Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

Return to index.

Newsletter no. 20 (Vol II no. 8) - August 1996

Contents

 

1. Conferences:

US Holocaust Memorial Museum on Dohnanyi and Bonhoeffer

2. New Books:

Robert F. Goeckel, Die evangelische Kirche und die DDR. Konflikte, Gesprache, Vereinbarungen unter Ulbricht und Honecker. Reviewed by Prof. Gerhard Besier.

Rudolf Mau, Eingebunden in den Realsozialismus? Die evangelische Kirche als Problem der SED, and Siegfried Brauer and Clemens Vollnhals eds.,In der DDR gibt es keine Zensur. Die evangelische Verlagsanstalt und der Praxis der Druckgenehmigung 1954-1989. Reviewed by John S. Conway.

Dear Friends,

I trust you (in the northern hemisphere) are all enjoying your summer holidays. And congratulations to Mark Lindsay in Perth, Australia, on the occasion of his marriage.

Von guten Machten wunderbar geborgen
Erwarten wir getrost, was kommen mag.
Gott ist mit uns am Abend und am Morgen
und ganz gewiss an jedem neuen Tag

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Conferences: In May, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum held a notable meeting to honour Hans v. Dohnanyi and Dietrich Bonhoeffer for their active role in the rescue of Jews and for the sacrifice of their lives in the attempt to overthrow the Nazi dictatorship. Specific mention was made of the "U 7" rescue operation of 1942, principally organised by Dohnanyi, when 14 Jews were assisted to escape to Switzerland. Two of the survivors came to attend. Mention was also pointedly made by the USHMM officials of the need for the German government to revoke the sentences of treason against these heroic resisters. (P.Hoffmann)

Also in May, in Berlin, an international conference took place to discuss The Russian Orthodox Church and the Soviet State 1917- 1991, which analysed both the official Soviet policies, varying over time from strict repression to a more moderate, but deliberately subversive, attitude, as well as the controversial reactions of the R.O.Church leadership, which as in other Communist-controlled countries, varied between dissidence and seeming collaboration. In contrast to the former East Germany, access to the basic documents is strictly limited. So the problems and opportunities for research in this troubled period of the R.O.Church's history have still a long way to go. (Robert Goeckel)

Review Article:

W.R.Ward: "Guilt and Innocence; The German Churches in the twentieth century," Journal of Modern History, Vol 68, no 2, June 1996, pp398-426.

This is a splendidly perceptive review article, which covers a lot of ground with great insight, and constitutes the very best in interdenominational and international kirchliche Zeitgeschichte.

New books:

The post-mortem on the role of the churches in the German Democratic Republic continues unabated. The following reviews show the diverse views involved. First, we congratulate Bob Goeckel, one of our members, on having his book, The Lutheran Church and the East German State, translated, and therefore send you the review published in the Frankurter Allgemeine Zeitung on July 1st, written by another of our members, Prof. Gerhard Besier. (with apologies for the unavoidable omission of umlauts!)

Robert F.Goeckel, Die evangelische Kirche und die DDR. Konflikte, Gesprache, Vereinbarungen unter Ulbricht und Honecker, Evangelische Verlagsanstalt: Leipzig 1996, 371 Seiten, 45-DM.

1990 veroffentlichte R.F.Goeckel sein Buchmanuskript, das er noch vor der "Wende" 1989 abgeschlossen hatte. Es ist jetzt in deutscher Sprache erschienen. Obwohl der Autor inzwischen weitergeforscht und eine Reihe erganzender Aufsatze zum Gegenstand veroeffentlicht hat, fanden seine neuen Erkenntnisse noch keinen Eingang in das vorliegende Buch. Wie Stichproben ergaben, handelt es vielmehr um eine nahezu wortgetreue Uebersetzung; sogar die Zahlung der Fuessnoten hat sich nicht oder kaum veraendert. Goeckel ist dennoch der :"Ueberzeugung, dass die Ergebnisse seiner bereits etwas zurueckliegenden Untersuchung standhalten konnen". Neben gedrucktem und zahlreichen Interviews mit kirchenleitenden Personlichkeiten konnte Goeckel durch gunstige Umstande fur sein Buch auch vertrauliche Aktenmaterial aus dem zentralen Parteiarchiv der Ost-CDU in der "Hauptstadt der DDR" einsehen. Im Vorwort der englischen Ausgabe bedankt er sich fur Rat und Hilfe von Helmut Dressler, Herbert Trebs, Wulf Trende und anderen. Heute weiss er, dass etwa Dressler und Trebs in ihrer Funktion als IM dem MfS uber ihn berichteten. Um so erstaunlicher ist es,dass Goeckel trotz der ruhrigen Handleitung linientreuer Linksprotestanten, treuer Genossen und umsichtiger "Unionsfreunde" zu einem weithin klarsichtigen Urteil gelangt ist; "Es war bekannt, dass gewisse kirchlicheAmtstrager, wie z.B. Manfred Stolpe, Horst Gienke, Eberhard Natho und Gerhard Lotz, sehr enge Kontakte zum Stasi unterhielten, obgleich ihre Verbindungen zur Stasi damals nicht so offenkuendig waren".

