Catholic Church and Nazi Germany | Wikipedia audio article

By | September 9, 2019


Popes Pius XI (1922–39) and Pius XII (1939–58)
led the Roman Catholic Church through the rise and fall of Nazi Germany. Around a third
of Germans were Catholic in the 1930s. The Church in Germany had spoken against the rise
of Nazism, but the Catholic aligned Centre Party capitulated in 1933 and was banned.
In the various 1933 elections the percentage of Catholics voting for the Nazis party was
remarkably lower than the average. Nazi key ideologue Alfred Rosenberg was banned on the
index of the Inquisition, presided by later pope Pius XII. Adolf Hitler and several key
Nazis had been raised Catholic, but became hostile to the Church in adulthood. While
Article 24 of the NSDAP party platform called for conditional toleration of Christian denominations
and the 1933 Reichskonkordat treaty with the Vatican purported to guarantee religious freedom
for Catholics, the Nazis were essentially hostile to Christianity and the Catholic Church
faced persecution in Nazi Germany. Its press, schools and youth organisations were closed,
much property confiscated and around one third of its clergy faced reprisals from authorities.
Catholic lay leaders were targeted in the Night of the Long Knives purge. The Church
hierarchy attempted to co-operate with the new government, but in 1937, the Papal Encyclical
Mit brennender Sorge accused the government of “fundamental hostility” to the church.
Among the most courageous demonstrations of opposition inside Germany were the 1941 sermons
of Bishop August von Galen of Münster. Nevertheless, wrote Alan Bullock “[n]either the Catholic
Church nor the Evangelical Church… as institutions, felt it possible to take up an attitude of
open opposition to the regime”. In every country under German occupation, priests played a
major part in rescuing Jews, but Catholic resistance to mistreatment of Jews in Germany
was generally limited to fragmented and largely individual efforts. Mary Fulbrook wrote that
when politics encroached on the church, Catholics were prepared to resist, but that the record
was otherwise patchy and uneven, and that, with notable exceptions, “it seems that, for
many Germans, adherence to the Christian faith proved compatible with at least passive acquiescence
in, if not active support for, the Nazi dictatorship”.Catholics fought on both sides in the Second World War.
Hitler’s invasion of predominantly Catholic Poland ignited the conflict in 1939. Here,
especially in the areas of Poland annexed to the Reich—as in other annexed regions
of Slovenia and Austria—Nazi persecution of the church was intense. Many clergy were
targeted for extermination. Through his links to the German Resistance, Pope Pius XII warned
the Allies of the planned Nazi invasion of the Low Countries in 1940. From that year,
the Nazis gathered priest-dissidents in a dedicated clergy barracks at Dachau, where
95 percent of its 2,720 inmates were Catholic (mostly Poles, and 411 Germans) and 1,034
priests died there. Expropriation of church properties surged from 1941.
The Vatican, surrounded by Fascist Italy, was officially neutral during the war, but
used diplomacy to aid victims and lobby for peace. Vatican Radio and other media spoke
out against atrocities. While Nazi antisemitism embraced modern pseudo-scientific racial principles,
ancient antipathies between Christianity and Judaism contributed to European antisemitism.
During the Nazi era, the church rescued many thousands of Jews by issuing false documents,
lobbying Axis officials, hiding them in monasteries, convents, schools and elsewhere; including
in the Vatican and papal residence at Castel Gandolfo. The Pope’s role during this period
is contested. The Reich Security Main Office called Pius XII a “mouthpiece” of the Jews.
His first encyclical, Summi Pontificatus, called the invasion of Poland an “hour of
darkness”, his 1942 Christmas address denounced race murders and his Mystici corporis Christi
encyclical (1943) denounced the murder of the handicapped.==Overview==
In the 1930s, Catholics constituted a third of the population of Germany and “Political
Catholicism” was a major force in the interwar Weimar Republic. Prior to 1933, Catholic leaders
denounced Nazi doctrines while Catholic regions generally did not vote Nazi. Though hostility
between the Nazi Party and the Catholic Church was real, the Nazi Party first developed in
largely Catholic Munich, where many Catholics, lay and clerical, offered enthusiastic support.
This early [minority] affinity lessened after 1923. By 1925, Nazism had embarked on a different
path following its reconstitution in 1920 taking a decidedly anti-Catholic-anti-Christian
identity. In early 1931, the German Bishops issued an edict excommunicating all Nazi leadership
and banned Catholics from membership. The ban was conditionally modified in the spring
of 1933 under pressure to address State law requiring all Civil Servants and Trade Union
workers be members of the Nazi Party, while retaining condemnation of core Nazi ideology.
In early 1933, following Nazi successes in the 1932 elections, lay Catholic monarchist
Franz von Papen, and acting Chancellor and Presidential advisor, General Kurt von Schleicher,
assisted Adolf Hitler’s appointment as Reich Chancellor by President Paul von Hindenburg.
In March, amidst the intimidating atmosphere of Nazi terror tactics and negotiation following
the Reichstag Fire Decree, the lay Catholic Centre Party, (led by prelate Ludwig Kaas),
on condition demand of a written commitment the President’s veto power be retained, the
allied BNVP and the monarchists DNVP voted for the Enabling Act. The Center Party’s attitude
had become crucial since the act could not be passed by the Nazi and DNVP coalition alone.
It marked the transition in Adolf Hitler’s reign from democratic to dictatorial power.
