NAUMBURG, Germany (AP) — A court in eastern Germany indicated Tuesday that it will likely reject a Jewish man’s bid to force the removal of an ugly remnant of centuries of anti-Semitism from a church where Martin Luther once preached.
The Naumburg court’s senate said, at a hearing, that “it will maybe reject the appeal,” court spokesman Henning Haberland told reporters.
“The senate could not follow the plaintiff’s opinion that the defamatory sculpture can be seen as an expression of disregard in its current presentation,” Haberland said.
The verdict will be announced on February 4.
In this January 14, 2020 photo the so-called Judensau, or “Jew pig,” sculpture is displayed on the facade of the Stadtkirche (Town Church) in Wittenberg, Germany. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)
The so-called Judensau, or “Jew pig,” sculpture on the Town Church in Wittenberg dates back to around 1300. It is perhaps the best-known of more than 20 such anti-Semitic relics from the Middle Ages that still adorn churches across Germany and elsewhere in Europe.
Located four meters (13 feet) above the ground on a corner of the church, it depicts Jews suckling on the teats of a sow, while a rabbi lifts the animal’s tail. In 1570, after the Protestant Reformation, an inscription referring to an anti-Jewish tract by Luther was added.
Judaism considers pigs impure and no one disputes that the sculpture is deliberately offensive. But there is strong disagreement about what to do with the relief.
Tuesday’s hearing was the second round in the legal dispute, which comes at a time of mounting concern about anti-Semitism in Germany. In May, a court ruled against plaintiff Michael Duellmann, who wants the relief to be taken off the church and put in the nearby Luther House museum.Plaintiff Michael Duellmann speaks prior to a trial at the Higher Regional Court in Naumburg, Germany, January 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)
Judges in Dessau rejected arguments that he has a right to have the sculpture removed because it formally constitutes slander and the parish is legally responsible.
The relief “is a terrible falsification of Judaism … a defamation of and insult to the Jewish people,” Duellmann says, arguing that it has “a terrible effect up to this day.”Volker Buchloh, Presiding Judge at the Higher Regional Court in Naumburg, Germany, center, opens a trial on January 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)
When the church was renovated in the early 1980s, the parish decided to leave the sandstone sculpture in place, and it was also restored. In 1988, a memorial was built on the ground underneath it, referring to the persecution of Jews and the killing of 6 million in the Nazi Holocaust.
Pastor Johannes Block from the Town Church says the church also considers the sculpture unacceptably insulting. However, he argues it “no longer speaks for itself as a solitary piece, but is embedded in a culture of remembrance” thanks to the memorial.In this January 14, 2020 photo, pedestrians walk beside the Stadtkirche (Town Church) in Wittenberg, Germany. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)
“We don’t want to hide or abolish history, but take the path of reconciliation with and through history,” he says.
In Berlin, the federal commissioner for Jewish life in Germany told reporters he favored putting the relief down into a museum.In this January 14, 2020 photo, pastor Johannes Block is seen in the Stadtkirche (Town Church) in Wittenberg, Germany. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)
“This would be a good contribution by the church to overcome anti-Semitism,” Felix Klein told reporters ahead of the court hearing.”
Prayer and Reflection – This case is ongoing, and may go not only to the Federal Court in Germany but also to the United Nations, as it is a world heritage site. It was never the intention to go to law, but rather to seek repentance and reconciliation between Lutherans and the Jewish people by relocating this abusive and antisemitic object as a practical demonstration of the fruits of repentance.
A prayer of forgiveness from the Jewish prayer book – I hereby forgive anyone who has angered or provoked me or sinned against me, physically or financially or by failing to give me due respect, or in any other matter relating to me, involuntarily or willingly, inadvertently or deliberately, whether in word or deed: let no one incur punishment because of me. (Jonathan Sacks, Koren Siddur, 294)
Josef Wölfel was born in 1901 in Güns (Hungarian “Köszeg”), a city that came to Hungary after the end of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, two kilometres from today’s Austrian border. After completing voluntary military service with the Hungarian army from July 1919 to January 1920 he studied philosophy in Budapest and received his PhD in 1925. After a short teaching post, he studied Protestant Theology in Vienna and Tübingen (SS 1930), which he completed in 1930 with the First Theological Exam in Vienna. During his studies in Vienna, he was tutor for the children of the Hungarian ambassador.
This was followed by further training as an independent clergyman, in September 1930 as a clerical assistant in Vienna-Floridsdorf, from February 1932 in Vienna-Landstrasse and from July 1934 as a personal vicar in the local community. From October 1936 Wölfel was pastor of Fürstenfeld (Styria).
After the invasion of German troops on March 12, 1938 and the “annexation” of Austria to the “Reich”, the Austrian Church also asked its pastors for proof of Aryan identity. On April 6, 1938, the President of the Upper Church Council in Vienna, Robert Kauer, declared to the Ministry of Education that the majority of the few Protestant pastors of Jewish descent had the intention of leaving Austrian church service forever, “the intent of which the Church authorities believes it must promote in every respect.” (Unterköfler, 124).
Accordingly, on May 11, 1938, the highest church authority asked Wölfel for a corresponding declaration regarding his “Aryan descent”. He could not give this because he was considered a “first-degree hybrid” in the sense of the Nuremberg Laws. Instead, on June 13, 1938, he turned to the Church council with the request for “professional equality with full Aryans”. He gave the reason that his paternal ancestors – traceable from the 16th century – were “Aryans”. His mother, however, was a Jew by birth, and was baptisted before his parents married. She died when he was five years old.
Most of all, Wölfel cited his German nationalistic political views, which he had shown by belonging to the German minority movement in what was then nationalistic Hungary. After 1919 he could not stay in Hungary, but decided on Austria. “And so I should like to expressly request that a life that has so far been clear and unambiguous in its direction and in its decisions should not be judged in the opposite direction.”
Superintendent Heinzelmann did not want to follow the Wölfel’s argument and wrote on September 26, 1938 to the church council: “Since Pastor Dr. Wölfel in Fürstenfeld was not able to provide proof of his Aryan descent properly, he should be carefully informed that he would soon have to find a post outside the Austrian Protestant Church and should familiarize himself with the idea of giving up the pastorate in Fürstenfeld.
This was In contrast to his colleague Pastor Hermann Thür in Kapfenberg (another non-Aryan Jewish Christian, also a“ first-degree hybrid ”, who had given up all hope of remaining with his church and fled to England.
Josef Wölfel had better chances. On October 12, 1938, Superintendent Spanuth supported him in a letter to Superintendent Heinzelmann with two reasons:
1. In 1919, at the time of the Soviet Republic in Hungary, Wölfel had fought against communism with a weapon in his hand: “Therefore he couldn’t for one be equated with those who fought as Jews or half-Jews in the World War and for the party?”
