Hermann Maas -
Rescuer and
Builder of Bridges
 
   
   
   
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Hermann Maas - Rescuer and Builder of Bridges

by Prof. Thierfelder

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There is a bridge in Heidelberg called the Hermann Maas Bridge - and it is surely of profound significance that this man should have a bridge, in particular, named after him. For the Heidelberg pastor Hermann Maas was a builder of bridges in two respects: on the one hand, bridges between Jews and Christians, which he built throughout his life; and on the other, bridges between Germany and the state of Israel after the Second World War. He was also a saviour - one who continued to minister to the spiritual and pastoral needs of the many Jews and Christians of Jewish origin who were persecuted and pushed hither and thither during the time of the Third Reich, and who helped many to emigrate to a safe country. (The picture here shows Maas as an ageing prelate, in conversation with a member of an Israeli travel party.) I would like to start by examining the career of Hermann Maas and certain significant personal characteristics, for these can at least help us to start to comprehend why Maas, in contrast to most German and to most Christians during the National Socialist era, remained a true friend to the Jews. I would then like to depict his efforts on behalf of persecuted Jews during the Third Reich, and to conclude by examining his activities after 1945 as a builder of bridges between Jews and Christians and between Israel and Germany.

1. Career and characteristics

Hermann Maas was born in 1877 in Gengenbach into a family of pastors from the Baden area, and grew up in Gernsbach. (Picture: personal effects. This picture shows his career through his personal documents.) Having completed his studies in theology, and following his initial years in the priesthood, he spent the years 1915 to 1943 as the pastor at the Heiliggeistkirche (The Church of the Holy Spirit), the principal evangelical church in Heidelberg. (Picture of the pastoral residence.) Maas was married to Cornelie, née Hesselbacher, and the marriage produced three daughters. From 1945 to 1965 he was first the Kreisdekan ("Regional Dean"), and then the Prelate, of the Evangelical Landeskirche ("regional church") in Baden. He was much influenced by liberal theology, by his participation in the ecumenical movement and by his early encounter with the Jewish people.

The liberal theology predominant in Germany prior to the First World War taught him of "the openness of the ecclesiastical annunciation for church and society, paired with the need for a high level of scholarly reflection together with a sense of social responsibility" . These are precisely the qualities Maas demonstrated after the war when he joined the DDP, the left-wing liberal German Democratic Party founded by Friedrich Naumann and Max Weber. He served two legislative terms on the Heidelberg City Council for the DDP. Even then, he voted in favour of the development of the new Pfaffengrund district for impecunious families left homeless in the aftermath of the First World War.

Maas was an early pioneer of the ecumenical movement, which promoted peace between churches and between peoples. Maas was a founder member of the Weltbund für internationale Freundschaftsarbeit der Christen ("International Alliance for Amicable Collaboration between Christians") and participated in its inaugural congress in the town of Konstanz at the beginning of August 1914. He was to write later: "All my life I held true to this principle, and during the times that followed I only became more radical in my struggle for peace and for a truly active form of non-violence. This is what kept me immune to any form of nationalism or zeal between 1914 and 1918, and it is why, after the war reached its dreadful conclusion, I sought consolation for myself and for others in the struggle for peace." In the late Weimar Republic, together with a Catholic theologian from Freiburg and Rabbi Max Gruenewald from Mannheim, he organised peace rallies "held before indifferent or hostile audiences" . During this period he also joined the Verein zur Abwehr des Antisemitismus ("Society for Defence against Anti-Semitism") led by the leading Stuttgart parish priest Lamparter .

It should be borne in mind that Maas had intensive contact with Jews from his earliest youth. Later, he wrote: "Even in my early youth, and despite being the son and grandson of pastors, I felt strangely drawn to the people of Israel. The majority of my first friends were Jewish." In 1903, as a young clergyman, Maas was living in Basle when the 6th Zionist Congress was held there. He requested and was granted - permission to attend this Congress as a guest. At the Basle Congress Hermann Maas met Theodor Herzl, Chaim Weizmann and Martin Buber. He was to remain in contact with Buber for the rest of his life. (Letter from Buber) At the Congress he experienced the passionate debates between the "Uganda People" - those Jewish delegates who were able to conceive of a Jewish state in Uganda in Africa - and the "Zionists", for whom only Israel could be considered as the location for a Jewish state. Naturally, Maas had no right to vote. However, he voiced his support for the Zionists. There in Basle, Maas became - as he later put it - "a Zionist in my sacred love of the promises in the Bible" . His Zionism was indeed strongly influenced by these Biblical promises. Later he was able to formulate this as follows: "Zionism has many faces. But behind the nationalistic and economic face there lies another. … Its constant, living presence in the prophetic promises of a land, of justice, of peace, of deliverance, all these and more go to make up the deepest motives behind Zionism."