By June 1933 the only institutions not under Nazi domination were the military and the
churches. The Reichskonkordat treaty of July 1933, signed between Germany and the Holy
See, pledged to respect the autonomy of the Catholic Church, but required clerics to refrain
from politics. Hitler welcomed the treaty, though he routinely violated it in the Nazi
struggle with the churches. When president Hindenberg died in August 1934, the Nazis
claimed jurisdiction over all levels of government and a referendum confirmed Hitler as sole
Führer (leader) of Germany. A Nazi program known as Gleichschaltung sought control of
all collective and social activity and interfered with Catholic schooling, youth groups, workers
and cultural groups. The church insisted on its loyalty to the nation, but resisted regimentation
and oppression of church organizations and contraventions of doctrine such as the sterilization
law of 1933. Hitler’s ideologues Goebbels, Himmler, Rosenberg
and Bormann hoped to de-Christianize Germany, or at least distort its theology to their
point of view. The government moved to close all Catholic institutions which were not strictly
religious. Catholic schools were shut by 1939, the Catholic press by 1941. Clergy, religious
women and men, and lay leaders were targeted. During the course of Hitler’s rule, thousands
were arrested, often on trumped up charges of currency smuggling or “immorality”. Germany’s
senior cleric, Cardinal Bertram, developed an ineffectual protest system, leaving broader
Catholic resistance to individual conscience. By 1937 the church hierarchy, which initially
sought dètente, was highly disillusioned. Pius XI issued the Mit brennender Sorge encyclical.
It condemned racism, accused the Nazis of violations of the Concordat and “fundamental
hostility” to the church. The state responded by renewing its crackdown and propaganda against
Catholics. Despite violence against Catholic Poland, some German priests offered prayers
for the German cause at the outbreak of war. Nevertheless, security chief Reinhard Heydrich
soon orchestrated an intensification of restrictions on church activities. Expropriation of monasteries,
convents and church properties surged from 1941. Bishop August von Galen’s ensuing 1941
denunciation of Nazi euthanasia and defence of human rights roused rare popular dissent.
The German bishops denounced Nazi policy towards the church in pastoral letters, calling it
“unjust oppression”.Pius XII, former nuncio to Germany, became Pope on the eve of war.
His legacy is contested. As Vatican Secretary of State, he advocated Détente via the Reich
Concordat, hoping it would build trust and respect within Hitler’s government, and assisted
in drafting the anti-Nazi Mit brennender Sorge. His first encyclical, Summi Pontificatus,
called the invasion of Poland an “hour of darkness”. He affirmed the policy of Vatican
neutrality, but maintained links to the German Resistance. Controversy surrounding his reluctance
to speak publicly in explicit terms about Nazi crimes continues. He used diplomacy to
aid war victims, lobbied for peace, shared intelligence with the Allies, and employed
Vatican Radio and other media to speak out against atrocities like race murders. In Mystici
corporis Christi (1943) he denounced the murder of the handicapped. A denunciation from German
bishops of the murder of the “innocent and defenceless”, including “people of a foreign
race or descent”, followed. While Nazi antisemitism embraced modern pseudo-scientific racial principles,
ancient antipathies between Christianity and Judaism contributed to European antisemitism.
Under Pius XII, the church rescued many thousands of Jews by issuing false documents, lobbying
Axis officials, hiding them in monasteries, convents, schools and elsewhere; including
the Vatican and Castel Gandolfo. In regions of Poland, Slovenia and Austria
annexed by Nazi Germany, Nazi persecution of the Church was at its harshest. In Germany
and its conquests, Catholic responses to Nazism varied. The papal nuncio in Berlin, Cesare
Orsenigo, was timid in protesting Nazi crimes and had sympathies with Italian Fascism. German
priests in general were closely watched and often denounced, imprisoned or executed, such
as German priest-philosopher, Alfred Delp. From 1940, the Nazis gathered priest-dissidents
in dedicated clergy barracks at Dachau, where 95 percent of its 2,720 inmates were Catholic
(mostly Poles, and 411 Germans) and 1034 died there. In Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany,
the Nazis attempted to eradicate the church and over 1800 Polish Catholic clergy died
in concentration camps; most notably, Saint Maximilian Kolbe. Influential members of the
German Resistance included Jesuits of the Kreisau Circle and laymen such as July plotters
Klaus von Stauffenberg, Jakob Kaiser and Bernhard Letterhaus, whose faith inspired resistance.
Elsewhere, vigorous resistance from bishops such as Johannes de Jong and Jules-Géraud
Saliège, papal diplomats such as Angelo Rotta, and nuns such as Margit Slachta, can be contrasted
with the apathy of others and the outright collaboration of Catholic politicians such
as Slovakia’s Msgr Jozef Tiso and fanatical Croat nationalists. From within the Vatican,
Msgr Hugh O’Flaherty coordinated the rescue of thousands of Allied POWs, and civilians,
including Jews. A rogue Austrian bishop, Alois Hudal, of the college for German priests in
Rome, was an informant for Nazi intelligence. After the war, he and Msgr Krunoslav Draganovic
of the Croatian College assisted the so-called “ratlines” facilitating fugitive Nazis to
flee Europe.==Background=====
Church background===Roman Catholicism in Germany dates back to
the missionary work of Columbanus and St. Boniface in the 6th–8th centuries, but by
the 20th century, Catholics were a minority. The Reformation, initiated by Martin Luther
in 1517, divided German Christians between Protestantism and Catholicism. The south and
west remained mainly Catholic, while north and east became mainly Protestant.Bismarck’s
Kulturkampf (“Battle for Culture”) of 1871–78 saw an attempt to assert a Protestant vision
of nationalism over the new German Empire, and fused anticlericalism and suspicion of
the Catholic population, whose loyalty was presumed to lie with Austria and France. The
Catholic Centre Party had formed in 1870, initially to represent the religious interests
of Catholics and Protestants, but was transformed by the Kulturkampf into the “political voice
of Catholics”. By the late 1870s it was clear that the Kulturkampf was largely a failure,
and many of its edicts were undone.The Catholic Church enjoyed a degree of privilege in the
Bavarian region, the Rhineland and Westphalia as well as parts of the south-west, while
in the Protestant North, Catholics suffered some discrimination. In the 1930s, the episcopate
of the Catholic Church of Germany comprised six archbishops and 19 bishops while German
Catholics comprised around one third of the population, served by 20,000 priests. The
revolution of 1918 and the Weimar constitution of 1919 had thoroughly reformed the former
relationship between state and churches. By law, Germany’s Protestant and Catholic churches
received tax supported subsidies based on church census data, therefore, were dependent
on state support, causing them to be vulnerable to government influence and the political
atmosphere of Germany.===Political Catholicism in Germany===The Catholic Centre Party (Zentrum) was a
social and political force in predominantly Protestant Germany. It assisted the framing
of the Weimar constitution at the end of World War I and participated in various Coalition
governments of the Weimar Republic (1919–33/34). It aligned with both Social Democrats and
the leftist German Democratic Party, while maintaining the centre ground against the
rise of extremist parties both left and right. Historically, the Centre Party had the strength
to defy Bismarck’s Kulturkampf and was a bulwark of the Republic. Yet, according to Bullock,
from summer 1932, the Party became “notoriously a Party whose first concern was to make accommodation
with any government in power in order to secure the protection of its particular interests”.
