CES Dissertation Workshop: The Law of Reconciliation: German Protestants and International Law in a Divided World, 1957-1965


Friday, March 2, 2018, 2:00pm to 4:00pm


Adolphus Busch Hall, Goldman Room, 27 Kirkland Street, Cambridge, MA

Brandon Bloch
PhD Student in History and Graduate Student Affiliate, CES, Harvard University


Brandon Bloch will present a chapter of his dissertation which follows the role of Protestant intellectuals in the transformation of West German public opinion on Europe's postwar territorial settlement and West German reconciliation with Eastern Europe from the mid-1950s through the mid-1960s. In 1965, a commission of the German Protestant Church issued a memorandum calling on the West German government to recognize the Oder-Neisse line established by the Potsdam Agreement as the legitimate German-Polish border. The Protestant Church thereby became the first major German organization to publicly champion the renunciation of Germany's former Eastern territories and recognize the non-reversibility of the postwar expulsion of Germans from Eastern Europe, at a time when all of the major West German political parties continued to assert the Federal Republic's sovereignty over Germany's 1937 borders. The Protestant memorandum is widely regarded as catalyzing a turning point in West German foreign policy, yet historians have yet to explore its roots in the Protestant intellectual milieu.

The chapter analyzes the prehistory of the Protestant Church's so-called Ostdenkschrift, showing how the document reflected a transformation in Protestant theological thinking about questions of national identity, territory, and human rights with roots in the early post-war period. It also argues that the revival of Nazi criminal trials in West Germany during the early 1960s gave rise to a new Protestant appraisal of law as a medium of reconciliation, which contributed crucially to debates about German territorial rights.