, overlook the rescuers’ capacity to effectively carry out the rescue, and do not account for regional variation. This book addresses all three of these factors. Braun is especially skeptical of religious teachings as primary motivating factors, illustrated by a compelling opening anecdote about two Dutch towns in the region of Twente with similar sociocultural profiles but very different responses to the deportation of Jews in 1941. In Almelo many Jews were able to evade deportation with the help of the local Catholic church and 42% of the town’s Jews survived the war. In the nearby town of Borne, the local Catholic churches did not engage in rescue efforts and only 22% of the town’s Jews escaped deportation. Catholic theology and social teaching cannot account for this variation, nor can political or wartime circumstances. Herein lies the guiding question of this study: why are some religious communities willing and able to protect victims of mass persecution and others are not?

Because this is a work of social science, it employs a methodology very different from how historians approach research and thus warrants some explanation. Braun begins with a hypothesis that religious minorities are more likely to assist or rescue persecuted groups from mass violence or genocide. In this framing, religious minorities could hold minority status on a national level because of their small size (e.g., Quakers) or they could be a minority in a given region—Catholics in a majority Protestant region and vice versa. This minority theory is based on the idea that religious minorities recognize a shared vulnerability with other minorities, which triggers empathy. Braun posits that all religious communities seek security and self-preservation. When they cannot achieve this through religious dominance, then pluralism is the next safest option to ensure survival. So, a commitment to pluralism accounts for the willingness factor but minority status also enables capacity. Minority communities are able to engage in clandestine collective action while reducing exposure because of their members’ commitment and their relative isolation (more on isolation below). (40)

Braun proceeds to test this hypothesis through detailed geocoding of Jewish evasion in the Netherlands and Belgium, combining spatial statistics, archival sources, contemporary newspapers and other published materials, and postwar testimony, including materials from Yad Vashem’s Righteous Among the Nations program. Numerous graphs, charts, and maps are included throughout these chapters, as well as an insert of ten colour figures. The maps help to explain the story yet the technical presentation of the data makes these chapters largely inaccessible to those not familiar with social scientific methodologies.

Compelling as it is, the limitations of Braun’s thesis are just as important to understand as the argument itself and the data that supports it. There are a number of significant qualifications, the most important being that it is not just minority status that motivates and enables rescue but a certain level of isolation. (112) To illustrate this point, Braun offers the case of a Catholic chaplain in a majority Catholic area of Belgium who carried out a successful rescue operation because he used farmers in remote locations to hide Jews. The farmers were not socially isolated but rather geographically isolated. (170-171) Another crucial factor to consider is that Jews were more likely to survive when their individual networks overlapped with those of isolated minority groups—when doctors and patients and business owners and business patrons interacted on regular basis.

The book’s concluding chapter considers the applicability of the minority theory in other countries during the Holocaust. Here we see that the seemingly straightforward thesis posited in the book comes with some significant exceptions and qualifications. In order for Braun’s theory to work, the rescue must be collective and clandestine. He outlines three exceptions that suggest why we do not necessarily find religious minorities rescuing Jews to the same extent in other settings during the Holocaust and other modern genocides. Religious minorities may not engage in higher levels of successful rescue where: 1) majority elites, both secular and religious, openly object to persecution and cooperate to stymie the persecution; 2) the rescue is highly individualized and does not require coordination, as in Poland; and 3) the minority groups are closely aligned with the repressive apparatus undertaking the violence. (236) This third point is paramount to understanding the actions of religious minorities in Nazi Germany, where most Christian minorities responded to their perceived vulnerable status by aligning themselves with the Nazi state rather than responding with empathy for other persecuted minorities. Yet the book’s thesis may shed light on German religious minorities if we consider how the Volksgemeinschaft offered belonging and affirmation for previously marginalized groups in German society, thus eclipsing the recognition of shared vulnerability and the promotion of pluralism.

As the author points out, studying clandestine behaviour is hard. (116) Due to the extensive documentation available for the Netherlands, this book is able to compare situations on a granular level and isolate individual factors. Although its applicability may not be as broad as the author explores, he has offered a sophisticated methodology and way of thinking about rescue that moves far beyond religious motivation.