It remained relatively moderate during the radicalisation of German politics with the
onset of the Great Depression, but party deputies voted—with most other parties—for the
Enabling Act of March 1933, offering Hitler plenary powers.In the 1920s and 1930s, Catholic
leaders made a number of forthright attacks on Nazi ideology, and the main Christian opposition
to Nazism in Germany arose from the Catholic Church. Prior to Hitler’s rise, German bishops
warned Catholics against Nazi racism. Some dioceses banned membership in the Nazi Party.
and Catholic press condemned Nazism. John Cornwell wrote of the early Nazi period that: Into the early 1930s the German Centre Party,
the German Catholic bishops, and the Catholic media had been mainly solid in their rejection
of National Socialism. They denied Nazis the sacraments and church burials, and Catholic
journalists excoriated National Socialism daily in Germany’s 400 Catholic newspapers.
The hierarchy instructed priests to combat National Socialism at a local level whenever
it attacked Christianity. Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber was appalled
by the totalitarianism, neopaganism, and racism of the Nazi movement and, as Archbishop of
Munich and Freising, contributed to the failure of the Nazi Munich Putsch of 1923. In early
1931, the Cologne Bishops Conference condemned National Socialism, followed by the bishops
of Paderborn and Freiburg. With ongoing hostility toward the Nazis by Catholic press and Centre
Party, few Catholics voted Nazi in elections preceding the Nazi takeover in 1933. As in
other German churches, there were some clergy and lay people who openly supported the Nazi
administration.Five Centre Party politicians served as Chancellor of Weimar Germany: Konstantin
Fehrenbach, Joseph Wirth, Wilhelm Marx, Heinrich Brüning, and Franz von Papen. With Germany
facing the Great Depression, Brüning was appointed chancellor by Hindenburg and was
foreign minister shortly before Hitler came to power. Brüning was appointed to form a
new, more conservative ministry on March 28, 1930, but did not have a Reichstag majority.
On July 16, unable to have key points of his agenda pass parliament, Brüning used Article
48 of the Constitution governing by presidential emergency decree and dissolving the Reichstag
on 18 July. New elections were set for September, in which, the Communist and Nazi representation
greatly increased, hastening Germany’s drift toward rightist dictatorship. Brüning backed
Hindenberg over Hitler in the 1932 presidential election, but lost Hindenberg’s support as
Chancellor. He resigned in May of that year. According to Ventresca, Vatican Secretary
of State Eugenio Pacelli was always nervous of Brüning’s reliance on Social Democrats
for political survival. A sentiment shared by Ludwig Kaas and many German Catholics.
Ventresca wrote that Brüning never forgave Pacelli for what he saw as betrayal of Catholic
political tradition and his leadership. Catholic opposition to CommunismKarl Marx’s
writings against religion pitted Communist movements against the Catholic Church. The
church denounced Communism in May 1891 with Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum novarum. The church
feared Communist conquest or revolution in Europe. German Christians were alarmed by
the spread of militant Marxist‒Leninist atheism, which took hold in Russia following
the 1917 Revolution and involved a systematic effort to eradicate Christianity. Seminaries
were closed and teaching the faith to the young was criminalized. In 1922, the Bolsheviks
arrested the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.In 1919, Communists, initially led
by the moderate Kurt Eisner, briefly attained power in Bavaria. The revolt was seized by
the radical Eugen Leviné by force to establish the Bavarian Socialist Republic. This drew
reaction across Germany to Bavaria from the right; ranging, moderate to radical. This
brief but violent Soviet experiment in Munich radicalized anti-Marxist and anti-Semitic
sentiment among some in Munich’s largely Catholic population. In this atmosphere, the Nazi movement
first emerged. Hitler and the Nazis were able to garner some modicum of support. Some German
Christians thought he would be a bulwark against Communism. While serving as Apostolic Nuncio
to Bavaria, Eugenio Pacelli (later Pius XII) was in Munich during the Spartacist Uprising
of 1919, which saw Communists burst into his residence brandishing guns—an experience
which contributed to Pacelli’s lifelong distrust of Communism. According to historian Derek
Hastings many Catholics felt threatened by the possibilities of radical socialism driven,
they perceived, by a cabal of Jews and atheists. Robert Ventresca wrote, “After witnessing
the turmoil in Munich, Pacelli reserved his harshest criticism for Kurt Eisner.” Pacelli
saw Eisner as an atheist, radical Socialist, with ties to Russian nihilists as embodying
the revolution in Bavaria; “What is more, Pacelli told his superiors, Eisner was a Galician
Jew. A threat to Bavaria’s religious, political, and social life”. The Catholic priest Anton
Braun, in a well-publicized sermon in December 1918, called Eisner a sleazy Jew and his administration
a pack of unbelieving Jews. Pius XI saw the rising tide of Totalitarianism in Europe with
alarm. He delivered papal encyclicals challenging the new creeds, including Divini redemptoris
(“Divine Redeemer”) against atheistic Communism in 1937.===Nazi views on Catholicism===Nazi ideology could not accept an autonomous
establishment whose legitimacy did not spring from the government. It desired the subordination
of the church to the state. While the Article 24 of the NSDAP party platform called for
conditional toleration of Christian denominations and a Reichskonkordat (Reich Concordat) treaty
with the Vatican was signed in 1933, purporting to guarantee religious freedom for Catholics,