Hermann Maas became known throughout Germany in 1925 when he took part in the funeral service for the deceased German president Friedrich Ebert. The family of Ebert, a Social Democrat who had left the Catholic Church, had asked Maas to perform this office for them, and he agreed for reasons of pastoral care. The leadership of the Church was sharply critical of Maas for this. Behind the allegation that Maas had not adhered to the precepts of the Church, the predominantly nationalistic and conservative stance of the leadership of the Church is clearly visible.

Let us now jump forward to 1933. In contrast to the majority of faithful Protestants, who greeted the so-called Machtergreifung ("seizure of power") with enthusiasm, Maas was appalled. "Right from the start, I saw Hitler as a calamity for the German people", he wrote later. He was horrified by the increasingly powerful segment of German Christians who wanted to create a connection between National Socialism and Evangelical Christianity. This group wanted to tolerate no more pastors of Jewish origin within the Church (in accordance with the so-called "Arian Paragraph") and would have preferred to segregate all Christians of Jewish origin into special congregations. As early as 1932 - three years before the Nuremberg Race Laws! - they were demanding a prohibition on the performance of marriage ceremonies between Germans and Jews. But above all, Maas deplored the way the Church remained silent and looked the other way.

During the opening months of 1933, Maas was preoccupied with preparations for his trip to Palestine, which eventually took place between April and July 1933. For this Maas had received a grant from the German Palestine Committee. Maas wrote later, "I hardly witnessed the so-called "Umbruch" ("upheaval") of 1933. It coincided with my final preparations for my months-long trip to Palestine, which took up all my attention, and I was happy to be able to get away from the wayward, intoxicated and to me unfathomable German people."

Together with a group of delegates from the WIZO (the Women's International Zionist Organisation), the international Jewish women's organisation, Maas travelled from Naples to Haifa. He witnessed hundreds of desperate refugees from Germany boarding the American ship "Vulcania". In the Holy Land, Maas visited not only historical sites of interest to Christians but also excavation sites and, above all, Kibbutzim as well. He took part in the celebration of Jewish festivals. In order to avoid appearing a foreigner, Maas had learned Hebrew, and there are many letters written by Maas in this language. (Picture of Maas with a Hebrew book) When Maas returned home, he found himself the focal point of unprecedented propaganda and agitation. (NSDAP letter, Heidelberg) The local district Head of Propaganda for the NSDAP (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei) demanded of the evangelical Dean, Maas' superior, that Maas should on no account be allowed to deliver a sermon on the following Sunday; and that he should, instead, be discharged from any public pastoral activities pending the decision of the Oberkirchenrat (Supreme Church Council). The reason given was as follows: "The attitude of the parish pastor Maas, which has for years been emphatically friendly towards the Jews, is known throughout the city… Maas is regarded everywhere as the Jew-loving pastor." Initially, the church authorities advised Maas not to hold his first service following his return, so as not to place himself in danger, and Maas followed this advice. In the end, Bishop Kühlewein, the Landesbischof ("Regional Bishop") - prompted by letters from the Dean of Heidelberg and several of his colleagues, among other things - lodged a protest with the Ministry of the Interior against this interference with a man of the cloth in the practice of his ecclesiastical activities without any well-founded complaints having been brought. In the end, the matter fizzled out. These being the very early days of the Third Reich, neither the NSDAP and its regional government in Baden nor the leadership of the Church there cared to engage in a conflict; rather, they favoured finding a modus vivendi. The Bishop warned Maas at that time to restrict himself to his "official pastoral duties to his congregation". Maas did not abide by this instruction. He later joined the Bekennende Kirche (the German Confessing Church). After attending a sermon by Maas, Marianne Weber, the wife of renowned sociologist Max Weber, wrote "that she had become aware of the Gestapo observing and noting who went; that going to a sermon by Maas was a confession, a Christian but perilous endeavour (Translator's note: "confession" (Bekenntnis) is here used in the sense of a declaration of one's moral position, and of standing up to be counted). Maas, she said, also spoke in such a manner."

