Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

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Newsletter May 1997 - Vol III, no 5

Contents

 

Dear Friends.

1) Vancouver Symposium: Christians confronting the Holocaust

2) Churches in the G.D.R.

3) Book reviews:
Franklin Littell, Hyping the Holocaust
Donald Crosby, Battlefield Chaplains

1) "Christians confronting the Holocaust" (Contributed by David Stewart, Associate Librarian, Regent-Carey Library, Regent College, Vancouver)

This symposium, sponsored by Regent College, Vancouver, was held on April 4-5th, 1997 and included lectures by John S.Conway - "Jewish-Christian Relations since 1945" and by David Gushee of Union University, Jackson, Tenn - "Characteristics and Motivations of Christian Rescuers" and "Glimpses of Light: Christian Rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust". At the conclusion of Saturday evening's session a panel consisting of three Holocaust survivors and one Gentile "rescuer" offered their highly compelling reminiscences.

This two day event was organized to mark the official opening of the John S.Conway Research Collection at the Regent College Library. Over the past several years Dr Conway has gradually been donating books and files to the Library, and with the approach of his retirement over the past year this transfer has accelerated. The Collection is kept separate from the main holdings of the Regent- Carey Library, which serves an enrollment of some 350 FTE students in theological studies.

At present the Conway Collection includes between 400 and 500 monograph titles, and files and pamphlets in even greater numbers. There is a great quantity of resources on the German Church Struggle, Ecumenism, the Holocaust and its many aspects, and major troves of biographical material on Bonhoeffer, Niemoller and especially Friedrich Siegmund-Schultze, including an almost full run in original copies of the noted journal "Die Eiche - 1913-1933". Having worked extensively with John's collection in preparation for this Symposium, I believe that the conference seems to have accomplished at least two things: a) it provided a fitting tribute for John's distinguished career, as well as his generous gifts to the Library; b) it served remarkably to establish points of contact and mutual respect between persons of the Jewish and Christian communities.

To mark the occasion, the Regent College Bookstore has re-printed (in an attractive paperback edition) Dr Conway's book "The Nazi Persecution of the Churches 1933-1945", which was duly presented during the proceedings - to the author's complete surprise and subsequent delight! Copies are now available at Can $25.95 and can be ordered from the Regent Bookstore, 5800 University Boulevard, Vancouver, B.C. V6T 2E4 (call 604-228-1620 or 1-800-663-8664; Fax: 604-224-3097. Visa and Master Charge accepted)

Dr David Gushee's book "The Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust: a Christian Interpretation" (Fortress Press 1994) is also available at Can $24.75.

The weekend's lectures were recorded, and audiotapes can be ordered from the Regent Bookstore.

It is the hope of the Regent-Carey Library that this event will foster further dialogue, and that the Conway Collection will prove to be a valuable resource for research in the future. Do feel free to contact us if we can be of assistance to you. (Ivan Gaetz, Librarian, email - rgtig@unixg.ubc.ca; David Stewart, Associate Librarian,email - rgtds@unixg.ubc.ca). David Stewart, Associate Librarian

2) Churches in the G.D.R.

The Landtag of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern has recently published three volumes of verbatim transcripts of the proceedings of its own Enquete Commission, under the title "Leben in der DDR, Leben nach 1989 - Aufarbeitung und Versoehnung". These contain several statements about the role of the churches by such noted figures as Prof. Martin Onnasch. (These volumes can be consulted at Regent College Library, Vancouver).

3) Book reviews:,

a) Littell, Hyping the Holocaust
b) Crosby, Battlefield Chaplains a) ed. F.H.Littell, Hyping the Holocaust. Scholars answer Goldhagen. East Rockaway,N.Y.: Cummings and Hathaway Publishers. 177pp $20 US

Early last year Daniel Goldhagen's book _Hitler's willing executioners_ appeared with tremendous publicity and exaggerated claims for its novelty and uniqueness. Its thesis of a wholesale addiction by Germans to a so-called "eliminationist antisemitism" as the single cause of the Holocaust seemed to appeal to a large number of young Germans now resolutely looking for ammunition to attack their parents and grandparents, or to elderly non-Germans eager to find reinforcement for long-held prejudices. By contrast, academic critics almost universally found much to criticize, particularly in the broad generalizations about the relationship of Germans and Jews. The book received numerous reviews in both the United States and Germany, but has since disappeared from the best-seller lists. In the wider setting, one could argue that the only answer to bad history is better history. But Professor Franklin Littell, who has spent a generation building up a significant forum of scholarly conferences on the Holocaust and the Churches, had a particular concern for joining this debate. He recognized the danger that, if Goldhagen's views were to find wide coverage or acceptance, these endeavours to heal the wounds of the past and to create a new climate between Christians and Jews might well be endangered. He has therefore assembled a distinguished coterie of experts from Israel, Canada, Germany and the United States to refute the most blatant and unrestrained of Goldhagen's claims, thereby seeking to restore the damage done to relations between Christians and Jews, between Germans and Israelis and other nations.