Hitler believed religion was fundamentally incompatible with National Socialism.” Out
of political expediency, the dictator intended to postpone the elimination of the Christian
churches until after the war. However, his repeated hostile statements against the church
indicated to his subordinates that continuation of the Kirchenkampf (church struggle) would
be tolerated and even encouraged.Many Nazis suspected Catholics of insufficient patriotism,
or even of disloyalty to the Fatherland, and of serving the interests of “sinister alien
forces”. Shirer wrote that “under the leadership of Rosenberg, Bormann and Himmler—backed
by Hitler—the Nazi regime intended to destroy Christianity in Germany, if it could, and
substitute the old paganism of the early tribal Germanic gods and the new paganism of the
Nazi extremists.” Anti-church and anti-clerical sentiments were strong among grassroots party
activists. HitlerRaised a Catholic, Hitler retained some
regard for the organisational power of the Catholic church, but had utter contempt for
its central teachings which, he said, if taken to their conclusion “would mean the systematic
cultivation of the human failure”. Hitler was aware Bismarck’s kulturkampf of the 1870s
was defeated by the unity of Catholics behind the Centre Party and was convinced Nazism
could only succeed if Political Catholicism, and its democratic networks, were eliminated.
Important conservative elements, such as the officer corps, opposed Nazi persecution of
the churches.Because of such political considerations, Hitler occasionally spoke of wanting to delay
the church struggle and was prepared to restrain his anticlericalism. But, his own inflammatory
remarks to his inner circle encouraged underlings to continue their battle with the churches.
He declared that science would destroy the last vestiges of superstition and that, in
the long run, Nazism and religion could not co-exist. Germany couldn’t tolerate intervention
of foreign influences like the Vatican; and priests, he said, were “black bugs” and “abortions
in black cassocks”. In Hitler’s eyes, Christianity was a religion
fit only for slaves; he detested its ethics in particular. Its teaching, he declared,
was a rebellion against the natural law of selection by struggle and the survival of
the fittest. GoebbelsJoseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda,
was among the most aggressive anti-Church radicals and saw the conflict with the churches
as a priority concern. Born to a Catholic family, he became one of the government’s
most relentless Jew-baiters. On the “Church Question”, he wrote “after the war it has
to be generally solved …. There is, namely, an insoluble opposition between the Christian
and a heroic-German world view”. He led the persecution of Catholic clergy. Himmler and HeydrichHeinrich Himmler and Reinhard
Heydrich headed the Nazi security forces and were key architects of the Final Solution.
Both believed Christian values were among the enemies of Nazism: the enemies were “eternally
the same”, wrote Heydrich: “the Jew, the Freemason, and the politically-oriented cleric.” Modes
of thinking like Christian and liberal individualism he considered residue of inherited racial
characteristics, biologically sourced to Jewry—who must therefore be exterminated. According
to Himmler biographer Peter Longerich, Himmler was vehemently opposed to Christian sexual
morality and the “principle of Christian mercy”, both of which he saw as a dangerous obstacle
to his plans to battle with “subhumans”. In 1937 he wrote:
We live in an era of the ultimate conflict with Christianity. It is part of the mission
of the SS to give the German people in the next half century the non-Christian ideological
foundations on which to lead and shape their lives. This task does not consist solely in
overcoming an ideological opponent but must be accompanied at every step by a positive
impetus: in this case that means the reconstruction of the German heritage in the widest and most
comprehensive sense. Himmler saw the main task of his Schutzstaffel
(SS) organisation to be that of “acting as the vanguard in overcoming Christianity and
restoring a ‘Germanic’ way of living” in order to prepare for the coming conflict between
“humans and subhumans”: Longerich wrote that, while the Nazi movement as a whole launched
itself against Jews and Communists, “by linking de-Christianisation with re-Germanization,
Himmler had provided the SS with a goal and purpose all of its own.” He set about making
his SS the focus of a “cult of the Teutons”. Bormann
Hitler’s chosen deputy and private secretary from 1941, Martin Bormann, was a militant
anti-Church radical. He had a particular loathing for the Semitic origins of Christianity. He
was one of the leading proponents of the ongoing persecution of the Christian churches. When
the Bishop of Munster led public protest against Nazi euthanasia, Bormann called for him to
be hanged. Strongly anti-Christian, he stated publicly in 1941 that “National Socialism
and Christianity are irreconcilable.” Rosenberg
In January 1934, Hitler appointed Alfred Rosenberg the cultural and educational leader of the
Reich. Rosenberg was a neo-pagan and notoriously anti-Catholic. Rosenberg was initially the
editor of the young Nazi Party’s newspaper, the Volkischer Beobachter. In 1924, Hitler
chose Rosenberg to oversee the Nazi movement while he was in prison (this may have been
because he was unsuitable for the task and unlikely to emerge a rival). In “Myth of the
Twentieth Century” (1930), Rosenberg described the Catholic Church as one of the main enemies
of Nazism. Rosenberg proposed to replace traditional Christianity with the neo-pagan “myth of the
blood”: He wrote: “We now realize that the central supreme values of the Roman and the
Protestant Churches [-] hinder the organic powers of the peoples determined by their
Nordic race, [-] they will have to be remodeled ” in The Myth of the 20th Century in 1930.
