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Christianity and the Holocaust

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Introduction

The vast majority of Germans belonged to a Christian church during the Nazi era. In 1933 there were 40 million Protestants, 20 million Catholics, and small numbers of people adhering to other Christian traditions. The German Evangelical Church (the largest Protestant church) and the Roman Catholic church were pillars of German society and played an important role in shaping people’s attitudes and actions vis-à-vis National Socialism, including anti-communism, nationalism, traditional loyalty to governing authorities (particularly among Protestants), and the convergence of Nazi antisemitism with widespread and deep-seated anti-Jewish prejudice.

Within the German Evangelical Church the pro-Nazi “German Christian” (Deutsche Christen) movement emerged in the early 1930s. It attempted to fuse Christianity and National Socialism and promoted a “racially-pure” church by attacking Jewish influences on Christianity. This attempt to nazify the primary Protestant church provoked a backlash, leading to the formation of the Confessing Church (Bekennende Kirche) in 1934. Both the Confessing and the “German Christian” movements remained part of the German Evangelical Church. The Confessing Church movement condemned Nazified theology and the attempt to nationalize the church, but it limited its protest to maintaining the theological integrity and autonomy of the Protestant churches—not protesting the legitimacy of the Nazi state itself. Although there were individual resisters, many mainstream Protestant and Catholic church leaders made numerous compromises with Nazi authorities and supported many of the Nazi measures throughout the period.

A range of reactions can be observed among Christian churches and institutions across Europe and North America during the Nazi period. As in Germany, the attitudes and actions of Christians were shaped not only by religious belief but by national politics, legacies of Jewish-Christian relations, World War II, and the experiences under Nazi occupation in some countries. Some Christian individuals, as well as Christian networks and religious institutions, aided and rescued Jews but the majority did not.

In the wake of the Holocaust, a long process began in which Christian churches acknowledged their failure to withstand National Socialism and their role in promoting antisemitism. A large body of literature now exists on inter-faith issues and post-Holocaust theology and ethics. The history of Christianity during the Holocaust has also informed and interacted with the growing field of study on religion and mass violence in a global context.

The following bibliography was compiled to guide readers to selected materials on topics related to Christianity and the Holocaust that are in the Library’s collection. It is not meant to be exhaustive. Annotations are provided to help the user determine the item’s focus, and call numbers for the Museum’s Library are given in parentheses following each citation. Those unable to visit might be able to find these works in a nearby public library or acquire them through interlibrary loan. Follow the “Find in a library near you” link in each citation and enter your zip code at the Open WorldCat search screen. The results of that search indicate all libraries in your area that own that particular title. Talk to your local librarian for assistance.

Christian Churches and National Socialism: General Reading

  • Conway, John. The Nazi Persecution of the Churches, 1933-45. New edition. Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1997 (first published in 1968). (BR856 .C67 1968) [Find in a library near you]

    Examines the Nazi German government’s relationship with the Christian churches, both Protestant and Catholic, by analyzing both government records and church archives. Includes endnotes, a bibliography, and an index. 

  • Ericksen, Robert P. and Susannah Heschel, eds. Betrayal: German Churches and the Holocaust. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1999. (DS146.G4 B49 1999) [Find in a library near you]

    Presents nine essays on aspects of the Protestant and Catholic churches in Nazi Germany. Examines key issues including Christian antisemitism, ecclesial responses to Nazism, and the role of key church leaders, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Pope Pius XII. Includes endnotes and an index. 

  • Helmreich, Ernst Christian. The German Churches under Hitler: Background, Struggle, and Epilogue. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1979. (BR856 .H443 1979) [Find in a library near you]

    Provides a detailed explanation of the religious landscape in Germany during the first half of the twentieth century. Covers the Protestant churches, the Catholic churches, the Free churches and other religious communities in chronological order. An excellent resource for understanding church-state relations in Germany. Includes endnotes, a bibliography, and an index. 

  • Paldiel, Mordecai. Churches and the Holocaust: Unholy Teaching, Good Samaritans, and Reconciliation. Jersey City, NJ: KTAV, 2005. (D804.65 .P353 2005) [Find in a library near you]

    Organized by country, it chronicles the Christian clergy (Protestant, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox) who have been recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. Includes endnotes, a bibliography, and an index. 

