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Association of Contemporary Church Historians (Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)
Newsletter - November 1997 - Vol III, no 11
For Remembrance Day: The Past
When we would reach the anguish of the dead,
hose bones alone, irrelevant, are dust,
But of ourselves we know we must, we must
To some obscure but ever-bleeding thing
Unreconciled, a needed solace bring,
Like a resolving chord, like daylight shed.
Or do we through time reach back in vain
To inaccessible pain?
1) Journal article: Klemperer on Bonhoeffer
2) Book reviews
a) W.D.Halls, Politics, Society and Christianity in Vichy France
b) A.Jarlet, Oxford Group and Churches in Northern Europe, 1930- 1945
c) ed H.Lehmann, Saekularisierung, Dechristianisierung, Rechristianisierung im neuzeitlichen Europa
d) T.Sandkuehler, Endloesung in Galizien. Der Judenmord in Ostpolen und die Rettungsinitiativen von Berthold Beitz, 1941- 1944
3) Churches in the G.D.R.
4) Work in progress: Kyle Jantzen
1) David Diephouse kindly sent in the following contribution: The more theologically inclined Kirzkeit-Listler may be interested in Klemens von Klemperer, "Beyond Luther? Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Resistance against National Socialism", Pro Ecclesia, Vol 6/2, Spring 1997, pp 184-198. Klemperer argues that "if Bonhoeffer moved beyond Luther's theology, he never really departed from him". He seeks to show that the roots of Bonhoeffer's commitment to resistance and responsible action can be found in his rediscovery/reappropriation of, among other things, Luther's understanding of sin, suffering, and redemption (e.g. theology of the cross). The apparent contradictions between Bonhoeffer's activism and the traditional Lutheran canon, Klemperer concludes, represent a paradoxical affirmation of the "relevance of Luther's theology in our world come of age". A thought-provoking piece.
2) Book Reviews
2a) W.D.Halls, Politics,Society and Christianity in Vichy France, Oxford/Providence,USA: Berg Books 1995 419pp
Controversy over the fate of France during the years of humiliation from 1940-45 between the supporters of resistance and those of collaboration has continued unresolved for more than fifty years. W.D.Halls' masterly account of the experiences of the French churches is therefore both timely and valuable. Rich in its archival explorations, insightful into the dilemmas confronting the church leaders as well as the laity, this study is written from a helpful ecumenical point of view which includes significant comparisons between the majority French Catholics and the minoirty, but still influential, French Protestants. Halls' treatment therefore supersedes earlier more partial or apologetic accounts such as those by Duquesne or Pierard, and gives added depth to the work of Marrus and Paxton, or more recently the single chapter in Phillippe Burrin's, Living with Defeat. While his wide-ranging investigations lead him to paint an inclusive panorama, his sympathies clearly lie with those who staunchly resisted the Nazi- led encroachments on church activities, or heroically gave help to the most persecuted of the Nazi victims, the Jews.
The military defeat of 1940 was both unprecedented and calamitous. The churches were whole-heartedly nationalistic, but at the same time resented the kind of second-class status forced on them by the secularist and anticlerical policies of the Third Republic. Its overthrow and replacement by the authoritarian regime of Marshal Petain seemed therefore to be a welcome chance to reverse the errors of the past, and a genuine opportunity to embark on national renewal. Petain appeared to be a leader worthy of estimation in contrast to the lack-lustre politicians of the Third Republic, his values seemed to be much more in tune with Catholic ideals, and his military record inspired confidence that he would be able to carve out a new place for France in a war-torn Europe. The alternatives, either of capitulating to German domination, or of believing in possible victory by the perfidious English (shades of Joan of Arc!), were equally unpalatable. Hence the enormous veneration and trust given by the church leaders to Petain. Once given, this stance was difficult if not impossible to renounce, as it would have questioned the authority of the church's hierarchy, never ready to admit that they had been mistaken. Even when Petain's inability to uphold his goals, or when his minister Laval's craven subservience to the Nazi overlords became more obvious, the church leaders clung to their belief in Vichy's beneficence.
To begin with, the Catholic church gained substantially with the revocation of many of the impediments imposed earlier. The Protestant leader, Boegner, similarly joined Petain's National Council in the belief that here was an opportunity effectively to re- christianize France through repentance and reform. Only later, as the Nazis' depredations grew, and especially with their onslaught on the Jews, did this sympathy erode rapidly. At the same time, Halls makes it clear that even the most devoted followers of Petain's line were not deluded for theological reasons. None of them embraced Nazism or its fascist equivalent. At most, opportunism, political hostility to Communism, or a profound despair about France's situation, led this small minority of collaborationists to support the Germans. By contrast the majority of the lower clergy were immune to such blandishments and indeed were revolted by the idea of collaboration. They gave a lead on the local level to the resistance, especially on humanitarian grounds, and many paid a terrible price. At least 800 priests were arrested and deported to German concentration camps, where many perished. But the dilemmas were manifest. Given their support of Petain, the bishops particularly could only see armed insurrection by the Resistance Maquis as "terrorism" or "banditry", which they had to oppose. On the other hand, some, like the Archbishop of Toulouse, were resolute in defending publicly Christian values such as the sanctity of life (including Jewish lives). The most notable underground protest, Temoignage Chretien, was organised by Catholic priests in Lyons. So too the Protestants were strongly influenced by the own memories of earlier persecutions, and by the resistance ideas of Karl Barth, and so adopted an increasingly oppositional stance on theologically-based grounds.
