Within the copious literature on the Nazis' brutal, systematic campaign to destroy European Judaism, many writers have sought to assess the responsibility of individual Christians, or of Christianity as a whole. But newly published material from the Nuremberg trials shows that the Nazis engaged in a less brutal, but no less systematic, campaign to destroy European Christianity. Whether this development will significantly affect work in the older line of thinking remains to be seen.
As part of the Nuremberg Project, a collaboration between Rutgers and Cornell, the Rutgers Journal of Law & Religion this month posted online a 108-page report (PDF File) originally prepared by Gen. William J. Donovan, a leading American investigator at the trials.
One of the first pages describes the document's contents: "This study describes, with illustrative factual evidence, Nazi purposes, policies and methods of persecuting the Christian Churches in Germany and occupied Europe. Draft for the War Crimes Staff. 6 July 1945." Donovan notes that investigators could use this information to prove that "measures taken against the Christian Churches were an integral part of the National Socialist scheme of world conquest."
The report begins with a summary: "Throughout the period of National Socialist rule, religious liberties in Germany and in the occupied areas were seriously impaired. The various Christian Churches were systematically cut off from effective communication with the people. They were confined as far as possible to the performance of narrowly religious functions, and even within this narrow sphere were subjected to as many hindrances as the Nazis dared to impose. These results were accomplished partly by legal and partly by illegal and ...1
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