Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

Return to index.

Newsletter- April 1998- Vol.V, no. 4

 

Dear Friends,

On the occasion of this, the 40th, issue of this Newsletter, I amglad to report to you that, as of today, we now have 200 subscribers world-wide, from Western Australia to PolandI have been much gratified by the expressions of appreciation made by several of you whom I have met in recent weeks, and only hope there will be some future opportunity for more of us to meet each other personally. Since this Newsletter was conceived originally as a post-retirement project, I am not sure how long I can continue, but your enthusiastic support has been a great encouragement. In the meantime, let me repeat my invitation to send in contributions which may be of interest to other members. These will be most welcome.

Congratulations are due to our list-member, Jonathan Vance, who has been awarded the $5000 Dafoe Book Prize for his book "Death So Noble", published by UBC Press, and reviewed here lastSeptember, Vol III, no 9. Contents: 1) Editorial: Vatican Document on the Shoah and Letter to the Editor 2) Scholars' Conference, Seattle, Feb-March 1998 3) Holocaust Conference, Notre Dame, April 1998 4) Book reviews: Religion in Russia J Burgess, East German Church 5) Journal article: Confessional Cultures 1945 6) Bonhoeffer Society publication

 

1) Editorial: On March 16th, the Vatican issued an important Statement: "We Remember: A theological reflection on the Shoah", which is designed to "heal the wounds of p ast misunderstandings and injustices" between Christians and Jews. This document, as printed in the New York Times, is clearly not a historical treatise, still less an attempt at Vergangenheitsbewaltigung, but a call for "serious reflection on the events of the Shoah".. I can forward the full text to anyone who writes to ask for it. The first section expresses sympathy for the unspeakable tragedy which befell the Jewish people, to which "the Church cannot remain indifferent". The third section acknowledges that "in the Christian world, erroneous and unjust interpretations of the New Testament regarding the Jewish people have circulated for far too long", but points to their total and definitive rejection by the Second Vatican Council. At the same time, the rise of secular racism, as exploited by the Nazis, and condemned by the Church, showed a "definite hatreddirected at God himself". "The Shoah was thus the work of a thoroughly neo-pagan regime". But, on the other hand, was the Nazi persecution of the Jews "made easier by the anti-Judaic prejudices imbedded in some Christian minds and hearts?" "Any response to this question must take into account that we are dealing with the history of people's attitudes . . . Did Christians give every possible assistance to those being persecuted, and in particular the persecuted Jews? Many did, but others did not. During and after the war, Jewish communities and Jewish leaders expressed their thanks for all that had been done for them, including what Pope Pius XII did personally or through his representatives to save hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives . . . Unfortunately the governments of some western nations of Christian tradition, including some in North and South America, were more than hesitant to open their borders to the persecuted Jews. . . Nevertheless . . . the spiritual resistance and concrete actions of other Christians was not that which might have been expected from Christ's followers. We deeply regret the errors and failings of these sons and daughters of the Church. . . This is an act of repentance ('Teshuva') . . . the Church approaches with deep respect and great compassion the experience of extermination, the Shoah, suffered by the Jewish people during World War II . . . . We wish to turn awareness of past sins into a firm resolve to build a new future in which there will be no more anti- Judaism among Christians or anti-Christian sentiment among Jews". Such laudable feelings summarize, in fact, what Pope JohnPaul II has been saying for several years. His condemnation of racist antisemitism, his repudiation of Christian anti-Judaism, his deep sorrow for the sufferings of the Shoah, and his desire to promote the Church's "very close bonds of spiritual kinship with the Jewish people" are here repeated with added force. The initial reactions, however, from the Jewish side, according to press reports, remain sceptical. In particular, theabsence of any more extended treatment of the actual policies of the Vatican during the time of the Shoah, let alone any hintthat Pope Pius XII might have got his priorities wrong - pursuingpeace through diplomacy, rather than protest against persecution -(see below) will still leave many observers, and not only Jews, unsatisfied. The claim that Pius and his representatives rescued"hundred of thousands" is questionable. Hundreds were undoubtedly assisted to take refuge, and Papal interventions may have delayed, rather than prevented, the Jewish tragedy in such countries as Roumania or Hungary. But the document does not provide the evidence for such large figures. On the other hand, the kind of wishful thinking, which still believes that the Pope, had he protested loudly enough, would have been able to prevent the Holocaust entirely, as was voiced in the debate about the so-called"lost" Encyclical of 1939, is still with us and is surely wrong-headed. So too the complete absence in the Statement of any reference to the Land of Israel, or acknowledgement of the Jewish view of the indissolubility of the bond between Land and People, will leave others unsatisfied. But it is to be hoped that this evidence of a sincere desire for repentance and improved relations between Christians and Jews will serve to dispel some lingering prejudices and induce all Christians to reflect more deeply on the "ungekundigte Bund" which links both communities together, not least in a common resolve never to allow such events as the Shoah to happen again. JSC

