Thursday, July 17, 2014


(Click to enlarge)
I found the above picture in a cache of old documents at Norwich Central Baptist Church. Below I publish the text that was attached to it:

The 1934 Congress in Berlin. Enlargement of a postcard from St. Mary's member, Mary Fisher, to Charles Jewson. The three figures under the cross behind the huge choir are: J G Oncken, who 100 years earlier baptised seven people in Hamburg which was the beginning of the modern Baptist movement in Germany. In 1934 there were 30,000 German Baptists. C H Spurgeon, 1934 was the centenary of his birth. William Carey, who died in 1834. Dr. Gilbert Laws, minister of St. Mary's, [Now Norwich Central Baptist Church - ed] took part as president of the Baptist Union. He told the family on his return how alarmed he was that young German ministers did not seem to realise the danger of developments in Germany. As the Hallelujah Chorus was sung he introduced the English custom of standing and, making a nazi style salute, said he saluted King Jesus. He also moved a resolution on 'Church and State', emphasizing the Baptist attitude denying the right of the state to interfere in matters of religion. Another resolution on racialism was welcomed by Jews round the world. Eighteen months later these reports and pamphlets were suppressed in Germany.

Is it my imagination or is the huge choir a sign of the collective spirit of discipline and identification of purpose that was abroad in Germany at that time? I’m not sure Gilbert Laws did the right thing in attempting to reload the Nazi salute with Christian significance – at best it would have had an ambiguous meaning especially as, Laws says, the German (Baptist?) ministers seemed oblivious to the dangers of Nazism. If there is a picture of this Baptist congress giving the Nazi salute with a Swastika in the background it would be very difficult to find a convincing excuse! * Rev. Gilbert Laws was a minister at Norwich Central Baptist Church before and during the War and more about him can be found here.
Not long after I happened upon the above material an interesting album of photos was passed on to me. This album was apparently compiled by a Miss M. Kirby, a Baptist from Norwich, The Album is a record of a tour of Belgium and Germany by British Baptists in 1936, two years after the Berlin Baptist congress. In the album Miss Kirby records her thoughts and observations besides the photos. The contents of this album can be browsed here.
Below I have transcribed some of the comments of Miss Kirby which reveal how the German ruling Nazi regime impacted her observations.
On Tuesday morning we adjourned to the garden after early morning prayers & breakfast to hear something of the German Baptists problems. Dr Slavensky told how Hitler tried to unite all Germans through the common love of the Vaterland and how the question of race was important to Germans. He spoke of Hitler’s strength in quieting all the numerous small political parties. The German Baptists in the main appear to be fundamentalists. They traced back the race problem to Adam and pointed out the Bible teaching regarding intermarriage of nations. Said Jewish persecution not supported by Christians.

My Comment: Here we see evidence of Hitler’s suppression of all opposition and his ability to use an innate human propensity for tribalism to rally people to what was basically a call to arms against the fancied conspiracies of other tribes. Miss Kirby puts it a little euphemistically "Hitler’s strength in quieting......"! Interesting is the reference to the German Baptists being fundamentalists and their attempt to justify apartheid from the Bible**. The term "fundamentalist" no doubt had different connotations from today, but if fundamentalism is in general characterised by its epistemic arrogance then the term is wholly appropriate for the German context at that time. I can almost see Miss Kirby muttering the clipped and abbreviated sentence “Jewish persecution not supported by Christians” quietly into her sleeve. Typically timidly British, not wanting to upset the apple-cart – I  know the feeling, particularly when one’s hosts are polite and friendly as were these German Baptists.

Tuesday evening we had an informal discussion of the mornings lecture. Interesting points mentioned were:- English Christians believe “Thy Kingdom come on Earth”, German Christians believe that Christians can only be leaven in the world & help to save souls.

My Comment: Oh dear, that does look a lot like the fundamentalism we see today, viz: everyone’s going to hell except us and therefore it’s our business to make sure they join our tribe!

On Friday Dr. Slavensky gave a very long lecture on the New Heathen Groups in Germany & their adoption of the Edda……In the afternoon we visited the huge lunatic asylum at Mulhausen (On of the biggest in Germany) It is almost self-supporting with big dairies, kitchen farm etc.

