By Your Endurance

By Your Endurance November 9, 2013

Replace 78 Kirchner.  Self-Portrati as a Soldier 1915  wikipediap age for the portraitSuffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us . . . Romans 5:3

This week the BBC has brought us news of the discovery of a large cache of paintings that had been seized during the Holocaust from German museums and stolen from Jewish homes, by Nazi storm troopers.  This was all done as part of a plan to purge German culture of what Hitler and Joseph Goebbels called Degenerate Art, art that they considered to be un-German, to be Jewish or Bolshevist in nature.

Any art that presented something less than ideal was deemedReplace 79  Entartete_musik_poster  Wikipedia page for Entartete Music to be degenerate, and all Jewish artists, including such luminaries as Marc Chagall, Kandinsky, Mondrian, Klee, and all impressionists, were condemned.  Modern art infuriated Hitler, who loved paintings of beauty and perfection.  As well, music, drama, novels and sculpture, were purged.  Black music, and especially jazz, which was very popular in Paris in the 1920s and in Weimar Germany, was labeled degenerate.  One of Germany’s most beloved songs,  Dei Lorelei, was forbidden to be played on the radio or sung in public, because Heinrich Heine, whose poem it was, was Jewish.

About twelve years ago, when visiting friends in Chicago, I went to the Art Institute and happened upon an exhibit of this Degenerate Art, which included pieces that had been recovered, pictures of some still missing, and whole rooms for listening to the forbidden music and reading the  drama texts and lyrics which had been purged.Replace 79  Entartete Exhibition cover of the exhibition program wiki image

I have never been moved by so many conflicting emotions at an exhibit.  Some of the pictures were beautiful to me, but many were hard to see;  drawings of WWI vets who were missing limbs,  dressed in rags, begging for food; paintings of rage, despair, violence, cruelty, the many human emotions that are part of this world but not beautiful; and paintings that included the homely details of faces and bodies, details all of us have but most of us don’t want to see.  At the end of the large exhibit was a small room of paintings Hitler liked.  And it was with a shock that I found in myself some kinship to him, in that the idealized paintings of rural scenes and flawlessly lovely people were comforting and inviting.

The Exhibit represented the culture of Germany that was systematically dismantled, and the lives of artists, hundreds of them, that were destroyed.  Those who survived the war  lost most of their artworks, as well as their homes, families, schools, friends.

The news of the discovery of this hidden stash of several hundred paintings brings joy and hope, and also resurrects old pain, and the terrible shadow that such things can happen in this world.

And the news includes a sad and furtive story of the father and son who kept the paintings hidden all these years, in some terrible mix of greed, fear, distrust of all governments, and love of the art, which twisted their humanity into something ugly and sordid.

REplace 80 John La Farge window, Christ in Majesty, Trinity Church Boston.  Image, Boston College Library La Farge pageI am no stranger to the lure of idealism, the siren song of beautiful art.  For decades now I have taken confirmands on trips to Boston to walk through some sites of religious history, and I always end the tour in Trinity Church, where I know the beauty will transfix them as it does me.  The amazing window of Christ in Majesty will pull a deep Amen out of us all.

So this week’s reading, in Luke 21, speaks to me directly, and it speaks to all that has befallen Jewish people in the past century.  In the reading, the disciples are marveling at the beauty of the temple, the beauty of the stones and the decorative gifts people have brought there.  And Jesus responds, saying to them, all of this will be destroyed, and there will be terrible suffering.  You will be hated and you will be betrayed.  And by your endurance you will gain your souls.

He does not say what I want to hear:  by loving beauty you will gain your soul.  He does not say, I have come to bring you to a beautiful place, so try to keep everything sordid and ugly out of your vision.  Turns out, those were Hitler’s teachings.

Pentecost 26 Kritallnacht  Ny Times Nov 11, 1938Hitler’s passionate embrace of idealized beauty led him to really Degenerate Works, begun seventy-five years ago this week on the night of November 9, 1938,  the night the Holocaust began.  The German Nazis planned this night , Kristallnacht (German for Night of Broken Glass)  as a staged mass uprising.