These scholars are prepared to be fair. The doyen of Israel's Holocaust scholarship, Yehuda Bauer, for instance, is ready to agree with Goldhagen that the Holocaust is explicable and not essentially a mystery as Elie Wiesel believes.. He praises as "powerful and convincing" Goldhagen's description of the death marches of 1945. He is however all the more critical of the indiscriminate stereotyping of German history or Nazi society in particular. In Bauer's view, which is shared by other Jewish conservatives,Goldhagen blurred what is truly distinctive about the Holocaust by diverting attention away from the industrialized and bureaucratic character of the Nazis' mass murder onslaught And his principal argument making endemic German antisemitism uniquely responsible is undercut by his throwaway admission in a footnote that since 1945 Germans have become model democrats. Rabbi Jacob Neusner chides his fellow Harvard graduate for his unwillingness to engage in comparisons with other antisemitic societies and for his lack of logical consistency. So too, Hans Mommsen, one of Germany's leading historians, remains unconvinced by Goldhagen's adoption of the extreme "intentionalist" view of the Holocaust's origins, and is unimpressed by the first sections of the book and the "comprehensive elaborations for which there are no archival or other unpublished sources and for which the secondary literature is only called up from time to time".

Another German contributor, Erich Geldbach, newly appointed Professor of Ecumenical Theology at the Ruhr University, Bochum, challenges Goldhagen's claim that Germans en masse abandoned ethical norms when they killed Jews. It seemed only "natural" to ordinary Germans to "exterminate" European Jewry. But such a view, in Geldbach's opinion, by regarding pre-Nazi Germans as already predisposed to an "eliminationist antisemitism", not only downplays the impact of the Nazis' extremely effective propaganda and indoctrination machinery. It also partakes of a kind of predestination theory which disallows all possibility of holding individuals morally responsible for their acts. And if the vast majority of Germans were so predisposed, why did Hitler and his closest advisers take such pains to keep the whole process secret? Goldhagen's simplistic reductionism can only serve to lend support to those who, despite all the evidence, still refuse to face the fact of their complicity. His book therefore runs the risk of being counter- productive.

Wolfgang Gerlach, a German pastor well known for his highly critical study of the Confessing Church's failure to support Jews during the Holocaust, is drawn to protest against the undifferentiated polemic against all Christians, and to take issue against the charge of "striking impassiveness" which ignores the historical fact that heated debates did take place, even if many Lutherans still remained trapped in their anti-Judaic theological positions, which however were bent on converting, not murdering, Jews. To be sure alert personalities of the church took refuge in a disconcerting, shocking and paralysing silence. But the few Christian martyrs such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer at least deserved a mention, and are obviously omitted because they contradict Goldhagen's picture of an "indifferent" and "eliminationist" majority.

Three other members of our Association contribute significant essays. Hubert Locke, co-founder with Littell of the Scholars' Conference, criticizes Goldhagen for denouncing well known Holocaust scholars when they fail to engage in his favourite method: reaching grand conclusions where the evidence is weakest. Peter Hoffmann rightly points out that revulsion against the Nazi murderous antisemitic policies was one of the principal motives for the German Resistance's attempt to overthrow Hitler, for which so many of them sacrificed their lives. And Dick Pierard contributes a useful summary of American right-wing reactions to Goldhagen's views, which points out that his arguments can be used to advance agendas which he clearly had not anticipated or intended. The more extreme American "deniers' of course have condemned Goldhagen's thesis outright, but his specious generalizations have only provided them with a further opportunity to denounce the whole Holocaust mythology lock, stock and barrel.

In summary, Eberhard Jaeckel, another distinguished Holocaust scholar, to his regret finds that the book is not a penetrating revision of previous scholarship, which might have added significant new findings. Rather it is simply a bad book, little more than a retreat to out-distanced positions, and a reversion to the most primitive of all stereotypes, "by a young man who has gained public attention but at the cost of sacrificing all scientific standing".