  • Steigmann-Gall, Richard. The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919-1945. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. (DD256.5 .S756 2003) [Find in a library near you]

    Analyzes the religious views of the Nazi elite and argues that many Nazis identified as Christian and viewed their movement as Christian. Discusses the Nazi concept of ‘positive Christianity.’ Includes footnotes, a bibliography, and an index. 

Protestant Churches and Leaders in Nazi Germany

Related Bibliographies and Resources

  • Barnett, Victoria. For the Soul of the People: Protestant Protest against Hitler. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. (BX4844.55.A4 B37 1992) [Find in a library near you]

    Draws on oral histories of Confessing Church members to present a history of the Confessing Church, which emerged within the German Protestant churches in 1934 in opposition to the pro-Nazi German Christian movement. Includes endnotes, a bibliography, and an index. 

  • Bergen, Doris. Twisted Cross: The German Christian Movement in the Third Reich. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1996. (BR856 .B398 1996) [Find in a library near you]

    Examines the pro-Nazi German Christian movement (Deutsche Christen), emphasizing the centrality of the movement and its longevity in church circles. Demonstrates the German Christians’ efforts to separate Christianity from its Jewish origins, and promote a ‘manly’ church. Includes endnotes, a bibliography, and an index. 

  • Bethge, Eberhard. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography. Revised Edition. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000. (BX4827 .B57 B43 2000) [Find in a library near you]

    A comprehensive biography of Protestant theologian and Confessing Church leader Dietrich Bonhoeffer, written by Bonhoeffer’s close friend and colleague. The revised edition was edited by Victoria Barnett and includes updates, corrections, and additional material. Includes endnotes, a chronology, and an index.

  • Ericksen, Robert P. Complicity in the Holocaust: Churches and Universities in Nazi Germany. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. (BR856 .E736 2012) [Find in a library near you]

    Demonstrates how many German church leaders and academics enthusiastically embraced Nazism and provided rationalizations that encouraged ordinary Germans to accept and participate in the regime’s policies. Includes footnotes, a bibliography, and an index.  

  • Gerlach, Wolfgang. And the Witnesses were Silent: The Confessing Church and the Jews. Trans. Victoria J. Barnett. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2000. (DS146.G4 G4813 2000 [Find in a library near you]

    An English translation of a study first published in 1987 by a German Protestant minister. Delving into a previously taboo subject, it documents anti-Jewish attitudes among Confessing Church leaders and the Confessing Church’s treatment of converts from Judaism. Includes endnotes, a glossary, and an index. 

  • Heschel, Susannah. The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009. (BR856 .H476 2008) [Find in a library near you]

    Examines the Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Religious Life, established in 1939 by a group of German Protestant theologians. Shows how the Institute became an important propaganda organ of German Protestantism as it redefined Jesus as an Aryan and promoted a Nazified Christianity that placed antisemitism at its center. Includes footnotes, a bibliography, and an index. 

  • Hockenos, Matthew D. A Church Divided: German Protestants Confront the Nazi Past. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2004. (BR856 .H685 2004)  [Find in a library near you

    Analyzes the German Protestant churches in the immediate years after the end of World War II. Explores the various ways that the churches tried to deal with the recent past, especially the legacy of the Church Struggle and complicity and guilt vis-à-vis the Nazi state.

  • Then They Came for Me: Martin Niemöller, the Pastor who Defied the Nazis. New York: Basic Books, 2018. (BX8080 .N48 H63 2018) [Find in a library near you]

    Offers a new biography of Protestant pastor Martin Niemöller, tracing his evolution from an early Nazi supporter to an opponent of the Nazi regime, and a complex and controversial postwar figure. Includes endnotes and an index. 

  • Probst, Christopher. Demonizing the Jew: Luther and the Protestant Church in Nazi Germany. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2012. (BX4844 .P743 2012) [Find in a library near you

    Examines the legacy of Martin Luther in Nazi Germany, particularly how Luther was used by theologians and pastors. It addresses a long-standing debate about the continuities and discontinuities of anti-Judaism and antisemitism in Germany and in Christian teachings.

