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Christian Responses to the

Holocaust
Adam Taylor
The Crisis of Christianity
The Shoah happened in the presence and knowledge of Christians.
Some were involved, but most simply had a world view, born of their
Christian background, which allowed the defamation, persecution and
murder of Jews to take place. That Christianity can spawn such a
wortdview surely tests the credibility of the Christian religious tradition.
If one were to ask the question, "What was the Christian response
to the Holocaust?" the answer would be simple: there was no single,
monolithic Christian response to the Holocaust. Even the question,
"What were the Christian responses to the Holocaust?" is problematic.
There was no definitive Catholic or Protestant Church policy towards
Jews in Wor1d War II. Furthermore, it is important to distinguish between
a church "policy", or an "official .. church response, and the living
thoughts and actions of Christians in the Holocaust and in its wake.
Those thoughts and actions are as diverse as the human beings
responsible for them, and possess no monolithic quality.
In dealing with particular Christian responses to the Holocaust, one
is thus dealing with individuals and their actions - matters of historical
record. But in attempting to identify some kind of generic Christian
response, one enters the realm of theology; that is, a faith in search of
Adam Taylor
seJfunderstanding. An important part of this particular search for self
understanding involves surveying the antecedents of the Christian
response to the Holocaust; in other words, confronting the history of
Christian Jewhatred. A concomitant irony of this history is the
Jewishness of Jesus.
Once faith finds its selfunderstanding, it still demands actions to
legitimize it. It is only when Christians come to recognize the
signifjcance of what Arthur Cohen has called the Tremendum of our
age (Cohen, 1984: 12) that they realize the imperative which the
Holocaust brings in terms of Christian action. Until then, it is not
possible for Christians to act appropriately in relationship to the
Holocaust and to Jews. They simply "know not what they do." (Luke
23:43).
There are then three specific elements to be addressed if the
Christian is now to face the Holocaust and be transformed by it. As has
been intimated above, they are Christian antisemitism, the Jewishness
of Jesus, and the role played by Christian intellectuals and other
significant individuals during the Holocaust. These three factors add up
to a dilemma that has been termed "The Crisis of Christianity ."1 This
paper will journey past some individual responses to the Holocaust, as
well as look for some generic response, but most of all it will offer a
personal response belonging to the generation after the event, the
aim of which is to show that ChrisUans can be self-critical and willing to
adapt to the demands made by the Holocaust.
1. Christian Antisemitism
The seed of Nazi antisemitism sprang up in the fertile ground of
centuries of Christian antisemitism. It is sometimes suggested that
antisemitism was spawned in the civilizations of the Ptolemys, the
Seleucids, and the Romans, long bef.ore the It is not to be
denied that there were instances of words or actions against Jews in
these ancient civilizations, but the basis of these instances had none
of the characteristics of Christian antisemitism (or indeed.the racial
antisemitism of the Nazis). For example, Antiochus Epiphanes
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Christian Responses to the Holocaust
decrees against the Jews of 167 BCE were about political and
economic overlordship over a people who looked as if their leaders
might be moving their allegiance to Egypt; it was not based on religious
or notions of superiority (Tcherikover, 1979: 175-203). The reality
is that of the approximately 500 references to Jews in ancient literature,
a sizable number of them are favourable (Anderson, 1990).2 The Jews
already had at that time a rich and ancient tradition. The Hellenists had a
tremendous fascination with Judaism. The Romans, especially,
admired long tradition and elaborate ritual.
The Jewlshness of Jesus
By the turn of the present century, Christians had forgotten the article
of the Christian creed which states that Jesus the Christ was truly God
and truly man. They clung to the Christ concept (a Christ revealed only
in the cultural and ethnic guise of the believer), but forgot Jesus the
man in history. An amusing example of this Christian ethnocentrism
was given by the Episcopalian Bishop John Shelby Spong on his
recent speaking tour of Australia. He related the story of the woman in
his parish who objected to the introduction of the Revised Standard
Version of the Bible in English for the scripture readings in her parish.
"If the King James Bible was good enough for Jesus," she grumbled,
"it's good enough for me" (Spong, 1991 ).
