Of Collective Security: An Interview with Michael Jabara Carley

Michael Jabara Carley is a specialist in 20th century international relations and the history of Russia and the Soviet Union. His research focuses on the Soviet Union’s relations with Western Europe and the United States during the years 1917 and 1945. This research has come together in a three-volume study, first of which, entitled, Stalin’s Gamble: The Search for Allies against Hitler, 1930–1936, will be published by the University of Toronto Press.

He is the author of 1939: The Alliance That Never Was and the Coming of World War II, Silent Conflict: A Hidden History of Early Soviet-Western Relations, and Une Guerre sourde: l’émergence de l’Union soviètique et les puissances occidentales.

Professor Carley has also written many essays on French intervention in the Russian Civil War (1917-1921), on Soviet relations with the Great Powers between the two world wars, on questions of “appeasement,” the origins and conduct of the Second World War, and on major current issues. He is a Professor of history at the University of Montreal. It is a great pleasure and honor to discuss his work with him in this interview.

The Postil (TP): You have written a trilogy on the Great Patriotic War, that is the Second World War as experienced by Soviet Union. The first part of this magisterial study will be published soon. What is your overall aim?

Michael Jabara Carley (MJC): My trilogy, as I call it, deals with the origins and early conduct of the Second World War and the Great Patriotic War (Velikaia Otechestvennaia voina). The VOV is the name given to the war in Soviet and Russian history arising from the German invasion of the USSR on 22 June 1941. My work runs from January 1930 to December 1941. My project was first entitled “A Near-run Thing: The Improbable Grand Alliance of World War II,” supported by an “Insight” research grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. My initial objective was to write a narrative history of how the USSR, Britain, and the United States, powers hostile to each other during the interwar years, became allies against Nazi Germany and the Axis. The work evolved from an envisioned single volume into three dealing with Soviet relations with the great and lesser European powers and the United States.

Michael J. Carley.

TP: Is there a difference between a Western historiography of WWII and a Russian one?

MJC: Oh yes, the difference is enormous. During the war, it was clear to all who had eyes to see that the Red Army played the key role in smashing the Nazi Wehrmacht and winning the war in Europe. The United States and Britain played supporting roles. After 1945 the war became an important object of propaganda in the Cold War. The new narrative was that the United States or Churchill single-handedly won the war in which the USSR was practically invisible.

In the western media, histories, iconography, Hollywood films, comic books, more recently video games, the Red Army is invisible. The key moment in the war was operation Overlord, the Normandy landings, when in fact, they were an anticlimax, grand to be sure, in a war whose outcome had already been determined by the Red Army. In the context of the Cold War, it was normal that the United States would seek in various ways to rub out the memories of the Soviet role in the war, for otherwise how could you portray the USSR as a menacing communist enemy.

TP: Would you tell us about the other two volumes in the trilogy?

MJC: Volume 1: Stalin’s Gamble: The Search for Allies against Hitler, 1930–1936, explores the Soviet Union’s efforts to organize a defensive alliance against Nazi Germany, in effect rebuilding the anti-German Entente of the First World War.

Volume 2: Stalin’s Failed Grand Alliance: The Struggle for Collective Security, 1936-1939 covers the period from May 1936 to August 1939. These were the last three years of peace in Europe during which occurred the great crises of the pre-war period (the Spanish civil war, Anschluss and the Munich sellout of Czechoslovakia) and the last Soviet efforts to organise an anti-Nazi alliance.

Volume 3: Stalin’s Great Game: War and Neutrality, 1939-1941 covers the first phase of the war in Europe, notably the disappearance of Poland, the Winter War between the USSR and Finland, the fall of France, the battle of Britain, and the Nazi build-up and invasion of the USSR. All this occurs within the broader framework of Soviet diplomacy and intelligence operations and Stalin’s failures to interpret correctly the signs of Hitler’s intention to destroy the Soviet Union.

TP: Your work has focused on Russian archival records. Were there any surprises, which made you rethink your position(s)?

MJC: My work has focused on Russian archival sources and western archival sources (inter alia French, British, US, etc.). The Russian sources indicate—and this will be a surprise for some people—that Soviet foreign policy as conducted by the Commissariat for foreign affairs (NKID) functioned like that of any other foreign ministry. It sought to define and protect Soviet national interests, as perceived by the NKID, and promoted amongst the Soviet leadership, especially in the Politburo (in effect the Soviet cabinet), which over time became synonymous with a single person, Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin. In the 1920s this meant seeking to improve political and economic relations with the main western powers. No country was too small to escape NKID attention and wooing. In the 1930s it meant seeking to build an anti-Nazi alliance to contain Hitlerite Germany or to defeat it in war if containment failed. The first generation of Soviet diplomats were well-educated (or self-taught), multilingual, sophisticated, and good at their jobs.

So? What is so surprising about these “discoveries?” Several generations of western historians have maintained that Soviet foreign policy was made by the Communist International or Comintern and intended to pursue world socialist revolution and not the protection of Soviet national interests. These did not exist. My previous book Silent Conflict deals with the complicated interaction of the NKID, Comintern, Stalin, and the Politburo in the 1920s. Suffice it to say that traditional western historiography requires revision based on the study of Russian archives. We now have histories before the opening of Soviet archives and histories after their opening.

TP: The Soviet era is largely dominated by Joseph Stalin. Are there aspects about him that are ignored or misconstrued by Western historians?

MJC: People have been writing books about Stalin since the interwar years. His recent biographer Stephen Kotkin reminds us that he was a “human being.” He was that, but of course human beings can also be serial killers. Stalin was what he was, amongst other things, crude, cynical, vengeful, murderous. He placed little value on human life and freely dispensed with it.

In the realm of foreign policy, he had a more or less normal relationship with the NKID and its leadership until the purges. In the 1930s his principal NKID interlocutor was Maksim M. Litvinov, the commissar or narkom for foreign affairs. Stalin’s interactions with Litvinov were those of a head of government with his/her foreign minister. There was give and take on both sides, but most of the time until 1939 Stalin supported Litvinov’s policy recommendations. Not always but most of the time. It is a “normal” side of Stalin that we sometimes miss because of his ruthlessness and the purges.

TP: In the years leading up to WWII, how did the West view, or understand, Stalin and Soviet Russia? And, likewise, how did Stalin view the West?

MJC: The “west” did not have a uniform view of Stalin. There was the mainstream media view of him as bloodthirsty communist. In some government circles, in the British Foreign Office, for example, he was perceived as a ruthless “realist” looking to secure his own power. Western iconography, political posters, cartoons, etc., are rich in their portrayal of Stalin, amongst other roles, as a vampire feeding on the blood of innocents. This was a consistent view of him during the interwar years with some moderation in the 1930s when western realists—Winston Churchill is the best known of these people— recognised the need to cooperate with the USSR against Nazi Germany. The “realists” were always a minority amongst western governing elites and were never able to impose this policy in government until the Nazi invasion of the USSR. Of course, western communists were more disposed to recognise Stalin as the great leader of the USSR. They had to or were expelled from European parties or purged when Stalin got his hands on them. There were however exceptions to the rule when communists (in France for example) could initiate policy changes accepted in Moscow.

As for Stalin, he remained a communist, but he was willing to cooperate with the western powers against Hitler both in the 1930s and after June 1941. We operate under different social systems, he often said, but this should not prevent us from recognizing common interests and cooperating against common foes.

TP: Then, there is the notorious year, 1932, with its Great Famine, in which 5 to 7 million died. Was this famine “political strategy,” ethnic cleansing (Holodomor), a natural disaster, or something else?

MJC: I only deal in passing with this issue in my work because the famine did not affect foreign policy, but the best recent treatment of the famine is in the second volume of Kotkin’s biography of Stalin. Kotkin argues that the famine was the result of various factors, political, economic, weather, and insect infestations. It was not aimed at the Ukraine as a form of genocide or “ethnic cleansing.” The famine affected the entire Soviet grain belt with Kazakhstan being the hardest hit.

TP: The next year, 1933, brought Adolf Hitler to power. How did Stalin and the Soviets view Hitler?

MJC: The initial Soviet reaction to Hitler’s assumption of power in early 1933 was to try to maintain the “Rapallo” policy of tolerable relations with Germany. Nazi hostility to the USSR in 1933 was so intense that the maintenance of Rapallo became impossible and in December 1933 the Politburo approved a shift in policy to collective security against Nazi Germany. This meant in effect the rebuilding of the World War I Entente against Wilhelmine Germany. Litvinov became the great Soviet spokesperson for this policy, but it was not his personal policy, it was that of Stalin and the Soviet government. Stalin was the Soviet government. No policy, large or small, could pass without his approval.

TP: The years leading up to 1939 are complex and often little understood, especially in regards to the motivations and concerns of Soviet Russia. Did the Soviets see a war coming?

MJC: There is not the slightest doubt that the Soviet leadership saw war coming. Nazi Germany was the great danger to European peace and security. Litvinov and other Soviet diplomats liked to quote to their western counterparts Mein Kampf, Hitler’s best-selling book, outlining his plans for European conquest. France and the USSR were identified as targets of German conquest. Germany needed Lebensraum, additional living space in the USSR. Slavs, Jews, Roma were lower species of human being good only for slavery or death.

TP: What was the role of Britain and France in this regard? Were they more suspicious of Hitler or of Stalin, or of both equally? And why could they not form an alliance with Stalin against Hitler?

MJC: The answer to this question is complicated and is the subject of Stalin’s Gamble, vol. 1 of my trilogy. In France and Britain anti-communism was a driving force, though its intensity fluctuated from time to time during the interwar years. Political and economic elites were largely anti-communist, but not entirely, as I have noted above. This was especially true during the 1930s after Hitler became German chancellor. One Soviet diplomat noted that the great question of the 1930s was who was enemy no. 1, Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union? Western elites, with important exceptions, got the answer wrong to this question. Fascism was the great bulwark against communist or socialist revolution, the ideology arising from the crisis of capitalism during the interwar years. Remember, Germany was not the only fascist state, the Duce Benito Mussolini had taken power in Italy in 1922. In France and Britain there were tolerant attitudes toward Italian fascists. If only Hitler would soften the hard edges of Nazism and adopt the “softer” fascism of Mussolini, it would be easier to accept him. For numerous European conservatives Hitlerite Germany was not an enemy but a potential ally against the left.

When Soviet diplomats tried to warn of the Nazi danger, many western counterparts did not buy the argument that Hitler was the problem. This was especially so after the eruption of the Spanish civil war in July 1936. It looked to many conservatives that communism might take root in Spain and then spread to France. What a catastrophe! So, when Soviet diplomats warned of Hitlerite Germany, conservatives, the political right, but also spreading into the political centre and centre-left, saw this as a ruse de guerre to spread communism into Europe. Collective security and mutual assistance against the common foe, did not work as an argument, because European elites did not see or did not want to see Hitler as a common foe. The British Foreign Office was against collective security and against anti-fascism as arguments for unity. Anti-communism was a major impediment to an Anglo-Franco-Soviet alliance against Hitler, even in 1939 when war looked increasingly inevitable.

TP: Then there is Poland. How would you characterize the Polish view of Hitler, especially given that Poland was allied with Nazi Germany until 1939 (a little-known fact)? What were Poland’s ambitions and motivations?

MJC: Yes, then there was Poland. I call it the skunk in the woodpile of collective security, but it was not the only one. A Polish state reappeared on the map of Europe in 1918 at the end of World War I. It was intensely nationalist. During 1919-1920 Poland sought to reestablish its frontiers of 1772, as a great European power. This led to war with Soviet Russia and a white peace, signed in early 1921 which satisfied neither side. Poland did not re-establish its 1772 frontiers, but obtained important Ukrainian and Byelorussian populated territories, which Soviet Russia saw as lost because of military weakness.

The Polish leadership saw itself situated between two potentially hostile great powers, and so explained its foreign policy as neither one or the other. But when push came to shove the Polish leadership always leaned toward Germany. In January 1934 Poland signed a non-aggression pact with Germany. Soviet offers of rapprochement were rejected. In following years Poland acted as a saboteur of collective security and worked against Soviet diplomacy. Everywhere in central and eastern Europe, diplomats warned that Poland was marching toward its ruin if it continued to pursue a pro-German, anti-Soviet policy. I would not say Poland was a Nazi “ally” but it was certainly an accomplice in 1938 when it cooperated with Germany to bring about the dismemberment of the Czechoslovak state. For its troubles Poland got a small portion of Czechoslovak territory. Incredibly, in 1939 it continued to sabotage attempts to conclude an Anglo-Franco-Soviet alliance. It did so until the very day the Nazi Wehrmacht invaded Poland on 1 September 1939.

TP: Was the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 the Soviet attempt to thwart war, or was it a reaction to the Munich Conference of 1938, in which the West thought it had won “peace in our time?”

MJC: The Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact was not a Soviet attempt to thwart war, it was an attempt to stay out of the war and to remain neutral. Yes, in part, it was a reaction to the Munich accords, but it was more than that. It was the direct result of six years of failed Soviet attempts to construct an anti-Nazi grand alliance. One by one, the prospective members of this failed grand alliance fell away: the United States in the spring-summer 1934, France paradoxically in late 1934 (in a more complicated process), Italy, yes, fascist Italy in 1935, Britain in February 1936, and Romania in August 1936. One after the other they fell away; and Poland of course, the spoiler of collective security, the proverbial skunk in the woodpile, never contemplated an alliance with the USSR against Germany. Moscow was always the undesirable ally, the greater enemy, even though, paradoxically, it was Poland’s only option for salvation.

The Soviet Union could not, on its own, organise mutual assistance against Nazi Germany. Collective security had to be a grand political coalition from left to centre-right, a World War I union sacrée, of all-in national defence of all political parties against a common foe. In the west no one wanted it; no one wanted the Soviet Union as an ally (with the exception of communists and “realists”; a Soviet ambassador called them “white crows”) in a potential war-fighting alliance, in a situation where there was no agreement on the common foe. Even Czechoslovakia, the most needy potential ally, would not go all-in with the USSR. No eastern European country would without France and Britain, but France would not march without Britain, and Britain would not march at all.

This is a complicated story related in volumes 1 and 2 of my trilogy. In the great cover-up of the genuine history of the origins of World War II after 1945, it was the necessary corollary of Cold War propaganda to rub out the primary role of the Red Army in the destruction of the Wehrmacht. Early on, revisionist historians began to put the story together, starting with the “Guilty Men,” the appeasers, who prepared the way to catastrophe. It was the release of Soviet government papers in the 1990s, however, which has allowed the emergence of a more complex narrative, constructed with the assistance of Soviet eyes. In this narrative Stalin, the “human being,” understandably could not trust the British and French governments, conniving, manipulative, unwilling, to be all-in allies against Nazi Germany even in August 1939.

As it was, the British and French left their ally Poland to blow in the wind when Germany invaded it. Stalin correctly assumed that France and Britain would sit on their hands while Germany and the USSR fought it out in the east. Would they have been more loyal to the USSR than they had been to Poland? Of course not, if you asked Stalin. However, war is full of the unexpected. The USSR ended up fighting a ground war practically alone against Nazi Germany from June 1941 to September 1943 and even after the Normandy landings still carried the main burden of fighting on the ground. That of course is another story.