  • Solberg, Mary, ed. A Church Undone: Documents from the German Christian Faith Movement, 1932-1940. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015. (BR856 .C588 2015 [Find in a library near you]

    Presents a selection of primary source documents of the German Christian movement in English translation. Also includes key responses by individuals critical of the German Christians, including Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Includes an introduction, a bibliography, and an index.

Catholic Churches in Nazi Germany

  • Brown-Fleming, Suzanne. The Holocaust and the Catholic Conscience: Cardinal Aloisius Muench and the Guilt Question in Germany, 1946-1959. South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2006. (BX4705 .M755 B76 2006) [Find in a library near you]

    Examines the role of Cardinal Aloisius Muench, an influential Vatican representative in postwar Germany. Argues that Muench helped legitimize the Catholic Church’s failure during the 1930s and 40s to confront its own complicity in Nazism’s anti-Jewish ideology. Includes endnotes, a bibliography, and an index.

  • Carroll, James. Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews: a History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001. (BM535 .C37 2001) [Find in a library near you]

    Chronicles the two-thousand-year history of the Catholic Church’s battle against Judaism, which the author describes as “the central tragedy of Western civilization.” Calls for a fundamental rethinking of the Christian faith. Includes a chronology, endnotes, a bibliography, and an index.

  • Connelly, John. From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933-1965. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012. (BM535 .C627 2012) [Find in a library near you]

    Examines the enormous shift in Catholic teaching about Judaism and the Jews that took place in 1965 at the Second Vatican Council. Includes endnotes and an index.

  • Griech-Polelle, Beth A. Bishop von Galen: German Catholicism and National Socialism. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002. (BX4705.G12 G75 2002) [Find in a library near you]

    Examines the life of Clemens August Graf von Galen, the Catholic Bishop of Münster from 1933 to 1946. Explores his opposition to Nazism, especially his 1941 sermons against the Nazi euthanasia program. Includes an appendix, endnotes, a bibliography, and an index. 

  • Hastings, Derek. Catholicism and the Roots of Nazism: Religious Identity and National Socialism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. (DD256.5 .H32523 2010) [Find in a library near you]

    Examines National Socialism’s early ties with Catholicism, focusing on the Catholic city of Munich. Demonstrates how Catholics played a central role in shaping the Nazi movement before the 1923 Beerhall Putsch. Includes endnotes, a bibliography, and an index.

  • Phayer, Michael. The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, 1930-1965. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2000. (BX1378 .P49 2000) [Find in a library near you]

    Explores Catholic attitudes and actions towards Jews before, during, and after the Holocaust across Europe, focusing on both Church institutions and individual Catholics. Includes endnotes, a bibliography, and an index. 

  • Spicer, Kevin P. Resisting the Third Reich: The Catholic Clergy in Hitler's Berlin. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2004. (BX1538.B4 S65 2004) [Find in a library near you]

    Employs a broad definition of resistance to study Catholic clergy in Berlin who engaged in everyday resistance to Nazism, including Bishop Konrad von Preysing and Monsignor Bernhard Lichtenberg. Includes endnotes, a bibliography, and an index. 

  • Hitler’s Priests: Catholic Clergy and National Socialism. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2008. (BX1536 .S65 2008) [Find in a library near you]

    Examines the Catholic priests in Nazi Germany (commonly referred to as “brown priests”) who participated in the Nazi movement and advocated that Catholicism was compatible with Nazism. Includes appendices, endnotes, a bibliography, and an index. 

The Vatican and the Pope

  • David Kertzer. The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe. New York: Random House, 2014. (BX1377 .K47 2014) [Find in a library near you

    Tells the story of these two influential leaders, comparing and contrasting their backgrounds, values, and leadership, as well as explaining how Pius XI played an important role in enabling Mussolini’s dictatorship. 

  • Kornberg, Jacques. The Pope’s Dilemma: Pius XII Faces Atrocities and Genocide in the Second World War. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017. (BX1378 .K67 2015) [Find in a library near you

    Provides a recent and balanced biography of Pope Pius XII. Argues that Pius XII was driven by the belief that his highest priority must be to preserve the authority of the church. Includes endnotes, a bibliography, and an index.

  • Wolf, Hubert. Pope and Devil: The Vatican's Archives and the Third Reich. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2012. (BX1536 .W64 2010) [Find in a library near you]

    Uses declassified documents in the Vatican archives to analyze the internal debates within the Vatican regarding the major intellectual and political issues of the modern world. Includes a chronology, endnotes, and an index. 