Church officials were perturbed by Hitler’s appointment of Rosenberg as the state’s official
philosopher. The indication being, Hitler was endorsing his anti-Jewish, anti-Christian,
and neo-pagan philosophy. The Vatican directed the Holy Office to place Rosenberg’s Myth
of the Twentieth Century on the Index of Forbidden books on February 7, 1934. Joachim Fest wrote
of Rosenberg having little, or no, political influence in making government decisions,
and thoroughly marginalized. Hitler called his book “derivative, pastiche, illogical
rubbish!” KerrlFollowing the failure of the pro-Nazi
Ludwig Müller to unite Protestants behind the Nazi Party in 1933, Hitler appointed his
friend Hans Kerrl Minister for Church Affairs in 1935. A relative moderate among Nazis,
Kerrl confirmed Nazi hostility to the Catholic and Protestant creeds in a 1937 address during
an intense phase of the Nazi Kirchenkampf: The Party stands on the basis of Positive
Christianity, and positive Christianity is National Socialism… National Socialism is
the doing of God’s will… God’s will reveals itself in German blood;… Dr Zoellner and
Count Galen have tried to make clear to me that Christianity consists in faith in Christ
as the son of God. That makes me laugh… No, Christianity is not dependent upon the
Apostle’s Creed… True Christianity is represented by the party, and the German people are now
called by the party and especially the Fuehrer to a real Christianity… the Fuehrer is the
herald of a new revelation.==Catholicism in Nazi Germany=====
Nazis take power===After World War I, Hitler became involved
with the fledgling Nazi Party. He set the violent tone of the movement early, forming
the Sturmabteilung (SA) paramilitary. Catholic Bavaria resented rule from Protestant Berlin,
and Hitler initially saw the revolution in Bavaria as a means to power, but an early
attempt proved fruitless. He was imprisoned after the 1923 Munich Beerhall Putsch. He
used the time to produce Mein Kampf, in which he claimed that an effeminate Jewish-Christian
ethic was enfeebling Europe, and Germany needed a man of iron to restore itself to build an
empire. He decided on the tactic of pursuing power through “legal” means.
Following the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the Nazis and Communists made great gains at the
1930 Election. Greatest gains for the Nazis came in the Protestant, rural towns of the
North, while Catholic areas remained loyal to the Centre Party. Both Nazis and Communists
pledged to eliminate democracy; between them, they secured over 50 percent of Reichstag
seats. Germany’s political system made it difficult for chancellors to govern with a
stable parliamentary majority. Successive chancellors instead relied on the president’s
emergency powers to govern. From 1931–33, Nazis combined terror tactics with conventional
campaigning. Hitler criss-crossed the nation by air, while SA troops paraded in the streets,
beat up opponents, and broke up their meetings. A middle class liberal party strong enough
to block the Nazis did not exist: the Social Democrats were essentially a conservative
trade union party, with ineffectual leadership; the Centre Party maintained its voting block,
but was preoccupied defending its own particular interests; and the Communists, meanwhile,
were engaging in violent clashes with Nazis on the streets. Moscow had directed the Communist
Party to prioritise destruction of the Social Democrats, seeing more danger in them as a
rival. But it was the German Right who made Hitler their partner in a coalition government.This
coalition did not come about immediately: the Centre Party’s Heinrich Brüning, Chancellor
from 1930–32, was unable to reach terms with Hitler, and increasingly governed with
the support of the President and Army over that of the parliament. With the backing of
Kurt von Schleicher and Hitler’s stated approval, the 84-year-old President von Hindenberg,
a conservative monarchist, appointed the Catholic monarchist Franz von Papen to replace Brüning
as Chancellor in June 1932. Papen was active in the resurgence of the Harzburg Front, and
had fallen out with the Centre Party. He hoped, ultimately, to outmaneuver Hitler.At the July
1932 elections, the Nazis became the largest party in the Reichstag. Hitler withdrew his
support for Papen and demanded the chancellorship. Hindenberg refused. In return, the Nazis approached
the Centre Party to sound out a coalition but no agreement was reached. Papen dissolved
Parliament, and the Nazi vote declined in the November Election. Hindenberg appointed
Schleicher as chancellor, whereupon the aggrieved Papen opened negotiations with Hitler, and
came to an agreement. Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Chancellor on January 30, 1933,
in a coalition arrangement between the Nazis and the Nationalist-Conservatives. Papen was
to serve as Vice-Chancellor in a majority conservative Cabinets, falsely believing he
could “tame” Hitler. Initially, Papen did speak out against some Nazi excesses and only
narrowly escaped death in the Night of the Long Knives, whereafter he ceased to openly
criticize the Hitler government. German Catholics met the Nazi takeover with apprehension, as
leading clergy had been warning against Nazism for years. A threatening though at first sporadic
persecution of the Catholic Church in Germany commenced.===Enabling Law===Following the Reichstag fire, the Nazis began
to suspend civil liberties and eliminate political opposition, excluding the Communists from
the Reichstag. At the March 1933 elections, again no single party secured a majority.
