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November 2009 — Vol. XV, no. 11
In this month of anniversaries, we recall not only the twenty years since the Berlin Wall fell, but also the earlier German revolution of 1918, and the horrific Chrystal Night pogrom of 1938. These events are constitutive of kirchliche Zeitgeschichte, so I hope the following reviews will be of help in coming to terms with these legacies.
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1) Conference Report: German Studies Association, 2009
2) Book reviews
a) Ruotsila, Christian anti-internationalism
b) Vos, Pryfogle, George, Faith in the World. Mark Gibbs and Vesper Society
c) P. Raina ed., Bishop George Bell
d) Jekeli. German Intellectuals in Romania under Communism
e) Leichsenring, Die katholische Kirche und “ihre Juden”
3) Book notes: Lazarus, In the shadow of Vichy. The Finaly Affair
1) Conference Report:
At the recent German Studies Association conference in Washington, D.C. (October 8-11, 2009), several members of the Association of Contemporary Church History participated in a panel entitled, “Protestant Theological Responses to Race and Religion in Nazi Germany.” Moderated by Robert P. Ericksen (Pacific Lutheran University), three papers explored various aspects of Protestant theology and practice: Kyle Jantzen (Ambrose University College), “Blood and Race or Sin and Salvation: Parish Pastors Debate Rosenberg’s Mythus”; Christopher Probst (Howard Community College), “Protestant Scholarship, Luther, and ‘the Jews’ in Nazi Germany”; and Matthew Hockenos, “Converting Jews in the Third Reich: Antisemitism and the Berlin Judenmission, 1930-1950.” Richard Steigmann-Gall (Kent State University) provided a commentary on the papers.
Jantzen’s paper explored the reactions of parish clergy in three regions of Germany (Brandenburg, Saxony, and Württemberg) to the ideological challenge posed by racial theorist Alfred Rosenberg’s famous work, Myth of the Twentieth Century (Der Mythus des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts). Protestant clergy often found it hard to discern Rosenberg’s significance within the Nazi Party or the important of the Mythus officially, Rosenberg’s book represented his own private opinions, while at other times party officials hailed his views as intellectual treasures central to Nazi racial ideology. A few parish pastors (generally from the radical Thüringian wing of the German Christian Movement) took Rosenberg seriously and proclaimed the truth of his racial ideology. Most clergy who encountered his work rejected it as heretical. While they often acknowledged Rosenberg as an expert on race and were frequently obsessed with defining the proper relationship between the German Volk and the Christian Church, they generally rejected Rosenberg’s denial of the transcendence of God, the sinfulness of humanity, and the validity of the Old and New Testaments. Where Rosenberg championed Jesus as a heroic Aryan fighter, Protestant clergy affirmed Jesus as the Son of God (and a Jew) who defeated sin and death by suffering and dying on a cross. Jantzen concluded that Rosenberg functioned as a line in the theological sand whose work caused all but the most extreme German Christians to reaffirm important aspects of traditional Protestant orthodoxy. He also noted that the widespread criticism of Rosenberg’s ideas might suggest that he was not as important a figure as some scholars have asserted.
Probst’s paper analyzed the interpretation of Martin Luther’s writings on the Jews by Heinrich Bornkamm, Protestant professor of church history in Gie en, Leipzig, and (after the war) Heidelberg. Probst argued that Bornkamm viewed Jews through a prism of Volk and race that drew upon his background in historical theology. Seeking to address the tumultuous events unfolding in Germany, Bornkamm forwarded his own version of Luther’s nonrational argumentation about Judaism, harnessing Luther’s powerful irrational antisemitic rhetoric in tacit support of antisemitic Nazi policy.
After noting Bornkamm’s pro-Nazi and antisemitic sentiments in 1935, he commented on the “Jewish press” which had formerly controlled the forces of “left liberalism,” while in 1939, he wrote about the “powerful and undeniable truth of racial-thinking” and of a religiously inspired Bolshevism led by stateless Jews Probst examined his short 1933 work, “Volk and Race in Martin Luther.” According to Bornkamm, Luther must have known “something” of the “biological and historical unity of a State” and had “at least a notion” of the “biological basic elements in the structure of mankind” which overlap borders of State and Volk, “which we call races.” Thus Bornkamm espoused an interpretation of Luther’s Judenschriften that closely paralleled Nazi conceptions of Volk and race. Paradoxically, then, even as Bornkamm affirmed Luther’s struggle with Jews to be a spiritual effort the goal of which was conversion, the twentieth-century church historian continually conflated religious and racial antipathy towards Jews as he interacted with the writings of the sixteenth-century reformer.
