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Antisemitism, Christian Ambivalence, and the Holocaust Hardcover – May 31, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0253348739 ISBN-10: 0253348730

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Editorial Reviews

Review

The twelve essays comprising this volume originated with a two-week workshop
sponsored by the Center for Advanced Historical Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC. One of the book's chief aims, according to editor Kevin P. Spicer, is to challenge the "strict but misleading separation between Nazi 'racial antisemitism' and 'Christian antisemitism'" (p. ix). The contributors specifically address the role of antisemitism in the Christian response to Nazism, chronicling multiple
points of overlap between Christian and Nazi antisemitism. The volume's weakness is that it contains a wide range of cross-disciplinary essays not overtly connected to each other. At the same time, the book's range and scope give it two great strengths: first, it includes work by historians and theologians, thereby representing both disciplinary perspectives; and second, it represents a wide range of Christian perspectives, and includes valuable analyses of Jewish views of Christian antisemitism.

Organized into four parts, the book's first section addresses theological antisemitism. Essays by Thorstein Wagner, Anna Lysiak, Robert A. Krieg, and Donald Dietrich touch on a variety of expressions of antisemitism by priests, theologians, and other prominent religious figures in Denmark, Poland, Germany, and France. Ultimately, these authors show, Christian theology informed Nazi antisemitism in myriad ways that blended with
national sentiment, and those bold Christian thinkers who sought to use their theology to resist Nazi anti-Jewishness found themselves bereft of the doctrinal tools to do so.Indeed, as Wagner's essay on the Danish Lutheran Church and the Jews shows, even Denmark's Lutheran clergy, who played a key role in the remarkable rescue of thousands of Danish Jews to Sweden in October 1943, were not free of antisemitism. Challenging the "narrative of heroic humanism" that has emerged as a result of the rescue, Wagner finds that Danish assistance to Jews was less rooted in a belief in religious pluralism and a regard for Jews than in a Danish nationalism constructed in opposition to Nazism and Nazi antisemitism. Further east, Christian thinkers in Poland and Germany deliberately misinterpreted Jewish texts, held fast to supersessionism (the idea that Christians replaced Jews in God's plan for salvation), maintained precritical interpretations of the Bible, and rejected the concept of religious freedom--positions that enabled the
rapid spread of Nazi antisemitism. Even those who did think progressively
about Christian-Jewish relations during the Nazi era, Dietrich shows, would
not see their ideas come into wider acceptance until the Second Vatican Council.
If those who sought to use Christian principles to resist Nazi antisemitism
in the 1930s and 40s had difficulty doing so because of Christianity's
inherent anti-Jewishness, it should come as no surprise that right-wing
Catholic and Orthodox clergy were able to place antisemitism at the very
center of their religious view of the world. The essays comprising part 2
of the book examining extreme right-wing Christian clergy in Germany and
Romania are particularly good because of the authors' careful
historicization of their subjects. Spicer, who recently published a
separate full-length study of "brown priests"--enthusiastic clerical
promoters of the Adolf Hitler regime--(Hitler's Priests: Catholic Clergy and
National Socialism [2008]) focuses here on Dr. Philip Haeuser, one of the
most well-known of the roughly two hundred such priests. Haeuser eagerly
participated in the fashioning of a "Hybrid Catholic theology" that promoted
the Nazi Party's agenda and fused traditional Catholic theological
antisemitism with Nazi antisemitism. Church authorities in a position to
condemn Haeuser's antisemitism chose instead to express concern over Christ's
mission and the church in Germany, which they knew would be jeopardized if
they condemned avid party supporters like Haeuser. Though the
anti-Jewishness present in Christian traditions throughout Europe informed
support for Nazi antisemitism, Romanian antisemitism, Paul Shapiro points
out, had particularly deep roots in the Romanian Orthodox Church. Members
of the notorious Iron Guard, the most powerful radical Right movement in
Romania, drank deeply of Orthodox symbolism, poetry, speeches, and songs.
Shapiro carefully details the historical antecedents within the Orthodox
Church shaping the antisemitism of the Iron Guard.