TP: World War II, when it broke out, was the result of diplomatic failure on the part of Britain, France, and Poland. Is this a fair assessment?

MJC: I have answered this question in my above responses, but yes, Britain, France, and Poland bear a large responsibility for the failure to organize an early grand alliance in Europe against Hitler.

TP: Could the Allies have defeated Hitler without the Soviets?

MJC: No, and this is not a conclusion made in hindsight. The main argument of western “realists” was that without the USSR, France and Britain could not win a war against Nazi Germany and would certainly lose it. Britain had no army to speak of, two divisions could at once be sent to France in the event of war. The French army could not alone fight off a German invasion. On the other hand, the Red Army could at once mobilise 100 divisions, in fact, more, against Nazi Germany. Churchill and former prime minister David Lloyd George said it plainly in the House of Commons during the spring of 1939. Victory was impossible without an alliance with the USSR. Do the math of relative contributions to boots on the ground: Britain, two divisions; the USSR, 100. This is not to mention 35 Czechoslovak divisions prior to the Munich betrayal. The French and British governing elites liked to count every enemy twice over and potential allies not at all.

TP: In your book, Silent Conflict: A Hidden History of Early Soviet-Western Relations, you discuss Soviet relations with the West. How would you categorize these? And did these early years set the tone for the Cold War?

MJC: With the notable exception of Soviet-German relations and the conclusion of the treaty of Rapallo (spring 1922) which regularised Soviet relations with Weimar Germany, Soviet-western relations were poor. Anti-Communism was an insurmountable obstacle to better relations even though there were “realists,” notably in France, who advocated rapprochement. The Comintern was active in China where a great revolutionary movement was underway. Britain especially had important commercial interests in China threatened by the revolutionary movement. I see this period as the early (or stage 1 of the) Cold War which ended in 1941. Western-Soviet hostility in the 1920s was an impediment to building an anti-Nazi alliance in the 1930s.

TP: The West has long had deep-seated Russophobia. What accounts for this?

MJC: Russophobia is not really a subject directly treated in my work. It is a form of western racism against Russia, motivated these days by the Russian threat to US world domination. This is a topic for another discussion.

TP: Are there other projects that you are researching?

MJC: I am getting on in years, and the publication of my trilogy will take up my time, inshallah, for the next couple of years. I see the trilogy as the capstone of my work as historian and author. After the trilogy is published, as I hope it will be, who knows?

TP: Professor Carley, thank you so much for your time.


Featured: “Europe will be Free!” Poster by Viktor Koretsky, 1944.

The Tolerated Nazi Cult

In recent years, the word “Nazi” has been completely gutted by its inflationary use like no other. Today, “Nazi” is anyone who is not on the top of the tree of political correctness. Accordingly, it seems bizarre when the grave of a genuine Nazi collaborator, namely Stepan Bandera, becomes a place of pilgrimage in Germany. There is no outcry. On the contrary, since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the grave of Stepan Bandera in Munich’s Waldfriedhof has been very crowded. If in previous years one Reich flag among a thousand peace flags was enough to declare an entire demonstration a Nazi mass demonstration, here homage is being paid to a Wehrmacht collaborator—without this being criticized in those circles that otherwise suspect a Nazi behind every tree.

A year before the start of the Ukrainian war, the colors of the Ukrainian flag caught my eye during a walk through Munich’s Waldfriedhof cemetery. In the distance I saw a gravestone decorated with blue and yellow flags. My curiosity was aroused and so I approached this grave. In the inscription of the gravestone, I read the name “Stepan Bandera,” which is additionally engraved above it in Cyrillic. The name immediately rang a bell in my memory. I knew roughly about the importance of Bandera, his collaboration with the Nazi regime, the cult around his person in Ukraine, which continues to this day, and that he was murdered in the 1950s in Munich by the Soviet foreign intelligence service KGB.

Nevertheless, I was surprised to suddenly stumble into a piece of dark European history during a walk, when I actually wanted to clear my head of political issues. At that point, in the spring of 2021, Covid was crowding out all other issues, so Ukraine and the conflict there were more on the periphery of media attention.

With the winter of 2021/22 and the start of the Ukrainian war, that changed with breathtaking speed. A veritable Russophobia and Ukraine cult developed. These developments also left their mark on Bandera’s grave. In fact, during my walks, I pass by there again and again and observe how this grave is increasingly turning into a place of pilgrimage. Since March 2022, showy SUVs with Ukrainian license plates can be seen around the cemetery grounds, and where a year ago only a solitary Ukrainian flag hung and rather beautiful flowers planted, the grave is now overflowing with offerings and mementos that visitors lay to their icon. In a way, the selection is very bizarre. On the surfaces of the grave lie Ukrainian hryvnia bills and coins, candy—some even from McDonalds—and labeled (FFP2) masks.

Bandera’s grave [Photo: Nicolas Riedl].

The question, who in Germany (!) decorates the gravesite of a Nazi collaborator in such a way, was answered—even if not completely—over days when visiting the grave on a Sunday. Almost every minute visitors come to stand devoutly in front of it, to take photos or to lay down more of the “gifts” listed above. But who are these people? Are they some skin-head types unmistakably identifiable as Nazis?

Offerings at Bandera’s grave. [Photo: Nicolas Riedl].

At one point I pretended to stand at Bandera’s final resting place myself, in memory of him, to get a more accurate picture of the visitors. To my astonishment, each time it was a thoroughly inconspicuous, outwardly completely harmless citizen—parents with their children or young people in tracksuits.

I could not make any sense of this. In this country, anyone who claims to take a warm shower every day is soon considered a Nazi. And yet, in the middle of Munich, without scandal or outcry, the grave of a Nazi collaborator is virtually transformed into a pharaoh’s chamber.

At that moment it even occurred to me whether I was simply misinformed about Bandera. But no—no matter where I looked, whether in older mainstream reports or in alternative media—I could twist and turn the image of Stepan Bandera as I wished—his involvement in Nazi crimes is undisputed and sufficiently proven.

As the leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and part of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), he participated in numerous crimes and atrocities against civilians that shocked even SS generals.

Although Bandera was a German prisoner from July 1941 to September 1944—after his plans to declare an independent Ukraine went too far for the Nazi regime—he served his time comparatively comfortably as one of the SS’s so-called special and honorary prisoners. Shortly before the end of the war, parts of the OUN were even reinstated in the Waffen SS. In short, Bandera’s vest is so bloodstained that no change of perspective can wash it clean.

Even after the end of the war, Bandera remained the chairman of the OUN in his Munich exile until he was assassinated in October 1959 by KGB agent Bogdan Staschinski, right on his doorstep with hydrogen cyanide gas.

While reading about Bandera’s death, I got the idea to visit his former residence on Kreittmayrstrasse in Munich’s Maxvorstadt to see if it had also been transformed into a pilgrimage site. Once there, I found that nothing reminded me of Bandera. All around the multi-story building, there are hip cafés and restaurants; there are no flowers on the doorstep; there are no Ukrainian flags anywhere to be seen. The only noticeable thing I took note of was that the facade of the house at number 7—quite as if to mock the anti-communist post-mortem—was the only one in the whole street with a red coat of paint.

No Peace for the Dead at Bandera’s Grave

Even before the Ukraine war, Bandera’s grave kept finding its way into the public eye.

Desecration of the grave in 2014
Shortly after the start of the Maidan coup in 2014—if today’s Ukraine flag-wavers can still remember it?—the gravestone was knocked over and the grave vandalized. The perpetrators were never caught.

Ukrainian Ambassador Andriy Melnyk visits Bandera’s grave
In 2015, Melnyk laid flowers at Bandera’s grave. Sevim Dağdelen, a member of the Left Party, then asked the German government whether it was aware of this. The federal government answered in the affirmative and condemned the acts of the OUN in its response.

2018 sees the arrival of the “cemetery fact checker”
British blogger Graham Phillips visited the grave in 2018, removed the flag of Ukraine—as well as that of Ukrainian nationalists—and attached a sign to the gravestone reading, “Ukrainian Nazi Stepan Bandera lies buried here.” On the net, he was partly celebrated as a true anti-fascist, others accused him of desecrating the grave.

2021 State security investigates after repeated desecration of grave
A year before the start of the Ukrainian war, the grave was desecrated again when it was doused with red liquid. In the course of this, the State Security Service began an investigation, so far without results.

Parallel World

It really is bizarre. While in this country everything and everyone is pushed into a right-wing corner if they say one wrong word—at the same time in the middle of Germany the grave of a Nazi collaborator is decorated, adorned and visited with devout looks of the visitors. Meanwhile, police patrol by at regular intervals to check for further possible grave desecrations. It is even rumored that a hidden camera is installed in the grave light vending machine directly opposite.

In a sense, Bandera’s tombstone is a monument to double standards, showing us that all destructive forces are fine with the rulers as long as they serve their purposes. While local demonstrators with peaceful intentions are defamed as Nazis—in Ukraine unmistakable Nazis are equipped with heavy weapons.

How much more blood must be senselessly spilled before history is learned?


Nicolas Riedl is a student of political science, theater and media studies in Erlangen. He got to know almost every type of school in the German education system from the inside and, during a commercial apprenticeship, also the interpersonal coldness of the working world. The media and Ukraine crisis in 2014 was a caesura for his world view and perception. Since then, he has been dealing in depth and self-critically with political, socio-economic, ecological as well as psychological topics. As far as his technical skills allow, he produces films and music videos. This articles appears through the kind courtesy of Rubikon.

Alfred Delp: Resistance and Theology

Is there a connection between Alfred Delp’s theology and his resistance, between his thought and his martyrdom?

I would like to address this question by comparing key statements of pro-Nazi Catholic theologians with Alfred Delp’s theological and philosophical reflections. This raises, however, another question: was Delp a “modern” or a “traditional” theologian? For it was precisely the “moderns” among German theologians, those who sought a contemporary theology, who wanted a reform of the liturgy, and wanted to strengthen the position of the laity in the church, who were likely to justify Nazism and theological and practical collaboration. Among them were, for example, Karl Adam, Joseph Lortz and Michael Schmaus, whose approaches left their mark on Catholic theology long after 1945. They did not appreciate the reactionary or traditionalist elements of National Socialism, but saw in it an enormous potential for innovation that they wanted to use for their reform projects in church and theology.

An understanding of Delp’s history is fundamental to the explanations that follow; this is followed by the theological themes of “Nature and Grace” and “Image of the Church and Understanding of the Church,” complemented by a presentation of the effects of the heroic ideal in theology. Each of these three points begins with a brief presentation of the statements of pro-Nazi theologians, among whom Karl Adam is especially prominent.

1. Delp’s Conception of History

The basis of Delp’s conception of history is his confrontation with Heidegger’s work Sein und Zeit (Being and Time), which he was one of the first to conduct within the Catholic Church. After the war, when a Catholic Heideggerian school was formed with famous representatives, Delp’s criticism of Heidegger was laughed at and rejected—he did really understand Heidegger and argued not philosophically, but according to his worldview. In particular, the interpretation as heroic tragedy was a misinterpretation. In view of the recent and still difficult discussion about Heidegger’s relation to National Socialism or about the relation of his philosophy to National Socialism, Delp’s criticism takes on a new acuity. However, I do not wish to discuss here whether Sein und Zeit already contains traces of Heidegger’s later adherence to National Socialism, but only to present Delp’s analysis and critique and the importance both acquired for his understanding of man and history.

In Sein und Zeit, Heidegger wants to question being and its meaning without restriction, without committing himself to anything from the outset. The question of being presupposes something that has an understanding of being: this is what Heidegger calls the Da-Sein (= the subject that asks the question). The latter notes that both the questioning of being and the understanding of being are part of itself. The Dasein must therefore only look at itself in order to be able to answer the question about being. This is done with the help of the phenomenological method as description and interpretation of the facts of consciousness. Heidegger calls this the existential analysis of Dasein—it serves to describe and unfold Dasein’s understanding of itself. Dasein thus interprets itself—and the explanation of this interpretation is, for Heidegger, ontology, the doctrine of being. Metaphysics is thus less a doctrine on Dasein than the event of the self-interpretation of Dasein. Now, for Heidegger, the essence of Dasein lies in existence.

The analysis of Dasein leads to the recognition that being means being in the world; that is to say being active in the sense of “being concerned.” The subject is confronted with an object; but the world cannot be grasped from the objects, it must be understood from the subject: the active being-in-the-world is thus the foundation of knowledge.

An important part of being-in-the-world is the existential of sensibility, which means the mood or the being-tuned. Dasein learns there that it is and must be—its origin, however, remains hidden from it. Heidegger speaks here of the being-ness of Dasein.

Heidegger then asks whether there is a state of being that makes being manifest as a unity, and finds the answer in anguish. This anguish prevents Dasein from being completely absorbed in its being-activity and directs the gaze towards the whole, towards the extreme that awaits Dasein: death. Dasein is being-to-death; this shows to Dasein that it goes towards nothingness and that it comes from nothingness.

Thus, Dasein is radically temporal and finite, thus also being as such is finite. Time is the last determinateness of being. The meaning of being is that it becomes. Now, when the radical contingency of Dasein appears, Dasein decides on its destiny and is “determined” to perform its task. From the confrontation with nothingness, Dasein jumps back into a positive conception of life. It becomes its own lawgiver; it gives itself a meaning beyond being-to-death: the mastery of life. This “determination” is for Heidegger the revelation of the inner absoluteness and divinity of Dasein.

It is precisely this, says Delp, this proclamation of courage, strength, and determination, that Heidegger carried to the hearts of young people, because it supposedly took them out of insecurity and existential angst and into a heroic existence.

Delp’s philosophical critique starts at this turn from the experience of nothingness into determination. This turn is a leap, not only in real life, but also in thinking, because there is nothing in the being of Dasein that could provide the reason for such determination. Delp calls this courage to live a great deception, because it is without content and without reason, i.e., also ultimately without meaning. Moreover, this “heroism of finitude” becomes dangerous because of its aesthetics: “Over all these analyses of sorrow: contingency, thrownness, determination, last crash into nothingness, death—over all this lies a somber beauty” (II, 121).

The tragedy of this philosophy, he argues, is that it sought to gain the meaning of being, but can only point to the lifelong preoccupation with mastering life. Moreover, it shows a striking resemblance to the Germanic myth, interpreted in a folk-religious way, of the hero who faces the struggle with full commitment and determination, even if his downfall is sealed—a resemblance that the representatives of the Catholic Heidegger school did not notice or did not want to notice.

At this point, Delp now brings his worldview argument into the field. Heidegger’s claim to make ultimate statements about being cannot be free of worldview, because in the claim to ultimate validity metaphysics and worldview touch each other. Heidegger presents a closed system of a world view, which also implies a certain understanding of man. This understanding is characterized by an ideal of existence, namely the heroic existence, which is carried by the decision to master life.

Delp himself is fascinated by this philosophy of decision, as well as by its departure from finitude and from man—but in the propagation of a total finitude it is for him a myth, dogged immanence that cannot look beyond the world. Delp criticizes Heidegger for not even remaining faithful to this principle of finitude, but for making man absolute in his determination; for this, after all, reveals the divinity of Dasein.