 

Letter to the Editor:

Dear John, At the June 1975 International Conference on theHolocaust in Hamburg, Pinchas Lapide [author of The Last Three Popes and the Jews (London 1967)] (who recently died) told me that his estimate of 860,000 Jews saved through secret Vatican diplomacy during the Second World War was based on six month's research in the Yad Vashem Holocaust archive in Jerusalem. In the interest of fairness, and since it is too little known, Pius XII's own account of his actions and motives is to be found in his 30 April 1943 letter to Bishop Preysing of Berlin, which is printed int he Actes et Documents du Saint Siege, Vol 2, and in German translation in Die Briefe Pius XII an die deutsche Bischoefe 1939-1946, document no 105, German ed. p.235-242. It is unfair to judge any man without considering his own account of his actions, if one is available. Also deserving of mention, because of historical significance, is the fact that 80% of Italy's Jews survived the Holocaust. In the face of six million dead, no one can claim that enough was done. To claim, however, that nothing was done - or that the failure to do more was the result of indifference, cynicism, or cowardice - is a grave falsification of history. Sincerely, John J. Hughes, St Loius, Missouri..

2) It was a particular pleasure to attend the 28th Scholars' Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches at the University of Washington at the beginning of March. This annual event, which has been under the genial guidance of Professor Franklin Littell and his wife Marcie since its beginnings in 1970, brings together both Jewish and Christian scholars to discuss the implications oft he Holocaust for both religious communities. So it was great to meet so many old friends there, and to see how many of them are also subscribers to this Newsletter. This year, special sessions were devoted to the churches during the Nazi era. An excellent plenary session was given over to the policies of Pope Pius XII. John Pawlikowski explored Pius 'development of Catholic social teachings, which sought to overcome the long tradition of opposition to democracy and liberalism, and posed the question as to how far this influenced his attitude towards the Jewish victims of Nazism. He also repeated his call for more opening of archives, which would surely give us a broader picture of the Vatican's stance during these turbulent years. Jacques Kornberg, Toronto, outlined clearly the Holy See's reactions to the earlier genocides of the Armenians, the Ethiopians, and the Catholic Poles after the Nazi onslaught began in 1939. In each case, the Popes were outraged, but their interpretation of Catholic interests led to them to keep silence, lest their authority should be challenged, and possibly weakened. The Vatican's response to the Holocaust followed a similar path. It was only afterwards that expectations were heightened about how Pius XII should have acted, though the advocates of this view have rarely thought through the implications of their desire for a more forceful Papal intervention in political affairs. I was asked to speak on the Pope's political priorities, and sought to outline his overwhelming concern for peace, his preservation of a strict impartiality, and his desire to play the role of mediator to bring the murderous hostilities to an end. To be sure, this policy which had been established already in the first world war under Benedict XV, Pius' mentor, was not successful, and can be criticised for its illusions about the effectiveness of the Holy See's influence. But it was a noble and worthy ideal, even if it was doomed to be thwarted by the power politics of all the combatants. So too, the Vatican's heartfelt efforts to assist the victims of the war were to prove too limited, but should not be dismissed as totally insignificant. Later, we had a splendid session devoted to church policies, when we heard six papers on a variety of topics. Outstanding was the presentation by Jolene Chu, a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses, on their fate in Ravensbruck concentration camp, as also a paper by Victoria Barnett on the ecumenical movement's efforts to find aconsensus on opposing Nazism. Haim Genizi, Israel, read a mosti nteresting paper on a leading figure in the Canadian United Church, describing both his efforts to help Jewish refugees, as well as his subsequent opposition to Zionism after 1945. These were useful contributions to show the variety of Christian responses to the unprecedented challenge of totalitarian ferocity as exhibited during the Nazi era