Attempts were made to find the Jesus of History. Around the turn of
the century, Albert Schweitzer took on the famous Quest of the
Historical Jesus. But he concluded that the historical Jesus could not
be discovered (Schweitzer. 1954). A basic fact tragically forgotten:
that Jesus of .Nazareth, whom Christians recognize as the Messiah. was
never anything but Jewish. For several generations, the early
Christians remained a Jewish sect, and thereafter are difficult to
distinguish JevJs and Jewish practice for several centuries. Writing
around the turn of the first century CE, Ignatius of Antioch polemicizes
against Jews precisely because Christians are adopting Jewish
practices (Meeks, Wilken, 1978: 20). Archaeologists when uncovering
ancient sanctuaries of the Levant of the second century CE, have had
trouble distinguishing whether they are Christian church or Jewish
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synagogue, or whether Jewish-Christian self-definition had proceeded
far enough at that stage and in that place for such a distinction even to
be made at all (Meyers, Strange, 1981: 130-39; 170-71). John
Chrysostom, the fourth century Church Father responsible for bitter
invective against the Jews was motivated by the fact that his community
was frequenting the synagogue and the Jewish festivals (Meeks,
Wilken, 1978: 85ff).3 It is thus correct for Krister Stendahl to say
"Christians are a special kind of Jew." (Littel, 1974: 18). However, such
perspectives were not a part of European Christianity in the first half of
this century.
3. The Role of the Intellectuals and the Actions of
Significant Individuals
Anyone who argues that the road out of bigotry, prejudice and
intolerance is education, in general, has their thesis sorely tested by
the Holocaust. There were more brains per square metre in Germany in
the 1920s and 1930s than anywhere else in Europe. The fact of the
matter is that the Nazi killing machine, used in the Nazi war against the
Jews, was planned, engineered and deployed by German PhDs and
MDs who were, almost without exception, baptized Christians (Littel,
1985: 12; Littel, 1986: 13;20).
The question can be asked: How much more advanced are we, in
terms of ethics, values, morals and professional discipline than were
the German universities of the late 1920s? While Christian apostacy
went on during the Nazi reign, very few Christian intellectuals spoke
out, preferring the comfortable notion of ICkeeping out of politics" so as
to keep the universities free of turmoil and controversy (Littel, 197 4:
21 ). There were some lonely voices - James Parkes, George Bell,
Reinhold Neibuhr and Dietrich Bonhoeffer; but the majority of the
Christian intellectuals must be questioned for their culpable silence.
This element of our examination of the Crisis of Christianity includes
'1he actions of significant individuals." Perhaps it is better termed "the
significant actions of individuals." The actions and the individuals
concerned are significant not necessarily because they were good or
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right or representative, but because they stand out in history, or
perhaps because many people took the lead, in their thoughts and
actions, from these deeds and their initiators.
The first two elements of the Crisis, Christian antisemitism and the
Jewishness of Jesus, are tied up with the role of the intellectuals. It
was intellectuals who cultivated the Christian teaching of contempt for
Jews, of which more will be mentioned later, and it has been Christian
and Jewish scholars of the post-war period who have together made
the rediscovery of the of Jesus. Discussion of these two
elements wilf reflect much of the contribution of the intellectuals. In the
first case, there is a realization that intellectuals played a role in
contributing to the this is a realization which has come out of
the Holocaust, and it is one of the Christian sins. In the second case,
we are looking at a rediscovery which reshapes both Christianity and its
relationship to Judaism; this is a realization which has come out of the
Holocaust and out of it can come Christian salvation. In describing each
of these elements, the impact of the Holocaust and the way in which
the Christian tradition either is changing or must change can be
considered. Such consideration is essential should Christianity wish to
maintain credibility in the post-Holocaust era.
Before proceeding with that task, something should be said about
the actions of a select few individuals, which, it has already been
pointed out, were not representative, but significant. Some of these
are recorded in a new book by Mark Aarons and John Loftus, entitled
Ratlines (1991}. Ratlines are the horizontal ropes on the rigging of tall
ships, which form a webbing up which sailors can clamber. During the
Second World War, lhe word was used generically to refer to the
evacuation networks used by intelligence agents or airmen shot down
over enemy territory. In Aarons and Loftus' book, the term refers
specifically to the network created by a small band of Vatican officials, in
collaboration with Western intelligence agencies, for the evacuation of
Nazis from Europe to South America and elsewhere. As Morris West
writes in a review of the book, the pun in the title "is brutally simple - a
lot of obscene animals escaped the sinking ship of the thousand-year
Reich over the Vatican ratlines" (West, 1991: 32).
