Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

Return to index.

Newsletter — September 2004— Vol. X, no. 9

Dear Colleagues,

For those of you in the northern hemisphere, I trust you had a restful and
restorative summer, and are now ready to return to academic pursuits!


1) Book reviews:

a) Ostmeyer, Evangelische Kirche und Juden in der DDR
b) Holtschneider, German Protestants and the Holocaust
c) Ziefle, One Woman against the Reich

2) Kirchliche Tourismus: Hale: Himmler's Crusade

1a) (This review appeared first on H-German on June 24th 2004, and is
here reproduced by kind permission of the author.)

Irena Ostmeyer. "Zwischen Schuld und Suehne: Evangelische Kirche
und Juden in der SBZ und DDR 1945-1990". Berlin: Institut Kirche und
Judentum, 2002. 400 pp. Bibliographical references, index. Euro 15.00 (cloth), ISBN
3-923-09575-9. Reviewed for H-German by Axel Fair-Schulz <>,
Department of History, State University of New York at Buffalo

Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ" has triggered the latest incarnation
of ongoing debates around the theological and practical connections
between Christianity and Anti-Semitism. Irena Ostmeyer's carefully
researched and well-written "Zwischen Schuld und Suehne: Evangelische
Kirche und Juden in der SBZ und DDR 1945-1990" offers a good overview
of the Protestant side of this debate within the context of former East
Germany. Her project, originally a Ph.D. dissertation at the University
of Potsdam under the supervision of Julius Schoeps (also director of the
"Moses Mendelssohn Zentrum--Europaeisch-Juedische Studien"), is a
cogent effort at reconstructing the reactions and approaches of the
mainstream Evangelical Church toward Jews and Judaism in the GDR. She
is sensitive to the obvious and more hidden dimensions of this complex
theme and takes into sober consideration the evolving views of East
German Protestantism, as well as various regional differences. Ostmeyer
includes theological, historical, as well as social features of the
relationship between Evangelical Churches and Jews in her book. Given that
reconstruction is this work's strongest suit, Ostmeyer also offers
considerable analysis.

Further scholarship could render a more rigorously theorized synthesis,
integrating her findings into the larger body of work on the relationship
of Christianity toward Judaism and the long shadow of the Holocaust. It
might also be necessary for further scholarly efforts to integrate the
wealth of Ostmeyer's material into the overall history of East Germany.
Ostmeyer divided her work into two major parts: the Evangelical Church's
coming to terms with Judaism (in nine chapters) and the development of
new relationships between the Evangelical Church and the Jewish
congregations/Jews in the GDR (composed of three chapters). At the
outset, Ostmeyer provides a user-friendly overview of the scholarly
literature as well as explicating her definition of "Evangelical Church,"
composed of the eight independent regional Churches (Landeskirche
Anhalt, Evangelische Kirche in Berlin-Brandenburg, Evangelische Kirche
des Goerlitzer Kirchengebietes, Evangelische Landeskirche Greifswald,
Evangelisch-Lutherische Landeskirche Mecklenburgs, Evangelische der
Kirchenprovinz Sachsen, Evangelisch-Lutherische Landeskriche Sachsens,
as well as the Evangelische-Lutherische Kirche in Thueringen). Ostmeyer
excludes the Catholic Church because of its marginal influence in the GDR.
She also does not mention the various smaller Christian dominations, even
when they happen to be part of the general Protestant tradition. Given
how voluminous her material on the mainstream Evangelical Church is, this
choice of exclusion might be justified. Yet further research must focus
on a more comparative direction and probe whether and to what extent the
findings on the Evangelical Church are confirmed and/or complicated by
data from the other denominations