Hockenos’s paper examined the history of the German Protestant Church’s Berlin-based “Society for the Promotion of Christianity among the Jews” (Gesellschaft zur Beförderung des Christentums unter den Juden), commonly refered to as the Berlin Jewish Mission, during the Nazi era and the immediate postwar years. Exploring how the men and women who staffed the Berlin Jewish Mission understood the “Jewish question,” Hockenos asked whether the missionaries’ earnest desire to convert Jews to Christianity put them at odds with antisemitic racial theories or whether missionaries incorporated Nazi racial theories into their missionary worldview?
Surprisingly, the Berlin Jewish Mission remained open through much of the Third Reich, baptizing 704 Jews between 1933 and 1940 in its Messiah Chapel in the German capital (Hockenos estimates that about 3500 Jews converted to Christianity under the influence of the German Jewish missions) until the Mission was shut down by the Gestapo in January 1941. Many Protestants rejected the work of the Berlin Jewish Mission German Christians, who were openly antisemitic, ridiculed the idea that Jews might convert to Christianity for genuinely spiritual reasons, assuming Jewish conversions were politically motivated. Even members of the Confession Church, however, considered the presence of Jews in the Christian community as problematic because they brought with them undesirable “Jewish traits.” The few Protestants who did support the Berlin Jewish Mission believed that if the church approached Jews in the spirit of brotherly love and shared with them Christ’s message of love and forgiveness, the “Jewish problem” could be solved through conversion. Although missionaries identified Jews as a race with certain negative characteristics, they believed that converted Jews, whose faith was genuine, were cleansed, purified, reborn and transformed by the sacrament of baptism, thereby receiving a grace which overcame their race.
The internal conflicts of this position could be seen already in a 1932 article by the president and the director of the Berlin Jewish Mission, Hans Kessler and Edwin Albert. As they wrote, “There is no such thing as a German gospel or a German Christ. The gospel is the gospel for all people, regardless of race. The gospel has the power to transform men of all races, even the Jews. When one no longer believes this and believes only in race . . . they can longer call themselves a Christian.” People who think this way, they went on, reject Jesus and “come into opposition with God, just as the Jews once did.” Continuing in this minor key, Kessler and Albert railed against the spirit of Jewry, insisting that it needed to be overcome a task which could only be accomplished by the Holy Spirit (and not the German spirit). As such, the two men argued that the Jewish Mission stood at the forefront of the struggle of the German people against modern Jewry. At the close of his paper, Hockenos used the term “missionary antisemitism” to describe these complicated and at times contradictory theological responses.
Richard Steigmann-Gall’s commentary brought into focus the central idea common to all three papers, namely, that Protestants in the Third Reich adopted a wide range of perspectives on race and religion, mixing aspects of Nazi antisemitism and racial salvation with either religious or racial antipathy to Jews and a confessional theology which was just as likely to affirm the Jewish origins of Christianity, the Jewishness of Jesus, and the transformative effects of conversion, regardless of race. Various members of the audience also posed questions, making for a lively and fruitful discussion.
2a) Markku Ruotsila, The origins of Christian anti-internationalism. Conservative Evangelicals and the League of Nations. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press 2008. 240 Pp. ISBN 978-1-58901-191-5.
Despite its somewhat cumbrous title, Markku Ruotsila’s study is both topical and relevant to present concerns. His insightful analysis of a significant section of American Protestantism stresses the continuity of this group’s strongly-held views about America’s destiny and in particular its conduct of foreign policy. He traces the origins of attitudes which dominated and still dominate the mentality of the Protestant minority, commonly called “the Religious Right”, and shows how their views were formulated in the crises of a century ago, particularly in their strident opposition to the policies advocated by the Democratic Party’s President Woodrow Wilson.
This opposition was based on certain key presuppositions. First and foremost, conservative Evangelicals held that traditional orthodox Christianity was the sole source of truth and hence their guide to public policy. Cooperation between Christians and non-Christians compromised their beliefs, and was therefore unacceptable. Any international organization, such as the proposed League of Nations, even if supposedly devoted to peace, was bound to fail because of the unprincipled and dubious association with non-Christian states such as Japan and China. For such Protestants, it was the supreme virtue of the United States that it had a divinely-appointed call to witness to and defend the true faith.
