After my last posting, one of my faithful commenters (David Llewellyn Dodds) jogged my mind, and I mentioned in my comment replying to his I am presently reading Alan Jacobs, The Year of Our Lord 1943. Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis, OUP 2018. Through this book, I am coming to have another understanding of the minds of writers and intellectuals during the worst years of the war. 1943 was the turning point when the Nazis began to be on the defensive and the war was turning against them. Some days ago, I mentioned the film Nuremberg. At first, the Allies wanted to take the Nazi war criminals out and shoot them, but the idea came into the minds of the judges and the chief prosecutor Justice Jackson that if they were to do that, they would find it difficult to claim moral superiority and a greater degree of humanity than the enemy? Going to war against Hitler wasn’t everything, though it seems that there was no alternative historically. We had also to take the moral high road. I believe we did that through Nuremberg, bringing justice to the guilty and setting a new standard for international law and the cause of peace.
My generation has not had the experience of war, occupation or siege, but it is not difficult to imagine through reading and watching films. I remember the tortured face of my grandfather if I asked him too many questions about his experience as a prisoner of war in Germany. There is the old saying of Samuel Johnson: “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully”. I read that and instinctively put my hand up to my throat as if to protect it! The proximity of horror and death brought many to profound thought and especially to faith and prayer. For others, it had the opposite effect like for Elgar and Vaughan Williams who lost their faith during the 1914-18 war. The effect of war cannot be neutral or banal for the normally constituted person.
I have only begun to read the book mentioned above, but it looks very promising. In this vein, David wrote to me and asked for the following guest posting to appear on this blog.
* * *
Christian publishing during the Occupation
David Llewellyn Dodds
Remembering the end of the Second World War and the Dutch war dead in May, my thoughts turn more than usual to what it was like here under the Nazi Occupation. Such a sharpening of attention came even earlier this year, as part of my Lenten reading was in Wierookgraan: Gebedenboek in Verzen [ something like ‘A Grain of Incense: A Prayer Book in Verse’] selected by Henk Kuitenbrouwer and Gabriël Smit, which received its Imprimatur on 17 May 1944 (the day before the Ascension Feast that year) in Joppe. And we often read the appropriate Lessons and Propers at home in a handsome little pocket Missaal which received its Imprimatur a bit earlier on 2 April 1944 (Palm Sunday that year) in Laag-Keppel. It was not till almost exactly a year later that Laag-Keppel – and Joppe – were liberated. Both volumes were published by Het Spectrum, Utrecht. So was our copy of Frits van der Meer’s excellent Catechismus – with the foreword by Archbishop de Jong dated the Feast of St. Lucy, 1941. Would I guess these fine books were printed under Occupation if I did not see the dates? I am amazed how far it was possible to get on with normal, good work. By contrast, our copy of Paus Adriaan VI, which W.S. Jurgens calls his “vrije Nederlandsche bewerking” [‘free Dutch adaptation’] of Else Hocks’ 1939 German biography, lists publishers – Strengholt in Amsterdam, and Standaard in four Belgian cities – and an Imprimatur, but has no date anywhere. I can’t remember if I first looked up the publication date elsewhere – 1942 – or was surprised by what seemed a word of encouragement between the lines, about a quarter of the way through, in the chapter, ‘Het Vaderland’, such as: “zulk een volk staat stevig op zijn grond, houdt oog en oor voor gevaar gespannen open en waantrouwt alles wat ongewoon is. De aldus met zoveel strijd verwonnen karaktereigenschappen van de Nederlanders zouden zoowel op geestelijk, zedelijk en religieus gebied proefhoudend blijken te zijn.” [‘such a people stand firmly on their ground, keep eye and ear open for danger, and distrust all that is unusual. The character traits of the Dutch so won with so much struggle should show themselves to survive being put to the test in the spiritual, moral, and religious realm.’] Here was a good book in its own right which also had what seemed to me a clear wartime subtext. But the other three I mentioned surely consciously intended to aid the reader to live thoughtfully, prayerfully every day of the year (Van der Meer has a special index related to the cycle of the Church’s year) despite the Occupation.
If we can compare Wierookgraan to Herbert’s Temple, Stalpart van der Wiele’s collections, Keble’s Christian Year, and Guido Gezelle’s Tijdkrans [‘tijd’ is ‘time’ and ‘krans’ includes senses of garland, wreath, and crown – a rosary is a ‘roszenkrans’] as a collection of poems, we can also compare it to another wartime work (in prose), Charles Williams’s New Christian Year (1941), as an anthology drawing on many different writers. If Stalpart and Gezelle can be found in the dbnl.org and Herbert and Keble in various places (see their Wikipedia articles), sadly I have had no luck finding Wierookgraan online. Happily Williams’s always-rewarding daily readings are very conveniently available:
David Llewellyn Dodds (originally published in The Grapevine, the monthly news letter of the Arnhem-Nijmegen Chaplaincy of the Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe, in May 2018)