Hitler required the Reichstag votes of the Centre Party and Conservatives. He told the
Reichstag on March 23 that Positive Christianity was the “unshakeable foundation of the moral
and ethical life of our people”, and promised not to threaten the churches or the institutions
of the Republic if granted plenary powers. Employing a characteristic mix of negotiation
and intimidation, the Nazis called on the Centre Party, led by Ludwig Kaas, and all
other parties in the Reichstag, to vote for the Enabling Act on 24 March 1933. The law
was to give Hitler the freedom to act without parliamentary consent or constitutional limitations. Hitler offered the possibility of friendly
co-operation, promising not to threaten the Reichstag, the President, the states, or the
churches if granted emergency powers. With Nazi paramilitary encircling the building,
he said: “It is for you, gentlemen of the Reichstag to decide between war and peace”.
Hitler offered Kaas oral guarantees of the Centre Party’s continued existence, autonomy
of the Church, her educational and cultural institutions. Kaas was aware of the doubtful
nature of such guarantees, but told members to support the bill, given the “precarious
state of the party”. A number opposed the chairman’s course, among them former Chancellors
Brüning and Joseph Wirth and former minister Adam Stegerwald. Brüning called the Act “the
most monstrous resolution ever demanded of a parliament”, and was sceptical about Kaas’
efforts. The Centre Party, having obtained promises of non-interference in religion,
joined with conservatives in voting for the Act (only the Social Democrats voted against).
Hoffman wrote that the Centre Party and Bavarian People’s Party, along with other groups between
the Nazis and the Social-Democrats “voted for their own emasculation in the paradoxical
hope of saving their existence thereby”. Hitler immediately set about abolishing the powers
of the states, the existence of non-Nazi political parties and organisations. The Act, allowed
Hitler and his Cabinet to rule by emergency decree for four years, though Hindenberg remained
President. The Act did not infringe upon the powers of the President, and Hitler would
not fully achieve full dictatorial power until after the death of Hindenburg in August 1934.
Hindenburg remained Commander and Chief of the military and retained the power to negotiate
foreign treaties. On 28 March the German Bishops’ Conference conditionally revised prohibition
of Nazi Party membership.Through the winter/spring of 1933 Hitler ordered the wholesale dismissal
of Catholic civil servants, The leader of the Catholic Trade Unions was beaten by Brownshirts
and a Catholic politician sought protection after S.A. troopers wounded a number of followers
at a rally. In this threatening atmosphere, Hitler called for a reorganization of church
and state relations of both Catholic and Protestant churches. By June, thousands of Centre Party
members were incarcerated in concentration camps. Two thousand functionaries of the Bavarian
People’s Party were rounded up by police in late June 1933; along with the Centre Party
it ceased to exist by early July. Lacking public ecclesial support, the Center Party
voluntary dissolved on July 5. Non-Nazi parties were formally outlawed on 14 July, and the
Reichstag abdicated its democratic responsibilities.====Reichskonkordat====Diplomatic policy under Pius XI saw the Catholic
Church conclude eighteen concordats, starting in the 1920s. The aim of the church was to
safeguard its institutional rights. Historians note the treaties were unsuccessful since,
“Europe was entering a period in which such agreements were regarded as mere scraps of
paper”. The Reich concordat (Reichskonkordat) was signed on July 20, 1933 and ratified in
September of that year. The treaty remains in force to the present day. It was an extension
of existing concordats with Prussia and Bavaria, first realized via the diplomacy of nuncio
Eugenio Pacelli with a state level concordat with Bavaria (1924). Peter Hebblethwaite wrote,
it was “more like a surrender than anything else: it involved the suicide of the Centre
Party …”. Signed by President Hindenburg and Vice Chancellor Papen, it was a realization
of a long-standing program of the Catholic Church to secure a nationwide Concordat, dating
back to the first year of the Weimar Republic. Breaches of the treaty by the state commenced
almost immediately. The church continually protested throughout the Nazi era and preserved
diplomatic ties with the Government of Nazi Germany.
Between 1930-33, the church initiated negotiations with successive German governments with limited
success while a federal treaty proved elusive. Catholic politicians of the Centre Party repeatedly
pushed for a concordat with the German Republic. In February 1930, Pacelli became the Vatican’s
Secretary of State responsible for the Church’s global foreign policy. In this position, he
continued to work towards the ‘great goal’ of securing a treaty with Germany. Kershaw
wrote that the Vatican was anxious to reach agreement with the new government, despite
“continuing molestation of Catholic clergy, and other outrages committed by Nazis against
the Church and its organisations”. Biographer of Pius XII, Robert Ventresca, wrote, “because
of increasing harassment of Catholics and Catholic clergy, Pacelli sought a quick ratification
of a treaty, seeking, in this way, to protect the German Church.” When Vice-Chancellor Papen
and Ambassador Diego von Bergen met Pacelli in late June 1933, they found him “visibly
influenced” by reports of actions being taken against German Catholic interests. Hitler
wanted to end all Catholic political life. The church wanted protection of its schools
and organisations, recognition of canon law regarding marriage and the right of the Pope
to select bishops. The non-Nazi Vice Chancellor Papen was chosen by the new government to
negotiate with the Vatican. The bishops announced on April 6 negotiations toward a concordat
would begin in Rome. On April 10, Francis Stratmann O.P., a chaplain to students in
Berlin, wrote to Cardinal Faulhaber, “The souls of the well-intentioned are deflated
by the National Socialist seizure of power—the bishops’ authority is weakened among countless
Catholics and non-Catholics because of their quasi-approbation of the National Socialist
movement.” Some Catholic critics of the Nazis soon chose to emigrate. Among them, Waldemar
Gurian, Dietrich von Hildebrand, and Hans A. Reinhold. Hitler began enacting laws restricting
movement of funds (making it impossible for German Catholics to send money to missionaries),
restricting religious institutions, education, and mandating attendance at Hitler Youth functions
(held on Sunday mornings). On April 8 Vice Chancellor Von Papen, went
to Rome. On behalf of Cardinal Pacelli, Ludwig Kaas, the out-going chairman of the Centre
Party, negotiated a draft with Papen. Kaas arrived in Rome shortly before Papen because
of his expertise in church-state relations. He was authorized by Cardinal Pacelli to negotiate
terms with Papen, but pressure by the German government forced him to withdraw from visibly
participating. The concordat prolonged Kaas’ stay in Rome, leaving the party without a
chairman. On 5 May Kaas resigned his post. In his place, the party elected Heinrich Brüning.