Ostmeyer's definition of "Judaism" includes religious, cultural, and
historical features. The scope of her book focuses on Jewish life and
identity in Germany after the Shoah and founding of Israel. She has
acquired considerable expertise within Judaism and is, in her writing,
explicitly conscious of her own Christian background. Thus the concept of
a "Christian-Jewish," rather than a "Jewish-Christian," dialogue is not to
be understood as establishing a hierarchy. In addition, Ostmeyer also
draws attention to the relative passivity of the East German Jewish side
of the unfolding dialogue, locating the reasons for this within the small
number of Jews, their overall strong loyalty toward the "anti-Fascist"
state, the difficulties of the small Jewish congregations to accommodate
religiously very different members, fears and recollections of difficult
times (such as in the early 1950s), as well as the related wish to just be
among themselves in peace. This is augmented further by what Ostmeyer
somewhat harshly calls the "theological incompetence" on the part of the
majority of the GDR's Jews (p. 304)\

Centering her narrative on the Evangelical perspective, Ostmeyer
identifies four major phases of Christian-Jewish interaction in the GDR.
The time period between 1945-60 is characterized by outrage toward Nazi
crimes, as well as compassion for the especially or obviously victimized
Jews. This however, went hand in hand with a stubborn refusal to accept
any tangible responsibility, particularly in the realm of theology. Yet
as time went by, this approach became increasingly nuanced. Several
voices within East German Protestantism worked toward a more critical
reflection on the relationship between Christian theology and
anti-Semitism. One such figure, Professor Heinrich Vogel, pushed for such
a re-orientation already in the spring of 1950. Nevertheless his efforts
were dwarfed because many Protestants feared that an ecclesiastical
admission of guilt would translate into demands for financial compensation
(p. 49). The major theological paradigm of the time period was still
informed by the notion that the Jews had rejected Jesus Christ and thus
would bear some measure of responsibility for their own fate. Thus, in
this mindset, Christians should try to convert Jews; this approach
essentially precluded any real dialogue based on a relationship of equals.
The author places the second phase of Christian-Jewish interaction between
1960-1961 and 1978. It is marked by a transformation of Evangelical
efforts, from the attempts to convert Jews (the so-called "Judenmission")
to a more genuine dialogue based on mutual respect. This process was
pushed even further after 1978, impelled by the fortieth anniversary of
the events of November 9, 1938. The remembrance of "Kristallnacht",
now seen as "Pogromnacht" (given the somewhat belittling implications of
the former term), jump-started further practical manifestations of dialogue,
commemoration, as well as theological reflections. Ostmeyer views the
last phase as being characterized not just by the Evangelical Church
admitting to human guilt but theological guilt as well, regarding
anti-Semitism and the Shoah. This phase coalesced around the
remembrances of the fiftieth anniversary of the "Pogromnacht" in 1988. It
required a new generation of theologians, Church leaders, and motivated
rank-and file membership to spur this development.

Overall Ostmeyer argues that it was not so much the Church leadership as
highly motivated individuals working for these changes. Perhaps more
detailed biographical sketches would have added to her excellent analysis.
Interestingly enough, the majority of East German Evangelical ministers,
vicars, and catechists remained uninterested in Jewish culture and
learning. Ostmeyer diagnoses the shortcomings in their theological
training, which amounted to only a very sketchy knowledge of Judaism.
Thus it was ultimately a numerically small group, within the Jewish and the
Christian communities, that actively pushed for genuine dialogue and some
measure of reconciliation.

The actions of Evangelical Christians toward developing a greater
awareness of Jewish heritage and experiences led, already in the 1950s,
toward taking better care of Jewish cemeteries, particularly the low
profile "forgotten cemeteries" not taken care off by the SED regime. This
combined with more spectacular actions, such as lobbying the Evangelical
Church on behalf of the beleaguered Jewish cemetery in Berlin-Weissensee,
led to tensions between the state and the Church. The SED regime had
planned, in 1982-83 and again in 1986, to build a highway right through
what constituted Europe's largest Jewish grave site. The strong
opposition of the Church, among other factors, convinced the state to give
up on this design (p. 301).

Church groups that focused on Jewish matters also often lobbied on behalf
of a re-evaluation of the GDR's hostile stance toward Israel, demanding
the establishment of diplomatic relations as well as offering an official
East German admission of guilt. This, however, collided directly with the
GDR's claims of being the anti-fascist German state. Engaged Evangelical
Christians thus became direct competitors with the regime, frequently
pointing out its ideological blind spots.

