A Time Of Sifting

The Nazi Persecution of the Churches, 1933–45, by J. S. Conway (Basic Books, 1968, 474 pp., $10), is reviewed by C. George Fry, assistant professor of history, Capital University, Columbus, Ohio.

“Verily a time of sifting has come upon us,” stated Pastor Martin Niemöller in 1934, for “God is giving Satan a free hand, so that he may shake us up and so that it may be seen what matter of men we are!” That testing of the German churches under Nazi tyranny is described in this well-researched book by Professor John S. Conway of the University of British Columbia. He shows that “the true story of the Church in Germany is not an unrelieved epic of faith and courage; it is to a large extent a sad tale of betrayal, timidity and unbelief. Even amongst those most faithful to the gospel, there were ‘none righteous, no, not one.’ ”

Although some 6,000 items about the church struggle had been written in German by 1958, relatively little has appeared in English. William Shirer, for example, gave only seven pages to the topic in his massive history of the Third Reich. Dr. Conway has met the need for a fair and balanced English-language study of the German church-state conflict. He has scrutinized the major sources, including the “archives of Hitler’s Reich Chancellery, the various German government records, the Nazi Party archives, the papers of individual Nazi leaders and the files of documents produced during the Nuremberg trials.” Viewing church-state relations from “the other side of the hill,” Conway analyzes “the various factions within the Nazi Party, the considerations they adopted, and policies they advocated toward the churches” because “the initiative lay with the Nazis” while the churches assumed a “passive position.” ...

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