In January 1947 the members of First Church of Christ, Scientist, Amsterdam, sent this autograph album to The Mother Church in Boston, as a gesture of thanks for the assistance that the church’s War Relief Committee had provided during and after World War II. The book has a cover of green leather with gold gilt lettering. It begins with a quotation from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, written in gold, and is signed by the members of the Amsterdam church. The album was bound by a member and funded through voluntary contributions. 1
In the months after Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, the members of First Church, Amsterdam, met to find a way to protect their church and the cause of Christian Science. Although the Netherlands would not enter the war until the Nazis invaded the following May, these Christian Scientists recognized the serious position they were in.
During the early months of the war, members were still able to receive mailings from Boston and listen to shortwave broadcasts of Christian Science lectures. The lecture committee also scheduled readings of Christian Science lectures translated into Dutch.2However, after the Nazi occupation began, communication with The Mother Church became increasingly difficult.
In June 1941, every known Christian Scientist in Germany was arrested and the practice of Christian Science banned.3 Church members in Amsterdam were aware of this and anticipated that the Nazis would likely turn their attention to Christian Scientists in the Netherlands. On October 25, 1943, police did indeed occupy First Church, Amsterdam, and seal its Reading Room. Gestapo agents seized the church’s papers and archives and confiscated all its properties and funds, in accordance with an order from Berlin. Christian Science was declared “a forbidden religion and … any disobedience to this order would be severely punished.”4 The church would remain closed until May 1945, when the Netherlands was liberated.
Even under Nazi occupation, church members in Amsterdam worked together to support each other and the Cause of Christian Science. They smuggled copies of Bible Lessons from the Christian Science Quarterly, from Sweden and Switzerland, and secretly copied them. This allowed them to continue holding Sunday services on their own or in small groups.5 After the British Royal Air Force mistakenly bombed the city of Rotterdam in May 1943, they took up a collection to support a member who had lost her home and possessions.6 Perhaps most remarkable was the work of Antoinette Fennema-Sillevis. Along with other members of the church she organized the distribution of funds, clothing, and food during the infamous “Hunger Winter” of 1944-1945, when over 20,000 Dutch starved to death.7
The 1945 liberation of the Netherlands opened the door for greater support from relief agencies, including The Mother Church. It had been registered as a voluntary relief agency since 1940 and had organized with its branch churches around the United States.8 The mission of the church’s War Relief Committee was to receive, classify, sort, and pack clothing and relief supplies. Most of its workers were volunteers who ensured that any goods sent in the name of Christian Science were held to the highest standard.9 Workers divided clothing into small shipments and sent it directly to Christian Science churches or societies, with larger packages going to Officiating Ministers for distribution, who were attached to Allied military forces. During and after the war, the Committee was responsible for distributing between $400,000 and $500,000 worth of clothing to civilians, as well as $500,000 worth of knitted clothing to men and women in the armed forces ($500,000 in 1945 is equivalent to about $6.6 million in 2016). This was in addition to The Mother Church’s food relief program, which was responsible for sending over 180,000 parcels of food by the end of 1946.10The first packages of supplies reached the Netherlands toward the end of 1945, and shipments continued through 1946. The distribution of clothing was conducted at the Mother Church Sunday School and supervised by members. The Mother Church also sent food parcels containing scarce items, including coffee, tea, and cocoa.11 Anyone was welcome to receive a parcel, regardless of religion. The value of these relief efforts is evident in testimonies published in the Christian Science periodicals, including one from the Christian Science Sentinel:
Thank you for the food parcel I got from The Mother Church …. I am a member of the committee for the distribution of clothing which was sent by the Christian Science War Relief Committee. I think you will never know how very grateful we are for the supplying of the great need. There were children who had never had a new piece of clothing, and now they had everything new. They looked at us with big eyes full of wonder and joy. Words cannot express our gratitude, and I feel as never before our unity.
What a gift is Christian Science to the world! In the seemingly most difficult times, we felt rich in the knowledge of our Father-Mother’s loving care. When the Germans closed our church and took everything material, they did not know the only real thing we had they could not take.12
- “Historical Statements Concerning First Church Amsterdam, Netherlands, 1935-1946,” Field Collection, Folder 201660976, Box 530748, Organizational Records of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, Boston, MA, 72.
- Ibid., 44-45.
- The Story of Christian Science Wartime Activities, 1939-1946 (Boston, MA: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1947), 251.
- “Historical Statements Concerning First Church Amsterdam, Netherlands,” 55, 57-58.
- Ibid., 63.
- Ibid., 55.
- Ibid., 64. “The Hunger Winter,” The Dutch Resistance Museum, accessed January 15, 2016, https://www.verzetsmuseum.org/museum/en/tweede-wereldoorlog/kingdomofthenetherlands/thenetherlands/thenetherlands,june_1944_-_may_1945/the_hunger_winter.
- The Story of Christian Science Wartime Activities, 15.
- Ibid., 18-20.
- Ibid., 382, 386, 395.
- “Historical Statements Concerning First Church Amsterdam, Netherlands,” 68-70.
- “Concerning Christian Science Wartime and Postwar Activities,” Christian Science Sentinel, August 24, 1946, 1482-1483.