The Legacy of a Nazi Church (The Atlantic)


A group that includes an imam, a rabbi, and a minister plans to build a multi-faith prayer space atop the ruins of St. Peter’s Church in Berlin, but critics say the group is ignoring the site’s “horrific past,” The Atlantic writes.

Noted German historian Manfred Gailus has brought attention to the site’s history, says the magazine, including the notoriously anti-Semitic pastor of the church during the 1940s, Walter Hoff, and his role in the Holocaust.

Gailus’ academic colleague, Professor of Religion Susannah Heschel, who holds the Eli Black Professorship in Jewish Studies at Dartmouth, corroborates Gailus’ view of the pastor. Heschel tells the magazine, “Up until the 1980s, when American historians started to investigate the role of German churches in National Socialism, German church historians only focused on the resistance movement. Their story was that the Church was opposed to Hitler. And it wasn’t. Some members opposed Hitler, but many did not—many pastors actively backed Hitler.”

Heschel and other scholars say that St. Peter’s should serve as a model for other German churches to investigate their pasts, reports The Atlantic. Heschel tells the magazine that without knowing what occurred in the past, “there is no change in people’s minds. Moreover, it shouldn’t be in the hands of rabbis or imams or academics from the United States to point all this out. Nor should a distinguished social historian like Manfred Gailus have to point this out. The church itself should point it out! Why wouldn’t they want to do that? Why wouldn’t they just admit, ‘Yes, there were Nazis in this church. But now we repudiate that.’ That would be the act of moral courage.”

Read the full story, published 10/21/13 by The Atlantic.

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