Shuck and Jive

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Elisabeth of Berlin

Our Thursday study group had the opportunity to preview the film, Elisabeth of Berlin. This film is produced by Steven D. Martin. Martin who also produced Theologians Under Hitler." I highly recommend both films and viewing them together.

Elisabeth of Berlin tells the story of Elisabeth Schmitz, a schoolteacher who risked her career and her life by criticizing Nazi ideology and the treatment of the Jews. She was a contemporary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a member of the Confessing Church.

The Christian church in Germany was complicit in Nazi ideology. The Confessing Church provided a form of resistance. But as we see in the film, even the Confessing Church didn't go far enough. The film tells the story of Kristallnacht, November 9, 1938, when the Nazis burned more than 2000 Jewish synagogues, killed 91 Jews, and deported 25 to 30 thousand Jews to concentration camps. Kristallnacht is considered the beginning of the Holocaust.

The following Sunday, the church was silent.

Elisabeth Schmitz was not. She had been urging the Confessing Church to be more active and outspoken on behalf of Jews as Jews, not just Jews who were baptized as Christian.

"How are we to answer the many desperate, bitter questions and complaints: Why doesn’t the Church do anything? Why does it permit the nameless injustices to go on? How can it time and again pay joyous tribute to the National Socialists and offer political endorsements to a government that persecutes some of its own members? Why does it not at least protect the children? How could it be that everything that is simply incompatible with the nowadays much maligned humaneness could be compatible with Christianity?"

-Elisabeth Schmitz to Confessing Church leadership, 1936

She drafted a manifesto and secretly mimeographed copies of it in her basement and sent it to leaders of churches in the Confessing Church Movement. Because of her efforts, some churches spoke out.

This is an important film. It shows how the church was either complicit or complacent in response to systematic injustice. Bonhoeffer was considered a radical in his time. We remember him as a hero, but in his time he was not regarded as such. This should be a lesson for the church today. Those who sound like radicals may be the ones to whom we should be listening.

This film is not about Bonhoeffer. It is about a schoolteacher with a conscience. Her story was forgotten. At her funeral in 1977 only seven people attended. However, new research has uncovered this important person. Elisabeth Schmitz is the person we should remember (and emulate) the most. I look forward to the publication of her writings.

As I watched this film I thought of the Hebrew prophets, Amos, Jeremiah, and the others whose words were not heeded in their time. They were the radicals who were discounted or silenced. It was only after the events that their words and actions were remembered. So I watched this film with a mix of admiration for her voice and her courage and with disappointment that more didn't share her courage, then or now.

The film is nicely paced and features interviews with historians and theologians who provide important insights to the situation in Nazi Germany. I recommend it for church school classes, certainly, but also for high school and college history courses.

Steven Martin has produced a number of important films. This is his best to date. See his website for ordering information.

View the trailer:

"Elisabeth of Berlin" trailer from Steve Martin on Vimeo.


  1. This sounds like a great film.

    One that I recommend is "Sophie Scholl: The Final Days". It is a German film with subtitles. The DVD has some original film of the trial in as extra content.

  2. I am planning on watching that film also. Thanks for the information. are you aware that the Confessing Church did confess the sin of not having stood solidly behind all of the Jews. yet it has to be said that even Einstein said that the only ones who did stand against the Nazis was the church. And that was the Confessing Church. They certainly weren't perfect though.

    Paul is right about "Sophie Scholl: The Final Days." Here is what I wrote about it on my web site:

    "Sophie Scholl: The Final Days," "Julia Jentsch, Alexsander Held, Fabian Hinrichs & others, Director Marc Rothemund, written by Fred Breinersdorfer.
    Newly discovered documents and historical interviews provided the information for this movie which features members of "The White Rose," a group of students and academics who published papers against Hitler and the Nazis in Germany during that era. The main character Sophie Scholl is a Christian who intellectually and morally defeats her interrogator Robert Mohr with both her humanitarianism and her faith.

    The director Marc Rothemund in an interview writes, "I admire her courage. She turned down the 'golden bridge' offered to her by the interrogation officer Robert Mohr--thus practically signing her own death sentence. I find this approach to death quite startling: how does such a life-affirming, positive minded young woman like Sophie Scholl come to terms with the fact that her life is being taken away from her? How does she find meaning in her death? And, of course, as an atheist I ask myself; Is it easier to face death as a believer?"

    Also in the same venue is "Hanged On A Twisted Cross: The Life, Convictions and Martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer." it is the best movie I have seen on Bonhoeffer. It is narrated by Ed Asner and also has some great music.

  3. This sounds great - thanks for posting about it.

    If you have not seen the film about Sophie Scholl, I recommend that one too.

