Friday, 9 July 2010

The British Methodist Church and the Holocaust

At last month’s Methodist Conference in Portsmouth ministerial delegates applauded a speech that dismissed the Holocaust as a “tool” and an opportunity for financial gain.

The conference went on to pass a resolution that has been welcomed by those who wish the State of Israel ill-will including the government of Iran news agency.

But it was the suggestion of anti-Semitism that really ruffled Methodist feathers.

Graham Carter , the chair of a working party that drew up a  report for Conference on Israel and Palestine matters complained  “I want to state quite clearly and categorically that there is no hint of anti-Semitism in what we have said or in what we intend.  If other people want to do things like that, that is their problem. It is not our problem as a Methodist church.”

Carter was wrong. British Methodists have every reason to be sensitive about both the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. We have a nasty story in our history that we desperately want to world to forget. Anti-Semitism is a problem for the Methodist Church.

Last week I alluded to a story I thought was common knowledge during an exchange on the social media. I was immediately challenged to name names and give facts. One individual spent several hours on the search engines, found nothing and challenged my assertion. However all this information is in the public domain and has been for at least 17 years.

The key dates are of course, pre-internet. They are October 1940 and Wednesday 6 January 1993.

In October 1940 a British Methodist Minister, the Reverend John Leale, who had enthusiastically assumed the role of Attorney General and President of the Controlling Council for the German occupied  British island of Guernsey send a list of Jewish residents on the island to the Germans saying “I have the honour to enclose a report from the inspector of police on the subject”.

Leale was not acting in innocence, ignorance or under duress. Another leading islander, Sir Abraham Laine openly and categorically refused to support the legislation requiring Jews to be registered.

A colleague admitted “I feel ashamed that I did not do something by way of protest to the Germans: a vital principle was at stake even if no human being on Guernsey was actually affected”.

Known Jews had been evacuated from the Channel Islands before the German occupation for “racial reasons”. There was no doubt that it was appreciated that being a Jew on Nazi occupied territory was a danger, even if the full implications of the Holocaust had not yet revealed.

One writer says “The detailed correspondence between the police, the Guernsey and Jersey governments and the Germans survives, and makes grim reading. The island officials made no attempt to protest; on the contrary they complied with every German request promptly and courteously with meticulous attention to detail”.

The identified Jews were not immediately deported. Leale even stepped in as a favour to an employer to stop one of his useful employees being deported. Nevertheless by October 1942 the island council that Leale led forwarded a report to the Germans celebrating  that there was “no record of  Jewish residents on Guernsey”.

Three Jewish women, all alone, had been deported and subsequently killed with Leale’s connivance. They were Therese  Steiner, Marianne Grunfeld and Auguste Sptiz. One survivor of the train that took  Auguste and Therese to Auschwitz recalls “I can still see in the distance the women who went in a different direction”. It is believed they were gassed an hour or so later.  

In the most recent books about the occupation, both that which had been published before January 1993 and after, Leale frankly does not come out as a respected individual. One writer talks of his “cultured tastes” and alleges that he avoided deportation to labour camps in Europe with other English born men because of his good contacts with the Germans. Leale was a Cambridge graduate who had inherited a fortune, he was ordained in 1914

Leale made it quite clear that he opposed any resistance passive or otherwise. On one occasion he handed the Gestapo a list of school children who had been chalking “V” for victory signs around the island. In the 1950s he held fast to his position, opposing the granting of honours to any for resisting German occupation.

Just before the island’s liberation it was reported by  a policeman “I came away from the window and later saw Sir John Leale, who was President of the Controlling Committee, which acted somewhat on the same lines as the Cabinet, with his head down looking rather glum”.

Fortunately for Leale the British government wanted at that point to develop a myth of defiant Britons standing up to the German occupier. He was knighted. Guernsey now boasts a

John Leale Avenue
and a John Leale House. His reputation survived the occupation intact.

On Wednesday 6 January 1993 the real story began to emerge. Until then no one had known of Leale’s complicity in the identification and transportation of the island’s Jewish people all three of whom were to perish in the death camps.

In any case, up until then, Leale could have been dismissed as a maverick, an aberration for which the British Methodist Church could readily apologise and seek repentance. What happened next tells us much about the priorites of Methodism at the turn of the 20th century.

