In God's Name

In God's Name: Genocide and Religion in the Twentieth Century

Omer Bartov
Phyllis Mack
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    In God's Name
    Book Description:

    Despite the widespread trends of secularization in the 20th century, religion has played an important role in several outbreaks of genocide since the First World War. And yet, not many scholars have looked either at the religious aspects of modern genocide, or at the manner in which religion has taken a position on mass killing. This collection of essays addresses this hiatus by examining the intersection between religion and state-organized murder in the cases of the Armenian, Jewish, Rwandan, and Bosnian genocides. Rather than a comprehensive overview, it offers a series of descrete, yet closely related case studies, that shed light on three fundamental aspects of this issue: the use of religion to legitimize and motivate genocide; the potential of religious faith to encourage physical and spiritual resistance to mass murder; and finally, the role of religion in coming to terms with the legacy of atrocity.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-165-5
    Subjects: Political Science, History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)
    Omer Bartov and Phyllis Mack

    Violence and religion have been closely associated in a variety of intricate, often contradictory ways, since the earliest periods of human civilization. Institutionalized religions have practiced violence against both their adherents and their real or imagined opponents. Conversely, religions have also been known to limit social and political violence and to provide spiritual and material comfort to its victims. Religious faith can thus generate contradictory attitudes, either motivating aggression or constraining it. Individual perpetrators and victims of violence can seek in religious institutions and personal faith both a rationale for atrocity, a justification to resist violence, or a means to...

  4. PART I The Perpetrators:: Theology and Practice
    • Chapter 1 Religion, Ethnicity, and Nationalism: Armenians, Turks, and the End of the Ottoman Empire
      (pp. 23-61)
      Ronald Grigor Suny

      Historians have analyzed the massive deportation and killing of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in eastern Anatolia in 1915 as the conflict of two exclusivist nationalisms, a struggle of two peoples over a single piece of territory. Carrying that view slightly further, those who would deny that a genocide took place have interpreted these events as a civil war between Turks and Armenians. In this construction, the victims are reduced to only one side in an uneven struggle that they themselves irrationally provoked, and the perpetrators are elevated to defenders of their homeland and nation.² The historiography of the end...

    • Chapter 2 Genocide, Religion, and Gerhard Kittel: Protestant Theologians Face The Third Reich
      (pp. 62-78)
      Robert P. Ericksen

      This chapter will consider the relationship between Christian teachings and genocide in twentieth-century Germany. Everyone knows that German people, of a generation still partially with us, perpetrated the Holocaust, the most purposeful and carefully developed genocide ever undertaken. The world has grappled with that brutal and virtually incomprehensible fact for more than half a century. How could it happen? How could they do it? Our most comfortable answers place the perpetrators on the far side of some vast gulf, completely “other.” Our best historical answers, however, tend to reduce that gulf, as indicated, for example, in Christopher Browning’s choice of...

    • Chapter 3 When Jesus Was an Aryan: The Protestant Church and Antisemitic Propaganda
      (pp. 79-105)
      Susannah Heschel

      The combination in Germany of racial theory with religion, beginning in the nineteenth century and blossoming during the early decades of the twentieth, led to the creation of Aryan Christianity, a phenomenon Saul Friedländer has called “redemptive antisemitism.”¹ Born, he writes, “from the fear of racial degeneration and the religious belief in redemption,” it advocated Germany’s liberation from the Jews and from the Jewish. An authentic Germany would be free of all Jewish accretions, those that had entered via modernity and those that had entered via Christianity. If the contemporary savior was Hitler, his mission was that of Christ. The...

    • Chapter 4 A Pure Conscience is Good Enough: Bishop Von Galen and Resistance to Nazism
      (pp. 106-122)
      Beth Griech-Polelle

      In 1937 several German Catholic cardinals and bishops, including Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen, travelled to Rome to ask Pope Pius XI to issue a public statement referring to the perils faced by Catholics in Nazi Germany. The German clergymen drafted what later came to be known as the papal encyclical,Mit brennender Sorge. The encyclical, focusing primarily on the ideological errors of National Socialism, contains no outright condemnation of antisemitism nor does it endorse Catholic participation in an open rebellion against the government. The advice given to Catholics is to shun unjust laws; advice essentially recommending passive disobedience...

    • Chapter 5 Between God and Hitler: German Military Chaplains and the Crimes of the Third Reich
      (pp. 123-138)
      Doris L. Bergen

      Scholarship over the past decades has exploded the long cherished myth that the German military had little to do with the crimes of the Third Reich.¹ But what about the Wehrmacht chaplains? What roles did they play? Precise answers to that question are difficult to find. Chaplains’ records and memoirs provide glimpses,² but for the most part the existing literature avoids the issue.³ Some historians of the churches in the Third Reich claim that German military chaplains remained “above politics” and simply tried to do an impossible job under terrible conditions.⁴ Some studies highlight Nazi authorities’ open hostility toward the...

