Authors: Agnes Grunwald-Spier
His influence was both great, as Horthy, the Regent of Hungary, was a member of his parish, and catastrophic:
Without realizing it, during the fatal pre-war years, Ravasz helped to remove the intellectual barriers against the physical elimination of the Jews. If Ravasz and some of the other church leaders had followed the example of the German Confessing Church and of other religious resistance movements in Nazi-dominated parts of Europe, the record of Hungarian Christianity and perhaps of the Hungarian nation during World War II might have been different.
In these circumstances the broadcasts made from England by William Temple, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in May 1944, and others in the spring and summer of 1944, to Hungary asking for help and support for the Jews were probably
ineffective. The Hungarians were warned they would be treated as war criminals if they indulged in atrocities on the German scale and were encouraged to follow the example of the Danes who helped their 7,000 Jews escape.
Many Protestants welcomed Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor as a day of
, but the imposition of nationalist policies and the attempt to subordinate the independence of the churches to a centralised Reich church led to tensions which split the German Protestants. The German Confessing Church emerged in 1933 from Dr Martin Niemöller’s ‘Pastors’ Emergency League’, which was created precisely to defend orthodox Protestant dogma.
The Catholic Church was divided in its response. Papal Nuntio Angelo Rotta protested to the Hungarian Foreign Minister on 27 April 1944:
The Holy Father, he said, was very sad because he saw that Hungary, a Christian nation, was going against the teachings of the Gospels. On May 15 he again
against the deportations, which had just begun. But he could not persuade the Cardinal Primate, Justinian Seredi, who instead wrote a pastoral letter that agreed with anti-Semitic measures and aimed to protect Jewish converts to Christianity from deportation. The letter was suppressed by the government, though it was read out in some churches, belatedly, on July 1.
Carl Lutz is credited with saving 62,000 Jews when he was the Swiss Consul in Budapest. The situation in Budapest threatened his religious faith and traumatised him. When in the late spring of 1944 he realised what was happening to the Jews, the premises on which he had based himself collapsed and the existence of Auschwitz disrupted his concept of life:
The well-ordered and purposeful universe had vanished, and nothing else was taking its place. In Carl Lutz’s pietistic/humanistic worldview, every event, insignificant as it might be, had been part of a meaningful puzzle, a movement of history, which would ultimately complete itself at the end of times, when Jesus Christ returned.
In later life Carl Lutz did not write much about his wartime experiences in Budapest, but in 1961 he wrote an article for the leading Swiss journal, the
, known as
He described a situation in which he found himself late in 1944:
Five thousand of these unhappy people were standing in line, freezing, shaking, hungry, with tiny packs on their shoulders, stretching their letters out towards me. Never, never shall I forget those despairing horror-stricken faces. Again and again the police had to intervene to prevent my clothes being torn from my back. For
these people it was the last glimmer of hope; for us, this screening was the worst form of spiritual torture. We saw the people being lashed with dog-whips and lying in the slime and mud with bloody faces. Whenever we tried to help them we, in our turn, were threatened with rifles. Whenever possible I would drive alongside these people on their way to the concentration camps to try and show them that there was still hope, until my way was blocked by the guards.
However, Lutz’s efforts began to unravel to some extent. The Arrow Cross fascists realised that many Jews had forged documents and, late in November 1944, ‘the government declared that they would no longer recognise them’. On one
they even forced Lutz and his wife to go to a concentration point where Jews were being gathered for a (forced) march, and false papers were separated from genuine ones.
Lest it should be presumed that diplomats were safe from danger, Lutz described the last weeks of the German occupation. He was forced to stay in Budapest as the Hungarian Nazis had promised not to attack the protected Swiss houses as long as he himself stayed in the city. He and his wife were living in the British Legation building on the summit of Buda:
For weeks we had to live in a damp unheated cellar in the middle of winter, often without candles or water, and very little food. We had to endure fierce attacks from the air for hours at a time. We received nineteen direct hits from artillery and aircraft. On one occasion a couple of incendiary bombs set fire to our building, which blazed for two days and nights with us in the cellars underneath. And while it was burning, twenty armed Nazis burst in and robbed us of most of our private possessions.
