Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

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Newsletter- April 1999- Vol.V, no. 4

 

Newsletter - Vol V, no 4 - April 1999

 

Dear Friends,

 

Contents: 1) Book reviews: a) Jehovah's Witnesses b) Brewer,Anti-Catholicism in N.Ireland c) Chandler, Terrible Alternative d) Recker, Bishop Berning 2) Thesis abstract: Jeff Zalar 3) Journal articles in Religion, State and Society 4) New books noted

 

1a) Hans Hesse (ed), Am mutigsten waren immer die Zeugen Jehovahs: Verfolgung und Widerstand der Zeugen Jehovahs im Nationalsozialismus, Bremen:Edition Temmen 1998, 447pp. DM48Klaus-Dieter Pape, Die Angstmacher: Wer (ver)fuehrt die ZeugenJehovahs?, Leipzig: St.Benno-Verlag 1998, 282 pp DM 26.80. Jehovah's Witnesses (Watchtower Society) are a small Christian religious association with a history of over a 100 years' activity in Germany. Today, they number more than 5 million believers world-wide. During the past five years, they have repeatedly made headlines in Germany because of their efforts - up to now unsuccessful - to gain the status of a corporation under public law.During both dictatorships, the J.Ws displayed remarkable resistance, and consequently suffered many casualties. In the early nineties, they went on the offensive in Germany, not only with respect to their legal status, but also by modifying the way they handle their own past. They became more open, co-operating with outside historians wishing to do research and pushing ahead some of their own historical projects. At the same time they modified their doctrines in some important areas. Unfortunately, these new social initiatives only stirred up latent prejudices and antagonisms still in existence among the major churches and other groups. So when in 1997 the J.Ws produced a video documentary entitled "Jehovah's Witnesses Stand Firm against Nazi Assault", emotions flared up. The Schulpsychologische Dienst (Centre for Educational Psychology)in Bremen circulated a somewhat awkwardly phrased letter,stating: "Although no doubt Jehovah's Witnesses suffered torture,imprisonment and even death in the concentration camps under the Nazi regime, using this video documentary in schools cannot be recommended, because doing so would provide this sect with an opportunity to gain publicity for their organization."When Jehovah's Witnesses protested, the letter was withdrawn.But the Schulpsychologische Dienst would not drop its reservations. "The situation is complicated since the video documentary is about a religious association which is understandably interested not only in publicising their persecution but also their history, doctrines and organization".Of course the fact that other films about the conduct of the churches during the Third Reich have been produced for as long as anyone can remember, films which also do not restrict themselves to the subject of persecution, is often conveniently ignored. The official institutions responsible for the approval of media for schools consulted six experts, including two "sect experts" from the major churches. The result was their decision not to let the film"get into the hands of pupils" and to recommend against distribution.Part B of Hesse's book examines in detail the aspects of the film being criticised. One scholar in religious studies, not a member of the J.Ws, came to the conclusion: "In the light of Auschwitz and the Holocaust, if such an example of Christian integrity by a community of faith had not existed, then the credibility of Jesus' teachings would have been put in doubt." A "vindication" of Christianity by, of all people, the scorned J.Ws! Neither of the major churches can claim this distinction. Still, the facts speak for themselves. After some early attempts to adjust to the new"national conditions" in Nazi Germany, the J.Ws fiercely resisted all Nazi attempts to suborn their religious convictions.The first part of Hesse's book reports that almost half of the 25,000 J.Ws in Germany suffered imprisonment or torture. More than 2000 were sent to concentration camps, where 250 were subsequently executed. Next to the Jews, the J.Ws statistically paid the highest price in terms of lives lost. There were solid reasons for this: "No other religious association resisted National Socialist pressure to conform with comparable unity and uncompromising character". The reason why the fate of this group, persecuted with such animalistic force, has not been examined for over 50 years, is,according to Dietlef Garbe, historian and director at the Neuengamme (Hamburg) Memorial, because of "social resentment" against the Jehovah's Witnesses. The second book under review takes a very different tack.Converts commonly tend to speak negatively about their former beliefs. Rarely does this tendency spread to the converts' children.In the case of the Pape family, however, a whole clan has devoted itself to discrediting the group they were once part of. Guenther Pape, the father, at the age of nine, watched his parents being arrested by the Gestapo in 1936. He was then placed in a home for poor children. But from January 1946 onwards, he was a full-time worker for the J.Ws. After they were again bannedby the authorities of the GDR in 1950, he fled to the west. In the 1950s Guenther Pape fell out with the J.Ws and as a result was disfellowshipped. He subsequently wrote a strongly accusatory book against his former religious associates, entitled "I was a Jehovah's Witness!" This was first published in 1961 and was reprinted some 15 times by 1993, but gave only vague reasons for the break such as "inner problems", "external failure" and denunciations by the Witnesses. At Eastertide 1963 he converted to the Roman Catholic Church. Since the early 1970s, Pape - now in the employ of the Catholic Church - doggedly uses all his energy to warn whoever may be listening of the "deceptions, misrepresentations and falsehoods" of the J.Ws with a steady stream of books, brochures and lectures. His brother Dieter has been ardently pursuing the same goal in eastern Germany. Over the years they carried out energetic cross-border activities, even collaborating with the Stasito carry out their polemical attacks.. The Stasi records further identify Dieter Pape as an"unofficial co-worker" who attempted to justify the then existing ban on the J.Ws in the GDR "because of the provocative policies of the Watchtower Society, and their anti-democratic agitation in connection with other forbidden campaigns". Interestingly a report of April 1962 by Stasi Lieutenant Teichmann relates a conversation with another "unofficial co-worker" code-named"Rolf", in which Dieter Pape admitted that his brother could never have written his book without financial support. "The Catholic Church took over the finances", he said. Guenther Pape's son, Klaus-Dieter, a certified theologian employed by the Catholic Church, walks in the footsteps of his father and uncle. In the book under review, Klaus-Dieter Pape states that two papers he wrote in 1997 on the J.Ws' "loyalty towards the law" were used by the experts advising the Federal Administrative Court, whose decision denied the J.Ws their sought-after status. A definite success for the Pape family business.Gerhard Besier, Heidelberg

