- Houses on the Sand: Pacifist Denominations in Nazi Germany
Bordering on the polemic, this work examines the role played by the German Free Churches in legitimizing the Nazi regime. There were three categories of German religious institutions: the Provincial State-Supported Churches, the sects, and the Free Churches. Three of the latter—the Mennonites, the Seventh Day Adventists and the Quakers—are examined. All three accepted pacifism as a tenet of their faith. Yet at a time when the Hutterites and other small sects were declared illegal, and when thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses were jailed, even executed, for their faith, two of the three Free Churches supported the Nazis.
The author’s conclusions are based on an exhaustive study of Free Church publications, an approach which he vigorously defends. Essays in both Mennonite and Adventist publications included stereotypical views of Jews and, in some instances, openly praised the Nazis. Under the guise of separation of church and state, the Nazi regime refrained from interfering with these “loyal” churches. They were free to carry on their pastoral and social service functions as long as they did not criticize or oppose the state.
Lichti’s main concern is not how much those attitudes affected Nazism but what they did to the churches themselves and their members. He labels the Free Churches “liberal,” not for their theology but because of their emphasis on individual conscience, respect for diversity and separation of church and state, principles which he alleges contributed to their support of the Nazis.
The author exempts German Friends from his indictment of the other pacifist Free Churches. Instead of supporting Nazi ideology the Quakers published articles of moderate criticism. Still, Lichti does not forgive them entirely. Although Quakers provided essential help—some of it illegal—to individual Jews, they never issued a public, corporate statement of opposition to the Nazi regime, as the sects had done. Lichti gives only slight mention of the fact that all the Free Churches abandoned their pacifism, though the Quakers served in the German army mostly as noncombatants.
This terribly sad story appears in a book that is not reader friendly. There are too many details and considerable repetition. Each chapter, for instance, contains some footnotes on pages of text, with additional notes at the end. One chapter’s notes cover forty pages Lichti has proved beyond dispute that the German Free Churches chose to survive by overlooking the Nazi terror. Better editing and pruning, however, would have produced a much improved work. [End Page 44]