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Impact Of The Holocaust On Christian Jew Relations Religion Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Religion
Wordcount: 4155 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This essay will focus on several aspects. The first will consider the climate that lead to the war in the early years. It will go on to briefly discuss what occurred during the Holocaust, and majority of it will focus on how the Jews and Christians were affected between 1945 till the present day. In order for us to understand the relationship between Christian and Jews both during and post the holocaust, it is important to understand their relationship prior to the war. It is only then we can establish whether a change took place before or after. The holocaust affected Jews all across Europe, particularly in Germany, controlled by the Nazi government, and Poland, which was conquered by Germany in 1939. Poland was quite significant because it became one of the territories where the murder of Jews from all over Europe was carried out.

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The Nazi regime was founded by Hitler. He believed that the Jews were an ‘inferior race’ and were the main cause of the all the problems that has been occurring in Germany and Europe, particularly in the financial state of affairs. His ultimate plan was to remove the Jews from Europe by exterminating them. He did this by finding out who the Jews were and where they lived, and then transporting them like cattle into ghettoes and concentration camps such as Auschwitz. This is what is officially known as the Holocaust.

The foundations of prejudice against Jews can be traced as far back to the Crusades. During the Crusades Jews were massacred when Christian armies had captured Jerusalem, and here the first link between Christian and Jews is evident. As early as 1290, Jews had been forced to leave England but then during the reign of Cromwell there were a few that had moved into London. As a result of this in 1655 Jews had started to establish their own communities (Religion in History, pp226, K. H Holtschneider). Looking deeper into the history of Jews and Christians, there were clear problems as stated in Buber’s journal Der Jude which included articles by Jews on Christianity and Christians on Judaism. It was attempted to bring both faiths together but instead it lead to Christians refusing to recognize Judaism as a faith that could live along side Christianity (Mendes – Flohr, 1987, pg226 in Religion in History). Moving on from that time, it was in England during the 1650’s that there was another attempt to reconcile with Jews and this was needed because their conversion to Christianity was believed to be necessary prelude to Christ’s second coming. More significantly, this was a view that was beginning to be shared amongst other European countries from 1570 onwards and they started to consider whether or not they wanted to admit Jews. This persecution was still evident prior the Second World War in 1920 when Jewish immigrants in the USA became victims of the Klu Klux Klan, a racist organization that wanted to keep American society white and Christian protestant. (Susan Willoughby pg 6). In Europe, although originally Christian and Jewish relations struggled prior to the Second World War as they attempted to discover the truth in Christianity. However, this particular aspect of the troubled relationship between the two groups was not at the forefront of issues facing the relationship due to the humanitarian crisis that was being faced. (Religion in History, pg 226, Holtschneider).

During the war, the situation became very difficult for people living in Germany. With most of German society being against the Jewish people they also began to face the situation of having to avoid marrying Jews or to separate from their Jewish partners despite having been in long term marriages. Sources tell us that majority of Christians who were married to Jews stuck by their spouses even before they knew that they could save them through loyal acts (Holtschneider, Religion in History in pg 238, Barkai, 1998, pg 253).

It is important to note that Jews were not the only victims of Hitler’s Nazi Regime, with other victims including minority groups such as gypsies, homosexuals and those with mental or physical impairments. Regardless, this whole campaign of persecution and genocide was very significant in terms of its focus, scale and intensity. This is central to the relationship between Jews and Christians as it raises issues about the attitudes of the Christian because they were there to witness the Anti Semitic Jewish measures in the 1930’s and the deportations that were carried out in front of them. However, it is also argued that anyone in Germany who assisted Jews faced danger and this stopped any attempts to help. (Study Guide 5, pg 13) This attitude even went as a far as the, ‘separation of the Protestant churches into Christians of ‘German descent’ and Christians of Jewish decent’. Even though some Protestants did attempt to talk through religious issues with Jews this was started more often by Jews than by Christians.

At the end of the war and after the holocaust the options open to Jews as to where they should begin to rebuild their lives depended largely on their national identity before the war. Most Italians and French went back to Italy and France as they recognized their identity as linked with their country of origin. However, many Jews from Eastern Europe and Germany opted for emigration because they felt that their relationship with their homeland had been damaged (Herbert, Religion in History Pg.241). Many Jews went to the United States as refugees, but majority of Jewish displaced persons decided they would return to Israel and United States however the USA still had very strict rules about immigration as well as the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom was in fear of provoking the Arab people in Israel into fighting back. It was during this time that the newly independent State of Israel was formed and there were lots of preparations to nationally commemorate the holocaust. Furthermore during the war many countries had closed their borders to immigration. However, in spite of all these obstacles Jews were very keen to leave Europe as soon as possible.