When they emerged into a Budapest occupied by the Russians, ‘it was like a ghost town’. One of the employees of the Swiss Legation was deported to Russia and Carl only escaped being shot by leaping through a window.
His stepdaughter has summed up Carl Lutz’s motivation:
The laws of life are stronger than man-made laws. My father was grown up in a Methodist family in the eastern part of Switzerland and he was the second youngest of ten children. His mother, who was a very strong woman with ethics and social engagement, was the main person and example during his whole life.
Later in Budapest, as an engaged Christian could not tolerate the Jews being pursued and killed, he could not tolerate injustice. He was a deeply religious man and felt he had to protect and help these people. He was not born a hero; he was rather shy and introverted. He launched his mission to save the Jews in Budapest out of his religious and moral convictions. He risked his life and career; he ruined
his health working and stressing about the fate of the Schutzbrief-holders day and night. My father always considered his time in Budapest and the rescue of innocent Jews as the most important part of his life.
Agnes Hirschi has noted that whilst her father had been bitter about the failure of the Swiss authorities to recognise his wartime activities, he never regretted his actions. ‘He was a committed Christian and felt he had been sent to Budapest for a purpose.’
Hermann Maas (1877–1970)
was a Heidelberg pastor who helped many Jews escape from Germany during the Holocaust. His actions caused Rabbi Leo Baeck to describe him as ‘our most faithful Christian friend through the entire Hitler period’.
Hermann Maas came from a family of Lutheran pastors but as a child his best friends were Jewish boys. He was a young vicar on holiday in Switzerland in the summer of 1903 when he saw a ‘group of bearded, gabardined Jews, who talked in a foreign idiom, while walking through the streets of Basel’. He followed them, out of sheer curiosity, and found himself in the Sixth World Zionist Congress and witnessed a turning point of Zionist history. It was the so-called ‘Uganda Congress’ where the desperate Theodore Herzl urged his followers to accept the British government’s offer of land in East Africa. However, Chaim Weizmann led the opposition to this scheme and persuaded the Congress to adhere to the original scheme to claim Palestine as the national homeland. ‘Dr Maas still recalls the
scene when Herzl, raising his right hand and reciting the immortal words “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem …”, admitted defeat by swearing allegiance to Zion.’
Hermann Maas left Basel a convinced Zionist and attended every subsequent Congress he could manage. He became the friend of Jewish intellectuals and in 1933 visited Palestine, where he was entertained by the Weizmanns and met the poet Bialik. In the same year his eldest daughter Brigitte, an artistic weaver by profession, went to Jerusalem, where together with Ahuva Pickard, the daughter of David Yellin, the writer and educator, they opened a weaving shop which she managed until the outbreak of the Second World War, at which time she was deported because of her German nationality.
Hermann was invited to stay in Palestine, but he knew he would have work to do and returned home to Heidelberg where storm troopers harassed him and tried to stop him entering his church. It was only help from influential English friends that enabled him to keep his parish, but he had a very difficult time for the next six years.
He was noted as a visible dissident on the issue of the position of non-Aryan Protestants (Jews who had converted to Christianity) as early as 1935. The two
main factions of German Protestantism both decided not to support Jewish converts and ‘This renders instances of individual dissent among their clergy all the more memorable’.
It was only the Quakers and the Jehovah’s Witnesses amongst the ‘Free Churches’ who supported these unfortunate souls: ‘Baptists endorsed legislation excluding Jews from national society; Mormons posted “Jews not wanted” signs at their church doors; Methodists agreed that Jews were a threat to German society; and Adventists shunned members encumbered by Jewish ancestry.’