This belief in the special destiny of the United States and its accepted calling to witness to Christ came of course from the first Puritan settlers. By the end of the nineteenth century, this Protestant tradition had hardened into a theological and political conservatism, evidenced by both a literal reading of the bible, and the promotion of Victorian family values and morality. At the beginning of the new century, its champions were already engaged in a bitter struggle against the forces of modernization, secularism and indifferentism. They took especial aim at the advocates of theological liberalism, whose ideas seemed to be based on the heresies of German biblical criticism. They particularly attacked the idea that Christian salvation could be brought nearer by schemes of collective or reformist improvement. They never shared the optimistic assumptions of humanistic betterment so widely adopted by the supporters of the Social Gospel movement of the times. So too conservative Evangelicals deplored the perceived weakening of America’s cherished spiritual values. They opposed many of the changes from an essentially rural to a much more morally ambiguous urban and industrialized society. Contrary to the views championed by progressive politicians, such as President Wilson, they were not inclined to give in to the temptation of moving with the times.
America’s participation in the first world war only intensified this confrontation. Both for personal and political reasons, President Wilson laid great stress on the moral reasons behind the war effort in 1917. No less altruistic was the propaganda put out on behalf of his peace plans in 1918, including his proposals for a League of Nations to ensure “perpetual peace”. Indeed Wilson and his supporters fully believed that the opportunity beckoned to apply the principles of Christianity on a cosmic scale, led of course by the reformist and “progressive” enthusiasts who were Wilson’s most ardent backers in the churches.
It used to be said that “The League of Nations enjoyed the support of all organized religion; and for those who had no religion, it formed an adequate substitute”. Ruotsila;s careful research disputes at least the first half of this adage as far as American Protestantism goes. He scrupulously analyses the various segments of American anti-internationalist Protestantism, and describes the theological bases of their utterances. Basically all of them shared a common rejection of the immanentist theology of the Social Gospel, with its confident belief in human self-sufficiency and the beneficial effect of collective improvements though institutional measures. These conservative Evangelicals were, by contrast, firmly convinced of human sinfulness, and their utter dependence on God for everything, including politics. They totally rejected the kinds of anthropocentric assumptions which underlay the reformers’ ideas for the rectification of world evils by political means.
Ruotsila’s contribution is to show how prevalent the religious arguments were in the heated debates over the ratification of the League’s Covenant. He argues rightly that these have not been given their due weight in most secular histories, either of the League or of twentieth century America. And he shows how widespread and well mobilized were the utterances of those who used their conservative theologies to combat not merely the League of Nations, but all other aspects of modernization and secularization. His evaluation of the various positions adopted by the dispensationalists, hard-line Baptists, conservative Lutherans and Presbyterians, and even a few isolated Episcopalians and Methodists, is excellently nuanced. Each produced their own variant on a similar theme. Generic Christian anti-internationalism was a sub-theme of anti-modernism. The League of Nations offered an unacceptable mixture of unwelcome features: a multinational co-operation with non-Christians; the creation of a dangerous supranational authority; the vision of an impossible goal of human betterment. This would be an apostate deviation from America’s true calling. The fundamental belief that the United States was and is a uniquely Christian nation with a special role to play in the world was already deeply rooted in such circles a hundred years ago. Its recurrence and indeed fulfilment in George W. Bush’s unilateral war in Iraq shows how strongly these conservative Evangelicals’ ideas continue to be played out, even after the League of Nations has long since disappeared.
Interestingly enough, Markku Ruotsila is an adjunct professor of American church history at the University of Helsinki. Is there any comparable position in any American University devoted to Finnish church history?
