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Antisemitism, Christian Ambivalence, and the Holocaust

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In recent years, the mask of tolerant, secular, multicultural Europe has been shattered by new forms of antisemitic crime. Though many of the perpetrators do not profess Christianity, antisemitism has flourished in Christian Europe. In this book, thirteen scholars of European history, Jewish studies, and Christian theology examine antisemitism’s insidious role in Europe’s intellectual and political life. The essays reveal that annihilative antisemitic thought was not limited to Germany, but could be found in the theology and liturgical practice of most of Europe’s Christian churches. They dismantle the claim of a distinction between Christian anti-Judaism and neo-pagan antisemitism and show that, at the heart of Christianity, hatred for Jews overwhelmingly formed the milieu of 20th-century Europe.

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1 Belated Heroism: The Danish Lutheran Church and the Jews, 1918–1945

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THORSTEN WAGNER

Compared to most other countries, the Danish-Jewish experience seems to stand out as a remarkable exception in modern European history. Obviously, this perception is intrinsically linked to the unique rescue effort of the Danish people in October 1943, causing Nazi Germany’s attempt at rounding up and arresting Danish Jews to fail: only a few hundred Jews ended up being deported to Theresienstadt, and even of these, only about fifty—less than 1 percent of the more than seven thousand Jews living in Denmark at the time—perished.

One may date the origins of the positive image of Danish-Jewish relations back to the seventeenth century, when Glikl von Hameln, a merchant woman from Hamburg-Altona, praised the Danish king as just, pious, and extraordinarily benevolent toward Jews.1 The only dissertation on Danish-Jewish history published so far, Nathan Bamberger’s Viking Jews, traced this presumably exceptional phenomenon throughout Modern Danish history and concluded: “In the admirable history of Danish Jewry, one cannot overlook the Danes’ strong humanistic values, their sense of decency, and their care for all citizens.”2 Organizations such as “Thanks to Scandinavia” promote the Danish commitment to human dignity and ethical values in World War II as a role model for moral behavior today by stating: “The selfless and heroic effort of the Scandinavian people through the dark days of Nazi Terror is a shining example of humanity and hope for now and tomorrow.”3 In addition, books such as Moral Courage under Stress and The Test of a Democracy attest to this glorification of the Danish past in a Jewish perspective.4

 

2 Rabbinic Judaism in the Writings of Polish Catholic Theologians, 1918–1939

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ANNA ŁYSIAK

In the interwar period, Polish prelates spent a great deal of time discussing Jewish matters. Authors wrote much about the “Jewish Question,” including Jews’ so-called involvement in capitalism, socialism, liberalism, and revolutions; their anonymous empire aimed against all non-Jews, especially Christians; and their destructive and demoralizing impact on social, political, and cultural life. Both nationalistic and Catholic publications, whether mass-circulated or elite, dealt with this issue by using religious arguments and terminology while also making reference to history, psychology, economics, politics, and culture. Stemming from the value Polish society placed on religion and the Catholic faith, these religious arguments held great significance in Polish society. At the same time, they denigrated the Jewish faith and Polish Jews, for they presented Catholicism as the only true religion and stigmatized Judaism as the root of moral evil.

 

3 German Catholic Views of Jesus and Judaism, 1918–1945

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ROBERT A. KRIEG

The Second Vatican Council endorsed a change in the Catholic Church’s self-understanding and its stance toward the world and other religions. When Pope John XXIII convoked the council on December 25, 1961, he opened the way for both the end of the hegemony of the notion of the Church as a “perfect society,” that is, as a self-sufficient, juridical institution, and also the end of the Church’s negative attitude toward modernity and non-Christian beliefs. The Council then proceeded in Lumen Gentium, the Constitution on the Church, to declare that the Church is “a sacrament—a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race.”1 It also explained that the Church is the people of God and only secondarily an institution. Moreover, the council took a constructive stance toward the world, especially as it acknowledged contemporary society’s merits as well as its dilemmas in Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Further, it conveyed respect for other religions in Nostra Aetate, the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions. The Council declared: “Let Christians, while witnessing to their own faith and way of life, acknowledge, preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians, together with their social life and culture.”2 It added that the Church “deplores all hatreds, persecutions, displays of antisemitism leveled at any time or from any source against the Jews.”3 When Pope Paul VI closed the council on December 7, 1965, he envisioned the Church witnessing to the coming God’s reign and working with other religions for “the progress of peoples.”4 Vatican II was surely an extraordinary turning point in the life of the Catholic Church.