Ostmeyer argues that in essence the East German Evangelical Church
voiced a position independent of the state's point of view. While it seems
indeed the case, that they articulated alternatives to official GDR
positions, they also remained firmly grounded in the political,
socio-economic, and cultural orbit of their state. Thus future research
could explore in more detail the complex interconnections between the
regime's perspective(s) and the alternative(s) offered by the Evangelical

Overall, Ostmeyer did a superb job of presenting and evaluating an
immense amount of archival material, combined with interviews and the
ever-expanding secondary literature. Her book is a very useful resource
for advanced undergraduate students, graduate students, and scholars in
the field.
Axel Fair-Schulz,
Fort Erie, Ontario

1b) K. Hannah Holtschneider, German Protestants Remember the
Holocaust: Theology and the Construction of Collective Memory,
Münster: LIT Verlag, 2001

Hannah Holtschneider, a lecturer at the Centre for the Study of
Jewish-Christian Relations in Cambridge, UK, has produced with this book
a neat revision of her doctoral dissertation and, in the process, added
significantly to the ongoing debates regarding Holocaust remembrance.
Using the lens of collective memory theory as it has been applied to 'secular'
sites of Holocaust remembrance - the Bitburg controversy, the
Historikerstreit and the Goldhagen debate - she has focused her attention on
the extent to which German Protestant theology has embraced the task of
remembering. As Holtschneider herself puts it, she seeks to explore whether
or not 'theologies developed by the second generation of Germans after the
Holocaust facilitate the articulation of issues of Holocaust remembrance
pertaining to the third generation' (p.9), of which she herself is part.
Holtschneider acknowledges the pioneering work of the previous
generation's theologians. Nonetheless, she regards it as timely to review
their interpretive paradigms, especially in light of 'social-historical
changes'(p.10) - most acutely, the reunification of Germany.
These generational differences in the processing of memory form the
explicit subject of the fifth chapter but are in fact ubiquitous themes
throughout the book, notably in Holtschneider's choice of texts. The texts
she has chosen to consider are the 1980 Rheinischer Synodalbeschluß,
selected works by F-W Marquardt, and Britta Jüngst's 1996 doctoral
dissertation. These particular texts date from 1980 through until the
late-1990s and thus represent both the current and previous generation of

The first two chapters deal with the Rhineland Synod's statement, and the
more secular debates regarding National Socialist/Holocaust memory
within German society, respectively. In both chapters, Holtschneider shows
that Jews are incorporated into German collective memory largely through
their exclusion from the narrative or by their designation as Other. The
1984 film Heimat, for example, 'reclaim[ed] German history' for the
Germans, but at the exclusion of Jewish voices (pp.69, 73). The Bitburg
controversy the following year universalized victimhood, by stating that
both the SS soldiers buried at Bitburg and the Jews they murdered were
victims - thus, by denying a qualitative difference, actually isolated Jewish
experience even further (p.79). Finally, the Historikerstreit and the
Goldhagen case excluded authentic Jewish remembrance by, in the first,
refusing to represent the Holocaust as such and, in the second, refusing to
grant Goldhagen the scholarly capacity to address the issues simply because
of his ethnic identification with the victims (pp.87, 96-97). Goldhagen, a
Jew, was incapacitated as a scholar of the Holocaust 'because his heritage
[was] assumed to predetermine the conclusions he [would] draw...'(p.97).
Taken together, argues Holtschneider, these examples show that the
Holocaust 'enter[s] German memory from the outside...'; it is remembered
as a crime committed against groups of people who were, by definition,
'excluded from membership in German society'(p.103). The clear
implication is that they still are.