JSC


b) Crosby, Battlefield Chaplains a) ed. F.H.Littell, Hyping the Holocaust. Scholars answer Goldhagen. East Rockaway,N.Y.: Cummings and Hathaway Publishers. 177pp $20 US

Early last year Daniel Goldhagen's book _Hitler's willing executioners_ appeared with tremendous publicity and exaggerated claims for its novelty and uniqueness. Its thesis of a wholesale addiction by Germans to a so-called "eliminationist antisemitism" as the single cause of the Holocaust seemed to appeal to a large number of young Germans now resolutely looking for ammunition to attack their parents and grandparents, or to elderly non-Germans eager to find reinforcement for long-held prejudices. By contrast, academic critics almost universally found much to criticize, particularly in the broad generalizations about the relationship of Germans and Jews. The book received numerous reviews in both the United States and Germany, but has since disappeared from the best-seller lists. In the wider setting, one could argue that the only answer to bad history is better history. But Professor Franklin Littell, who has spent a generation building up a significant forum of scholarly conferences on the Holocaust and the Churches, had a particular concern for joining this debate. He recognized the danger that, if Goldhagen's views were to find wide coverage or acceptance, these endeavours to heal the wounds of the past and to create a new climate between Christians and Jews might well be endangered. He has therefore assembled a distinguished coterie of experts from Israel, Canada, Germany and the United States to refute the most blatant and unrestrained of Goldhagen's claims, thereby seeking to restore the damage done to relations between Christians and Jews, between Germans and Israelis and other nations.

These scholars are prepared to be fair. The doyen of Israel's Holocaust scholarship, Yehuda Bauer, for instance, is ready to agree with Goldhagen that the Holocaust is explicable and not essentially a mystery as Elie Wiesel believes.. He praises as "powerful and convincing" Goldhagen's description of the death marches of 1945. He is however all the more critical of the indiscriminate stereotyping of German history or Nazi society in particular. In Bauer's view, which is shared by other Jewish conservatives,Goldhagen blurred what is truly distinctive about the Holocaust by diverting attention away from the industrialized and bureaucratic character of the Nazis' mass murder onslaught And his principal argument making endemic German antisemitism uniquely responsible is undercut by his throwaway admission in a footnote that since 1945 Germans have become model democrats. Rabbi Jacob Neusner chides his fellow Harvard graduate for his unwillingness to engage in comparisons with other antisemitic societies and for his lack of logical consistency. So too, Hans Mommsen, one of Germany's leading historians, remains unconvinced by Goldhagen's adoption of the extreme "intentionalist" view of the Holocaust's origins, and is unimpressed by the first sections of the book and the "comprehensive elaborations for which there are no archival or other unpublished sources and for which the secondary literature is only called up from time to time".

Another German contributor, Erich Geldbach, newly appointed Professor of Ecumenical Theology at the Ruhr University, Bochum, challenges Goldhagen's claim that Germans en masse abandoned ethical norms when they killed Jews. It seemed only "natural" to ordinary Germans to "exterminate" European Jewry. But such a view, in Geldbach's opinion, by regarding pre-Nazi Germans as already predisposed to an "eliminationist antisemitism", not only downplays the impact of the Nazis' extremely effective propaganda and indoctrination machinery. It also partakes of a kind of predestination theory which disallows all possibility of holding individuals morally responsible for their acts. And if the vast majority of Germans were so predisposed, why did Hitler and his closest advisers take such pains to keep the whole process secret? Goldhagen's simplistic reductionism can only serve to lend support to those who, despite all the evidence, still refuse to face the fact of their complicity. His book therefore runs the risk of being counter- productive.

Wolfgang Gerlach, a German pastor well known for his highly critical study of the Confessing Church's failure to support Jews during the Holocaust, is drawn to protest against the undifferentiated polemic against all Christians, and to take issue against the charge of "striking impassiveness" which ignores the historical fact that heated debates did take place, even if many Lutherans still remained trapped in their anti-Judaic theological positions, which however were bent on converting, not murdering, Jews. To be sure alert personalities of the church took refuge in a disconcerting, shocking and paralysing silence. But the few Christian martyrs such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer at least deserved a mention, and are obviously omitted because they contradict Goldhagen's picture of an "indifferent" and "eliminationist" majority.

Three other members of our Association contribute significant essays. Hubert Locke, co-founder with Littell of the Scholars' Conference, criticizes Goldhagen for denouncing well known Holocaust scholars when they fail to engage in his favourite method: reaching grand conclusions where the evidence is weakest. Peter Hoffmann rightly points out that revulsion against the Nazi murderous antisemitic policies was one of the principal motives for the German Resistance's attempt to overthrow Hitler, for which so many of them sacrificed their lives. And Dick Pierard contributes a useful summary of American right-wing reactions to Goldhagen's views, which points out that his arguments can be used to advance agendas which he clearly had not anticipated or intended. The more extreme American "deniers' of course have condemned Goldhagen's thesis outright, but his specious generalizations have only provided them with a further opportunity to denounce the whole Holocaust mythology lock, stock and barrel.

