The Church and the Shoah

The Church For and Against Nazism in World War II

Auschwitz, Poland.  Photo credit:  peter89ba | Public Domain, Pixabay. In Hebrew, “shoah” means “calamity.” This term is preferable to “the Holocaust” because “holocaust” is the English translation of the Hebrew word for “burnt offering.” Ironically and sadly, “burnt offerings” in the Hebrew Scriptures were honorable ways to express devotion to God. Therefore, we prefer, with the Jewish community, to use the term “shoah.”


the church and the shoah: the church for and against nazism in world war ii

The selection of perspectives on church history in this section has been guided by three factors: (1) to demonstrate that Christianity has not been a “white man’s religion”; (2) the study of empire as a recurring motif in Scripture by recent biblical studies scholars; and (3) explorations of biblical Christian ethics on issues of power and polity, to understand how Christians were faithful to Christ or not.  Christian relational ethics continues a Christian theological anthropology that began with reflection on the human nature of Jesus, and the human experience of biblical Israel.

Resources highlighting the church’s resistance to Nazism are listed in the first part of this page. Resources highlighting the church’s complicity with Nazism are listed in the second half.

Messages and Essays Relevant to Christianity and Anti-Semitism

“I Believe the Children Are the Future” - But Who Are the True Children of Israel? An Exegesis of Mt.21:1 - 17 a paper written for Dr. Bruce Beck, at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Seminary, for his class on the Gospel of Matthew. Establishes that Jesus and Matthew were using the distinction between parents and children from the exodus, and applying it to the parents and children of Jesus’ day. This has significance for the accusation that Matthew is anti-Semitic.

Other Books and Articles on the Church Opposing Hitler and the Shoah During World War II

Wikipedia, Individuals and Groups Assisting Jews During the Holocaust (Wikipedia)

Wikipedia, Archbishop Damaskinos of Athens (Wikipedia article) whose actions and advocacy saved thousands of Jews during WW2

Wikipedia, Council of Jews and Christians, a voluntary organization in Britain working against anti-Semitism

Sir Nicholas Winton, Man Who Rescued Nearly 700 Holocaust Victims Finds Himself in an Audience Comprised Entirely by Those He Saved (BBC, 1988) was not a professing Christian but a noteworthy story

Rabbi David G. Dalin, The Myth of Hitler's Pope: Pope Pius XII And His Secret War Against Nazi Germany (Amazon book, Jun 2005) "How Pope Pius XII rescued Jews from the Nazis" and review by Wikipedia, The Myth of Hitler's Pope (Wikipedia article)

Nicholson Baker, Why I'm a Pacifist: The Dangerous Myth of the Good War (Harper's Magazine, May 2011) Before we blame God for the Holocaust, we need to read this article

Brian Rosner, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy - A Righteous Gentile vs. the Third Reich (Centre for Public Christianity, May 12, 2011)

Michael Ignatieff, One Country Saved Its Jews. Were They Just Better People? The Surprising Truth about Denmark in the Holocaust (New Republic, Dec 14, 2013)

Tim Townsend, Mission at Nuremburg: An Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis (Religion and Politics, Apr 23, 2014)

Madison Park, How the Philippines Saved 1,200 Jews During the Holocaust (CNN, Feb 3, 2015)

Stephen Yolland, Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (blog, Feb 23, 2015) about German Christian students resisting Hitler and Nazism, getting caught, and executed

Irene Archos, Mother Maria of Paris Says "Oxi!" to the Nazi Mass Murder Machine (Pravoslavie, Mar 11, 2015)

David Gelernter, Why Should a Jew Care Whether Christianity Lives or Dies? (First Things, Mar 24, 2015)

Andrew Higgins, WWII Hero Credits Luck and Chance in Foiling Hitler’s Nuclear Ambitions (NY Times, Nov 20, 2015)

Robert D. McFadden, Nicholas Winton, Rescuer of 669 Children From Holocaust, Dies at 106 (NY Times, Jul 1, 2015)

Catholic News Agency, Heroic Virtue of Ukrainian Bishop Who Sheltered Hundreds of Jews Recognized (CNA, Jul 17, 2015)