2. The situation of the Fürstenfeld community would justify his remaining. The Church government seemed to have endorsed this assessment. In September 1940 he offered a sum of money in the event that Wölfel could no longer give religious instruction at state schools because of his lineage and that a representation would be necessary.
Wölfel therefore initially remained a pastor in Fürstenfeld until the end of January 1941. On January 31, 1941, he resigned from his post and was assigned to the pastor’s office in Vienna-Schwechat as a “itinerant pastor”, but was not dismissed from service. Until the end of the war he was employed as a reserve hospital priest in Vienna. After the end of the Nazi regime, Josef Wölfel was a pastor in Klosterneuburg from 1947 until his death. At the request of the presbytery, he had continued to care for the community beyond retirement age. He died in 1973 in Klosterneuburg. (Eberhard Röhm – my apologies for inaccuracies in style and translation!)
Prayer and reflection. My heart goes out again to this halachically Jewish, proudly patriotic German nationalist, who tried as hard as possible to remain in pastoral ministry in an Austria that was deeply antisemitic and supportive of the anti-Aryan laws of Nazi Germany. What a quandary! Just to stay alive, yet alone continue to practice in your chosen profession and follow your calling, was hard enough. His political views did not lead him to sympathise with Bonhoeffer, Niemöller and the Confessing Church, or perhaps he new that resistance would be futile, and quickly lead to discovery and death. How might you and I have responded? Would we have had the courage to resist evil? Would we have even believed that was the right thing to do? “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone!” (John 8:7)
* January 13, 1901 in Güns (today Köszeg / Hungary), † September 2, 1973 in Klostererneuburg (Austria); married. with Margarethe, née Jandl; two children. 1919–1920 voluntary military service; Studied philosophy in Budapest: 1925 doctorate in Dr. phil; then studied theology in Vienna and Tübingen: 1930 first theological exam in Vienna; from September 1930 spiritual assistant in Vienna-Floridsdorf, from February 1932 in Vienna-Landstrasse; October 1934 Ordination; 1936–1941 pastor in Fürstenfeld; 1941–1946 “flying pastor” for the parish office in Vienna-Schwechat; 1947-1973 pastor in Klosterneuburg.
Zwischen Kreuz und Hakenkreuz – Evangelische Pfarrgemeinde
Astrid Schweighofer: Religiöse Sucher in der Moderne. Konversionen vom Judentum zum Protestantismus in Wien um 1900, Arbeiten zur Kirchengeschichte, Band 126. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter, 2015, XXIV, 493 S., Hardcover, € 99,95, ISBN 978-3-11-036767-6.
Some questions, additions and corrections kindly supplied by my friend Heribert Binder, to be incorporated in a revised version of this post:
Herbert Ramplers book confirms on the whole the article posted in jewinthepew.org from 13th of January 2020, except one particular detail:
Rampler says (p 294):
Since the 1st of February 1941 Woelfel was working als a ”flying pastor” („fliegender Pfarrer”) of the Lutheran parish „Wien-Schwechat”.
And after that from1st of Nov. 1946 until his death in 1973 he again served as an officially installed pastor in Korneuburg.
The website „jewinthepew” characterizes his activities during the same period as:
… „itinerant pastor” … “employed as a reserve hospital priest in Vienna.” (p. 5)
These two statements can somehow be rhymed with a lot of imagination.
BUT there is ONE bigger problem in view to that period between February 1941 and October 1947:
The book „Quellentexte zur Österr. Evangelischen Kirchengeschichte 1918 – 1945”, which is a collection of original documents from the Protestant church in Austria (being significant for the events and developments from 1918 to 1945), contains an official circular to all pastors and parishes, dated 8th of July 1945, in which Bishop May informs the clergy an den congregations about the actual (still chaotic) situation in the first months after the end of WW II.
In this context the bishop shared the good news, that (in the period of time 1941 to 1946)
… “Dr. Wölfel administered ((the Lutheran parish of)) St. Aegyd a. N. and was … protected (rescued / saved) from evil” (bewahrt vor Bösem).
This information (in an official document!) poses an almost impossible puzzle!
One has to take into account that the small village from November 1944 to April 1945 was dominated by a subcamp of the Mauthausen concentration camp, in which around 500 prisoners were driven to forced labor by around 50 SS men.
A protestant pastor, born from a Jewish mother, was a prominent personality in the life of a village, and therefore Dr. Woelfel would have been much more in danger in St. Aegyd than in Vienna.For a serious biographical sketch of Dr. Woelfel’s life the following questions must be answered:
Where lived and worked Dr. Woelfel 1941 – 1945 really?
Was he (as a „flying pastor”) a vacancy representative in some different parishes in „Niederdonau” (today: “Lower Austria”) included the parish of St. Aegyd? Perhaps also included temporarily a ministry as pastor in Viennese hospitals?
Or was he all the time in St. Aegyd even during the six months of closest neighborhood to the SS Concentration Camp? Nearly unimaginable!
Did Bishop May mistakenly transmit fake news or only partially correct information?
Theodor Carlebach came from a well-respected Jewish family in Germany, which spread in the 19th and 20th centuries. Ernst Carlebach (1838-1923) moved from Mannheim to Heidelberg in 1863 and founded a book and art antiquarian business there. His son Rudolf (1870-1917) came to Mannheim as a notary in 1900 and married Lili Goldmann in 1901. They had two sons: Theodor and Alfred (born February 4, 1905). His father Rudolf Carlebach wrote several books on legal history. When he died in 1917 and his wife had to go to hospital, the sons went to their grandparents in Heidelberg.
As chairman of the synagogue council, Ernst Carlebach was very influential and strengthened the more conservative direction of the generally liberal Jewish community in Heidelberg. Little information is available for Theodor Carlebach from 1917 to 1933: he received an agricultural education. To do this, he often spent several months at various locations: from May to July 1919 he was a private student of Max Maier, a well-known educator in Weinheim. Other places were: Reichenau, Mohring, Strasbourg, Untersiggingen and Gut Hohenhausen. He then worked as an assistant to a Jewish charity in Berlin and helped young people at risk until the Nazis prevented him from doing so. He prepared for the university by “a fairly extensive self-taught course” (letter of June 14, 1934 to the University of Tübingen). 1933/1934 he studied in Freiburg im Breisgau. The year 1933 saw a profound turning point for the Carlebach brothers as “full Jews”: Alfred Carlebach, who had studied law in Berlin and Heidelberg since 1929, dropped out of study in February 1933 and emigrated to Palestine in 1934. Theodor Carlebach turned to Christianity and was baptized on July 30, 1934 by parish priest Johannes Schneider in the Eberhardskirche in Tübingen. Three theology students were witnesses.