  4. Well, three hits for Sophie Scholl. That will be on my movie list!

  5. Relating to our times: who am I supposed to stand behind? Would I be a good christian and person if I joined the Zionist movement? Is this who the church wants me to stand behind? Should I go along with vice-presidential candidate, Joe Biden and his Zionist agenda? Watch a video here where he admits that he is a Zionist.

    I'm not be sarcastic, I really need help in knowing what the right thing is. What would Elisabeth Schmitz do if she were alive today?

  6. Rachel,
    Being a Zionist in its main definition simply means believing that Israel should have their own homeland. What's wrong with that?

  7. The definition that it has taken on today means that you support American Imperialism and it's current foreign policy of force and aggression.

    To see what zionism really means today, you have to look beyond mainstream media outlets. Watch Democracy Now, for example.

    I found the definition below by a quick search on the internet. Maybe that will help sum what I think zionism means today. But I'm not asking you to take my word. Search it out yourself.

    "In its current form Zionism seeks to dominate all of Palestine and the Middle East by means of violence and the threat of violence (using weapons manufactured and purchased with billions of dollars of "aid" supplied by the United States at taxpayer expense) and to maximize its influence in world affairs and in world history, principally by means of control of the government of the USA (primarily by blackmailing its many corrupt politicians), at the expense of the social wellbeing not only of the Palestinians but of the peoples of all lands."

    BTW, I truly believe that Israel could exist in peace in the Middle East if all the zionists (i.e. imperialists) would back down.

  8. Rachel, that is a one-man nutty web site and the articles on it about Zionism, although written by many authors, are anti-semitic. I would suggest you get some of the movies that have been talked about on this comment section and watch them.

  9. Viola, I will watch it when I have time. I liked the trailer. Anyways, I don't want to take your opinion. I believe my heros, Ron Paul and Amy Goodman, are telling the truth. If you choose not to see the truth that is your choice, just like the Christian Nazis had their choice in their day.

    Watch the broadcast of Democracy Now today. I just watched it. You should have seen all the protestors at the Democratic Convention. Do you know what they were protesting? They were protesting the wars and the agressive foreign policy of America.

    We are definitely living in the "last days" that are predicted in the Bible. Don't you see how similar our times are to Christ's. In America, we are polarized and there are politicians rising up and going against the mainstream, such as Ron Paul, a good christian man. Just wake up from your dream world please! Or let us part our separate ways.

  10. Paul, Viola, and all Christians what do you guys think about Chuck Baldwin's message? here:

    He is a good chrisitan man with values that I agree with. Watch the first video and respond and you will $100.00 dollars. I'm kidding, but it would mean alot to me if you commented on his ideas.

  11. Rachel,

    Thanks for the note. Somewhere I have a picture of myself, my son, and Ron Paul together. I was marginally politically active in the 90s including a run for Congress in 1996. I became more active in political education, seeing that as the best way to obtain the best political future for this country. As such, I volunteered and served on the Board of Directors of the Advocates for Self-Government. They are well known for the World's Smallest Political Quiz. I helped them put the quiz online in 1995 and they have had over 11 million take it online.

    My current emphasis in political areas is a shift from education to having a spiritual foundation, which I think is necessary for a free and prosperous society. Without this spiritual foundation, I don't believe we can have freedom. Therefore, I currently spend my time helping our church spread the good news that Jesus died for our sins.

    As for the current political race: I engourage people to look at Chuck Baldwin or Bob Barr as alternative.


  12. That was a really cool quiz, Paul. Thanks. Here's how I scored:

    "Your PERSONAL issues Score is 100%."
    "Your ECONOMIC issues Score is 100%."

    "According to your answers, the political group that agrees with you most is..."



    "LIBERTARIANS support maximum liberty in both personal and economic matters. They advocate a much smaller government; one
    that is limited to protecting individuals from coercion and violence."

    "Libertarians tend to embrace individual responsibility, oppose
    government bureaucracy and taxes, promote private charity, tolerate diverse lifestyles, support the free market, and defend civil liberties."

  13. I'll put in my vote for the Sophie Scholl movie. Also, Rev. Shuck, I tagged you for the PCUSA meme that's making rounds. Hope you don't mind!

  14. Relating to our times: who am I supposed to stand behind?...

    I'm not be sarcastic, I really need help in knowing what the right thing is. What would Elisabeth Schmitz do if she were alive today?

    Good question, Rachel. I think Jesus was asked something similar once, "Who is my neighbor?"

    He responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan, or translated for our time, the Good Enemy.

    Elisabeth Schmitz stood with those who were...

    1) second class citizens in her time...
    2) were the brunt of violence
    3) were blamed as scapegoats for the nation's problems
    4) whose oppression was sanctioned by the religious establishment.

    Elisabeth Schmitz responded where she lived. To follow her witness would be to stand with those who experience a similar situation.

    No one told her what to do or how to do it. She acted from her experience, her values, and her conscience. But, she acted.