Colin Barnes' book They Conspire Against Your People: The European Churches and the Holocaust was recently published by King's Divinity Press and the Centre for Jewish-Christian Studies. In this interview with KEDS Principal Calvin Smith he explains what the book is about and discusses related issues.
Tell us something about your background, ministry, and so on.
I was born in Australia, but spent the first few years of my life in England, as my father worked for the Australian government. Later we also lived in Germany for three years. Both my parents were Christian (my father died many years ago). It was a happy and Godly family.
I was fortunate to have read the works of David Baron and Adolph Saphir at an early age, and God used these and the prophetic writings of Old Testament to share with me his love for his everlasting people. My wife, Heather and I worked in Israel for five years until ill-health forced us to return to Australia, where I undertook theological studies. More recently, we spent seven years in northern Pakistan as house-parents at Murree Christian School.
You've written a book which is being published by King's Divinity Press. Explain a little bit about what your book about and its main findings.
The book They Conspire against Your People examines how the European churches responded to the genocide of European Jewry. It attempts to be both comprehensive, looking at the Catholic and Protestant churches across Europe, and systematic, viewing the Holocaust as a progression from vilification to boycotts and exclusions, deportations, ghettoization and finally genocide. At each stage of that progression, the book examines both the church precedents to it, and the responses of the churches across Europe to that stage of the Nazi policy.
The book finds that across the vast majority of the European land mass, the churches functioned as a John the Baptist figure for the Holocaust. They prepared the way for it, and made its actual implantation more possible. Obviously, this conclusion is unbearable.
Where and when did you complete this research?
The book is an expansion of the thesis of my MTh, which was awarded in 2006 from Morling College, Sydney, and the Australian College of Theology. My supervisors were Professor Konrad Kwiet, Emeritus Professor in German and European Studies at Macquarie University and former chief historian of the Australian war crimes commission, Adjunct Professor in Jewish Studies and Roth Lecturer in Holocaust and resident historian at the Sydney Jewish Museum, and Dr Graeme Chatfield of Morling College. Continuing struggles to find a Christian publisher did mean that a significant amount of continuing research was able to be incorporated into the manuscript during the intervening years, although living in Pakistan did make this more difficult.
How did this research originally come about? What made you want to explore this topic?
As someone committed to evangelism among the Jewish people, I started coming across snippets of information concerning the church’s failures during the Holocaust, and of Christian anti-Semitism in general. I found these shocking, and also difficult to track down. I would find bits here and there, but no single source putting them all together in a comprehensive and systematic way that would enable me to start making sense of it. I have read that you write the book you wanted to read, and it was that way with me.
I understand you approached various publishers who expressed little enthusiasm in the subject matter of the book. Explain a bit about that and why you think they were not interested.
All publishers approached declined to take it further. I was insistent on it being a Christian publisher as I wanted Christians to read it, and because I also wanted any Jewish people who read it to see that Christians were taking this sin seriously, and so show repentance to them, rather than simply attacking the church. As to why none of these publishers showed any interest, my conclusion is that they did not think that a book which convicted the churches of sin would be a profitable proposition.
What was the most shocking thing you discovered in your research?
On almost every page, terrible things are written. To take a few from both sides of the confessional divide; on March 13, 1943 the Vatican was informed by their representatives in Britain and Turkey of a British offer to allow 2,000 Jewish children to immigrate to Palestine, and “imploring” for their help in obtaining the necessary visas for them. Both telegrams specifically mentioned Slovakia, which was a Nazi ally, headed by a Catholic priest, and was known to be determined to deport its remaining Jews to Poland. The British offer would therefore allow this state to still deport its Jews, but would at the same time save their lives. The Vatican waited nearly two months to respond to this offer, and then it stated simply that "Palestine under a Jewish majority … would displease Catholics throughout the world.” They then wrote to Washington to alert both the American president and the American bishops of this opposition to Jews living in Palestine. That is, their response to an attempt to save Jewish children was to oppose it. Equally, in both Poland and Hungary, Catholic bishops ordered Jewish children found to be sheltering in Catholic orphanages to be thrown out, while an official pastoral letter written by the head of the Catholic Church in Hungary about the deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz stated “we lodge no protest against the eradication of their undesirable influence. On the contrary, we would like to see it disappear.”
On the Protestant side, in December 1941 seven regional churches in Germany issued a statement demanding that the Jews be expelled from Germany. Six days later, the German Evangelical Church Chancellery expelled Jewish Christians from within the Evangelical Church. Just after Kristallnacht, Heinrich Gruber wrote of the despair among Germany’s Jews, many of whom were committing suicide due to the violence and utter abandonment of society at large; “The great number of people who are committing suicide these days stand before the Christians not only of Germany, but of the whole world with their laments and their accusations. Whenever a suicide is brought to my knowledge, I am reminded of the lament of Martha at the grave of Lazarus: ‘If you had been here sir, my brother would not have died.’”
Why do you think this research is relevant to Evangelical Christians today?
