Reviews - What do customers think about So It Was True: American Protestant Press & the Nazi Persecution of the Jews?
This book "broke the silence" -- a must read! Jun 27, 2000
How much did American Protestants know about the Nazi persecution of Jews during WWII? Up until this book was published in 1980, the usual answer was "very little." Then Dr. Robert Ross, Ph.D., asked his own Protestant denomination what they had done to help the Jews. He was told, "We didn't know about it." Ross wanted to find out if that was really true. From that personal question about the role of his own church, came this groundbreaking study that broke the silence about a moral failure of titanic proprotions. Yes, they certainly did know, but most did nothing about it.
To conduct his study, Dr. Ross chose 50 national Protestant publications, ranging from the "Christian Century" (mainstream) to the "Arkansas Baptist" (fundamentalist). [A complete list of the publications used, with their denominational affiliations, is included in the book.] Then he and his graduate assistants went page-by-page through all the issues from 1933-1945. When I heard Dr. Ross speak in 1982, he told how, in some cases, the pages in the bound volumes were still uncut and stuck together. In all those years, NOBODY had gone through those library copies even once. Talk about denial!
So, what did Ross's team find? Detailed articles, editorials, paid ads, missionary reports, appeals for money and help, letters to the editors -- all focused on the persecution of the Jews. Dr. Ross quotes extensively from all this material, making this work a valuable source book in Holocaust studies for both Jews and Christians.
In the fall of 1933, Frederick Lynch, of "The Reformed Church Messenger," reviewed Adolf Hitler's book, "Mein Kampf", and noted that he "gives vent to his hatred of the Jews in many vitriolic passages" and duly notes his intention to rid Germany of them. Unfortunately, Lynch dismissed Hitler's hatred of Jews as a political ploy against communism, and felt that his antisemitism was "simply a part of his scheme to make a nation of only one blood, one race, one religion." The genocidal implications of such a Jew-free state seems to have escaped Mr. Lynch completely. In Dr. Ross's opinion, "Lynch had quite clearly succumbed to the Nazi propaganda that Hitler had saved Germany from communism and to the antisemitic slur that 'communist' meant 'Jew.'" (Ross, p. 19) Unfortunately, Lynch's review set the pattern for how many American Christians would view Hitler's persecution of the Jews throughout the coming war: as politicially justified anti-communist tactics. (Even into the in the 1960's in the USA, "Commie-Jew" was regarded as one word.)
Others Protestant writers in the 1930s believed the stories of persecution, but saw in them a fulfillment of Bible prophecies and therefore concluded that it was "God's Will" for the Jews to suffer. Ross attributes much of the Christian complancency to a tendency to see Jews as pawns of prophecy instead of flesh-and-blood human beings. In the rural areas especially, many of the readers had never met a living Jew, and knew of them only through Bible references. "The Jews", to many American Christians of that era, were a mythological symbol and not real people. This, according to Ross, led to moral inaction and failure to try to rescue them from Hitler.
After The USA entered WWII in 1942, censorship on both sides made it more difficult to get info about what was happening to the Jews under Hitler. Nevertheless, reports about the deportations, slave labor camps, gas chambers and and death marches DID get through and was published in many of the Protestant publications. One group that consistently published paid ads about the atrocities was the International Hebrew Chrstian Alliance, which did missionary work to convert Jews to Christanity. Their U.S. fundraiser ads tried to appeal to universal Christian brotherhood by saying, in effect, that these converted Jews were now fellow Christians now and deserved to be helped the same as any other Christians. While these ads might strike some readers (including myself) as rather self-serving, nevertheless, they *did* include detailed descriptions and photos of the atrocities against Jews.
All in all, Dr. Ross's study proved beyond a doubt that plenty of information about the Holocaust was readily available to American Protestants throughout the entire Hitler era, provided they bothered to read the publications of their churches. In the final chapter, "Too long have we Christians been silent," Ross addresses the moral failure of his own religion to come to the aid of Jews under Hitler. He comes to the conclusion that, although the prtess reported far more about the Holocaust than was previously believed, the reality of it all had not sunk in. "In the end," writes Ross on the last page, " editors and writers seemed unable to cope with something as unreal, even unimaginable, as the mass slaughter of millions of people... They could report this madness, this unreality, but, beyond the reporting and even beyond the expressed shock and horror over the discvery of the death camps, there remains the waful pall that hangs over this entire episode in modern history."
This book had the shock effect that its author intended, and became a minor bestseller in Holocaust studies circles. It shattered forever the illusion that American Christians didn't know about the Holocaust, and laid bare the moral question, still debated to this day: If they did know so much, why did they do nothing?