.3) A major conference on The Impact of the Holocaust, with a distinguished and international cast of speakers, will be held at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana on 26-28th April. More information can be obtained from Center for Continuing Education, Box 1008, Notre Dame, Indiana 46556

4) Book reviews:

a) John Anderson. Religion, state and politics in the Soviet Unionand successor states. Cambridge: University Press, 1994. xi,236 pp. $54.95 hardback, $18.95 paper. ed. Michael Bourdeaux. The Politics of Religion in Russia and the new states of Eurasia. (The International Politics of Eurasia,Volume 3) Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe Inc., 1995. xiii, 321pp. $49.95 hardback, $19.95 paper. (This review appeared in Canadian-American Slavic Studies, Vol 30, no.2-4, 1996) Keston College, formerly in Kent, now in Oxford, has long been the most significant centre in the west for research into religion in communist lands. The authors of these books have made extensive use of its resources, and supplemented these in more recent years by at least partial access to archives in Russia itself, such as those of the Council for Religious Affairs and the Communist Party's Central Committee. Anderson's brisk and workman-like study deals with the making of religious policy in the Soviet Union from the death of Stalin to the overthrow of the regime. Much of the story lies hidden behind the complex and often competing strata of the Soviet bureaucracy, whose policy-making was exceedingly opaque and secretive. Nevertheless he rightly detects an on-going conflict between "fundamentalists" and "pragmatists", with the former concentrating on the ideological necessity of rooting out religious superstitions and prejudice in order to create the new Communist society, while the latter adopted a more flexible but often severeline. Khrushchev was a strong champion of the hard-liners. His attack of the late 1950s upon the churches did much damage. Church leaders were cowed into submission and administrative restrictions imposed strict limits on church life. Following Khrushchev's fall, a reassessment under Brezhnev drew attention to the counterproductive implications of these repressive measures, and placed greater emphasis on Russia's national heritage, including the preservation of historic church buildings. A more nuanced ideological approach attacked the simplistic notions of earlier propagandists. Complaints from believers, appealing for their rights, were at least listened to, even though the sectarian activities of illegal and unregistered church bodies, such as the "underground"Baptists, continued to be repressed. The disappearance of religion came to be regarded as a distant prospect, and the anti-religious struggle lost its priority. At the end of the 1970s, the arrival of the human rights issue on the international scene, the perceived revival of Islamic self-confidence, and the election of a Polish Pope, posed new policy questions to the Soviet leadership, which was increasingly incapable of coming up with new answers. This situation paved the way for Gorbachev's more radical rethinking in the 1980s. Particular difficulties arose from the strength of religious attachments in such areas as Lithuania and Central Asia. Concern that religious revitalization might lead to nascent nationalist strivings was widely expressed, but little was achieved to head off such dangers. The attempts by Andropov, a former head of the KGB, in the early '80s to clamp down on nationalism, religion and dissent, in fact, only demonstrated the regime's limitations. Not only the desire to polish up the patriotic image of the Soviet state, but the need to impress foreign churchmen, led to ambivalent policies, and did little to satisfy either foreign critics abroad or religious communities at home, despite intrusive and extensive moves to suborn the clergy to the regime's wishes. It remained for Gorbachev to realise that repression of all non-conformity was unacceptable and inefficient. His motives, and those of the bureaucracy which backed him, were clearly designed to harness the energy and