Association for Contemporary Church Historians Newsletter
(source:; scroll to bottom)
by John Conway, December 2001

Harald Marcuse, Legacies of Dachau, Cambridge University Press,
2001, 590 pp

Harald Marcuse, who now teaches in Santa Barbara, is the grandson
of the eminent German philosopher. This compendious, splendidly
researched and well illustrated volume is really the story of how the
community of Dachau, near Munich, came to terms with its being
the site of the Nazis, first concentration camp, and with the
subsequent horrors which happened there. Our readers will be
particularly interested in the two chapters on "Catholics celebrate at
Dachau (p. 221-241) and "Protestants make amends at Dachau

In 1940 all the Christian clergy held in "protective custody were
consolidated in Dachau, 2579 Catholics - mainly Poles - and a very
much smaller number of Protestants. Those who survived after the
war wanted to erect a memorial. In line with Catholic practice, a
place of martyrdom and suffering could be sanctified if a shrine
was buiilt over the spot, especially if relics of the martyrs could be
found. The cult reflects Christ,s sacrifice and becomes a focus for
religious pilgrimage, not for historical commemoration. The
Catholic chapel in Dachau was finally built in 1960, largely
because of pressure from abroad, and against the opposition of the
local citizens. But again religious elements predominate over
historical references. There is no mention of the Nazi past.

By contrast the Protestants, led by Martin Niemöller, himself a
Dachau inmate, and supported by a youth group, Action for
Atonement, stressed the Church,s failings in the Nazi years. Their
chapel was named the Chapel of Reconciliation and sought to attest
Protestant solidarity with all of the Nazis, victims, even though the
record of the German Protestants, assistance to these victims after
1945 had been sparse. But the need to learn the lessons from the
past was markedly emphasized in Niemöller,s speech at the
chapel,s ceremonial dedication in 1967, when he compared his own
experience of injustice in Dachau with the United States,
aggression in Vietnam. Reconciliation had to be earned by an
active commitment to peace and justice.

With best wishes to you all at this festive season,

John S.Conway
Association of Contemporary Church Historians website:
(This site contains the complete contents of past issues).

text archived by H. Marcuse, Jan. 12, 2004
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