From 1934 to 1937/1938 he studied Protestant theology as a guest student in Tübingen, in the winter semester 1934/1935 in Erlangen and in the winter semester 1935/1936 in Marburg. In the winter semester of 1936/1937 he continued his studies at the illegal church college of the Confessing Church in Wuppertal-Elberfeld. Perhaps he continued to study underground even after the Gestapo closed the university. In his spare time he helped at the children’s church service in Wuppertal – until the November pogrom in 1938.
In January 1939, Theodor Carlebach tried to emigrate to England with the help of Pastor Hermann Maas in Heidelberg and the “Pastor Grüber” office in Berlin. His name can be found on two lists of theologians who were able to come to England at the invitation of Bishop George Bell. According to a list, Pastor Adolf Freudenberg suggested Carlebach to emigrate to Venezuela because he had an agricultural and theological education and could therefore work as a pastor and farmer.
He arrived in England on July 21, 1939. After the war began, Carlebach – like all Germans – was interned on the Isle of Man. From 1939 to 1942 he studied theology at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford, passed both theological exams, was ordained a deacon in September 1942 and a priest in the Diocese of Southwark (London) in 1943. From 1942 to 1953 he was a clergyman (curate) in various parishes in south London: from 1942 to 1945 at St. Andrews Church in Lambeth, from 1945 to 1946 at Holy Trinity Church in Richmond, Surrey, from 1946 to 1949 at St. James Church in West Streatham, from 1949 to 1950 at St. James in Gravesend / Kent, from 1950 to 1953 at St. Paul’s in Salisbury / Wiltshire.
Theodor Carlebach married to the widow Hilda Axcell in Gravesend. Her daughter Christine was born in 1951 (and is a friend of many in the Messianic movement). From 1953 to 1973 he was a priest in parishes in the counties of Derbyshire and Staffordshire (central England): from 1953 to 1961 Vicar in Swadlincote, from 1961 to 1970 Vicar St. Luke’s in Bilston and from 1970 to 1973 Curate St. Luke’s and St. Paul’s in Leek. His wife Hilda helped him with community work. Rev. Theodor Carlebach was remembered as a calm-tempered man. In retirement the Carlebachs lived in Streetly and belonged to the Church of the Brethren. Theodor Carlebach died in Streetly in August 1977. (Hartmut Ludwig)
Prayer and Reflection: I met Christine Carlebach in the 1980s but had not idea of her family’s history. I am now full of admiration and gratitude for men and women like Theodor, for the trials they went through, for the faith they demonstrated, and for those who helped them along the way. This important chapter in the history of Jewish disciples of Jesus stands as a reminder of the faithfulness of God in the times of genocide and trauma that have affected our people over the millennia, but whose survival demonstrates the preservation of a remnant despite all odds. May we honour their memory by living out their faith and convictions!
Theodor Carlebach * January 12, 1903 in Mannheim, † August 30, 1977 in Streetly (England); Verth. with Hilda, née Allen, used Axcell (1919-2010); one daughter 1912-1917 high school Mannheim; Agricultural training; Jewish welfare organization in Berlin; 1933/1934 studies in Freiburg; July 30, 1934 baptism; 1934–1937 theological studies in Tübingen, Erlangen, Marburg, Wuppertal: July 1939 emigration; Studied theology in Qxford; Ordained deacon in 1942 and priest in 1943; 1943–1973 Reverend of the Anglican Church.
Adolf Freudenberg, who because of his marriage to a “non-Aryan” woman had to emigrate to England in March 1939, was a diplomat and a member of the Confessing Church. He was a personal friend of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and hosted him on his visits to London. After April 1939, in London he organized the refugee work for the provisional World Council of Churches, which he later carried out from Switzerland.
Life After graduating with a legal doctorate Adolf Freudenberg joined as a lawyer in the service of the Foreign Office. In 1934 he was Legal Chief in the cultural policy department.
Due to the Jewish descent of his wife Elsa Liefmann (born February 19, 1897, † December 1, 1988), a cousin of Robert Liefmann, he retired from public service in 1934 and began a year later, at the Bethel Theological College of the Confessing Church to study theology. He was ordained by the Dahlem Brotherhood.
In 1939 he succeeded in emigrating, first to London, where he was admitted to the German Lutheran Church of St. George and its pastor Julius Rieger. The Ecumenical Council of Churches, which was being set up, entrusted him with the care of refugees from Germany and brought him to Geneva in the summer of 1939 to build the Council’s refugee agency. Here he also repeatedly hosted Dietrich Bonhoeffer during his conspiratorial trips to Geneva during the Second World War .
After the war Freudenberg belonged to the first ecumenical delegation in the run-up to the Stuttgart confession of guilt over the Holocaust.
Holy Spirit Church in Heilsberg
In 1947 he returned to Germany and became pastor of the refugee settlement Heilsberg in Bad Vilbel, at the Protestant Holy Spirit Church. In 1952 he founded the “Protestant Working Group for Service to Israel in Hesse and Nassau”, the current working group Church and Israel in the Protestant Church of Hesse and Nassau .
His daughter, born in 1922 Brigitte († 1986) was a Protestant theologian and parish worker and was married to Helmut Gollwitzer .
They belong to the Freudenberg family, which owns the Freudenberg Group .
Letter from Bonhoeffer: To Henry Smith Leiper 19.6.39 Dear Dr. Leiper, I have just received a letter from Dr. Freudenberg asking me urgently not to take over the refugee-post if I wish to go back to Germany. He also calls my attention to the fact that there are many of our confessional pastors who will never be able to return to Germany and from whom, therefore, I should not take away the chance of this post. I hope you will be able to spare an hour of your time to-morrow for me. We must get clear about it.
Prayer and Reflection. It is deeply moving to see the courage and perseverance of these accidental saints. Simply by being married to someone who was Jewish, the course of Freudenberg’s life, like many others, took an unlikely turn. His legal and political skills were turned to the work of survival, then resistance, then post-war reconciliation. Thank God for such unintentional service, to Germany, the Church, the Jewish people, and all humanity! May Freudenberg’s name and memory be for a blessing, and may we too be inspired to make a difference in a needy and suffering world. In Yeshua’s name we pray. Amen.