2. Efforts on behalf of persecuted Jews

While many Germans - including many Christians - began, after 1933, to be ashamed of their acquaintance with Jewish people, Maas made no secret of his solidarity with the Jews. He was motivated not only by charity toward those who were fallen among thieves, but also by his conviction that there was a profound connection between Jews and Christians. Concerning the Reich-wide Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938, he wrote to a Jewish fellow citizen in Baden-Baden: "I stand beside you, not although you are a Jew, but because you are one and because today I know of one single divine congregation, one single divine people to whom we, you and I, belong equally as brothers and sisters, equally attacked, despised and cast out by the world, and also equally secure in the love of the Almighty, whose children it is given to us to be." On the days of Jewish High Holy Days, he ostentatiously took part in the Jewish services at the synagogue. Fritz Pinkuss, who was at that time Rabbi of Heidelberg and later went on to become Rabbi of Sao Paolo, described this in 1985 as follows:

"His solidarity towards us as a human being was so profound that we spent Christmas Eve with him and he came to us for Pesach and for the High Holy Days of Judaism. This went so far that I was forced to give him an urgent warning not to endanger his own safety through his participation in our services, and to participate in worship in some other place. I have rarely seen someone pray as deeply as he did when he came to the most important prayer services during the High Holy Days."

Maas not only gave support and advice to baptised Jews, he also gave assistance to beleaguered Jewish people in general. There are many examples of this. Fritz Pinkuss, when emigrating in 1938, enjoined him "to care for the persecuted and the old". Maas did indeed take care of the old people in the Jewish home for the elderly in Mannheim. He affixed a mezuzah - a traditional Jewish capsule to be fastened to a door frame - to the glass door of his pastoral residence, on the grounds that "My Jewish friends should know that they are safe at my house". Maas gathered about him a circle of helpers, many of whom were themselves endangered persons such as Marie Baum, the lecturer in Social and Political Studies, who had lost her teaching position at the University in 1933 on account of her "non-Aryan" ancestry, and Annemarie Fraenkel, the daughter of Prof. Albert Fraenkel (world-famous for his research into strophanthin) . Elisabeth von Thadden, the headmistress of a private girls' school in Heidelberg-Wieblingen, was another who supported him.

Maas also used his ecumenical connections to help the persecuted Jews. At a congress of the Weltbund für internationale Freundschaftsarbeit der Christen ("Worldwide Association for International Friendship and Cooperation between Christians") in Geneva in 1935, he delivered a lecture on "The Problem of Non-Aryan Christians". His feeling was that such people were falling between two stools - not supported by Jewish aid organisations, and supported far too little by the Evangelical Churches. Maas called for collective settlement in East Jordan, for schools in Germany that would lay the groundwork for this emigration, and for the fact that the nomination of Israel remains consistent in Romans 9 - 11 to be borne in mind once more. Finally, on January 1, 1936 and with Maas present, an "Internationales Hilfkomitee für deutsche Flüchtlinge" ("International Aid Commission for German Refugees") was founded, an organisation primarily concerned with assisting persecuted Jews to emigrate abroad and build a life there.

During 1936 Maas was also involved in a committee of the Confessing Church, which was intended to produce a declaration from the Confessing Church in respect of the Jewish Question for a synod, but which eventually fell through. However, some presentations prepared by Maas have been preserved. I would like to cite from these a passage that shows that for Maas, the offensive against the Jews is not so much a political issue as a theological one: "Behind the offensive against the Jews lies a denial of the requirement that God has imposed upon us in respect of the Jewish people, their nomination and their fate, and in respect of John 4.22: 'For salvation is of the Jews'." For Maas, therefore, the attack upon the Jews is ultimately an attack upon the faith of the Church. For him, it is therefore incumbent upon the Church "to form a protective fence around the whole of the embodiment of Israel".

Maas stressed that the return of the Jewish people to Israel was also relevant to Christians. He emphasised - on the basis of Romans 9 to 11 - the common roots shared by Jews and Christians and perceived "an eschatological oneness between the Church and the Children of Israel" . He wrote: "Even if today, this Zionism wears a face that is primarily secular, social and political - even if it has not yet given serious consideration to the most profound core of the Jewish Question - yet deep inside lies something much greater: a migration of the Jewish people to the land in which the Lord will at last lead his people to Christ in accordance with his promises. The Zionist movement is an eschatological movement in the Christian sense." This was a bold statement, and one that met with disagreement within the committee. Not until after the war did the Evangelical Church give fresh consideration to the consistent promises made to the Children of Israel, as emphasised by the Apostle Paul in Romans 9 to 11: even following the advent of Jesus, the promises made to the Children of Israel remain in force.