powers of religious communities behind the state's secular purposes of economic and political reform. At such a time "opium" had its uses. As could be seen during the 1988 celebrations of the millenium of the adoption of Christianity, the regime tried to mobilize religious and nationalist sentiments for its own ends. But, in essence, perestroika was unstoppable. By the end of 1990, the Soviet anti-religious onslaught had been abandoned. Seventy years of persecution and repression had failed in its purpose, even though it left a difficult legacy of antagonism, suspicion and intrigue - problems which still remain to be dealt with. Relations between the new Russian state and its religious communities are still tangled, when the memories and recriminations of the past era overlap with the Orthodox Church's view of itself as the upholder of Russia's national traditions. Anderson's well-informed survey of the Soviet regime's policies is both competent and well-organized. His findings will surely gain wide acceptance. But his concentration on the state's systemic political approach needs to be supplemented by considering the impact on the believers themselves. In the collection of essays edited by Michael Bourdeaux, we are given useful glimpses of how individual churchmen are trying to cope with the trauma of the turbulent events since the fall of the Soviet empire in both Russia and its neighbouring countries. Most of the contributors are academic observers sympathetic to the often ambiguous stages of church revival. Several Americans, such as John Dunlop, are critical of the Russia Orthodox hierarchy for its former subservience to the Communist rulers, while Fr. Chaplinoutlines the present views of the renewed Patriarchate, with useful quotations from its more recent pronouncements on political matters. Some observers like Michael Bourdeaux are confident that religion will play a positive role in rebuilding morale. But it is clear that old habits die hard, as for instance in the Russian Orthodox Church's demand that the state should still control the influx of foreign missionaries from various sectarian, or at least non-Orthodox, bodies. Most valuable, because less well-known, are the chapters on the churches in the newly-independent states around the edges of the former Soviet empire. Robert Goeckel gives an excellentoverview of the intertwining of nationalist and ecclesiastical factors in the Baltic churches. Relations between the national churches and those linked more closely to outside church establishments, such as the Vatican, the Moscow Patriarchate or the Lutheran World Federation, pose a potential minefield for the democratization and renewal process. It is good to have Goeckel's most competent guidance through these complexities. Professor Bociurkiw's account of the intra-church and intra-tribal rivalries in the Ukraine is a brave attempt to introduce western readers to this morass, whose record of violence, murder and internecine in-fighting, has long defied any coherent or meaningful analysis. The final two chapters on Islam in the regions of Central Asia seek to show that the long years of Communist-inspired fear and intimidation have left an appalling legacy of total mistrust and unreliability. It is difficult to see many signs of religious renewal here, especially when political opponents consistently evoke the spectre of Islamic "fundamentalism". Similarly in the Caucasus, the continuing nationalist and irredentist violence precludes the emergence of any climate in which the beneficial impact of religious forces might be effective. Religious pluralism may be now legally established, but any signs of a tolerant ecumenical willingness to live together in peace and harmony still seem a long way off. "This book", says the editor, "is the product of an interim period during which many questions are being asked but few answers have been found. Religion, at this time, faces the challenge of either contributing to the process of destabilization or of fulfilling its potential as an agent of reconciliation". Judging by the evidence, the outcome is still highly problematical. J SC.