“Where finitude would become practical, one prefers to remain infinite and autonomous. There one puts, on one’s own authority, over this ‘nothing,’ a self-made ideal. The determination, the heroicity of nothingness, is nothing but a denial of the finitude that one had previously emphasized with so much pathos” (II, 137).

[John May, in his commentary in the online edition of theologie.geschichte, points out an interesting parallel that has come to light in the Christian-Buddhist dialogue. The absolutization of finitude in Heidegger can be compared to the re-ontologization of nothingness in Buddhist philosophy. Nothingness, which was understood as the place where non-self becomes True Self (Kyoto School), where non-self means self-forgetfulness and selflessness, becomes in the wider reception a “something” inherent in every being – the Buddha-nature, which is considered the highest realization of nothingness. Just as Heidegger’s absolutization of finitude represents a denial of finitude for Delp, so Buddha-nature as reontologized nothingness can be understood as a denial of nothingness. See also John D’Arcy May, Transcendence and Violence. The Encounter of Buddhist, Christian and Primal Traditions.]

Delp’s judgment, then, for all its fascination, is clear: Heidegger’s philosophy cannot be interpreted or assimilated to Christianity in its consequences. It is not a propaedeutic of Christianity. Nevertheless, this does not prevent him from receiving the concept of Dasein’s decision to master its task in life for his conception of man and his understanding of history. However, he is careful not to transfer any of it to God or Jesus Christ. This area of transcendence, of the supernatural of the Christ-revelation, is determined for him by tradition, revelation and its interpretation. On this basis, his theological critique of Heidegger’s radical concept of the finitude of being is also articulated. The critique of the lack of justification of the leap into determination and of the conflation of philosophy and worldview, on the other hand, is a philosophical critique that could also have been formulated by a follower of critical rationalism.

[Cf. the so-called Münchhausen trilemma, according to which the attempt of an ultimate justification leads either to a regressus in infinitum, a circular reasoning or a dogmatic positing.]

Delp’s engagement with Heidegger left a lasting mark on his understanding of history. The question of the meaning of history and the historicity of man occupied him until his death, and the answers he gives in his more theoretical writings are reflected in his sermons and spiritual writings and ultimately in his fate in imprisonment and death. [See Delp’s Folgenden Weltgeschichte und Heilsgeschichte (Following World History and Salvation History (1941); Der Mensch und die Geschichte (Man and History) (1943); Das Rätsel der Geschichte (The Riddle of History) (Bequest)); Die Welt als Lebensraum des Menschen (The World as Man’s Habitat) (Bequest); Der Mensch vor sich selbst (Man before Himself) (Bequest), in Gesammelte Schriften, II, 321-557].

The question of history arises from the subjective experience of history. This can be the turning point or the solidification of a condition caused by an act or event. In the experience of history, the becoming character of the world is revealed. This change of history results in the decision of man, whether he is a maker of history or one who must endure and master it. History thus constantly reminds people of their responsibility, refers them to their conscience.

The question now is, does history have a meaning at all? Does it run according to a plan? It is not the final place of man’s perfection; its meaning is not man’s salvation. Also, God is not to be experienced directly in history; God does not intervene constantly in the history. On the other hand, history has a plan from creation; namely, the task of being the image and re-enactment of the Absolute. The meaning of history is the unfolding of the “order of imagery.” In this sense, there is a development of history—it goes towards a final state; but it also finally has an end, because it does not itself represent salvation.

People are bound by ethical orders as well as by substantive orders. The former imply a direct commitment to God; the latter to the real itself. On both levels people are required to decide; and on both levels they can fall short—in the ethical decision or in the factual one. The former misconduct is sin; the latter disregard and abuse of being, caused by error, sloppiness, arrogance, or the like.

History places humans into always “new situations,” in which they are to prove themselves. Independently of the supernatural order, history has a double meaning—it is to realize the image that God had of it in creation; that is, to fulfill the order of imagery; and it is the place of probation for man; the probation of faithfulness to God and of factual competence and readiness for responsibility.

Are salvation and salvation history now on a completely different level than world history?

Independently of the meaning of history discussed so far, there is for Delp a second word of God that brings about an immediacy of God within history that history does not have of itself. This is the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. In the incarnation, God once again breaks through the order of history and establishes the order of Christ. This is superhistorical, but historically effective; it has its beginning in the election of Israel and the proclamation of the prophets. However, the Christ order does not suspend the “normal” order of history; it is not another level apart from worldly history. Thus, in addition to its double natural sense, history acquires a third—that of being a space for the encounter with God in the Christ order. Natural and supernatural order, however, remain separate in the medium of history. As John May aptly puts it in his commentary: the Christ order works itself out in history and not as history.

Is not the idea of a progressive realization of the “order of imagery” much too optimistic in view of the supremacy and fertility of evil? The ethical decision of man is always demanded even under these circumstances; every historical hour is suitable for it. But there are also historical situations or constellations which must be recognized and tracked down as such, in which the signs of the times must be recognized. In these situations, both the morally good and the factually appropriate decision must be made. Now the fruitfulness of evil often stems from the fact that those who do not shy away from the ethical wrong decision, that is, those who are prepared to take the greater risk, are often “more clear-sighted and finer-nerved” in identifying such situations.

“There may be many reasons to understand, but few to excuse. And this then is the most seductive mask and the most demonic power of evil, that it tackles the posed problems, represents (and corrupts) genuine progress, and in the name of the genuine also and profoundly does, and demands, the unreal. Only this brings about the always occurring confusion of heads and hearts, through which evil rules and remains in regency. Evil is so fruitful in history not because it is more historical or more historically real than good, or because all history is of the devil; it is fruitful because good is so barren, because it misunderstands tradition as conservative sleepiness and habit, because it trivializes ethical neatness into Biedermeier bravado and carelessness; because it so often places the probation of life not in the space of life but beside it” (II, 412).

This is a relatively clear critique of National Socialism, addressing precisely its innovative or perceived innovative character. But Delp exposes this as spurious, as a pretense of progress that spoils real progress. At the same time, it is a harsh criticism of the Church and of Christian piety, which have not recognized that what is decisive is probation in this life and in this history.

For Delp, evil is not something superhuman or superhistorical, but comes from the highest reality of man—from his freedom. It becomes effective only through man himself—that is why its combat must also be done through man’s engagement in this history. Even the suffering of history must be something active:

“Where man strives for this [ethical orderliness—LS] solely by bypassing the bond to the historical probationary space, he misunderstands himself, misses history, leaves it unilaterally to the uninhibited and unopposed forces of the other, possibly erroneous view; violates the law of imagery, and endangers even transcendent faithfulness. Man is just not only there to stand in history or to suffer history. Even this must still be an active engagement, a conscious consummation. Man must make history” (II, 416f).

Therefore, people must not turn away from history, even when it is far from what God intended for them. But they must not sacrifice to it their transcendent bond and their conscience.

“When history or one of its moments of reality degenerates, then the hour has come in which man must not betray history, but in which he must also not sacrifice to it the freedom and God immediacy of his being. If the two directional indicators of his life no longer coincide but cross each other, man must take them both as his cross. Neither the flight into the ‘eternal’ nor the betrayal in history will save him; but only the tremendous effort to hold both together at least in his own will and commitment. This is the first law of human freedom, and to this law freedom must stand, even at the price of personal-historical catastrophe” (II, 381).

Heidegger’s traces are thus unmistakable in Delp’s understanding of history. The human being thrown into existence is determined by his historicity; he is faced with the decision to prove himself; he accepts his finitude. But as a Christian, unlike the tragic hero in Heidegger or in Germanic myth, he knows why he is doing this. It is about the realization of God’s plan of creation and about his salvation, which he cannot find beside history or past history.

Delp is equally “contemporary” and “traditional” in his understanding of world history and salvation history. He receives the most modern philosophy for his anthropology, but remains in more traditional waters with regard to the relationship between nature and grace. “Modern” is his synopsis of world history and salvation history—for him there are no parallel levels of history, but only one; and the order of salvation does not override the natural order of history. At the same time, the traditional Neo-Scholastic distinction between nature and supernature shines through; and ideas of natural law also play a role. With regard to his ethical decision, man is bound not only to the biblical revelation, here the Decalogue, but also to the natural law, which here is not to be understood in natural scientific terms, but as natural law.

Even if some of Delp’s writings at the beginning of Nazi rule betray a certain fascination with the new things that were on the move there, in his later writings on history he is resistant to understanding National Socialism as an innovative force and wanting to use it to drive changes in theology and the church. It is precisely this impression of progress that he exposes as a dangerous and demonic mask of evil.

[This concerns above all Delp’s book project Der Aufbau. Die Existenzmächte des deutschen Menschen (The Construction. The Existential Powers of the German Man), the draft of which is found in I, 195-202, and also the texts under the title, Männerapostolat: Die Katholische Aktion des Mannes (Men’s Apostolate The Catholic Action of Man), in: I, 69-109.]

2. The Relationship of Nature and Grace

By nature, Neo-Scholasticism understood the creative endowment of a being with all that is necessary for its natural development and destiny; but it completely disregarded man’s relationship with God. Grace was strictly separated from this nature in order to preserve the gift character of grace. God was not allowed to be presented as someone obligated to grace because human nature demanded it.

Nature in this context is a philosophical term that does not contain any biological meaning; nor does it correspond to the colloquial use of the word “nature.”

In contrast to Neo-Scholasticism, pro-national socialist theologians regarded nature and grace as belonging together, and organically assigned the two to each other.] Becoming a Christian was regarded by them as a synthesis of nature and supernature—therefore grace needed an empirically tangible basis. The carrier of this synthesis was human nature, specifically German nature. For nature never existed abstractly, but always in a specific imprint through “blood and soil.” There is an intimate connection between German nature and grace, so that the life of grace is formed according to the German national character. Piety and theology, for example, were always völkisch for Adam; and he vehemently opposed all attempts from the Catholic side to deny this connection. The general human was secondary compared to man’s belonging to a certain community of blood and destiny. A universalistic or humanistic view could only find his derision. Adam went so far as to say that if German blood is the basis of grace, then the bond between people of the same blood is also stronger than that between Christians of different blood.

But what happens to the concept of nature in this interpretation? A purely philosophical concept that refers to the nature of a living being is biologized and racially charged. Purely externally, the concept of nature has not changed in this transformation process. Therefore, Adam could keep the scheme of the togetherness of nature and grace unchanged after 1945. He only had to disguise the völkisch and racist interpretation.

Delp, on the other hand, emphasizes the twofold revelation through creation and through grace. [Cf. Kirche in der Zeitenwende (Church at the Crossroads), III. Offenbarung (Revelation), in: I, 126-13.]. In these two orders God speaks to man. In the order of creation, people recognize God through created things; in the order of grace, God breaks through the narrow confines of nature and places himself in a personal relationship with people. The order of nature includes the division of people into peoples, whereas the order of grace transcends time and history, and is—as Delp says—”übervölkisch.”

This distinction between nature and grace is a classical (new) scholastic argumentation. By way of it, Delp attests to völkisch religiosity that it remains purely in the realm of the natural; that is, it can at best be a kind of true natural religion, which it also fails to be due to wrong starting points. Supernatural religion does not come into view at all in the völkisch religiosity.

Delp applies the relation of nature and supernature also to the question whether the ecclesiastical and the “völkisch” man are necessarily in contradiction to each other—and here his interest seems to be rather to bring the two areas together. This is done in the context of a series of sermons on the contemporary service of the German man in the years after 1933, in which Delp reflects on the signs of the times and the foundations of Catholicism in order to give Catholic men help for their current lives in the context of the male apostolate.

The problem of “völkischer Mensch—kirchlicher Mensch” was ultimately the problem of the relationship between nature and supernature. The völkisch man stemmed from creation; the ecclesiastical man from the new creation in Jesus Christ. The natural possibilities of man were decisively weakened by the Fall, but not completely abolished—the traditional Catholic position. Thus, the natural man could no longer accomplish what he actually could by his nature and what he was obliged to do.

The ecclesiastical man had never left creation, the world, the people, because the order of grace did not abolish nature and history. The natural world is elevated in it to the new creation. This means that the “völkische” man can actually realize himself fully only in the ecclesiastical. Only from the supernature can a pure nature be lived. But if the “völkisch” man does not want to go beyond nature, and limits himself to it, then, however, ecclesiastical and “völkisch” man would not come together; which means doom for the latter and his people from Delp’s perspective.

Delp does not seem to be completely uninterested in the völkisch idea. His diction is also quite alienating in parts. Jörg Seiler interprets this in his commentary in such a way that Delp tried to explain the power of the Christian message in the understanding horizon of his time—a closeness to the völkisch thinking should not be attested to the writing about the male apostolate. In the end, national thinking is absorbed by the bond between man and supernature, which does not allow any one-sidedness on the level of nature. Delp makes no secret of the fact that the strength of the ecclesiastical man for the service to the people comes from the Church and not from the blood. Service to the people without leading the people back to God would not be true service to the people for Delp. This means that everything Delp says about the “people,” which may be reminiscent of völkisch thinking, is determined by the binding of the natural order to the supernatural one.

In that this bond is the decisive thing, Seiler is absolutely right. But in my estimation, a certain fascination of Delp with the “new age” cannot be denied. Delp emphasizes the readiness of the will, which now—unlike before—is to be found everywhere: a readiness to think and act beyond one’s own ego. That Delp does not understand this in a “national-monistic, völkisch or collectivistic” (Seiler) way is to be admitted, but he considers it possible to build on this attitude, which others, after all, interpret precisely in a völkisch and collectivistic way. Thus, there is something about the “new age” that lends itself to building the Christian message on it, but then also setting it apart from it. This is similar to Delp’s treatment of Heidegger’s thought, which he fundamentally criticizes, but also accepts in one crucial point: in the topos of man, who is called into the decision to master his life. This human being, however, does not stand in a meaningless space, as in Heidegger, but is—like the “völkische Mensch“—bound to the supernatural order. The fact that Delp sees the possibility of a connection at certain points is certainly also connected with his assessment of modern times and modernity in comparison to the Middle Ages, in which “ecclesiastical and völkisch man” still formed a unity for him.

However, Delp also draws clear boundaries. When he brings nature and supernature together, he is not concerned, like Karl Adam, with creating a völkisch-racist basis of theology, i.e., a particularistic theology, but with asserting and defending the greater right of supernature. That he does not want to create a particularistic theology, for which the German national is closer to the German Catholic than the baptized foreigner, becomes clear from the fact that he emphasizes the universal character of the order of grace and, based on natural law and the doctrine of creation, speaks of universal human rights. The latter in particular is beautifully demonstrated in the sermons for the feast of St. Elizabeth and for All Saints’ Day in 1941, both of which address the topic of “euthanasia.”

For Delp, St. Elizabeth, who is, after all, a princess, reveals a message of the meaning of “the noble man.” This meaning consists in the bond between power and right: the bearer of power is at the service of right and must guarantee right to men. Elizabeth recognizes, in Delp’s words, that man is in possession of rights which no prince or ruler may touch. Further, power must be understood as service to all. Elizabeth’s diaconal activity is not a personal quirk, but a lived worldview.

“Those that gathered around Elizabeth were not the people who stepped forth with important, these were not the people with blazing eyes and the straight backs, these were not the people of great positions, these were the cripples and the sick and the brooding and the poor and the outcasts of life and of existence” (III, 291f).

