The 1937 Europe Trip with Sherwood Eddy

Bill Sr., The Witness, October 6, 1955:


The Presiding Bishop told the Honolulu Convention  that ‘travel with resulting friendships is perhaps the best cure for an inverted parochialism.’  It does the same thing for an inverted nationalism.  Travel in any country dominated by the Roman Catholic Church and you know what Bishop Melcher and Bishop Krischke (both in Brazil) told the Convention is true, however much it may be denied.


Sherwood Eddy for many years has taken groups to Europe, not primarily to see the sights but to meet with leaders in the countries visited to discuss what’s cooking.  My slant on all sorts of questions was decidedly influenced by being a member of one of these seminars just before W.W. 2.

In Germany [in 1937] we met with Martin Niemoller, Julius Richter, Bishop Hanns Lilje, Bishop Otto Dibelius, William E. Dodd, American ambassador, and several newsmen from various countries.  From them we learned that the democratic forces of the country, before the rise of Hitler, wanted social change.  However they allowed Hitler to do what Mussolini had done before him in Italy, split their united front for democracy by yelling about the ‘Red.’  Hitler established his dictatorship by picking off his opposition one group at a time.  First the Communists, with an indifferent shrug of ‘no doubt they deserve it’ from orthodox labor leaders and churchmen;  then the labor leaders, with the churchmen saying,  ‘labor unions have made a real contribution to German life but some leaders have gone too far so Hitler is justified in locking up some of them.’  Then came their turn, with hundreds of pastors getting a knock on the door at mid-night and being carted off to a concentration camp for refusing to go along with Hitler’s determination to enslave the Church.

It was all stated very briefly by Niemoller:    “Stand by while others lose their freedom and you can be perfectly sure that the time will come when you will lose your own.


A prophetic statement as far as he personally was concerned, for he was imprisoned in a concentration camp four days later.  Julius Richter, a distinguished professor of missions until the government fired him, also confessed that he had gone along with Hitler’s insistence that Germany’s woes were due to the despised Jews.  Like Niemoller and countless others, he discovered that he was wrong too late.


A person does not have to be particularly bright, after that experience, to return home and find the same forces at work.  Rulers here intend to remain rulers.  So financiers, manages of our big corporations –and one has to add now, top flight labor leaders–gang up on any group that threatens the status quo.


Anyhow what I had previously believed was confirmed in Germany, that it is only through a united front of all democratic forces, secular and religious, that our heritage of liberty, freedom and democracy can be preserved.  And by secular I meant then, and I still do, anybody that is on our side.


Ambassador Dodd had told us that it was a primary responsibility of the Church to save not only democracy but Christianity itself form the onslaught of fascism.  He told us of Hitler’s plan to consolidate Central Europe, thus making France unimportant and England trouble;  of aiding Japan in conquering China, and then with half a billion people under fascist rule, to take over the world.


‘Nonsense,” said most Americans, including as smart a man as Norman Thomas who told me, when the Nazis marched into Czechoslovakia, that it was too bad but it had its good side since ‘it will keep the dog content by giving him a bone to chew on,”  As for churchmen, even the mere handful who agreed that the Church ought to have something to sasy about social and economic questions, thought that this talk about the threat of fascism was eyewash.


The few of us who thought otherwise, not only did what we could to win others to our point-of-view in the Churches, through denominational organizations like the C.L.I.D. and the United Christian Council for Democracy.  We also were members of united front organizations that sought to save Spain from Franco, China from Japan, and the world from Hitler.  All of these organizations, even those that have not existed for years, are today on the Attorney General’s list of subversive organizations.  The most wicked of the lot today, apparently, is the American League for Peace and Democracy.  Say today that you were a member of that long defunct organization  and official Washington needs no further evidence that you are a Communist.


It is proof that you were ‘prematurely anti-fascist,’ and what further proof is needed?