On the Threshold of a Sacred Mission
It was February 1946. Eighteen months had elapsed since the liberation of Paris, 12 months since the liberation of Auschwitz; nine months since the military act of surrender had been signed on behalf of the Nazi armed forces in Reims and in Berlin. The scale of the crime that had been perpetrated upon European Jewry by the Nazis was only beginning to emerge—the murder of two-thirds of the Jews of Europe. In this context, the first international conference to be jointly sponsored by the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and the Council of Christians and Jews, was soon to take place. It would be held at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, from 30 July 1946 to 6 August 1946. The conference would emphasize the themes of freedom, justice and responsibility and its fruits would take the form of two resolutions: “to create an international umbrella organization of Christian-Jewish councils of the whole world, as well as to convoke an emergency conference for dealing with anti-Semitism in Europe.” Both of these goals would be realized in Switzerland—the first in the form of an International Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ) with an office at 10 rue de la Madeleine in Geneva and an address in London, and the second in the form of a conference to take place in the summer of 1947 in Seelisberg, Switzerland (canton of Uri). Christian and Jewish members of such joint bodies, as were then known to exist or to be in the process of formation, were invited to attend the conference at Oxford in their personal, not officially representative, capacities, apparently 150 in total. Berlin pastor Dean Gruber and Heidelberg pastor Herman Mass would be permitted entry into England to attend. Theresienstadt survivor and prominent German rabbi Leo Baeck would address the delegates. These 150 attendees would not include Jules Isaac, who, in the matter of Christian-Jewish relations, had yet to emerge into the public sphere as a combatant against antisemitism.