Halls is particularly good on the variety of ways in which church members sought to protect or assist the Jews, as also on the differing strategies adopted by the clergy in counselling their parishioners whether or not to accept the "draft" for labour in German factories. Loyalty to the Marshal dictated obedience to Vichy decrees, but in fact many priests advised listening to personal conscience on this matter - a significant alteration in Catholic practice.
As the German defeat loomed, and the reputation of the Vichy regime visibly declined, the ambivalence of the church leaders only increased As a Protestant, Halls prefers the more prophetic stance adopted by a few outspoken clergymen. He could have been more sympathetic to the pastoral approach adopted by the majority of the bishops, whose concern for the preservation of sacramental life, and for the fate of their flocks, obliged them to seek accommodations. But in this they were not alone. Virtually all the European church leaders caught up in the political and ideological maelstroms of the second world war faced equally formidable dilemmas. Prudence and tradition prompted them to safeguard the churches' institutional existence. Equally they could not fail to be conscious that open defiance against the Vichy regime or its Nazi controllers would not only contradict their concept of national loyalty, but would lead to a high price to be paid by those valiant enough to heed their call. The responsibility for causing such additional suffering was undoubtedly a major deterrent.
Halls rightly concludes that the ambiguities of the churches' positions, especially those of the most prominent bishops, were very understandable and uncomfortable. They were not as resolute as their counterparts in Denmark or Holland, but they did not capitulate as the German bishops had done. Halls believes they could have asserted themselves more vigorously, but wrongly concludes that they were held back by the silence of the Vatican. This very Protestant view is too simplistic. In fact, the prospect of an eventual victory by the Anglo-American-Soviet Allies was neither foreseeable nor widely welcome, but the need to maintain pastoral care was a daily reality. On the other hand, the younger clergy showed themselves more ready to support the resistance, and more open to new ventures like the worker-priest experiment, or to the benefits of ecumenical contacts. Such developments served the church well in the long run, and paved the way for a more reformist mood as evidenced in the Second Vatican Council. J.S.C.
2b) Anders Jarlert, The Oxford Group Revivalism and the Churches in Northern Europe, 1930-1945. (Bibliotheca Historico- Ecclesiastica Lundensis 35). Lund University Press 1995. 526pp
This doctoral thesis from the University of Lund provides more than a specific account of the "Oxford Group Revivalism" in Northern Europe. It also aims at an assessment of this particular movement as compared to other similar revivalist movements, notably those in Scandinavia in the 19th century. The author has set up a very ambitious project, an impression amply confirmed by his bibliography, and in his introduction where Jarlert defines the scope of his material. He is determined to do justice to the complex, international and contemporary character of the Oxford Group, by examining its "vision and strategy, doctrine and theology, mentality and function". Moreover the author has researched a remarkably wide range of sources, reflecting the specific features of this revivalist movement. He has examined not only printed and unprinted literature, but also conducted numerous personal interviews. It is no wonder that he is therefore able to provide many new insights. In particular he sheds light on the history of the Oxford Group's activities in Sweden, which is an important supplement to previous investigations, since, strangely enough, Swedish developments have been left aside, while attention has been directed towards the corresponding (though slightly differing) developments in Norway and Denmark. No less interesting is his analysis of the Oxford Group's involvement during the Nazi period in Germany. He is certainly aware of the more or less spectacular attempts, undertaken by the "leaders" from the international team, to convert key persons from the leadership of the Nazi Party, among them Heinrich Himmler. His intention, however, is not to indulge in sensational revelations. On the contrary, he provides a balanced, comprehensive account of this episode (especially pp 405-408). There can be no doubt that this research is important. But the length of his account - 440 pages of text - reflects a weakness, since the multitude of details threatens to dominate at the cost of the main theses. Moreover, it appears that Jarlert pays too little attention to the individual role of the undisputed leader of the Oxford Group, Frank Buchman, in particular, or to the leaders of the international team in general, considering that the analysis seeks to depict a new type of revivalist movement over against the traditional pietist and/or nationalist movements of the 19th century. Remarks of this kind, however, by no means weaken the overall impression of a solid and well-researched doctoral thesis. Jens Holger Schjorring, Aarhus Faculty of Theology, Denmark
2c) Saekularisierung, Dechristianisierung, Rechristianisierung im neuzeitlichen Europa. Bilanz und Perspektiven der Forschung. ed. Hartmut Lehmann (Veroeffentlichungen des Max-Planck- Instituts fuer Geschichte 130) Goettingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1997. 335 pp DM 72.00