Review of Fergus Butler-Gallie, Priests de la Resistance! The Loose Canons Who Fought Fascism in the Twentieth Century

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 27, Number 3 (September 2021)

Review of Fergus Butler-Gallie, Priests de la Resistance! The Loose Canons Who Fought Fascism in the Twentieth Century (London: Oneworld Publications, 2020). 273 pages. ISBN: 9781786078308.

By Beth A. Griech-Polelle, Pacific Lutheran University

As one might see immediately from the title of the above-named work, the Reverend Butler-Gallie is quite clever and creative in wordplay. This is one of the most engaging books written as inspiration for those who have come to believe that Christianity was more than a willing tool of fascist regimes and genocidal projects in the twentieth century. In fact, in the brief introduction to the book, the author notes that Christianity and Fascism have been intertwined and that the complex relationship of Christian institutions with Fascist dictatorships has spawned an enormous number of works. This work is not attempting to delve deeply into the interplay of Christian Church leadership with the monumental devastation produced by fascist projects. Instead, this work serves as an attempt to underscore the rare and therefore more extraordinary acts of Christian men and women who decided that their commitment to the teachings of Christ and their understanding of Christian teaching meant that they had no other choice but to resist destructive fascist actions and the harmful ideology behind them.

The book is divided into five sections, beginning in occupied France, with stories of “resistance par excellence” focusing on the lives of Canon Felix Kir (of blanc de cassis aka “Kir” fame) and Abbe Pierre (born Henri Marie Joseph Groues). Both of these individuals engaged in acts of sabotage, rescue work (especially of persecuted Jews), and generally served as thorns in the sides of the Nazis and their French collaborators.

The next section focuses on places where resistance to fascism meant going against one’s own people and one’s own government: Germany and Italy. Here readers encounter a Catholic bishop, Clemens August Graf von Galen; a Protestant minister, Dietrich Bonhoeffer; and finally a Catholic priest, Don Pietro Pappagallo, who engaged in forging new identities for the persecuted in and around Rome. This inspiring story of Don Pietro Pappagallo then leads into the longest section of the book; an examination of Christians resisting while living under occupying powers. This section brings in Czechs, Hungarians, Greeks, Poles, Dutch, and Danes. Some survived their acts of resistance, while others, such as Sister Sara Salkahazi, a former chain-smoking journalist turned nun, did not.

Finally, the two remaining sections of the book focus on two individuals who left the relative safety of Ireland and Scotland, Father Hugh O’Flaherty of Scarlet Pimpernel fame and the much lesser-known but no less inspiring Jane Haining, who traveled to Hungary to help orphaned girls and who died along with her charges in a gas chamber in Auschwitz. The final segment focuses on Pastor Fred Shuttlesworth, who fought for integration in the deep South of the United States, and on a young seminarian from New England, Jonathan Daniels, who took a bullet intended for a young black girl attempting to attend an all-white school. This final segment on civil rights in the United States seems a bit out of sync with the rest of the work. That said, one can see the overlap in racist ideology and understand why the author decided to include these accounts in a work on resistance.

As one can see from this brief overview, the book aims to cover a great deal of ground, using individual life stories as lessons for the reader. Are saints mad? Are they fools? Are martyrs always brave in the face of life-threatening circumstances? And so on. These vignettes are also meant to inspire the reader with a sense that, even in the darkest of times, there are always good, brave people who decide that they would rather give their lives in the name of their principles and beliefs than conform to whatever the majority in society is doing at the time.

The Reverend Fergus Butler-Gallie’s writing style makes for a rollicking read, and, despite the fact that I disagree with his interpretation of my scholarship on Bishop von Galen, I found the work to be one that I did not want to put down. There is much energy, plenty of puns, and some non-scholarly vocabulary in the work (such as saying Father Kir’s actions indicated his “sheer ballsiness,” p.14) yet this type of non-scholarly language is what makes the book so engaging. It breaks through the clutter of stale academic prose, it captures the reader’s imagination with wonderful turns of phrasing, and it radiates some of the energy that this cast of characters must have needed to draw upon in order to maintain their faith and values in the face of death.

I am certain that scholars who have spent years researching each one of these individuals might find errors or misinterpretations of the subjects’ lives, yet, in spite of that fact, many readers might then be led to follow up on the suggested readings at the very end of the book to investigate each person whose bravery and dedication to God reverberates throughout the work. If one takes the book on its face – that is, that it is meant to serve as a source of inspiration and hope for readers of all faiths much like reading a Lives of the Saints collection, I would recommend reading the book. In a time when a person’s decisions could have life-saving or life-threatening consequences, the individuals featured by Rev. Butler-Gallie reveal the power that deep faith in God can serve as a continued source of strength for us all.