Holtschneider finds the same interpretive paradigm at work in the
Rhineland statement. While acknowledging that the statement 'represents a
great theological achievement...[that] opened the floor for a
discussion' (p.59), she nonetheless sees it as indicative of a hermeneutical
method within German Protestantism that typically instrumentalizes Jews.
Employing Stephen Haynes' categories of 'reformist', 'radicalist' and
'rejectionist' paradigms of Christian interpretations of Jews/Israel,
Holtschneider argues that the Synodalbeschluß understands Jews merely as
'signs' of God's action in history. They remain embedded within the
'witness-people myth', rather than being seen as a diverse and dynamic
community - real people! - in their own right. Holtschneider applauds the
Synod for emphasizing the 'common ground between the two faiths'(p.53),
but points out that such an approach 'identifies Jews only in religious
terms'(p.54) and thus fails to account for the variety of Jewish identities.
Moreover, it perpetuates the Christian hermeneutical principle that Jews are
rightly understood only from the perspective of their role in the drama of
salvation-history, of which Christians are (according to this principle) the
culmination. In other words, the Rhineland statement, though
well-intentioned, Christianizes the legacy of the Holocaust and reads the
future of Jewish-Christian relations as being the reintroduction of 'the Jews'
into the essentially Christian narrative of Heilsgeschichte.

The chapter on Marquardt begins with a positive endorsement of his
contribution to Jewish-Christian dialogue. He is, argues Holtschneider, 'the
most distinguished systematic theologian' in Germany who has tackled this
issue, with Paul van Buren the only comparable scholar outside of Europe
(pp.105-106). When considered more closely, however, Holtschneider
argues that Marquardt perpetuates many of the hermeneutical myths about
Jews and Judaism that have long dogged Christianity.

Taking the Holocaust as his dogmatic starting point (p.105), Marquardt's
work - a Dogmatik in Bußform - represents a significant theological
advance on the Rhineland statement. Reminiscent of Emil Fackenheim's
concept of 'rupture', Marquardt regards Christian faith and theology as
essentially uncertain after the Holocaust; it is 'questioned in an
unprecedented way'(p.109). Why this is the case is simply that, for him, the
relationship between Jews and God is paradigmatic for the history of all
humanity with God and thus foundational to Christianity. Thus, if the life of
Jewish people is endangered, so is the relationship of Christianity to
Judaism and, for that reason, to God. Consequently, Christian theology has
a future only to the extent to which 'it recognizes a dependency...on Jews as
its presupposition'(p.111). Marquardt's solution is, therefore, to develop an
'Evangelical Halachah' - a reorientation of theology from the perspective of
Jewish biblical interpretation, that is, from the perspective of the victims.
Holtschneider rightly criticizes this approach as a misappropriation of a
Jewish concept that serves both to universalize Jewish suffering - Jews do
not uniformly self-identify as 'victims', she says - and to Christianize
Judaism (pp.113-115). By introducing such an ontological distinction
between Jews and other people - and between the Holocaust and other
genocides - Marquardt denigrates the suffering of non-Jews and, once
again, resorts to a version of the 'witness-people myth'.

Holtschneider is even more scathing of his use of survivor testimony. His
uncritical usage betrays an ambiguity 'as to who Jews are...while at the
same time [he nonetheless holds] firm ideas as to what 'Jewish
witness'constitutes'(p.131). By employing Jean Améry as his reference point
for discussing Auschwitz, Marquardt contradicts his methodological
intentions. In fact, Améry's writing is directly opposed to what Marquardt is
trying to achieve. Why? Because Marquardt 'derives his understanding of
the Holocaust from the writing of a Jew...who is not Jewish of his own
choice...who has been violently separated from his culture and
language...and who is not religious'(p.129). One consequence of this is that,
for Marquardt, the Holocaust becomes merely 'a canvas which can be
inscribed with [one's own] meaning' (p.130). Another is that, by selectively
deciding what does or does not constitute authentic Jewish witness, his
dogmatic theology perpetuates 'the silencing of Jewish memory'(p.131). All
in all, Marquardt's good intentions notwithstanding, Holtschneider regards
his work as fundamentally flawed, and which at best contributes only
ambiguously to the inclusion of Jewish experience into collective German
Protestant memory.