 

4 Catholic Theology and the Challenge of Nazism

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DONALD J. DIETRICH

Vatican II’s foundational document was Lumen Gentium. This description of the role of the Church was informed by a biblically and historically rooted ecclesiology as well as by an experientially subjective anthropology. This statement helped nurture the Church’s assault on antisemitism in Nostra Aetate and supported its engagement in the contemporary human rights dialogue. The foundations for the theological and moral initiatives that led to the renewal that characterized Vatican II were partially established during the wartime period in Germany. In this metamorphosis, German theologians, along with their contemporaries in France, played leading roles as they began to reflect on a Catholic ecclesiology and anthropology, which have offered an envisioned “model” of the Church that has been found useful in helping the faithful engage the political and intellectual culture of the last seven decades.

In 1927, Otto Dibelius, a well-known Protestant theologian, prophesized that the twentieth century would be “the century of the Church.” Treatises on the Church had appeared sporadically since the fourteenth century, but ecclesiology was slow to assume the central position in Catholic theology that it has enjoyed since the nineteenth century. The nineteenth century Tübingen School, that is, Drey, Möhler, Staudenmaier, and Kuhn, began to formulate an organic and historical model of the Church as a society that was seen as the way to understand the relationship between the Church and its tradition.1 This “living” model of a historically changing tradition and Church would embed itself into the twentieth-century discourse as theologians were pressured increasingly to engage secular culture. Theologians from Germany as well as France committed theology to a dynamic and historically driven ecclesiological paradigm. Their contributions were nurtured by German Reform Catholicism and the French concern with the organic development of Catholic tradition. This culture helped support the paradigmatic change in the Church’s ecclesiology in Lumen Gentium.

 

5 Working for the Führer: Father Dr. Philipp Haeuser and the Third Reich

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KEVIN P. SPICER

In December 1930, Dr. Philipp Haeuser stood before the Augsburg members of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) and addressed them: “Today the National Socialists of Augsburg celebrate Christmas. That is a fact. Another fact is: a Catholic priest delivers the address at this Christmas celebration upon the special wish of the National Socialists. Both facts are extremely sad—sad for the self-righteous Pharisees.”1 So began the battle of Father Dr. Philipp Haeuser, a priest of the diocese of Augsburg, specifically for the cause of Hitler—a cause he would support until his last breath. No stranger to right-wing politics, Haeuser had been speaking in behalf of what he called the “German Movement”—broadly and loosely encompassing most right-wing and conservative-nationalistic movements and political parties—since the end of the First World War. However, following his 1930 Christmas address and its subsequent publication in January 1931 by Franz Eher, the NSDAP publishing house, Haeuser would be forever linked to the Nazi party.

 

6 The Impact of the Spanish Civil War upon Roman Catholic Clergy in Nazi Germany

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BETH A. GRIECH-POLELLE

On the night of July 17, 1936, civil war broke out in Spain. Soon, many interpreted the events in Spain as an ongoing struggle of the forces of democracy versus the forces of fascism; for others the war represented a struggle between Western Christian civilization and the Bolshevik East. As one historian commented, “Beyond Iberia the civil war embodied and symbolized the conflict between fascism and democracy that ran across the face of Europe.”1

In 1936, Europe was a land of upheaval and displacement, grappling with the economic depression and a fear of fleeing foreigners. Many Germans, Austrians, and Italians fled Hitler and Mussolini, Romanians hid from the Iron Guard, Poles feared their military dictator, General Pilsudski, and Hungarians suffered under Admiral Horthy’s oppressive rule. To many of those who fled their native countries, Spain seemed like the ideal spot to take a stand and fight fascism,2 while to others Spain seemed to be fertile ground for spreading Bolshevism. In 1936 the Soviet Union doubled its military budget, France ratified an alliance with the Soviet Union, and the populace elected a Popular Front government in Spain.3 Amid this atmosphere, the events in Spain gripped the imaginations of many people uncertain of their future.