My Comment: Was this a show asylum? I've heard other stories about the asylums in Germany at that time!

Sunday was a very hot day. We went to the Baptist church at 9.30 & had a very pleasant service. Although the German Baptists are so strict in many ways, the ladies are allowed to take off their hats. The church was quite full and reminded me of one of our Norfolk village churches. We were told that the German service is a lengthy affair but it was specially shortened for our benefit

My Comment: We see an example here of the Germans being better than the British at collective acts of discipline. The British, who do like law and order, usually admire this trait of the Germans. In fact at that time some Britons even went as far as admiring Hitler. But when the chips are down the British don’t want it for themselves. Moreover, we now know that the crowd discipline and group think which went with it had a terrible downside!
The reference to “Norfolk village churches” is evidence that the author of this album is from Norfolk. At the end of the album there is a list of the tour party. This list includes the name of a Miss M. Kirby from Norwich. As Miss Kirby is the only person listed from Norfolk I conclude that it was her who created the album.

It was in the Baptist printing house we heard the first suspicions of criticism against Hitler. Apparently a certain amount of restraint is put upon the Baptist Press. Everywhere else we heard nothing but praise of Hitler.

My Comment: In the final analysis Baptists are all about devolved government so it should be no surprise that Hitler’s policies rankled with them just a bit; but according to Gilbert Laws they didn't rankle enough!

The prayer of a young Baptist boy is that Hitler might become a Christian and use his fine organizing powers for Christianity. The Germans like a strong leader who they can follow and sacrifice themselves for.

My Comment: .....and sacrifice themselves they did - in their millions! Once again we see the German ability to get behind and identify with a single cause especially if espoused by a charismatic leader. The British admire the Germans for it but they both love it and hate it. The British need to declare a war before they get their act together and even then it can take a bit of time. Although the British think of themselves as a peaceful nation they are constantly picking fights with someone or another! It is ironic that it looks as though the British are always starting wars!

More Jews lived in Frankfurt than anywhere else in Germany. We passed some synagogues where a few windows were broken…We learnt that they still have services in the Synagogues.

My Comment: Here we have, I guess, hints of the persecution of the Jews. I have a feeling that Miss Kirby didn't want to believe it – in fact did anyone in Britain want to believe it except perhaps Churchill? Re Churchill: The British, like the Germans, shared the same human trait of needing a charismatic leader to galvanize and rally them into action. It probably helped that Churchill was also an aristocrat, perhaps even a kind of King Arthur figure  in Britain’s hour of need.

It was a most enjoyable tour. The people were all very nice some especially so and I benefited greatly from hearing of their experiences and sharing in the fellowship. There were fortunately some very humorous people and we had great fun. Everyday the Germans were very friendly & anxious to please.  Every young German has either been to the “camps” or was hoping to go. Instead of being places of torture that we are lead to believe they are apparently places of joy to the German youth. Almost every German idolizes Hitler & he has certainly done a lot for them. The children are all being brought up to do the same & they are all belong to some Hitler Youth Organisation or other.

My Comment: Like I said, I don’t think these British Baptists really wanted to believe Hitler was as bad as all that or that their German brothers and sisters were erring.  As a whole the British probably had a too cynical a view of leaders to idolise someone like Hilter.  Trouble was, it really was as bad as all that. I once heard a Dutchman say that the British tend do sweet Fanny Adams until the dead bodies start appearing. Perhaps this indecisive wait-and-see attitude maybe a good thing, but then again perhaps not! Let's wait and see! Empiricism as a philosophy tends to be favoured by the British!

* To be fair, Laws probably wouldn't have been able to anticipate what a Nazi salute would have looked like many years down the line!
** It's debatable whether or not the OT demarcates on the basis of religion rather than race.

24/07/15 Relevant links:
Below is a link to a web article which raises questions as to whether the German Christian response to Hilter was all that it should have been. But it's easy to criticize from a position that doesn't face the challenges and threats of Nazi Germany.

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