Holtschneider's final chapter explores Britta Jüngst's Auf der Seite des
Todes das Leben, and immediately determines it to be a more promising
avenue for post-Holocaust Christian-Jewish relations than either of the
previous two texts. It is, she argues, 'an important step in Christian
reflection upon Jewish-Christian relations' (p.191), largely because it
deliberately tackles the intergenerational transmission of memory.
Jüngst does not entirely escape criticism. As a feminist theologian, she
suggests that feminist insights into the articulation of difference are
helpful in Jewish-Christian dialogue, because they aid the interpretation of the
variety of perspectives brought by the participants to the discussion

However, Holtschneider rightly responds that Jüngst's paradigm is
susceptible to attack from post-structuralist feminism because it employs
the now-outdated privileging of women's experience. Such an essentialist
concept of gender difference results in a 'liberal pluralism' that seeks to
integrate - that is, domesticate - the Other without changing the established
social order by which this Other was defined in the first place (p.177). In
other words, we are back to the Christianization of Jewish experience and
memory, exhibited previously in both the Rhineland statement and
Marquardt's theology. Holtschneider is similarly critical of Jüngst's ready
acceptance of the fundamental presupposition of post-Holocaust theology -
Christianity's utter dependency on Jews - because it likewise betrays
Christianity's essentially imperialist structure (p.180).

Nonetheless, Holtschneider's overall assessment of Jüngst's approach is
positive. Her exploration of the differences in the ways in which Holocaust
memories are transmitted by descendants of victims on the one hand, and of
victimizers on the other 'moves Christian theological reflection onto a new
level' (p.191). Moreover, the seriousness with which she takes these and
other (particularly generational) differences cautions her against
misappropriating Jewish tradition in the efforts to rewrite Christian
theology. In sum, Jüngst's theology provides 'concrete opportunities for
future growth and exploration of new areas for Christian-Jewish encounters
in Germany' (p.191).

How then should Holtschneider's book itself be assessed? Most obviously,
she provides a thoughtful and concise summary of three important German
Protestant contributions to Jewish-Christian dialogue after the Holocaust.
But she does much more than that. By using collective memory theory, she
highlights the deficiencies of much post-Holocaust theology that fails to
understand the mechanics of memory-transmission between generations.
Holtschneider thus orients the future of the discussion to the ways in which
the concerns of the third generation can be articulated and dialogically
incorporated. Further, by reference primarily to Stephen Haynes, she
critiques the well-intentioned but ultimately imperialist attitude of most
post-Holocaust Christian theology that still finds it hard to 'let Jews be
Jews', preferring instead to define Jews as a conceptual reality that exists
only in Christian terms.

The book is not, of course, without its shortcomings. Stylistically it still
reads, to my mind, too much like a dissertation, and the not-infrequent use
of 'I' in statements of claim suggests a slight defensiveness on
Holtschneider's part. Structurally, the first two chapters could profitably
have been in reverse order which, while breaking the chronological
narrative, would nonetheless have provided a more thoroughly
contextualized introduction to the theological discussion. As for content, I
would argue that the chapter on Marquardt would benefit from a deeper
discussion of the many secondary critical texts. Holtschneider makes
passing reference in the footnotes to, among others, Hanna Lehming and
Susanne Hennecke but does not engage substantially with their analyses of
Marquardt. Moreover, there is no mention of Barbara Meyer, Andreas
Pangritz or Michael Wyschogrod, all of whom have written significant
studies of Marquardt. Similarly in the fourth chapter, 'Generations of
Memory', it was odd to find no reference to Martin Rumscheidt, a
German-Canadian theologian whose father was an employee of I.G. Farben,
visited Auschwitz in 1944 and who, in Rumscheidt's own words 'looked
away'. How Rumscheidt has approached the task of theological
remembrance, within this biographical context, is fascinating. A study of
his work would have added significantly to this particular chapter; instead,
his absence is a surprising and critical omission.