 

1b) John D.Brewer with G.I.Higgins, Anti-Catholicism in Northern Ireland 1600-1998. The Mote and the Beam. London: Macmillan 1998. 248pp. John Brewer's analysis of anti-Catholic prejudice in Northern Ireland proceeds along two dimensions, historical and sociological, and depicts the two central features which are deeply intertwined and mutually reinforcing: religious intolerance and secular/political antagonism. He shows how, ever since the early 17th century, settlers from England and Scotland brought with them the whole panoply of anti-Catholic arguments drawn from Reformation polemics, and used them to justify their struggle against the local Irish population. Every aspect of Roman Catholic doctrine and practice, as well as the iniquitous activities of the Pope, the priests and the Vatican, could be vilified and even if evidence was lacking, could be used to construct venomous conspiracy theories. The usefulness of such religious bigotry is readily apparent, since it can be used on any occasion, being timeless in substance and easily repristinated. In the twentieth century, secular and political antagonisms have been used to defend Northern Ireland's minority against the danger of amalgamation with the republican south. But since the alleged devotion to a Greater Britain was and is subject to tensions,popular Protestantism formed the stronger bond with which to unite the whole anti-Catholic population. Brewer analyses the different sources of this religious antagonism, from the kind of Old Testament covenantal theology of the followers of Rev. Ian Paisley to disdainful liberal Protestants who deplore the backward superstitions of Irish Catholics. He makes the valid point that each party makes extensive use of the techniques of distortion, deletion, distance and denial to validate their polemics. Anti-Catholics have long since established what may be called a cognitive map or mid-set, which is serenely impervious to reasonable debate, and bears little relation to the actual Church doctrine as presently professed by Roman Catholics,or indeed to present political realities in the republic of Eire. It is clear that far too many minds have been made up for far too long,and fear of the future plays an enormous part in keeping them shut tight. Brewer's attempt to put the record straight is clearly eirenicin purpose, and theologically evocative. But he knows very well that those who need to hear his skilful and scholarly words are unlikely to do so. And for them to admit that Catholic theology especially since the Second Vatican Council, has changed, would undermine their whole stance. As a sociologist, Brewer seeks to show how these particular prejudices have been mobilised at three levels: ideas, individual behaviour and the social structure. He offers interesting comparisons with antisemitism, showing how both forces could be used to expedite social and political goals in fostering group conflict. Because of the peculiar setting of Northern Ireland, anti-Catholicism has survived long after its equivalent in Britain (and elsewhere) has died out. At the same time the strength of this religious differentiation has slowed down the process of secularisation which could have altered the structural patterns. For many on both sides, Ireland remains locked in a religious conflict over unresolved centuries-old disputes, organised to reinforce minority ethnic defences, and bolstered by a huge armoury of invective. In Brewer's view, the claim that anti-Catholicism is justified on scriptural grounds is based on lies, half-truths, ancient prejudices and out-dated conspiracy theories. His book's sub-title is therefore very apt, and he concludes with a brief outline of the steps he thinks should be taken to produce a new and more harmonious way ahead in place of the vice-like hold of the past.JSC