Works Visits to Geneva. In: Wolf-Dieter Zimmermann (ed.), Meetings with Dietrich Bonhoeffer. 4th edition, Christian Kaiser Verlag , Munich 1969, pp. 158-161 Two speeches. Hrsg. German Coordinating Council of the Society for Christian-Jewish Cooperation , Frankfurt 1955. Contains: Task and Limit of Tolerance by Eugen Gerstenmaier . Speech for the opening of the Week of Brotherhood , Munich, March 6, 1955; The obligatory background of our work by Freudenberg. Speech held at the board meeting of the German Coordination Council, Offenbach, 2 June 1955 Anti-Semitism, Judaism, State of Israel. Voice, Frankfurt 1963 (Series: Answers, 3) In the outdoors Geneva.  In: “Liberators being dragged to death!” Ecumenism through closed borders 1939-1945 (= series of reading signs). Vorw. Helmut Gollwitzer. Kaiser, Munich 1989 ISBN 3459015918 P. 16-6.  as publisher: Save it! French and the Geneva Ecumenism in the service of the persecuted of the Third Reich. Protestant publishing house Zollikon EVZ, Zurich 1969  Au-delà des frontières. L’action du Conseil Ecumenique des Eglises, in Les clandestins de Dieu. CIMADE 1939–1944 Hgg. Jeanne Merle d’Aubigné, Violette Mouchon, Émile C. Fabre. Fayard, Paris 1968; again Labor & Fides, Geneva 1989 ISBN 2830905881 pp. 39–61 (in French). In English: God’s underground. CIMADE 1939–1945: accounts of the activity of the French Protestant church during the German occupation of the country in World War II. Compilation and contributions: Jeanne Merle d’Aubigné and Violette Mouchon. Hrsg. Emile C. Fabre. Introduction Marc Boegner ; a chapter on CIMADE today. Translated by William and Patricia Nottingham. Bethany, St. Louis (Missouri), 1970 Literature
Raymond de Peñaforte was born in Villafrance del Penades in Northern Spain between 1175-1180. He trained at the University of Bologna (1210). On graduation in 1216 he received his doctorate and teaching licence, and returned to Barcelona where he became instructor in the Seminary. He entered the Benedictine Order of Preachers (Ordo Praedicatorum) in 1222.
In 1230 he was chosen by Pope Gregory IX to be his personal confessor, and remained in Rome where he influenced Papal policy towards Jews and Moslems, and the fortunes of the Dominican Order. Whilst in Rome he edited Gratian’s Decretum and compiled the Decretales, a comprehensive summary of previous ecclesiastic legislation on social interaction and missionary expansion amongst Jews and Moslems. This led to increased missionary activity and standardised new methods of approach.
Peñaforte chose Raymond Martini to study at the Studium Arabicum founded in 1250 for the study of Arabic and Hebrew. Those who passed through the school received the licentia disputandi giving them the privileges, resources and protection necessary to itinerant friars wishing to engage Jews and Moslems in dispute on matters of faith. The first s t u d i u m was in Murcia, with others in Jativa, Valencia, Barcelona and Tunis.
Raymond de Peñaforte regulated procedures against heresy, and petitioned James I of Aragon to support such activities. Peñaforte encouraged Thomas Aquinas to write the Summa Contra Gentiles as a means of attracting converts to Christianity.
Whilst at Rome he edited and revised the constitution of the Dominican Order. In 1238 he was appointed Master General, but relinquished the post two years later, and returned to the convent at Barcelona. In 1263 he was present at the Debate between Astruc Ben Porta (Nachmanides) and Paulo Christiani, and is referred to in the proceedings7.
Raymond de Peñaforte was responsible, with Paulo Christiani, for the organising and structuring of the debate as a test case for the new argumentation developed by the Dominicans. He presided over subsequent measures taken against the Jewish community of Barcelona and the marshalling of Christian missionary forces throughout Europe8. After the debate four decrees were issued by James I in compliance with the friars’ aspirations. Jews were compelled to attend Christian sermons; blasphemies were to be expurgated from the Talmud and other Jewish writings; a censorship commission was established; and Paulo Christiani was empowered to continue and expand his missionising activities.
According to Nachmanides’ report of events Raymond de Peñaforte was to be found in the Synagogue of Barcelona eight days after the
debate of 1262 preaching on the Trinity. He died in in Barcelona on the sixth of January 1275, having combined services to the Dominican Order and Catholic Church with a wealth of scholastic work and legal reform. Not only had he set the scene for Martini’s activities, but had through his own endeavours laid down the overall strategy, if not the specific tactics, of the apologetic approach Martini would develope.
Prayer and Reflection. Despite the scholarship and personal engagement with Jews, Jewish Christians and Muslim’s, Penaforte’s motives, method and message were primarily hostile and polemical. Whilst the arguments he compiled were the most up-to-date, the schools he formed the most effective in equipping preachers, and the men he influenced such as Thomas Aquninas, Paulo Christiani and Raymundus Martini the most significant contributors to Jewish-Christian debate in the Middle Ages, his legacy is one of forced sermons, conversions under duress and the exacerbation of Jewish mistrust and fear of Christians. Whilst he is honoured and remembered as a saint today, his memory is bad news for Jews and shows the church how much it needs to repent of, and seek forgiveness and reconciliation for its anti-judaism. Lord have mercy!
O God, who adorned the Priest Saint Raymond with the virtue of outstanding mercy and compassion for sinners and for captives, grant us, through his intercession, that, released from slavery to sin, we may carry out in freedom of spirit what is pleasing to you. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Saint Raymond of Penafort, a Dominican priest who worked to aid Christian captives during the era of the Crusades and also helped organize the Church’s legal code, will be celebrated liturgically on Jan. 7.
A contemporary of Saint Thomas Aquinas, he inspired the theologian to write the “Summa Contra Gentiles” for the conversion of non-Catholics. At least 10,000 Muslims reportedly converted as a result of St. Raymond’s evangelistic labors.
Descended from a noble family with ties to the royal house of Aragon, Raymond of Penafort was born during 1175 in the Catalonian region of modern-day Spain near Barcelona.
He advanced quickly in his studies, showing such a gift for philosophy that he was appointed to teach the subject in Barcelona by age 20. As a teacher, the young man worked to harmonize reason with the profession and practice of Catholic faith and morals. This included a notable concern for the poor and suffering.
Around age 30 the Spanish scholar went to study secular and Church law at Bologna in Italy. He earned his doctorate and taught there until 1219, when the Bishop of Barcelona gave him an official position in the diocese. During 1222, the 47-year-old Raymond joined the Dominican order, in which he would spend the next 53 years of his remarkably long life.
As a penance for the intellectual pride he had once demonstrated, the former professor was asked to write a manual of moral theology for use by confessors. The resulting “Summa Casuum” was the first of his pioneering contributions to the Church. Meanwhile, in keeping with his order’s dedication to preaching, the Dominican priest strove to spread the faith and bring back lapsed and lost members of the Church.
During his time in Barcelona, Raymond helped Saint Peter Nolasco and King James of Aragon to establish the Order of Our Lady of Mercy, whose members sought to ransom those taken captive in Muslim territory. During this same period Raymond promoted the Crusades through preaching, encouraging the faithful to defend their civilization from foreign threats.
Pope Gregory IX called the Dominican priest to Rome in 1230, asking him to compile the Church’s various decisions and decrees into one systematic and uniform collection. The resulting five books served for centuries as a basis of the Church’s internal legal system. Raymond was the Pope’s personal confessor and close adviser during this time, and nearly became the Archbishop of Tarragona in 1235. But the Dominican did not want to lead the archdiocese, and is said to have turned down the appointment.