Congruently, the Centre party was subjected to increasing pressure under the Nazi campaign
of Gleichschaltung. The bishops saw a draft May 30, 1933 as they assembled for a joint
meeting of the Fulda bishops conference, led by Breslau’s Cardinal Bertram. And, the Bavarian
bishops’ conference, led by its president, Munich’s Michael von Faulhaber. Bishop’s Wilhelm
Berning of Osnabrück, and Archbishop Conrad Grober of Freiburg presented the document
to the bishops. Weeks of escalating anti-Catholic violence preceded the conference. Many Catholic
bishops feared for the safety of the church if Hitler’s demands were not met. The strongest
critics of the concordat were Cologne’s Cardinal Karl Schulte and Eichstätt’s Bishop Konrad
von Preysing. They pointed out the Enabling Act established a quasi dictatorship, while
the church lacked legal recourse if Hitler decided to disregard the concordat. The bishops
approved the draft and delegated Grober, a friend of Cardinal Pacelli and Msgr. Kaas,
to present the episcopacy’s concerns to Pacelli and Kaas. On June 3, the bishops issued a
statement, drafted by Grober, that announced their support for the concordat. After all
the other parties had dissolved, or banned by the NSDAP, the Centre Party dissolved itself
on 6 July. On 14 July 1933, the Weimar government accepted
the Reichskonkordat. It was signed by Pacelli for the Vatican and von Papen for Germany,
20 July; subsequently, President Hindenburg signed, and it was ratified in September.
Article 16 required bishops to make an oath of loyalty to the state. Article 31 acknowledged
while the church would continue to sponsor charitable organisations, it would not support
political organisations or political causes. Article 31 was supposed to be supplemented
by a list of protected catholic agencies, but this list was never agreed upon. Article
32 gave Hitler what he was seeking: exclusion of clergy and members of religious orders
from politics. Yet, it was a gratuitous, according to Guenter Lewy’s interpretation. In theory,
Lewy reasons, members of the clergy could join or remain in the NSDAP without transgressing
church discipline. “An ordinance of the Holy See forbidding priests to be members of a
political party was never issued.” states Lewy. The Nazis state allowed such membership
reasoning, “the movement sustaining the state cannot be equated with the political parties
of the parliamentary multi-party state in the sense of Article 32.”, The day after,
the government issued a law banning the founding of new political parties, thus turning Germany
into a one party state. Effects of the concordat
Most historians state it offered international acceptance of Adolf Hitler’s government. Guenter
Lewy, political scientist and author of The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany, wrote: There is general agreement that the Concordat
increased substantially the prestige of Hitler’s regime around the world. As Cardinal Faulhaber
put it in a sermon delivered in 1937: “At a time when the heads of the major nations
in the world faced the new Germany with cool reserve and considerable suspicion, the Catholic
Church, the greatest moral power on earth, through the Concordat expressed its confidence
in the new German government. This was a deed of immeasurable significance for the reputation
of the new government abroad.” The Catholic Church was not alone in signing
treaties with the Nazi government at this point. The concordat was preceded by the Four-Power
Pact Hitler had signed in June 1933. After the signing of the treaty on 14 July, the
Cabinet minutes record Hitler as saying that the concordat had created an atmosphere of
confidence that would be “especially significant in the struggle against international Jewry. John Cornwell in Hitler’s Pope argues that
the Concordat was the result of a deal that delivered the parliamentary votes of the Catholic
Center Party to Hitler, thereby giving him dictatorial power (the Enabling Act of March
1933). This is historically inaccurate. But there is no doubt Pius XII’s tenacious insistence
on the Concordat retention before, during and after the Second World War. Historian Robert Ventresca wrote that the
Reichskonkordat left German Catholics with no “meaningful electoral opposition to the
Nazis”, while the “benefits and vaunted diplomatic entente [of the Reichskonkordat] with the
German state were neither clear nor certain”. In the Reichskonkordat, the German government
achieved a complete proscription of all clerical interference in the political field (articles
16 and 32). It also ensured the bishops’ loyalty to the state by an oath of fidelity. Restrictions
were also placed on the Catholic organizations. In a two-page article in the L’Osservatore
Romano on 26 July and 27 July, Cardinal Pacelli said that the purpose of the Reichskonkordat
was: “not only the official recognition (by the Reich) of the legislation of the Church
(its Code of Canon Law), but the adoption of many provisions of this legislation and
the protection of all Church legislation.” Pacelli told an English representative that
the Holy See had only made the agreement to preserve the Catholic Church in Germany; he
also expressed his aversion to anti-Semitism. According to John Jay Hughes, church leaders
were realistic about the Concordat’s supposed protections. Cardinal Faulhaber is reported
to have said: “With the concordat we are hanged, without the concordat we are hanged, drawn
and quartered.” In Rome the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pacelli (later Pius XII),
told the British minister to the Holy See that he had signed the treaty with a pistol
at his head. Hitler was sure to violate the agreement, Pacelli said—adding with gallows
humor he would probably not violate all its provisions at once. According to Paul O’Shea,
Hitler had a “blatant disregard” for the Concordat, and its signing was to him merely a first
step in the “gradual suppression of the Catholic Church in Germany”. In 1942, Hitler stated
he viewed the Concordat as obsolete, and intended to abolish it after the war, and only hesitated
to withdraw Germany’s representative from the Vatican for “military reasons connected
with the war”: At the war’s end we will put a swift end to the Concordat. When the Nazi
government violated the concordat (in particular article 31), German bishops and the Holy See
protested against these violations. Between September 1933 and March 1937 Pacelli issued
over seventy notes and memoranda protesting such violations. When Nazi violations of the
Reichskonkordat escalated to include physical violence, Pope Pius XI issued the 1937 encyclical
Mit brennender Sorge,===Persecution of German Catholics===A threatening, initially sporadic, persecution
of the Catholic Church in Germany followed the Nazi takeover. The Nazis claimed jurisdiction
over all collective and social activity, interfering with Catholic schooling, youth groups, workers’
clubs and cultural societies. “By the latter part of the decade of the Thirties”, wrote
Phayer, “church officials were well aware that the ultimate aim of Hitler and other
Nazis was the total elimination of Catholicism and of the Christian religion. Since the vast
majority of Germans were either Catholic or Protestant this goal was a long-term rather
than short-term Nazi objective”. Hitler moved quickly to eliminate Political Catholicism.