2b) N.Vos, D.Pryfogle and M George, Faith in the world. Mark Gibbs and Vesper Society, Being God's Lively People. San Francisco: Vesper Society Imprint 2009. 129 Pp. ISBN 1441479201, <http://www.vesper.org/>http://www.vesper.org
This short but vivid tribute to Mark Gibbs and the Vesper Society records a remarkable trans-Atlantic partnership which encouraged the laity of the churches to take their faith into the world of their everyday lives in new and stimulating ways. Mark Gibbs was an Anglican layman, living in a wind-swept cottage on the north Yorkshire moors, who teamed up with a group of American businessmen mainly from the San Francisco area, seeking to enlarge the horizons of church members, and to see the wider implications for their faith in the world. Too often, it seemed, the clergy had called on the laity to support church-related projects and institutions, but had not equipped them to witness in their secular occupations. Since the laity comprised 99% of church members, and the clergy only 1%, there was an obvious disproportion in the amounts spent on Christian education for the non-professional members in the church pews.. For twenty years from the middle 1960s, Mark Gibbs and the Vesper Society saw it as their mission to mobilize the laity through a series of educational programmes, which pulled together leading Christian laymen to expand their witness and make it relevant to their day-to-day occupations. They paid special attention to the ethical principles which should apply in all walks of life, and sought to overcome the barriers and limitations of too narrow an emphasis on personal salvation in the pious church circles. Rather Christian witness had to apply to all spheres of life, and lay men and women were the ones to make this happen. Mark Gibbs had a special flair for arousing such concerns, not only comforting the afflicted but afflicting the comfortable. For many years he became a roving ambassador for lay renewal, writing, teaching, stimulating, inspiring and sometimes irritating to achieve his ends. In America, the Vesper Society provided the resources to organise seminars, retreats and conferences where the message for lay renewal could be heard. Together they made a significant impact.
Interestingly, the project was largely derived from Germany. After the Second World War, the German Evangelical Church developed two major initiatives designed as reparations for the churches' disastrous failure to resist the evils of the previous Nazi regime. The first of these was the creation of a series of Evangelical Academies, of which Bad Boll, near Stuttgart was - and is - the most famous. These professionally-staffed institutions provided a large-scale and year-round programme of seminars and short courses, some of them residential, which were a form of continuing Christian education, ranging over a wide number of topics, and using debates and discussions on controversial and topical subjects to draw out the Christian implications. Over the years, the result has been to build up a large corps of informed and critical lay opinion.
No less significant were the biennial Kirchentage or Church Rallies, held in major cities, usually for a week in June, which brought - and still bring - together many thousands of people, including foreigners, in stimulating debates and discussions. Organized and led by lay people, these rallies do much to offset the often sombre and unexciting life in the local Protestant parishes. They also provide an opportunity for all church-related organizations in the social, political and mission fields, to broadcast their messages in a vital and net-working fashion.
These were the models Mark Gibbs brought to America where he found receptive audiences. His belief that the renewal of the church depended on lay people acting beyond the church walls and taking up their ministries in daily life, proved popular and attractive. He helped to overcome the laity's isolation and to equip them for their everyday vocations. It was also a call for prophetic witness for social justice and peace, particularly during the height of the Vietnam War, and hence ran parallel to the efforts promoted by such bodies as the World Council of Churches, and the emphasis stemming from the Second Vatican Council. Gibbs found new ways to inspire his audiences to be faithful followers of Christ in the secular worlds where they lived. For the layman, he believed, was the essential interpreter of the Christian message in the battlefield of the world, and must be properly equipped for such a task. At a time of turbulent political events and challenges, this reflective Christian witness was most helpful.
Mark Gibbs' understanding of the church was always inclusive and ecumenical, and sought to overcome the limitations of private piety and individualistic attitudes in social morality. Such a purely private faith, he believed, was as dangerous as a fanatically political creed, and both needed the world-restoring allegiance of the gospel of God.
Unfortunately Gibbs died in 1986, and without his energy and drive the cause languished, especially in England. But in many ways his ideal has flourished with the rapid expansion of lay-led voluntary agencies, ministering and witnessing all over the world. With the obvious decline of clergy-based influence, the laity is now taking a much more active role. But we still need men of Mark Gibbs' calibre to maintain the enthusiasm and direction of God's lively people as they live out their faith in the world.
2c) Peter Raina ed. , Bishop George Bell. House of Lords Speeches and Correspondence with Rudolf Hess. Oxford, Berne etc: Peter Lang. 2009. 226 Pp.