Later in the decade, Raymond was chosen to lead the Dominicans, though he did so for only two years due to his advancing age. Ironically, however, he would live on for more than three decades after resigning from this post. During this time he was able to focus on the fundamentals of his vocation: praising God in prayer, making him known through preaching, and making his blessings manifest in the world. Raymond’s later achievements included the establishment of language schools to aid in the evangelization of non-Christians.
St. Raymond of Penafort’s long pilgrimage of faith ended on Jan. 6, 1275, approximately 100 years after his birth. Pope Clement VIII canonized him in 1601. His patronage extends toward lawyers in general, and canon lawyers in particular.
The Kaufmann family member Bernhard Herzfeld was born in the Berlin Sophiengemeinde district. Their son Bernhard was baptized here in April 1915 and confirmed in March 1927. After the death of his father in 1924, his mother married the merchant Franz Weber in March 1928. In September 1933, he adopted her two sons. They no longer had to carry the typical Jewish name “Herzfeld”. That did not change the fact that they were considered “half-Jews” by their biological father in the Nazi era.
A difficult time began for Bernhard Weber in 1933, because he began to experience all the evils of Nazi racial hatred/ The German-Christian parish councilor Lietzensee (Charlottenburg) dismissed him as youth leader. He was “mobbed by many on the street as a “Jew Pig” (Judenschwein). “The hatred against me was all the more angry because – as long as I still had the opportunity to do so – I vigorously attended public meetings etc. to preserve the ‘Protestant Youth’ and fought to prevent our group from being integrated into the “Hitler Youth” (Life Story, 1947).
At university he lost his rights and economic privileges due to his exclusion from the German Student Union. These disappointments caused his German-national idealism, but also his belief, to go into a crisis. Then he heard about Luther’s theology of the cross and read Karl Barth’s “Theological Existence Today!”. So he learned what theology really is. The Barmen Declaration in 1934 showed him “that I can only belong to the Confessing Church”. He promoted it wherever he could. As a “passionate fighter against Nazi ideologies and measures”, he was part of the “Brotherhood of Young Theologians” in Berlin. Theologians gathered in it, who consistently followed the decisions of the Barman and Dahlemer confessional synods of 1934, recognizing only their fraternal council as church leaders and rejecting compromises with the German Christians.
After studying theology in Berlin from 1930 to 1935, he took the first theological exam in November 1935 before being commissioned by the Berlin Fraternal Council. After the Vicariate from 1935 to 1937 with Pastor Willy Praetorius in Berlin-Lichterfelde, he attended the Preaching Classes of the Confessing Church in Bloestau (East Prussia) at his own request since April 1937. When its director Hans Joachim Iwand was expelled from East Prussia, all the clergy went with him to Jordan (part of the Prussian province of Brandenburg / Neumark) to complete their training there. The theology and the experience of the brotherhood of Confessing Christians deeply influenced Weber.
From September 1937 he was again a Praedicant (official preacher) in Berlin-Lichterfelde, then an assistant preacher. He built up youth work and was not afraid to fight the Hitler Youth. He was interrogated by the Gestapo and once appeared before the special court.
His young disciples later explained: “For us boys he was the model of a passionate fighter for the truth and for the sole authority of the Word of God.”
In June 1938 he passed the Second Theological Examination of the Brotherhood. In June 1938 he was ordained by Superintendent Martin Albertz in the Jesus Christ Church in Berlin-Dahlem. Weber rejected requests by the ordination panel to be under German Christian regulation: “I am bound to the path of the Confessing Church. The brother council will arrange everything that is necessary for me. ”
On April 1, 1940 he was drafted into the army, but was soon released as a“ first-degree mischling (hybrid)”. From June 1940 he was an assistant preacher with Pastor Heinrich Grüber in Berlin-Kaulsdorf. Grüber entrusted him with the care of the “first-degree mixed race (mischling)”.
During a Bible class in Weber’s at Pastor Grüber‘s office in Berlin, Oranienburger Strasse 20, he met Wilma Seelig (1916-2008), who was also a “half-Jew”. They married on May 24, 1941.
After Grűber’s arrest in December 1940, Weber initially stayed in Berlin-Kaulsdorf. The German-Christian superintendent Johannes Schleuning denounced him in the consistory, which is why he had to leave the community. From June 1941 to January 1946 he was an assistant preacher in Proschim (Spremberg district). Since the Webers kept silent about being “half-Jews,” the risk of discovery was always great. Again there were conflicts with the NSDAP (National Socialist Workers), the family fled from the Red Army in 1945 to Flensburg, where Weber was a youth pastor. They returned in February 1946. Weber became pastor of Sorno (1946-1950) and Cottbus (1950-1956). From 1947 to 1956 he was also a parish priest. On July 1, 1956, he became superintendent in Fürstenwalde. Weber campaigned for persecuted people in the GDR and enjoyed a high reputation in the church communities. In July 1961 he died not yet 50 years old.
Prayer and Reflection: We cannot but be moved by the faith, passion and perseverance of this godly pastor, his ongoing ministry whilst always in danger of discovery, and his preaching of the Good News of the Messiah to all who would listen. We are filled with compassion and admiration for those like Bernhard and Wilma, themselves Jewish, German and disciples of Yeshua, who lived and served in dark times under genocidal tyranny. May God have mercy on all those who live under persecution, and may God have mercy on us with our comforts and freedoms, if we do not step in to resist evil and make for true peace and reconciliation – witnessing to the love and self-giving of our Messiah Yeshua. Amen.
Summary: Bernhard Weber (until 1933 Bernhard Herzfeld) Born December 28, 1911 in Berlin, died July 27, 1961 in Berlin; married. Wilma, née Seelig, three sons. 1930-1935 studied theology in Berlin; 1935 First theological examination; 1935-1940 Vicar, later Predicant and auxiliary preacher in Berlin-Lichterfelde; 1937 preaching seminar in Bloestau; 1938 Second theological examination and ordination; 1940 Wehrmacht; 1940–1941 auxiliary preacher in Berlin-Kaulsdorf; 1941–1946 auxiliary preacher in Proschim; 1946-1950 pastor in Sorno, 1950-1956 in Cottbus; 1956-1961 superintendent in Fürstenwalde.