  • Ventresca, Robert. Soldier of Christ: The Life of Pope Pius XII. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2013. (BX1378 .V46 2013) [Find in a library near you]

    Presents a balanced biography of Pius XII that contextualizes his papacy in its World War II and Cold War contexts. Emphasizes his consistency and pragmatism. Includes endnotes and an index. 

  • Zuccotti, Susan. Under His Very Windows: The Vatican and the Holocaust in Italy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000. (DS135.I8 Z87 2000) [Find in a library near you]

    Considers the role of the Vatican and the Pope during the Holocaust in accessible prose for a general audience. Finds no evidence that the pope was involved in plans to rescue or shelter Jews. Includes endnotes and a bibliography. 

Other Christian Traditions in Germany during the Nazi era

Review the separate bibliography on Jehovah’s Witnesses for more recommendations.

  • Goossen, Benjamin W. Chosen Nation: Mennonites and Germany in a Global Era. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017. (BX8121.3 .G6677 2017) [Find in a library near you]

    Traces the fluid and shifting relationship between the global Mennonite church and Germany in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Focuses on Mennonite conceptions of nationalism and nationhood, especially during the period of National Socialism. Includes endnotes and an index.

  • Jantzen, Mark and John D. Thiesen, eds. European Mennonites and the Holocaust. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2021. [Find in a library near you]

    Explores Mennonite communities in the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, and Ukraine who lived in close proximity to various Nazi camps and forced labor and killing sites during the Holocaust. 

  • King, Christine. The Nazi State and the New Religions: Five Case Studies in Non-Conformity. New York: E. Mellen Press, 1982. (BR856 .K52 1982) [Find in a library near you]

    Examines five independent religious groups (also called ‘sects’ or ‘new religious movements’) in Nazi Germany: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Seventh-Day Adventists, Christian Science, and the New Apostolic Church. Discusses their strategies for survival and the Nazi’s policy toward sects. Includes 10 appendices, endnotes, a bibliography, and an index. 

  • Nelson, David Conley. Moroni and the Swastika: Mormons in Nazi Germany. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2015. (BX8617.G4 N45 2014) [Find in a library near you]

    Examines the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Germany during the National Socialist period. Situates the Mormon community in its transatlantic context and grapples with the postwar memory of Nazism in the Mormon community. Includes endnotes, a bibliography, and an index. 

  • Schmitt, Hans A. Quakers and Nazis: Inner Light in Outer Darkness. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1997. (DD256.5 .S3356 1997) [Find in a library near you]

    Discusses the small Quaker community in Germany during the Nazi period. Describes the many ways in Quakers opposed the Nazi regime, sought to help Jews, and interacted with Quaker communities in other countries. Includes endnotes, a bibliography, and an index. 

Other Christian Churches in Europe and the Ecumenical Movement during the Holocaust

  • Anastasakis, Panteleymon. The Church of Greece under Axis Occupation. New York: Fordham University Press, 2015. (BX618 .A515 2015) [Find in a library near you

    Recounts the experience of Greek clergy under Axis occupation during World War II (1941-44). Explains how the church played a central role in Greek society during the crisis, focusing especially on Archbishop Damaskinos of Athens. Includes endnotes, a bibliography, and an index.

  • Bank, Jan and Lieve Gevers. Churches and Religion in the Second World War. Trans. Brian Doyle. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016. (D810.C5 B3613 2016) [Find in a library near you]

    Investigates how the Churches in Europe navigated World War II, looking thematically at institutions, leaders, and individual believers. Considers the four main streams of Christianity in continental Europe: the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, and Calvinism. Includes endnotes, a bibliography, and an index.

  • Greble, Emily. Sarajevo, 1941-1945: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Hitler’s Europe. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011 (D766.62.S37 G74 2011) [Find in a library near you]

    Analyzes the population of Sarajevo under the Croatian Ustasha regime during World War II, focusing on the city’s complex mosaic of religious confessions and ethnic identities. Includes footnotes, a bibliography, and an index. 