 

7 Faith, Murder, Resurrection: The Iron Guard and the Romanian Orthodox Church

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PAUL A. SHAPIRO

Romanian antisemitism had deep roots in the teachings of the Romanian Orthodox Church. In the first half of the twentieth century, unschooled local priests in rural areas, theology faculty at the country’s universities, and the national leadership of the Church hierarchy, including the Patriarch himself, openly professed antisemitic views and preached antisemitic stereotypes. They spread intolerance and hatred in language of greater or lesser sophistication, according to the audience being addressed. The antisemitic political parties and fascist movements that emerged in the first half of the twentieth century, including the Legion of the Archangel Michael, or Iron Guard, relied heavily on this Church-disseminated antisemitism in order to establish their rapport with the population at large.1

Even as Romania’s fascist movements—from the late 1920s dominated by the Iron Guard—moved beyond traditional religious antisemitism to promote economic, cultural, and racial antisemitism and violence against Jews and what they perceived to be a “Judaized” establishment, they did not abandon religious belief, Orthodox symbolism, and spirituality as key components of their dogma. Religious language and symbolism permeated the speeches, poetry, and songs of the Iron Guard. The youth movement of the Iron Guard had its stronghold in the Faculty of Theology of the University of Bucharest. After the assassination in 1938 of Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, the movement’s founder, ceremonies and writings replete with the symbolism of resurrection and eternal life clearly raised the question of whether Codreanu, suspected by many of seeking to replace Romania’s King Carol II in life, might not—in the minds of his followers at least—have been destined to replace Jesus himself in death.

 

8 The German Protestant Church and Its Judenmission, 1945–1950

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MATTHEW D. HOCKENOS

Beginning in the nineteenth-century, German Protestant churches established mission societies that focused specifically on proselytizing Jews in Germany.1 The raison d’etre of the Judenmission (Jewish missions) was to encourage Jews to convert to Christianity. Pointing to passages in the New Testament and to the example of Jesus for justification of their work, missionaries maintained that the Church had an obligation to spread the gospel and draw as many non-Christians, especially Jews, as possible into the Church.2 Many Protestants, not only in Germany, considered conversion of Jews to be more important than other missionary work. And there were several reasons why they felt it was more likely to succeed than, say, proselytizing efforts in Asia: Jews believed in the same God as Christians, read the Old Testament, were often educated, and resided in Europe. By 1869, Old Testament scholar Franz Delitzsch had created the Evangelical Lutheran Central Society for Missions Among Israel in order to coordinate the work of the various regional mission societies.3 When the Nazis came to power they shut down the Judenmission, maintaining that there was no place in the Fatherland for Jews—baptized or not. This essay examines the debates and discussions over the fate of the Protestant Church’s Judenmission after the fall of the Nazis regime, from 1945 to 1950.

 

9 Shock, Renewal, Crisis: Catholic Reflections on the Shoah

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ELIAS H. FÜLLENBACH

In February 1937, the Austrian magazine Die Erfüllung published a Memorandum (Denkschrift) entitled Christ’s Church and the Jewish Question, signed by several renowned Catholic theologians and politicians from cities throughout Europe, including Rome, Prague, Paris, and Vienna, and called for outspoken protest against the antisemitic actions of the National Socialists.1 In the introduction, it stated: “In view of the confusion caused even among Christians . . . over several decades, and particularly in recent years, by a consciously or unconsciously anti-Christian antisemitism with respect to the Jewish question, we consider it to be our obligation as Christians to point out the teachings of Christ’s Church regarding these questions, and, from that point of view, respond to the attempts at a solution made and propagated at present—especially in the German-speaking regions.”2

 

10 Wartime Jewish Orthodoxy’s Encounter with Holocaust Christianity

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GERSHON GREENBERG

For the most part, Orthodox Jewish thinkers during the war had either a dualistic conception of Christianity, according to which sacred Israel remained categorically split from Christianity, or a unitive conception, according to which Israel and Christianity were bound together on a humanistic or spiritual level.