Leale’s complicity made headline news in most national newspapers, all of which pointed out that he was a Methodist Minister. However the Methodist Recorder refused point blank to take up the story despite a challenge.

A letter to the Connexional offices, then at Westminster Central Hall, was redirected to the Chairman of the Channel Islands District who responded that this was all far to sensitive and best left alone.

British Methodism, both at a Connexional level and in its  denominational newspaper, was not prepared to acknowledge that one of its Ministers had been complicit in one of the greatest crimes in history.

The sensitivities of the denomination took precedence over repentance and justice. I felt at the time that this, among other things, amounted to an underlying, institutionalised anti-Semitism. The deaths of three Jewish women counted for nothing compared with the sensitivities of a Christian denomination.

British Methodists recently made grand speeches attacking the Jewish state and demanding “justice”. They heard  the Holocaust dismissed as a "tool".  Perhaps we should pause and remember Therese  Steiner, Marianne Grunfeld and Auguste Sptiz together with the Methodist Minister who sent them to their deaths. They did not die as Zionist "tools".

Earlier this week Methodist Church House was asked for a statement on this issue. Four days later they were unable to provide a comment. 

It is time we made a comment. 

It is  already seventeen years overdue. It  certainly should be made before we ever listen to anyone else dismiss the Holocaust as a "tool" or take offence when some assume our motives are anti-Semitic.


Peter King “The Channel Islands at War 1940-45” Robert Hale, London, 1991
The Guardian “Islanders aided Nazi Jew Hunters” 6 January 1993
Daily Telegraph “Guernsey leaders helped Nazis round up Jews” 6 January 1993
The Time “Guernsey betrayed Jews to the Nazis” 6 January 1993
Daily Mirror “Knighthood for man who sent Jews to die” 6 January 1993
“Policing during the occupation” pdf available online, undated
Madeleine Bunting “ The Model Occupation: The Channel Islands Under German Rule, 1940-45”, HarperCollins (1995)  (reprint (2004) Pimlico,
The Guardian “Our part in the Holocaust” 21 January 2004
Minutes of  the Methodist Conference 1939, 1940, where Leale is clearly listed as a Methodist Minister under the authourity of the Methodist Conference
Methodist Recorder "Cry of the Palestinian Chritians" 1 July 2001 reported here.
Connexions the blog of Richard Hall, a  Methodist MInister in Wales 5 July 2010
Connexions the  blog of Richard Hall, a Methodist Minsiter in Wales 8 July 2010 reported here


Ian G said...


This is appalling, it is damning and it is shaming. Because I call myself a Methodist preacher, I will be forwarding the link to Jewish and Arab (Christian) contacts with my heartfelt apologies.

Now I wait to see if Methodism will repent. Will God help us if it does not?

Richard said...

Thank you, Ian. You are a good man and entirely innocent. I wait to hear Nichola Jones and Graham Carter echo your words.
Jews have a right to their own independent country in the Holy Land through three thousand-plus years of identification with it, and through scripture. The rest of the world has a duty at minimum not to interfere with this, as a belated apology for perpetrating and permitting the Shoah.

Simon said...

Perhaps this is a generational thing, but what exactly do you think the Methodist Church should be saying ? David refers to the need to "make a comment".

Ian appears to feel the need to forward this to everyone with his heartfelt apologies.

So is the inference that the Methodist Church should be apologising for this mans actions ?

Now they are certainly terrible and regrettable, but if the institution is expected to apologise, should not the institution be found to be at fault ? Is there evidence that other parts of the church, such as Church House were aware of his activities at the time they took place ?

An obvious recent parallel is with recent sexual abuse scandals. In some of these, it has become apparent that perpetrators were well known, and moved around by more senior members of the church. And further, some of these offences took place in church institutions such as care homes. Clearly in these situations, the institution has failed.

What parallels would you draw with the complicitness of the Methodist Church in Leale's actions ?

Rev Tony B said...

Thanks you for the name, David. I am appalled at such behaviour, and sorry that the Connexion didn't feel able to address it. Let's see if anything comes out of the current request.