Source: Evangelisch Getauft – Als “Juden” Velogt – Baptised as Protestants, Persecuted as Jews – eds. Hartmut Ludwig, Everhard Röhm, 2014, Calwer Verlag, pp.360-1. (Hartmut Ludwig)
Gotthold Forell was born in Michelsdorf in 1922 as the youngest son of the pastor Friedrich Forell (see page 102ff, Evangelisch Getauft- als “Juden” verfolgt – Baptisted as Protestants – Persecuted as Jews) and his wife Magdalene. He attended the elementary school in Wroclaw. After his father moved to Vienna in 1933 because of his Jewish ancestors, he and his brother Wolfgang (see page 106f.) attended the Wasa grammar school there. After Austria’s “annexation” to the “Third Reich” in March 1938, his father and Wolfgang fled to Stockholm via Prague. Gotthold stayed with his mother until the end of retirement and the family spent the March 1934 school year in Vienna and also came to Stockholm in August 1938.
From there Magdalene Forell went to London with both sons. (more information needed here -through Bell, the IHCA?) While the mother and Wolfgang continued on to Paris to Friedrich Forell, Gotthold stayed in England until 1940. His mentors were Bishop George Bell and Canon Greenslade. In Knutsford, north-west England, he attended the Ordination Test School, a school that prepared young men to study theology.
After the start of the Second World War, the British government interned him like thousands of other “hostile foreigners” and on July 10, 1940, brought him to Australia from Liverpool on the Dunera transport ship. The crew of the ship treated the 2,500 men between the ages of 18 and 45 as prisoners of war, although as Jewish emigrants they were not suspected of sympathy for the Nazi state. On September 6, 1940, the ship reached Sydney. Gotthold Forell adopted the name “John G. Forell” in Australia. An alternative to doing nothing in the barbed wire camp was the Australian Army. From 1942 to 1944 John G. Forell was a soldier in this army. From 1945 to 1946 he studied theology at Ridley College in Melbourne, one of the leading Protestant universities in Australia, and obtained the ThL (Licentiate in Theology), the minimum qualification for Ordination.
On February 26, 1947 he was ordained Deacon at St. David’s Cathedral in Hobart, Tasmania, and ordained priest on February 24, 1948. From 1946 to 1948 he was Assistant Curate at St. John’s in New Town, a suburb of Hobart. He left Australia and landed in San Francisco on May 5, 1948. As a minister of the Episcopal Churches in New Jersey, he was traveling minister in Washington from 1948 to 1950 and held services in Belvidere and Hope. On January 13, 1950, he married Judith Jacklyn in Montreal, Canada. From 1950 to 1961 he was a clergyman in Essex County in northeastern New Jersey: From 1950 to 1956 at Holy Trinity Church in West Orange and from 1957 to 1961 at Christ Church in Glen Ridge. He died in New York City on December 26, 1961. (Hartmut Ludwig)
More on his family is available. His daughter Caroline has just retired as a Law Professor, and I am researching other details about the family and would be most grateful for any information!
Prayer: Lord, thank you for the life, ministry and family of this refugee, internee, wanderer and disciple. His travels, both geographical, emotional and spiritual speak of a life torn by circumstances, tossed around across cultures, but healed by prayer, blessed by family, and watched over by You. Lord, who knows the pattern of our lives- our shape, destiny and achievements? May this day be a day to bless you and be a blessing to others. In our Messiah’s name we pray. Amen
Evangelisch getauft – als »Juden« verfolgt Theologen jüdischer Herkunft in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus Ein Gedenkbuch herausgegeben von Hartmut Ludwig und Eberhard Röhm in Verbindung mit Jörg Thierfelder
German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor, Martin Niemoller (center) with members of the congregation at St. Anne’s church in Dahlem, Berlin, after he held his first service since his release from imprisonment, following the allied occupation of Germany, Oct. 28, 1945. Niemoller had been imprisoned by the Nazi regime since 1938. George Konig—Getty Images
Arrested by the Nazis in 1937 for his defiance of Hitler, Pastor Martin Niemöller spent three and a half years in solitary confinement in Sachsenhausen concentration camp before being moved to the Dachau camp in 1941, where he was housed with other high-profile non-Jewish prisoners, including foreign dignitaries and Catholic clergy. There, on Christmas Eve 1944, Niemöller preached a sermon to a half dozen fellow Protestant inmates. It was the first religious service the Nazis allowed Niemöller to conduct since his arrest.
At first, Niemöller was hesitant about offering a service, knowing that his country was at war with the nations from which these other political prisoners came. He asked each of them privately if they wanted him, a German and a Lutheran, to conduct the service. Their insistence inspired and moved him. His “congregation” that Christmas Eve was unique in Niemöller’s experience — it was multinational and multidenominational, consisting of a Dutch cabinet minister, two Norwegian shippers, a British major in the Indian army, a Yugoslav diplomat and a Macedonian journalist. The appointed date for the service was the last day of Advent, December 24, the traditional day on which Germans celebrate the birth of the Christ child. For Martin Niemoller in 1944, it was the eighth Christmas he would not celebrate with his own wife and children.
Crowded into cell number 34, which had been consecrated as a chapel by imprisoned Catholic clergy, the pastor acknowledged the fear and uncertainty they all felt as Allied bombs rained down on German cities and Hitler urged his soldiers, old men and boys in some cases, to fight to the last man. Niemoller himself had lost one daughter and one son, ages 16 and 22, in the war. Despite the bleak and lonely circumstances, he counseled his fellow worshippers to rejoice in their common faith that God had built a bridge to the world — even to Dachau — through the birth of his son Jesus Christ.
Priests and pastors the world over have preached similarly on Christmas Eve, although not from behind barbed wire. But in Niemöller’s case the Christmas Eve service in Dachau signaled the beginning of a profound shift in his outlook — a shift from believing in a German national Protestantism to believing in an international world Protestantism.
The acknowledgment that the Gospel, the good news of Christ’s love and mercy, was for all of humankind — not only for Germans — represented a symbolic first step in the moral and political evolution of Martin Niemöller.
Niemöller was not in the habit of celebrating the Lord’s Supper with Anglican, Calvinist and Greek Orthodox Christians, much less Slavs. An ardent nationalist and devout Lutheran much of his life, Niemöller had proudly served as a German naval officer in WWI, fought with right-wing paramilitaries against Communist insurgents in 1920, and voted for the Nazis in 1924 — the same year as his ordination. Forty-one years old in 1933, he was euphoric when Adolf Hitler became chancellor, believing that the marriage of National Socialism and German Protestantism would bring his beloved nation the providential glory it deserved.
In order to win votes and consolidate his power, Hitler promised to work harmoniously with the Lutheran clergy to achieve national and moral renewal. But Hitler’s real intention became clear when Nazi officials began to meddle in church affairs and he supported a faction called the German Christian Movement that wanted to Aryanize the church by abolishing the Old Testament, worshiping an Aryan Jesus and banning Christians with Jewish ancestors.