 

1c) ed. A.Chandler, The Terrible Alternative. Christian Martyrdom in the twentieth century. London: Cassell 1998 186pp Last summer, over the entrance to Westminster Abbey, ten new statues of modern Christian martyrs were unveiled. They serve as a reminder that more Christians have died for their faith in this century than in any other age. The Abbey authorities sought to mark this fact by paying tribute to a small representative group of figures from all parts of the world and all branches of the Church. Some of them, like Martin Luther King, are household names. But others are virtually unknown outside their own localities, such as the teenaged girl on a native reserve in South Africa whose steadfast decision to worship Christ led to her persecution and death at her tribe's hands. All are commemorated for their courage and readiness to choose, not the road of passive acquiescence, but the terrible alternative of facing up to persecution, knowing that death could well result. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the leading German theologian executed by the Nazis in 1945, was one such martyr, deliberately plotting to overthrow the Nazi regime by violence as the only way to save Christianity. So too, Maximilian Kolbe, recently canonised by Pope John Paul II, chose to give up his life in order to save another man in the awful circumstances of Auschwitz. The stories of these ten martyrs are told in this new book,edited by the Director of the George Bell Institute in Britain, when ten scholars describe the special circumstances of these martyrs' sacrifice. These essays are particularly helpful for the information they provide on the lesser-known figures, such as Esther John, a Pakistani young woman who was killed in 1960 by unknown murderers, presumably because she had left her Muslim family and refused to return. So too, the clash of values led to the martyrdom in 1973 of Wang Zhiming, a member of the minority Miao group in southwestern China, where a flourishing Christian culture established by western missionaries was attacked by the zealots of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Wang Zhiming's public execution was watched by an audience of 10,000, most of them Christians, compelled to attend in order to frighten them into submission. But his witness only strengthened the faith of the church, and the overthrow of the "Gang of Four" brought a reversal of official policy. The brutal deaths of Archbishop Janani Luwum of Uganda and Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador were deliberately caused by their resolute opposition to the arbitrary lawlessness of the oppressive regimes in their countries. So too ideological hatred led to the death of Grand Duchess Elizabeth at the hands of Soviet Communists in 1918, or the unsung martyrs of Papua New Guinea at the hands of Japanese military invaders in 1942. These men and women chose to face martyrdom in their pursuit of faith and justice in the violent world of this century.Their biographies bring to life a sense of the vast moral and human tragedies of our age when terrible alternatives confronted Christians in so many parts of the world. Their names are now joined in the great tradition of Christian martyrs, whose witness remains a compelling example of commitment and dedication for the generations to come. As Archbishop Romero succinctly remarked shortly before he was assassinated: "Martyrdom is a grace of God that I do not believe I deserve. But if God accepts the sacrifice of my life, let my blood be a seed of freedom and the sign that hope will soon be reality. Let my death, if it is accepted by God, be for the people's liberation and as a witness of hope in the future".JSC

 