However, for you to reach back to this one example of a minister who behaved in a manner entirely inconsistent with his calling (and whose story was clearly given a lot of political spin at the time), and suggest that this is typical of the Methodist Church is incomprehensible. It can be counterbalanced by the story of Rev Douglas Ord, Methodist minister on the Islands during the Occupation, whose diary is a major historical resource for the period. He was pastorally involved with at least one of the young women who were deported, and his comments are diametrically opposite to John Leale's. He expresses the powerlessness felt by most people in the grip of the Occupation. I haven't found any comment by him about Leale.

Leale's story is shameful. It reflects badly upon him, and upon the political establishment that was willing to brazenly whitewash his actions for the sake of the myth of 'defiant Britons' (which we know to be pure myth - there was the same spectrum of defiance and collaboration on the Islands as anywhere else in occupied Europe). It reflects badly upon the Mehodist authorities of the time - it would be interesting to see any documentation relating to the case, and to see how far the Church felt pressured by the Government's stance; what price the prophetic stance?

However, it is still not clear how much this has to do with the current discussion, nor that it has any relevance to the Conference Report, which is one of a sequence of statements which are very supportive of the nation of Israel, and taken together seek justice for both Jews and Palestinians. You have so far failed to take them together.

David said...

Than you all for your comments. I'm having to split this posting in two because I have run our of space.

Tony I shall look into the issue of the Reverence Douglas Ord. It would be good to know more of this positive Methodist witness in such a difficult situation.

You will find more celebration of the normally good historic relations between Methodists and Jews in "The Lost Jews of Cornwall" where the author notes that the dominance of Methodism in the county contributed to the tolerance of the Jewish community.

My preference is to believe that Leale was a "one-off" and not typical of our denomonination, even at the time or throughout our history. Fortunately the rest of the United Kingdom was not invaded so we have no idea how any of us, not just Methodists, would have behaved in those circumstances.

My view is that in 1993 the then President of the Methodist Conference should have issued a simple and dignified statement expressing our deepest regret at what had occurred, making the point that this is not the behaviour we would expect of one of our office holders.

Leale was on British territory, under the authority of our own Conference, so we have to accept some moral responsibility, just as we do for every other Minister.

Now I actually suggested this at the time in letters to the General Secretary and Methodist Recorder.

However there seems to have been an instinctive response that the matter should not be pursued further by both the Connexion and the Recorder. It was that instinctive response that I think was offensive.

That was the moment that the actions of this one individual tainted, and continue to taint, the whole Methodist Church.

Last week I thought and prayed hard about whether to publish this story. It was not an easy decision.

However if our position in future is that we invite speakers to our Annual Conference who dismiss the horrors of the Holocaust as a "Zionist tool", then we should have the integrity to accept and regret that one of our office holders played a small part in that horror.

We should also understand that our silence over seventeen years could be taken to demonstrate our indifference to these events. I have already noticed that this story has been taken up by several Jewish and Israeli websites who, like all of us, are appalled by these events.

The Methodist Church can no longer claim ignorance. They read this blog at Church House, they access have the newspaper clippings from 1993 and can read Madelaine Buntings excellent book. I have provided my sources so that the story can be checked out.

David said...

Part two:

The Methodist Church is not alone in having to come to terms with the horrors of German occupation and the compromises and collaboration that followed. It has been painful for many people and peoples throughout Europe. I sometimes feel that the British have taken a bit of a superior attitude towards regiemes such as Vichy. Leale appears to have come close to being a Petain.

I would like to see the current President issue an immediate, unambigous and dignified statement making it clear that we did not think Leale's beahviour was appropriate.

The President should also give an unreserved apology for the failure of the Connexion to act in 1993 when it was most appropriate.

At the next Methodist Conference we should hol a solemn session in Southport to which we invite the Jewish leaders in the United Kingdom and we stand to together and express our sorrow.

Meanwhile we do have a whole page on the Methodist Church website providing materials for Holocaust Memorial Day. That needs to be updated to include a mention of Leale making it clear that we have undertaken an appropriate steps to express our repentence.

Finally, any Methodist materials put together about the Isreal and Paletine issue (remember the Conference voted to circulate some "resources" to help circuits and churches understand the issue) should provide information about Leale's activities. Naim Ateek in his Conference address made it clear that the Holocaust is an important part of that story and we should have the courgage and integrity to accpet our failings on this issue.

PamBG said...

It would be interesting to know why the 1993 Conference decided that this was something that they could not deal with.