In fact, the Jehovah’s Witnesses suffered greatly for this policy. They felt unable to conform to Nazi demands because of their beliefs. In July 1933 they were proscribed for refusing to join the Nazi Party and in 1935 for refusing military duty. Jehovah’s Witnesses ‘refused to give the Hitler salute because their religious beliefs taught them that such a salutation was due only to their God’, and this also led them to refuse to bear arms.
Their men were taken to concentration camps, marked by their purple triangles, and 5,000, more than a third of their membership, were killed:
If we look at the behaviour of other minority Christian and secular groups in the Third Reich, we see, on the whole, a fairly speedy and ideological revolution. Some members of small religious groups hailed Hitler as the Messiah and others expunged from their liturgy all references to anything ‘Jewish’. Thus hymns and liturgies were amended to omit the words ‘Sabbath’ and ‘Jerusalem’. Others were prepared to hand over to the Nazis the names of any of their members who had Jewish blood.
Their behaviour stands unique amongst German Protestants who deserted Jewish converts:
As a formerly Jewish physician, who had converted to Protestantism in 1916, put it in 1933: ‘[My children] have lost the protection that Jewry had always and everywhere provided to its members. They have [received] no protection from the Christian [sic] church, and, I imagine, cannot expect any. They are outlaws as Christians; they are outlawed as Germans. Can one imagine a more cruel fate visited upon the innocent?
Yet this was precisely the fate of Paul Rosenzweig, his mother and sister – shunned by both Christians and Jews. Pastor Maas was one of the few who helped needy non-Aryans with funds supplied by Christians, and one of those he helped was
Paul Rosenzweig, now known as Reginald Pringle. Paul Rosenzweig was born on 18 February 1920 in Altleiningen, in the Rhineland Palatinate. His sister Martha was born in 1927. His mother was born
Jewish but she and her children were baptised into the Evangelical Protestant Church.
She had brought them up as Christians even though they lived with her father, a practising Jew – Heinrich Rosenzweig. However, ‘After 1933 they were all regarded as Jews. The only Jewish family in the locality.’
After Kristallnacht, in November 1938, a mob attacked the home of Paul’s Jewish boss and he realised that his turn would soon come.
That very evening two burly policemen came to take him away but attempted to reassure him: ‘You’ll be back home in a day or two. It’s only an investigation.’
After forty-eight traumatic hours he found himself in Dachau concentration camp. He spent a full three and a half months incarcerated there and was only freed on 23 February 1939, five days after his 19th birthday. He experienced terrible privations and saw awful cruelties perpetrated, which he has recorded in his memoir. On release he had to sign an undertaking not to divulge what he had seen in Dachau. Whilst he had been incarcerated, his sister Martha ‘was turned out of school and received no further formal education in Germany’.
Paul’s mother and sister were delighted to see him and his mother said:
I had been released because she, on someone else’s advice, advised the authorities that I had all my papers ready to emigrate from Germany. I asked her if she knew something that I didn’t know, and she confessed that she had invented this in order to get me home. I wondered how long it would be before somebody wanted to know why I was still here.
As time progressed he realised his mother had been correct – he would have to leave. The family home was ‘Aryanised’. The house had been sold over their heads and the new owner, Herr Frank, wanted them out:
Every week without fail, his wife would come to our door, holding her little boy’s hand, asking when we were going to clear out. One time I lost my cool and shouted at her ‘Soon I hope. Not just out of here, but out of this country too.’ The little boy who held his mother’s hand, Otwin Frank, is now Mayor of Altleiningen.
He tried to find a way for all three of them to leave. He approached the local Jewish Community Centre, who said that whilst he was not a Jew, they could not offer direct help, but gave him some names and addresses. Two were in Berlin and the third was Hermann Maas in Heidelberg. He wrote to the two in Berlin and made up his mind to go to Heidelberg the next day to find Hermann Maas. He wrote: