Bigotry against Bonhoeffer in Jerusalem.
Starting in 1998, three petitioners submitted overwhelming evidence in support of the recognition of Bonhoeffer as one of the Righteous at Yad Vashem, the first two of whom authored this article. They were Rabbi Balfour Brickner, one of the leading reform rabbis in the world; Attorney Stephen A. Wise, whose father wrote the first anti-Hitler book, Swastika: The Nazi Terror, (1) published thirteen weeks after Hitler came to power, and whose grandfather, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, was president of the World Jewish Congress; and Professor Konrad Bieber, of Yale and other universities, who had been hidden by a French farmer's wife and successfully petitioned Yad Vashem to recognize her.
The 1953 Israeli law that created Yad Vashem set up a special department to "commemorate ... the high-minded Gentiles who jeopardized their lives to save Jews," generally called "The Righteous Gentiles" (emphasis added). The director of that department is Dr. Mordecai Paldiel. In a speech on November 19, 1998, at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Paldiel described the Righteous program as follows: "It is awarded to rescuers who knowingly and in full conscience were prepared to risk their lives in the attempt to help one or several Jews to survive ... irrespective of whether the rescue operation succeeded or failed... Assisting Jews to flee from an endangered place to another less dangerous place ... such as Switzerland... without exacting monetary reward for this may qualify for the Righteous title" (emphasis added).
The law's footnote states that the name "Yad Vashem" comes from Is. 56:5b: "I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off" (N.R.S.V.). Especially noteworthy is the next verse in Isaiah, ignored by Paldiel, which says: "And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, ... to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant" (Is. 56:6).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was just such a "foreigner." Two days after Hitler came to power on January 30, 1933, Bonhoeffer was speaking on the radio and differentiated between a leader (Fuhrer) and a misleader (Verfuhrer). He explained: "This is the leader who makes an idol of himself and his office and thus mocks God"--for which he was cut off the air. (2) Over the years he opposed the Nazis' persecution of the Jews in the many ways detailed below, and on July 20, 1944, he was involved in a plot that failed to kill Hitler. After a long imprisonment, he and three relatives, along with others, were executed on Hitler's direct orders, only three weeks before the end of the war in Europe.
After the war, Bonhoeffer's cursory conviction was judicially set aside, and a German postage stamp was issued honoring him. There now are Bonhoeffer Societies in many countries. His books and articles on many subjects are widely studied--particularly Ethics, (3) Letters and Papers from Prison, (4) Love Letters from Cell 92, (5) and The Cost of Discipleship. (6) There are dozens of books and articles about him, the most extensive and authoritative of which was written by his former student and lifetime biographer, Dr. Eberhard Bethge: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A Biography (7) (1048 pages, based on over 3,000 documents filed in Berlin at the State Library, carefully cited in 2,438 footnotes). Bethge was awarded the Union Theological Seminary's highest honor, the Union Medal, in 1984.
The four-volume Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, first published in Jerusalem, (8) notes in its introductory page that "Bonhoeffer ... became involved in efforts to assist Jews to escape from Germany, including a successful scheme in 1942 to smuggle a party of fifteen Jews to Switzerland, which led to his arrest"--generally known as "Operation 7."
Bonhoeffer's background underscored his opposition to the Nazis' persecution of Jews. His father was a leading psychiatrist in Berlin, with many Jewish friends. His twin sister, Sabine, married a Jew. His grandmother had the courage to march past storm troopers to purchase goods from the Jewish merchants to whom she had usually gone.
In 1930, at the extraordinarily early age of 24, Bonhoeffer qualified for university teaching in Berlin. He was ecumenical and asked of Christians: "Would we believe that we are God's favorite children?" (9) In 1930 Bonhoeffer studied at Union Theological Seminary in New York under Professor Reinhold Niebuhr, who taught that the "New Testament" did not supersede the "Old Testament" but was built upon it.
The 1953 law provides no definition of the Righteous or how the commission recognizes them, but its official website (YadVashem.org) reports that, as of January, 2006, there were 21,310 people who had been honored as such and that the process is as follows: "The commission is guided in its work by certain criteria and meticulously studies all pertinent documentation, including evidence by survivors and other eyewitnesses. In order to arrive at a fair evaluation of the rescuer's deeds and motivations, the commission takes into consideration all the circumstances relevant to the rescue story" (emphasis added).
Disregarding this standard, Paldiel ignored the petitioners' evidence so deliberately as to show bigotry in two ways. First, alter the rejection, Yad Vashem's attorney, Mr. Shimron, admitted, "The Committee members were not presented with any specific material forwarded to Yad Vashem by Mr. Wise" (letter of November 26, 2003). Thus, the entire hearing was a sham. Second, Yad Vashem's own world-renowned in-house scholar, Dr. Yehuda Bauer, recommended that Bonhoeffer be recognized, but he was not allowed to testify before the Committee even though the petitioners had requested that he do so.
Nevertheless, Paldiel persistently ruled that there was no evidence of Bonhoeffer's putting himself at risk to save even one Jew. Thus he disregarded the proof of the following:
Risk 1: Operation 7, which smuggled into Switzerland a group of Jews that included Charlotte Friedenthal. Paldiel stated: "There can be no doubt that Bonhoeffer played a part in her rescue." That, alone, should warrant recognition. But he trivialized it by asserting that: "Bonhoeffer's role was in referring her to Dohnanyi, but he was not personally involved in this rescue operation."
That is patently false. Not only does it fly in the face of Paldiel's own statement in his aforementioned speech at the Holocaust Museum that "all who participated in this operation may also qualify for the Righteous title" (emphasis added), but it was Bonhoeffer who secretly used his theological contacts--the Rev. D. Koechlin, the head of the Swiss Protestant Churches, and famed theologian Karl Barth in Basel--to have the Swiss police not block the refugees' entry into Switzerland (as established by a letter found in Barth's files stating that Bonhoeffer was "requesting support to the utmost ... The danger for those concerned is very real.").
Bonhoeffer's participation in this rescue was further proved by an affidavit from Ms. Friedenthal's niece, Julie Friedenthal Baxter, quoting her aunt's diary statement: "Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, his brother-in-law v. Dohnanyi, and others are the ones who, humanly speaking, saved me from the concentration camp."
In seven other detailed instances, Bonhoeffer risked himself to help Jews.
Risk 2: In April of 1933 Bonhoeffer sent a letter--carried privately by Professor Paul Lehman of Union Theological Seminary to Rabbi Wise in New York--describing Germany's "strongly antisemitic new laws."
Paldiel denigrated this by asserting that the new laws had been described in the New York Times and referred "merely to mass publication, not to private correspondence." This was false since the law actually made treasonous anyone "who willingly makes or publishes a statement of facts which is untrue or bluntly distorted and is able to damage seriously ... the reputation of the government of the Reich" (emphasis added).
Risk 3: In September of 1933 Bonhoeffer went to a conference of the World Alliance of Churches in Sofia, Bulgaria, and sponsored a resolution which passed by "deplor[ing] Germany's position that the Jewish race is considered a race of inferior status." The German Foreign Office denounced him for having expressed this view "loudly and publicly" (emphasis added). Ignoring that, Paldiel wrote: "There is no straightforward and open defiance and condemnation of the Nazi anti-Jewish policies." Paldiel further asserted that Bonhoeffer had been seeking to protect only converted Jews, but that was refuted by a 1975 detailed analysis by Prof. Ruth Zerner, who stated: "[B]oth as a private individual and as a member of an international church gathering, Bonhoeffer did, by the end of 1933 deplore the Nazi policies towards all German Jews, baptized and unbaptized.
Risk 4: Another instance of Bonhoeffer's speaking out contrary to Nazi rules was excoriated in the German Press by an S.S. journalist who said that "he dares, even in the year 1936, to represent the world's enemy, Juda, as the 'eternal nation,' the true 'noble people,' the 'people of God"" (Durchbruch, Stuttgart, March 26, 1936).
Risk 5: in 1936 a pastor of Jewish origin, Willy Sussbach, was badly beaten by the Nazis. Bonhoeffer took him in, cared for him during his recovery, and then helped him to escape from Germany.
Risk 6: On September 9, 1938, eight weeks before the Kristallnacht torching and breaking up of Jewish houses and synagogues all over Germany that took place on November 11, 1938 (which date Bonhoeffer noted in his Bible next to Psalm 74:8, "they burned all the meeting places of God"), as described by Bonhoeffer's twin sister Sabine and niece Marianne in writing, he and Bethge drove them and the Jewish father by night to escape to Switzerland. Paldiel brushed this off by saying that it was legal then to leave Germany, but Marianne's affidavit, sworn to on May 21, 2001, rebutted that in showing that the Nazis then "were randomly striking out at will at Jews and anyone assisting Jews ... The risk to all of us was real and huge, and we got away largely due to Dietrich's assistance."
Risk 7: As charged in his indictment in 1943, Bonhoeffer wrote a letter seeking help for the "Jewish Prof. Perels, in the deportation camp Gurs." This falls directly within the statement in Yad Vashem's website that "The Nazis considered assisting Jews a capital offense."
Risk 8: In 1942 Bonhoeffer secretly went to Sweden and met with his friend from England, Bishop George Bell, in an effort to get support for a coup against Hitler and an "immediate repeal of the Nuremberg Laws" (quoting Bell's memorandum of that meeting). This clearly was a risky effort to save Jews.
Thus, eight times over, the facts refute Paldiel's assertion, "There is no other record of a direct involvement by Bonhoeffer in the rescue of Jews (baptized or not)."
On October 28, 1998, Paldiel wrote to Wise, "We should like.., testimonies of persons who knew intimately Bonhoeffer, such as E. Bethge," referring was to the biographer cited above, who responded with the following affidavit, notarized in Bonn, Germany, on February 23, 1999 (emphasis added):
I have personal knowledge of Bonhoeffer's conscious and risk-filled violation of the 1933 Treason Law by sending warnings to Rabbi Wise about the anti-semitic events taking place in Germany in April of that year. While Dr. Paldiel has recognized that I "knew intimately Bonhoeffer" ... I must add that this came from being a student of his at the illegal seminary of the Confessing Church, from marrying his niece, from my access to seeing him until shortly before his execution, and from my lifetime accumulation of the evidence footnoted in [my] biography. Bonhoeffer "was responsible for including Charlotte Friedenthal in the group and also, by ... making it possible for the fourteen to travel to Switzerland." I knew Miss Friedenthal, met her many times after the war, and heard her describe her gratitude for Bonhoeffer's risky and successful efforts to get her into Switzerland. I have met many times with Dorothee Fliess, one of the families among those rescuees who remained Jewish.... From her I know that she and her family were rescued during that operation. It was ... Bonhoeffer, who had the long-standing ecumenical ties to Reverends Koechlin and Barth which he used, riskily to himself, to gain the admission of these rescuees into Switzerland. Bonhoeffer's actions in Operation 7 were not 'through' third parties but 'with' third parties who were jointly put at risk by their illegal conspiracy and actions therein. Bonhoeffer told me in detail of his meeting with Bishop Bell of Chichester in Sweden in 1942, his effort to get the Bishop's assistance towards a coup against Hitler, and his insistence that the Nuremburg Laws be revoked as part of that. He was fully aware of the great jeopardy to himself if this secret and treasonous meeting should be discovered, but he stated that the need to rescue Jews and Germany forced him to take the risk. /s/ Eberhard Bethge
This affidavit clearly corroborated most of the eight risks above, yet Paldiel admittedly withheld it, as well as the petitioners' thirty-seven exhibits, from the recognition committee. That was a prima facie denial of due process.
Likewise, Paldiel concealed the fact that Bauer, the committee's own world-renowned expert, had recommended that both Bonhoeffer and his brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi be recognized for their participation in Operation 7. Ironically, that recommendation was implemented as to Dohnanyi in a recognition ceremony held on October 23, 2003, in the Bonhoeffer Hause Museum in Berlin--but not as to his brother-in-law Bonhoeffer!