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One of the characters involved in the operation was Monsignor
Giovanni Montini, Pope Pius Xll's Undersecretary of State who was later
to become Pope Paul VI. Montini was responsible for organizing the
Vatican Information Service, whose apparent task was to trace missing
persons, refugees and POWs, and also to direct the Vatican campaign
for the resettlement of millions of refugees and displaced persons who
swarmed into Western European countries after the war (West, 1991:
33).
The Vatican Information Service sponsored two major
organizations, Caritas International and the Pontifical Aid Commission.
It was within the framework of these organizations that the Ratlines
were established. These Vatican organizations sought and received
permission for selected priests to visit civilian and POW camps,
ostensibly to give spiritual and material food to the inmates; but some
of the inmates were not innocents, and some of the priests were driven
by motives other than Christian charity.
One such person was Archbishop Alois Hudal, a German priest in
residence in Rome after 1945. In the early 1930s, as a professor of Old
Testament Studies at Graz in Austria, he had travelled widely
throughout Germany and Italy preaching support for Adolph Hitler and
the National Socialists. Evidently, his rise to a position of authority
within the church was not barred by his pro-Nazi stance. After the war,
Hudat admitted of his immediate post-war activities in his book Roman
Diary.
The allies' war against Germany was not a crusade, but
the rivalry of economic complexes for which they had
been fighting . . . [A]II these experiences were the
reason why I felt duty bound after 1945 to devote my
whole charitable work mainly to former National
Socialists and Fascists, especially the so-called "war
criminals" (quoted in West, 1991: 33).
With the value of hindsight, we can clearly see the paucity of his
defence. Even in the context of its time it does not stand up well.
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Christian Responses to the Holocaust
Many have claimed that Pope Pius XII did not do enough to help
Jewish victims of Nazi persecution. He was certainly aware of their
plight l:)y December 1939, when in his Christmas message he made
reference to any ''nation or race" which had been "condemned to
death or progressive extinction" under the Nazis. This veiled
reference to the Jews was supported by piecemeal directives by the
Pope: church property was made available in Rome for Jews; amounts
of money were loaned to Jewish organizations; some Jews escaped
on faked Vatican papers; recommendations were made that Religious
congregations harbour Jews (Holmes, 1982: 7-15), and vague
condemnations of National Socialism continued. In Western Europe,
however, Pope Pius XII left local bishops to decide the policy of the
Catholic Church towards Jews.
One must understand the limitations of what is the apparent
Catholic Church monolith. While the Supreme Pontiff makes universal
declarations, those declarations receive wildly different reception and
interpretation depending on the Catholic community concerned.
Deference to the Papacy is dependent on the social, economic,
political and religious climate of the day, let alone the historical and
ethnic background of the Catholic community who are listening to
Papal words and actions. Correspondingly, some Catholic
communities assisted Jews in Western Europe, others did nothing; yet
others worked actively against Jews.
The future Pope John XXIII was asking questions from
Constantinople, and according to Yehuda Bauer, the Pope of the time
said nothing. Bauer goes on to say,
It wouldn't have saved a single Jew if he had said
anything, but he might have saved his soul (Bauer,
1991).
The Teaching of Contempt
So we come more generally to the question, why did the vast majority
of the Christian leaders in Germany bless the Nazi colours? Before
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answering this, let us look at one Christian who did not, Dietrich
Bonhoeffer. For his part in a plot to overthrow Hitler, Bonhoeffer was
imprisoned and finally executed in a Nazi concentration camp. In his
day, he was recognized as a courageous opponent of Nazism. Today,
he is respected as one of the great Protestant theologians of the
modern era, who openly rejected as antisemitic the writings of his
eminent teacher, Kart Barth.
One might expect that Bonhoeffer's attitude to the Jews, the
primary victims of HitJer's reign of terror, was compassionate. Indeed it
was; in a sense. But a theological point he made in relation to the Jews
in 1933 should be noted. He wrote:
The Church of Christ has n e v ~ r lost sight of the
thought that the .. chosen people" who nailed the
redeemer of the world to the cross must bear the curse
tor its action through a long history of suffering ... But
the history of the suffering of this people, loved and
punished by God, stands under the sign of the final
homecoming of Israel to its God . . . and the
homecoming happens in the conversion of Israel to
Christ ... the conversion of lsraeJ, that is to be the end .
of the people's period of suffering . . . Each new
attempt to solve
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the Jewish question" comes to
naught ... nevertheless such attempts must be made
(quoted in Fleischner, 1975: 24-25).