The Reich-wide Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938 saw the persecution of the Jews entering a new and terrible phase. A Jewish woman tells of her meeting with Maas at that time: "And the other time was in 1938, on November 10; having learned or heard - and at first thought that it was just a rumour - that the synagogues were burning in Mannheim, I ran from my home to the synagogue, encountering dense smoke along the way. Then, as I reached the synagogue in F2 'Quadrat' (Translator's note: uniquely among German cities, Mannheim is laid out in a grid pattern consisting of "Quadrate" (lit: squares)), there were masses of people standing and gloating in front of the synagogue, plus the Hitler Youth with collecting boxes cashing in on this 'wondrous' event, namely the burning synagogue, by demanding an entrance fee of 20 Pfennig to see it. And then, barely able to see from all the smoke and the tears, I ran back down the 'Fressgass'". Somewhere in the second or third 'Quadrat' after the Breite Strasse, someone put his arm around me and said to me, 'Child, don't cry, this is the beginning of the end.' And it was always in such circumstances that I encountered Prelate Maas."

In 1938, the Berlin pastor Heinrich Grüber was commissioned by the Confessional Church to found the Kirchliche Hilfestelle für evangelische Nichtarier ("Ecclesiastical Aid Agency for Evangelical Non-Aryans"). There were thirty to forty persons working in its main office on the "An der Stechbahn" street in Berlin; many of these were of Jewish origin and did not survive the Shoah. Areas covered included advice to those emigrating, help in obtaining jobs abroad, financial support, legal advice, home schooling, and again and again, conversations ministering to people's spiritual needs. The Hilfestelle was never officially recognised by the government, but was initially tolerated because the Nazis were interested in making Germany "Jew-free". Maas was in fact supposed to take on the directorship of this aid station. Grüber wrote later: "I suggested Pastor Maas, who had some experience in this field and was known, not just abroad but also in Germany, as a friend to his Jewish fellow human beings. However, Pastor Maas was not willing to give up his existing work in Heidelberg." Maas was the director of the confidential office in Heidelberg of the "Büro Pfarrer Grüber". Right up to the beginning of the war, he used every means at his disposal to get endangered Jewish Christians out of Germany.

Although the Gestapo confiscated, and probably destroyed, all of Maas' correspondence, it has been possible to reconstruct some of the concrete details of Maas' rescuing activities. It has also been possible to find contemporary witnesses. Maas had close connections with England, Sweden and Switzerland: in England, Bishop George Bell of Chichester was his special contact, and in Switzerland this was Adolf Freudenberg of the Ecumenical Refugee Services. A former diplomat from a mercantile family in Weinheim, Freudenberg had been forced to leave the diplomatic service on account of his "non-Aryan" wife, and after studying theology in Geneva had built up the Ecumenical Refugee Services. In Sweden, Maas already had an existing contact with Archbishop Eidem.

As one concrete case, I would cite Alfred (today: Arie) Flor, who was born in Heidelberg in 1920 and knew Maas as a result of the latter's visits to the synagogue. Following the Kristallnacht pogrom, he was imprisoned in Dachau, and on his release Maas was able to find accommodation for him in a preparation camp for Palestine. The camp was broken up in 1940, and a lengthy odyssey finally brought him to Palestine, where he became a member of a Kibbutz at Kfar Gil'adi. Maas also helped the brother and sister Paul and Martha Rosenzweig (known after the war as Reginald Pringle and Martha Mower), two Christians of Jewish origin, to emigrate to England.

He was especially passionate about rescuing children: "I must have... travelled to England about once a quarter year in order to save my many children and Jewish families". The "Büro Pfarrer Grüber" is said to have brought to England at least 950 Christian children of Jewish origin. (Translator's note: in fact, the "Kindertransporte" initiated by Maas allowed a total of 9763 children to escape to England (as reported by W.E. Norton, Chairman, H. Maas Foundation).)

Maas wrote the following report of a visit to Bloomsbury House in London, where many aid agencies had their offices: "Over there it dawned on me… to my horror that the people there were at their wits' end, their strength and resources exhausted. I am haunted day and night by the images that I saw there, this thousand-fold crush of people in the committee rooms, a plague of people in narrow corridors and stairways and in offices overflowing with woe and misery, with vituperation and with rage, these places transformed to some degree into an inferno by unsuitable and unloving people. Dreadful! I must have worked in 24 of the rooms there… I held some very serious conversations and was received by the Quakers most amicably. But where does any door remain open? What cruel deprivation, and what demonic sadism, this ruthless, never-ending round of menaces and expulsions! Oh God, what is to be done? I tremble before the ordeal that looms over us - over Europe, and eventually over the entire world - in these days. And all of this for the sake of an idea…"