Damit ruft der Wissenschaftler aus dem fernen Amerika in Erinnerung, was zumindest kirchenleitende Personlichkeiten in Ost und West schon vor dem Zusammenbruch der DDR ueber das dortige "Staat-Kirche-Verhaltnis" auf hoeher Ebene hatten wissen konnen und ubersehen wollen. Im Ton eher zurueckhaltend, in der Sache meist glasklar, werden die Prozesse wachsender Annaherung beschrieben. Allerdings geht Goeckel in seiner Analyse der Verfolgung kirchen- und staats- bzw. parteipolitischer Ziele durch die Akteure von einer Rationalitat des Handelns aus, die personenspezifische Faktoren und geheimes Rankespiel in den Hintergrund treten lasst. Personlicher Ehrgeiz als Antriebsfeder zugunsten einer bestimmten Option kommt bei ihm nicht vor, obwohl gerade die SED den eher dunklen Seiten anthropologischer Gundstrukturen besondere Aufmerksamkeit und Foerderung zuteil werden liess.

Rechtsanwalt Clemens de Maiziere und der Ost-Berliner Theologieprofessor Handfried Muller treten in Goeckels politischer Geschichte als Representanten der Trennungspartei innerhalb der Kirchen von Berlin-Brandenburg auf. Das trifft gewiss zu. Die mogliche Breite des Motivspektrums beschraenkt sich allerdings auf die Differenzierung zwischen "Linken", "Rechten" und einer vermittelnden Position. De Maiziere und Mueller gehorten eben zu den "Linken". Das Ausserte, was sich Goeckel leistet, sind Satze wie: "Der Staat durfte davon ausgehen, dass sich zwischen ihm und (Bischof) Schonherr ein gutes Verhaltnis entwickeln konnte, weil sein Protege Manfred Stolpe, der bereits gute Beziehungen zum Staat unterhielt, zum Leiter des Sekretariats (scil. des Kirchenbundes) gewahlt worden war". Diese kuehle, vornehme Zuruckhaltung ist zweifellos eine Starke des Buches. Sie mindert vielleicht den schieren Selbstbehauptungswillen der ehemaligen Akteure im Raum der Kirche und erhoht womoglich deren Fahigkeit zur Selbstkritik, Auch das Erscheinen dieses ebenfalls verhaltismassig preisgunstigen Buches scheint auf eine Initiative der EKD zuruckzugehen. In seinem Vorwort dankt ihr Goeckel "fur ihre finanzielle Unterstutzung"

Gerhard Besier - Heidelberg

Rudolf Mau, Eingebunden in den Realsozialismus? Die evangelische Kirche als Problem der SED, Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1994, 259 pp.

Siegfried Brauer and Clemens Vollnhals eds.,In der DDR gibt es keine Zensur. Die evangelische Verlagsanstalt und der Praxis der Druckgenehmigung 1954-1989, Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt 1995, 422 pp, 39.80 DM

Rudolf Mau has spent his career teaching in one or other of the church-run theological academies in the former G.D.R. He thus knows first-hand about all the kinds of trials and tribulations the churches faced during the forty years of Communist rule. From this vantage point he takes issue with those critics, such as the above, who in recent years have so roundly attacked the Protestant Church, or more particularly its leaders, for their tactical compromises, their collaboration with the secret police, or Stasi, and their alleged willingness to encourage a theology in sympathy with the Marxist aim for an egalitarian socialist society. Instead May seeks to show that the churches' struggle to preserve their autonomy was a constant problem for the Communist rulers, and provides an analysis of the various methods employed to bring the churches to heel. His findings are mainly drawn from the files of the official State Secretariat for Church Affairs, which was directly responsible to the central committee of the ruling Communist Party (SED), and which, in his view, give a much clearer picture than the tendentious reports of former Stasi agents. >From the beginning there could be no doubt as to the regime's hostility to the churches, and its determination to control all aspects of church life. The Marxists saw the GDR churches as capitalist survivals, as the defenders of "imperialism", or as harbouring subversive elements prompted by West German "reactionaries" and eagerly seeking to overthrow the Communist victory of 1945. Even though there were times when the state seemed ready to encourage an armistice, its ultimate objectives never changed. The churches were therefore forced to be constantly on the defensive, trying to ward off both the direct attacks of the 1950s and the more subtle undermining attempts of later years. To begin with, the Communists were convinced that aggressive confrontational measures were needed to destroy the churches' traditional position in society and to overcome the last remnants of Christianity's "pre-scientific" ideology. When these steps evoked opposition, produced numerous "martyrs", and were clearly counter-productive, the state was forced to see that its long- term goal of eradicating church influence altogether would have to be postponed. Instead it began to seek to sow divisions in church ranks, to place spies in all church offices, and to rely on its massive atheistical propaganda to secure ideological victory. For its part the church faced the alternative of living a persecuted catacomb existence, looking for rescue by its west German partners, or else exploring the as yet untrodden path of renouncing its privileges, accepting its minority status, but still witnessing to the relevance of the Gospel for the new GDR society. This attempt to formulate a new concept of "the church within socialism" did not please the Communist authorities who doubted its sincerity, and to the end suspected that the churches were nothing more than fifth column agents for the "NATO militarists" in the western world. Time and again, as Mau shows, the dogmatic inflexibility of the party bureaucrats made impossible any reasonable resolution of the ensuing conflicts. Since the SED refused to countenance any challenge to its exercise of power, let alone any public participation in policy formation, the churches became the only visible agencies outside the state's direct control, and hence the one group where alternative ideologies and policies could be discussed. In the 1980s they became the central focus points for all the regime's opponents, and, as we know, were in the forefront to bring about its eventual overthrow in 1989.

