FRIEDRICH-WILHELM MARQUARDT died a gentle death, sitting with his wife on a park bench in Berlin. But his life was anything but quiet. From the very beginning of his career as one of the most prolific German Christian theologians of the 20th century, he had been a troublemaker within German Protestantism.
His doctoral dissertation, published in 1967, was entitled Die Entdeckung des Judentums fur die christliche Theologie: Israel im Denken Karl Barths ("The Discovery of Judaism for Christian Theology: Israel in the thought of Karl Barth"). It demanded that the great Barth re-examine his attitude towards post-biblical Judaism which not only related to the Crucified Jesus but also to the Risen Christ; otherwise, said Marquardt, Barth's view of Israel could contain dark anti-Jewish dimensions.
From the beginning, some of his colleagues seemed to feel that Marquardt was too involved with the Holocaust and the Christian responsibility; and that he stressed the Jewish content of Christianity too strongly. Together with his mentor Professor Helmut Gollwitzer, whom he succeeded as Professor of Theology at the Free University of Berlin, Marquardt had been involved with the founding of a working group of Jews and Christians at the Kirchentag Christian assembly.
The Kirchentag is a key event of German Protestantism held every two years and regularly attracts close to 200,000. The very fact that Jews and Christians here met in dialogue and presented joint papers and discussions on the New Testament and the Hebrew Bible was considered something of a scandal by conservative Christians, not lessened by the fact that the most popular and brilliant Christian theologians were to be found in that working group: Gollwitzer, Eberhard Bethge, Martin Stoehr, Marquardt himself, and great rabbinic scholars from all over the world discussed their relationship and shared biblical traditions. At the Nuremberg Kirchentag of 1979, Marquardt's dialogue with a rabbi on "Auschwitz and the Silence of the Christians" attracted an audience of more than 2,000 and had to be repeated the next day in an even larger conference hall.
It was Marquardt, more than almost any Christian thinker of that time, who permitted the German churches to find their way back to honour and respectability by giving them a chance to repent and to acknowledge the errors which had flawed the image of the Church between 1933 and 1945. His colleagues at the Free University published an acknowledgement of his role as a voice of conscience for German Christianity. They stated that
Professor Marquardt's work throughout his life was devoted to the rediscovery and substantial acknowledgement of the essential roots of the Christian identity within Judaism. His seven-volume [series] "Dogmatics" was the first attempt in the world to reformulate Christian self-understanding in terms of previously unused theological aspects of Judaism of its tradition. He set himself the task of freeing Christian teaching from its inherited anti-Judaism.
All of the dramatic tensions of 20th-century German life can be seen in the life of Friedrich-Wilhelm Marquardt. He was born into a loyal Nazi family, and his father walked through the streets of Berlin in his SS uniform during the Kristallnacht pogrom in November 1938. The next day, the nine-year-old boy saw the burned synagogues and torn Hebrew books on the streets.
However, a Jewish great- grandmother hindered the Marquardts' advancement within the Nazi Party. The family tried to destroy all the evidence of Marianne Salomon, and his mother's surname changed from von der Decken to a non-aristocratic Decken. The blot on …