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"Personal View of the German Churches Under the Revolution"

Leiper Booklet
US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Carl and Robert Gamer papers
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tags: Americans abroad Christianity religious life

type: Pamphlet

American Protestant Minister Henry Smith Leiper was an outspoken opponent of Nazism, Nazi Germany's foreign policy, and the Nazis' treatment of religion—a sphere of German life he feared was becoming too politicized.1 He took part in the unsuccessful efforts to convince the US Olympic Committee to boycott the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. From 1930 to 1945, he served as secretary for the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America (FCC).2

This pamphlet, written by Leiper in 1933, was issued by the American Section of the Universal Christian Council for Life and Work.3 It recounts Leiper's personal experiences traveling in Germany and several other European countries in 1932 and 1933.4 Leiper describes the political situation in Germany and relates the activities of Church circles in the wake of Hitler's seizure of power in January 1933. The minister met with many leaders, including "prime ministers….ministers of education, college and university presidents, pastors, bishops, social workers, newspaper editors and correspondents, diplomats, writers, military men, business men and students."

Reflecting on his visit in this document, Leiper carefully explains his views: "Assessing praise or blame is not at the moment our concern. We want to understand what is going on and why it is going on. Then we may hope to gain clearer views as to what is right and what is wrong with the new Germany." The minister also describes a meeting with the new pro-Nazi national Protestant bishop, Ludwig Müller, whom he found to be "much less of a military type and more of a pastor" than he had assumed. In considering the religious landscape in Germany and the church struggle, Leiper addresses rumors that American audiences may have heard regarding Jewish persecution, everyday violence, censorship of the press, increased state control of the churches, and the potential for a communist revolution in Germany.

Like many Americans in the early 1930s, Leiper appears reluctant to draw broad conclusions about Nazism's impact in Germany. His observations reflect a broader lack of clarity over the future of Europe during the rise of Nazism, a reminder that historical actors could not foresee—or even imagine—how events would unfold over the next twelve years.5 Still, Leiper's pamphlet demonstrates Americans' desire to learn about developments in Germany, both within Church institutions and the society at large. What might have sparked this interest?

Henry Smith Leiper (1891–1975) was an American Protestant minister and missionary who worked for much of his career in ecumenical organizations, such as the Federal Council of Churches (FCC) and the World Council of Churches. He attended Amherst College, Columbia University, and Union Theological Society (where he studied under Harry Emerson Fosdick, the author of "The Ethical Problems of Neutrality: A Columbus Day Sermon of Rediscovering America," also featured in this collection).  For more on Leiper, see William J. Schmidt and Edward Oulette, What Kind of A Man: The Life of Henry Smith Leiper (New York: Friendship Press, 1986). See also the online finding aid for the Henry Smith Leiper Papers, 1921–1949, at Union Theological Seminary Archives.

Many Christian ecumenical organizations merged to form another organization, the National Council of Churches (NCC), in 1950. For more on the activities of the FCC, see the related items "American Churches to Hitler" and Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam at Buchenwald.

The Life and Work Movement began with the Universal Christian Conference on Life and Work held in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1925. It was an ecumenical movement that wrestled with the relationship between the Church, state, and society. Several meetings and research activities culminated in the Oxford Conference on Church, Community, and State in 1937. It merged with the World Council of Churches upon its creation in 1937.

These trips included visits to England, France, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria.

Leiper later became critical of the Nazi regime. In May of 1943, he spoke at the opening ceremony of The Nature of the Enemy exhibit in Rockefeller Center, New York City. A photograph of this exhibit depicting a tableau entitled "Desecration of Religion" is also featured in this collection.

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Carl and Robert Gamer papers
Date Created
1933
Page(s) 1-11
Author / Creator
Henry Smith Leiper
Language(s)
English
Location
New York, USA
Document Type Pamphlet
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