German churches say they failed to oppose persecution of Jews

 — Nov. 10, 200810 nov. 2008

Churches in Germany have remembered the 70th anniversary of the systematic attack by the Nazis in 1938 on Jewish Germans, saying that many Christians failed then in their duty to speak out.

“In the November pogroms of 1938 defenceless people were humiliated, harassed and killed, houses of worship were desecrated and destroyed,” Germany’s Protestant and Roman Catholic leaders said in a joint statement to mark the 9 November anniversary.

“The terrible images of burning synagogues have been burned into our memory,” said Bishop Wolfgang Huber, who heads the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), and Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, the chairperson of the Catholic German Bishops’ Conference.

“The November pogroms were also the prelude to the Holocaust, to a period of unimaginable destruction and annihilation, whose consequences Europe, the world and especially the Jewish community still have to bear,” the two church leaders stated.

“The pogroms were not only deliberately planned, but followed years of propagandistic and political preparations, a time of open anti-Semitic incitement, systematic exclusion set down by law, inhuman discrimination and persecution,” they said.

The series of attacks by Nazis against Jewish Germans and their property was called “Kristallnacht,” or the Night of Broken Glass. Still, the chairperson of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, in an interview with the online edition of the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, urged that the term “Kristallnacht” be avoided.

“‘Crystal’ means something beautiful but the attacks were part of a pogrom,” said council chairperson Charlotte Knobloch in the interview in which she reiterated a call for the extreme right-wing National Democratic Party to be banned.

In Berlin, Cardinal Georg Sterzinsky regretted the attitude of the Catholic Church to the persecution of Jews. The majority of Catholics remained silent, the archbishop stated. The memory of the injustice inflicted on the Jews needed to be kept alive and possible failures acknowledged. Lutheran Bishop Friedrich Weber of Brunswick said the churches had failed in their mission to speak out for those without a voice.

The leadership of the Protestant church in central Germany said in a pastoral letter read out in parishes that it acknowledged that Christians had been co-responsible for the anti-Semitic policies of National Socialism. Through their attitude to the policy of annihilation in the Nazi era, Christians had laid “heavy guilt” upon themselves.

Bishop Huber and Archbishop Zollitsch referred to people, “particularly in the Christian churches – who decisively opposed violence, but who were trapped in fear and a feeling of powerlessness.”

They also remembered Catholic Provost Bernhard Lichtenberg and the Protestant pastor Helmut Gollwitzer as examples of Christians who supported Jews. However, the church leaders stated, “The witness of these and other Christians and church representatives cannot cancel out the cowardice or failure of others.”

Posted: Nov. 10, 2008 • Permanent link:
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