More deliberate prejudice involved the withholding of letters that various Bonhoeffer supporters wrote to Paldiel urging recognition. Those supporters were world-class scholars Many of them were Holocaust survivors. They included Professors Nechama Tec, Livia Bitton Jackson, Emil Fackenheim, Ruth Zerner, Franklin Littell, Robert F. Drinan, and Guy C. Carter; Rabbis Schulweiss, Seymour Rossell, and Balfour Brickner; authors Renate Bethge and Vidal Sassoon; and Dr. Gerhart M. Riegner, whose telegram to Wise in 1942 first disclosed the Holocaust, and who wrote that Bonhoeffer "understood immediately ... that it was the duty of true Christians to stand up for the Jewish community whose fate was in mortal danger."
Amazingly, Avner Shalev, the president of Yad Vashem, who was a military general and is not an expert in theology or history, trashed these support letters as mere "lobbying" by Wise. The Commission (at times referred to as the "Committee") was not allowed to see even the filed summary of them.
On July 28, 2000, Paldiel wrote to all of the support-letter writers asking them to withdraw their support since Bonhoeffer had suggested to Bishop Bell "a comprehensive solution of the Jewish Problem, a favorite term used by antisemites" (emphasis in original).
That indirect charge that Bonhoeffer was an Antisemite was linguistic sleight-of-hand The claim that the use of the words "Jewish Problem" automatically shows the user to be an Antisemite flies in the face of logic and history, since the phrase was used by U. S. Supreme Court Justice Brandeis in a 1915 article, "The Jewish Problem: How to Solve It"; and by Wise in writing: "In all the discussions of Jewish problems [with me] covering nearly a decade, [President] Wilson never in the faintest way indicated that he wished merely to please his Jewish fellow citizens."
In any case, all of the support-letter writers rejected Paldiel's claim by reaffirming their support for Bonhoeffer's recognition. It is noteworthy that Paldiel's letter to them said that "the Commission seeks clarifications," but the Commission was not allowed to see their adherences to their original recommendations.
Eventually, Paldiel withdrew the assertion that Bonhoeffer was an Antisemite, saying: "It is highly inappropriate and plainly stupid for anyone to categorize Bonhoeffer as an Antisemite, and I should not wish to be associated with such a statement." (10) Nevertheless, that is what his letter had suggested. Not only was the suggestion baseless, but it was also shown by the following affidavit by Anneliese Schnurmann, sworn on March 19, 2001:
I presently am in Berne, Switzerland. I am 92 years old. Since, at age of 14, I met in School and made friends with Susanne Bonhoeffer, Dietrich's youngest sister, the Bonhoeffer House became my second home, with Dietrich as a friend. With advancing adolescence and adulthood, Dietrich and I had many good talks about religion, politics, and other things. I am Jewish, not baptized and never intended to change my religion, nor did Dietrich try to persuade me to. I know that one of the main reasons why Dietrich opposed the Nazis was their persecution of the Jews. His main preoccupation was the fate of the Jews. As regards his involvement in the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler, he once said to me: "If someone in a car is racing down a hill, running over and killing people (he was thinking mainly of Jews) he has got to be stopped by any means, if necessary by killing him." On numbers of occasions alter that he and I discussed related matters, and it was consistently clear that he had totally renounced the antisemitism and anti-Judaism of Martin Luther and all others, most particularly the Nazis. While it is now well over sixty years since 1 had these conversations with Dietrich, I recall them quite distinctly for two reasons: First, since I am a Jew and heard them as including me during those terrible times, his concern affected me greatly. Second, since I am a psychiatrist and trained to recall statements of importance, they are graven in my mind. Bonhoeffer was a great man and a true friend of Jews in distress, and he should be recognized at Yad Vashem. /s/ Anneliese Schnurmann
The Unholy Triumvirate of Bigotry
The bigotry against Bonhoeffer involved Paldiel, Judge Yaakov Maltz, and the Israel Supreme Court.
