It’s amazing how our “evangelical bubble” keeps us from understanding key events in history that are important and foundational to other groups and cultures around us. I had the opportunity to be immersed in Jewish culture for 10 days while on a fellowship with the Museum of Jewish Heritage, with other seminarians from different faith traditions. It was the best and most challenging time as those of us who were not Jewish looked at history through Jewish culture; most notably, the Holocaust.
Nazi ideology reformed not only the social structure of Europe, but the Christian churches in Germany as well. After the Nuremberg Race Laws of 1933, the German churches held up the standard of Aryan blood and began to utilize the Reich’s standard of Aryan blood with the standards of religion. National Socialist racial policy was adopted by the Deutsche Evangelische Kirche (DEK). In 1936, the mayor of Breslau worked to exclude Jews from German places of culture, leading to the exclusion of Protestant and Catholic ministers of Jewish descent from interdenominational schools. Most German churches affiliated themselves with the Reich, while the Confessing Church, which represented a minority of Protestant Christians, spoke against the race laws but had little effect in forming public policy. The race laws influenced the church back in 1933, desiring to rid the church of Jewish blood as their “Christian and national task.” The official stance of the DEK was stated in 1941 that baptism did not change the biological fact of Jewish blood, declaring Jewish Christians had no part in the religious life of the German people, the church, or society. 
It is sobering to consider that for the most part, the German church bought into the Reich’s social and quasi-scientific policies and identified themselves with the Reich rather than Jesus Christ. The voices of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth spoke against the discrimination against the Jewish people, but even the Confessing Church granted the Reich state “the right to reorganize the position of Jews and Christians of Jewish descent in society, even the right to suppress them politically, economically and socially,” leaving the Jewish Christians and all other Jews without protection.
Catholic Bishop Von Galen boldly spoke out against the euthanasia policies of the Reich in which the mentally ill, developmentally and physically disabled were put to death as “unproductive persons.” Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke boldly that the enemies of the Jews were enemies of Jesus Christ, but the momentum against the Jews and others deemed undesirable in German society were eliminated by whatever means possible. Camps in the east such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka and Chelmno were killing camps, taking the lives of over 3.5 million Jews, a large number of them Poles and Roma.
Reading the Gospels with our Jewish friends at a seminar on the role of the church in the Holocaust demonstrated how our casual use of the term “the Jews” — even as a descriptor — was hurtful. I’d never considered that just reading a Gospel passage aloud could spark an intense debate that reflected the pain still present in the people who were pursued and nearly exterminated only sixty years ago. My bubble “popped” that afternoon, as I became aware that even believing that Israel continues to be a people dear to YHWH, I could still unknowingly sound anti-Semitic in explaining a Gospel passage. This trip to New York, Berlin, Oswiecim and Krakow opened my eyes to the cultural gap we as Christians must be wiling to cross to establish conversation and trust with our Jewish friends and neighbors.
 Gerhard Besier, “The German Churches’ Attitud to the Race laws of the ‘Third Reich’” in Kyrkohistorisk Årsskrift 107 (207).
Guest blogger Marie Butson works in the Technical Services Department at Rolfing Library as the serials assistant and is working on her M.Div. and M.A. in Bioethics.