Despite Niemöller’s deeply ingrained nationalism and anti-Semitism, he could not countenance such heresies in his church. He, along with Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others, founded the Confessing Church, which pledged to adhere to the gospels and defend Protestants with Jewish ancestry. Although Niemöller’s leadership of the Confessing Church put him at odds with the Nazis on church matters, he still considered Hitler to be Germany’s political savior and remained committed to the Nazi party’s program, which included national revival, territorial expansion and fighting so-called “Judeo-Bolshevism.” Unlike Bonhoeffer, whom the Nazis would execute in April 1945 for his resistance to Nazism, the former U-boat commander still displayed little interest in international fellowship or ecumenism.
But Niemöller’s concentration camp experiences changed him. In Dachau, where Niemöller was allowed to socialize with other special prisoners, he developed a camaraderie with Catholic priests, French politicians, British officers and others. They shared something in common now—their persecution at the hands of the Nazis. Outgoing and friendly by nature, Niemöller thrived in this setting after the years in solitary confinement. And the international and multi-denominational fellowship Niemöller experienced in Dachau turned him toward the possibility of a world fellowship in the Holy Communion, not just a German fellowship in national Protestantism. The international contacts he made in Hitler’s camps and in the immediate months following his liberation urged him to lead his country in repenting for the atrocities and crimes committed in their name.
Niemöller came to believe that he and his fellow countrymen who had supported Hitler, even while disagreeing with aspects of his rule, had a moral obligation to acknowledge their guilt, repent and change their ways. He did this by setting an example. He confessed his own guilt to German audiences repeatedly in 1946 in what is now known as the Niemöller Confession: “First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”
And his evolution didn’t stop there. The 1950s, ’60s and ’70s would see further changes as he embraced pacifism, marched for left-wing causes and became a vocal critic of racism and bigotry. On his 90th birthday Niemöller joked that he had started his political career as “an ultraconservative” who loyally served the kaiser. Now I’m “a revolutionary,” he said. “If I live to be 100, maybe I’ll be an anarchist.” But anarchism wasn’t in the cards. The journey he began in Dachau came to an end with his death in 1984 at the age of 92, after four decades of preaching the message of world fellowship he articulated for the first time in Dachau.
Despite his fierce patriotism and nationalist leanings, Victor Kühn was forced out of ministry and had to take early retirement. An accomplished philosopher, theologian and pastor, his commitment to the spiritual and public life of Germany for some forty years could not be challenged or questioned. But his resistance to the rise of National Socialism, similar to that of Martin Niemöller, Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and his support for non-Aryan (Jewish) Christians quickly put him out of favour. He had to resign early from his high-profile ministry and prestigious pulpits, his engagement in political life and discourse, and for the remaining years of his life in Dresden kept “under the radar”, eventually dying of malnutrition in 1945 in Dresden, the city that suffered most under the Allied bombings.
Prayer and reflection. Apart from his Jewish background (and it is unclear on what basis this assumption was made), Victor Kühn’s life might have been that of a typical and well-respected Lutheran clergyman. His qualifications in philosophy and academic work marked him out as one of the leading churchmen of his day. But popularity turned to disgrace, and he left his position and public role just in time to avoid arrest, deportation and death, at the age of 63. I write these words in my 63rd year, and do not wish to be prevented from writing many more, but Kühn was prevented from such a freedom of expression.
From Psalm 90:12-17 English Standard Version (ESV)
12 So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. 13 Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants! 14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. 15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil. 16 Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. 17 Let the favour[a] of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!
Thank you, Lord, for the life and ministry, and also the patience, perseverance and suffering, of your servant Viktor Kühn, whose active and public ministry ended in turbulent times. Help us to learn to see you in all circumstances. As Jewish disciples of Yeshua we are caught in the ebb and flow of history, between the hostility and prejudice of communities that do not show love to you and your people Israel, and yet as servants of the Messiah we wish to be a blessing to our people Israel and to all humanity. For your grace, mercy, justice and love we pray – in every situation and relationship in which we find ourselves. In Yeshua the Messiah’s name. Amen.
Summary: Viktor Kühn * September 4, 1870 in Crimmitschau, † December 22, 1945 in Dresden-Bühlau, married. with Lisa Kühn, born Müller (1878-1963). 1891–1895 studied Protestant Theology in Leipzig and Berlin, 1894 Dr. phil. Leipzig, 1895 Vicar at the Realgymnasium in Freiberg; 1895–1897 teacher at the Realgymnasium in Freiberg and Zwickau; 1896 Lic. Theol. Leipzig; 1897 second theological examination; 1898–1910 deacon at the Martin Luther Church in Dresden, 1910–1921 pastor at the Jakobikirche in Dresden, 1921–1933 superintendent in Auerbach (Vogtland), Oberkirchenrat, 1933–1945 retirement in Dresden.
Viktor Kühn was the youngest son of a spinning mill owner who died in 1879. He attended grammar school in Chemnitz and Gera until 1891. He particularly enjoyed teaching Greek, which also aroused his interest in philosophy and ethical problems. In 1891 he began studying theology in Leipzig and also attended courses in philosophy. In 1894 his doctoral dissertation was on the philosopher Johann Friedrich Herbart. This was followed in 1896 by a study on Schleiermacher’s ethics.
After the Second Theological Examination in 1897, Kühn was appointed deacon (pastor) at the Martin Luther Church in Dresden in 1898. He held this office until 1910. From 1910 to 1921 he was a pastor at the Dresden Jakobikirche. In Dresden, Kühn participated in the Evangelical Union and in the Gustav Adolf Association. He published sermons and thematic small letters, among other things on the question of the historical Jesus and Haeckel’s monism.
On Monism -see
In 1917, Kühn expected social tensions to increase in Germany after the end of the First World War. The church as its “bulwark” would then be identified with the state, because the religious and ecclesial “rebirth” hoped for in 1914 had not come about. Kühn called for a church reform in the sense of a real people’s church. In 1921 Kühn was appointed superintendent in Auerbach / Vogtland. Here he continued to devote himself to building up the congregation through building work, raising money and reviving and supporting a wide range of ecclesiastical work, without hiding his German-national outlook.
In 1926 Kühn took a critical look at the Saxon Church Exit Act of August 4, 1919. Kühn, now also a senior church councillor, was considered a “half-Jew” during the Nazi era. On May 5, 1933, he published a series of theses on “The New Church in the New State” in the “Auerbacher Zeitung”.
In it he welcomed “that Awakening and becoming new in the German fatherland. «The associated reorganization within the church, however, should be done» with caution «. In his opinion, the plan pursued by the German Christians to “synchronize” the church with the new form of government contradicted the nature of the church, because Kühn did not want to give up the religious freedoms gained by the end of the sovereign church regiment since 1918. These thoughts moved in the sense of the Young Reformation movement that emerged almost simultaneously, a root of the Confessing Church, to which personalities such as Friedrich von Bodelschwingh, Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Martin Niemöller belonged. The only binding foundations of the church were considered to be “the gospel” and “their confession”. In contrast to the latter, Kühn believed, however, that church proclamation in the new state should take into account “German nature and German blood”, but it should “never forget that the gospel, from its source, brings great joy to all people “.