Last year marked the fiftieth anniversary of the death of George Bell, Bishop of Chichester from 1929 to 1958. Tributes to his memory have already appeared in this Newsletter, viz a report on the Memorial Conference held in Chichester (September 2008)) and a full account of the papers given at that conference (April 2009). But we can happily add to these a short note about the edition of Bell’s speeches in the House of Lords and his correspondence with the Nazi leader Rudolf Hess, prepared by one of Bell’s devoted admirers, Peter Raina. We can certainly be grateful that he has researched into the massive archive Bell left behind to dig out the texts of his speeches given in the House of Lords during his twenty-one years as a member of the bench of bishops, as well as the remarkable but wholly ineffective exchange of letters between Bell and Hitler’s Deputy, Hess, from1935 to 1938. (Hess’ German texts are also printed). These materials can only reinforce the impression that Bell was a courageous, outspoken, singular and persistent voice of conscience in those most difficult years for Christian witness. He believed, however, that he had the duty to speak out for the Church on matters of public concern. The House of Lords offered him a public platform, even if his fellow peers were rarely in agreement. Nor were most of his fellow bishops. But Bell was not to be deterred by opportunistic considerations, as was most notable in the famous speech he made in February 1944 denouncing as inhumane the British policy of indiscriminate bombing of German cities, which is reproduced here in full. His protest was based on two main thoughts: first, that the war should be prosecuted in ways which would uphold the ideals for which it was being fought, and secondly, that such destructive bombing made no distinction between the supporters of Nazism in Germany and the numerous opponents of the regime who, Bell believed.would one day rise up and overthrow the monstrous tyranny imposed by Hitler. This was a belief he had long held. Indeed Bell’s whole career had been deeply affected by what he considered was the mistake, even the crime, of the Versailles Peace Treaty, which had so insulted Germany and thereby led to the rise of the Nazi dictatorship. He campaigned long and hard against the vindictive anti-German attitudes held by many leading Britons, and pleaded for the cause of peace and reconciliation throughout the 1920s and 1930s. His leadership in the international ecumenical movement of the mainly Protestant churches had given him many contacts in the European churches as well as in pacifist circles. So he was naturally outraged by the vicious measures adopted by the radical Nazis especially against the Jews. He personally organized numerous relief efforts on their behalf, and rescued a number of Protestant clergymen by providing them with asylum in England. His concern for refugees and his desire to raise awareness (and funds) for their situation was clearly reflected in his pre-1939 speeches, as was his indignation at their treatment as enemy aliens after war broke out. By the end of the war, Bell was looking at the wider horizons and seeking new patterns for post-war reconstruction and reconciliation, as well as renewal though a recommitment to Christianity. These are the themes which are reflected in his speeches, all well and succinctly thought out, penetrating in his resolve not to let the issues be overwhelmed by pragmatic or political considerations, and consistent in his witness to Christian values. Bell sought to make this witness relevant to all aspects of life, and therefore was bold to offer his opinions on a wide range of topics, some of which he could only know at second-hand.
In 1936 Bell took the opportunity of one of his periodic visits to Germany to obtain an interview with Hitler’s Deputy, Rudolf Hess. Bell was undoubtedly influenced by the idea that a personal contact with top German leaders could ensure that they were made aware of the criticisms of the Nazi treatment of the German churches, and would take measures to remedy the repressive actions of their underlings. Thus he told Hess bluntly that church circles abroad were apprehensive of those “prominent leaders of the party who have far more radical opinions and favour a far more radical policy to the whole Church question”. In 1937 he tried to use the same channel to express his concern about specific Confessing Church victims of Nazi repression, and asked for the modification of the measures taken against them. His intervention on behalf of Pastor Martin Niemoeller shortly after his arrest in July 1937,however, earned him a brusque reply for his audacity in pleading on behalf of a clergyman whose “attacks and slanders against the State and its Head have reached such dimensions that the State has been forced to set the law against Pastor Niemoeller” Furthermore, Hess’ letter retaliated by asking how Bell would like it if the British Government’s policies were attacked by Germans on behalf of an unrestrained Irish clergyman. This missive concluded with the peremptory statement: ”90 per cent of the German people did not bestow their confidence on their Government, so that afterwards this Government should tolerate a situation in which a few misguided persons should threaten the internal peace and the basis for the security of the nation as well as its Christian religion”. Undeterred Bell tried again a year later to ask for an alleviation of Niemoeller’s prison terms. He received no reply.