If the exigencies of the war prevented open discussion of antisemitism
within Germany's Christian churches during the conflict, the immediate
postwar period saw the first tenuous steps toward dialogue on the matter.
The second half of the book, divided into two sections, "Postwar Jewish
Encounters" and "Viewing Each Other," deals almost entirely with the
Christian-Jewish relations during the postwar period. Supersessionism again
is prominent in essays by Matthew D. Hockenos, who discusses the German
Protestant Church and its Judenmission (mission to the Jews), and Elias H.
Fullenbach, who focuses on German Catholic efforts to transcend Catholic
antisemitism in the postwar years. The view that Jews needed converting to
Christianity persisted (officially) until the issuance of the
Berlin-Weissensee statement in 1950 by the German Protestant churches, which
maintained some elements of missionary thinking, but rejected
supersessionism. Fullenbach's essay focuses on the work of Karl Thieme,
Gertrud Luckner, and the Frieburg Circle, whose members sought to
illuminate, among other things, how the view of Jews as potential converts
was antisemitic. Their work, controversial in the immediate postwar period,
laid the groundwork for the issuance of Nostra Aetate in 1965, which
acknowledged the "spiritual patrimony" between Jews and Christians and
rejected the idea of Jewish guilt in the death of Christ.

Gershon Greenberg, the author of one of this volume's final essays, cogently
argues that "attitudes and views should be studied in terms of the
dialectical relationship that existed during the war, interrelating Judaism
and Christianity in terms of each other's perceptions; their separate study
creates an independence and an active-passive dichotomy that did not exist
historically" (p. 264). Greenberg focuses on Orthodox Jewish responses to
Holocaust Christianity, while Suzanne Brown-Fleming examines the largely
unsuccessful efforts of American Rabbi Philip Bernstein to persuade a series
of Catholic prelates to renounce antisemitism in several forms. The book's
final essay by Richard Steigmann-Gall begins with a discussion of the
controversies surrounding Dabru Emet, the statement on Christians and
Christianity issued in 2000 under the signature of more than 170 rabbis and
Jewish scholars. His essay, however, is more of an analysis of the writings
and speeches of several prominent Nazi ideologues, including Joseph Goebbels
and Hitler. Steigmann-Gall, who has authored a full-length study of Nazi
conceptions of Christianity (The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of
Christianity [2004]), finds that "the same antisemitism that is usually
regarded as a function of racialism was for many Nazis conceived within a
Christian frame of reference" (p. 304). This final disquieting essay of the
volume, in concluding that antisemitism was for key Nazi figures a function
of Christianity rather than racialism, reveals the least ambivalence
concerning the relationship between Christian and Nazi antisemitism--for
Steigmann-Gall's subjects, Nazi antisemitism was forged within a Christian matrix.

This volume's inclusion of essays on several different Christian traditions,
as well as the Jewish perspective on Christian antisemitism make it
especially valuable for understanding varieties of Christian antisemitism
and ultimately, the practice and consequences of exclusionary thinking in
general. In bringing a range of theological and historical perspectives to
bear on the question of Christian and Nazi antisemitism, the book broadens
our view on the question, and is of great value to historians and theologians alike.Maria Mazzenga, Catholic University of America, H-Catholic, H-Net, January, 2009



"This volume's inclusion of essays on several different Christian traditions, as well as the Jewish perspective on Christian antisemitism make it especially valuable for understanding varieties of Christian antisemitism and ultimately, the practice and consequences of exclusionary thinking in general. In bringing a range of theological and historical perspectives to bear on the question of Christian and Nazi antisemitism, the book broadens our view on the question, and is of great value to historians and theologians alike." —Maria Mazzenga, Catholic University of America, H-Catholic, January 2009



"... Spicer’s anthology convinces by its breadth and depth and is indispensable for all scholars in the field." —Katharina von Kellenbach, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, theologie.geschichte, 3. 2008



"... sheds light on and offers steps to overcome the locked-in conflict between Jews and Christians along the antisemitic path from Calvary to Auschwitz and beyond." —Zev Garber, Los Angeles Valley College
and American Jewish University, SHOFAR, Vol. 27, No. 1 Fall 2008



"[An] excellent collection...." —EUGENE J. FISHER, Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs
(Associate Director Emeritus)
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, CATHOLIC HISTORICAL REVIEW, Vol. 94, 4 October 2008



"... a wellpacked collection of twelve articles on the ambivalence of the Christian Church toward the Holocaust and antisemitism. The collection is introduced by Kevin P. Spicer and Father John T. Pawlikowski, both well-known authors on the subject. Each article is followed with extensive endnotes, and the editorial work, by both Spicer and the publisher, is superb. The flow of thought is easy to follow." —JOHN JOVAN MARKOVIC, ANDREWS UNIVERSITY, Journal Church and State, Vol 50, 3 Summer 2008

About the Author

Kevin P. Spicer, C.S.C., is Associate Professor of History at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts. He is author of Resisting the Third Reich: The Catholic Clergy in Hitler’s Berlin.

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