Thursday, April 29, 2010

Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1933-1939

Historian Saul Friedlander first published Nazi Germany and the Jews, Volume I: Years of Persecution, 1933-1939 in 1997. Since then, the book has gone on to establish itself as a major contribution to Holocaust studies. Volume II, which covers the years of the War, 1939-1945, won a 2008 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.

Friedlander was born in Prague and spent his boyhood in Nazi-occupied France posing as a Gentile, sheltered in a Roman Catholic monastery. In 1942, when he was nine, his parents attempted to escape to Switzerland but were captured and handed over to German authorities who sent them to Auschwitz. It was only after the War, in 1946, that the author learned the fate of his parents. Thus, his scholarship has always been an attempt to face and to deal with the world of his past.

In 1963, Friedlander completed the doctorate at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva. Since then, he has published a memoir as well as several major books and articles, all of them in some way related to the Holocaust. Today, he teaches at UCLA.

In the “Introduction” to Nazi Germany and the Jews, Friedlander notes that, as he sees them, many previous works on his topic tend to be lopsided. For example, books like Raul Hilberg's The Destruction of the European Jews, focus almost exclusively on the perpetrators, "the Nazi machinery of persecution and death." On the other hand, works like The War Against the Jews, 1933-1945, by Lucy Dawidowicz, concentrate almost completely "on the history of the victims." The goal of his book, says Friedlander, is to "convey an account in which Nazi policies are indeed the central element, but in which the surrounding world and the victims' attitudes, reactions, and fate are no less an integral part of this unfolding history" (1-2).

In his focus on Nazi anti-Jewish measures which ultimately led to the Final Solution, the author emphasizes the responsibility of Adolf Hitler. He is careful to note that he has no intention of going back to "earlier reductive interpretations, with their sole emphasis on the role (and responsibility) of the supreme leader." At the same time, he observes that some historians, attempting to explain the complexity of the events that led from persecution to extermination, have neglected one simple fact: "In all its major decisions the regime depended on Hitler" who took to its most extreme and radical limits a worldview that Friedlander calls "redemptive anti-Semitism" (3).

Here, the reader who knows the work of Daniel J. Goldhagen, Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, instantly recognizes the unspoken critique of Goldhagen's comparatively-weak phrase, "eliminationist anti-Semitism." Friedlander, by using what he considers to be a more precise and appropriate adjective, goes beyond merely describing what Hitler's anti-Semitism did and what its intentions were. Instead, he indicates why the members of the Nazi high command, in spite of any remnants of a genuine humanity, found eliminationist anti-Semitism so appealing, why they deemed it a good thing. Indeed, with this telling phrase, he reveals how it was that the Holocaust could have happened at all: "It was this redemptive dimension,” he writes, “this synthesis of a murderous rage and an 'idealistic' goal, shared by the Nazi leader and the hard core of the party, that led to Hitler's ultimate decision to exterminate the Jews" (3).

The book that follows is comprised of two major parts, each one containing five chapters. In “Part I: A Beginning and an End,” Friedlander describes the Nazi regime from the time of Hitler’s accession to power in January 1933 to the promulgation of the Nuremberg Laws near the end of 1935. This was a time of shocking political and cultural change in Germany. The period saw so many radical anti-Jewish measures that by the time the Nuremberg Laws, which promised racial isolation, were announced even some of Germany’s Jews were themselves relieved. Behind all of this was Hitler’s redemptive anti-Semitism, which Friedlander partially describes as follows: “Whereas ordinary racial anti-Semitism is one element within a wider racist worldview, in redemptive anti-Semitism the struggle against the Jews is the dominant aspect of a worldview in which other racist themes are but secondary appendages” (87).

“Part II: The Entrapment” is made up of another five chapters which bring the story from 1936, a pivotal year according to the author, to 1939. The author reports the major events of this significant period of time. He includes telling descriptions of how, for instance, Hitler and the Nazis “achieved one of their greatest propaganda victories: the successful unfolding of the 1936 Olympic Games” (180). And he provides an account, of course, of the Kristallnacht pogrom during which 276 synagogues were destroyed, 7,500 businesses were vandalized, and hundreds of Jews committed suicide or were killed (276).

