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The Protestant Churches and Eastern Europe (October 15, 1965)

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It is not the responsibility of an ecclesiastical memorandum to speculate about when the time will come to abandon this hesitant attitude toward our eastern neighbors. But the formal argument that only a future all-German government is authorized to make such wide-reaching decisions can no longer justify postponing a clarification of the fundamental questions at stake here. The German people need to be prepared for the necessary steps, so that a government can then feel authorized to act when necessary. Such preparation has also become inevitable, because the international situation has clearly changed since the 1950s. At that time, East and West confronted each other as two ideological power-blocs, which practically precluded any independent action by a German government, whereas today there is movement in the frontlines. In this situation, the Western allies also expect a contribution from the Federal Republic of Germany toward détente, which is only possible if the government can count on the understanding and approval of the German people in taking a step in the spirit of reconciliation toward our eastern neighbors.

Again, which individual steps will best promote the goal of reconciliation and reorganization cannot be discussed in this memorandum. The only certainty is that it will not suffice to keep emphasizing the German legal point of view rigidly and one-sidedly, but, at the same time, a German government cannot also be expected to abandon its legal standpoint unconditionally at the outset. It is much more important to create an atmosphere at the outset, both among the German people and abroad, in which individual steps toward reconciliation with our eastern neighbors become possible.

This certainly assumes that the will to reconciliation also exists or can be awakened among these [other] nations. These peoples will also have to face the critical question of whether they want to maintain the self-righteousness they so often exhibit vis-à-vis Germany. But the conversation can only begin when the German people indicate that they want to resist their own temptation to harden themselves in self-righteousness.

The present memorandum does not presume to sketch a pathway for those called upon to take the political action described. But it sees it as the responsibility of the church to give the German people a clearer awareness of the goals that really matter in the intra-German discussion, as opposed to what usually happens in this discussion, and to dispel the resistance that often arises against these goals. If politicians' space for negotiating is thereby broadened, then it remains their responsibility to make proper use of this opportunity.

Source: R. Henkys, “Deutschland und die östlichen Nachbarn. Beiträge zu einer evangelischen Denkschrift“ [“Germany and its Eastern Neighbors. Contributions to a Protestant Church Memorandum“]. Stuttgart, 1966, pp. 214 ff; reprinted in Christoph Kleßmann, ed.,Zwei Staaten, eine Nation. Deutsche Geschichte 1955-1970 [Two States, One Nation. German History 1955-1970]. Göttingen ,1988, pp. 508-10.

Translation: Jeremiah Riemer

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