This was a man who had expressed concern about the wrongness
of Christian proselytization of Jews as early as 1926. A man who, by
calling for the formation of the State of Israel in 1943, was one of the
first churchmen to do so (Littel, 1990). The statement by Bonhoeffer
quoted above was written in 1933, yet there is no evidence that he
changed his views on this matter. Bonhoeffer was eventually
murdered by the Nazis on 8 April, 1945. It should be noted that
Bonhoeffer had opposed the Nazis as a citizen, without reference to
Christian values, so detective were the doctrinal tools he had gleaned
from his Lutheran education (littel, 1973: 486). Had his doctrinal tools
been right, he could have opposed the Nazis firstly as a Christian, then
as a citizen. Bonhoeffer was no doubt quite unaware that he would be
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held up later as one of the great amongst the persecuted in the
modern church. That a man such as Bonhoeffer harboured such views
is an indication of the depth to which the "teaching of contempt"
extended in Western Christianity.
The ''teaching of contempt" is a term coined by a French scholar,
Jules Isaac (Isaac, 1964). He more than any other convinced Pope
John XXIII of the importance of the consideration of Christian-Jewish
relations at the Catholic Church's Second Vatican Council (1962-65).
He proposed that the teaching of contempt was the belief amongst
Christians that the Jews had suffered a divine curse. The teaching of
contempt was the theological response of Christianity to the fact that
the Jews continued to exist in spite of the Christian revelation. In
Jesus' time the Jews had rejected the Messiah. They had forfeited
their right to be called God's people. Their suffering from those times
was a punishment for their crime of deicide.
The Holocaust challenged Christianity in that it had to make sense
of the survival of a resilient people, who defied the systematic,
despicable and thoroughgoing attempt to eradicate it. Not only
survival, however, but also the rebirth of the Jewish nation after 1900
years showed beyond doubt that the future of Judaism was assured.
The question with which Christians are now faced is how
responsible was Christian antisemitism for the Holocaust. Christian
scholars such as Rosemary Ruether have argued forcefully that
Christianity has a direct guilt to bear (Ruether, 1974). Anti-Jewish
convictions are firmly implanted in the traditions of the Church Fathers
(Ruether, 1979). The Mendicant Orders, who took the leading hand in
the execution of the Inquisition, had Jittfe compunction in attacking
Jews under whatever pretext could be found, although from a strictly
legal point of view the Inquisition had no jurisdiction over Jews per se
(Cohen, J., 1982: 47). Popular anti-Jewish sentiment in medieval
times periodically erupted into violence, most notably in the massacres
of Jews occasioned by the First Crusade (Cohen, J., 1982: 51). The
threat of violence made Jews increasingly reliant on the protection of
Europe's kings and princes; but Western rulers were committed to the
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hegemony of Christianity as the only religious path to salvation.
Correspondingly, the medieval Christian ruler could only take
responsibility for the welfare of Christians; heretics and other non-
believers were subject to expulsion or destruction. While Jews were
the exception to this general rule, the price they paid was inferior socio-
economic and residential status in European communities (Katz, 1982:
5-6). This status was still evident on the eve of the Holocaust.
The following letter from a Protestant clergyman of Berlin was sent
to Hitler, Goering and Goebbles in reference to Kristallnacht, in
December 1938. While the letter, from Pastor Erich Klapproth,
protests the actions of the Third Reich, there is no questioning of the
underlying lowly status of the Jews.
The events that occurred amongst our people on and
after November 9th of this year force me to take a clear
stand. Far be it from me to disregard the sins that many
members of the Jewish people have committed
against our Fatherland, especially during the last
decades; also, far be it from me to deny the right of
orderly and moderate proceedings against the Jews ...
(Kulka, 1982: 232).
There was a deafening silence from the German Catholic bishops at the
time of the Kristallnacht pogroms referred to in this letter (Conway,
1982: 349).
By the first half of 1943, the fate of the Jewish deportees was
common knowledge amongst the German people (Kulka, 1982: 236).
The rise to power of the Nazis had been received favourably by the
majority of German Catholics, who saw in Hitler the country's best
defence against Bolshevism (Conway, 1982: 349).