Overall, however, these shortcomings do not detract from the book's utility
as an important contribution to the growing literature on third-generation
post-Holocaust theology. Indeed, Holtschneider should find herself
increasingly included on course book-lists. It is not an easy book to read,
and the language and concepts employed would put it out of reach of a
generalist audience. However, teachers of Holocaust and Religious Studies
courses could - and should - put it to great use.

Mark R. Lindsay, University of Melbourne

1c) Helmut W.Ziefle, One Woman against the Reich. Grand Rapids,
Mich: Kregel Publications 2003. 189 pp.

Professor Helmut Ziefle has written a brief memoir of his boyhood
days in Nazi Germany, with a sympathetic portrait of his mother, a devout
and dedicated member of the Württemberg Evangelical Church. Brought
up in a strongly pietistic tradition, the Ziefle family displayed both the
strengths and weaknesses of this kind of churchmanship when faced with
the challenge of Nazi political radicalism and social pressures.
On the one hand, Ziefle pays tribute his mother's simplistic belief in
the Lord's providence over all His faithful followers, to her strong sense of
family loyalty, and to the benefits of the daily practice of prayer and bible
reading. On the other hand these qualities were barely sufficient to meet
the constant onslaught of Nazi propaganda, or the aggressive social
pressures to give fervent support to the new regime and its Führer.
These pious church people were appalled by the rampant and noisy
anti-church and anti-semitic attitudes of many Nazi Party members,
especially in the Hitler Youth. They refused to go along with the constant
demands for vocal support of the Party's slogans which offended their sober
orderliness drawn from their puritan background. Yet, at the same time,
they supported much of the Nazi programme to restore Germany's place in
the world. Their resistance was therefore much more a moral than a
political one, with all the shortcomings of such a stance.

But, even as non-participants, the Ziefle family was inevitably
drawn into the Nazi net. Their two elder sons had to serve in the Nazi
army, though both survived thanks to the Lord's providence. As little
people, with conventional beliefs on the need to obey established authority
and a naive attitude towards politics, the Ziefle family had neither the
mentality, let alone the opportunity, to engage in resistance activities. The
book's title is therefore somewhat inflated. Maria Ziefle kept her simple
faith alive and nurtured her family's devotion. However, her success can
hardly be described as defiance of the Reich.

What is more revealing is Ziefle's depiction of the family as victims.
The most graphic parts of his memoir are the reconstructions of the terrible
days of aerial bombardment of his home town, the family's flight to the
country, the subsequent American occupation and the resulting deprivations
of the post-war period. But there is a singular absence of any reflection on
the root causes of all these disasters. Victimhood is a highly convenient
alibi in later years. Even so, Ziefle's narrative reveals, but does not take
issue with, the kind of self-pity which so many Germans demonstrated after
1945, with the obvious, if perhaps unwitting, acceptance of Nazi
propaganda stereotypes about Jews, communists and foreigners. Their
pietistic fervour may have protected the Ziefles against Nazi fanaticism.
But from his own evidence, there is little awareness, even after sixty years,
of the drawbacks of such limited political horizons, with their authoritarian
and anti-democratic overtones. Ziefle's failure to reflect on this legacy is
unfortunate. Filial piety, like patriotism, is not enough.


2) Kirchliche Tourismus:

Christopher Hale, Himmler's Crusade, London: Bantam Press/ Hoboken
N.Jersey: John Wiley and Sons Inc. 2003. 422 pp ISBN 0-471-26292-7

Despite its title, this book has nothing to do with ecclesiastical
history. But it was so irresistible that I take the liberty of mentioning
it. In fact it is the true story, drawn from official records and later interviews
with survivors, of the mission of five SS officers despatched by Himmler in
1938-9 to remotest Tibet. Their object was to search for the roots of the
Aryan race, but was in fact a stew of delusions, dreams and dementia.
Their sundry adventures, which mainly involved eluding the British,
deluding the Tibetans, and preluding the Nazis' 1000-year Aryan Reich, is
racily recounted by the British author in good John Buchan-ish style. The
whole expedition and its sinister aftermath was a dastardly and chilling
undertaking, but the story is darned well told.

Best wishes
John S.Conway