Maas played a very important part in the rescue of 40 pastors of Jewish origin, together with their families. George Bell, the Bishop of Chichester and a friend of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was able obtain permission for them to enter England from the British Ministry of the Interior. Maas was asked by the Ecumenical Head Office in Geneva to put together a list of persons who were to be rescued. There were many endangered pastors on Maas' list. These were all able to leave Germany with the so-called "Bell Ticket". However, Maas pushed for a collective visa to be secured for 100-200 or more lay persons. These efforts on behalf of persecuted Jews created difficulties for Maas in Heidelberg. In an uncensored letter to Zurich in 1935, he wrote of the whole madness of the racialist policies of the National Socialists: "Here they are after me again because I baptised a child who was 25 percent non-Aryan... And to whom can one turn to escape such a witch-hunt? Or in every bar in town, the gossip is that I spoke with a non-Aryan doctor on the street because I wanted to ask him, the general practitioner, for some advice in an urgent matter relating to my pastoral duties..."

Gruelling Gestapo interrogations began to take place. It is astonishing that Maas was not locked up, though he must certainly have been careful to avoid jeopardising his work. He once remarked, after the war: "I did not want to become a martyr - I wanted to continue my work." He was not even averse to making declarations to protect himself. Thus, for example, in a letter to the Oberkirchenrat - a letter intended for the eyes of officialdom - he declared the following: "The allegation levelled against me of, of being one who loves Jews and disapproves of the State, is one I must repudiate as strongly as possible... If I have been accepting of the Jews here, my intention was not in some way to criticise, obstruct or even to question any measures that the State considers necessary from a racial or political standpoint and which are the sole responsibility of the State."

Maas had his own explanation for the protection he experienced: "Much protection and a strange and often inexplicable lack of resolution on the part of the Gestapo preserved me from the ultimate sanctions - the camp and the noose. But I believe I may say that at that time my large congregation in Heidelberg stood by me like a protective bulwark, often inhibiting the Gestapo or causing them to hesitate."

At the end of 1940, Heinrich Grüber was arrested and sent to the concentration camps - first Sachsenhausen, then Dachau. The "Büro Pfarrer Grüber" was closed by order of the Gestapo at the beginning of 1941.

The sudden deportation of the Jews from Baden and the Saar Palatinate in October 1940 came as a particular shock to Maas. Maas continued to contact Grüber and Freudenberg from the Ecumenical Refugee Services in Geneva. It was all in vain. In the case of a few of the older persons, he and his colleagues tried to use medications to ensure that they would be classified as incapable of being transported. Not long afterwards, he wrote: "Now I agonise over the fact that I did not ask to be allowed to come with these poor brothers and sisters, and to die with them."

1940 saw the onset of a campaign against Maas that would eventually remove him from office. First the office of Standortpfarrer ("Local Pastor"), which he occupied in addition to his regular duties, was taken away from him. In 1942 the Ministry of Education and Culture withdrew his permission to provide religious instruction. (Letter from Finance Department)

Finally, the Ministry of Education and Culture demanded that the leadership of the Church "withdraw Maas from pastoral activities". Letters by Maas containing statements critical of the government had been found at the home of his correspondent Claire von Mettenheim. Maas raised the possibility of an early retirement in order to forestall his removal from office by a disciplinary verdict. He was then put into retirement on July 1, 1943.

In 1944, together with others from Heidelberg, he was assigned to compulsory work in France. This was the time when the Nazis were packing many so-called "Grade 1 Half-Breeds" off to the work camps. On this topic, Maas wrote: "There then followed an attempt to silence this ageing man once and for all. I, a 67-year-old man, was ordered to accompany a shovelling detail, one that was under SA surveillance, to France for shovelling duty. This too I endured, comforted by the fact that I could see the end approaching and cheered by the camaraderie of my fellow convicts. The advent of the Americans put an end to this ghastly madness. We ran away and came home."

3. Hermann Maas, builder of bridges

When Heidelberg was occupied by the Americans on March 30, 1945, the emotions of Herman Maas were not so much sorrow at the German defeat as "Freedom, deliverance, and end to the tyranny". That is what he wrote twenty years later in a leader in the German-language Tel Aviv newspaper "Weg und Ziel" ("The Route and the Goal").