This book is about Christian sin and Jewish suffering. The first response to such is simply grief. There is a time for silence. Only after such a time should theological reflection, as an act of repentance and of “never again” be undertaken. There is something deeply unpleasant about using Jewish suffering solely to tidy up our own theology. As a genuine expression of grief, however, theological reflection is vital. The European churches were acting from their own theological understanding during the Holocaust, and the Holocaust itself condemns such understanding. Of equal importance, the Holocaust remains a genuine stumbling block to Christian outreach to Jewish people. Most Christians are confused by this, and this book is written to help them understand why this is indeed an issue.
To what extent do you think there are some in the Church today who are making the same mistakes towards the Jewish people in their views of Israel and the Middle East?
This is an important question. For over 1,800 years, the Christian Church persecuted the dispersed Jew to prove that they were under God’s punishment, and that the Church was therefore rightly in possession of their blessings. That persecution culminated in the Holocaust, where the true depths of its evil were revealed. Today, there is a growing movement within many churches to demonize and persecute the ingathered Jew, the nation of Israel. It is here that we see the extent to which post-Holocaust theology has failed, and that the same unconfessed doctrines are still at work. The ingathered Jew, however represents a much greater threat to the church than the dispersed Jew ever did. The dispersed Jew was just that, scattered, without a land or home, manifestly not enjoying God’s blessing. As the Authorised Jewish Daily Prayer Book says; “Have pity on us O Lord in the land of our captivity.” The ingathered Jew, again dwelling in their own land, speaking their own language, described by many secular commentators as a ‘modern miracle’ is clearly a far sharper threat to a doctrine that says God has rejected them in favor of the church. If your doctrines state that God is finished with the Jewish people as a people, then the re-establishment of Israel is a major problem for you. ‘It is just coincidence’ is a manifestly inadequate response, and they must be shown to be evil to prove that God cannot be in this. And so the same pattern of demonization (they are Nazis, an Apartheid state, no description is too foul), exclusions and boycotts (BDS) etc has already begun. For the sake of our own souls as well as those of Israel, this must be opposed.
Is it possible to draw a parallel between the boycotts of Jewish businesses in the Nazi era and the current BDS movement against Israeli products and services? In what ways are both examples of boycotts similar and also different?
The boycott of Jewish businesses and exclusion of Jewish students in Poland, Hungary and elsewhere during the inter-war years was initiated and led by the Catholic and Protestant Churches. The boycott in Poland was officially supported by Cardinal Hlond, and was a constant theme in the Catholic press. Their Maly Dziennik regularly spoke of the "moral obligation” of Catholics to boycott Jewish business. The banner over its advertisements read: “A Pole buys only from other Poles.” Everything from razor blades (“lets not allow ourselves to be shaved by the enemy”) to school supplies were mentioned, while Christian merchants “did not have a moral right to work together quietly with Jews.” Indeed, it would be a “sin against church and country” to buy from a Jew. A synod of Polish bishops resolved in 1937 to demand that Jewish children be segregated in schools, and that Jews be prohibited from teaching Polish children. In 1938, the official Catholic daily recommended Germany as a role model for how Catholic Poland should treat its Jews. Indeed, an official boycott of Jews would be needed if Poland was to “renew all things in Christ.”
The parallels with the present BDS movement are clear, with the boycott of Israeli businesses and exclusion of Israeli academics etc. The primary difference is that BDS is directed primarily against the ingathered Jew (and, increasingly, any who would stand with them). Proponents of it such as Ben White would also stress that BDS is moral, while the earlier discriminations were not. The problem with this is that all the earlier manifestations likewise defined themselves as moral and profoundly Christian (aimed to “renew all things in Christ” etc.). Indeed, the measures were continually described as “defensive measures” against a “Jewish invasion.” This is essentially the same language as that used by today’s BDS movement. Now it is virtuous to boycott, disinvest and sanction the Jewish State. Mainstream church leaders who advocate this do so utterly convinced of their own righteousness and feel morally superior because they are persecuting the ingathered Jew. The similarities are simply overwhelming.
A final concern is that the churches never viewed these exclusions and boycotts as sufficient in themselves, and always moved beyond them to advocate further anti-Jewish measures, such as ghettoization and deportation.
I gather you spent some time in Israel. Tell us a little bit about that and how that may have shaped your general theological views (if at all).
I loved living in Israel. It was not easy, but was intensely rewarding. I taught in Jerusalem for four years, and in Jaffa for one. We also helped out in an outreach ministry three nights a week. Our first two children were born there. Theologically, I would say it confirmed my earlier beliefs, that God still loves this people (Romans 9), that they desperately need Jesus, and Christians who will witness to them because they love them with the love of God (Romans 10), and finally, that their journey is not over, and we long for the day when all Israel will be saved (Romans 11).
In closing, share with our readers why you think it is important for them to read your book.
James 1 states that “sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” This book shocks us with the consequences of a sin which is caused, not combatted by Christianity as it was practiced in Europe. In that shock we are given the chance to repent, to turn from false doctrines, energised to make sure we do not again become deceived by Satan. We are given the opportunity to grieve, and to realize anew that the church is only the body of Jesus when it renounces worldly security and is ready at every moment to lay down its life, its institutions and its reputation for others. Are we ready to take up our own cross and follow Jesus?
Colin, many thanks for your time.
FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE BOOK HERE.