Even in these people, despite all misery and decrepitude, the image of God becomes visible as something worthy of promotion and protection. Delp thus connects the idea of human rights with the image of God. In this, he articulates a serious message to the German people:

“And who would take it upon himself to destroy an image and likeness, a thought, a will, a love of the Lord God! …Woe to him upon whom a human being was destroyed, upon whom an image of God was desecrated, even if it was in its last throes and even if it was only a memory of a human being!” (III, 292)

The All Saints Sermon takes up the content of the [1941] propaganda film about euthanasia entitled, Ich klage an (I Accuse). The title stems from the fact that in this film a legal system is to be indicted that forces man to live under all circumstances, and thus indirectly a God who allows such a thing. Delp bluntly calls the statements of the film a threefold lie. First, the pure happiness of the couple and the continuing success that prevailed before the wife’s illness is completely unrealistic and pretends that without the illness everything would have remained the same. Furthermore, the appeal to the tear glands and the resulting pity lulls the audience and prevents a rational discussion. Thirdly, the eternal talk of love and redemption is a distraction from the harshness of existence which only seeks to seduce to a more comfortable solution.

Delp interprets the basic message of this film as an escape from the harshness of suffering and from the responsibility of caring. Man remains man even in the worst condition, and he remains an appeal to the ability to love and the power of sacrifice of his environment. Man is deprived of the chance of probation, because suffering is also a place of historical probation. This may seem cynical to some of today’s advocates of active euthanasia, but it means taking man and his responsibility radically seriously. Delp does not stop there, but calls euthanasia not only a lie and an escape, but also a rebellion against God and an encroachment on the inviolable rights of man.

“That people will die who let man die, whether it be man in the very extreme situation. It is indignation against man, who by his birth and existence alone has rights which no one can take from him and which no one may touch without desecrating man and desecrating himself and despising himself” (III, 268f).

That churchmen stand up for human rights may seem natural to us after the pontificate of John Paul II, but at that time it was tantamount to a revolution, since until then the Catholic Church had condemned the French Revolution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man. As far as I know, a positive appreciation of human rights within the Catholic Church appears for the first time in 1941, in the context of the Catholic resistance, especially the Committee for Religious Affairs, with whose members Father Augustin Rösch and Father Lothar König Delp were in close contact. On the one hand, Delp gives a religious legitimation of human rights by invoking the image of God, but he also speaks of the fact that these rights come to man by birth; that is, as human beings. This high regard for human rights was obviously easier in National Socialist Germany for those theologians who, because of their Neo-Scholastic orientation, held to natural law.

[The Kreisau Circle used the term “ius nativum” to circumvent or overcome controversial theological problems regarding natural law; cf. Michael Pope, Alfred Delp S.J. im Kreisauer Kreis, 185-193, esp. 189-193.]

The reflections on the Immaculata, the Immaculate Conception of Mary, also belong to the theme of “nature and grace.” For Karl Adam, they belong to the context of the myth of the Aryan Jesus and form the climax of his racist transformation of the concept of nature. Adam did not go so far as to deny Jesus’ Jewishness altogether, but he did qualify it to the extent that Jesus could not have been a Judean full-blooded Jew, but certainly had some drops of other blood in him because he came from the “racially mixed” Galilee. Also, Jesus’ “racial” independence from Judaism then was due to his mother. Adam interpreted Mary’s liberation from original sin as the endowment of Mary with the noblest hereditary traits. Therefore, he said, Catholics need not worry about the question of Jesus’ Jewish ancestry.

“It is personally an uplifting thought to me that in the genetic stock, in the hereditary mass, which Mary transmitted to her divine Son, there were alive, thanks to a mysterious guidance of God supervising the development of her race, the best, noblest dispositions and powers which the human race had at its disposal. This view is based on the truth of faith that Mary was conceived without original sin—’without original sin,’ that is, also without the consequences of original sin, that is, in perfect purity and beauty, that is, with the noblest dispositions and powers. It is this dogma of Mary’s immaculata conceptio which makes all those malicious questions and complaints, as if we had to recognize in Jesus, in spite of all his merits, a ‘Jew-stemming,’ a completely absurd question from the Catholic point of view. For it testifies to us that Jesus’ mother Mary had no physical or moral connection whatsoever with those ugly dispositions and forces which we condemn in the full-blooded Jew. She is, by God’s miracle of grace, beyond those Jewish hereditary traits, a super-Jewish figure. And what is true of the mother is all the more true of the human nature of her son.” [Karl Adam, “Jesus der Christus und wir Deutsche” (Jesus and us Germans), in Wissenschaft und Weisheit 10 (1943) 73-103, here: 91.]

God thus appears as a planned eugenicist; salvation history as a process of “grafting” hereditary traits. This conflation of dogmatic teachings of the Catholic Church with Nazi racial ideology was not contained in some private paper of Adam’s, but appeared in 1943 in a theological journal, the Franciscan Wissenschaft und Weisheit (Science and Wisdom).

On the other hand, Alfred Delp’s reflections on the Immaculata in his homily of December 8, 1941, are very different. The Immaculate Conception exemplifies in a human being the exaltation of man in grace [“Immaculata” (1941), in III, 36-45.]. The Sitz im Leben for the proclamation of this dogma was, in Delp’s perspective, the struggle against the absolute materialism and naturalism of the 19th century (the dogma was defined in 1854). The Immaculata, in Delp’s eyes, stands against the law of a biologistic order, against the judgment of a person’s worth by his blood, against the law of the collective that tests people for their usefulness and eliminates them if they fail. She is an I, a person accepted by God, blessed by God and overcomer of everything demonic. In her has happened exemplarily what grace intends for all people—they only have to let themselves be blessed.

Another spiritual address of Delp about Mary, which he probably held on the eve of a Marian feast in a community of Jesuits—the exact date is not known—has a different character [“Maria,” in III, 215-219.]. Here Delp does not foreground the commonality of people with Mary, but on the contrary emphasizes the gap between the Immaculata and the guilty people standing before her, who are members of a great community of guilt—by this community is meant the German people. “Thus, we stand in this hour before the high woman, before the world of holy divine order: in everything her weak, destroyed counter-image” (III, 218).

In this context, Delp makes an allusion to Mary being Jewish, which seems almost like the reverse image of Adam’s utterances:

“Wherever Mary is venerated today, she is called by the word that concludes all her greatness and glory in itself: Immaculata! …Whatever may seem beautiful and high and desirable to men is fulfilled in her. Natural nobility, down to the most biological sense of the word: King’s daughter from the house of David” (III, 216).

So, no preservation of Mary from Jewish hereditary traits, but conscious naming of her Jewish descent. If now the impression arises that Delp does here the same as Adam only under reversed conditions, one must make clear what he actually says here. According to the testimony of the Gospels, Mary did not come from the house and lineage of David at all, but her husband Joseph; and it is very unlikely that Delp was not aware of this. If, nevertheless, he uses here the most “biological” sense of the word, and if we consider this in the context of the recognition of the great guilt of the German people, who are facing Mary, then it can really only be a matter here of making clear that Mary is a Jew (and therefore, of course, Jesus is also a Jew), and of drawing attention to the guilt of the German people, which consists in the persecution and extermination of the Jews. However, this statement remains very coded.

3. The Understanding of Church

The view of the Church as a community and the orientation to experience and encounter became important for a theology that affirmed National Socialism. However, the roots of these concepts go back further.

Even before the time of National Socialism, “community” was the defining idea of ecclesiology for Karl Adam. In the first editions of his famous book, Das Wesen des Katholizismus (The Spirit of Catholicism), he interpreted the nature of the Church as a community. For him, the divine becomes real in the Church, but only insofar as the Church is community. In the mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus, the Church was already given as an organic community. Adam took up the community ideology of the Weimar period in his doctrine of the Church. This ideology expressed dissatisfaction with the Weimar Republic and democracy and attacked the parliamentary system, rationalism and liberalism. In the background was the communitarianism of the youth movement, and especially the war experience of World War I.

Democracy and pluralism were not seen as an opportunity for a better life, but as the cause of conflict and disunity. Therefore, such a diffuse concept as “community” could become a counter-model to parliamentary democracy. This promised the solution to all problems by pretending to resolve all antagonisms in a higher third. This was the basis of the attractiveness of the concept of community for theologians who wanted to abolish the conflictual opposites of nature and grace, but also of laity and clergy, of local and universal Church. This concept allowed them to leave behind both the Neo-Scholastic individualism of salvation and the view of the Church as an institution of salvation. At the same time, it created the conditions for cooperation with National Socialism.

Closely connected with the concept of “community” was the idea of “experiencing” this community and of a community-creating primordial experience. The community thinking of the Weimar period, which continued in National Socialism, was rooted in the war experience of the First World War. Adam was also deeply influenced by it. Like many others, he interpreted the beginning of the war in August 1914 as an overwhelming experience of the unity and community of the German people. This community abolished all political, social, and confessional barriers. “Experience” and “Encounter” became at the same time an epistemological instrument. With its help, Adam rejected the claim of Neo-Scholasticism to justify faith with the help of natural reason. Adam now grounded faith in the irrational, in the encounter. This, however, was not understood as something purely subjective, but as an event that transcended individuality, within a community shaped by authority and hierarchy.

I would like to present Alfred Delp’s understanding of the Church primarily with the help of a text he wrote in prison at the end of 1944 or the beginning of 1945. [“Reflexionen über die Zukunft” (Reflections on the Future), “IV. Das Schicksal der Kirchen” (Fate of the Churches), in IV, 318-323]. It is a clear-sighted look into the future of the Church. The fate of the Church would not depend on the political-tactical skill of its leaders, but on its turning to the real need of people in all areas of life. Thus, for Delp, the Church is essentially a diaconal Church. It has to return to its basic function of diakonía.

“No man will believe in the message of salvation and of the Savior until we have bloodied ourselves in the service of man who is physically, psychologically, socially, economically, morally, or otherwise sick” (IV, 319).

This may sound as self-evident as the commitment to human rights, but it is just as little so. For Karl Adam, the self-executions of the Church included dogma, cultus, and morality, i.e., preaching, administering the sacraments, and educational activity, but not diaconal commitment. Adam did propagate the unity of the truth of faith and the life of faith, but he sought it in “experience” and not in [the encounter], in turning to the world and the needs of people. The fact that Adam almost completely omitted the diaconal character of the Church from his ecclesiology enabled him to propagate a church of the strong and healthy and to dream of a Catholic “master man.”

As an example, on the other hand, let us mention Pius XII. He adhered to the traditional image of the Church as an institution of salvation, which must provide everything for the salvation of the individual soul. This means that here, too, diaconal commitment was not in the foreground. It was more important to ensure the continued existence of Church pastoral care and the administration of the sacraments through political cleverness—for it was a matter of eternal salvation—than to protest against the persecution of the Jews.

One can see, then, the importance that Delp’s determination of the Church’s task had. From its diaconal mission and self-execution, the Church must recognize the signs of the times; hear and answer “the calls of longing and of the times, of ferment and of new departures,” and not merely file away “the concerns of each new age and generation in the filing cabinets” (IV, 318). It must also do a reappraisal of its past, i.e., self-critically explore what it itself has contributed to the history of injustice in its 2000-year history.

“A coming honest cultural and intellectual history will have to write bitter chapters about the churches’ contributions to the emergence of mass man, collectivism, dictatorial forms of rule, etc.” (IV, 319).

To secular man, the Church must not meet with presumption; the lost and erring man it must pursue; it must be concerned about human dignity and human rights. “It makes no sense to be content to leave humanity to its fate with a preaching and religious license, with a pastor’s and prelate’s salary” (IV, 23).

The Church must not want to compensate for its real loss of political and social power with alliances of throne and altar of whatever kind.

By the end of these thoughts, which Delp wrote in prison with his hands tied, there are only fragmentary, but all the more forceful, sentences. The Church must turn to the world, must be the sacrament of the world, not the goal of the world. But neither must she dissolve herself in any worldly order and abandon her transcendent reference: “The force of the Church’s immanent mission depends on the seriousness of her transcendent devotion and adoration” (IV, 323).

Thus, Delp’s understanding of the Church reflects his conception of the human being—fully turned towards the world and committed to history; but always living from the transcendent reference. That he calls the Church to a return to one of its fundamental self-fulfillments, diakonia, is thus on the one hand the best tradition of the Church, but also results from his conception of man, which is shaped by modern philosophy. The fact that this view of the Church is also groundbreaking from an inner-Church point of view is something I would like to mention here only briefly and take up again at the end.

4. The Heroic Ideal

Karl Adam emphasized in his Christ books the humanity of Jesus [Christus unser Bruder (Christ our Brother) Regensburg 1926; Jesus Christus (Jesus Christ) Augsburg 1933]., but carried this out in such a way that he projected onto the earthly Jesus a heroic ideal of masculinity and sought to combine this with the traditional Christian virtues, which stereotypically appear as feminine. The product was the physically and psychologically perfect man. With the help of this favoring of the “strong” and “healthy,” Christianity was not to appear as the morbid religion of the weak, born of resentment. Christology is thus functionalized for a church of the “strong and healthy.” The fact that Adam also emphasized the “maternal” traits of Jesus may soften this impression, but in their clichéd nature (“tender, caring and ready for sacrifice”) these cannot relativize the heroic motif.

Delp, like probably most men of his time, was by no means indifferent to the heroic ideal. His youthful dream was to become a soldier and officer. But the First World War also brought a change in this respect. To his provincial, Father Augustin Rösch, he wrote before his ordination in 1937:

“Yesterday, I gave in to a secret childhood love and once again looked at soldiers on parade on the fairgrounds. As you know, I told you once in Feldkirch, I would have loved to become a soldier for my life. My godfather, who was only a few years older than me, was already a cadet and I dreamed of it. Then the war shattered everything. My godfather fell in ‘14 as a young cadet just 17 years old. And after the war everything was different. In the meantime, the divine eagle picked up the foundling and carried it to its eyrie. And now it should get the big wings… That just came to my mind during the ‘heightened combat readiness’ that was also practiced yesterday” (V, 91).

Delp never completely let go of this youthful desire: in 1939 he made intensive efforts to be drafted into field chaplaincy. When his rather impetuous approach to this question led to irritation, he justified himself by saying that he wanted to follow in the footsteps of the men in his family.

“The fact that I was so hasty in seeking my war assignment stems from the fact that I wanted to become an officer before my conversion and that I am ashamed to sit at home, while all but one of the male members of my family are in the field. Besides, precisely as a priest and Jesuit, I wanted to prove that the concerns and worries of my people are always a serious duty to me” (V, 106). Delp wrote to Vicar General Georg Werthmann on September 28, 1939.