Throughout his work, Friedlander enlivens the story by providing details from government documents and first-person accounts, and by quoting from the diaries of both victims and perpetrators. He also manages to strike what I regard to be a good balance between intentionalist and functionalist interpretations of the Holocaust:

"The crimes committed by the Nazi regime were neither a mere outcome of some haphazard, involuntary, imperceptible, and chaotic onrush of unrelated events nor a predetermined enactment of a demonic script; they were the result of converging factors, of the interaction between intentions and contingencies, between discernible causes and chance. General ideological objectives and tactical policy decisions enhanced one another and always remained open to more radical moves as circumstances changed" (5).

Based on painstaking research among the best sources, Saul Friedlander’s work offers penetrating insight and judicious conclusions. Both the subject and the long sentences of the historian's style sometimes make for a difficult read. But the payoff is well worth the investment of time and effort.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Trip to Pepe's Pizzeria

It was such a great night. For supper, Chloe, Benjamin, and I went to the center of the pizza universe, Frank Pepe's on Wooster Street in New Haven, CT.

As you can see, by the time I was able to take a photo the two of them had already gotten started.

After we finished off this pie, we went next door to Libby's for some of the best gelato ever. The perfect finish.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Abigator and I at the Cheesecake Factory

This is the chocolate mousse cheesecake that we ordered at the Cheesecake Factory in West Hartford Center yesterday. Guess who got the first bite?

Let it be known that Abigail doesn't like this photo of herself. But it was the only one I had of her eating our dessert.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Congratulations, Holly Joy!

My niece, Holly Joy Davis, won her match in Las Vegas on Saturday and helped advance her team, the University of Missouri at Kansas City Kangaroos! They'll play against No. 2 seeded Oral Roberts University this coming weekend. She's pictured above with her mom, my sister Shari, and her dad, Keith Davis. Looks like she's holding her senior collage. Below is a good shot of her serving. Way to go, Holly! Your family is proud of you!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Bellizzis in Connecticut

It's been so good getting to spend time with my kids this weekend. We took this photo just after church this morning.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Rebecca Signs to Play for Ohio Valley University

As of last night, I'm back in Connecticut; spending Spring Break with my kids up here. It's so good to be with them, and so nice for us to enjoy the hospitality of Michele's parents. Photos to follow, but so far it's been cool and rainy up here. Colder tomorrow, says the forecast. Yuck.

Anyway, last Tuesday my step-daughter, Rebecca Richardson, signed a letter of intent at her school, Randall High in Amarillo. She's going to attend Ohio Valley University and play soccer for them starting in the fall. I'm betting she'll be a great addition to their team. Michele, Aubrey, and I got to be there for her signing. Congratulations, Rebecca! We're proud of you!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What Ministers Actually Do

Several years ago, a member of a church where I was the pulpit minister told me that his young son had decided to be a preacher when he grew up. The reason that the boy had opted for ministry was that preachers only worked on Sundays and Wednesday nights.

The image persists that preachers and other members of a church staff just don't have a lot to do. Strangely enough, it seems that fewer and fewer are opting to take on this supposedly-easy job.

I'm confident that there are a few lazy preachers. I may have known a few. I may have been one myself at certain points along the way. But not only are most ministers hard-working most of the time, they also have plenty to keep them busy. And they want to be busy: teaching, preaching, and doing anything they can to promote the gospel of Christ and the well-being of the church. For most preachers, doing what they do is not a matter of opportunity and employment. Instead, it's more about giftedness and gratitude to the Lord, wanting to do anything to increase His honor in the world.

The summer I turned fifteen, I worked at a car wash. The pay was $2.00/hour. At 60 hours, that came out to $120 every week. I always felt rich on pay day. Since that time, I've worked in a factory and in a record store. I have worked as a lawn boy, a locksmith, and a radio announcer-disc jockey (operating two radio stations by myself for the grand sum of $4.00/hour). But for about 20 years, I was a preacher among the Churches of Christ. And that was as real a job as I've ever had.

But what is it, exactly, that ministers do? Members of churches have a right to know. Because that's true, years ago I put together a representative list of my responsibilities and tasks as the preacher in a single-staff church I was working with in Connecticut.

To people who have always worked in multi-staff churches, my list will seem strange, way too broad and general. To others who have spent at least some time in a smaller, single-staff church, the list might actually seem short. Such is the difference between specialists (in multi-staff churches) and generalists (in single-staff churches). Either way, here's the overview of ministerial responsibilities and tasks I came up with:

1. Worship Leadership and Ministry of the Word

Write, rehearse, and preach biblical sermons.
Prepare and teach classes that inform and inspire.
Create PowerPoint presentations or hand-outs to enhance the effectiveness of a lesson.
Write articles designed to promote and nurture faith.
Plan the worship time and make assignments to worship leaders.
Provide instruction to worship leaders about their various roles.
Plan and organize special times of worship (Spring Sing, Christmas service, elder and deacon ordination services, etc.) .

