Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

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Newsletter- August 1998- Vol. IV, no. 8

 

Dear Friends

 

Contents: 1) Congratulations again 2) Forthcoming conference KZG and Lund University, 27th August-1st Sept. 3) Book reviews a) Davies/Nefsky, How silent were the churches? b) R.Hering, Theologinnen, Lauterer, Liebestatigkeit 4) Thesis review: B. Hall, Mormons in the G.D.R. 5) Journal article: W. Ribegge, Joseph Mausbach 6)Book note: H-J Ramm, Resistance and morality

 

1) Congratulations, first to Susannah Heschel, who has been appointed the Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies, Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, and has just published a new book:"Abraham Geiger and the Jewish Jesus" (U. of Chicago Press), which concerns debates over the relationship between Judaism and Jesus amongst Jewish and Protestant theologians in the 19th century in Germany. Congratulations also on the forthcoming arrival of herfirst-born in January! Congratulations are also due to Bruce Hall, Brigham Young University, for completing his M.A. thesis on "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in East Germany 1949-1989. (Ed Note: It is not our practice to review MA theses, but in view of the singularity of this topic, an exception is being made. See below.)

 

2) Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte will hold its 1998 meeting together with the Dept of Theology and Religious Studies, Lund University, in Lund, Sweden later this month, on the topic "Europabilder der Kirchen in der Nachkriegszeit". A good turnout of Scandinavians is expected, and a short report will be included in our October issue

 

3a) Alan Davies and Marilyn F.Nefsky, How silent were theChurches? Canadian Protestantism and the Jewish Plight during the Nazi Era. Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press,1997 xvi + 179pp Cloth $39.95. (This review appeared in National History (Toronto) Vol 1, no 3 1997) It is not often that one wishes a book was twice as long as itis. But Davies and Nefsky's treatment of Canadian Protestant attitudes towards the Nazi persecution of the Jews is so engrossing and insightful that one could wish for more. The collaboration of two scholars, one Jewish and one Christian, ensures that their evaluations are balanced and the results excellently summarised.

As the title of the book indicates, the authors seek to grapple with the accusation made in an earlier work "None is too many," criticizing the lack of significant steps to permit Jewish immigration to Canada during the 1930s and 1940s, and attributing this regrettable inactivity to the prevalence of antisemitism in Canada. In the meanwhile, however,the valid point has been made that the rigid immigration barriers were maintained not because of antisemitism, but because of a much wider anti-alienism. And while racial prejudice undoubtedly existed in Canada, its target was much more often directed against orientals than against Jews, as could be seen by the fate of the Japanese-Canadians in 1942. Davies and Nefsky are certainly aware of both this widespread Canadian anti-alien nativism, and the equally prevalent belief that further immigration would only add to economic and social difficulties, and would appear to agree that the reluctance to accept refugees from whatever source was primarily economically-based rather than founded only on antisemitism. At the same time, as the authors demonstrate, many church members were appalled by the growing evidence of the persecution being suffered by the Jews in far-off Europe. As a result they developed a genuine dislike for antisemitism and antisemites and were increasingly alarmed by reports of the Nazis' infamous policies. Several clergymen gave a lead in claiming that Canadians had, or should have, an obligation to seek to remedy such conditions.

Davies and Nefsky devote separate chapters to each of the Protestant denominations, based on the use of church records religious publications and even some sermons. Despite their significant differences of doctrine and ecclesiastical style, almost all these church bodies still held lingering traces of traditional anti-Judaism, often coupled with an ardent desire to evangelise the Jews in their hour of need. Nevertheless, apart from a handful of naive enthusiasts who at first idealized Hitler, the churches' chorus of condemnation of Nazi policy grew with each successive outrage. Even if, for some, the predicament of the Jews was overshadowed by the events of the German Church Struggle, the Nazis' attacks on both the Christians and the Jews came to be seen as companion evils. Prominent clergymen, such as Claris Silcox, generalsecretary of the Christian Social Council of Canada and a highly respected figure in the United Church, the Anglican bishops of Fredericton and Montreal, and the pastor of Toronto's largest Presbyterian church, united in raising their voices in protest. Church periodicals from 1933 onwards vigorously denounced the Nazi state and its ideology. And while it is difficult to quantify the results among the churches' rank-and-file, the evidence is clear that the church elites were not silent at all. Furthermore, they demanded action. They repeatedly called on the Canadian government to open the doors to the Nazis' victims, and in so doing attacked the lethargy, xenophobia and insensitivity of the Canadian public. And they quickly sounded the alarm bells as soon as they received reliable information about the mass murders of Jews in eastern Europe after 1942.

