21 April 2015

The German Resistance to Nazism: Richard Evans & contradictions in large historical movements.

On January 22nd, Richard Evans wrote in the London Review of Books on two new publications tracing the causation of the Holocaust. I then wrote a reader's letter to the LRB, disagreeing with some aspects of his analysis, which the LRB published on March 5; Evans replied in the paper on March 19. (Scroll down on this link to read both letters.) After reading Evans' reply, my impression was that he had discounted my criticisms rather than answering them, and so I wrote again to the paper; this time they decided not to publish. Here, then, is my critiqe of Evans' position:

"Richard Evans won’t budge in his refusal to acknowledge glaring internal contradictions in large historical movements: the Confessing Church on the one hand, and the pre-1919 SPD on the other (Letters, 19 March). The Nazi state’s proximity to totalitarianism meant that all the various strands of domestic resistance were more or less bound to fail. Thinking in terms of the cultural and political legacies of these different resistances – a synthesizing rather than hierarchizing approach – could therefore tell us more about history as it was lived than the concept of 'effectiveness' and 'effect(s)' can do. As Evans uses the latter yardstick, then he should display evidence that Niemöller’s resistance – and by his own implication, that of the Confessing Church as a whole – had 'effect', while the White Rose 'was wholly without'. The significance of Niemöller preaching to thousands in Dahlem is undeniable, but this is no evidence of effectiveness in itself. And how can Evans prioritize this above the White Rose succeeding in disseminating pamphlets in increasing numbers through 1942-43, with the penultimate and final essays each reaching an estimated 8000 readers in early 1943. Smuggled out to the UK and reprinted in the original German, millions of copies of the final pamphlet were then air-dropped over Germany in July 1943 under the title, 'Manifest der Münchner Studenten' – the Munich Students' Manifesto. (For details of the statistics, please see the Psychological Warfare Archive.)

Evans’ avowal of the ‘biblical fundamentalist’ character of the Confessing Church conflates what leaders and members wrote and said about the church in public, above all in the 1934 Barmer declaration, with the much more diverse views members expressed in private, evidenced for example in personal letters. By this logic, all Church of England attendees today should be called ‘early church fundamentalists’, because of the regular recitation of the Nicene creed at Anglican services. If Evans wants to stick to the fundamentalist pigeon-hole, he’d do well to elucidate how Niemöller’s choice of fundamentals paralysed his resistance. Fixated on the Lutheran cannon, and above all on Romans 13:1-7, Niemöller and other Confessing Church pastors propagated a path of theological disobedience combined with political loyalty to the Nazi state. When their colleague Friedrich Weißler was suspected of leaking a critical position paper – which the Confessing Church had already submitted to the Nazi leadership – to a Swiss newspaper in 1936, Niemöller and others moved quickly to officially distance themselves from him, leaving the stage free for Weißler’s arrest and subsequent murder soon after in prison. (See Heymel's introduction to Niemöller, Dahlemer Predigten: Kritische Ausgabe. Berlin, Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2011.)  White Rose members drew entirely different conclusions from the Bible. Hans Scholl, co-author of all six pamphlets, had understood the necessity of an armed struggle by Christmas 1942, and focussed on texts such as Luke, Ch. 22: 35-37, to provide the scriptural justification for that. The attention given to the White Rose by anti-fascist and anti-authoritarian movements inside Germany since 1945 has been massive. (See in this respect the intensity of activities connected to the White Rose today, as communicated by the White Rose Foundation.)      

Evans disregard for the body of recent scholarship about anti-Semitism inside the SPD directed at Rosa Luxemburg and other party members of Jewish origin is even more bewildering. Ignoring writing on exactly this racism by, among others, Jacqueline Rose, Lars Fischer, Robert Wistrich and Rory Castle, Evans concentrates instead on working-class socialists identifying positively with Jewish Social Democrat leaders. This tendency did not preclude Wolfgang Heine telling delegates at the 1901 Social Democratic Congress that east European Jewish immigrants – Luxemburg grew up in Poland – were behaving like guests who 'come to us and spit in our parlour.' Nor did it stop Gutsav Noske wielding the anti-Semitic cliché of a secret, power-hungry clique, to accuse Luxemburg and other east European Jews of corrupting Marxism, making it 'incomprehensible to the German workers', in his memoirs published in 1947. This is the same Noske, who, in his governmental capacity as People’s Deputy for Military and Navy, was phoned by Waldemar Papst, Luxemburg’s captor, on the evening of Luxemburg’s murder in January 1919, Papst asking what to do with Luxemburg. Noske assented to the killing – according to Papst. He certainly knew about the murder plans, and did nothing whatsoever to hinder them.

With the ferocity of these anti-Jewish currents, Evans insistence that Luxemburg 'was never once criticised because she was Jewish', remains a puzzle. To her face: rarely. Behind her back: consistently, over decades. As a member of the translator team on the first Complete Works of Rosa Luxemburg, I hope our work can draw more and more non-historians into this territory. Armed with a first-class scholarly work, let’s see how many of them will trespass into debates about German and world history."