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Newsletter no 6 - July 1995
2. Book Notices
As most of you know, the initiative for our coming together stems from the German group, organized by Professor Gerhard Besier, now of Heidelberg (Wissenschaftlich-Theologisches Seminar, Kisselgasse 1, 69117, Heidelberg), which began to hold its annual conferences in 1989, and publishes the splendid journal twice a year, Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte.
The 1995 conference will be held in Heidelberg itself, from August 25th-27th, on the theme "The Churches, Southern Africa and the Political Context". Several representatives of the new S.Africa will attend, to give special reference to the role of the churches and of theology in the present situation. In addition several of our German friends, such as Besier and A.Boyens, will present their views and reflect on the significance of the S.African experience for the wider context of contemporary church history. It is certainly to be welcomed that, for the first time, this conference has adopted a non-European theme. The papers should appear in Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte, 1996 vol. 1.
2. Book notices
Jacques Picard, Die Schweiz und die Juden 1933-1945, Chronos Verlag, Zurich 1995 (Ronald Webster, York University, Toronto, has kindly supplied this short notice, as a prelude to his longer review in Holocaust and Genocide Studies)
The Swiss historian J.Picard has undertaken to provide both an encyclopedic and in-depth analysis of the war-time dilemmas and tragedies of the Swiss Jews and their involvement in Switzerland's role as the pivotal point in the rescue of Jews in World War II.
The main themes are:
1) The horrible dilemma of Swiss Jews caught between the constant demands to provide their bona fides at home while feeling an active sympathy for the fate of Europe's Jews under Nazi domination.
2) The role that Switzerland and its Jewish leaders played in disseminating news of the unfolding Holocaust, especially through the efforts of the Swiss Red Cross and the various Swiss legations in Nazi-occupied Europe.
3) The frustrating negotiations between the authorities and the Jewish leaders over the very restrictive Swiss immigration policies. Picard analyses here the questionable role of the Swiss police chief, Heinrich Rothmund, in initiating with the Germans in 1938 the notorious "J" stamped in the passports of both Swiss and German Jews.
4) The role of Sally Mayer, head of the SIG (Schweizerischer Israelitischer Gemeindebund). While Picard criticizes Mayer for his increasingly authoritarian leadership style, nevertheless he sees him as a minor hero, attempting to do what he could under almost unbearable circumstances. Picard especially praises Mayer for his role as the American Joint Distribution liaison in Switzerland, after he resigned his post as head of SIG in 1943.
5) The role of the myriad local and national organizations operating on Swiss soil, devoted to Jewish and refugee questions - some 17 in all. A valuable source of informnation on these operations.
6) Picard provides fascinating insights into the policy of 'financial blackmail' perpetrated by the Swiss govt, whereby a mere 18,000 Swiss Jews were obliged, albeit with crucial aid from the Joint and other international organizations, to bear the lion's share of relief work in Switzerland during the war - probably no less than 100 million Sw Frs between 1933 and 1952.
A very well researched and important book on a crucial issue.
Hansjacob Stehle, Geheimdiplomatie im Vatikan. Die Papste und die Kommunisten. This is an updated and slightly revised edition of his The Eastern Policies of the Vatican 1917-1979, Athens, Ohio 1981, which brings us up to date on events since 1989-90.
Rof Steininger ed., "Der Umgagng mit dem Holocaust. Europa- USA-Israel, Bohlau, Vienna 1994." Here are the papers delivered at a conference in Innsbruck in 1992, with a fine galaxy of authors, including our own Mike Phayer, who gives an excellent account of the Vatican attitudes towards the victims of the Holocaust, especially after 1945, but suggests that their fate was never a priority for the Vatican leaders. Rather Pius XII set his sights on restoring diplomatic relations with the revived Germany, and thus safeguarding the 1933 Concordat, Only with the Second Vatican Council did matters improve. Various other contributors depict the state of Holocaust reception in different countries in the post- war period.
Bjorn Krondorfer, Between Remebrance and Reconciliation, Yale U.P. 1995 B, who now teaches in Maryland, describes his efforts to promote Jewish-American reconciliation through organizing youth seminars for "3rd generation" Ameican Jews and non-Jewish Germans, at which the question of intergenerational transmission of Holocaust memories and traumas is fully dissected. His initiative came from the fact that, as a post-war German, he was never confronted with this issue until he arrived in the USA, but he has now devised a constructive means of bridging the chasms of memory and geography.
Tony Kushner, The Holocaust and the Liberal Imagination, A social and cultural history, Blackwell, Oxford 1995. (To be reviewed in Albion). Kushner is the director of the James Parkes Library, and teaches, at Southampton University, and here gives a fine account of impact of the Holocaust on ordinary people in the democracies, principally Britain, with comparative looks at the USA. He examines the actions of these states in the light of popular responses.
He naturally highlights the fine efforts of James Parkes to arouse concern for the plight of the Jews during the war,and suggests that the leadership of the churches on this issue was praiseworthy, but not effective enough to overcome the political constraints of war- time circumstances. A thoughtful and sometimes provocative account.
ed.Stephen Batalden, Seeking God. The recovery of Religious Identity in Orthodox Russia, Ukraine and Georgia, Northen Illinois U.P., DeKalb 1993. In fact half this book deals with the history of Russian spirituality, as a background for the revival in the last few years. Highly informative, and well illustrated, this account provides an interesting companion to the books mentioned in my last Newsletter. Those unfamiliar with conditions in Russian Orthodoxy will learn a lot.
4) Contributions for subsequent Newsletters will be most welcome. Since most of you will be away or on holiday for August, I plan the next issue for early September, after I return from the International Historical Congress in Montreal. If anyone else is going, perhaps we could meet for lunch. Do let me know. Have a good summer.
Best wishes to you all,
Dept. of History, University of British Columbia,
Vancouver, B.C. V6T 1Z1, Canada