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Protestants Ending Anti-Jewish Oppression

I grew up on a family farm in Iowa in the 1940s and 1950s. Nearly all the men I knew were farmers, and because they were needed to grow food, they did not fight in World War II. I also didn’t know any women who were in the military. For me, World War II was “over there.”

In May of 2014 I attended the Healing from U.S. Wars Workshop led by Julian Weissglass.1 Filling out the application for the workshop and reading and having sessions in preparation for it were hard and made my connection to war clearer.

My father’s oldest brother was killed in World War I. He had been the hope of the family, and they never recovered. My father was sixteen when that war ended, and he experienced the blame and harsh penalties placed on Germany and later the economic depression there. He emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1923. All my aunts, uncles, and cousins on my father’s side lived in Germany during the Nazi period. When I was born, in the spring of 1942, the deep shame and guilt my father felt from both world wars was passed on to me.

Being a strong ally to Jews and ending anti-Jewish oppression have been a central focus for me for many years. I have contradicted and discharged feelings of guilt and shame in order to think more clearly and independently. Also impeding my re-emergence and being a strong ally has been the message that I was inherently “wrong” for being born female. Going against this early material2 has made it possible for me to be more visible and take stands against all oppression, particularly anti-Jewish oppression.

In the class on anti-Jewish oppression at the May workshop, Julian talked about an essay attacking Jews that Martin Luther, the German Lutheran theologian, wrote in 1543. Julian recommended that Protestants, especially Lutherans, read it. I was raised Lutheran, as were my first-generation Swedish mother and my German father. I went online and learned more. In addition to his anti-Jewish writings, Luther’s general harshness, both to himself and to his followers, stood out. I remember that kind of harshness as a child.

The essay was written at the end of Luther’s life and is particularly vicious. It was not available in English in the United States until 1948. Since the 1980s, Lutheran churches throughout the world have repudiated Luther’s strong anti-Jewish statements.

Protestants, particularly white Protestants, are the dominant religious group in the United States. There are differences among us, for example, some of us are white, some of are of the global majority, and some do not consider themselves Protestants. However, we can all explore the influence Martin Luther had on our denomination or religious group and work together to end anti-Jewish oppression.

The following questions may be useful: What messages about Jews did you get at church, in Sunday school, at vacation Bible school, in hymns you sang? If you can’t remember specific messages, what images do you remember? What sense of yourself might prevent you from standing up against anti-Jewish oppression, or any oppression? What have you done (everything counts!) to end anti-Jewish oppression?

It is our job as Gentiles and allies to Jews to end anti-Jewish oppression, because it is our problem. In order to do so, we Protestants need to face our history and at the same time treat ourselves and each other gently and lovingly. We get to contradict the harshness that many of us received at home and at church. We get to stand strong against and interrupt comments and false information about Jews and Judaism. Doing so is particularly important at this time when anti-Jewish oppression is increasingly overt and prevalent in many parts of the world.

Joy Kroeger-Mappes
Frostburg, Maryland, USA

1 Julian Weissglass is the International Commonality Reference Person for Wide World Change.
2 “Material” means distress.

Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00