Critics of the Christians' alleged silence have too often believed that the churches were far more influential than was the case. They assume that, had the churches spoken out more forcefully, the government would have followed their wishes. But the reality was very different. The Canadian government adamantly refused to change its immigration policy, even if Prime Minister Mackenzie King was a loyal Presbyterian. In fact, the Christian conscience was aroused and, quite remarkably, was ready to see the Jewish victims of Nazism as belonging within the churches' circle of obligation. Their leaders do not therefore deserve all the censure which later post-mortems have expressed. To be sure, their humanitarian pleas were consistently turned down in Ottawa. But this sad fact should not be allowed to blur the evidence of their advocacy on behalf of the Jews, even if their sympathies were not expressed with all the sensitivity we should now expect in today's more religiously-correct climate. Davies and Nefsky are to be commended for setting the record straight. It is only a pity this account did not appear forty years ago. JSC

 

3b) Rainer Hering, Die Theologinnen: Sophie Kunert, Margarete Braun, Margarete Schuster, Hamburg 1997 125 pp Heide-Marie Lauterer, Liebestatigkeit fur dieVolksgemeinschaft: Der Kaiserwerther Verband deutscher Diakonissenmutterhauser in den ersten Jahren des NS-Regimes, (Arbeiten zur kirchlichen Zeitgeschichte, Reihe B: Darstellungen,22), Gottingen 1994 224 pp. 'Opfer, Dienst, Liebe' - these words play a key role in both Rainer Hering's and Heide-Marie Lauterer's recent contributions to the history of the Protestant church and of Protestant church womeni n Germany. But both authors go beyond an official, sentimental version of events to take a hard look at how those "womanly virtues" were promoted, used, and sometimes abused by the church as an institution and its more powerful spokesmen.

Hering's biographical studies of three women theologians in Hamburg and Lauterer's investigation of the association of Kaiserwerther Diakonissen in 1933 and 1934 do more than fill gaps in the existing narrative. Indeed, in the hands of Hering and Lauterer, what appear to be narrow topics of limited interest become windows on to much broader issues. These books illustrate processes of secularization, professionalization, and gender inequality in modern Germany; they depict aspects of the "Kirchenkampf" and address resistance and complicity in Christian antisemitism and the so-called Euthanasia programme - the murder of people deemed handicapped. At the same time, both works demonstrate the achievements, failings, and ironies of the church's past in a way that is only possible when one turns one's gaze from the macro to the micro level. Their carefully researched, skilfully presented studies merit wide readership.

Rainer Hering's book is straightforward and even old-fashioned in approach and style. It includes brief biographical sketches of Sophie Kunert, Margarete Braun, and Margarete Schuster, three academically trained theologians who served the church in Hamburg before women could be ordained as pastors. The chronological focus extends from 1927, when a new regulation extended possibilities for such women, to 1959 when Braun as the last of the three women he discusses retired. There is a brief introduction, no general conclusion, and no explicit, overarching analysis. Numerous, often personal, photographs and the use of high-gloss paper add to the impression that here is a traditional, attractive, accessible book, a suitable present for a devout mother or grandmother. Hering's book is indeed all of these things, but its pious appearance harbours a message that is more disruptive than congratulatory. Always present in his respectful discussion of these women is an awareness of the profound difficulty and loneliness they faced, and a keen sense of the injustice that surrounded them. These pioneering theologians deserve our admiration, Hering shows, but their experiences also challenge us "not to content ourselves with the legal equality of women, but to anchor that equality firmly in reality" (p.9)

All three of Hering's subjects were born in the 1890s. Only Schuster lived to see the"Pastorinnengesetz" of January 1969 that acknowledged women's right to ordination in the Evangelisch-lutherischen church of Hamburg.. Two months later, Schuster received the official title"Pastorin i.R.", as well as the right to preach in public and administer the sacraments, but never did so (p 118-9). On this note the book ends. The theme of too little, too late permeates Hering's discussion. A recurring image is that of a church lagging behind a society itself reluctant to recognise the fundamental equality of women and men. Hering's admonitions are subtle but are barbs all the same. Who cannot deplore the double standard that encouraged the pastors to marry while insisting that those women who served as Pfarramtshelferinnen and Gemeindehelferinnen remain single (and celibate) (p.8)? Who could not share Hering's outrage, muted though it may be, at a church that refused to grant its faithful female servants the titles, authority, and salaries due them, and then even charged Margarete Braun interest on a loan to buy a car she needed to fulfil her duties (p.93-4)? Who could fail to be touched by the selfless devotion with which these women served some of the most neglected, needy and demanding groups within the church: Kunert's women in prison (p. 41); sick and institutionalized women and young people in Braun's case (p.91); for Schuster, couples who had refused church marriage or baptism for their children (p.108)?

Hering reveals something of the toll that this often thankless work and the lack of adequate support from the church took on these women. Kunert's pain, he tells us, showed in her face in the photographs of her 1934 wedding (p. 54). Schuster suffered physical and emotional collapse in 1928, as she prepared for the second theological examination (p.111), and again twenty years later (p.117). The second time it became impossible for her to continue her work. None of Hering's Theologinnen, with the possible exception of Kunert, considered herself a feminist. Still their work helped to open doors for women behind them. But those advances came at a high personal cost. Hering's discussion of Kunert is by far the longest of the three. Presumably that imbalance reflects the availability of sources. In each case, Hering has drawn on archival records, the women's writings, and conversations with friends and relatives. Each of the sketches has its own surprises, many of them involving the Nazi era. For example, the swastika displayed by Sophie Kunert's new stepson on her wedding photograph comes as somewhat of a shock (p. 51) More appalling is the viciousness directed at her husband, Pastor Bruno Benfey, who came from a family of converts from Judaism (p.50-57). Rejected by most of Kunert's family, reviled by the public, including members of his own church council, arrested, incarcerated in Buchenwald in 1938, and forced out of Germany, Benfey described his "bitter pain" at the behaviour of the official church in Hanover (p.58) Under Bishop Marahrens, it did everything it could to distance itself from him. To the extent possible, Sophie Kunert shared her husband's hardships.

Margarete Braun's experiences were very different. Demoted by the German Christian bishop Franz Tugel in 1934(p.87), she nevertheless joined the Nazi party three years later (p. 89) It is difficult to say what this decision meant to this competent, stoic woman. Schuster was briefly a member of the German Christian movement (p.113) but we learn little else about her relationship to the Nazi revolution. All three biographies are engaging and eminently readable.

Heide-Marie Lauterer's book stands in contrast to Hering's in some obvious ways. If his is characterized by its simplicity, hers is marked by complexity. She assembles her "thick description" (p.18) of the Kaiserwerther Verband deutscher Diakonissenmutterhauserin 1933-34 using a variety of methodologies: standard organizational history, linguistic, textual, and feminist analysis, oral interviews, and biographical studies. She critically engages otherkey works in the field, most notably those by Jochen-Christian Kaiser and Kurt Nowak (p.139), and her study shows the influence of a wide, diverse set of scholars, from Heinz Eduard Todt to Saul Friedlander, Ernst Klee, Gisela Bock, and even Klaus Theweleit.

Unlike Hering, Lauterer is explicitly analytical. A key concept hereis Martin Broszat's notion of "Resistenz", which she uses to assessthe extent to which the Kaiserwerther Verband, one of the largest Protestant women's service associations with over 27,000 Diakonissen (p.59) can be said to have defied National Socialism. Lauterer's findings are deeply unsettling. The Kaiserwerher organisation, she concludes, cannot be characterized as resistant. In particular its leadership, the Verbandsvorstand, proved eager to comply with and even anticipate the wishes of the National Socialist state (p.199) Rather than preserving a space independent of Nazi ideology.and limiting the impact of Nazi rule, the Diakonissenschaft as a whole was a stabilising factor (p.77). But, Lauterer shows, at least some of the individuals involved - the "Oberinnen, Vorstehern und Diakonissen" - do merit the"Resistenz" label. They continued to work for the suffering and needy without regard to Nazi racial laws; they sought 'to obey God more than man' (p.200). That gap between the institutional - the layers of leadership and organizational structures that built up around the Diakonissenmutterhauser - and the individual - the Diakonissen with their call to service, sacrifice, and love - pervades Lauterer's study. It reflects a tension that in turn provides space for the range of responses her study evokes, from anger and disappointment to empathy and admiration. In this regard, Lauterer is not so different from Hering after all.

Her book is based on an impressive, indeed formidable amount of research in public and private archives. In addition, between 1984 and 1989, she visited twelve of the Diakonissenmutterhauser and interviewed around fifty of the women about their experiences under National Socialism (p.14). Her book has three parts. The first provides background on the Kaiserwerther Mutterhausdiakonie from 1833 to 1932; the second focuses on the Kaiserwerther Verband in 1933, with a look both at its relationship to the Nazi state and its interactions with the official Protestant church. Part Three, entitled "Kooperation und Resistenz" zeroes in on issues surrounding forced sterilization and so-called euthanasia from 1933 to 1945. In places excessive organizational detail detracts somewhat from the force of her arguments, but on the whole, Lauterer's book is a thoroughly convincing presentation of how a purportedly Christian organization failed to counter the Nazi assault. It was not ultimately the agreement with Nazi racial, biological thinking that hindered resistance, Lauterer indicates.

Nor was it that Verband's financial problems. Rather it was above all"the absence of a fundamental ethical stance" at the level of theleadership that made it impossible for the organization to recognise and oppose the abuses of the Nazi state (p.147) In particular with regard to forced sterilization and murder of people deemed handicapped, misgivings expressed too little, too late had terrible repercussions. One statistic serves to illustrate. In 1940, Lauterershows, of the 1,758 patients at the Kaiserwerther Verband's Neuendettelsauer institutions, 1,100 were murdered.(p.142). The most intriguing parts of Lauterer's study are those which draw directly on her conversations with Diakonissen. For example, the individual responses to involvement in the sterilization programare devastating (p.120-2). At the other extreme, personal memories of Oberin Elly Schwetdke in Frankfurt/Main are an inspirational tribute to the clear-sightedness and courage of that steadfast anti-Nazi (p.190-93).

However, for long stretches in this account, the women involved tend to disappear, a regrettable and sadly accurate reflection of the power relations within the Kaiserwerther Verband. Men not only dominated positions of leadership above the Oberinnen (p. 28); they were the primary publicists, representatives, and arguably beneficiaries of an organization that was based on women's unpaid labour. Thus we learn a great deal about those men whose photographs grace Lauterer's book: Hans Lauerer, Siegfried Graf von Luttichau,a nd Theodor Hickel (p.19). The one high-ranking, female, professional administrator - August Mohrmann -also receives a photograph and considerable attention (p.64-6). But the individual Diakonissen remain somewhat elusive. Lautererr ecognizes the limited options for women and the pervasive influence of the patriarchal family model in early twentieth-century Germany (p. 25). Inequality and double standards are part of her story as much as they are of Hering's. Indeed, she suggests, the male leadership's culpability may be all the greater given their female subordinates' lack of political orientation and conditioning for obedience. Still Lauterer is no apologist, and the Diakonissen as she depicts them varied in their responses to Nazism from ardent enthusiasm to confirmed opponents. Like Hering, Lauterer is always sensitive and empathises with the humanity of her subjects. Both authors' works are themselves labours of love that give at least some quiet voice to women whose service and sacrifice for the church were often not only underappreciated but misused. Doris Bergen, University of Notre Dame

 

4) Thesis review: Bruce Hall, Gemeindegeschichte als vergleichende Geschichte. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in East Germany 1949-1989. Bruce Hall's impressive study of the Church of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormons) in the German Democratic Republic is based primarily on the story of the Leipzig branch of this sect, as well as official GDR records, including the voluminous files of the Stasi, all of which he has exploited most successfully to throw light on how this minority religious community attempted to live a devout religious life in an unfriendly Communist society.