There were also some instances of mixture, for example, those in the rabbinic responses of Rabbi Ephraim Oshry of Kovno (and after the war Rome and New York). Oshry was convinced that Judaism (sacred) had nothing in common with Christianity (profane), but the dire circumstances mandated attempts to compromise. In the case of a Jew who attended church and wore a cross (referred to by Oshry as Ot tumatam, To’evet hagoyim, and Ot shekutsam—their sign of profanity, the Gentile disgrace, their detestable sign) to save his life, Oshry ruled that he could reenter the Jewish community after performing penitent return (Teshuvah) and paying a fine.1 He judged that having “R.C.” (for Roman Catholic) stamped on the passport was unacceptable if it allowed the Christian inspector to believe that a Jew was denying God, but acceptable if the inspector believed the passport holder was truly a Christian.2 When asked about a Jewish corpse found with a cross around its neck and a Mezuzah in its pocket, he reasoned that the person might have converted to save his life, might have atoned for the trespass, and should therefore be buried in a Jewish cemetery—although not among the section reserved for pious Jews. When it came to reburying a girl who escaped slaughter by living as a Christian in a Christian home, Oshry stipulated that since she became a Christian under duress her body should be exhumed and buried among Jews.3 Further, he agreed that the Christian headstone for a Jew who acted as a Christian to survive should be replaced by one with a Magen David. In the case of an orphan boy who was hidden by a Christian, converted, and subsequently risked his life to return to the Kovno ghetto in order to live as a Jew, Oshry ruled that he could fully join the Jewish community—and even resume the religious privileges to which he was entitled as one of priestly descent (a Kohen).4 After the war, when asked about praying for a Christian who had hidden a Jewish boy and fell critically ill, he cited the rabbinic sages’ opinion that the poor and sick among the heathen were to be supported by Jews just as the poor and sick of Israel, “in the interests of peace.”5 Finally, Oshry absolved an observant Jew who shot a Christian thief to death trying to recover funds stolen from an impoverished Jewish widow—not because the victim was a Christian, but because otherwise the Jew would have been killed.6

 

11 Confronting Antisemitism: Rabbi Philip Sidney Bernstein and the Roman Catholic Hierarchy

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SUZANNE BROWN-FLEMING

On July 13, 1946, Rabbi Philip Bernstein, advisor on Jewish affairs to General Joseph T. McNarney, theater commander, U.S. Forces, European Theater (USFET), wrote a letter home to Rochester, New York. That week, he had attended the International Military Tribunal (IMT) in Nuremberg and afterward recorded:

There before me, only a few feet away, were the arch criminals of history.

[Hermann] Goering has become much thinner but remains the strong man of the group. He has an outgoing personality and remains an unregenerate Nazi. The notorious [Julius] Streicher was chewing gum and looks like a crude busybody. [Rudolf] Hess has an intense, far-away look, and appears unbalanced. [Alfred] Rosenberg might be anything. He seems phony. At the session which I attended, the attorney for [Joachim von] Ribbentrop was summing up. It was craven. They were blaming everything on Hitler. Ribbentrop claimed that Hitler even treated him rudely when he tried to influence his policy. The attorney tried to give the impression that Ribbentrop himself was the victim of Hitler’s fanaticism. From what I was told, I judge that the only one in the group who really stood up and took full responsibility was Goering. The rest, like rats, deserted the sinking ship.1

 

12 Old Wine in New Bottles? Religion and Race in Nazi Antisemitism

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RICHARD STEIGMANN-GALL

On September 7, 2000, more than 170 rabbis and Jewish scholars signed a statement on Christians and Christianity titled Dabru Emet (Hebrew for “speak the truth”). The Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies in Baltimore provided the impetus for crafting the document. Among other things, it represents an important element of the increasingly public dialogue between Christians and Jews about what precisely contributed to the worst instance of antisemitic violence in world history, the Holocaust. In the years immediately preceding its release, the Vatican had increasingly scrutinized itself (and continues to do so) with regard to the Catholic Church’s possible contributions to an exclusionary, violent past: Dabru Emet represented something of a response and encouragement from prominent American Jews to this new wave of Christian self-scrutiny. Seeking to acknowledge and esteem these latest moves, Dabru Emet took stock of progress in mutual understanding and respect and pointed to future paths of development. As a statement of ethics—with among other things a thanks for Christian renunciations of triumphalism and supersessionism—it was received warmly.

 

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