For many decades disputes have continued over the meaning of the term "Secularisation" in modern European history. Many liberal intellectuals have seen this process as an irreversible and desirable development in human progress, leading as Max Weber once said to the "de-mystification of the world", to the abandonment of outdated superstitious ideas from earlier ages, and to the growth of a rationalist, humanistic approach to life Their historians therefore ignored or downplayed the role of religion, either public or private, and concentrated solely on materialist factors as causative of events. Other scholars have questioned such hubristic assumptions and instead have described the evident, often politically-motivated, elimination of Christianity's public role in society as a de- christianisation. Yet others have pointed to the equally apparent revival of spiritual movements, especially among the lesser- regarded sects, and to the clear evidence of re-christianisation of segments of the European population. There is therefore no consensus to be found about the significance of the three terms used in the title of this collection of essays which arose out of a conference held in Goettingen in 1994, and published under the auspices of the renowned Max Planck Institute. The book serves to provide us with a broad and scholarly overview of the state of the debate, and in fact reflects the widely divergent opinions on such controversial topics. Alois Hahn makes the valid point that the unresolved religious divisions left over from the Reformation destroyed the unitary framework of earlier centuries which provided coherence in political and social affairs. The resulting competing pluralism of views has only been accelerated in more recent years by the effects of international migration, communication and technology. Nevertheless, despite deliberate attempts to relegate religion in any of its forms from public affairs in many states, the sociological and hence political evidence of the continuing influence of religious ideas is undeniable. Hence secularisation should be used as a descriptive rather than as a prescriptive term. F.W.Graf seconds this plea by pointing to the long history and polemic character of each of these three terms. Churchmen and anti-clericals alike have mounted their campaigns and proposed their answers to these developments with scant respect to the need for precise definitions or tolerance of opposing views. Graf stresses the importance of recognising the continuing influence of traditional imagery, especially in the festivals of the church year, in counterpoint to the inevitable changes in historical settings. It is far too soon to talk of irreversible tendencies. The same theme is taken up by other contributors who warn against too functional or reductionist a view, or against dissolving these topics into an incalculable agglomeration of individualistic subjectivities. A pluralist approach would show, as van Rooden notes from the Netherlands, that each epoch has a distinctive mix of characteristics with qualities of gain and loss. The term "de-cristianisation" is at best to be limited to the public sphere, though as David Hall rightly points out, it is not to be equated with the separation of church and state, which in America enabled the many churches to thrive. On the other hand, less is said here about the clear loss of plausibility of Christian doctrines, due largely to the churches' own mutual antagonisms, or even more so to their mistaken bestowal of theological justification to politically disastrous developments, such as the German Christians support for Nazism. No less significant have been the changes in gender roles, and the abandonment of rigid moral codes. Much can be learnt from the comparisons of conditions in Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, USA, Switzerland, Poland and Russia, as described by this international team of authors, though it is a pity that the British Isles were entirely missing. The interplay of historical, nationalistic, political and social factors is certainly too complex for any easy generalisations. Dmitri Furman writing about present-day Russia goes so far as to claim that "the results of all rationalisation and secularisation processes are not the victory of rationalism, nor the return to religion, but rather a kind of irrational, adogmatic eclecticism, a kind of ideological mist, a multi-coloured, ever-changing, Chameleon-like shifting of beliefs and ideas." It is small wonder that confusion rather than consensus is the result. In the two final essays Wolfgang Schieder and Hartmut Lehmann attempt to find a balance. The former points out that these subjects have long been researched in France, England and Holland, but only in recent years in Germany, and have hardly begun to be studied in Poland or Russia. Furthermore, none of the participants has really come to terms with where to start or how to proceed. Almost all have their own predispositions or subjective agendas. Finding a mutually acceptable "objectivity" on such a slippery subject as "Religion" is almost impossible, especially in the "longue duree" And how can any such discussions be widened to take account of the impact of non-European religions? Hartmut Lehmann concludes that the problems of finding adequate terminologies to describe the transformations of religious life and belief in Europe over the past three centuries remains unresolved. Greater precision is indispensable. So too are more individual studies, especially desirable on topics overlapping both history and geography, such as the concepts of morality, death, mission or millenarianism. But at the same time secular historians need to take more account of religious factors as a formative, if no longer normative, aspect of the total picture. These essays can only help to provide some initial promptings towards such a goal. J.S.C.