It has been stated by Don Peretz, (Study Guide, pg 86) that “on 29th November 1947, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution requiring the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine. This recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their independence state is unassailable”. Yad Vashem is a museum which tells the story of the Holocaust that emphasizes practicing Zionism. This underlines the absolute need for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Despite this strong feeling the Jewish Christian relationship has not completely fallen apart and finds a place in with Righteous Gentiles whom of many are Christian. This is extremely important when examining the post war relations, because amongst all the fighting and violence between Jews and Christians during the war here is a ground to rebuild the relationship between them.

Creating the state of Israel in 1948 also had other effects on the Christian churches of the time. As Paul Van Buren states, “the shock of the horror at the Germans misdeeds against the Jewish people and the even greater theological shock of the existence of a Jewish state led to the first striking change in attitudes between Christians and Jews”(Study Guide pg 67). In order to trace these developments it is important to look at the reaction of the Protestant churches in Germany. Their church leaders were the first to admit that and condemn the Nazi horror that had taken place in Europe. It was in October 1945 that their churches released an official Stuttgart declaration of guilt, which stated how sorry they were that they did not stand up to the Nazi regime more forcefully. It took a long time for the church to accept this and this was largely due to the fact that the sufferings of the Jews were blamed on secular forces within Europe. This misplaced the blame, looked upon the Nazi regime as a, ‘sinister impact of global anti-Semitism’ were all seen as a result of modern secular man. (Study Guide, pg 67, John S Conway).

On the other hand the Catholic Church was deeply implicated in the anti-Semitic violence against the Jews. The representative Jews did nothing to stop the political propaganda, and furthermore they even went as a far as supporting the politicians and the campaign (Mendelsohn, 1983, Religion in History, 228, K. Hannah Holtschneider,). To look into this further Ronald Modras carried out a survey of Catholic attitudes towards Jews and their religion in the 1920’s and 1930’s prior to the War. What he found was that there was an increase in anti-Semitic attitudes in the Catholic community. This was because in Germany the Jews were seen as representatives of secularism and therefore definitely anti catholic, and this was the start of when racial ideas began to infiltrate catholic communities, particularly in regards to allowing Jewish converts to Catholicism. Other Catholics also considered emigration, and this happened through boycotting Jewish business which would reduce Jewish income alongside supporting Zionism. (Religion in History, pg 229, K. Hannah Holtschneider).

The Jewish communities had been destroyed by the Holocaust. The last Vatican II since 1960 have bought Jews together. As mentioned in Religion in History, pg 243, K. Hannah Holtschneider) “These conversations are mainly Christian’s initiatives-a reversal of the prewar Christian-Jewish dialogues in Germany”. The outcome of the Holocaust has moved to the western world especially in the U.K and U.S. Europe had millions of homeless refugees after the war. Many Holocaust survivors were German DPs (displaced persons) who were not German or Jewish, some survivors returned to Poland, the majority decided to emigrate to the U.S or Israel. (Religion in History, pg 243, K. Hannah Holtschneider). Furthermore the Vatican authorities were not ready to admit the failures of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust.

On the territory of Auschwitz concentration camp, where numerous polish Catholics were executed, sparked a controversy in 1984. Auschwitz had become a symbol of terror, genocide and the Holocaust. The direct reason for the establishment of the camp was the fact that mass arrests of Poles were increasing beyond the capacity of existing “local” prisons. Initially, Auschwitz was to be one more concentration camp of the type that the Nazis had been setting up since the early 1930s”Whether sites of Jewish and non-Jewish suffering in particular in Poland-such as different parts of the Auschwitz concentration camp- can be shared by Christians and Jews in commemoration, remains controversial” (Religion in History Pg 244, K. Hannah Holtschneider). This shows that Auschwitz has become a site for remembrance and therefore reconciliation point for Christian and Jews after the Holocaust.

There was also heated discussion over the Nostra Aetate because the church reaffirmed the deep spiritual bond between Christian and Jews “within God’s loving plan for the redemption of the world” Study guide pg71. This document clearly condemns any type anti-Semitism against Jews, particularly Christian anti-Judaism, for example the band ‘deicide’ which had contributed to popular propaganda against the Jews. Therefore in light of other research it is stressed that Christian are indebt to Jews and now it is even more important ” to understand the relationship of the two faith as a positive and reciprocal one, touching upon the same spiritual realities and most often serving to illuminate each other” study guide pg 72.