Initially, Maas was heavily preoccupied with the question of guilt. In August he composed a memorandum for the Ecumenical Council in Geneva, "How I picture the rebuilding of the Evangelical Church". This begins with the sentence: "All rebuilding must start with sweeping out, clearing up and tearing down. In the language of the Bible this is called doing 'penance'." Maas then proceeds to indicate clearly the guilt of the Church and of Christians. "True, we were ignorant of much of the horror that transpired. But enough assurances have been given of this. Was that which we did know, did see, did hear, not enough?

"Did we not live through April 1, 1933, with all its inhumanities and its wild demagogues in our alleyways? Did we not hear the songs our children were singing when they ran yelling through the streets, or the dreadful sound of their military drums? Or the songs of the SA, and the most tasteless tripe presented as poetry and song, most shameful for Germany, the land of great poets and musicians? - the Horst Wessel Song? Or the speeches of the Führer and of the other leaders, overflowing with mockery, hatred and inflammatory demagogy?

"Did we not see the burned out synagogue - the House of God with a Biblical quotation on its front, housing the scrolls of the law and the books of the prophets of the Most Holy? ..."

Maas pointed out that the Evangelical Churches too had to all intents and purposes remained silent concerning the outrages of the National Socialist regime, to the persecution of the Jews, to the National Socialists' euthanasia programme and to the Second World War: "We should have cried out, and risked our lives and our freedom again and again. All of us - the entire Church. We cannot excuse ourselves, we must accuse ourselves, we do accuse ourselves."

When the Jüdische Rundschau (Translator's note: Swiss-published "Jewish Review", now renamed "Tachles") resumed publication in 1946, with an introduction from the Frankfurt Rabbi Dr. Neuhaus, Maas contributed a reader's letter: "How dreadfully heavy is the burden of guilt that each individual member of the non-Jewish German population, myself included, must bear. We are all implicated, even if we loved Israel deeply and opposed these terrible forces, as I tried to do." For many students, many of whom had just returned home from the war, this was clearly too much. They were probably expecting a critical word or two on the policies of the occupying powers - in other words, on the "guilt of others". At the Oberkirchenrat in Karlsruhe, this was reported as follows: "In Heidelberg in particular, there is great agitation in student circles concerning this pronouncement by a well-known and distinguished representative of the Evangelical Church."

After the war a new post was created within the Landeskirche of Baden, that of Kreisdekan ("Regional Dean"). Maas became Kreisdekan for North Baden. Later, the designation Kreisdekan was changed to Prelate. More than a few members of the Synod wanted him to be the Landesbischof ("Regional Bishop"), but this was not to be. For some, he was too liberal a theologian. For others, he was too old. No-one could have guessed that Maas would put in a further 20 years of service.

In certain respects Maas picked up where he had left off before 1945. Together with other citizens of Heidelberg, he founded a Committee for the Victims of National Socialism, of which he was temporarily the Director. In the context of this committee, and then as Prelate, he returned to providing help for Jewish Christians in need. Working together with the American Consul in Stuttgart, he made it possible for a substantial number of Christians of Jewish origin to emigrate to the USA. Maas also worked to bring about the return of Rabbi Robert Raphael Geis, who had been Rabbi of Mannheim from 1934 to 1937. Geis became the Landesrabbiner ("Regional Rabbi") of Baden in 1952. Maas also enjoyed a close friendship with a subsequent Landesrabbiner, Nathan Peter Levinson, and I am happy to be able to say that Levinson's wife, Frau Pnina Nave-Levinson, was given a teaching position and awarded an Honorary Professorship at the Pädagogische Hochschule (College of Education) in Heidelberg.