Given this fascination with the military, it is all the more significant that Delp was completely immune to certain forms of glorification of war and combat, such as we find in Ernst Jünger or Max Scheler. Delp read Scheler’s work Der Genius des Krieges (The Genius of War) and Jünger’s Der Kampf als inneres Erlebnis (War as Inner Experience) as an inner experience and rejected Jünger’s assertions that war is a law of nature and that it does not matter why and for what one fights, but only how, as well as Scheler’s automatism of purification through war, independent of moral considerations and decisions. Above all, Delp is far from “glorifying war as the ideal state of male life” (II, 247); but he calls for coping with it and mastering it. In this 1940 article from Stimmen der Zeit (Voices of the Time), entitled, “Der Krieg als geistige Leistung” (War as a Spiritual Achievement) [II, 239-248], Delp does not grapple with the question of just war or the moral permissibility of a war of extermination, although it seems between the lines that he is aware of this issue. For the sake of fairness, however, it must be said that positively uplifting articles about the war were required by the Reichsschrifttumskammer (Reich Chamber of Culture) at this time, and direct criticism of the war would not have been tolerated.

Delp had already dealt with the concept of honor and the ideal of the heroic man in the context of his critique of völkisch religiosity. [“Kirche in der Zeitenwende” (Church at the Crossroads), “VIII. Der Mensch der Ehre im Christentum” (Man and Honor in Christianity), “IX. Der heldische Mensch” (Heroic Man), in I, 165-182].

In the völkisch religious myth, honor is a central concept—honor, however, not understood as an external reputation or good reputation, but as the innermost core of man. Honor then means self-realization and loyalty to the inner self, which gives itself its own laws. This law of honor is considered the highest norm and does not tolerate any other highest value next to it, neither Christian love nor secular humanity. From this results the reproach of dishonor to the Christians; and this reproach Delp wanted to refute and to work out the true meaning of the concept of honor.

The Christian is also obliged to realize himself, to be true to himself, to listen to his innermost voice. This happens when he listens to his conscience. For Delp, the central value of Christianity is man’s likeness to God (through creation) and sonship to God (through grace)—therefore, honor is inconceivable without love. Christian life is thus compatible with the concept of honor; but Christians can have nothing in common with people whose honor does not extend beyond themselves.

The heroic person in the völkisch-religious ideology is the one who lives according to the law of honor. The heroic ideal is a fighting one. The struggle is for its own sake, not for a goal. Only by fighting does the hero realize himself, even if this means his downfall. Certainly, there is no goal that goes beyond man and the earthly world. This absolute world immanence is without goal and for Delp therefore senseless. We have here the same judgment as with Heidegger’s concept of the decision of Dasein to itself. Moreover, this senselessness, Delp criticizes, is not named as such, but concealed as tragedy.

“Thus, self-realization becomes a self-destruction; the march of hammering life a train to abysmal death. This human being must fight, must dare, and yet in the end must not ask what for. He feels the insufficiency of his personal disposition, but this is exactly supposed to constitute his heroism; that it nevertheless pulls unquestioningly and wordlessly into the twilight darkness and perishes in it. Finally, he declares the senseless and the groundless to be the meaning and reason of his commitment; he stands before the new lie of tragedy” (I, 177).

Christian heroism, for Delp, is no less achievement, spirit, and readiness to fight. But there is a great difference between the heroism of the time and the heroism of the Christian. The Christian is committed to a task which is to be accomplished in the world, but which transcends this world. Man does not give himself his goal—here the hero is quite powerless—but he must let God give him that goal.

“To the man of ‘autonomous heroism’ no other result is valid than tragedy. He must finally admit to himself that he knows no answer to the question, why and to what end. Thus, he proclaims the struggle without aim and without sense; the march without direction. The living, honest man defends himself against this worst deception, which was ever tried on people. The Christian, however, is full of certainty and confidence; that he is committed to an effort that holds out the prospect of hardship and toil and wounding and death, and yet is meaningful and productive of results—before God” (I, 180f).

Delp thus takes up, not only for tactical reasons, but out of inner affinity, the motif of the heroic, which is encountered in völkisch religiosity and Nazi ideology, and gives it an entirely different meaning: not the law of honor, not the struggle as an end in itself, not the downfall as a tragedy count; but radical commitment to the world, on the sure ground of God’s grace. Man cannot redeem himself. Any presumed autonomy on this point and any resulting tragedy would be lies.

Delp is also far from projecting the heroic ideal onto Jesus Christ. This goes hand in hand with a very traditional descendent Christology. Karl Adam fascinated many of his contemporaries, and especially young men, by his emphasis on the humanity of Jesus, and by describing this human Jesus as strong, healthy and attractive—a dream of a man. That was modern, innovative, carried people away. Delp, on the other hand, appears here, as Karl Rahner acknowledges about him in the preface to Volume I, actually rather old-fashioned [“Einleitung zu den Texten” (Introduction of the Textx, Karl Rahner), in I, 43-50; here, 46].. For him, Christ is the preexistent Word of God who became man, who descended into the lowliness of human existence—not a strong, tough of will, vigorous, male hero. Delp’s Christology is a kenotic one, a divestment Christology.

Here too, then, it is evident that he takes up and reinterprets contemporary currents, but applies them only to the situation of man, not to God or Jesus Christ.

5. Conclusion

The question of the coherence of Delp’s theology and his resistance can be clearly answered in the affirmative. In his philosophical and theological reflections on man and history, as well as in his spiritual writings, Delp foresaw what he later actively suffered and was forced to master. He not only thought of the Christian’s responsibility in history and for history, but also realized it. The fact that he did not give in to the Gestapo’s efforts to get him to resign from the Jesuit Order, even though that would probably have saved his life, but took his last vows on December 8, 1944, in Tegel Prison, was an outward expression of his decision to remain faithful both to history and to his transcendent goal.

Closely related to his resistance continue to be his diaconal understanding of the church, his commitment to human rights, and his resistance to communal ideology.

Neo-Scholastic theologians in National Socialist Germany found it easier to refer to human rights because they affirmed God-given human rights from natural law thinking and were more universalist-oriented than “völkisch” and racist theologians. This does not mean, however, that all Neo-Scholastics were by definition resisters or even affirmed human rights. In Vichy France, for example, we find the commitment to human rights more among the so-called modern theologians.

For all his interest in orders of a natural or supernatural nature and in the sociality of man, Delp repeatedly emphasized conscience, personal decision, and the responsibility of the individual for history. On the one hand, this may still reflect the Neo-Scholastic individualism of salvation, for Delp is always concerned with the question of salvation in this context, but perhaps even more strongly the reception of Heidegger’s Being and Time, to which Jürgen Habermas ascribes a critical moment, namely that which is contained in the individualistic heritage of existential philosophy. [After 1929, according to Habermas, this critical moment disappeared in Heidegger, and “historical humanity” and “collective destiny” took its place]. Delp, however, retained it; and possibly this made him resistant to the prevailing ideology of community.

Was Delp’s theology a modern, contemporary one, or a more traditional Neo-Scholastic one?

There is no single answer here. Delp was driven by a concern to engage with contemporary thought and to incorporate what he recognized as positive into Christian theology. There is, however, a clear boundary here—as long as it is a matter of illuminating the situation of man and understanding history, he was inspired, for example, by Heidegger or the heroic ideal; but even so, in determining the double meaning of history he opposed traditionally shaped views, even more so when it came to Jesus Christ or God. Delp would probably never have had the idea—not even after the notorious “Kehre”—to transfer Heidegger’s concept of being to God. With regard to Jesus Christ, he remained within the framework of a classical descendent Christology and did not go along with the fashionable trend of putting the humanity of Jesus particularly in the foreground.

Delp’s understanding of nature and grace is also rather Neo-Scholastic. He did not want to tear the two apart; but he does see them as two realms. In the understanding of history, this is shown by the distinction between a natural order of history and the order of Christ. Also, by nature, history has a goal: namely, to become what God intended in creation. These thoughts are more in the Neo-Scholastic discourse; the concept of the unity of world history and salvation history, on the other hand, in the modern. However, Seiler has made it convincingly clear in his commentary that the category of history functions as a link between traditionality and modernity in Delp’s thought. Nature is tied to supernature in a historical way. Consequently, nature and supernature, though two separate realms, are linked by history. The same is true of Christology—the mystery of the Hypostatic Union has made visible a new order of nature, and with it a new dimension of history: being the place of man’s encounter with God in the order of Christ. Everything that is human is embraced by the Christ order. According to Seiler, no Neo-Scholastic thinks in this way. In this respect, Seiler says that Delp’s understanding of nature and grace and Christology is modern in its Neo-Scholastic character.

Absolutely groundbreaking is Delp’s understanding of the Church. Here he had already overtaken the so-called modern theologians of his time, who adhered to the ideology of community. That the Church is a sacrament, i.e., a sign and instrument of the union of man with God and of men among themselves, is the core principle of the Church constitution of the Second Vatican Council. Church as sacrament means first of all service to the world. The sacramental interpretation does not point the Church inward, to a self-sufficient liturgical community, or to the piety of inner circles, but outward to the needs of the world. Whoever had such an understanding of the Church could not dream of a Church of the strong and healthy, or want to push through a Church reform with the help of National Socialism, at a time when millions had already been killed in the death camps and in the war.

Finally, let Alfred Delp himself be given the last say—with a quotation that makes it clear that Christians’ commitment to history is a matter of life and death:

“History, within its order and possibilities, is placed on the testimony and decision of men. It is, from man’s point of view, an agonal event; whoever did not fight for history should not be surprised if he lost it and if it forgot him” (II, 417f.).

Alfred Delp fought for history and lost his life—history did not forget him.


Lucia Scherzberg is Professor of systematic theology at the University of Saarland, Germany. This article appears courtesy of theologie.geschichte.


Featured image: Father Alfred Delp.

The Fate of Churches

This treatise on the role of the Church in modern times was written by Father Alfred Delp, a Jesuit priest, while he was in prison, awaiting execution.

The fragmentary sentences near the end were written while his hands were tied. During this time, he wrote to his secretary in which he recounted a cruel comment of his SS guard who, along with some others, had just beaten him severely: “You won’t sleep much tonight. You’ll pray, but neither God nor an angel will come and rescue you. But we’ll sleep soundly and will be fresh in the morning, to give you another good thrashing.”

Despite the grim context, this little treatise is also a testimony of the workings of faith in the face of evil and certain death, and the great strength of Christian hope.

Father Delp was executed, at 38 years of age, by the Nazis, on February 2, 1945; his body was cremated and the ashes scattered in an unknown location in Berlin.


The fate of churches in the coming time will not depend on what their prelates and leading authorities come up with in terms of cleverness, sagacity, “political skills”, etc. Nor will it depend on the “positions” that people have been able to obtain from among them. All that is obsolete.

Within themselves, the churches must, for the sake of their existence, decisively be finished with fanaticism and the lagging, disintegrating liberalism. Hierarchy must be real order and leadership. The Church should know this from its origins.

But order and leadership are something else than formalism and feudal personalism. Above all, the conviction must grow again that the hierarchy does not only have confidence in the errors and follies of mankind. It must be known and felt and experienced again that it hears and answers the calls of longing and of the times, of ferment and of new awakenings, that the concerns of each new age and generation are not just filed away in filing cabinets, but are evaluated and treated as “concerns,” i.e., worries and tasks.

Also, the other way of the exacting Church, in the name of the exacting God, is no longer a path to this generation and to the times to come. Between the clear conclusions of our fundamental theology and the listening hearts of the people lies the great mountain of weariness that the experience of ourselves has piled up.

Through our existence, we have taken away people’s trust in us. Two thousand years of history are not only blessings and commendations, but also a burden and heavy inhibition. And especially in previous times a person become found in the church also only the person become tired, who still committed the dishonesty of hiding his tiredness behind pious words and gestures. A coming honest, cultural and intellectual history will have to write bitter chapters about the contributions to the emergence of mass man, of collectivism, of dictatorial forms of rule, etc.

Whether the Church will once again find a way to reach these people will depend on two things. The first is so self-evident that I will not even mention it. If the churches once again present humanity with the image of a bickering Christendom, they will be written off. We should accept the division as a historical fate and at the same time as a cross. None of those living today would carry it out again. And at the same time, it should be our permanent shame and disgrace, since we were not able to guard Christ’s inheritance, his love, in an unbroken way.

The one fact means the return of the churches to “diakonia”: to the service of humanity. And to a service that is determined by the need of humanity, not by our tastes or the consuetudinarium of an ecclesial community, however established. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mk 10:45). One only has to call the various realities of Church existence once under this law and measure them against this statement, and one actually knows enough. No human being will believe in the message of salvation and of the Savior as long as we have not bloodied ourselves in the service of the physically, psychologically, socially, economically, morally or otherwise sick human being. Man today is sick.

Perhaps in the next few days I will get around to putting down on paper a few thoughts about man’s illnesses. And man today has at the same time become a supreme expert in many fields of life, and who has greatly expanded the space of human power and dominion. He is still quite dazed by this new ability. He does not yet feel some inner loss and atrophy of the organs, which he exchanges for this ability. And he does not need to feel them at all in the beginning. But above all, it is not necessary to tell him and reproach him constantly. A clever and wise leadership will take them into account, but will not talk about them all the time. This able and worldly-wise person is very sensitive to any presumed or real arrogance. The diligence and reliability, to which the technical life forces the majority of today’s people, also give them an eye for the sloppiness and wallowing with which we in the Church perform our “functions” in the broadest sense of the word.

Return to the “diakonia” is what I said. By this I mean the joining of people in all their situations, with the intention of helping them to master them, without subsequently filling out a column and section somewhere. By this I mean the following and wandering even into the utmost perplexities and stupefactions of man, in order to be with him exactly and just then, when he is surrounded by loss and degradation. “Go out” said the Master, and not: “Sit down and wait to see if anyone comes.” By this I mean the concern also for human space and the human order. It makes no sense to leave humanity to its fate, satisfied with a sermon and religious permit, with a pastor’s and prelate’s salary. By this I mean the spiritual encounter as a real dialogue, not as a monologue and monotonous whining.

However, all this will only be understood and wanted if fulfilled people come again from the Church. The “fullness.” This word is important for Paul (Col. 2:9). It is even more important for our concern. The fulfilled people, not the salvation-anxious or pastor-affiliated frightened caricatures, who know themselves again as not only stewards of Christ, but as those who have prayed with all openness: fac cor meum secundum cor tuum. If the churches will once again release from themselves the fulfilled, the creative human being, filled with divine force that is their lot, only then will they have the measure of security and self-confidence that will allow them to do away with the constant insistence on “right” and “heritage.” Only then will they have the bright eyes that, even in the darkest hours, will see the concerns and calls of God. And only then they will have ready hearts that are not interested in saying, “We were right after all.” They will only care about one thing—to help and heal in the name of God.

But how to get there? The churches seem to stand in their own way here by the nature of their way of being that has become historical. I believe that wherever we do not voluntarily separate ourselves from the way of life for the sake of life, the history what has happened will strike us as a judging and destroying thunderbolt. This is true for the personal destiny of the individual church person as well as for the institutions and customs. We are at a dead point despite all correctness and orthodoxy. The Christian idea is not one of the leading and formative ideas of this century. Still the plundered man lies on the road. Shall the stranger pick him up once more? I think we have to take the phrase very seriously: what worries and distresses the Church at present is man. The man outside, to whom we no longer have a way and who no longer believes us. And the man inside, who does not believe himself because he has experienced and lived too little love. Therefore, one should not make great reform lectures and design great reform programs, but rather set about the formation of Christian personhood and at the same time equip oneself to meet the immense need of man in a helping and healing way.