First, there was Paldiel's total disregard of the eight risks just summarized, his withholding from the Committee of all evidence of them submitted in support of recognition, and his submission to the Committee of only his own 25page "Analysis," which was loaded with false statements, omissions, and irrelevant prejudicial assertions. The Committee received no other evidence.
Second, there was the palpable pre-judgment of the retired Supreme Court Judge in charge of the proceeding, Maltz. When Wise went to Israel on May 17, 2001, at Paldiel's suggestion, even though Wise handed Maltz and Paldiel a nine-page "Petitioners' Summary for Submission to the Full Commission," the document was withheld from the Committee.
In effect, Maltz dishonored Yad Vashem's stated criterion that "The Commission ... meticulously studies all pertinent documentation, including evidence by survivors and other eyewitnesses." He knew that this was a denial of due process.
Third, there was the decision by the Israel Supreme Court denying the appeal against Yad Vashem's rejection of Bonhoeffer. It blatantly tailored everything to what Yad Vashem argued and did not even consider the petitioners' case. The decision's keystone was as follows (with comments inserted in brackets; emphasis added):
The factual infrastructure for the recognition of the Pastor as a Righteous Gentile is based mainly on a certain operation that took place in 1942. [This ignores the other seven risks described above.] The Pastor learned of an attempt to smuggle persons outside the borders of Germany. He asked that his friend, Charlotte Friedenthal, be included in the group of Jews whom the operation was intended to rescue. The members of the group, fourteen in number, were indeed smuggled into Switzerland and saved from death. Charlotte Friedenthal was a Jew who had converted to Christianity. [Her conversion was irrelevant to the Nazis, who were destroying all Jews.] The Respondents' position was that the role of the Pastor in rescuing Mrs. Friedenthal was marginal.... the Pastor's actions to rescue her did not endanger the Pastor himself, according to the Respondents. The condition of danger is a central condition in accordance with the rules for the recognition of Righteous Gentiles in accordance with which the Committee operates. [This ignores Bonhoeffer's secret use of his theological contacts to get the group past the Swiss guards and Bethge's sworn statement that "1 have heard Bonhoeffer describe his efforts to save Jews by getting them into Switzerland in the course of "Operation 7.' He clearly stated that he was undertaking a great risk to save them, but he felt he must do so."]
Thus the Court listened to only one side of the case and prejudged it by holding: "The material brought before us shows that the Committee acted in a thorough and responsible manner prior to reaching its decision. The Appellants were given numerous opportunities to raise their reservations before the Committee." [Emphasis added. This is egregiously false. All the evidence supporting recognition was withheld, and the petitioners' attorney was deliberately excluded from the hearing.]
The flagrance of the entire proceeding is well summarized by the following letter that Brickner wrote to Maltz just before Wise met with the judge in Jerusalem in an effort to resolve the dispute:
Dear Judge Maltz: I am the senior rabbi emeritus of the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York City. During my tenure as active senior rabbi (over 12 years) I was preceded only by Dr. Stephen Wise (founder of the congregations as he was of practically everything else in his day and a man whom I was privileged to knew personally) and by his successor Rabbi Edward Klein. So much for my "yichus." If you want or need more, I would be glad to tax over a complete biography. I have been involved in Stephen Wise's recent efforts to meet with you and the entire committee in order to personally present the full case in behalf of Rev Bonhoeffer. I assume you know the detailed history of this entire effort but what you may not know is the extent of the amazingly discourteous and duplicitous treatment accorded Mr Wise by those on the Yad Vashem committee dealing with this matter. It has been unfair, unjustified, incredible and unnecessary. You would not tolerate such actions in your court or in the way you practice law. When we met with Dr Paldiel in New York on March 13, 2001, he encouraged Mr Wise to come to Israel to meet face to face with you and the subcommittee. Mr Wise agreed. A date (May 17) was eventually agreed upon and then the salami tactics of slicing off the requisite and important parts of that meeting began to come into practice. Correspondence, e-mails, etc. flew