Hitler and Goebbels contacted storm troopers around the country and told them to attack Jewish buildings, but to make it look like spontaneous demonstrations.  The police were told not to interfere with any demonstrators, but to arrest the Jews and to charge them with provocation.  Firefighters were told to put out only fires in adjacent Aryan properties.  And everyone cooperated.

In all, more than 1,000 synagogues were burned or destroyed, 7,000 Jewish businesses were looted, and Jewish hospitals, homes, schools, and cemeteries were vandalized.  In the days following, thousands of Jews were sent to concentration camps, to ‘prevent further rioting.’  In the end, more than 12 million people died in concentration camps, 6 million Jews and the rest a combination of Communists,  physically and mentally disabled German people, homosexuals, socialists, trade unionists, Polish Catholic resistance fighters, and a few German Christians, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who opposed Hitler.

Jesus tells his friends, Don’t anchor your faith in the beauty of the temple, but in your ability to endure evil, without flinching, and without looking away.  For the love of God is not about perfection, not about beautiful temples, but about your eye seeing beauty everywhere, even in the midst of hell.  One beloved world, full of grace.


History of Kristallnacht, from Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac, 11.9.13


1.  Self Portrait as a Soldier, by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1915.  Part of Hitler’s Degenerate Art Exhibition, 1938.  Image from Wikipedia page for Ernest Kirchner.

2.  Entartete Music Poster, for Hitler’s Entartete Exhibition. Image from Wikipedia page for Degenerate Music.

3.  Entartete Kunst, cover for exhibition program, 1938.  Hitler’s Degenerate Art was seized, displayed to educated the public, then sold outside of Germany or destroyed. Image from Wikipedia page for Degenerate Art Exhibit.

4.  Christ in Majesty, stained glass by John La Farge, Trinity Church Boston.  Image from Trinity Church in the Boston College Library’s John La Farge page.

5.  Front Page, New York Times, Nov. 11, 1938.  Image:  Wikipedia page for Kristallnacht Night of Broken Glass.  The Times reports the destruction but incorrectly reports that Goebbels called a halt to it.

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  • I am so touched by this post … and by the truth of it. How attracted we are to our ‘temples’ and to keeping them beautiful while the ugliness of the world we try to ignore. “without looking away” … thanks for this. I am an art ignoramus, and I think that’s why your posts catch my eye… exposing me to a world I know very little about …and tying it to Scripture, which creates some new connections for me.

    • Thanks for your comment, John, and for reading. We are all trying to learn how to move faith, which has been all about reading and hearing, into a modern visual world. And trying to re-learn the old truth that the church is the people, not the building. And yet, these spaces are hallowed by what has happened in them over years . . . and are unholy by the way we worship that past and fail to imagine a future. I am constantly amazed at the ways in which Jesus addresses issues that catch us up now –

  • Denise Karuth

    Thank you, as always, Nancy, for this thoughtful and compelling post, for the fine art examples, and for linking the biblical texts to the experience of the Jewish people and others in the long, dark night of the holocaust.

    Thank you also for remembering the murder of people with mental and physical disabilities that helped launch the holocaust. Few people seem to know about this. The eugenics movement in the late 19th century and early 20th century labeled people with disabilities as degenerate and a sign of innate evil and criminal tendencies. (Please see the cover illustration from “The Feeble-Minded or the Hub to our Wheel of Vice, Crime, and Pauperism – Cincinnati’s Problem,” a pamphlet by the Juvenile protection association of Cincinnati, February 15th, 1915. )

    The Nazis described people with disabilities were described as “life unworthy of life,” “useless eaters” and “empty human husks.” One poster from the period ( says “60,000 RM [Reichsmark] “[is what] this genetically ill person will cost our people’s community over his lifetime. Citizens, that is your money. Read ‘Neues Volk,’ the monthly publication of the racial politics office of the NSDAP. [the National Socialist or Nazi Party]”

    This story is summarized in FORGOTTEN CRIMES: THE HOLOCAUST AND PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES, available for free download at