In summary, Eberhard Jaeckel, another distinguished Holocaust scholar, to his regret finds that the book is not a penetrating revision of previous scholarship, which might have added significant new findings. Rather it is simply a bad book, little more than a retreat to out-distanced positions, and a reversion to the most primitive of all stereotypes, "by a young man who has gained public attention but at the cost of sacrificing all scientific standing".

JSC

b) Donald F.Crosby,SJ., Battlefield Chaplains: Catholic Priests in World War II, University of Kansas Press, 1994

During the Gulf War, a Catholic padre found himself beside the body of an American female soldier mortally wounded in a vehicle accident. In an action as ancient as the office itself, the padre bent over the soldier and led her through the Act of Contrition and the prayers for the dying. His reward was a faint squeeze of the hand before she died.

Donald Crosby's study of battlefield ministry to the armed forces of the United States in the Second World War explores the similar work done by thousands of Catholic clerics overseas. He vividly portrays the intensity of this ministry and the devotion most padres felt for their men, as well as, for better or for worse, their complete identification with the crusading cause of the United States. Crosby has undertaken wide and exhaustive research in Catholic newsprint, army archival and chaplain memoir literature. He also benefited from a 1983 questionnaire sent to former military chaplains, asking them to reflect on their service and to evaluate it for the benefit of present and future padres and scholars. Significantly, only two percent recorded any regrets about their wartime service. Most, as Crosby frankly and critically points out, shared the predominant anger and desire for revenge after Pearl Harbour, as well as the tendency to dehumanize the enemy (especially the Japanese and Nazi SS troops), a readiness to support the use of the atomic bomb, and a blindness at the time to the barbaric irony of crusading theology.

These padres clearly shared all the war's risks as well as much of the suffering borne by those at the front: one hundred padres (twenty-five of them Catholic) were killed in action, almost three hundred wounded and nearly fifty taken prisoner during the years 1941-45. Such dedication was reflected in the fact that after two years of war the army reported that a mere twenty-three of over five thousand chaplains had to be dismissed from the service. Similarly, a bare handful resigned from active duty because their battlefield experience had disillusioned them or harmed their personal faith, though several became outspoken pacifists during the Cold War.

Crosby also found few cases of denominational conflict, though skirmishes were prone to break out between Southern Baptists or Methodists and Catholic priests from the East or Mid-West. In fact, to a surprising degree, chaplains were given explicit cross- training to enable them (in all but sacraments) to minister to Jews, Catholics and Protestants during their formal training.

The one major institutional failing which Crosby does not explore was the chronic shortage of chaplains during the last months of the war in both theatres, when many were clearly showing signs of combat fatigue but were not replaced or reinforced.

Crosby provides a unique and sometimes vivid picture of the U.S. armed forces at war. He makes telling use of primary sources, letters, diaries and combat reports, as well as the results of the 1983 questionnaire. He also does us all a service in tracking down and laying to rest some common cliches, myths and misinformation about American chaplains: Chaplain McGuire's mythical phrase "praise the Lord and pass the ammunition" at Pearl Harbour, Father Cummings and the apocryphal phrase "there are no atheists in foxholes" from the Philippines, and Patton's padre's famous (or infamous) prayer for good weather. He points out the cases where some chaplains crossed the lines drawn for non- combatants by the Geneva Convention, from those leading patrols and carrying ammunition to the famous pistol packin' padres of the Pacific theatre.

Despite these colourful illustrations, the reader may find this book's greatest impact in the reiteration of so many accounts of wounding, death, shelling, mines, aerial attack, sacrifice and suffering. Occasionally Crosby's narrative becomes a somewhat numbing Litany of the Dead, reflecting the inherent banalization of tragedy and suffering that the war brought to its victims. Without its occasional humour and lively anecdotes, the book could easily numb the reader with the seemingly endless round of death and mutilation.

Crosby would be the first to say that the topic has not been exhausted: he promises future publications regarding chaplains on the home front, ecumenism and theology in wartime, the politics of chaplaincy between churches and state, and the challenges of racism, sexism and religious minority groups in the armed forces. These topics should indeed be addressed, otherwise Crosby's chronicle will slip back into the highly conventional, even ritualized genre of padre battle-books and official histories which are all but forgotten by religious scholars today. No one knows more than he about the apathetic diocesan and archdiocesan officials who neglected their overseas priests, and why. These topics must be addressed in a scholarly manner, before scholars are able to fathom the profound changes and lingering ambiguities of American civil religion, faith and society, in the period between the Second World War and the present.

Duff Crerar, Grand Prairie Regional College, Alberta.

With best wishes to you all,

John S.Conway

jconway@unixg.ubc.ca