Fascism, with its roots as much as anywhere in 19th century
Romanticism (Sternhell, 1976), sought to return the German people to
a "mythical monism of the past" (Littel, 1974: 14). Baptized Christians
in Germany had long forgotten the fact that Christianity began as a
counter-cultural movement. They were consumed in the secular
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culture of their Teutonic ethnicity to such a degree that the distinction
between the values of the state and the values of the Christian
religious tradition were muddied if not lost (Littel, 1974: 14). In their
eagerness to "rid the world of atheistic Communism,,. baptized
Christians were prepared to allow and even participate in Nazi
persecution. Their role has a doubfe evil. As well as persecution it was
Christian apostacy (Littel, 1974: 16).
Franklin Littel, the American Protestant theologian, relates the story
of a Nuremberg rally to which he was invited. He describes the
experience as having an atmosphere of intense spirituality. Germany,
he suggests, had not seen so much spirituality as this for 200 years.
Littel adds that it was a spirituality struck through with evil and without
biblical base (Littel, 1990). Christian men were heard to say with
misguided sincerity, as Hitler rose to power: "Adolph Hitler is God's man
for Germany" (Littel, 1990). Clearly indicated here is the problem--the
crisis for Christianity in the Holocaust and indeed beyond it: what was,
and still is, the role of the "good people"; people who are antisemitic
without even realizing it?
Jn the aftermath of it all, there does not appear to have been any far-
reaching attempt to rethink Catholic doctrine as a result of these
events. As John Conway notes:
The heated controversy which arose in the early
1960s over the so-called silence of Pope Pius XII
towards the suffering of the Jews concentrated on the
alleged diplomatic and political shortcomings of
Vatican policy rather than on the theological
presuppositions [like the Teaching of Contempt)
which may have guided the Curia's attitudes towards
the persecution of the Jews {Conway, 1982: 350).
Protestant church statements also, from the first World Council of
Churches Assembly in 1948, have, in the main, failed to acknowledge
church responsibility and coercion in modern antisemitism. There have
been some notable exceptions. A joint statement from a 2000 strong
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Roman Catholic and Protestant ecumenical meeting in Germany in
June of 1971, contained two important themes. It said,
Ecumenical encounters without Jewish participation
are incomplete. because without the Jewish roots the
Christian faith develops wrongly, unbiblically.
It also said,
The concrete consequences of ecumenical
cooperation between Jews and Christians is
expressed also in strategic solidarity with the state of
Israel and its people as also in political involvement for
peace in the Middle East (littel, 1973: 487).
The Protestant Churches' Declaration of the Rhineland . Synod of
January 1980 states,
The provincial synod accepts the historical necessity
of attaining a new relationship of the church to the
Jewish people (Littel, 1985: 14-15}.
The declaration recognised Christian co-responsibility for defamation,
persecution and murder in the Holocaust; it recognised new Biblical
insights regarding the Jewish context of Christianity; and it recognised
the state of Israel. 4
Recognition of church complicity in the "teaching of contempt" was
also acknowledged by the Anglican Lambeth Conference of 1988.
On the other hand, there are those who argue that there is no
connection at all between Christian antisemitism and the Nazi pogroms
(Conway, 1982: 348). Their prime example is in the person of Wilhelm
Marr, the Hamburg journalist who was responsible for coining the term
"anti-Semitism". Marr, who was a major source of inspiration to Hitler, is
regarded not only as anti-Jewish but also anti-Christian (Conway, 1982:
348) .. Thus, the nexus between Christianity and antisemitism is
sundered. But Marcel Dubois has written:
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Christian Responses to the Holocaust
Anyone studying Christian anti-Judaism will eventually
have to confront what is for many of us the most
difficult question of all: is anti-Judaism part and parcel
of Christian dogma? Are its seeds to be found in the
Christian scriptures, in our Christology? (Dubois, 1982:
444).
In 1945, when the dust was yet to settle on Auschwitz or Treblinka,
a book was published in Paris by a prominent Catholic theologian,
Charles Journet, abhorring the abomination of antisemitism and
determined that it hold no further place in Christian thinking. But
Journet attempted to reject antisemitism without changing one iota of
his traditional Christian theology (Talmage, 1975: 72).
The link between the Christian teaching of contempt and the
Holocaust cannot be dismissed. Arthur Cohen has argued that even to
ask the question is significant. When Christian theologians address
themselves to the Holocaust, they have already recognised it as an
event which affects (either to alter or confirm) Christian faith and ethics.