The churches could not be wiped out; but neither could they be absorbed under Communist auspices. This was the regime's dilemma. Mau's excellent and detailed account of the convoluted and sometimes contradictory efforts within the party bureaucracy to deal with this unwelcome situation is therefore much to be welcomed. His analysis of the evolution of the state's mechanisms for dealing with the churches, its success in breaking the links to west German Protestantism, and its attempts to foster "progressive elements" among the pastors and laity loyal to the regime is a reliable guide to the intrigues and chicanery practised. On the other hand, Mau does not go into the even murkier depths of the controversial deals over the churches' finances, or the conspiratorial activities of some of the chief officials. Rather he sees the main achievement to have been the churches' steadfast refusal to accept the state's totalitarian claims, despite the unrelenting and very costly efforts made at every stage of the GDR's history. Critics of the churches, he believes, should concentrate rather on the undoubted fact that their resolute witness, and their readiness to proclaim the Gospel's truth in contemporary contexts, led to the virtually complete failure of the Marxists' overall offensive.

Forty years of incessant atheistic propaganda, to be sure, have had their effect. Church participation is at a record low. On the other hand there is no one today in the former GDR who believes that Marxism-Leninism is the preferred ideological position, or who seeks to justify the SED's nefarious policies towards the churches. Whether the churches can regain their credibility is an open question; but Communism certainly can't.

The same theme is also clearly shown in Brauer and Vollnhals' depressing book, which reprints a selection of the secret "assessments" written for the Ministry of Culture about theological literature, all of which required a "Publication Permit" before appearing in print. The determination with which the regime sought to exclude anything which was likely to enhance the church's reactionary views extended from scholarly texts down to ephemeral up-lifting pamphlets and even to church calendars. Ideological conformity demanded the excision of opinions which, even in a disguised form, attacked the regime's policies or encouraged Christians to resist the state's pretentions. Officially the GDR claimed that there was no censorship; in fact, over the forty years of its existence, the regime perfected the art of suppressing unwanted publications on a scale far beyond that practised by the Nazis or any of their predecessors. These "assessments" were written by a limited handful of loyal party members, some of them bureaucrats in the offices dealing with the churches, others by party-line theology professors in Leipzig and Berlin, continually on the watch for "dangerous" infiltrations of ideas opposed to the goal of realising "the atheistic character of Marxism-Leninism as the dominant ideological force in our society". Since the origins of these "assessments" were never revealed to the publisher or to the authors, they were unable to reply, but had to accept the demands for changes, or face having their books turned down. This happened often enough, or else entailed lengthy delays before some compromise could be reached. Even the addresses and sermons of the Presiding Bishop Schonherr were delayed for two years on these grounds. While the bureaucrats objected to anything which might be interpreted as critical of the regimes' practices, the party-line theologians took issue with any presentation of Christianity which contradicted party ideology. Even though in the 1980s the system became more relaxed, these secret critics adhered right up to 1989 to the idea that the churches were doomed to die out, and hence nothing should appear in print which suggested the contrary. As the editors point out in their useful and lengthy introduction, this continued censorship had a profoundly depressing effect on any creative scholarship. The censors' zealotry, their familiarity with theological terminology, and their awareness of developments within the churches, made their obscurantist efficiency all the more sinister.

The lengths to which this censorship could go are clearly demonstrated in the case-studies provided, to which the editors append a short commentary on the eventual results. These detailed demands for revisions or excisions before publication could be allowed, even for books written by west German authors, undoubtedly had a disillusioning impact. But it was only a small part of the regime's determination to impose ideological conformity. It is hardly surprising that the editors can show that these same bigoted theologians and pastors were not only being paid for their censorship efforts, but were for the most part also unofficial collaborators of the Stasi assisting in its all-pervasive surveillance activities. To be sure, after 1990, these men and women were quickly removed from the scene. But the damage they inflicted on the life of the churches, and the discredit they caused to the institutions they alleged served, remains a horrendous legacy to be resolved by the battered survivors. John S.Conway

Best wishes

John Conway
jconway@unixg.ubc.ca