"My God, They Just Have Other Interests." (the Life of a Catholic Non-Aryan Priest's Life under National Socialism)

By Oberlaender, Franklin A. | The Oral History Review, Summer 1997 | Go to article overview

"My God, They Just Have Other Interests." (the Life of a Catholic Non-Aryan Priest's Life under National Socialism)


Oberlaender, Franklin A., The Oral History Review


This article seeks to explore how experiences of stigmatization and persecution altered the relationships of Catholic Germans of Jewish Ancestry to identity-generating groups such as Catholics, Germans, and Jews. How did they experience and cope with these situations? How did they experience being classified as Jews, given that they had no concrete positive cultural or religious ties to the group? How did Catholic "Non-Aryans" respond to the reactions of their own specific Church to the National Socialist state, and how did they respond to the statements and actions regarding fascism, race politics and war made by Protestant and Catholic individuals in Nazi and Post-War West Germany?

The Methodological Approach and Methods of Evaluation: the Objective

Hermeneutics Approach

The formulation of the question, which will only be broadly outlined in this paper, suggests the use of an approach anchored in the methodological framework of Oral History and Biographical Research. Being a stigmatized group which is difficult to place into any one category, Christian Germans of Catholic denomination and Jewish ancestry leave hardly any autonomously produced biographical documents behind; only the general conditions of their persecution seem to be well established. Similar research problems were already formulated decades ago in the United States with respect to migrants, ethnic minorities and people with deviant careers.(1)

A total of forty-five case reconstructions based on interviews with Catholic and Protestant Christians of Jewish ancestry form the foundation of my work. Each person was questioned about his or her life-story according to Fritz Schutze's Narrative Interview approach. Theoretical Sampling proved to be the most appropriate method for the developing of theories during the process of case-reconstruction. The interviewees are not selected on the basis of the fact that they correspond to any specific statistical norm, rather because they are able to exemplify certain historical processes. In doing so, a case is chosen, its structural regularities are worked out and then, by a process of imaginative experimentation, it is determined which other case would be completely in contrast to the one at hand.(2)

The example of one condensed case study of a Catholic priest, Father Fuchs, born in 1912 to a Jewish father and a Catholic mother, permits insight into the analysis used in this work. First the social data of the case had to be gathered. In the case of Father Fuchs I had at my disposal the biographical narrative interview, as well as a hand-written curriculum vitae, numerous official documents (marriage certificate of the parents, death certificate of the father, etc.) as well as letters written by Fuchs. After the interview we also maintained a correspondence. In addition I consulted secondary literature on institutions relevant to Fuchs' life, as well as seeking out material which would give me more information about his social environment (high school documents, yearbooks from his place of religious training, documents on the social and political situation in his home town before and during the Nazi period, documents concerning the concentration camp, Moorlager, where he was imprisoned.(3) Using these tools I tried to analyze the social data in sequential order in accordance with Oevermann' s Objective Hermeneutics approach. The main goals of this procedure were to identify critical stages in Fuchs' development, to establish to what degree he was able to make autonomous decisions and to examine the actual decisions which he did make in the course of his life in these contexts. Through this process a structural hypothesis for Father Fuchs' own life was formed.(4)

In the second cycle of interpretation particular attention is devoted to the beginning of the interview. This is justified by the fact that in the first stages of the interviewing process -- in written exchanges -- Fuchs has already presented a condensed version of the themes, evaluations and arguments which will be most essential to the reconstruction of his biography in terms of the way in which we are interested in approaching it. …

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