Amanpour, Amazing Story of How Bulgaria's Jews Were Saved in WWII (CNN News, Jul 24, 2015) about King Boris III of Bulgaria (Wikipedia)

John Sandinopoulos, The NO of Greek Clergy in 1940 (Mystagogy blog, Oct 28, 2015)

Ishaan Tharoor, What Americans Thought of Jewish Refugees on the Eve of World War II (Washington Post, Nov 17, 2015) a sad counterexample

Daniel A. Gross, The U.S. Government Turned Away Thousands of Jewish Refugees, Fearing That They Were Nazi Spies (Smithsonian Magazine, Nov 18, 2015) a sad counterexample

Carol Kuruvilla, Japanese Schindler Who Saved 6,000 Lives During World War II Finally Gets a Movie (Huffington Post, Jan 19, 2016) re: Chiune Sugihara who converted to Russian Orthodox Christianity in the 1920's and added the baptismal name Sergei Pavelovich

David Swanson, Top 12 Reasons the Good War Was Bad: Hiroshima in Context (Washingtons blog, May 24, 2016)

Newsner, Woman Hides Thousands of Children in Coffins - Then She's Arrested and Her Dark Secret Emerges (Newsner, Dec 17, 2016)  

Other Books and Articles on the Church Supporting Hitler and the Shoah During World War II

Hermann Göring, “God gave the savior to the German people. We have faith, deep and unshakable faith, that he [Hitler] was sent to us by God to save Germany. How shall I give expression, O my Führer, to what is in our hearts? How shall I find words to express your deeds? Has there ever been a mortal as beloved as you, my Führer? Was there ever belief as strong as the belief in your mission. You were sent to us by God for Germany!” (Wikiquote, Hermann Göring, 1934)

Doris L. Bergen, Twisted Cross: The German Christian Movement in the Third Reich (Amazon book, 1996) "focusing on the 600,000 self-described 'German Christians,' who sought to expunge all Jewish elements from the Christian church. In a process that became more daring as Nazi plans for genocide unfolded, this group of Protestant lay people and clergy rejected the Old Testament, ousted people defined as non-Aryans from their congregations, denied the Jewish ancestry of Jesus, and removed Hebrew words like 'Hallelujah' from hymns. Bergen refutes the notion that the German Christians were a marginal group and demonstrates that members occupied key positions within the Protestant church even after their agenda was rejected by the Nazi leadership. Extending her analysis into the postwar period, Bergen shows how the German Christians were relatively easily reincorporated into mainstream church life after 1945. Throughout Twisted Cross, Bergen reveals the important role played by women and by the ideology of spiritual motherhood amid the German Christians' glorification of a 'manly' church."

Robert P. Erickson and Susannah Heschel, The Betrayal: German Churches and the Holocaust (Amazon book, Jan 5, 1999) a collection of essays on the Christian responses to the Nazi regime and program of extermination of the Jews

Rainer Bucher, Hitler's Theology: A Study in Political Religion (Amazon book, Sep 2011)

Robert P. Erickson, Complicity in the Holocaust: Churches And Universities In Nazi Germany (Amazon book, Feb 6, 2012) argues that enthusiasm for Hitler in churches and universities gave German statesmen permission to participate in the Nazi regime.

Susannah Heschel, The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany (Amazon book, Oct 3, 2010) "During the Third Reich, German Protestant theologians, motivated by racism and tapping into traditional Christian anti-Semitism, redefined Jesus as an Aryan and Christianity as a religion at war with Judaism. In 1939, these theologians established the Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Religious Life. In The Aryan Jesus, Susannah Heschel shows that during the Third Reich, the Institute became the most important propaganda organ of German Protestantism, exerting a widespread influence and producing a nazified Christianity that placed anti-Semitism at its theological center."

Alan Bean, When Churches Fail: The Abiding Challenge of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Friends of Justice, Nov 17, 2018) a Mennonite reflection on the rise of Nazi Germany and the capitulation of German Christians

church and empire: reflections on faithfulness and compromise: topics