I also wonder how an institution apologizes for the actions of an individual when those actions have nothing to do with the policy of the institution. Even Jewish theology as I understand it wouldn't admit that Conference could take on such a responsibility. A Jewish theology of forgiveness demands that the individual who committed the crime be the one who repents and apologizes. If that person is dead, then no such apology can be forthcoming. The Methodist Church can only apologize if it aided and abetted these heinous and immoral actions.

The demand that the institution apologize seems to come from the assumption that the institution is anti-Jewish and will therefore not repent of its racism, an assumption that many people - including many Jewish people - would not hold.

I'm quite happy as a Methodist person and a Methodist minister to say that such actions were horrible, immoral and reprehensible without qualification. I am not prepared, without further evidence, to say that the Methodist Church as an institution either endorsed or aided and abetted such actions.

We have processes for putting Resolutions before Conference. Yes, we'd probably all like for Conference to listen to us as individuals and us alone. We'd probably all like to believe that Church House asks us how high to jump when our blogs command them to jump. But that's not how things work.

David said...

Thanks Pam. I am fairly certain that the 1993 Conference did not discuss the issue. In fact I'd go so far as to say that this post is probably the first time it has been raised since 1993 (thanks to the prompting of Richard and Kim on Connexions).

I had always assumed we all knew about Leale but were too ashamed to admit there was a prblem there.

I think it was Kim who compared the issue with that of child abuse and I think that is a good analogy.

When abuse comes to light the Church immediately takes steps to discipline the perpetrator and express its sorrow.

Leale died in 1969. The full extent of his collaboration did not come to light until 1993, nevertheless that was the moment to express our regret.

From the correspondence I had, the matter was delegated to the Channel Islands district who seemed to have the same problems with the issue that many islanders faced.

See this article in The Guardian from 2004:

That we, as a Church, have some responsiblity for the actions of our office holders is recognised in law. The Methodist Insurance Society even offers pastoral care indemnity cover as part of the standard church policy.

I really think that we owe British Jewry an apology for Leale's actions, especially if we are going to write reports to Conference to which they feel uneasy.

By not apologising we are merely being true to type.

Ian G said...

Why should an institution apologise for an individual? I am amazed that the question is even asked. It shows how far we have fallen as a society.

The answer is firstly, for the sake of its good name; secondly, to disown and dissociate itself from such reprehensible actions and finally, to make a clear statement of what should have happened for the benefit of others both inside and outside of the institution.

Silence implies consent. It allows others to think that they can do the same and it permits outsiders to believe that institution approves of the actions of one of its officers.

Doesn't anybody know how to behave anymore?

PamBG said...

In fact I'd go so far as to say that this post is probably the first time it has been raised since 1993 (thanks to the prompting of Richard and Kim on Connexions).

I had always assumed we all knew about Leale but were too ashamed to admit there was a prblem there....

Well then, perhaps a constructive course of action would be to try to put forward a Resolution? Just a thought.

I really think that we owe British Jewry an apology for Leale's actions, especially if we are going to write reports to Conference to which they feel uneasy.

I do actually take your point (and it would be easier to take your point if I didn't feel that you generally assume that I and most other Methodists - ministers or not - are individuals of bad will).

As I understand the unease of British Jewry from Christine Elliot's report, however, the unease is not the conviction that we are probably antiSemites but rather that we are not presenting a balanced picture, that we have presented some Jewish theology inaccurately, and that we may be inadvertently stirring up anti-Semitism. Yes, I hear that some of your Jewish friends think that we are anti-Semitic but many other British Jews do not.

By not apologising we are merely being true to type.

British Methodism as you present it seems immoral, unethical, unChristian and uncaring. The genuinely good people in British Methodism seem to be as rare as hen's teeth, as you present the image.

Maybe you can suggest to me, as one of those British Methodist individuals, what it is you expect in terms of trying to have a dialogue? As someone who you assume - until proven otherwise - to have no morals, no scruples, no heart and no human integrity, I wonder why you bother trying to speak with us at all? A serious question, although I doubt you'll answer.

David said...

Thanks Pam. I have already taken the first formal steps to see if we can get this matter put right.

If you get a chance try to read Madelaine Bunting's excellent little book "The Model Occupation".