Most of the people of the Church and the official Church itself must realize that for the present and its people the Church is not only an incomprehensible and misunderstood reality, but in many respects a disturbing, threatening, dangerous fact. We are walking on two parallels; and there are no connecting footbridges across and over. In addition, each of the two authorities—the “natural” and the “supernatural”—appears to the other as a competent judge. For the Church, this results in a multifaceted obligation.

The hard and honest consideration of how this could have become so. And not a reflection on the guilt of the other.

The old question of what the consequences are for the revival and the appearance of the Church.

Much more important and deeper—education for reverence towards the other person. Away from presumption to reverence.

The Church must understand itself much more as a sacrament, as a way and a means, not as a goal and end.

A personal understanding is more important today than the original objective integrity.

In general, the question arises whether one can, indeed may, always and under all circumstances, leave the judgment of what has become historical to historical values.

Honest sobriety in the statement that the Church today does not belong to the leading powers and forces of mankind.

And that this fact cannot be presented unilaterally by a d’accord [in French in the original] with other powerful instances of history (throne and altar in any forms), but only by the release of its own, inner vitality and possibility puissance, not force [words in italics are in English in the original].

The force of the immanent mission of the Church depends on the seriousness of its transcendent devotion and worship. The arrogant man, always of evil, is already in the vicinity of the Church, not to mention in the Church alone and even in the name of the Church or as the Church.


Featured image: Father Alfred Delp at his trial, at the People’s Court, Berlin, January 8-9, 1945.

Russia’s Great Patriotic War

Of all the countries Adolf Hitler invaded, none was able to muster a sustained and successful military counterattack, except one – Russia. When the Nazis launched Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941, it was a massive three-pronged invasion from the North (to capture Leningrad), from the South (to take the Ukraine), and through the center (to seize Moscow).

The Germans and their allies came in great force – with 3.75 million troops, along with 4,000 tanks, and 750,000 horses (we must bear in mind that the German military was only partially mechanized in 1941). It is also well known that the Russians were not ready, to say the least, largely because Hitler was the only man Stalin truly trusted and could not bring himself to believe that the Nazi leader had ordered the attack. Stalin kept insisting that the onslaught was the action of rogue German generals, and Hitler would put a stop to it all, when he found out what was being done to his friend, Stalin. In fact, the reality of Hitler’s betrayal hit Stalin very hard, and he disappeared to his dacha, in a rare fit of uncertainty, leaving the country leaderless during a crucial time.

The Germans likewise squandered any advantages they might have had because of their ideology, for the invasion was at first seen by some (especially in the Ukraine) as a liberation from Stalinism. But when the reality of the true purpose of the invasion began very quickly to be implemented – the clearing out of the land of all its inhabitants, for eventual settlement by Germans – resolve toughened and military resistance began in earnest.

Hitler had come not simply to take control and include Russia in his “empire” – rather, he had come to clear the land of its native inhabitants so that he might settle it with Germans. Faced with the prospect of annihilation in their own country, how could the Russians not know the war foisted upon them as anything other than “patriotic?” Hence, the Russian term for the Second World War (a rather banal designation) is the Great Patriotic War. It was a fight to the death for the Russian homeland – for the Rodina, that emotion-laden term, which means so much more than “motherland” or “fatherland,” for it means all that binds one to family and individual purpose.

Despite early successes, by December 1941, the Germans knew they had begun what they had never wanted – a war on two fronts. The next four years were grim and bloody on the Eastern Front, with unimaginable casualty rates on both sides.

The total war dead for Russia is estimated to be between 26 to 42 million, both civilians and military. For the Germans, losses on the Eastern Front are estimated to be about 2.7 million. The immense Russian sacrifice finally led to victory, when the Red Army took Berlin on May 2, 1945 (Hitler had committed suicide a few days earlier, on April 30th).

What was the nature of the Russian resolve? What inner strength did the Russians living and fighting through those fateful years draw upon? In the grand sweep of history, the sacrifice, the courage, the suffering of individuals is often little remembered. The millions slaughtered were ordinary human beings forced into the maw of a war, from which there was no escape.

These questions of the resolve and strength of the Russians to drive back the Nazi invaders is superbly explored and elaborated by Maria Bloshteyn in her latest book, Russia is Burning. Poems of the Great Patriotic War, which is an anthology of Russian poetry from 1939 to 1945. Bloshteyn is a talented and gifted scholar and translator, whose work has appeared in the pages of the Postil, and who has previously published a collection of early short stories of Chekhov, and the work of Alexander Galich. Her translations have also appeared in The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry. And her study of Dostoevsky is not only immensely erudite, but delightfully readable (qualities rarely found together in what often passes for scholarship).

This combination of readability and scholarship continues in Russia is Burning. The anthology is a dual-text, Russian and facing-page translations, with two essays, at the beginning and end, both of which contextualize the role and purpose of poetry within the broader extent of the Great Patriotic War. The selections are placed into four categories: “Seven Poets Killed,” that is, poems of those killed in the war; “Voice Heard,” which include poems and trench-songs that were widely known and loved by the ordinary fighting man or woman (the Red Army had 800,000 women); “Muted Voice,” which presents poems written by emigres, by prisoners in the Gulags, and verses that were never meant to be published, that is, written “for the desk-drawer;” and lastly, “The War Remembered,” which traces the years after 1945, during which poetry took on the task of healing the Russian soul, by leading it out of its trauma and into the promise of peace.

All the poems in the anthology have head-notes that give historical and thematic context to each poet and his/her poems, This is a very helpful and rather elegant way to handle the necessary job of informing the reader, while deftly avoiding the trap of information-density that is often found in such endeavors, and which break-up the reading-flow. These head-notes also serve to stress what should be stressed – the poem itself. All-too-often, translators do not know how to wear their learning lightly and opt for intrusive footnotes, or worse, endnotes. This anthology overcomes this wonkiness by including all the pertinent information needed right in the head-notes, so that the reading experience is unobtrusive of academic paraphernalia.

Though the poems in the three sections are a wide assortment of style, sensibility and perspective, all of them nevertheless are united by a common theme – that of Russia as the Motherland, the Rodina, upon whose breast is cast all the suffering, the tragedy, the bloodshed. This means that individualized instances of courage, of sacrifice, of struggle, of disappointment, of helplessness, of loneliness, but also of hope for an end to all cruel things – all these are given meaning within the embrace of the Motherland.

These poems speak not to so much of soil and of the people, concerns that marked so much of earlier Russian literary expression, but of invoking that final reserve of resolve which might lead to overcoming the enemy. In the swirl of the Great Patriotic War, there is only Russia itself – bereft of everything. It is now the task of her sons and daughters to return what was always rightfully hers – peace, happiness, and fulfillment. But it is a giving back that can only come about one hand at a time, for a hand is both limited in action but limitless in the results of that action:

Under a hillock, in a field,
a stern young boy from Moscow fell
and quietly, his cap slid off
his bullet-riddled head.

Departing for another world.
not very far from that in which he grew,
he clutched his warm, native earth
in his already stiffening hand.

The highest criterion
by which we can possibly be judged
will be that handful of earth
clutched in that young grey palm.
(Yaroslav Smelyakov, “The Judge”)

The “highest criterion” is not found in the death of young soldier, but in his clutched hand, which cannot be loosened – for he grips not agony, but the fruit of his sacrifice, and his burial therefore looks forward to resurrection which will be peace. Such is the holy wisdom that cruelty oft-times brings.

The Great Patriotic War became a grand shout of defiance by patriots, who knew just enough to never accept defeat, because a quality that inhabited each of them, their Russianness, could never be quiet because it had been betrayed:

We know what’s at stake and how great the foe’s power,
And what now is coming to pass.
Every clock shows the same time – it’s courage hour!
And our courage will hold to the last.
The bullets can kill us, but cannot deter;
Though our houses fall, yet we will stand –
Through it all we will keep you alive, Russian word,
Mighty language of our Russian land.
Your sounds will remain pure and free on our tongues,
To be passed on unfettered through ages to come.
Forever!
(Anna Akhmatova, “Courage,” 23 February 1942, Tashkent)

And it this wisdom which shall free Russia – a wisdom that can never come cheaply, as Olga Berggolts pointed out in 1941:

Just as you are now: emaciated, dauntless,
in a hastily tied kerchief,
holding a purse as you go out
under the bombardment.

Daria Vlasyevna, the whole land
will be renewed by your strength.
The name of this strength of yours is “Russia.”
Like Russia, stand and take heart!
(“Conversation with a Neighbour”)

This wisdom Elena Shirman, who died early in the conflict, in 1942, also knew: “…A boom – /and shards of broken streets come tumbling./… Someone will raise me from the pavement and kindly say,/ “You must have stumbled.” Such is the Rodina, the Motherland, which the community, and the family.

A helping hand, kindness, while a world shatters is the embodiment of what an earlier poet, in an earlier world conflict, called, “the pity of war,” because the 20th-century invented warfare that was scientific and industrialized, which therefore concerned itself with precision barrages, shock-and-awe, genocide, carpet-bombing, scorched earth, total war, and the headlong rush of the displaced, running away from death and often straight into death. The older message is now commonplace, and hardly ever brings comment – kill to build a better world:

All the world is going to wrack and ruin.
What, you’ve lost your nerve? Oh don’t be shy!
Come and crush it all in one fell stroke,
Pulverize, make stardust in the sky!

Poison it with mustard gas or, better,
Bomb the whole damn thing to smithereens.
Do away at once with all this art and
Anguish of our planet – by all means!
(Georgy Ivanov, “All the World is Going to Wrack and Ruin”)

It is also important to bear in mind that poetry no longer had a purpose or function among soldiers of other Allied nations by the time the Second World War came around. Certainly, there were soldier-poets (John Gillespie Magee, John Jarmain, Keith Douglas, Alun Lewis, John Ciardi, Henry Lee, Drummond Allison), but in the English-speaking world, whatever energy poetry once possessed now yielded to the urgent immediacy of film and photography. World War Two is known for its images; not its verse – and so unlike the First World War, where the entire experience of the trenches is still today seen through the poet’s eye; for who can imagine that earlier war without evoking the lines of John McCrae, Wilfrid Owen, Julian Grenfell, Siegfried Sassoon, and Isaac Rosenberg? Within a generation, sensibilities had changed so much.

For Russians, however, poetry and song retained what the English-speaking world had lost – words spun into meter and rhyme and often carried along with music bore meaning deeper into the soul than any image possibly could. The Nazi invasion was devasting, but not because it was murderous (for the Russian people had already endured Stalin’s purges) – for it denied the surety of community. Though Stalin killed very effectively, there yet remained for people the strength of community, a bond that can sustain no matter how bleak the reality beyond. But when a community is shattered, there is only flotsam of individual lives, seeking nothing more than survival.

It is this ruination that Arseny Tarkovsky understood only too well in 1942:

Say a German gunner will get me in the back,
or a piece of shrapnel will take out both my legs,

or a teenaged SS trooper will shoot me in the gut –
anyway, I’m done for, there is no way out.

I won’t go down to glory – I’ll be unshod, unknown,
Looking through my frozen eyes at the bloodied snow.

Thus, when the Nazis smashed their way nearly to Moscow, they came stirring a witches’ cauldron of cruelty and annihilation. Despite outward differences, both Hitler and Stalin were driven by ideology. At first their ideology coalesced (the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact), but in 1941 it fell apart with Operation Barbarossa. In the millstones of Nazism and Stalinism, what could the Russian people use to rally the will to survive, live, and then overcome? Poetry alone was the answer, for it provided purpose, and grim determination.

But in the meantime, there was only the business of endless brutality, so chillingly captured by Nikolai Panchenko in “The Girl Worked in our Unit as a Barber,” written years later in 1961, a memory seared into the minds of those who were there and saw a young woman raped to death by men of a unit that had sided with the Germans against the Communists. It is a brutal poem that says so much, with just a few words: “They gagged her with their fetid footcloths… Our unit used to call her ‘babyface.’ And then comes the revenge of finding the rapists and methodically killing them: “…we burst into that village in tight fistfuls…. Explosions, howls, shots…. My bayonet was bent,/ my bullets lost./ We got in the hollow of the banya,/ each of us fought to kill as many as we could./ With these white teeth/ I bit through Adam’s apples…. The girl dozed off under a greatcoat…. As if she could see anything at all…. The HQ sent us medals, one and all…. We dug them down into a hillock/ right beside her.”

Stalin understood the problem of morale well, and very quickly set up an entire “industry” of poetry, which could be fed to the people to give them the will and strength to fight and survive. Bloshteyn, in her excellent end essay, therefore observes: “War poems were published both in the civilian press…and the military press… by 1944 there were about 800 military newspapers with an output of three million issues in all… there were poems in the informational leaflets… poems on propaganda posters… Poems were read on the radio… in concert halls… poems were put to music, performed by… popular singers… sung in dugouts and trenches… All these platforms created a demand for wartime poetry that was unprecedented and unparalleled not only in the Soviet Union but in any other country.”

Even in the territory held by the Germans, there was poetry published in “270 [partisan newspapers] by 1944.” It must be borne in mind that Soviet rule was not a grassroots demand – but rather imposed upon the Russian people after a long drawn-out, bloody Civil War, in which slaughter-exhaustion alone led to any sort of peace. Thus, as mentioned already, the Germans were initially welcomed by many who hoped that they had come to throw off the Communist yoke. This is the larger reason behind what is known as the “collaborators” – those who helped the Germans against the Communists. But such collaboration was a stillborn dream, as Boris Filippov came to understand too late, in 1945:

Town after town after town,
just houses of cards bunched together.
There’s nothing I want out of life…
No one… Nowhere… Never…

I’m pushing my rickety cart,
on the road across German land,
clover stems nod as I pass,
mosquitoes keen a lament.

There is nothing I want out of life –
Never… Nowhere… No one…
Angry villages bunched up together.
Town after town after town…

And when the Germans were pushed back, all the way deep inside their own homeland; and when Berlin fell, Hitler killed himself and the war ended, what then? Shakespeare was right to speak of the dogs of war let loose, for the ravening of humanity that must come with industrialized slaughter can bear little healing. Torn flesh can at best become a scar, which is nothing other than a constant reminder of the snapping jaws of savagery – perhaps because the many and various masters of war will always hold the leashes of their dogs lightly.

Once courage is shown, the sacrifice made, there can only remain the silence of incomprehensibility, for who can clearly say what wars achieve? There is certainly a just war, and the Secord World War certainly qualifies as one. And yet, there remains the question of the price paid to achieve such justice – and whether those who survive, and the dwarfish generations that come after, no longer give thanks to the giants on whose shoulders they and their world stands:

I was there, where mines exploded,
sending howling shrapnel past.
I was fighting on the frontlines
honestly and to the last.

I’d be glad not to remember
but I live with what I saw:
crusty skin crawling with lice,
blood and corpses in the snow,

the med units where I rotted
with their disinfected grace,
the open, snarling jaws
of the hastily dug graves,

and the minutes before battle…
so that you can take my word –
I know well how much it cost us,
the salute we all just heard.

