Caritas in der SBZ/DDR, 1945-1989: Erinnerungen, Berichte, Forschungen

Article excerpt

Caritas in der SBZ/DDR, 1945-1989: Erinnerungen, Berichte, Forschungen. Edited by Christoph Kosters. (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schoningh Verlag. 2001. Pp. 257. DM 29.90 paperback.)

This volume is the result of a closed meeting sponsored by the German Catholic Kommission fir Zeitgeschichte and the Deutsche Caritas Verband, the German equivalent to Catholic Charities. Particular themes were the adaptation of the organization to the demands of the times, the role of Caritas in providing social services, especially healthcare, the role of the western Caritas to support the organization in the East, and the complex relationship between Caritas and the East German regime. The contributions range widely in quality. In this, they reflect the wide spectrum in which the German public is engaging the history of the German Democratic Republic. Many of the articles are personal reminiscences about the work of Caritas under East German rule. The volume does include some very well researched contributions, such as that of Christoph Kosters on the relationship between the secret police and Caritas, Josef Pilvousek's contribution on the role of Caritas in everyday life, and Silvia Kroll's article on the training of Caritas employees. Especially useful is Hans Gunter Hockerts' discussion of the term Fursorgesozialismus, perhaps best translated as benevolently paternalistic socialism. Hockerts argues that this term insinuates a harmlessness on the part of the regime, which never existed. To judge by this volume, one should rather speak of a socialism characterized by material and idealistic needs and wants. Caritas helped meet these needs and wants and thus was able to ensure its continued existence. The other reason Caritas survived in the GDR while it perished in other communist countries was its early integration into ecclesiastical structures. This process already had begun during the NS-period in order to save Caritas institutions from seizure by the Nazi welfare organization NSV (Nationalsozialistische Volkswohlfahrt).

Less useful for scholarly understanding are those contributions that one would characterize as personal memories. Many of them raise more questions than they answer. An example of this is the article by Attorney Wolfgang Vogel, the controversial attorney who handled emigration questions of a humanitarian nature for the GDR government (exit visas for political refugees in return for hard currency payments to the GDR government). Vogel prides himself in having had long-standing friendly relations with Monsignor Zinke, the head of the Caritas co-ordinating offices in both halves of Berlin. Here some critical analysis would have been welcome. …