They Conspire Against Your People: The European Churches and the Holocaust
by Colin Barnes
Broadstairs, Kent: King's Divinity Press and the Centre for Jewish-Christian Studies, 2014. x + 432 pages. Paperback. RRP 15.99 GBP
WHAT THIS BOOK IS ABOUT
This book explores the extent to which the European churches and their theology contributed to a mindset that permitted the genocide of six million Jews during the Holocaust. Were the Catholic and Protestant churches of Europe rescuers, bystanders or facilitators?
What emerges in this historical study is a commonality of word and deed, with the evidence indicating that Christianity in Europe was surprisingly united across time, space and sectarian divides in its view of the Jewish people. The Holocaust was a progression of increasingly lethal measures: vilification, boycotts, deportation, ghettoization, and finally, mass murder.
With the exception of the latter, these stages repeated the pattern of the European churches’ own Jewish policy in the centuries and years leading up to the Holocaust. This pre-existing pattern, based on the theological view of punitive supersessionism (that God had punished the Jews and replaced them with Christianity as his new people), proved decisive in determining the European churches' responses to the unfolding Nazi programme.
Especially important is this study's treatment of Protestant perceptions of the Jewish people. To the absolute extent of church precedent, Nazi policy was supported by both Catholics and Protestants. There was some discontinuity, centring on questions of definition (were Jews defined by race or religion) and final solutions, conversion or genocide.
Yet this proved largely irrelevant; the churches never viewed their converts as a bridge to aiding the wider Jewish community, while the cumulative effect of support for all earlier Nazi Jewish policies left the churches morally incapable of opposing genocide. Instead they opted for a guilty, deliberate silence.
This systematic investigation of the responses of the churches to the unfolding progression of the Holocaust across European country after country concludes that the presence and theology of the Christian churches in Europe aided the Holocaust.
Much has been written about the role of the European churches in the Jewish Holocaust. However, in this volume, Colin Barnes lucidly surveys and summarizes the various responses of the churches to Nazi regime and its policies towards European Jewry. Barnes shows us how blinded the churches were to their own prejudices and how few came forward to oppose the persecution of the Jewish people. It is a sober reminder about the dangers of conforming religious beliefs to political manifestos. A great place to begin a study of European churches in the Second World War.
Dr Michael Bird
Lecturer in Theology, Ridley College, Melbourne
Here is a powerful, incontrovertible, meticulous indictment of the involvement of European Christianity with anti-Judaism and the Holocaust. For any Christian unacquainted with this shameful legacy, Colin Barnes' unveiling here, of the contemporary fruit of Augustinianism, will be a painful experience indeed. Yet this pain needs to be felt today more than ever as Anti-Semitism revives and so many Christians buy into unbiblical replacement theology. Here is laid bare the product of bad eschatology. I do pray this work will have wide, soul awakening circulation.
Dr Barry E. Horner
Author of Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged
Colin Barnes is to be congratulated for his comprehensive and compelling account of the long relationship between the Church and the Jews. He charts a clear path through turbulent periods in which anti-Jewish clichés and stereotypes emerged, to be transmitted into the Christian communities, and even to be integrated into the teaching and beliefs of the Church.
Dr Konrad Kwiet
Pratt Foundation Professor in Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies, University of Sydney
Interview with Colin Barnes about his book