Those Christians willing to encounter this dark night of
the historical must deal at every turn with a
fundamental ambivalence - a two-mindedness which
results from an inherited theological viewpoint that
antedates the Holocaust and undergirds the structure
of Christian theology up to the modern age and the
requirements of a theology after the Holocaust which
cannot help but view the murder of the first chosen of
God as an implicit judgement upon such traditional
formulations of Christian thought regarding the Jews
(Cohen, 1982: 417).
The Dangerous Memory of Jesus
Charles Journet's was evidently not aware of it, but the Holocaust must
stand as the classic countersign of our age, particularly with regard to
traditional Christian theology (cf Tracy, 1982). That is to say, Christians
must now realize the ambiguity of the church, and be suspicious of its
interpretation of the church-remembered Jesus Christ. In his work,
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The Analogical Imagination, David Tracy explains further what is meant
by this ambiguity, this suspicion:
The church ... is an ambiguous social reality.
Theologically, the church is at once both gift from God,
primarily mediator of the church-remembered Jesus
Christ, and yet "sinful church," frequent betrayer of the
very event entrusted to its care ... The recognition of
the ambiguity of the reality of church, when exposed
by the Christ event mediated in the church and the
Jesus dangerously remembered by the church, is the
vision at the heart of the Christian hermeneutic of
suspicion (Tracy, 1981: 321).
Tracy speaks about the "dangerous" memory of Jesus. Dangerous
memories, he explains, are memories which make demands on us. In
other words, if we remember that Jesus was Jewish. there is a demand
here for Christians to act in certain ways and to hold certain views which
are reflective of this fact. Jolted out of historical amnesia by the
Holocaust, genuine historical truth might break through to the centre-
point of our lives and reveal new and dangerous insights for the
present (Metz, 1977: 1 09). Such is the memory of Jesus for the
church.
The Holocaust, as an obvious sign of "sinful church," demands
reinterpretation of the Christian founding event. Also to be
questioned, as well as the founding event, are the authoritative
responses to that event (Cohen, A., 1982: 436 n.6). Christians must
reorder their doctrinal premises and teaching as a direct result of the
Holocaust. The Holocaust carries with it an imperative to account for
the evil and suffering in the world. To reflect on this evil leads to the
recognition of the complexity of the image of God in the Old
Testament. From the God of love and justice in Deuteronomy to the
suffering God of Amos, Hosea and Job; the Christian rediscovers that
the God of the Christians is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
As well as suspicion about the "sin1ul church'', Christians must seek
to rediscover the trustworthy elements of the tradition which can be
utilized in the interpretation of our modern situation.
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Christian Responses to the Holocaust
One of the elements of the Christian tradition which must be
retrieved is the recognition of the Jewish roots of Christianity and of the
continued presence of the Jews as God's Chosen People. In turning
to the Jews, Christians are called to acknowledge and take cognizance
of post-Testamental Jewish history and literature. To do this has far-
reaching consequences for the scrutiny of the classic texts of the
Christian faith.
Is it merely misrepresentation of the gospels which has led to
Christian antisemitism? Or is it the case that the gospels display clear
and unambiguous instances of anti-Judaism? An illustrative case is the
examination of the forebears of Rabbinic Judaism, the Pharisees.
Nothing could be more vehement than the invective against this group
in the repeated words of Matthew chapter 23: ''Woe to you scribes and
Pharisees, hypocrites!" Christian scholarship on the Pharisees at the
turn of the century drew its portrait of them almost singularly from the
New Testament. 'nevitably, they saw the Pharisees as self-righteous
hypocrites. In Christian history, it has never been too difficult a step to
identify anti-Pharisaism with anti-Judaism and antisemitism in general.
In the interest of defending their faith against Christian attacks, Jewish
scholars were drawn into the debate. That they entered the arena as
apologists sorely affected their potency as critical observers (Neusner,
1971: 335-36}.
Thus, for generations, scholarship on the Pharisees was polemically
divided along Jewish-Christian lines. Neither group had much
competency in the examination of the other's literature. In the post-
Holocaust period, there has been a genuine development of dialogue
between Jewish and Christian scholars. Whereas the emphasis of
undergraduate courses in New Testament 20 years ago was on the
Greek background, today there is strong emphasis on the Jewish
background. The rabbinic writings are now recognized as a major
source for understanding the New Testament.