2d) E.P.Jikeli, Siebenbürgisch-sächsische Pfarrer, Lehrer und Journalisten in der Zeit der kommunistischen Diktatur (1944-1971) [European University Studies, Series III, History and Allied Studies, Vol. 1044.] (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang. 2007. Pp. 321. $86.95. ISBN 978-3-631-56769-2.)
(This review appeared first in the Catholic Historical Review, October 2009, and is here reprinted by kind permission of the author)
Erwin Peter Jikeli’s study of ethnic German intellectuals in Romania during the first half of the
communist era opens a discussion of questions familiar to historians of modern Germany but
newer to scholars of communist Eastern Europe. To what extent was the ruling ideology in this
case, Romanian communism imported from abroad or imposed from above? Was it only
endured by the populace, or did certain elements in society welcome it from below? To what
extent were intellectuals in this case, pastors, teachers, and journalists committed democrats
engaged in resistance against their regime while making superficial public compromises? Or
were they willing collaborators out of ideological conviction or for professional gain?
In this published version of his doctoral dissertation from Heinrich-Heine-Universität
Düsseldorf, Jikeli (who was raised and educated in Romania) explores the vocational history of
ethnic German intellectuals from the Siebenbürgen (“Seven Fortresses”) region of Romania,
where Saxons first settled in the twelfth century as defenders of Transylvania. Jikeli employs a
social-scientific approach, applying biographical techniques to understand the pastors, teachers,
and journalists he analyzes. Indeed, one of the unique features of Jikeli’s study is his attempt to
survey 259 former members of the three professions (many had emigrated to Germany proper
before and after 1989). Unfortunately, only 91 (just over a third) responded at all and only 52
(barely one-fifth) filled out his long, probing questionnaires, the others “presumably afflicted by
a moral dilemma or fear of the truth” (p. 7). These limitations aside, Jikeli is to be commended
for his wide use of primary sources, including diaries, biographies, letters, chronicles,
newspapers and publications, and all manner of official correspondence and personnel records
(some of which, he notes, contained lies meant to discredit the intellectuals during the communist
Following a methodological introduction and four chapters of historical and socio-political background, Jikeli probes the attitudes and actions of his subjects during the first half of the Romanian communist era from the installation of the single-party system under Soviet military pressure to the intense Stalinism of the 1950s to the relaxation and adoption of independent foreign, economic, and cultural policies in the early years of Nicolai Cea escu’s reign in three main chapters. The year 1971, when the Romanian dictator implemented a harsher domestic policy (and when the thirty-year freeze on archival records began to affect his study), marks the end point of Jikeli’s research. Two subsequent chapters assess the issues of party membership and contact with Securitate, or Romanian secret service.
Jikeli’s goal is to understand the extent to which these Saxon pastors, teachers, and journalists maintained some critical distance from the regime and attempted to represent the interests of their minority group. What he discovers is that all three groups of intellectuals suffered under policies which attempted to draw professionals from the “healthy” social categories of workers and farmers and which suppressed minority populations (primarily Hungarians) in favour of Romanianization. German Protestant pastors (mainly Lutheran since the Reformation) in Transylvania found themselves under great suspicion since they were only indirectly under the control of the state and since they stood by definition in opposition to the atheism of the communist party. For that reason, pastors were monitored and recruited intensely by the Securitate. German teachers were pressured to join the communist party, not least because of their important role as transmitters of the state’s materialist and assimilationist educational program. Journalists were required to be party members and worked under editors-in-chief who were party appointees charged to direct the propaganda program of the press.
Jikeli argues that all three groups of German intellectuals found ways to subvert or evade some of the burden of their association with the communist system (his few survey respondents were quick to provide these kinds of stories) and to bolster siebenbürgisch-sächsisch identity. But given the important position held by Romanian professionals and particularly by these natural leaders in the minority population, there can be little doubt that they must have made significant accommodations with the Romanian party-state. Due to the lack of survey respondents and the absence of relevant secret service files, however, Jikeli concludes that we will never likely know the full extent of such collaboration among the ethnic German intellectuals of Romania.
