Thursday, January 27, 2005

The Church and the Holocaust

This was originally drafted as a response to a comment made at an earlier post, Remembering the Holocaust. The comment, posted by Guy at Snugg Harbor, noted the possibility that the Vatican may have struck a deal with the Germans and Italians, in effect saying, "You leave us alone, and we will not make any (moral) waves." Stating that this is no defense of the Church and they should have spoken out forcefully, he wondered if the Church could have made a difference.

It would be too simple to say that the Vatican struck a deal with the Germans and Italians. The Church had dealings with both governments, and the Vatican tried to maintain an essentially neutral position during the war. No doubt, there was a justifiable element of concern for the very survival of the Church. However, Hitler and the Nazi leadership were wary of the Vatican and always considered it an enemy, and no conciliatory gestures the Church made changed that perception.

The role of the Church during WWII is very controversial, and even researching it requires great caution. There is a broad range of seemingly authoritative history that can be used to substantiate virtually any position.

Pope Pius XII, like Pius XI before him, made statements and took actions that were not favorable to the Nazis or their treatment of Jews and others. However, those actions were not very effective, partly because the Pope didn't throw the full weight of his papacy behind them. There were many, many other Catholics, including priests, nuns, monks, brothers, and lay people, who courageously defied the Nazis and tried to protect Jews, and many of them paid with their lives. In Italy, where the treatment of Jews during the Holocaust was generally better than in some countries but worse than others, there's no doubt that the influence of the Church saved the lives of many Jews.

There were other actions by senior leaders of the Catholic Church that were reprehensible. For example, Theodor Cardinal Innitzer, in Austria, openly supported the Anschluss and personally went to meet Hitler when he arrived in Vienna. Cardinal Hloud, who was then Primate of Poland, wrote a pastoral letter urging Polish Catholics to boycott Jewish businesses. And perhaps worst, but least known, is the role of Archbishop Stepinac in Croatia, a fascist state that allied itself with the Nazis. Archbishop Stepinac was a supporter of the Holocaust in Croatia which resulted in the murders of perhaps as many as 800,000 Serbs, Jews, and Roma (Gypsies). Even today, Stepinac is considered a hero by some in Croatia.

Perhaps the best summary is this: The Catholic Church made some efforts to save Jews and others during the Holocaust, but they didn't do enough. If ever there was a time for the Pope and his Church to put it all on the line in forceful opposition to evil, this was it. In that respect, the Church failed. As a result, many died who might not have. Remember that Hitler and the Nazis were very conscious of public opinion, they took great pains to justify their actions, and they attempted to hide their worst acts. If the Pope had repeatedly stood up to the Nazis and announced, firmly and unequivocally before the world, "In the name of God, you may not do this!" there is a good chance they would have been more circumspect and as a result would not have been able to kill so many.


Blogger Andy Dabydeen said...

And the Pope has never said sorry.

But the Catholic church has committed many crimes in its past, and will continue to do so in the future. The fact that there continue to be those who are faithful to organized religion -- whatever their ilk -- continues to amaze me. It's not about god anymore. It stopped being about god right after an organization is created that elevates a few over the many. After that, the beast needs to feed itself, protect itself and grow -- and it will prostitute itself, its followers and its god to achieve those ends. That's why the church did nothing to help the Jews. Its not about doing the right thing -- the right thing is only done if there is self interest.

10:25 PM, January 27, 2005  
Blogger American On Line said...

Tom, I think you and your readers will find this of interest in terms of the Vatican's activities in WWII. It is written by Abraham H. Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, whose own story and the larger issue involved is most telling as to ehy very few things are clear cut in this context:

"Now I understand. The recently discovered document in which the Vatican instructed its representatives in France after World War II to prevent baptized Jewish children from being returned to their families, finally makes clear to me what happened to me as a "Hidden Child" after the war.

