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Tillich and Popular Culture

Tillich and German Immigrants in New York

The persecution by the Nazi state of Germany in the 1930s, led to the emigration of several thousand Germans majority of whom were Jews. Amongst the emigrants was Paul Tillich who as an “émigré of émigrés”[1] became concerned with the plight of the emigrants. Later, in 1936, Tillich would become the founder and president of the Self-help of the Émigrés from Central Europe Inc., an organization that provided relief assistance to the German refugees.[2]

Tillich asked the question: “Can the Jews return to Germany?” he answers the question by proposing four possibilities. Either way, the Jews would return ‘without a problem’ or ‘with the problem’. The first possibility is that of a negotiated peace with non-Nazi groups without exemption; exclusive for the Jews. Second, a Russian peace with a Communist revolution; inclusive for the Jews without a problem from the side of Germany. Third, a motion-qua-peace under the leadership of the reactionary groups in England and America, Germany and indirectly all of Europe to suppress the revolutionary movements in Germany. In this case only those Jews who are guaranteed status quo with the exclusion of those with leftists’ sympathy should return. Such would be part of the occupying power thus considered enemies by the nationalists and leftists. No Jew should return under such conditions. Lastly, the establishment of a socialist and communist Germany within a more or less federated world. In this case the return of all the Jews is possible, but probably attractive only for those who agree with the end of the status quo.[3].

To the extent that the émigrés cannot return to Germany, how then were they to settle in New York where majority of them took temporal residence? Answering this question, Tillich in an article entitled “Christianity and Emigration” noted that emigration itself was a religious category. He argued that the history of revelation of which Jesus is at the centre begins with an emigration in the call/separation of Abraham: “Get thee out of thy country and from thy kindred and from thy father’s home unto the land that I will show thee.”[4].

He argues that, “God separates men when he elects them. He separates Israel from the nations and makes her an exile in Egypt, in Babylon, in the Hellenic, in the Roman Empire and now in the occidental world and in all nations. He separates the prophets in Israel from Israel and makes them émigrés, persecuted, killed in their own country. He separates the followers of Christ from father and mothers and brothers and makes them homeless with Christ. He separates the Christian church from Judaism and paganism and makes the Christians members of a community across all nations and races. He separates the fighters of the rights of men and social justice, from the settled life of society and makes them persecuted and exiled. He separates every individual Christian whom he calls from the ultimate obedience to family and tribe, to nation and state and makes him a citizen of another world. Every new emigration, whatever the external reason may be, is a new manifestation of his exclusiveness and absolute claim.[5] Against this background, Tillich called on the United States public particularly the Christians and the Jews to morally and financially support the émigrés. He also called on the Christians to avoid any active missionary drive from the Christian side directed towards believing Jews. Rather the Christian mission to the Jews should be receptive in nature i.e. a readiness on the on the part of the Christians to receive Jews in such cases where the Jewish person has recognized his existential boundaries and then raised the question about what lies beyond. Lastly, the Jewish attitude of voluntary segregation should be tolerated without any religious or political anti-Semitism.



[1] The Presbyterian Tribune, New York City, October, 29, 1936, p.2

[2] New York Times

[3] Tillich, Paul, “Can the Jews Return to Germany?” Archival Sources; Harvard-Andover Library.

[4] The Presbyterian Tribune, New York City, October, 29, 1936, p.2

[5] The Presbyterian Tribune, New York City, October, 29, 1936

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