Hermann Maas as a builder of bridges
between Jews and Christians

In August 1946 Maas was one of the four German participants at a conference in Oxford of the International Conference of Christians and Jews. The purpose of this conference was to emphasise the points in common between Judaism and Christianity in relation to their religious understanding of reality and to their social mission. One picture has been preserved, on which Maas and Grüber can be seen together with Rabbis Moses Weiler from South Africa, Leo Baeck from Berlin and William Rosenblum from the USA and Chief Rabbi Friediger from Copenhagen. (Photo of Maas and others in Oxford) An eye-witness to the conference reported that "Maas' speech made a deep impression". Maas used the conference as an occasion "to acknowledge an enormous guilt, a guilt with which the German people - seduced and swept along by events - has saddled itself and which it will have to bear for all time; a guilt that we too must all bear - even those of us who from the beginning opposed this devilry and these devils." Subsequent Conferences were held in 1946 and 1947. The 1946 conference in Oxford was where the foundation was laid for the "International Council of Jews and Christians", whose present-day offices are located in the former residence of Martin Buber in Heppenheim. Maas welcomed and collaborated with the German Coordination Council and its affiliated societies for co-operation between Germans and Jews. In 1966 he wrote a "Wort zur christlich-jüdischen Zusammenarbeit" ("Note on Christian-Jewish Co-Operation"), in which he campaigned for a coming-together of Christians and Jews. It was important to Maas that more should be involved here than simple humanitarianism. His concern was with a true coming-together, and this could not happen without "truly getting to know one another". In this Note, he posed questions to both Jews and Christians: "How many Christians are aware that in the hierarchy of questions, the Jewish Question is of high, nay, the highest importance? How many know the particular manner of the Jewish religious service, the Jewish prayers, liturgies and musica sacra?" And: "How many Jews really know something of the true convictions of the Christian faith? Of the meaning that the Old Testament has for Christianity, and of the crucial statements and promises that appear within the New Testament itself concerning Israel?"

Hermann Maas as a builder of bridges
between Germany and Israel

Maas concerned himself most particularly with the issue of German reconciliation with the Jewish people and, following its foundation in 1948, with the state of Israel. In 1949 he became the first Christian German to receive an official invitation from the state of Israel. This invitation was extended by the Misrad Hadatot, the department responsible for relationships between the state of Israel and non-Jewish religious communities, and by Rav Maimon, the Minister for Religious Affairs at that time. Maas spent seven weeks travelling through the country, from the South to the North. He visited Shave Zion, the settlement that had been founded by Jewish refugees from Rexingen in Baden-Wurttemberg. In Degania A, Maas met his old school friend Dr. Eugen Neter and his wife. Neter had been a paediatrician in Mannheim until 1940,; he had gone voluntarily to the Gurs camp in France and eventually settled in Israel with his wife. Maas also visited the Ruppin family, Dr Oppenheimer in Rehovot and Prof. Picard in Jerusalem. He renewed his acquaintance with a lawyer who had once lived in Heidelberg. In Jerusalem he called on Martin Buber, and also on the philosopher Prof. Hugo Bergmann and the educationalist Prof. Ernst Simon. His visit in 1950 was followed by subsequent ones., and following such visits Maas pointed out the particular problems of the state of Israel in a series of books and essays. (Picture of covers of books by Maas) Worth particular mention are books such as "Sketches of a Journey to Israel" (1950) and "The State of Israel. Past - Present - Future" (1950), in which Maas described and reflected upon his first trip to Israel. Wider recognition was gained by the book "…und will Rachels Kinder wieder bringen in das Land" ("…and I will bring Rachel's children back into the Land"), published in 1955. Here, Maas addressed a "deadly serious problem", the problem "of peace with the Arabs". Even if, for Maas, there could be no doubt that the state of Israel had a right to exist, this peace was of great importance to him. He believed that the problems could only be resolved in a peaceful manner. Maas was aware of the attacks taking place on both sides. Worried, he wrote: "Each act of violence, in either direction, can become the gale that fans the smouldering sparks into flames that can in turn become a global conflagration".

From 1950 until his death, Maas regularly sent his Jewish friends in Israel and around the world letters to mark Rosh Hashana. In these, theological contemplations sit side by side with reflections on contemporary historical occurrences. Time and again he deplores anti-Semitic and anti-Judaist tendencies within the Federal Republic. For example, in 1959: "I feel an almost mortal shame at each sign of a newly-awakening anti-Semitism in Germany." Or equally, his final New Year's letter of 1970, in which he speaks out "in holy rage against all anti-Judaism".

Maas was active in several respects in the run-up to the nascent German-Israeli negotiations at the start of the 1950's. He gave a lecture in Heidelberg University's largest auditorium before the International Fellowship of Reconciliation in April 1952: "Peace with Israel - a vital question for Germany." On July 9, he spoke at the Council of Christians and Jews in London on the topic of "Germany and Peace with Israel".

In the light of the catastrophic food situation in Israel, Maas wrote to Federal President Theodor Heuss, whom he knew well from Heidelberg: "Surely the moment has arrived to take a concrete case as a starting-point for making peace with Israel... by dispatching some foodstuffs to Israel." Maas' initiative was prompted by letters from friends in Israel, and by the "Peace with Israel" promotion started in the summer of 1951 by Erich Lüth of the Hamburg Society for Christian-Jewish Co-Operation. Maas supported this promotion, which called for the development of the new state to be supported through donations of olive trees and attracted interest throughout Germany. In his response to Maas, Heuss emphasised that he was expressly in favour of establishing relations with Israel but could also see considerable difficulties: "...the fact is that even among the Jews with whom I have spoken, both German Jews and foreigners, there are widely-differing appraisals of the difficulties associated with official communications..."