And it still feels much too early
to draw up the final bill,
when the world spreads out before us
like a wound that will not heal.
(Vladimir Bobrov, “Victory,” 1945)

But the price that all war demands of peace is also revenge and settling of scores, just a little bit more bloodshed, before the dogs can be once again firmly leashed awhile, inside the foul warehouse of politics; revenge that casts humans into roles from which they cannot emerge unscathed, or even alive. Here is David Samoilov, about a captive “bandit” women (a “bandit” was one who sided with the Germans in the hope of throwing off the Communist yoke):

I led a bandit out, to shoot her.
She didn’t beg, she didn’t plead –
Just glared at me with pride and anger,
And bit her shawl in agony.
And then she said, “Now listen, fella,
You’re gonna shoot me anyway.
Before you lay me down forever,’
Just let me look at my Ukraine.

Let the potato-eaters [Russians] flee,
Their bridles jangling loud, like coins!
Let Commies realize their ideals
The way they want to back at home…

It’s them that came up with the kolkhoz
Where all the bums can eat for free.
For us Ukrainians, what’s the difference –
Gestapo or NKVD?

I led a bandit out to shoot her.
She didn’t beg, she didn’t plead.
(“The Bandit Woman,” 1946)

There was a greater tragedy awaiting the Russians who heard these poems, sang these songs, and believed in what they said. The strength these words in meter had provided were not able to sustain them beyond the war. Victory is bittersweet; and Soviet society after 1945 had little use for those who had paid a grim toll with their maimed and disfigured bodies, as they “stirred the ash in [their] hearts,” as Olga Berggolts observes in “I Spent all Day at the Meeting.”

And Anna Barkova provides a monument of another sort, of whatever glory that may be garnered by a generation that once saved Russia from the Nazis:

The roads and the fields were aflood
with Russian blood, our bright blood,
with our own blood and that of our foes.
The tale must be told, but how, no one knows!

We were filthy, grimy, the worst off –
but we took Prague, Berlin and Warsaw.

We came back home with no eyes,
we came back home with no arms

and a strange foreign pain in our hearts.

– Spare some change for us, amputees,
we’re all war cripples, as you can see,
for the sake of your departed parents,
take pity on us, conquering heroes!
(“Victory Song,” 1945, 1953, Kaluga)

This anthology is filled with much emotion, much insight, much anguish, but also much hope and charity. Maria Bloshteyn has carefully and meticulously built a fitting monument to the Great Patriotic War. It should be widely read. Her translations are smooth, highly crafted and therefore well-fitted to the grand topic that is Russia in the Second World War. Buy it and read right through. You will not be disappointed.

The image shows, “For the Motherland,” a World War Two Poster from 1941.

Count Friedrich von Schulenburg

In September 1939, Count Friedrich-Werner von der Schulenburg, a 63-year-old German diplomat serving as ambassador to the Soviet Union, couldn’t have been happier. Germany and the USSR had just signed a non-aggression treaty known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Schulenburg strongly believed that peace with Russia was crucial for Germany’s well-being.

“This is a diplomatic miracle… I hope that no circumstances will ruin the situation, which is just fine now. At least, we [the diplomats] fulfilled our task… I hope something good will come out of this!” he wrote emotionally to a friend after the pact was signed.

Unfortunately, nothing good was to come out of it in the end. On June 22, 1941, Nazi Germany would violate the treaty, attacking the USSR with all its might, and all of Schulenburg’s efforts to prevent such an outcome were in vain. But why did such a man serve under Hitler in the first place

Schulenburg would likely have agreed with something Joseph Stalin’s said during World War II: “’Hitlers,’ they come and they go and the German nation will remain.” Schulenburg’s diplomatic service began in 1901, long before the Nazis came to power. A descendant of an old noble family, he worked as a diplomat his entire adult life with just one break to fight in World War I, for which he received an Iron Cross for bravery. Governments changed, but Schulenburg worked professionally with all of them.

He served as ambassador to Iran from 1922-1931 and then to Romania from 1931-1934, but the real challenge for him came when he was appointed to Moscow in 1934. While Schulenburg was no Russophile, he did share Otto von Bismark’s belief that in order to preserve its strength and abundance Germany must stay at peace with Russia.

“He attached a lot of importance to German-Soviet and German-Russian ties… For him, there was no alternative to the fruitful co-existence of those two great countries at peace,” Rüdiger von Fritsch, the German ambassador to Moscow, wrote in an article for Novaya Gazeta in 2014. However, since the Nazis were in charge of German foreign policy from 1933, maintaining good relations between Moscow and Berlin proved extremely difficult.

“No one else could represent Germany in the USSR in those hard times so sophisticatedly, with such caution and dignity, as Schulenburg,” noted Gustav Hilger, a German diplomat who worked in the Soviet embassy during the 1930s. Schulenburg did his best to reduce tension between the two countries in 1938-1939, as they were teetering on the brink of war.

In 1938, he reached an agreement with Maxim Litvinov (the Soviet foreign minister from 1930 – 1939) that the two countries would refrain from lambasting one other in the press. He also helped to prolong the trade treaty of 1938. But, as with any diplomat, Schulenburg couldn’t go beyond fulfilling orders from his government, and this is why he was so supportive of Germany and the USSR signing a non-aggression pact.

The thaw between the USSR and Nazi Germany was to be short-lived. In 1941, as new tensions emerged when Moscow rhetorically supported Yugoslavia following its invasion by Germany, new rumors of war filled the air. Schulenburg tried to address Hitler directly, writing him a note on how dangerous a Soviet-German war would be.

Hilger wrote the following in his memoirs: “On April 28, 1941, while on a work trip to Berlin, Schulenburg met Hitler in person. The ambassador saw his note lying on Hitler’s table, but he couldn’t tell if Hitler had read it. However, while saying goodbye, Hitler, pointed, unrelatedly to the previous conversation: ‘One more thing, Schulenburg. I am not going to go to war with Russia!’”

He lied. Schulenburg, though a de jure member of the Nazi Party, wasn’t a true Nazi and so Hitler didn’t trust him. As Joseph Goebbels, the German propaganda minister and Hitler’s close associate, would later write in his diary: “Our ambassador to Moscow had no idea Germany was going to attack… He insisted that the best policy would be making a friend and an ally out of Stalin… There is no doubt that not informing diplomats about our real intentions is the best policy possible.”

On June 22, 1941, Schulenburg came to the Kremlin to inform Vyacheslav Molotov, Litvinov’s successor as foreign minister, that war had begun – by this time, German troops had already stepped on Soviet soil without any declaration of war. The ambassador himself had just received the order from Berlin and felt absolutely crushed. While talking to Molotov, he “raised his hands towards the sky with an expression of powerlessness on his face,” Hilger remembered.

Schulenburg had to leave Moscow once the war broke out. He served in the foreign ministry in Berlin from 1941-1944, leading the Russia Committee, a formal post without any political influence. Not surprisingly, he was dissatisfied with Hitler and his policies.

This dissatisfaction led the old diplomat to join the ranks of the German anti-Nazi resistance. In 1944, by which time it was clear Germany was losing the war, several high-ranking officers and officials hatched a plot to assassinate Hitler. Schulenburg’s participation in the plot was minor, but he could have played an important role had it succeeded – several sources named him as possible foreign minister. The assassination attempt was not successful, however, and Schulenburg, like many other conspirators, was executed.

Although Schulenburg’s career was abruptly terminated, his wisdom and principles were praised in post-Nazi Germany. As Ambassador Fritsch writes, “If you visit Germany’s embassy in Moscow, you will meet Ambassador Schulenburg: His monument stands in the chancellery and his portrait hangs in the ambassador’s residence, next to the portrait of his great predecessor Otto von Bismark… Schulenburg’s personality and his principles serve witness: He deserves such a memory.”

Oleg Yegorov, writes for Russia Beyond.

The Battle Of Berlin

The Battle of Berlin was the final large-scale military operation to take place in Europe during World War II. The British and American allies did not participate in this offensive, leaving the Soviet army to conquer the city alone.

The Battle of Berlin was one of the largest battles in human history. It began on April 16 in the outskirts of the city. By April 25, Soviet troops had entered the Third Reich’s capital. About 3.5 million soldiers from both sides participated in the fight with more than 50,000 weapons and 10,000 tanks.

Soviet troops stormed Berlin while the rest of the Allied army remained more than 100 kilometers outside the German capital. In 1943, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt declared that “the U.S. must obtain Berlin.”

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill agreed that the Nazi capital must not fall into Soviet hands. However, in the spring of 1945, these Allied forces did not make any effort to take possession of the city. British historian John Fuller called it “one of the strangest decisions ever made in military history.”

However, this decision had its motives. In an interview with RBTH, Russian historian Andrei Soyustov said that there were at least two reasons for this decision.

First, according to preliminary agreements, including the accords made in Yalta, Berlin was located in the zone of Soviet military operations. The demarcation line between the USSR and the other Allied forces went along the Elbe River. “Rushing into Berlin for the sake of status, could have, at minimum, backfired and may have resulted in a USSR decision not to fight against Japan,” explains the historian.

The second reason for not storming the giant urban center was that the Allies had been fraught with casualties as the end of the war approached. In the period between the Normandy landing and April 1945 the Allies “were able to avoid storming large cities,” Soyustov notes.

Soviet casualties in the Battle of Berlin were indeed very high with 80,000 injured and at least 20,000 killed. The German side suffered just as many losses.

Berlin was captured by Soviet troops on three fronts. The most difficult task fell to the soldiers from the First Belarus Front, commanded by Georgy Zhukov, who had to charge the well-fortified German position in Seelow Heights on the outskirts of the city.

The attack began during the night of April 16 with an unprecedentedly powerful and coordinated artillery barrage. Then, without waiting for morning, tanks entered the battle supported by the infantry.

The offensive was conducted with the help of floodlights, which were set up behind the advancing troops. Even with the use of this clever this tactic, several days were needed to seize Seelow Heights.

Initially, almost one million German servicemen were concentrated around Berlin. However, they were met by a Soviet force that was 2.5 times greater. At the very beginning of the Berlin operation, Soviet troops succeeded in cutting off the majority of the German units from the city.

Due to this, the Soviet Army encountered only a few hundred thousand German soldiers in Berlin itself, including the Volkssturm (the militia) and the Hitler Youth. There were also many SS units from different European countries.

Hitler’s troops worked desperately to defend themselves with two lines of defense organized in Berlin. Many homes were equipped with bunkers and these houses, with their thick walls, became impregnable strongholds.

Of particular danger for the advancing Soviet troops were the anti-tank weapons, bazookas and hand grenades since Soviet forces were heavily reliant on the use of armored vehicles during the attack. In this environment of urban warfare, many tanks were destroyed.

Following the war, commanders of the Soviet operation were often criticized for relying so heavily on the use of armored vehicles.

However, as emphasized by Soyustov, in such conditions the use of tanks was justified: “Thanks to the heavy use of armored vehicles, the Soviet army was able to create a very mobile unit of support for the advancing troops, which helped them break through the barricades into the city center.”

The tactics used in the Battle of Berlin built on experience from the Battle of Stalingrad. The Soviet troops established special assault units, in which tanks played a critical role.

Typically, maneuvers were carried out in the following manner: The infantry moved along both sides of the street, checking the windows on both sides, to identify obstacles that were dangerous for the vehicles, such as camouflaged weapons, barricades and tanks embedded in the ground.

If the troops noticed such impediments up ahead, the Soviet infantry would wait for the arrival of their self-propelled tanks and self-propelled howitzers, known as “Stalin’s sledgehammer.”

Once this support arrived, the armored vehicles would work to destroy German fortifications at point-blank range. However, there were situations where the infantry could not keep up with the armored vehicles and consequently, the tanks were isolated from their cover and became easy prey for the German anti-tank weapons and artillery.

The culmination of the offensive on Berlin was the battle for the Reichstag, the German parliament building. At the time, it was the highest building in the city center and its capture had symbolic significance.

The first attempt to seize the Reichstag on April 27 failed and the fight continued for four more days. The turning point occurred on April 29 as Soviet troops took possession of the fortified Interior Ministry building, which occupied an entire block. The Soviets finally captured the Reichstag on the evening of April 30.

Early in the morning of May 1, the flag of the 150th Rifle division was raised over the building. This was later referred to as the Banner of Victory.

On April 30, Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his bunker. Until the last moment, Hitler had been hoping that troops from other parts of Germany would come to his aid in Berlin, but this did not happen. The Berlin troops surrendered on May 2.

Calculating the losses involved in the Battle of Berlin at the end of such a bloody war, some historians doubt whether the Soviet attack of the city was necessary.

In the opinion of historian and writer Yuri Zhukov, after the Soviet and American troops met at the Elbe river, surrounding the German units in Berlin, it was possible to do without the offensive on the Nazi capital.

“Georgy Zhukov… could have just tightened the blockade circle on an hourly basis… But for an entire week, he mercilessly sacrificed thousands of Soviet soldiers… He obtained the surrender of the Berlin garrison on May 2. But if this capitulation had occurred not on May 2 but, let’s say, on the 6th or the 7th, tens of thousands of our soldiers would have been saved,” Zhukov continues.

However, there are other opinions that contradict this view. Some researchers say that if the Soviet troops had just besieged the city, they would have lost the strategic initiative to the Germans.

Nazi attempts to break the blockade from the inside and outside would have resulted in just as many losses for the Soviet Army as the attack, claims Soyustov. It is also not clear how long such a blockade would have lasted.

Soyustov also says that delaying the Berlin operation could have resulted in political problems between the Allied forces.

It is no secret that towards the end of the war the Third Reich’s representatives tried to negotiate a separate peace deal with the Americans and British forces. “In these circumstances, no one would have been able to predict how a blockade of Berlin would have developed,” Soyustov is convinced.

Alexey Timofeychev writes for Russia Beyond.

The photo shows, “The Storming of the Reichstag by the Red Army, 1945,” part of a diorama in the German-Russian Museum in Berlin-Karlshorst.

How Many Russians Died In WWII?

It is clear that during the most horrendous war in the history of mankind, the USSR suffered greater losses than any other country – but the exact number of victims remains disputed.

In 1946, reacting to Winston Churchill’s Fulton speech that marked the start of the Cold War, Joseph Stalin mentioned the Great Patriotic War (how Russians refer to the war with Nazi Germany) and stated that “as a result of the German invasion, the Soviet Union irrevocably lost… around 7 million people.” That was the first ever official Soviet stance on war casualties. And it was fake news.

“In fact, Stalin had knowledge of the other statistical data: 15 million casualties. This number was contained in a report delivered to him in early 1946, by the commission led by The State Planning Committee’s president Nikolai Voznesensky,” Professor Viktor Zemskov of the Institute of Russian History notes. Zemskov supposes that Stalin was eager to hide the real scale of losses from both the Soviet citizens and the world – in order not to show the USSR as a state weakened by the war.

Nevertheless, the official 7-million estimate of casualties didn’t last long, as most Soviet people believed that number to be too low. In 1965, Nikita Khrushchev, who succeeded Stalin as USSR’s leader, mentioned a higher number: 20 million. Essentially, this is the number that became the official evaluation for the rest of the Soviet era – Leonid Brezhnev adhered to it too, but added “more than” to the 20 million casualties.

Both Khrushchev and Brezhnev used the phrase “the war cost the country…” to lump everyone together, not separating those who died in the battlefield, victims of German occupation, those who starved to death, etc.