Like the many thousands of Jews who probably were saved because Catholic individuals, families and institutions chose to take in Jewish children whose parents were being dragged off to the concentration camps, I was one of those children. My nanny took me in. She persuaded a priest in the Lithuanian city we had reached, after fleeing our home in Poland as we tried to stay ahead of the Nazis, to baptize me and falsify records to show that I was born to a Catholic family. Clearly, she could not have done this without the approval involvement and support of the priest, the church and the church hierarchy.

It also is clear that without the baptism, many of those who took in Jewish children would have found themselves in a far more dangerous situation where exposure was more likely and retribution by the Nazis a certainty."

The rest is here:

11:28 AM, January 28, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

AOL, thanks for the link. That's a great piece, and I certainly hope a lot of people read it.

12:24 PM, January 28, 2005  
Blogger Esther said...

Have you heard the accusation that the Vatican helped smuggle Nazis out of Europe after the war in return for Nazi gold or some other payment? I think the book "Holy Trinity" is supposed to have something on that. I need to read that.

I have heard horrific firsthand accounts of priests who were supposed to be hiding/protecting young children but were instead repeatedly raping those in their charage... and the deaths they caused because they put pillows over their victims to muffle their screams. I'm not saying it was the norm, but it happened. I'm sure there were many who were brave and helpful, but it sadly wasn't across the board.

12:27 PM, January 28, 2005  
Blogger RomanWanderer said...

To Andy: Didn't the Vatican 'apologize' to the Jews in referrence to the Holocaust a couple of years ago?

12:59 PM, January 28, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


My recollection is that it was the French arm of the Catholic Church which formally apologized a few years ago.

Hi Tom! Just surfin' thru via Blog Explosion. :-)

2:05 PM, January 28, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

"In a major document in 1998, the Vatican apologized for Catholics who failed to help Jews against Nazi persecution and acknowledged centuries of preaching of contempt for Jews."

In 2000, Pope John Paul II said in prayer,

"We are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of Yours (the Jews) to suffer, and asking Your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant."

link, link, link, linkThe Holocaust wasn't mentioned specifically, but it was clearly implied and understood. In my opinion, too little and way too late.

Esther, some Catholic churches and monasteries helped smuggle Nazis out of Europe after the war. I haven't read "Holy Trinity," but the facts are pretty clear. What isn't clear, far as I know, is how high up that went, in terms of awareness and/or approval. But based on history, it would be fair to guess that at least some cardinals and archbishops were involved. I haven't read about sexual abuse and murder; that would be horrific. But for sure, just as there were Catholic heroes, there were Catholic villains.

Anonymous, come back sometime and set a spell. You're always welcome!

6:53 PM, January 28, 2005  
Blogger American On Line said...


I cannot excuse any power for assisting Nazis after WWII. including the US who quickly used the Nazis to assist in the war on communism. Many of the Nazis on trial in Germany - not at Nuremberg - had sentences reduced or vacated and their services used.

All things are political: Yesterday's murderer and terrorist, is today's peace partner, e.g., Abbas.

Before yesterday's bank robber, is yesterday's war advisor, then criminal and today's candidate: Chalabi

Sadly these are the lessons that political criminals have learned: most of the time they can get away with murder and come back another day if caught.

8:33 PM, January 28, 2005  
Blogger Guy S said...

Wow, I was not expecting to generate a whole post. But it should be noted (and you and in other's comments it is) the Catholic Church did have many who risked all to help save many who were under the heel of the Nazis. As there were others who expidited their demise. That the RCC is all too human (as are the rest of us) is not surprising. That she hasn't, when the need arose to do so, at least made a pronounced effort to rise above her human imperfections (the Holocaust, and the current troubles with the priesthood, for examples), saddens me. I was born and raised Catholic, but for various reasons drifted from my church. Due to events in my family life, I had at some point started to look at her again, but how (especially here in the states) she has addressed current issues of moral corruption has caused me to step back and review things yet again.

But thank you for the interesting and informative post(s). You might also what to look at this gentleman. Francis has a great way with expressing his thoughts and on more than one occasion has brought up his faith and how it plays in his views.

1:15 PM, January 29, 2005  

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