1d) Klemens-August Recker, "Wem wollt ihr glauben?" Bischof Berning im Dritten Reich. Paderborn; Schoningh 1998 525pp There are a number of biographies of Third Reich Catholic bishops and this is one of the best. Recker gets right to the point,discussing those questions we want to know about: antisemitism,racism, the Holocaust, and the failure of resistance. The appendices have some important documents and the study is nicely indexed. The first two hundred pages of the book deal with Berning's shifting attitude towards Nazism and Hitler. Like other bishops, at first negative, Berning became optimistic after his 1933 meeting with Hitler, two years his junior. The Fuhrer assured the bishop that he would do what the church had wanted to do to the Jews for centuries - procure their elimination. Berning did not respond to this, but was enthusiastic when Hitler promised good church-state relations. Recker points out that German Catholics did not understand why their leaders had reversed themselves after the Concordat, and does not fail to mention Catholic criticism on this score. Berning's optimism was in any event short lived. By 1934 he opposed Nazi racism, and did so officially in a pamphlet and from the pulpit. This led to conflict with local NSDAP leaders -especially over racism. The next section of the book - chapters dealing with the increasing alienation of the church from the state - the author is at pains to situate Berning's anti-Nazism in the context of that of his peers within the German hierarchy. Secularization of church schools, the issue of schoolroom crucifixes, and attacks on the clergy were a few of the issues which led to Pius IX's encyclical of 1937, Mit Brennender Sorge. Cardinal Bertram, head of the German Bishops' Conference, wanted Berning to be a member of the team sent to Rome to draft this document because he thought of Berning as a competent negotiator. But the Pope rejected this suggestion outright. In fact, Berning turned out to be more of a critic of the Nazi regime than Bertram had thought. Regarding antisemitism, Berning preached "Christian humanism". The bishop and the local Nazi officials in Osnabruck squared off over the cleric's catechism statement that salvation came from the Jews. By 1938 Berning had explicitly rejected Nazi neopaganism and racism from his pulpit, insisting that the state must follow the laws of God. The war years put Berning to the test, as it did all German church leaders. His response was ambiguous at best. Recker looks first at the issue of the war itself. Berning praised Hitler for his aggressiveness in Austria and Czechoslovakia but remained silent about Poland and subsequent blitzkrieg attacks in the west and north. But by 1940 the bishop sounded hawkish: "If everyone does his duty at home and at the front, the war will be victorious for us"(274). And when Operation Barbarossa got underway, Berning wholeheartedly joined the chorus against the anti-Christian Bolshevists. It became a war against atheism and for Christianity. Bishop Berning was even more ambiguous about euthanasia and the Jews. Although not as compromising as Cardinal Bertram on the former issue, he put up no real resistance as did his neighbouring bishop, Galen, of Munster. Much worse was Berning's record regarding the Jews. While subordinating race to the supernatural order and affirming that Germans were a mixed race, the bishop called pagans and Jews bitter enemies of the cross. Recker is highly critical of Berning in this regard,pointing out that the bishop had to have known that his anti-Judaic statements would only compound the situation of the Jews,subjected for years to antisemitic pogroms and propaganda. Instead of immunizing Catholics against antisemitism, the bishop in effect, opened the door for it. After Margarete Sommer apprised Berning about the destiny of the deported Jews, the bishop spread the word to other west German prelates. The hierarchy then fell into intramural wrangling over what to do. This is well-known to us now, but what role did Berning play? In 1941 he urged that all bishops protest the treatment of the Jews from their pulpits on Passion Sunday. This foundered because of opposition from Cardinal Bertram and bishops Buchberger and Groeber. Recker disagrees with Fr.Ludwig Volk, the now deceased dean of German Catholic historians, affirming that Berning tried to change Bertram's mind and bring him around to Bishop Preysing of Berlin's hardnosed opposition to Hitler and to the crimes of the Holocaust. In general,Recker's biography does not alter our notion of why the church leaders failed to protest. Bertram was the "Hemmschuh". Yet, Recker does point to other evidence which certainly played a part in the bishops' minds. Top Nazis informed them in no uncertain terms that if they did not watch out what they said,their priests would be made to suffer. Some, like Galen, ignored this threat and spoke out against euthanasia. But Recker's appendix contains three letters written to Berning from Luebeck priests in 1943 on the day of their execution for treason against the Nazi state. The effect of these martyrs' letters on the bishop must have been bone-chilling. The alternatives for the church leaders were clear: keep silent; or see the priests they themselves had ordained pay the penalty of death; or put their own heads on the block. Recker's conclusions are sharply worded but not always easy to find. He affirms that the bishops' anti-Judaism could easily be viewed by many Catholics as akin to Nazi antisemitism, but this comes at the end of a short chapter on the Sinti and Roma! (359). I was pleased to see that Recker carried his biography through to the post-war period, especially because here he formulates his judgments about Berning and other Catholic bishops regarding the Holocaust. In his view, the bishops were only responsible, not guilty, for what happened to the Jews. They should not have left the faithful in the dark about the Nazi's brutal atrocities.Unfortunately, after the war, these church leaders were unwilling to accept any personal responsibility for the crimes of their country, or to lead their followers in any widespread acknowledgement of their nation's guilt.                               Michael Phayer, Marquette University, Milwaukee

 

2) Thesis abstract: Jeff Zalar, Georgetown University,102705.1001@compuserve.com"My dissertation, directed by Prof. Roger Chickering, is the first historical-cultural study of the Association of Saint Charles Borromeo in Wilhelmine Germany, 1890-1914. Founded in 1844,the Borromeusverein was the largest independent founder of libraries and reading rooms and the most influential advocate of broad intellectual consumption among the Catholic population. By advocating Catholic exposure to the great works of German culture and promoting the habits of mind associated with the German tradition of self-cultivation or Bildung, the Borromeusverein hoped to erode the image of the retrograde, ill-bred Catholic common among the Protestant majority, and thereby to relax the social restrictions and institutional barriers they faced. It insisted on the need for Catholics to be well-versed in the German cultural canon in order to participate fully in the social and institutional life of the Second Reich. It therefore set in motion a revolution in religious attitudes, especially among the Catholic middle class, that shook the censoriousness and deference that had governed Catholic education and cultural engagement in the 19th century.The main sources of my research are institutional papers, extensive episcopal correspondence, reports from local chapters, documents from related organizations, a number of Catholic journals, and memoirs. I am working primarily at the archives of the Borromeusverein in Bonn and in diocesan archives elsewhere.I am also using the archives of the Volksverein fur das katholische Deutschland in Moenchen-Gladbach to determine the relationship between these two associations devoted to, among other things, the cultural disposition of German Catholics. As my study investigates the connection between social class, religious values,and perspectives on education, I have developed a highly differentiated approach to these sources, including social history,the phenomenology of spiritual experience, and discourse analysis,which makes for a fresh and comprehensive study of the Borromeusverein an as important transmitter of educational values and religious mentalite.An article analysing the cultural-religious discourse of the Borromeusverein is due to appear shortly in "The Catholic Historical Review".

 

3) Journal articles:Victor Conzemius, Protestants and Catholics in the German Democratic Republic, 1945-90: a comparison, in Religion, State and Society Vol 26, no 1, March 1998.A notably balanced and wise evaluation by a veteran ecumenical scholar, who shows how the two churches took different roads to living in the communist regime of the GDR. He has percipient criticism of both, and at the same time calls for more research comparing the responses of the churches to both the Nazi and the Socialist dictatorships.

 

The Orthodox Churches and the Ecumenical Movement.Several articles in Religion, State and Society, Vol 26, no 2, June 1998 outline the complex and sometimes conflictual relationship of the various Orthodox Churches with Protestant churches in the west, and particularly with the Geneva-based World Council of Churches. Highly sobering reading.

 

4) New books noted:ed. Klaus Koschorke, Christen und Gewurze, Vandenhoeck &Ruprecht, Gottingen 1998 The links between western missionaries and ancient Christian communities on other continents.

 

Sebastian Muller-Rolli, Evangelische Schulpolitik in Deutschland 1918-1958. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Gottingen 1998

 

Heather Warren, Theologians of a new world order. Reinhold Niebuhr and the Christian Realists 1920-1948, Oxford U.P. 1997A notable history of the American theologians' involvement with the Ecumenical Movement in the first half of this century.

 

ed Martin Greschat, Personenlexikon Religion und Theologie Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Gottingen 1998A very useful pocket-sized reference book with brief biographical details of international scope and all centuries

 

ed.R.H.Stone and M.L.Weaver, Against the Third Reich. Paul Tillich's wartime radio broadcasts into Nazi Germany, Louisville,Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press 1998, 275 pp.A useful translation of this source for Tillich's political/theological views on Germany during the war.

 

Very best wishes for a blessed Easter to you all,

 

John S.Conwayjconway@interchange.ubc.ca.