She tells the story of each of the three women who were deported and killed as a result of Leale's actions. I have only given the briefest flavour here.

The tragedy is that they all thought that by reaching British territory they have reached safety.

One even got to England and was working as a nanny to an English family who were holidaying in Guernsey. As the Germans approached many British families were evacuated back to the mainland - she wasn't allowed to board with her employers because she was not a British national.

This is a really tragic story that has already been told once, and much to our shame we did not issue an appropriate response.

Now I think, with some fairness, our Jewish neigbours are asking questions about our intentions and motivations.

This is therefore an ideal opportunity to put this wretched story behind us.

I suspect you think that I should not have raised it again but having given it some thought I am pleased that I have. I think this will give the denomination the opportunity to demionstrate to the world what it is really made of.

We shall see.

PamBG said...

I suspect you think that I should not have raised it again but having given it some thought I am pleased that I have. I think this will give the denomination the opportunity to demionstrate to the world what it is really made of.

Actually, I don't have any objections to the issue being raised. What I object to is the way that you raise issues.

Why is it so difficult to understand that if you attack someone first and then expect them to listen, you ain't gonna get a lot of listening out of that person?

David said...

Pam I don't want you to think that I've ignored you but I'm a bit lost on what you are trying to say.

At a time when some people are saying that the actions of the British Methodist Church are borderline Holocaust denial it is relevant to raise this issue.

I am increasingly concerned at the Connexions behaviou0r and attitudes.

I may have to take this up elsewhere and in another way but for the time being I will keep my powder dry.

PamBG said...

But I'm a bit lost on what you are trying to say.

I don't believe that for a minute.

I am increasingly concerned at the Connexions behaviou0r and attitudes.

I may have to take this up elsewhere and in another way but for the time being I will keep my powder dry.

Please do put a lot of time and effort into another cockammamy attack on the Connexion. I'm sure most people can see very well what is going on here.

PamBG said...

But I'm a bit lost on what you are trying to say.

I don't believe that for a minute.

I am increasingly concerned at the Connexions behaviou0r and attitudes.

I may have to take this up elsewhere and in another way but for the time being I will keep my powder dry.

Please do put a lot of time and effort into another cockammamy attack on the Connexion. I'm sure most people can see very well what is going on here.

David said...

Thanks Pam. We'll leave it at that.

Rev Tony B said...

"At a time when some people are saying that the actions of the British Methodist Church are borderline Holocaust denial it is relevant to raise this issue."

The fact is that nobody in the Methodist Church is denying the Holocaust. It happened. Six million Jews were murdered, whatever David Irving and the like would try to argue. I don't think that Dr Ateek was saying anything otherwise: all he was arguing is that some Jews have used the fact of the Holocaust as a lever to get their own way, by playing on Western guilt and sympathy. That might be distasteful, but it is a long way short of denial, borderline or otherwise.

I echo your recommendation of "The Model Occupation" - it is an excellent book, I read it a good few years ago. That is where I first heard of the Rev Douglas Ord, if I recall correctly. However, I am still not quite clear what you expect from the Connexion - and I suspect the Connexion is unclear, too. Yes, Leale acted in a way utterly unbecoming of a Methodist minister. He did so in a political situation which none of us has ever experienced, and also against a political background which none of us can know - the whole scenario of 1930s fascism in general, and British fascism in particular. What he did appears awful to us, with the perspective of history - perhaps it wasn't so different from many popular opinions of his time? There are parallels today: I have often referred to the Daily Mail as a cipher for all the things which are wrong in our middle-class society, and have been roundly criticised by my congregations for doing so. I don't care: my sympathies are left of centre, and I believe that is where Kingdom values take me. Leale's attitudes are unacceptable (even obscene) to to me - but perhaps not so far from those of many of his contemporaries? How many 1930s Methodists supported Mosley? How fair is it to judge the attitudes of a prewar generation by contemporary attitudes?

That is an issue which could be discussed at length. It could yet be a side issue, not really relevant to the current debate. Whatever the actions of one Methodist minister in occupied territory in the 1940s, and the diffidence of the Methodist hierarchy in the 1990s about engaging with that issue, it remains that the accusations you have made against the Conference, that we as a Church are anti-Semitic, are unproven. I accept that our stance on Israel is unpalatable to many Jews (but by no means all), and I am sorry for that. Nevertheless, until Israel treats the Palestinians with a greater degree of justice, I am afraid the criticism will continue.