back and forth: "Well, no, Mr Wise, you will not be able to meet with the entire committee." "Well, no, Mr Wise, you will only be able to meet with a sub-committee of the committee." "Well, no, Mr Wise, we are not now sure of the exact date. Come to Israel and be prepared to wait a few days." "Well, no, Mr Wise, you will only be able to meet with Judge Maltz." And so it went ad nauseum. Every week a new roadblock, a new demand, a new requirement was put in his way. The Book of Leviticus warns against putting a stumbling block before a blind man. Too bad it says nothing about putting one before a man who is sighted. Enough already. As I watched the proceedings t became increasingly angered and disgusted. This, I said to myself, is no way for a distinguished committee to behave. This is no way for any serious group of people to behave. I urged Mr Wise to cancel his trip, tell you all to go to hell and then go public with what had happened. It would have made an ugly story. Mr Wise wisely rejected my suggestion. 1 guess he knew that in Israel, or for that matter in the Jewish community, it is no longer possible to embarrass anyone about anything. Let me be as straightforward with you as I can be. You, your committee, your entire infrastructure, legal, technical and otherwise, needs to hear this case in all of its details. Fully, totally. You need to deal honestly with the issues involved. Mr Wise and his colleagues have given great effort to amassing the evidence that would justify including Rev. Bonhoeffer in the sacred list of righteous gentiles.... Time is short. People's schedules are critical. Reservations have to be made. Details must be attended to. I urge you with as much passion as I can muster, to instruct Dr Paldiel to make ALL, FULL and NECESSARY arrangements to facilitate my friend Stephen Wise's visit. Thank you. Most sincerely do I remain, /s/ Balfour Brickner
Paldiel's first letter to Wise in 1997 said, "We salute Bonhoeffer's memory as a courageous martyr of Nazi barbarism." None of Paldiel's falsehoods, distortions, or omissions can change that or eliminate the many risks Bonhoeffer took to save Jews as detailed above or diminish his great recognition worldwide.
Stephen A. Wise
New Canaan, CT and Balfour Brickner (d. 2005)
* A version of this material first appeared in Rundbrief the newsletter of the International Bonhoeffer Society, German Section, vol. 80 (July, 2006), titled "'Wie man einen grossen Menschen klein zu machen sucht." Balfour Brickner read and approved the draft before his death in 2005. The editors of J.E.S, offered Mordecai Paldiel an opportunity to reply, but he has not responded.
(1) James Waterman Wise, Swastika: The Nazi Terror (New York: Harrison Smith and Robert Haas, 1933).
(2) Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A Biography, rev. ed., rev. and ed. Victoria J. Barnett, tr. Eric Mosbacher et al. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), p. 260.
(3) Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, tr. Neville Horton Smith (New York: Macmillan, 1955).
(4) Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, ed. Eberhard Bethge, trs. Reginald H. Fuller (New York: Macmillan, 1953). There are several revised and enlarged editions published in subsequent years.
(5) Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Love Letters from Cell 92: The Correspondence between Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Maria yon Wedemeyer, 1943-45, ed. Ruth-Alice von Bismarck and Ulrich Kabitz, tr. John Brownjohn, postscript Eberhard Bethge (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995).
(6) Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, tr. Reginald H. Fuller. (London: SCM Press, 1948; New York: Macmillan, 1958).
(7) Cited in n. 2, above.
(8) Israel Gutman, gen. ed., Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, 4 vols. (New York: Macmillan; London: Collier Macmillan, 1990).
(9) Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A Testament to Freedom: The Essential Writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ed. Geffrey B. Kelly and F. Burton Nelson (San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1990), p. 285).
(10) Letter from M. Paldiel to author, March 7, 2001.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||EXPLORATIONS AND RESPONSES; Dietrich Bonhoeffer; Jerusalem, Israel|
|Author:||Wise, Stephen A.|
|Publication:||Journal of Ecumenical Studies|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2009|
|Previous Article:||Where the two oceans meet: an attempt at Hindu-Muslim rapprochement in the thought of Dara Shikuh.|
|Next Article:||Harold Coward, The Perfectibility of Human Nature in Eastern and Western Thought.|