It was probably Heuss who encouraged Maas to deliver a talk before the German Parliamentary Society on the topic of "The Problems of the State of Israel". Shortly before this, with a slender majority of 61 to 50, the Knesset had decided to establish diplomatic relations with Germany. At the end of his speech, Maas tackled the topic of how Germany might contribute to a reconciliation with Israel. He began by citing the "realisation of the proclamation in the Bundestag of the genuine fight against anti-Semitism". Above all, the battleground was to be the education of young people. According to Maas, the coming negotiations with Israel were going to require "people with finely-tuned ears" on the German side, people who could apply the necessary sensitivity in dealing with their Israeli opposite numbers. The aim was to be "formally-regulated relations with this singular state of Israel. That is the first opportunity offered by this process of making amends. Peace remains a distant prospect. There may be hard conditions to be met. These too we must accept, and be able to hold our peace about them. Reconciliation, however, is an issue that no longer stands within the power of man - this, only one other can bring about."

Maas closed with the following words: "It may be that we must first learn to speak across these wide distances and across this immense chasm... In Hebrew, the language of Israel, there is a word for peace - Shalom, peace and happiness. It is my belief that what we are concerned with here, at this time, is the peace and happiness of Israel, of Germany, of the whole world."

However, matters developed rather differently from the way Maas had anticipated. That same year, negotiations were opened between Adenauer and Ben Gurion. In September 1952 an agreement was reached according to which the Federal Republic of Germany pledged itself "to make restitution for the material losses caused by the acts perpetrated upon the Jewish people during the time of the National Socialist tyranny, insofar as this shall be within the capability of Germany". Then, in May 1965, full diplomatic relations were established between the Federal Republic and Israel. Again and again, Maas had written articles urging that formally-regulated relations be established. He pointed out the special significance of such relations for peace in the Middle East. With his initiatives, Hermann Maas had made a small but important contribution to relations between Israel and Germany becoming possible once more.

Hermann Maas was accorded many honours after the war. He was made a freeman of the city of Heidelberg and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Heidelberg and the Großes Verdienstkreuz ("Grand Cross of the Order of Merit") of the Federal Republic of Germany. He must have taken particular pleasure in the honours he received from Israel. In 1966, the Yad Vashem Medal was conferred on him in the Israeli Embassy in Cologne. From that time on, he bore the honorary title of "Righteous among the Nations". Asher Ben Nathan, the first Israeli ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany, said when conferring the medal: "These people did not even count as persons at that time; you saw them as having been made in the image of God, and in so doing you risked your life." Also associated with this award was the fact that a tree was planted in his honour in the Avenue of the Righteous among the Nations in Yad Vashem. (Picture of the Attestation Document for the Righteous among the Nations) The tree stands quite near the beginning of the Avenue, next to the tree that was planted to honour Maas' friend Heinrich Grüber, the founder and director of the so-called "Büro Pfarrer Grüber". Maas was particularly pleased when 457 trees were planted in his honour in the Wingate forest in the Gilboa Mountains in 1952. (Picture of Maas in front of the forest). In 1995 Rehovot, Heidelberg's twin town, honoured Maas by naming a street after him.

Hermann Maas remains very much alive in the memories of people in Heidelberg and in his Landeskirche in Baden. A Hermann Maas Foundation was founded a few years ago; this not only keeps his memory alive but also awards a Hermann Maas Prize on an annual basis. Equally, it was the Hermann Maas Foundation that provided financial support for my trip to Jerusalem. We strive to make sure, through the use of proper materials, that Maas remains known in the fields of religious education and adult education. After 1945, the Landeskirche of Baden was one of the first German Landeskirchen to issue a declaration on relations between Jews and Christians. This declaration states that "shocked, we acknowledge the share borne by Christianity in Germany in the responsibility and guilt for the Holocaust". In addition, the Synod faces up to "the historical necessity, in the light of the teachings of the Bible, to establish a new relationship between the Church and the Jewish people."

Unless otherwise attributed, all quotations are taken from the following book: Werner Keller et al: A Life Lived for Reconciliation. Hermann Maas - Pathfinder for the Jewish-Christian Dialogue, Karlsruhe, 2nd Edition, 1997.
The lecture was illustrated with various pictures and documents, which are indicated in brackets.