2. Evangelism and Outreach

Make contact with visitors to the congregation (visits, notes, calls, etc.).
Initiate and conduct personal Bible studies.
Conduct follow-up studies for new Christians, or teach a new-members class.
Promote and participate in benevolent efforts of the congregation.
Respond to questions about the church (usually phone calls or visitors).
Plan, organize, and conduct an annual Vacation Bible School.

3. Administrative Responsibilities

Maintain office hours.
Open and post incoming mail.
Respond to incoming mail, e-mail, and phone messages.
Write for and be responsible for the publication of a weekly church bulletin.
Compose and publish newsletters, flyers, reminders, etc.
Order and stock office materials (copy paper, envelopes, etc.).
Serve as monitor of the church building.

4. Spiritual Development and Personal Maintenance

Pray regularly.
Study the Bible regularly.
Read good books and magazines.
Sharpen writing and speaking skills.
Stay up-to-date with current trends that affect church and society.
Maintain contact with leaders in other churches.
Attend (and perhaps also organize) a regional church leaders' meeting.
Keep one's physical body in shape through regular exercise.

5. Spiritual Care and Christian Nurture

Keep in touch with members (lunches, home visits, etc.).
Provide counseling to members (often amid a crisis).
Provide counseling to non-members (often referred by members).
Conduct pre-marital counseling (usually several sessions).
Use cards and calls to support and encourage others.
Visit and comfort those who are sick and/or hospitalized.
Recommend books or websites to help others with specific needs.
Meet and pray with other leaders of the congregation.

6. Other Roles and Duties

Plan and conduct weddings.
Plan and conduct funerals.
Serve as an ambassador for the congregation.
Write recommendations for job seekers, college prospects, etc.
Entertain and accommodate guests of the congregation (visiting preachers, missionaries, those interviewing for positions with the congregation, etc.).
Oversee the work of other members of the church staff.
Promote and support Christian camps and colleges.

Again, this is a representative list. Naturally, at different times of the year and in different seasons of ministry some of these tasks will come to the fore while others are moved to the back burner.

If you currently serve as a preacher or have done so in the past, what would you add or delete or tweak? What are some of your reactions? If you've never served full-time on a church staff, what is it about my description that strikes you as remarkable? Naturally, I'm interested in hearing your thoughts and responses.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

San Jacinto Church of Christ, 1945?

This old photograph was shared with me by one of the long-time members of my home congregation, the San Jacinto Church of Christ in Amarillo, Texas. I believe it was taken at a ladies' Bible class sometime in the 1940s. (Evidently, men were allowed to attend the ladies' Bible class).

The building in the photo, which stood at the corner of Line and Mississippi, is no longer there. It was replaced by a new structure in 1954.

It was thought by some of the people at church that the man standing in the aisle is a preacher by the last name of Oldham. If anyone can identify him or anyone else in the photo, I'd appreciate hearing from you. Just click on the photo to get a larger image.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Resources for Historians of the Holocaust

This semester I'm part of a graduate seminar at West Texas A&M University. The course, taught by Dr. Elizabeth Morrow Clark, is focused on the Holocaust.

Over the past few months, I've done a good bit of reading in the secondary literature on the subject. I've also spent a few hours identifying Web resources for those interested in exploring one of the most significant and defining events of the 20th century. Here's the best of the best of what I've discovered so far:

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
This nicely-done site is immense, yet easy-to-use. It includes a Holocaust encyclopedia, videos and photographs, transcripts of first-person accounts, lots of information about exhibits and events at the Museum located in Washington, D.C., and links to all sorts of related pages and sites.

Yad Vashem
The name of this museum located in Jerusalem comes from the Hebrew text of Isaiah 56:5, "And to them I will give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name . . . that shall not be cut off." Their site includes links to photo archives, podcasts, video lectures, a names database, and much more. First-rate.