The Eichmann trial provoked international interest, bringing Nazi violence to the forefront of world news. Testimonies of Holocaust survivors, especially those of ghetto fighters, generated interest in Jewish resistance. The trial prompted a new openness in Israel, many Holocaust survivors felt able to share their experiences as the country challenged this trauma. “Following this Arbeitsgemeinschaft of the biennial German Protestant Church Rally received widespread support and demonstrated a growing in interest in Christian-Jewish relations” (Study Guide pg 68). This had then led to Rhineland Synod which was a statement that was recognized by other Protestant communities. In this they talked about the Holocaust as a key factor that helped start a new relationship between the church and the Jewish people. As stated in the study guide pg 68 “Four factors, the authors claimed, had bought the church to this realization: the recognition of Christian co-responsibility and guilt for the Holocaust ; the new Biblical insights learned during the Church struggle about the continuing significance of the Jewish people within the history of God; the acknowledgement that the continuing existence of the Jewish people, its return to the land of Promise, and the foundation of the state of Israel are signs of the faithfulness of God toward his people ; and the willingness of Jews, in spite of the Holocaust , to engage in encounter, common study and cooperation”

As mentioned in Chapter 8 religion in History that after the holocaust there were many post war developments in the Christian – Jewish relationship, and thus many conversations took place that have shaped the attitudes that religious Jews and Christians have taken towards the Holocaust and the relations prior to Hitler’s rule. This has come about through Christian remorse for a longstanding anti Semitism that has been allowed to prevail. This is significant because Christian anti Semitism was seen as the ground work of racist anti Semitism, which gained strength post 1870. The conversations that took place between Jews and Christians largely adopted a stance that looked at their relationship from an anti Semitic perspective, leading to all the research and theory into the histories of Christian and Jewish relations ending in the Holocaust. There have been other perspectives of looking at Jewish and Christian relations before and after the Holocaust. Needless to say these have had an impact on how to conceptualize the relationship after the war.

After the war in 1947 on the 29th of November, the United Nations adopted a resolution which stated that there was a need to establish a Jewish state. (Study Guide, pg 87). This was because many Jewish people who had survived the war felt as though it was in their right to have a Jewish homeland. In fact, Zionists made a flag for the State of Israel which they were pressurizing the Allies to set up in Palestine. (Jane Shuter, pg. 31). Since then there has been lots of persecution in Europe, including the growing development of European nationalism. However, some non religious Jews took advantage of this and saw this as an opportunity to become active in promoting a land for the Jews. Having said that, there are some Evangelical Christian, as well as some fundamentalist Protestants, who are strongly pro Zionist because they view the returning of the Jews to Palestine as a sign of the second-coming of the Christ. However since the Intifada, there has been lots of sympathy from mainstream western Christians towards Palestinians. Although, eastern Christianity has not been affected so much by the Holocaust there is hardly any sympathy for Zionism. (Religion in History pg 261, J Wolffe).

It has been widely acknowledged that Christians have held Jews responsible for the death of Jesus. It is because of this and also centuries of anti Semitism that Hitler’s views and hatred was passionately echoed in the Third Reich. However, this inheritance of faith should in fact motivate Christians and Jews not to leave their faith despite the atrocities that took place during the holocaust. Those who survived still have that faith. This is an important point and influences post holocaust movements as the establishment of the state of Israel was seen as a part of a determination to keep the faith and survive. Ultimately, this was an attempt to make the world a place where Jews can still honour god. Furthermore, according to study guide 5, into the after affects of the holocaust, there was growing conflict in Palestine between the Jews and the Arabs. Therefore it was even more important to make sure that all the Jewish people were united so that they could establish the State of Israel.

However, since the Second World War it is very understandable that Jews up until this day and age have had difficulty in viewing Christians and their faith in a positive light. However, attempts to achieve this have been achieved through emphasizing the complexity of what occurred in the Christian community during Nazi Germany and the way that anti Judaism became the foundation for anti Semitism. However, after World War Two there were different types of thinking from Jews on how to rebuild this relationship, and ultimately how they have struggled to come to a positive understanding of Christianity.

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Coming back post war analysis of the Jewish and Christian relationship, in recent years, there have been considerable changes within the religious dimension of both this groups. It is necessary to separate race from religion as it can have a significant impact on how both groups viewed the holocaust and their reactions to it. In the Good Friday prayer it has been clearly stated that, ‘we see not a gradual evolution but a dramatic change’. Furthermore, the Church of England Prayer Books have also clearly stated that, “Have mercy upon all Jews, Turks, infidels and heretics’. It is because of this that now churches that hold services during Lent, Holy Week and Easter now officially contain a prayer:

Let us pray for God’s ancient people, the Jews,

the first to hear his word-

for greater understanding between Christian and Jew

for the removal of our blindness and bitterness of heart

that God will grant us grace to be faithful to his covenant

and to grow in the love of his name

(After the Evil – Introduction page 6 , (2003,Harries Richard)

This is an important change that has occurred as it shows progress has been made since the holocaust, between the Christian and Jews relationship. The religious members are now actively looking for means to reconcile their relationship in a positive manner.

