Monday, November 10, 2008

Standing Firm


Last night was the anniversary of Kristallnacht. There was an image to which I'd been wanting to bring attention for some time, and this day seemed an appropriate time. We used a scanned postcard but will keep trying to find a usable link.

This is one panel of a stained-glass window in the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul in Weil-der-Stadt, a Catholic town in Baden-Wurttemburg, Germany. The oldest parts of the church date to 1492, though a church has been at the site since the 6th C. This particular window, a series of panels on the Life of Christ, is in the "new" section. It was commissioned in the late 1930's and is the work of JoKarl Huber.


The panel depicts the Temptation of Christ by Satan. Two things immediately jump out at the viewer:
1. "Satan? That's Hitler!"
2. "That's got to be the most Aryan-looking Jesus I've seen since those Bible story books they used to have in the dentist's waiting room!"

Huber, according to Wikipedia, was at the time of the commission already one of those artists that had been branded "degenerate" by the Nazi regime. It took guts for the pastor of the church to hire him, and it took even more guts for him to make the political statement he did in this window. It took guts for the citizens of Weil-der-Stadt who sat in church every week: glancing occasionally at the new window, remarking silently the uncanny resemblance, keeping silent under intense pressure to hand over enemies of the regime...

Ye silent they must have kept, for the window remained unmolested through WWII (the city was spared Allied bombing out of respect for another famous resident, the astronomer Johannes Kepler.) Huber went on to serve in the German army, was a POW under the British, and returned to continue his art career until his death at the ripe old age of 94.

I used to visit the church once or twice a year while living in southern Germany in the 90's, and I'd wonder about the people who lived and worshipped there. Weil is a small city, but it is a city. Many people must have noticed the figures in the window, and surely most of Weil was aware. Yet no one went to the regime. Or was the regime too preoccupied to worry about a church window panel in an insignificant Black Forest town? Of one thing I am certain: there was a sizeable community of solid German citizens who didn't like what was going on in their country.

Hitler as Satan isn't hard to imagine for us today, but Huber was living under Hitler at the peak of his power--and Heaven knows that the Nazis had few qualms about destroying the loyal opposition when it got too uppity. Christ as a German? I like to think that Huber had a message for his fellow Germans in that image: "Be like Christ. Resist the temptations laid before you by this Satan of our day."

Today, again, the temptations call. Unlimited power can be ours, but at what cost? The lives of our children? Our humanity?

Since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, the struggle to defend life has been uphill. There have been minor victories--parental consent laws, informed consent laws, Born Alive laws, "clone and kill" bans. All of these are threatened now. We must educate, speak out, fight for justice, and support defenders of life. We must resist the temptation to give up, to accept pretense in place of genuine action, to be intimidated into silence.

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