Nazi Propaganda Archive
This site was put together by Professor Randall L. Bytwerk who teaches at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Bytwerk has written extensively on the subject of Nazi and East German propaganda. His site contains a wide array of translated texts as well as visual materials (posters, book covers and drawings, etc.) that give one a feel for the kinds of words and images that were common in Nazi Germany. Some, like Julius Streicher's anti-Semitic children's book, are downright chilling.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Sexy Scripture: Introducing the Song of Songs with Questions and Answers

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, for your love is more delightful than wine. --Song of Songs 1:2

"The Song of Songs"? I thought the title of this book was "The Song of Solomon. "

Actually the full title is, "The Song of Songs which is to Solomon" (1:1). The elaborate frontispiece shown here contains those words in Hebrew. "Song of Songs" is a typical Hebrew expression, much like "lord of lords" or "king of kings." This is the Hebrew way of saying, "the greatest __________." For example, "the holy of holies" means "the most holy place." So the title "Song of Songs" means something like, "The Greatest Song."

But doesn't the first verse identify Solomon as the author?

The expression at the end of verse 1, "to Solomon" can be translated in any number of different ways. "In the style of Solomon" and "for Solomon," are just two possibilities. At any rate, this expression, which serves as the title for the book, does not necessarily indicate that Solomon wrote it, although it might. Solomon may not have been the author. However, he is connected to the book in some way (1:5; 3:9-11; 8:11-12).

This book seems to be a collection of love poetry, and it never even mentions God. What's a book like this doing in the Bible?

Without a doubt, the discreet eroticism of the Song has raised the eyebrows of many a believer. This, along with its neglect of such topics and themes as Israel, God, the Torah, etc., has caused many people to treat the Song as though it were an allegory.

An allegory. What's that?

An allegory is a certain type of writing or speaking in which truth is presented symbolically, in the form of a story or picture. The Scriptures contain many examples of allegory. For example, Psalm 80 presents Israel as a vine from Egypt. When the prophet Nathan convicted King David of his adultery, the prophet told a story about two men. One was rich and had many sheep. One was relatively poor and had just one sheep that he dearly loved. Such examples indicate two important qualities of an allegory: First, true allegory is obviously figurative and not literal. If it's true (and effective) allegory, then somewhere along the line the hearers understand that the people or places and events in a story are symbols that point to other things that are real. When Nathan said, "You are the man," David knew that Nathan had not been talking about sheep, but about women.

How do allegorical interpretations of the Song work?

Since before the time of Christ, many Jewish interpreters of the Song have treated it as a figurative work expressing the love between God and Israel. Likewise, among Christian interpreters the Song has been seen as an expression of love between Christ and the church, or between Christ and an individual Christian. One motivation for presenting the Song in this way is obvious: it relieves the tension presented by a straight-forward reading of the text which comes across as "non-religious" and sometimes very sexy. Another reason for this time-honored way of reading the Song has to do with an ancient conviction about the fullness of the Bible. According to this view, Scripture can and does communicate at several different levels, not just the level of the literal sense of the text.

So is the Song of Songs really an allegory?

No. In fact, all of the interpretations of the Song which treat it like an allegory are really examples of what might be called "allegorizing."

Allegorizing? What does that mean?

"Allegorizing" simply means "ignoring the literal meaning of a text in order to discover its 'deeper,' symbolic meaning." Typical of allegorizing is that it comes up with all kinds of meanings that are not readily apparent, depending on the interpreter. In such cases, we find out more about the interpreter than we do about the text; more about the reader than about the author. I think we should be wary of the allegorizing approach to the Song of Songs.

If allegorizing isn't the best method of interpretation, how should we approach the Song?

It's best to see this material for what it clearly is: a collection of love poetry which expresses the intimate relationship between a man and a woman, a celebration of physical love. As Hardeman Nichols said it: "The literal interpretation of the Song of Solomon declares that this is lyric poetry. . . . The primary object of the poem is to present ideal human love. Surely there is a place in the Bible for the most beautiful love song in all literature."

What's the best way to study the Song?

Begin by reading it all the way through. You should read it at least two or three times on different occasions. Also, you might try different translations. A complete reading of all eight chapters doesn't take long. (Note: Reading the Song with your husband or wife could result in your not making it to the end of the book). You might want to make a few notes as you read. Write down some of your thoughts as well as some of the questions that come to mind. How would you respond to these questions?

1. Why do you think the Song was originally composed?

2. Do you think that all of it was written by the same person, at the same time? Or, does the book seem more like a collection from different times, or even from different people?

3. What might have been some of the reasons why the Song was eventually included in the Jewish Scriptures?

4. What do you think that the Song is uniquely saying?

5. Based on your understanding of the book, what would you say that it contributes to the larger whole of the Bible?

6. If you were asked to present an overview of the Song, what would you include in that lesson?