Despite these positive claims there have been negative approaches towards dealing with the great tragedy. The term Holocaust is referred to by Jews as Shoah and it shocked the Christian Churches when Jews asked very open and searching questions about its responsibility of what happened in the Holocaust. In fact Jewish scholars such as Norman Solomon stated that he, “objected to Christianity’s new relationship to Judaism being built upon a sense of guilt”. There are scholars who fully back this view up and also continue to emphasize that after the war Christianity’s relationship with Judaism should be built upon the fact that the Jewish religion, Judaism is a significant and living religion and that a relation should be built upon respect for this fact (page 10, After the Evil, 2003, Harries Richard)

There are many Jews who have decided to rebuild the relationship, by once again looking at the positive side of Christianity during the war. This side of Judaism looks at the ‘Righteous Gentiles’ in the holocaust. These were individuals who tried to help Jews and give them honour in a special way. According to historical sources, it is extremely important to do this and very sad there is no emphasis on this in all the memorabilia and in the museums. It is said that humanity needs good role models, and that if we missed this people out people would come away thinking very biased views about Christianity and the Christians during that time. In light of this, there is a whole section in a Museum in Israel that is dedicated to the ‘Righteous Gentiles’. This is also significant in helping to rebuild the relationship between Christians and Jews as it shows that at the height of all the tragedy there were good Christians who were willing to risk their own life to help the Jews. (page 10, After the Evil, 2003, Harries Richard) This can offer another basis on which to reconcile broken relationships between Christians and Jews.

By looking at the post war relationship between Christians and Jews it is very important to distinguish between Anti Judaism and Anti Semitism. Anti Semitism was only focused upon a hatred for the Jews as a race and this was developed further into modern thinking during the nineteenth century when there was lots of theories about race being published. However, Anti Judaism is quite significantly different because this is a hatred and hostility that is aimed at the religion. It was quoted by Gavin Langmuir, who stated that Geoffrey Alderman had strongly argued that the difference of anti Judaism and Anti Semitism merged together in the twelfth century and the difference became blurred. This occurred exactly at the time when Western Christianity started to become undermined by self doubt. (Geoffrey Alderman, ‘Anti Judaism and Anti-Semitism’, Jewish Journal of Sociology. 33/2 (Dec. 1991). Regardless of whether this historical source is true or now, it is important to make a clear distinction between what Anti Judaism is and what happened during the Third Reich under Hitler’s power. According to the Oxford Companion to Christian Though (OUP, 2000, pg 16) the question to really ask here is how much of the Anti Judaism in the churches past, including, “centuries- long teaching of contempt, prepared the ground and dulled people’s hearts and minds, so that anti-Semitism could take hold with so little resistance in the population as a whole” and how much of this contributed to the passive resistance by the Christian community as the events of the holocaust unfolded. It is here we can see why anti Semitism and anti Judaism have merged together and why there is difficulty in establishing a positive relationship between Christians and Jews in this day and age.

In the present day, there was a very first Holocaust Memorial day in Britain 2001. Before this happened there was great debate amongst society about whether this should focus on just the holocaust or consider other genocides that have occurred in the twentieth centuries. The Jewish community in particular was very unhappy about focusing just on the holocaust and singling them out in such a manner. They wanted to be seen as a part of a bigger problem in the world. Nevertheless it is so important to remind the world about these terrible incidents and the scale at which it happened. It was not simply a loss of lives on a huge scale but an entire population which had a different lifestyle and culture. (Harries Richard 2003, pp21, After the Evil). Grieving for this loss is a huge dimension but the role of the people during the time is even more significant, particularly Christianity and the churches. In fact witnesses recount what occurred during the war. One particular incident that stands out in (After the Evil, Harries Richard 2003) is of a Catholic mother appealing for her son, to not do anything for fear of being persecuted. She specifically told him that god would help him not do anything bad. The son stood by and watched many Jews die – including children. These accounts show the fear that prevailed during the time, and how religion played a part in how Christians reacted during the Holocaust.

Overall throughout the centuries, Jews have experienced much persecution. The Holocaust is one of pain and suffering on a massive scale, and shows how damaging hatred and prejudice can be. There is still ongoing conflict between Christians and Jews, and since the Holocaust it is very different to the conflict that occurred between these two religions. Previously, disagreements have occurred about existing side by side and creating a national and religious identity. Now, the conflict is outside of any of these ideas and now their relationship is largely discussed in reference to the holocaust. These discussions are mainly about the ways in which Christians dealt with Jews, and now is seen as a major moral issue. Any reflections that are made regarding the Christian/Jewish relationship have to be made carefully, keeping in mind that it will always be a moral issue. (Religon in History, pg245, Herbert).


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