2d) Thomas Sandkuehler, Endloesung in Galizien. Der Judenmord in Ostpolen und die Rettungsinitiativen von Berthold Beitz, 1941- 1944. Bonn: Dietz 1996 592pp
This is a book of extraordinary quality. Using German and Polish archives, the author was able to present a more detailed account of the mass murder procedures for a specific area than any other work with which I am familiar. I can think of no other country or province where the murder of the Jews was accomplished under more cruel circumstances. Although, of course, Germans were implicated in this horrendous crime, the worst perpetrators were Ukrainians, for which reason Sandkuehler takes explicit exception to the Goldhagen thesis. The author found convincing evidence both for and against Raul Hilberg's well-known contention that Jews acquiesced passively to their fate. Readers of this newsletter will be especially interested in the third part of the book which outlines Beitz's efforts, and those of his wife, to save Jews. Beitz was a person of deep Protestant principles and convictions, who had never succumbed to Nazi propaganda or joined the party. When he was sent to Eastern Poland to work in a managerial position for an oil company, he was shocked by the brutality of Germans and Ukrainians. He witnessed, for example, the murder of a child in its mother's arms. Beitz was able to employ Jews for several years because of the German need for oil. He was under constant pressure to surrender them, but Beitz found he could "control" the local SS officer, Friedrich Hildebrand. During tennis matches or hunting trip he would convince Hildebrand to leave his Jews alone. Altogether, Beitz probably saved about 100 Jews. The number would have been higher, but Beitz himself was drafted into the army in 1944 and had to leave his position in Galizia. Michael Phayer, Marquette University, Milwaukee
3) Churches in the G.D.R. In the May 1997 issue, I noted the publication by the Landtag of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern of three volumes about life in the G.D.R. Three further volumes have now appeared, and in the sixth, there are two separate chapters devoted to religious conditions in this area. The first is written by a Catholic author, Bernd Schafer, with a general overview of church policies, while the second consists of four regional studies around Rostock and Stralsund. These can again be consulted in Regent College Library.
4) Work in progress: Kyle Jantzen
Nationalism and the Protestant Clergy. I am undertaking an analysis of parish clergy from three church districts in Wuerttemberg, Brandenburg and Saxony during the period of the Third Reich. Based on sources from the Evangelical Central Archive in Berlin, the Wuerttemberg Land Church Archive in Stuttgart, as well as parish, city and church district archives in Brandenburg, Saxony and Wuerttemberg, I am attempting to evaluate clerical nationalism on the local level and relate it to the church politics of the German Church Struggle.
Ever since Friedrich Baumgaertel's _Wider die Kirchenkampf- Legenden_ appeared in 1958, doubts have been raised about the popular notion that the German Protestant clergy was neatly split into camps of supporters and opponents of National Socialism and Nazi church policy. Since then, historians of the German Church Struggle have generally recognised that Protestant clergy welcomed the new Nazi regime in 1933. Nonetheless, the historiography of the German Church Struggle has been dominated by a dualistic paradigm pitting theologically orthodox members of the Confessing Church against pro-Nazi "German Christians" and their racial theology. Implicit in this dualism is the notion that the Confessing Church was ultimately an anti-Nazi movement as well. This view had its basis in the many memoirs of clergy and chronicles of the Church Struggle written during and immediately after the Nazi era, most by those loyal to the Confessing Church. The martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and imprisonment of Martin Niemoller - and the attention they received - strengthened the impression that the Confessing Church was active in resistance to the Nazi regime. The weakness of this interpretation was that it conflated opposition to the "German Christian" movement and the Nazi church policy with opposition to the National Socialist regime itself. In reality, many Protestant clergy - even if they opposed the application of Nazi racial ideology and administrative interference in the churches - believed wholeheartedly in the Nazi movement and its national and racial ideology, during and after 1933. They spoke of themselves as National Socialists, endorsed the foreign policy of the Third Reich, and helped to legitimate Adolf Hitler's leadership.
Protestant pastors announced that the emergence of Adolf Hitler was a gift from God, and many regarded his life as a divine mission. Pastors praised the Nazis for their anti-Bolshevism, and emphasised the sobriety and piety of the new Fuehrer. Some who opposed the Nazi church policy still joined the Party out of a sense of duty to the national renewal. Generally the Protestant clergy lo oked eagerly for the recovery of German pride and power, regardless of their church-political orientation. This paradox creates problems for the interpretation of the Church Struggle and demands a closer examination of the pastors' records throughout Germany. Kyle Jantzen, Instructor, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon. PhD cand. McGill University, Montreal (Ed.'s note: see also introduction to J.S.Conway, The Nazi Persecution of the Churches, re-issued edition 1997)
With all best wishes to you all,