  • Hanebrink, Paul A. In Defense of Christian Hungary: Religion, Nationalism, and Antisemitism, 1890-1944. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006. (DB955 .H34 2006) [Find in a library near you]

    Explores the role of Christianity in shaping Hungarian national identity after World War I, focusing on Christianity’s contribution to the rise of antisemitism. Includes footnotes, a bibliography, and an index.  

  • Moore, Bob. Survivors: Jewish Self-Help and Rescue in Nazi-occupied Western Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. (D804.6 .M663 2010) [Find in a library near you

    Included in a broader discussion of assistance to Jews in Western Europe are discussions of various Christian groups and networks, such as the Quakers, YMCA, Catholics, French Protestants, the Dutch-Paris group (Seventh-Day Adventists), and the Westerweel Group (Plymouth Brethren). Includes endnotes, a bibliography, and an index.

  • Popa, Ion. The Romanian Orthodox Church and the Holocaust. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2017. (BX693 .P67 2017) [Find in a library near you]

    Analyzes the role of the Romanian Orthodox church from 1938 to the present, highlighting its support of the antisemitic policies of the Romanian government and the church’s relationship with the Romanian Jewish population. Includes endnotes, a bibliography, and an index.

North American Christianity during the Holocaust

  • Davies, Alan and Marilyn F. Nefsky. How Silent Were the Churches? Canadian Protestantism and the Jewish Plight during the Nazi Era. Waterloo, Ont: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1998. (BM535 .D235 1997) [Find in a library near you]

    Discusses the Protestant denominations in Canada during the 1930s and 40s, focusing on their public stances on antisemitism, the Jewish refugee crisis, Nazism, and World War II. Includes endnotes, and an index. 

  • Mazzenga, Maria, ed. American Religious Responses to Kristallnacht. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. (DS134.255 .A64 2009) [Find in a library near you]

    Offers seven essays that examine how American Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and interfaith bodies responded to the news of Kristallnacht (November 1938) and the persecution of Jews in Germany and German-occupied Europe more broadly. Includes endnotes and an index.

  • Spitzer, Lee B. Baptists, Jews, and the Holocaust: The Hand of Sincere Friendship. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2017. (BX6237 .S65 2017) [Find in a library near you]

    Examines how Baptists in the United States responded to Nazism and the Nazi persecution of Jews. Includes discussion of the Northern Baptists, Southern Baptists, African American Baptists, and the Baptist World Alliance. Includes endnotes, a bibliography, and an index.  

  • Stone, Ronald H. and Matthew Lon Weaver, eds. Against the Third Reich: Paul Tillich’s Wartime Radio Broadcasts into Nazi Germany. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998. (D810.R33 T55 1998) [Find in a library near you]

    Presents translated transcripts from 55 radio addresses by Protestant theologian Paul Tillich, broadcast by Voice of America between 1942 and 1944. Topics include antisemitism, resistance to Nazism, and morality during wartime. Includes an index. 

Christians affected by Nazi Racial Laws (Non-Aryan Christians) 

  • Crane, Cynthia. Divided Lives: The Untold Story of Jewish-Christian Women in Nazi Germany. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2001. (DS135.G5 D59 2003) [Find in a library near you]

    Chronicles the experiences of Mischlinge—the children of mixed marriages in Nazi Germany—by presenting portraits of ten women who remained in Germany as Mischlinge. Includes notes, a bibliography, and an index.  

  • Dembowski, Peter E. Christians in the Warsaw Ghetto. South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005. (DS135.P62 W36355 2005) [Find in a library near you]

    Describes the experience of the 5,000 Christians of Jewish origin who lived in the Warsaw ghetto, including the presence of Christian churches. Combines memoir and historical analysis. Includes footnotes, a bibliography, and an index.  

  • Spicer, Kevin P. and Martina Cucchiara, eds. The Evil that Surrounds Us: The WWII Memoir of Erna Becker-Kohen. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2017. (DS134.42.B424 A3 2017) [Find in a library near you]

    Presents the translated wartime memoir of a German Catholic woman of Jewish heritage who was married to an ‘Aryan’ Catholic man. Introduced and annotated with endnotes. 

Film

Subject Headings

  • World War, 1939-1945—Jews—Rescue
  • Catholic Church—Germany—History—1933-1945
  • Christianity and antisemitism—History—20th century
  • Church and state—Germany—History—1933-1945