The invective against the Pharisees in the gospel of Matthew can
be viewed as the attempt of the gentile church to come to terms with
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the emerging Rabbinic tradition. It was what David Flusser has termed
the process of "de-Judaization" (Fiusser, 1975). Suspicion leads us to
this reassessment, and the retrieval of a clearer understanding of the
Jewish heritage of Christianity and the life-giving experience which lies
behind the language-bound words of scripture.
Final Questions
There are two questions to be asked with regard to Christian reflection
on the Holocaust. Firstly, should the construction of Christian theology
be affected by the Holocaust? The answer must be a resounding yes.
The second question is a corollary of the first. To what extent has a
reconstruction actually taken place? The reforms of the Second
Vatican Council are, for example, just the first expression of the
suspicion which should be cast upon the Christian teaching of
contempt (Littel, 1987: 11; see also Wigoder, 1988). Certainly, new
ways of theologizing have arisen in Christian circles since the war, but
much of it seems to ignore the call made by the Holocaust itself.s
While some theologians have responded to the call with words, it may
be generations before the ordinary Christian responds with actions.
Having given students a series of lectures on the perils of covert anti-
Judaism in Christian theological and philological writings, Charlotte
Klein found that student essays submitted to her were replete with the
very anti-Jewish perspectives on which she had lectured (Klein, 1978:
129). It would appear that students continue to quote the pre-
Holocaust words of those perceived as the giants of Christian thought.
The role of the post-Holocaust Christian intellectuals must be to
formulate counter-consensus positions and create a new climate of
Jewish-Christian understanding and dialogue.
Changes have occurred. Formerly, the lecture rooms of Christian
schools of theology saw Jewish history drop out of existence ca 1 00
CE, at the height of the family quarrel, only to reappear in the early part
of the twentieth century with the establishment of Jewish-Christian
conferences (Littel, 1982: 466). The Holocaust has awakened
Christians to Jewish history and has demanded that they face the sinful
chapters of Christian history. Scholarship which has moved towards a
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Christian Responses to the Holocaust
firm recognition of the Jewish milieu of Christianity is also one of the
poignant fruits of the Holocaust. The Holocaust confirms the destiny of
the living Jewish people; it implores all people to make sense of God
and suffering; it begs Christians to move towards a new plurality - an
openness to traditions which have endured alongside it; most of all,
Christians are called to a genuine contrition.
There is a decision to be made. Arthur Cohen makes a proposition
for all Christians to consider:
The monstrosity of this century must leave faithful
Christians either utterly unaffected or utterly harrowed.
It unaffected, it tries credulity to understand what is
meant by Christianity as a transforming faith and if
harrowed, the task shifts immoderately from the
reassertion of old methods and exegeses in the
direction of radically new beginnings (Cohen, 1982:
428).
The Christian "teaching of contempt" is bankrupt. The notion that
Jews will only be fulfilled in converting to Christianity is rejected. Today,
Christian theologians who are the future of a credible Christianity, stand
with Emile Fackenheim, who utilizes the metaphor so meaningful to
Christians:
Hope died during the Holocaust, with the state of Israel
it was resurrected (Fackenheim, 1991: 126).
Endnotes
1 A term coined by Franklin Littel at an address given at Yad Vashem,
Jerusalem, January, 1991.
2 Anderson quotes the research of Joachim Stern.
3 Patrologia Graeca: 843-942. Meeks and Wilken translate John
Chrysostom's homilies #1 and #8.
101
Adam Taylor
4 Israel, a major stumbling block to many well-meaning Christians, is
regarded as a strictly political issue, not dissimilar to the way in which
some Jews prior to the war viewed Zionism. A case in point is the
American Council of Judaism, founded in 1942 by a dissident band of
Reform rabbis, who fought against the establishment of the State of
Israel. By 1943, when news of the Holocaust atrocities were widely
published, the AJC could not garner support from the American Jewish
community, and it finally disbanded in 1948. The naive
pronouncements of the ACJ are anachronistically to be found amongst
Christians today. Perhaps when they too confront the meaning of the
Holocaust they will recognise their old views as destitute.
5Th ere are some voices in the wilderness. For exampte, the myriad of
positive and reflective papers presented at the Remembering for the
Future Conference, in July, 1988 (Bauer 1988).
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