After the dissolution of the USSR, the estimate grew again. According to the latest statements that Russian authorities officially acknowledge, overall losses (both among soldiers and civilians) amounted to 26,6 million people. That’s the official evaluation of the losses today (in 2019) – at least, it’s the number Russian state officials mention on Victory day, commemorations and so on.

While dealing with those numbers, they didn’t take the whole World War II into account, but rather only the war between the USSR and Nazi Germany between 1941-1945, excluding the Soviet operations between 1939-1941 (the invasion of Poland and the Winter War with Finland) and the Soviet-Japanese war of 1945. 

Another important nuance is that the official estimate, given by the Ministry of Defence in 2015, separates the number of losses (26,6 million people) into the two following categories:

– Around 12 million soldiers were killed in the battlefield, captured (not having returned) or gone missing.

– The rest (approximately 14,6 million people) were civilians who died in the occupation zones, were forcefully moved to Germany (and did not come back) or lost their lives to starvation, illnesses and so on. 

The 26,6 million estimate of losses clearly is official (as of now), but far from being the only one. Though the Great Patriotic War ended almost 75 years ago, the war of numbers still goes on, with different historians proposing different ways to measure the number of losses. 

On the one hand, from time to time occurring versions suggest even bigger losses than the official estimate. For instance, in 2017, Nikolai Zemtsov, Deputy of the Russian State Duma, stated that “the USSR irrevocably lost almost 42 million people due to [the Great Patriotic] war factors.” That version, however, is very doubtful – Zemtsov included in that enormous number not only people who actually died, but children who were not born due to the war – which is incorrect, as professional demographers state. 

On the other hand, there are opinions that suggest 26,6 million is already an overestimation. In his 2015 article, Viktor Zemskov suggested that the estimation of war casualties (11,5 – 12 million) is correct, but the number of civilian losses due to war factors includes too many people: “Such statistics include the increased mortality in the Soviet home front because of malnutrition, overburdening work and so on… I disagree with such an approach.” 

According to Zemskov, it is too hard to distinguish between deaths caused by war and natural reasons in this case – so to be more precise, historians should have only included in the number of civilian deaths caused by war, i.e. those killed directly by Germans, by bombardments, those who died during the Siege of Leningrad – that amounts to 4,5 million victims. Combined with actual war casualties, that gives us 16 million people. Nevertheless, official statistics embrace a larger number of people.

While the argument on the evaluation methods can go on forever, one thing is undeniable: during the Great Patriotic War, the USSR lost a great number of people – strong and passionate men and women in their prime – but it saved the world from German Nazism. The price of victory was terrible, but the price of defeat would have been unthinkable.

Oleg Yegerov writes for Russia Beyond.

The photo shows, “A Nameless Height,” by Alexey and Sergei Tkachev, painted latter part of the twentieth-century.

Bruno Manz – Strange Portrait

There are numerous autobiographical testimonies about World War II and the Third Reich. The memoirs of former generals or soldiers engaged in telling their hardships and feats from a heroic perspective abounded for a time in German language.

Many of these authors were perfectly willing to accept that Hitler was a tyrant who dragged Germany to disaster, but not to give up pride in their exploits during the war, which they considered legitimate. Giving up their pride would have meant accepting the terrible absurdity of the adversities they had passed through. Is it not too high a price for those who had left the best youth in the battlefield? After all, our psyche requires us to be able to give meaning to our suffering, even if this meaning has to be fabricated.

With the advent of May 1968, the European mentality experienced a turning point that ended this attitude. Thereafter, the former heroic testimonies could only be self-published or appear in small publishing houses with a more than questionable political affiliation.

The heroic discourse was gradually becoming a stale and reactionary attitude, which was inappropriate in the new times. In return, the victims’ testimonies, a genuine literary genre with its own rules which had been formerly unnoticed, proliferated and spread more than ever. A new desire to be a victim, which was replacing the old pride of being a hero, began to emerge: in some extreme cases impostors appeared describing in great detail stories of survival in the concentration camps which they had never experienced. I may return to this in a future entry.

But the kind of testimony that has always shone eloquently for its absence is the unrepentant Nazi, despite the fact that a high percentage of the German population of 1945 consisted of them. The reasons for this absence are in and of themselves and are undoubtedly related to an unacknowledged feeling of shame.

However, we can barely count with direct testimonies of someone who recognizes himself as being deeply convinced of the truth of the Nazi worldview. It amazes me all the more that one of the most valuable testimonies of this type rarely appears in the endless bibliographies about Nazism and still does not even have a German translation. I’m referring to A Mind in Prison, the extraordinary memoirs of the German-born physicist Bruno Manz, published in 2000.

As the title suggests, Manz’s mind was imprisoned by the ideological and propaganda machine of the Third Reich, but also by the strong convictions held in his home. His father had always been an assured Nazi, and the deep love that the child felt for him facilitated inoculation of his ideological venom. It was easy for the Hitler Youth to do the rest. Later, the handsome soldier Manz ended up becoming an enthusiastic teacher who was responsible for, among other things, the indoctrination of Wehrmacht soldiers in Nazi ideology.

Apparently, Manz was lucky not to be directly involved in violent crimes; however, he was undoubtedly an ideological criminal, a truth about himself that he finally accepted with all its bitterness. The book also describes with unusual honesty the disturbing ideological liberation process he had to face after 1945.

Among other things, and though it took him several months, he ended up being forced to accept that the death camps were not a mere invention of Allied propaganda. Finally freed from his mental prison, in 1957 Manz emigrated to The United States and settled in the country of the former enemy, taking American citizenship. Ironically, he worked as a physicist in the missile development program of his new country.

Manz said that, as in many other German homes, in the entrance of his house in Dortmund there was a kind of domestic altar. Set in the middle was the Nazi flag; on top, a portrait of Hitler, and on either side pictures of Goebbels and Göring. Is there any better proof of how the National Socialism was a political religion?

Well, now let’s have a look at the valuable testimony of Manz:

The picture that represented the Führer was a technically inferior photograph of his profile that my father had bought at Nazi headquarters. From the very beginning my father was unhappy with this picture, but he put up with it for want of a better one. The stumbling block was the Führer’s shaggy hair, which was dotted with mysterious spots that looked quite unnatural and created the impression that the photograph had been tampered with. […] Apparently the Goebbels propaganda was also unhappy with the Hitler photograph, for it suddenly ordered the picture to be withdrawn from all shops and showcases. But no explanation was given, and that’s when the rumors started. The Stürmer, we heard by the grapevine, had launched an investigation, yet its findings were so sensitive that they could not be printed. They could only be transmitted by word of mouth, and then only to the most trustworthy. In this way, we eventually learned the “truth”. The pathetic photograph of Hitler was a sinister fabrication of the Jews. With great technical skill, they had woven all sorts of Jewish faces into Hitler’s shaggy hair, thus putting him on notice that they were still calling the shots. Now our eyes had been “opened.” Turning the picture around and viewing it from all angles, we “saw” a whole array of Jewish faces laughing and scoffing at us.

I was stunned. I am not sure whether my father took the affair as seriously as I did, but it was he who dug even deeper into the sinister plot. As the commotion was already cooling down, he surprised us at the dinner table with a view that tingled my spine. Turning Hitler’s profile upside down, he showed that his ear became a Jewish nose, his lower jaw turned into a bald forehead, a strand of hair was transformed into puffy lips, and so on. Now I was really frightened. If the Jews could penetrate the inner sanctuary of the National Socialist Party, was there anything they could not to?

The sudden withdrawal of Hitler’s photograph, which had a strong impact on the German population, was with no doubt due to image control measures of the Ministry of Propaganda. Trade with Führer portraits had become a big business, so images of poor quality proliferated. This was to be avoided at all costs. Moreover, Hitler’s personal photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, had exclusive photographic rights to the dictator. Any of these reasons amply explains the confiscation of the image referred to by Manz, without resorting to a conspiracy theory.

But in modern western civilization, conspiracy theories always had a big success. The extraordinary effectiveness of their argumentative mechanism has always fascinated me. By constructing false causal links, a conspiracy theory allows us to mark as true something that is nothing but a prejudice, a fear, an irrational hatred or mere suspicion.

There is always a conspiracy theory that will allow us to claim a rational attitude and a logical scrutiny to cover feelings that would embarrass us if we showed them in all their naked irrationality and primitivism. Conspiracy theories even allow us to be proud of our superior intelligence. After all, it was us who knew how to see Jewish faces in the image, where other ignorant mortals only see mere spots formed by chance.

Rare and valuable testimonies like these, though anecdotal, allow us to come closer to the mental mechanisms of horror. What matters is not so much to be aware of the tragic consequences of barbarism, but the simple and effective cognitive mechanisms that, at any given time, can make us a barbarian. In this sense, Manz has given us a priceless testimony.

Rosa Sala Rose lives in Spain.

The photo shows, “Das Wilde Jahd,” by Franz von Stuck, painted in 1889.

Bauhaus – An Introduction

Contemporary German architecture set its main trends in the first thirty years of the 20th century. The strongest influences came from Weimar and Dessau, where the Bauhaus school was founded in 1919.

Under the leadership of Walter Gropius (1883-1969) and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969), the Bauhaus style spread to the far corners of the earth. Today masterpieces of its synthesis of architecture, technology and functionality can be found all over the world.

One of the main goals of Bauhaus was to renew architecture. The leaders of Bauhaus, Walter Gropius, Hannes Meyer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, were architects.

The origins of Bauhaus were far from the earlier methods of education in industrial art, art proper and architecture. Its program was based on the newest knowledge in pedagogy.

The idealistic basis of Bauhaus was a socially orientated program, wherein an artist must be conscious of his social responsibility to the community, while the community has to accept the artist and support him. The word, “Bauhaus” is from two German words, Bau, or “building” (from the verb, bauen, “to build”), and Haus, or “house.” The literal meaning is, “architecture house.”

But above all the intention of Bauhaus was to develop creative minds for architecture and industry and thus influence them so that they would be able to produce artistically, technically and practically balanced utensils.

The institute included workshops for making models of type houses and all kinds of utensils, and departments of advertising art, stage planning, photography, and typography. The neoplastic and constructive movements of art to a great extent steered the form lines of Bauhaus. Teachers were such masters of modern art as Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee.

To better understand the aims of the Bauhaus school, one has to read the following extracts from Walter Gropius’ Manifesto: “The ultimate aim of all creative activity is a building! The decoration of buildings was once the noblest function of fine arts, and fine arts were indispensable to great architecture.

Today they exist in complacent isolation, and can only be rescued by the conscious co-operation and collaboration of all craftsmen. Architects, painters, and sculptors must once again come to know and comprehend the composite character of a building, both as an entity and in terms of its various parts. Then their work will be filled with that true architectonic spirit which, as “salon art”, it has lost.” … “Architects, painters, sculptors, we must all return to crafts! For there is no such thing as “professional art”.

There is no essential difference between the artist and the craftsman. The artist is an exalted craftsman.” … “Let us therefore create a new guild of craftsmen without the class-distinctions that raise an arrogant barrier between craftsmen and artists! Let us desire, conceive, and create the new building of the future together. It will combine architecture, sculpture, and painting in a single form.”

Often associated with being anti-industrial, the Arts and Crafts Movement had dominated the field before the start of the Bauhaus in 1919. The Bauhaus’ focus was to merge design with industry, providing well designed products for the many.

The basic idea of the Bauhaus teaching concept was the unity of artistic and practical tuition. Every student had to complete a compulsory preliminary course, after which he or she had to enter a workshop of his or her choice. There were several types of workshops available: metal, wood sculpture, glass painting, weaving, pottery, furniture, cabinet making, three-dimensional work, typography, wall painting, and some others.

It was not easy to get general allowances for the new type of art education. A political pressure was felt from the beginning. In 1925 the Thueringer government withdrew its economic support from the education. Bauhaus found a new location in Dessau. The city gave Gropius building projects: a school, workshop and atelier building (1925-1926) has remained in history by the name ‘Bauhaus Dessau’.

In October 1926, the school was officially accredited by the government of the Land, and the masters were promoted to professors. Hence, the Bauhaus obtained the subtitle “School of Design”.

The training course from then on corresponded to university studies and led to a Bauhaus Diploma. Later this year, because of some political and financial difficulties, the Bauhaus center could no longer remain in Weimar and was closed. In April 1925, Bauhaus resumed its work in Dessau.

Personal relations in Bauhaus were not as harmonious as they may seem now, half a century later. The Swiss painter Johannes Itten and the Hungarian Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, who taught the Preliminary Course, left after strong disagreements in 1928, Paul Klee – in 1931. Some, for instance Kandinsky and Albers, stayed loyal until the closing of Bauhaus in 1933.

In spite of the success, Gropius left the Bauhaus leadership in 1928. His successor was the Swiss architect Hannes Meyer. He promoted the scientific development of the design training with vigor. However, Meyer failed as leader due to political disagreement inside Bauhaus. He was dismissed in 1930.

The German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was invited as director. He was compelled to cut down on the educational program. Practical work was reduced. Bauhaus approached a type of ‘vocational university’. It began to loose the splendid universality that had made it so excellent. Training of vocational subjects started to dominate the initial steps of education. As a matter of fact this tendency became stronger after Mies van der Rohe had transformed the school into a private institute in Berlin in 1932.

The Nazi majority of Dessau suspended the seat of learning. Paul Schultze-Naumburg was the architect that they sent into the school to re-establish pure German art instead of the “cosmopolitan rubbish” the Bauhaus artists were doing. He described Bauhaus furniture as Kisten, or boxes.

Bauhaus was even as private institution so much hated by the National Socialist government that the police closed it up on 11th April, 1933. By September 1932, the Nazis had won a majority in Dessau, and cut off all financial support to the Bauhaus. The school was forced to move to Berlin, where it survived without any public funding for a brief time. On April 11 1933, the Berlin police, acting on the orders of the new Nazi government finally closed it.

The Nazi’s “degenerate art” exhibition in 1937 featured works by several former Bauhaus teachers. The Nazis failed in their efforts to completely erase the Bauhaus.

Its forced closure and the subsequent emigration of many of its former staff and students, ensured that it would become famous and influential throughout the world, especially in the United States, where a Bauhaus school was established in Chicago in 1937. The Bauhaus had a lasting impact on art education and in architecture.

The New Bauhaus, founded in 1937 in Chicago, was the immediate successor to the Bauhaus dissolved in 1933 under National Socialist pressure.

Bauhaus ideology had a strong impact throughout America, but it was only at the New Bauhaus that the complete curriculum as developed under Walter Gropius in Weimar and Dessau was adopted and further developed.

The former Bauhaus master Laszlo Moholy-Nagy was founding director of the New Bauhaus. The focus on natural and human sciences was increased, and photography grew to play a more prominent role at the school in Chicago than it had done in Germany. Training in mechanical techniques was more sophisticated than it had been in Germany.

The method and aim of the school were likewise adapted to American requirements. Moholy-Nagy’s successor at the head of the Institute of Design, Serge Chermayeff, however, remained still quite true to the original Bauhaus.

In the 1950s the New Bauhaus merged with the Illinois Institute of Technology. The Institute of Design is even now still part of the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, and rates as a respected and professionally oriented school of design.

Courtesy of German Culture.

The photo shows, “The Red Balloon,” by Paul Klee, painted in 1922.