    • Chapter 6 Christian Churches and Genocide in Rwanda
      (pp. 139-160)
      Timothy Longman

      In 1994, the small East African state of Rwanda was torn by one of the century’s most brutal waves of ethnic and political violence. In a three-month period from April to June, the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR), working with trained civilian militia, systematically massacred as many as one million of the country’s 7.7 million people. The primary targets of the violence were members of the minority Tutsi ethnic group, who were chased from their homes, gathered in churches and other public buildings, ostensibly for their protection, then methodically murdered, first with grenades and guns, then with machetes and other traditional...

    • Chapter 7 The Churches and the Genocide in the East African Great Lakes Region
      (pp. 161-179)
      Charles de Lespinay

      “In God’s Name?” No way. The 1994 Rwanda genocide, the crimes against humanity, and other genocidal acts that have occurred in the Great Lakes region for over thirty years were not committed “in God’s Name.” Nonetheless, during the entire Rwanda genocide, the propaganda of the criminal perpetrators had emphasized the idea that God was on the people’s side.² Was it for this reason that the murderers felt themselves allowed to use as human slaughterhouses the very churches where persecuted and excluded Tutsi took refuge?

      Ever since Rwanda and Burundi became independent, there have been, albeit for different reasons, recurrent massacres...

    • Chapter 8 Kosovo Mythology and the Bosnian Genocide
      (pp. 180-206)
      Michael Sells

      Passion plays collapse time. In major passion plays, such as those commemorating the death of Jesus or the death of the Shi’ite martyr Imam Husayn, the play occurs after at least a month of intense meditation on the sufferings, in graphic detail, of the martyred hero. During the actual play, actors representing those who do the evil deed are instructed to carry out their role with dispatch, lest the audience rush the stage to stop them; and they are instructed to exit the stage immediately after, lest the audience rush the stage and attack them physically. At this moment of...

  5. II. Survival:: Rescuers and Victims
    • Chapter 9 The Absorption of Armenian Women and Children Into Muslim Households as a Structural Component of the Armenian Genocide
      (pp. 209-221)
      Ara Sarafian

      Most Armenians in the Ottoman Empire were murdered in 1915. In 1916 two British authors articulated the first academic thesis on the systematic nature of these killings: first, Armenian conscripts were liquidated in the Ottoman army; then, Armenian community leaders were rounded up and killed; finally, the remaining Armenian population was “deported.” These deportations entailed forced marches accompanied by deprivations, individual killings, and general massacres.² Yet, the evidence at hand shows that a large number of Armenians were also “abducted,” “carried off,” or “converted to Islam” during this period. This paper argues that the fate of this latter class of...

    • Chapter 10 Transcending Boundaries: Hungarian Roman Catholic Religious Women and the “Persecuted Ones”
      (pp. 222-242)
      Jessica A. Sheetz-Nguyen

      Margit Slachta (1884-1974), Hungarian founder of the Roman Catholic female religious congregation the Society of the Sisters of Social Service, coupled zeal for social justice with religious convictions in rescue and relief efforts between 1939 and 1945 for Jewish families whom she called the “persecuted ones.”¹ She protected Slovakian and Hungarian Jews with the assistance of her religious community and a large network of lay Catholic women spiritually associated with the Sisters of Social Service. She also collaborated with a circle of Jewish women, the Hungarian Jewish Welfare Bureau, and various relief agencies.² In the years immediately following the Second...

    • Chapter 11 Denial and Defiance in the Work of Rabbi Regina Jonas
      (pp. 243-258)
      Katharina von Kellenbach

      Regina Jonas, born in Berlin in 1902, was the first ordained female rabbi in the Jewish tradition. Her efforts to attain equal rights in the synagogue coincided with the gradual destruction of Jewish life in Germany. She fought valiantly against religious and cultural restrictions imposed on women just as the German state deprived her of her rights as a Jew and a human being. Her faith in God’s benevolence and commitment to a just and egalitarian future, as well as her stubborn and relentless pursuit of her vision helped to break down the objections to women’s rabbinate. It also prepared...

    • Chapter 12 A Personal Account
      (pp. 259-264)
      Gabor Vermes

      I have prayed many times in my lifetime, but never so hard as during the months of January and February, 1945. I was staying in Buda, in the basement of a villa with about a dozen or so ten-to-eleven year old boys, all of us Hungarian Jews. My only precious earthly possession was a large beat-up winter coat, which functioned solely as my blanket, since we did not dare to go outside.

