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Jan 2003 Journal

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Continental Britons: Churches’ muffled voices

Dr Margaret Brearley, special adviser on Holocaust matters to the Church of England, addressed the question of ‘Protest and Passivity: The British Churches and National Socialist Persecution of Jews, 1933-1945’ at the Jewish Museum.

“Arguably, the British churches neither spoke out nor acted with sufficient power” when faced with the evils of National Socialism, said Dr Brearley, a position that did not go unnoticed by the Nazis. While the Germans sought to persuade Anglicans of their pacific intent, British churches took “relatively little interest or action.”

So-called non-Aryan Christians – predominantly Jewish converts and their families – were largely abandoned by their fellow Christians in Germany and subjected to the full force of state persecution. A Christian Council in Britain set out to rescue 250 children, but managed only to take in 33! This relative passivity stood in contrast to the non-sectarian activities of the Quakers, who maintained relief centres in Germany. However, during the war Christians became increasingly outspoken opponents of antisemitism in Britain.

Dr Andrew Chandler, Director of Birmingham’s George Bell Institute, revealed that Dr James Parkes advised Cosmo Gordon Lang, then Archbishop of Canterbury, not to take part in a 1933 protest meeting organised by the Jewish community in the Queens Hall. Lang was confused and concerned that any such protest would inflame the situation. At a Church Assembly debate in 1935, George Bell, Bishop of Chichester, sought to protest against events in Germany, but others argued that the Church should not become politicised. The Roman Catholic Church remained quiescent, expressing the belief that Jews should protest against the persecution of Catholics! The Catholic press continued to deny the full impact of the Holocaust, even after the war.
Ronald Channing

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