Antisemitism, Christian Ambivalence, and the Holocaust

By Garber, Zev | Shofar, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

Antisemitism, Christian Ambivalence, and the Holocaust


Garber, Zev, Shofar


Antisemitism, Christian Ambivalence, and the Holocaust, edited by Kevin P. Spicer. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2007. 329 pp. $29.95.

Shortly after his election as Reichkanzler in 1933, Hitler spoke to a group of Methodist women meeting in Obersalzburg about his admiration for Frederick the Great, Otto von Bismarck, and Martin Luther. When asked, "Where do you get the courage to undertake the great changes in the whole Reich?," Hitler responded, with Luther's New Testament commentary in hand, "From God's word" (cited from Joseph B. Tyson, "Anti-Judaism and Biblical Authority: The Case of Luke-Acts," unpublished paper, no date). Whether or not Hitler's mandate for the drittes Reich (politically, "Third Empire" but theologically, "Third Kingdom") is rooted in German Trinitarian pietism, it cannot be denied that centuries of Church teachings of alienation from and contempt for the Jewish people contributed to the Führers policy of lethal antisemitism. Why, how, and who in the Christian support of the Nazi demonizing of the Jews, and what we can learn about Christian culpability (Catholic, Evangelical, Lutheran, Orthodox) in the near total destruction of European Jewry, are the focus of this anthology.

The twelve essays in this volume were originally presented at a workshop on the Holocaust and antisemitism in Christian Europe sponsored by the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies of the United States (summer 2004). The goal was to evaluate the contributing factors in scriptural Christianity and historical Christendom that impeded the ability of European Christian clergy and laity in 1920s-1940s to proclaim and to condemn National Socialism as evil.

Following the Introduction ("Love Thy Neighbor?"), by John T Pawlikowsky and Kevin P. Spicer (pp. xiii- xxi), which acknowledges that "Nazism was not a Christian phenomenon" (p. xx, cited from the text of Dabru Emet, Hebrew, "Speak the Truth," a statement on Christians and Christianity signed by more than 170 rabbis and scholars, September 7, 2000) but strongly objects to depicting as equal antisemitism and anti-Christianity in Nazi ideology, the book is parsed into four sections. Section One, "Theological Antisemitism," discusses the legacy of Christian anti -Judaism and establishes its link to modern racial antisemitism within Europe's Catholic and Lutheran churches. The essays are "Belated Heroism: the Danish Lutheran Church and the Jews," by Thorston Wagner (pp. 3-25); "Rabbinic Judaism in the Writings of Polish Catholic Theologians, 1918-1939," by Anna Lysiak (pp. 26- 49); "German Catholic Views on Jesus and Judaism 1918-1945," by Robert A. Krieg (pp. 50-75); and "Catholic Theology and the Challenge of Nazism," by Donald J. Dietrich (pp. 76-101). Section Two, "Christian Clergy and die Extreme Right Wing," demonstrates the embrace of antisemitism in the pastoral activity and ecclesiastical outlook by some of the clergy from Roman Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran, and Romanian Orthodox churches. The essays are" Working for the Führer: Father Dr. Philip Haeuser and the Third Reich," by Kevin P. Spicer (pp. 105-120); "The Impact of the Spanish Civil War upon Roman Catholic Clergy in Nazi Germany," by Beth A. Griech-Polelle (pp. 121-135); and "Faith, Mutder, Resurrection: The Iron Guard and the Romanian Orthodox Church," by Paul A. Shapiro (pp. 136-170).

Section Three, "Postwar Jewish-Christian Encounters," assesses the detrimental impact of Hitlerian Judeocide on the"Body of Christ" and the transformational steps taken by post-Shoah Catholic and Protestant authorities to reconsider traditional negative teachings about the Jews and Judaism in Christian Heilsgeschichte (e.

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