      During nighttime, but sometimes at odd hours of the day, lying on my bunk-bed, I often pulled the coat over my head. There and then, the noises of...

  6. III. Aftermath:: Politics, Faith, and Representation
    • Chapter 13 Zionist and Israeli Attitudes Toward the Armenian Genocide
      (pp. 267-288)
      Yair Auron

      During the later decades of the nineteenth century, the fever of nationalism reached and affected two minority communities: the Armenianmilletof the Ottoman Empire (a non-Islamic community with a limited autonomous standing) and the Jewish communities in Europe. The Armenians and the Jews were to undergo two remarkably similar processes. They were to be transformed from ethno-religious communities into modern nations, and then, to become victims of monstrous genocides perpetrated by national forces with an indisputable religious coloring: the Armenians were to become the victims of emerging Turkish nationalism and the Jews of German-Nazi nationalism.

      This chapter gives an...

    • Chapter 14 Faith, Religious Practices, and Genocide: Armenians and Jews in France following World War I and II
      (pp. 289-315)
      Maud Mandel

      In fall 1949, Robert Sommer, a representative of the most prominent administrative body of French Judaism, the Consistoire de Paris, voiced deep concerns over the future of Judaism in France. Claiming that 40 to 50 percent of the community’s manpower had disappeared due to the World War II deportations, post-war attempts to blend into French society, and departures for Israel, Sommer worried that continued attempts to blend into the surrounding society would decimate French Jewry beyond repair.¹ Other communal leaders shared Sommer’s fears. Indeed in the years immediately following World War II, Jewish religious and communal leaders bemoaned the demise...

    • Chapter 15 Orthodox Jewish Thought in the Wake of the Holocaust: Tamim Pa’alo of 1947
      (pp. 316-341)
      Gershon Greenberg

      The reflective Orthodox Jewish religious response to the Holocaust began with the rise of Hitler and continued through the war.¹ The research of Yitzhak Herman, Pinhas Pelli, Mendel Piekaz, Nehemiah Polen, Pessah Schindler, Eliezer Schweid, Ephraim Shmueli, and the present writer has shed light on the literature through 1945. Research into the religious thought of Orthodox Jews in the immediate aftermath, the era ofshe’erit hapeleitah(surviving remnant), has also begun. The materials have been identified, and the work of Simhah Elberg (Shanghai) and Ya’akov Moshe Harlap (Jerusalem) has been studied.² Here I introduce Hayim Yisrael Tsimerman’sTamim Pa’alo.


    • Chapter 16 Jewish-american Artists and the Holocaust: The Responses of Two Generations
      (pp. 342-349)
      Matthew Baigell

      I want to compare the responses of two generations of Jewish-American artists to the Holocaust, the generation that came to maturity in the 1940s and 1950s with the current generation of artists. The earlier generation did not confront the Holocaust directly in its art. That is, artists, whether they preferred realistic or abstracted styles, did not paint or sculpt scenes descriptive of particular events or episodes based on documentary photographs or on imaginative recreations of scenes of forced marches and executions, or of ghetto and camp life. Instead, figurative artists tended to find surrogate subject matter in biblical stories or...

    • Chapter 17 The Journey to Poland
      (pp. 350-371)
      Michal Govrin

      In late October 1975, when I was in my early twenties and completing my doctorate in Paris, I went to Poland. An almost impossible journey then for a young woman, alone, with an Israeli passport, at a time when there were no diplomatic relations between the Eastern Bloc and Israel. (It was only because of a French-Jewish friend, who turned me into a “Representative of France” at the International Theater Festival in Wroclaw [Breslau], that I received a special visa for a week.)

      The night before the trip, when everything was ready, I called my parents in Tel Aviv and...

  7. Afterthought Some Reflections on Genocide, Religion, and Modernity
    (pp. 372-383)
    Ian Kershaw

    The impressive papers collected in this volume present case studies dealing with a variety of links between religion and genocide in the twentieth century. They concentrate upon four of the most notorious instances of state-sponsored mass killing in that benighted century—the Armenian, Jewish, and Rwandan genocides and the severe ethnic cleansing (though not culminating in outright genocide) in Bosnia. They do not touch upon a further notorious case of outright genocide—the Khmer Rouge slaughter in the killing fields of Cambodia, where class, not nationality or ethnicity was the basis of the mass murder. About half the Cambodians with...

  8. List of Contributors
    (pp. 384-388)
  9. Index
    (pp. 389-401)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 402-402)