- Grenzen des katholischen Milieus. Stabilität und Gefährdung katholischer Milieus in der Endphase der Weimarer Republik und der NS-Zeit Edited by Joachim Kuropka
The relationship between Catholicism and Nazism has created firestorms of controversy in recent decades. Especially in Germany, endless volumes on the subject pour from the press, rehashing now-familiar arguments over Pope Pius XI, Pope Pius XII, Ludwig Kaas, Cesare Orsenigo, Franz von Papen, and other major figures in Catholic-Nazi relations. Perhaps because the issue is so politically charged, investigations into Catholic-Nazi relations have, in some ways, not kept [End Page 628] up with broader trends in the study of German history. This magisterial collection, The Borders of the Catholic Milieu, seeks to rectify this by integrating Catholic history with the recent turn to the “region” in German studies.
The master concept of this collection is the “milieu,” an influential theory of German history drawn from the work of M. Rainer Lepsius. According to Lepsius, Germany in the decades around 1900 had not been one nation, but rather four basically distinct milieus: Catholic, socialist, liberal Protestant, and conservative Protestant. Although many scholars have cast doubt on the impermeability of these cultural-political blocs, the model is still widely assumed even if it is unnamed. This collection nuances the “milieu” concept by integrating Lepsius with the “regionalist” turn in German history, associated in this country with David Blackbourn and Celia Applegate. As Joachim Kuropka suggests in his opening essay, the concept of the milieu is indispensable to understanding German Catholicism. Nonetheless, as Kuropka and Winfried Becker point out, the “milieu” was not national but regional: Catholicism in the Rhineland looked very different from Catholicism in Bavaria. What is more, the stability of the milieu differed dramatically across the country, as some regions were already dealing with significant religious diversity in the 1920s.
Already, this approach rectifies a major problem in studies of Catholic Germany; far too often, it is treated as some sort of monolithic whole, when in fact there were enormous differences across the Reich. After programmatic opening essays from Kuropka and Becker, this lengthy, and sometimes exhausting, volume marches through each majority-Catholic Land in Germany, from Rhineland-Westphalia in the West to Ermland in the East (Ermland is now in Poland: the volume considers Germany within its 1934 borders, a welcome choice). The essays, which all treat the relations between the Catholic population and National Socialism, are invariably sober, well-reasoned accounts, and the reader is left with an impression of the great diversity of Catholic Germany and the near-impossibility of making blanket statements about it, at least when it comes to political affiliation. Klemens-August Recker’s essay on Münsterland, which explains the wide divergence in Nazi-affiliation between two otherwise-similar towns, displays great diversity even within a single region. The methodology is primarily empirical, and there is little of the cultural or gender history that has enlivened some of the best work on European religion in recent years (Michael E. O’Sullivan’s standout essay on women and youth movements in Rhineland-Westphalia is an exception).
Overall, the collection is a sophisticated intervention into a well-worn debate. However, although the volume does a fine job of dismantling old preconceptions, it is less adept at suggesting a new model. The scope is narrow, and few authors range beyond their assigned region. Little attention is paid to the Center Party as a national institution, and the scant attention paid to national developments is met by total silence about non-German Catholicism. The Vatican is hardly mentioned, and Pius XII, remarkably, does not seem to appear a single time. Although this volume contains many insightful essays and much information new to this reviewer, it does not suggest how we might fuse these insights into a new, general [End Page 629] understanding of the vexed, and endlessly controversial, relationship between Catholicism and Nazism.