 

4b) John P.Burgess, The East German Church and the End of Communism, Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press 1997,185 pp US $39.95 Congratulations to our list member John Burgess on the appearance of his short but valuable study of the East German Protestant Church's theological developments, particularly in the1980s. It is a more theoretical, and possibly less vibrant, account of this beleaguered church's fortunes than was contained in Gregory Baum's highly sympathetic analysis, The Church for Others, (reviewed in this Newsletter Vol III, no 9, September 1997), but the two together provide the English-speaking audience with an excellent picture of the significant theological issues faced by the East German Protestants.. John Burgess is on the staff of the national Presbyterian Church of the USA. He spent several extended periods in the former East Germany for theological study, and wrote up his impressions in articles in various religious publications. He has now revised and updated these and turned them into a useful study of the fate of the church up to the collapse of the Communist regime. In 1989, the role of the churches in helping to bring about the fall of Communism was widely praised. Yet, shortly afterwards, shocking revelations of the extent to which its leadership had collaborated with the notorious secret police, the Stasi, led to a rapid change. Baum by-passed this issue as theologically irrelevant, but Burgess gives a fair and balanced outline of the implications of the seaccusations, and recognises how much they undermined the church's trustworthiness as a public institution. The mixture of moral, political and ecclesiastical factors involved in coming to terms with such a past are here succinctly and frankly discussed. But Burgess is really more interested in the ways in which the churches sought to serve God in a Marxist land. They had to deal with the inconsistencies in the Communist ranks as to whether the churches should be seen as ideological opponents or as potential partners in building a socialist society. The churches also suffered from similar ambivalences. Some "progressive" churchmen sought to build a new form of Christian socialism; others aspired only to the freedoms enjoyed by their brethren in the west. Pragmatically the church leaders sought to enlarge the free space allegedly guarantied by the constitution; but they also saw the need to repudiate the long Lutheran tradition of subordination to the state, of nationalism and of authoritarianism. Burgess rightly points out the paradox that, while in its own religious sphere the church lost membership and support, it gained more and more adherents as the only ideological and political alternative to the regime. By seeking to define itself as being not beside, not against, but within socialism, the church tried to adopt a position of "critical solidarity" towards the Communist society. This was a risky venture, and western critics both before and after 1989 were ready to call it a sell-out. Nevertheless Burgess makes a convincing case that the ability of the church to uphold a theology with democratic political impulses, and to provide powerful symbols for the oppositional groups, gave it a pivotal role in the 1989 end of Communism. These essays are not a systematic history, but more of a thoughtful commentary on the church's life in a communist-controlled setting. They presume a considerable knowledge of events. The personalities of the individuals involved could have been more fully explored. But Burgess' discussion of the theoretical issues, especially in the field of Christian social and political ethics, will undoubtedly be helpful. JSC

 

5) Journal Article: In the latest issue of Occasional Papers fromthe German Historical Institute, Washington, No 20, edited by Geoffrey Giles, "Stunde Null: The End and the Beginning. Fifty Years ago", Maria Mitchell contributes an insightful and excellently researched article on "Confessional Culture, Realpolitik and the organisation of Christian Democracy". She examines the reasons why leading Catholics abandoned their pre-war stance of defending the Catholic Teilkultur through the Centre Party, and instead opted for a new alliance with Protestants in the new C.D.U. She traces the previous history of such interdenominationalism, and the drawbacks to any revival of the old Centre Party, basically because of the need for Catholics to find new partners in the struggle against both Socialists and Marxism. Adenauer's leadership was certainly the most significant factor, but so too was the recognition that Catholic interests could only be defended if a new and more realistic assessment of political forces was acknowledged. The CDU still upheld many of the Centre's traditions, so the breach was not complete, but the spectre of Communism, and the need for a common policy for restoration of the German economy and culture, along democratic and pragmatic lines, successfully overcame Protestant hesitations, and led to the success of Adenauer's reign. JSC

6) The English Language Section of the International Bonhoeffer Society has produced a translation of Ernst Feil's "Bonhoeffer Studies in Germany: a survey of recent literature", which first appeared in German in 1992. This is a thoughtful and comprehensive history of the various trends in the study of Bonhoeffer's theology, but is confined solely to the work of German authors, and hardly touches on historical events. It can be obtained from the I.B.S. - English Section, Box 235,Afton, Minnesota 55001, USA (price for non-members $6, and $2postage).The Bonhoeffer Website is http://www.cyberword.com/bonhoef

With best wishesJohn S.Conwayjconway@unixg.ubc.ca