David said...

Thanks Tony. When I put that post up I didn't expect the response to be easy, as I think you appreciated at the time.

I've had some contact with Church House which I felt was unsatisfactory. I am now awaiting a reply to a letter to the President of Conference.

I agree with what you say about the Daily Mail - it even supported the Blackshirts at one point during the 1930s. That right wing, anti-Semitic opinions were common among the British middle classes is beyond doubt. The same feelings are reflected in the "Islamaphobia" which is gripping the same newspaper and its readers today.

Marcus on on the Jewish blog hurryupharry picks up the point about the Mail and the Burka:

Tony thanks for for contribution. Always welcome. I think now we just have to await events.

John Lenton said...

Dear David
I have just been looking at this chain of comments and think that some are away from the point. I do not try to defend anything Leale did.
However, I am not sure how reasonable it is to attack the Methodist Church for what this minister did or did not do. In my view their responsibility for him was low or nonexistent. Perhaps they should have allowed him to leave the ministry quietly long before.
Specifically let us examine his personal history (see Who's Who in Methodism 1933 and the Minutes of Conference. Leale, a Guernseyman, entered the ministry in 1914 and spoent two years at Richmoind College as Assistant Tutor. In 1916 (at the heart of the 1st World War)the College shut and he spent four years in circuit. He was then assigned to the (London-based) National Childrens Home aand Orphanage as one of the ministerial team who led them. That lasted until 1922 when he was given permission to be without pastoral charge and returned to Guernsey.
To me this suggests he was a wealthy man who was not particularly happy in or suited to circuit life. For whatever reason the Methodist church allowed him to retire early while still retaining the status of a minister, but I would question as to whether after 1922 the Conference actually had much control over him.
Is this some help to you?

John Lenton

Anonymous said...

The attacks against Rev. John Leale in this article and in some of the comments are ill-informed, ignorant and in the worst cases, downright libellous. What do any of you know about him, and how much have you tried to find out before rubbishing someone who is dead and can't defend himself?

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, I see everyone's suddenly gone very quiet. Was it something I said?

Rob Bleakney said...

The above article cites multiple sources when reporting that Leale was an ordained Methodist preacher who, acting in a different capacity, reported three Jewish women to the Nazis with the result that they were murdered. It's not ill-informed to rely on multiple historical sources, as this article did. It's not libelous to present well-documented historical information, even if damaging to the reputation of the deceased. Rabbi Heschel once said, "Some are guilty, but all are responsible"; likewise, only Leale is guilty for his individual actions, but all of us are responsible for the future, and so can ask what we might learn from this horrible past to improve the future, including with regard to Methodist-Jewish relations.

Anonymous said...

This article is in fact very misleading and defamatory, though I am sure it was written in good faith. The main problem is that it relies on people like Bunting whose book is riddled with howlers and has been largely discredited. When I get half a chance I will point out the errors and distortions to set the record straight.

Robert said...

It would be interesting to see the evidence, if indeed there is any.

What we have there is a situation unparallelled in the history of these islands. There have been rather more invasions of England - successful and otherwise - than popular history admits to, but the patern has been that they have been carried out by people closely related to the Brits, and led by people with a claim to the throne. This was an invasion by people bringing an ideology which had already been rejected by the vast majority.

They behaved exactly the same way as other peoples invaded by the Nazis; some collaborated, others did not. Some supported the anti-Jewish legislation, some didn't. Had the mainland been conquered, then doubtless the same pattern would have been seen again.

As it was, it was a one-off. Leale and his like need to be remembered, as a reminder of the path which so many people follow in any totalitarian state. I think that's the extent of his significance.

Is there a memorial to the three women anywhere? If not, it might be appropriate for the Methodist Church to fund one.

Anonymous said...

Comment for John Lenton:
You say: '...1922 when he was given permission to be without pastoral charge and returned to Guernsey. To me this suggests he was a wealthy man who was not particularly happy in or suited to circuit life'.
In fact Leale came back to Guernsey for health reasons (see Minutes of Conference, 1970, for Leale’s offical obituary, for example). It had nothing to do with any perceived 'unsuitability to circuit life'.