    “Hitler’s strategy progressed in stages. Sterilization came first. Compulsory sterilization for people with disabilities became German law in 1933. More than 400,000 people with disabilities were forcibly sterilized, sometimes by removing disabled men’s gonads or by radiation to the genital area, causing terrible burns. A formal killing operation known as Aktion T-4, quickly followed. The program was designed specifically

    for people with disabilities. The Nazi mechanisms for mass extermination of Jewish victims, such as carbon monoxide poisoning in ‘shower rooms’ were first developed and perfected through the disability program. As a result, more than 275,000 people with disabilities were murdered in the Aktion T-4 program, not counting all those who lost their lives in the concentration camps and after the formal phase of T-4 ended. During the course of the war, untold others were murdered in areas occupied or invaded by the Nazis. As the Nazis expanded their sphere of domination, they ruthlessly murdered men, women, and children with disabilities regardless of race, religion, or political affiliation. With the spread of World War II, SS killing units began to shoot asylum inmates by the thousands in the annexed areas of Poland, Pomerania, and

    West Prussia.” (FORGOTTEN CRIMES, p. 4)

    It is worth noting that forced sterilization of people with disabilities continued into the 1970s in the U.S. and institutionalization of people with disabilities persists even though it is well-established fact that community-based long term care is less expensive and more inclusive and humane. (Please see COST-EFFECTIVENESS OF HOME AND COMMUNITY-BASED LONG-TERM CARE SERVICES, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation Office of Disability, Aging and Long-Term Care Policy, June 2000, )

    Thank you again, Nancy, for recalling this aspect of the holocaust and disability history. I really appreciate it and you.

    • Denise, you edify us all with your words, and a history that has been hidden for too long. I knew that the Nazis began their exterminations with Communists and the disabled, but not how organized that was nor how much of their elaborate system was worked out on the disabled and mentally ill. What strikes me now is that all the people whom the Nazis found degenerate are still regarded with suspicion among us in our own time – conservative Christians regard leftists, homosexuals, many contemporary musicians and singers, writers of books they work to ban, and playwrights as degenerates (I went to a play in New York about Mary a year ago that was being picketed by religious conservatives and closed shortly after I saw it). And much of the nation now regards the mentally ill as dangerous, since they are fingered in many public shootings, rather than the proliferation of firearms. The ideas behind eugenics are still shadows in our minds –

      • Hi Nancy

        I really enjoy your fresh look on passages. I am living in Canada and imigrated from South Africa ten years ago. What bothers me in Northern America are the labels. You also refered to conservative christians in the same context as Nazis. I am a very open minded person and lived through apartheid. I know a a lot of “liberal Christians” who’s liberal worldview is as damaging. I have a huge problem with both liberal and conservative Christians “labels”. In the end, we are all Fundamentalis. We fundamentally believe what we believe. I aspire to be a KIND fundamentalist. Keep up the good work!

        • Hi Kobus,
          Thanks for caring so much and for your perspective on our deep divisions here. I agree that the left does damage as often as the right in our culture, and that both the labeling and the idea of purity of thought are false ideologies. I brought in conservative Christians because they use the name of Jesus to label as morally unacceptable many of the same people the Third Reich labeled degenerate, homosexuals, non-Christians, unions, and socialists. And I pointed to the national phobia that exists now toward the mentally ill, which is fairly recent, and crosses all the spectrum of politics. In general the left wing does not use Jesus as a reason to despise people, they find other reasons. That is my concern. I have dear friends who emigrated from South Africa about 20 years ago, they had been active in an anti-apartheid movement and were banned and escaped. You have lived through all this, and know it far more deeply than I. Kindness is so very important for us, and yet kindness alone did not stop apartheid, or the Third Reich. Thanks for both your comments.

      • Hi Nancy

        I enjoy every post. Please allow me to comment on your reference to “conservative Christians.”

        The degeneration also comes from the “liberal” Christians by their degenerate view of conservatives, their view on the rights of unborn babies etc.

        I am a South African living in Canada. I know the pai of labels living through apartheid. If there is one message I would like to convey to North Americans is to stop labeling people. Loving is always better than labeling.

        By the way: Our culture has accepted a two huge lies: if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”

        In the end we are all fundamentalist: We fundamentally believe what we believe. We just need to aspire to be KIND fundamentalist. Keep up the good work!

  • Randy Barge

    Thanks Nancy for a wonderful and thought provoking post. Thanks to Denise as well for sharing her links.

    • Thanks for your kind words, Randy, and for reading Denise’s links as well as the post.