This implied not only the participation of German Protestantism questioned by the German Christians, but also the church membership of Christians of Jewish origin. With the statement “There is no salvation in anyone else, because it is only in the name of Jesus Christ”, Kühn not only anticipated the Christ-centredness of the Barmen Declaration of May 1934 in his theses, but turned against the leadership cult of Hitler and the call for German nationalism to see itself as a resurgence of the Supreme Man. Soon afterwards Kühn was asked by the state consistory in Dresden to retire early, officially for health reasons, on October 1, 1933, which was then brought forward.The »Auerbacher Zeitung« announced Kuhn’s farewell sermon on August 27, 1933 and dedicated a detailed article to the heavily attended church service. Kühn survived the Nazi era in Dresden. Nothing is known about his life and his ecclesiastical-political attitude after retirement. In 1945 he died of heart failure due to post-war malnutrition.
Gerhard Lindemann in Evangelisch getauft – als »Juden« verfolgt: Theologen jüdischer Herkunft in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus. Ein Gedenkbuch, 2014, Calwer Verlag, pp. 186.
Ten years is a long stretch in a man’s life. Time is the most precious gift in our possession, for it is the most irrevocable. This is what makes it so disturbing to look back upon time we have lost. Time lost is time when we have not lived a full human life, time unenriched by experience, creative endeavour, enjoyment and suffering. Time lost is time we have not filled, time left empty.
The past ten years have not been like that. Our losses have been immeasurable, but we have not lost time. True, knowledge and experience, which are realized only in retrospect, are mere abstractions compared with the reality, compared with the life we have actually lived. But just as the capacity to forget is a gift of grace, so memory, the recalling of the lessons we have leamt, is an essential element in responsible living. In the following pages I hope to put on record some of the lessons we have learnt and the experiences we have shared during the past ten years.
These are not just individual experiences; they are not arranged in an orderly way, there is no attempt to discuss them or to theorize about them. All I have done is to jot down as they come some of the discoveries made by a circle of like-minded friends, discoveries about the business of human life. The only connexion between them is that of concrete experience. There is nothing new or startling about them, for they have been known long before. But to us has been granted the privilege of learning them anew by first-hand experience. I cannot write a single word about these things without a deep sense of gratitude for the fellowship of spirit and community of life we have been allowed to enjoy and preserve throughout these years.
In December 1942, Dietrich Bonhoeffer sent a Christmas letter (“After Ten Years”) to his closest friends in the resistance. In a bitterly realistic tone, he faced the prospect that they might fail, and that his own life’s work might remain incomplete. He may have wondered, too, whether his decision to return to Germany and to work in military intelligence had been the right one. “Are we still of any use?” he wrote:
We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds: we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use? 22
The necessities of subterfuge and compromise had already cost him a great deal. He pondered the different motives for fighting evil, noting that even the finest intentions could prove insufficient. “Who stands firm?” Bonhoeffer asked:
Only the one for whom the final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all these, when in faith and sole allegiance to God he is called to obedient and responsible action: the responsible person, whose life will be nothing but an answer to God’s question and call. 23
In this letter, one of Bonhoeffer’s most moving and powerful writings, the various threads of Bonhoeffer’s life and work came together. He had been one of the few in his church to demand protection for the persecuted as a necessary political step. He had called upon his church, traditionally aligned with the state, to confront the consequences of that alliance. The church struggle, as he wrote Bishop George Bell in 1934, was “not something that occurs just within the church, but it attacks the very roots of National Socialism. The point is freedom. . . .” 24
Bonhoeffer’s focus remained more theological and political. The church debates about the Aryan paragraph had convinced him that the old traditions were bankrupt. Instead, Bonhoeffer called for the practice of “religionless Christianity” in “a world come of age”—a world in which the old certainties and values had been replaced by cynicism and ideology. He tried to determine what kind of Christian faith was viable in this new world—not in order to “extricate himself heroically from the affair,” but to arrive at a new understanding of faith, to pass on to future generations.
It is in this context that his ongoing reflections on the relationship between Judaism and Christianity must be understood. His insights were less about Judaism, more about his own Christianity. His 1941 statement that “The Jew keeps the question of Christ open,” (published in his Ethics) was a final acknowledgment that the persecution of the religion most historically bound to his own had led him to rethink his own faith fundamentally.
For this reason, Bonhoeffer’s greatest influence today is precisely in those critical Christian circles that have sought to reformulate Christian theology after Auschwitz. Nonetheless, we cannot know for sure whether he would have abandoned his early supersessionism, or how he would have dealt with the theological questions raised in the aftermath of the Holocaust. He was unable to complete his theological journey.
Bonhoeffer’s final legacy transcends that of the German resistance circles in which he moved. Their tragedy was not just that they failed, but that their failure revealed the extent to which they were “unfinished.” As the decades since 1945 have passed, we become ever more aware that the scope of Nazi evil demanded a more finished kind of heroism—impelled not only by repugnance against the brutality of a dictatorship, but by a deeper awareness of the costs of antisemitism, compromise, and complicity.
But this is an awareness that we have won only gradually, partly as the result of the growing scope of Holocaust scholarship. Our realization that the pervasive antisemitism and anti-Judaism in Christian circles helped foster the attitudes that culminated in the Holocaust leads us, correctly, to read Bonhoeffer’s theological writings more critically.
This should not blind us to the fact that he leaves a legacy unique among theologians and church activists. As hardly any other Christian thinker in history, Bonhoeffer articulated a theology that truly confronted his times—and he did so not with the benefit of hindsight, but during the Third Reich itself. We are left with many questions about where this life would have led. But, in a very real sense, the questions Bonhoeffer left unresolved are the ones we face today, as we continue to wrestle with the aftermath of the Holocaust.
Prayer and Reflection
Bonhoeffer’s words are reinforced by the price he paid, that of death. His example, and the willingness he demonstrated to oppose evil, whatever it might cost, are a stirring example to us today in the face of growing antisemitism worldwide. How are disciples of Yeshua to respond? How are Jewish disciples especially to respond to misunderstanding and prejudice that they experience, both in the church, the world and even at times amongst our own people. Let us ponder well the life and teaching of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Prayer: Thank you Lord for the stirring message and challenging reflections of your witness, Bonhoeffer. Help us, like him, to have the courage of our convictions, love for those who persecute us, and the wisdom to know and follow after you as your disciples. Help us to walk in the way of suffering, martyrdom if necessary, for your grace and glory to be made know. In Yeshua’s name we pray. Amen.
22 Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. “After Ten Years,” in Letters and Papers from Prison. Enlarged Edition, Eberhard Bethge, ed. (New York: The Macmillan Company), 1971, 16–17. [Back to text]