As an American-based church, the Mormons were particularly suspect in the initial years of the GDR as a front for military and political espionage, and hence subject to constant Stasi surveillance - a situation not helped by the inflammatory anti-Communist speeches of their leaders in far-away Utah. The total membership constituted less than 0.3% of the GDR population, lacked influence of any kind, had no prominent leadership, nor any political agenda. Survival and upholding their moral and spiritual character was their sole goal. However, unlike the Salvation Army or the Jehovah's Witnesses, the LDS was not outlawed.

How the Mormons maintained their religious witness while adopting a conformist stance politically and socially is at the heart of this thesis. For the general background, Hall relies heavily on the finebook by our list-member Robert Goeckel, which could have been supplemented by the newer insightful account by another list-member, Gregory Baum: "The Church for Others". After 1961, when the doors were closed to outside support and influence, the LDS church stagnated as a rather isolated and closed community, striving to avoid confrontation, despite bureaucratic provocation and harassment by government officials. Hall's chapter on the Stasi and the LDS admits that some Mormons were recruited to act as informants for many years, and even paid for their services in cash or in kind. By such means the minutes of leadership meetings, reports of church leadership changes, and personal profiles of these leaders came into the Stasi's possession. What they knew about the LDS church was often more than what most members knew. Out of filial piety, Hall does not reveal these informers' real names.

Paradoxically, however, Hall shows that the intense attention given by the Stasi to the LDS in the end turned out to be an advantage. Their reports concluded that the Mormons were no political threat to the regime, and could be regarded as model, if passive, citizens. In 1979, the dictator Honecker took theunprecedented decision to allow the Mormons to build their own temple in the GDR and to permit full-time American proselytizing missionaries to operate within the country. Hall believes this was part of a wider strategy to tame the churches and to integrate them more fully into the East German society, while exploiting their foreign contacts to help gain diplomatic recognition for the GDR. Certainly, the authorities proved remarkably co-operative in getting the Mormon temple built - with American money, at a cost of 32 million marks. 90,000 people came to view the edifice when construction was complete. As owners of the newest church buildings in all of the GDR, the Mormons were jubilant. But the Communist-led secularization process took its toll. Like the other churches, the LDS is not likely to recover from four decades of trial and hardship, and systematic atheist indoctrination,in the foreseeable future. Bitterness over the co-operation of some of their own members with the hated Stasi still lingers. In this situation, the Mormons were and are not alone. This is one valid point of comparison. On the other hand, in contrast to other churches, the stalwart loyalty to their own doctrinal positions meant that the LDS never challenged the GDR regime, nor indeed contributed to the protest movements which led to its overthrow. They could remain faithful within their somewhat limited horizons.This survival to live another day is a remarkable feat and Hall rightly celebrates it. JSC

 

5) Journal article: Prof. Wilhelm Ribegge, Munster, hascontributed a useful article on the Catholic moral theologian "Joseph Mausbach and his role in public life" at the beginning of this century to "Catholic Historical Review", Vol LXXIV, no 1, January 1998.

 

6) Book note: Hans-Joachim Ramm ". . .stets einem hoherenVerantwortlichkeit. Christliche Grunduberzeugungen in innermilitarischen Widerstand gegen Hitler", Stuttgart, Hansler1996, 370pp. Ramm seeks to defend the military officers who participated in the 20 July 1944 attempt to overthrow Hitler against charges that they were solely motivated by the fear of military defeat or by political opportunism. Rather he wants to demonstrate that they were primarily impelled by moral factors, because of their perception that Nazi rule was contrary to the Christian-ethical foundation of society. His account provides brief biographies of several of these officer-conspirators. most of whom lost their lives as a result of their convictions. Ramm, like Peter Hoffmann before him, shows that these were courageous individuals, smitten by conscientious scruples, directly challenging the long history of obedience to the state, and often, at first, misjudging the true nature of Nazism. He also shows that the attitude of the major church leaders was never supportive of any such acts of political high treason, even after the war, and points out how these conspirators' reputations have suffered as a result. This is not a new thesis, and the book brings little new to the discussion, But it recapitulates the "moral"motivations of these military officers in a convenient form for quick reference, has a good bibliography but no index. JSC

 

I trust that all of you in the northern hemisphere have been able to enjoy the summer holidays. If you have been anywhere of church-historical interest, we would love to hear from you.

 

All the best

 

John S.Conway