Review of Carsten Linden and Craig Nessan, Paul Leo. Lutherischer Pastor mit jüdischen Wurzeln (1893–1958)

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 27, Number 3 (September 2021)

Review of Carsten Linden and Craig Nessan, Paul Leo. Lutherischer Pastor mit jüdischen Wurzeln (1893–1958) (Nordhausen: Traugott Bautz, 2019). 86 pages. ISBN 978-3-95948-453-4.

By Dirk Schuster, University of Vienna / Danube University Krems

Historian Carsten Linden and Craig Nessan, Professor of Contextual Theology at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, present the life and work of the Lutheran Evangelical pastor and theologian Paul Leo (1893–1958) in 86 pages. Linden wrote the first part, Nessan the second. Unfortunately, the two parts are not well coordinated, so that there are repetitions in places. The relevance of examining the life of Paul Leo and paying tribute to him with this booklet lies in his family of origin. One of his ancestors was Moses Mendelsohn. Still, like his father, Paul Leo was a baptized Christian. At this point, a great nuisance begins: Carsten Linden writes about Paul Leo, who was baptized in infancy: “The extent to which he was Jewish, however, seems to be a little in the eye of the beholder” (p. 7). Linden is right in referring to interpretations of Jewish theology stating that the descendants of a Jewish mother are Jews. The annoyance, however, is that the author assumes Leo could possibly have a Jewish identity, just as the National Socialists did. For them, the Protestant pastor was a Jew because of his ancestors. Why Linden does not simply accept Leo’s religious self-image as a Protestant Christian at this point, instead of relying on external attributions, remains unclear.

Based on extensive archival source material, Linden describes Paul Leo’s early professional career. When the National Socialists came to power, Leo faced increasing difficulties due to his Jewish ancestors. Why Linden then adopts the racial biological interpretations of the National Socialists in this regard and describes Paul Leo as the “Jewish pastor of the regional church” (p. 19) is disturbing, however. Unfortunately, Linden also makes significant mistakes in terms of content: The Confessing Church did not form due to alleged state and National Socialist (where should a dividing line be drawn here?) interventions in church affairs (p. 18). This apologetic church historiography of the 1950s has been refuted many times in recent years, which should be taken into account when dealing with such a topic.

Since Paul Leo was mainly responsible for pastoral care in state institutions, he successively lost all of his responsibilities, as a result of which the church council assigned him the Osnabrück district of Haste for pastoral care. But even there, Paul Leo was increasingly hindered in his work because he was considered a Jew in the National Socialist understanding. The church council therefore decided to suggest ‘temporary retirement’ to Leo in mid-1938. On November 9, 1938, Paul Leo shared the same fate as thousands of Jews throughout the ‘Third Reich’: the SS arrested him and deported him to the Buchenwald concentration camp. Since Paul Leo received a visa for the Netherlands, he was released from the concentration camp at the end of 1938. However, he never spoke about his experiences there. In the Netherlands, he also had to live separated from his daughter (the mother had died during childbirth), which, in addition to the loss of his homeland, was certainly another inhuman burden. From the Netherlands, Leo then came to the USA in 1939, where he held various positions as pastor and theologian until his sudden death in 1958. Craig Nessan describes this second phase of life in Leo’s new home in America. It becomes clear how difficult life could be for exiles in the first few years.

The brief account of the life and work of Paul Leo is a classic descriptive biographical treatise. It conveys very well the depressing circumstances under which people had to live who did not belong to the ideal of the National Socialist ‘Volksgemeinschaft.’ And as a pastor, Leo received no significant protection from the regional church. From the point of view of the reviewer, the description of Leo’s first years in the USA is particularly impressive. Despite his successful escape from Nazi Germany, which ensured Leo’s and his daughter’s survival, the first few years were a struggle for survival in a completely different society. The Lutheran theologian Paul Leo had to work in his early years as a teacher in a Presbyterian church in Pittsburgh, which ensured his and his family’s financial survival.

Embedding the descriptions within the overall context of the ‘Third Reich’ with the help of current research literature would certainly have done the book some good, ­even more so a final editing. The many grammatical errors are unworthy of an appreciation of Paul Leo’s life.