Kyle Jantzen, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
2e) Jana Leichsenring, Die katholische Kirche un “ihre Juden”. Das “Hilfswerk beim Bischoeflichen Ordinariat Berlin” 1938-1948. Berlin: Metropol Verlg. 2007 349 Pp. ISBN 978-3-938690-58-1
This thoroughly researched dissertation for Berlin’s Technical University tells the story of the Catholic agency belatedly established in 1938 to assist those Catholics of Jewish ancestry as they faced persecution and deportation by the Nazis. (Ms Leichsenring’s footnotes are exemplarily exhaustive!) But the meat of the thesis concerns the often reluctant measures, taken with inadequate means by the Catholic authorities, to help these unfortunate members of their flock, and includes a number of heart-wrenching stories of their fate. Leichsenring estimates that there were approximately 45,000 Catholics labelled by the Nazis as “Jews” or “Mischlinge”. Many resided in Berlin, so that it was natural that the office to help them should be placed under the auspices of the Berlin Bishop, Konrad von Preysing. At first, efforts had been made to assist such Catholics to emigrate through the St Raphael’s Verein, but the Gestapo placed increasing restrictions on this program, and in 1941 ordered the society to be dissolved. In any case, in October 1941 no further emigration of Jews was allowed. (The same decree put an end to the Protestant Church’s similar efforts, along with the arrest of its principal organiser, Pastor Heinrich Gruber). But the Catholic Hilfswerk continued, under the direction of resolute and resourceful leadership of Margarete Sommer, whose valiant endeavours deserve to be better known. Since emigration was no longer possible, Sommer had to concentrate on personal assistance on the spot. Her imaginative and thorough efforts to give whatever assistance to her individual contacts was possible are here fully recorded and praised But she also wanted to mobilize the whole church to protest against the injustices and terrorization which her charges were undergoing. To this end she prepared a number of reports, from February 1941, especially on the effects of deportation, and the drastic living conditions in the ghettos in the east where these individuals had been sent. A year later she reported on what she had learnt about the so-called Wannsee Conference, which led her to the conviction that the Jews were to be murdered en masse, and that the same treatment was to be given to those Catholics in mixed marriages and their children. Bishop Preysing then forwarded these reports to his superior Cardinal Bertram in Breslau. In fact Sommer also personally went to see Bertram, but was not believed. Her plea for a strong public denunciation by the whole Catholic hierarchy of the Nazis’ misdeeds was turned down The Cardinal refused to act on such unverified information, and limited himself to written protests to specific Reich ministers and bureaucrats about the Nazi plan to dissolve Church-blessed mixed marriages. When Sommer went to visit him for one last time in April 1944, he refused to see her, and ordered Preysing to keep her under control. Leichsenring thus adds to the already established evidence that the Catholic response to the persecution of the Jews was far too limited, and was given, even by Sommer herself, only to practising Catholics. The conclusion has to be reached that, while it is untrue to say that nothing was done, far greater efforts could have been made if the Catholic bishops had been more determined to take up arms against the regime. But having given their allegiance in 1933, and afraid for the consequences if the Reich Concordat was to be revoked, and in the circumstances of total war, none of the bishops were prepared to act publicly on behalf of the Jews, who had been so denounced in every piece of Nazi propaganda. The record of the Hilfswerk, whose papers Leichsenring has so competently researched, is therefore one of frustration and very limited success.
3) Book notes: J.B.Lazarus, In the shadow of Vichy. The Finaly Affair, New York: Peter Lang, 2008. ISBN 9784331-0212-7
In the immediate post-Holocaust years, Catholic-Jewish relations in France were deeply perturbed by the controversial issue of the future fate of Jewish children whose parents had been murdered by the Nazis and who had been given refugee by Catholics in convents and schools. After the end of hostilities, these care-givers were not surprisingly reluctant to part from these charges. But the Jewish community organisations went to great efforts to reclaim the children and sought to place them with Jewish relatives, or in Jewish communal institutions, or even to let them take part in an early aliyah to Palestine. The most notorious case, where one French Catholic care-giver sought to thwart these claims, came in the dispute over two small boys, the Finaly brothers. This Catholic true believer refused to deliver the boys to their aunts in New Zealand and Israel, had them secretly baptised as Catholics and even eventually had them smuggled out of France to Spain. She also successfully mobilized the Catholic community to her side using arguments derived from the Dreyfus affair of fifty years earlier. The anti-Semitic overtones were explicit. Fortunately, as the author makes clear, there were other Catholic clerics appalled by this bigotry. Finally a settlement was reached and the boys were returned to their relatives. But the polarization of French opinion was only healed when more eirenic views prevailed, as was seen in the declarations on relations with Judaism at the Second Vatican Council. JSC
With every best wish