The Nazis arrested thousands of members of the German Centre Party. The Catholic Bavarian
People’s Party government had been overthrown in Bavaria by a Nazi coup on 9 March 1933.
Two thousand functionaries of the Party were rounded up by police in late June. The national
Centre Party, dissolved themselves in early July. The dissolution of the Centre Party
left modern Germany without a Catholic Party for the first time and the Reich Concordat
prohibited clergy from participating in politics. Kershaw wrote that the Vatican was anxious
to reach agreement with the new government, despite “continuing molestation of Catholic
clergy, and other outrages committed by Nazi radicals against the Church and its organisations”.
Hitler had a “blatant disregard” for the Concordat, wrote Paul O’Shea, and its signing was to
him merely a first step in the “gradual suppression of the Catholic Church in Germany”. Anton
Gill wrote that “with his usual irresistible, bullying technique, Hitler proceeded to “take
a mile where he had been given an inch” and closed all Catholic institutions whose functions
weren’t strictly religious: It quickly became clear that [Hitler] intended
to imprison the Catholics, as it were, in their own churches. They could celebrate mass
and retain their rituals as much as they liked, but they could have nothing at all to do with
German society otherwise. Catholic schools and newspapers were closed, and a propaganda
campaign against the Catholics was launched. Immediately prior to the signing of the Concordat,
the Nazis had promulgated the sterilization law—the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily
Diseased Offspring—an offensive policy in the eyes of the Catholic Church. Days later,
moves began to dissolve the Catholic Youth League. Political Catholicism was also among
the targets of Hitler’s 1934 Long Knives purge: the head of Catholic Action, Erich Klausener,
Papen’s speech writer and advisor Edgar Jung (also a Catholic Action worker); and the national
director of the Catholic Youth Sports Association, Adalbert Probst. Former Centre Party Chancellor,
Heinrich Brüning narrowly escaped execution. William Shirer wrote that the German people
were not greatly aroused by the persecution of the churches by the Nazi Government. The
majority were not moved to face death or imprisonment for the sake of freedom of worship, being
too impressed by Hitler’s early foreign policy successes and the restoration of the German
economy. Few, he said, “paused to reflect that the Nazis intended to destroy Christianity
in Germany, and substitute old paganism of tribal Germanic gods and the new paganism
of the Nazi extremists.” Anti-Nazi sentiment grew in Catholic circles as the Nazi government
increased its repressive measures against their activities.
Targeting of clergyClergy as well as members of male and female religious orders and lay
leaders began to be targeted, leading to thousands of arrests over the ensuing years, often on
trumped up charges of currency smuggling or “immorality”. Priests were watched closely
and frequently denounced, arrested and sent to concentration camps. From 1940, a dedicated
Clergy Barracks had been established at Dachau concentration camp. Intimidation of clergy
was widespread and Cardinal Faulhaber was shot at. Cardinal Innitzer had his Vienna
residence ransacked in October 1938 and Bishop Sproll of Rottenburg was jostled and his home
vandalised. In 1937, the New York Times reported that Christmas would see “several thousand
Catholic clergymen in prison.” Propaganda satirized the clergy, including Anderl Kern’s
play The Last Peasant. Under Reinhard Heydrich and Heinrich Himmler, the Security Police
and the SD were responsible for suppressing internal and external enemies of the Nazi
state. Among those enemies were “political churches” – such as Lutheran and Catholic
clergy who opposed Hitler. Such dissidents were arrested and sent to concentration camps.
In the 1936 campaign against the monasteries and convents, the authorities charged 276
members of religious orders with the offence of “homosexuality”. 1935-6 was the height
of the “immorality” trials against priests, monks, lay-brothers and nuns. In the United
States, protests were organised in response to the sham trials, including a June 1936,
petition signed by 48 clergymen, including rabbis and Protestant pastors: “We lodge a
solemn protest against the almost unique brutality of the attacks launched by the German government
charging Catholic clergy with gross immorality … in the hope that the ultimate suppression
of all Jewish and Christian beliefs by the totalitarian state can be effected.” Winston
Churchill wrote disapprovingly in the British press of Germany’s treatment of “the Jews,
Protestants and Catholics of Germany”.Since senior clerics could rely on a degree of popular
support from the faithful the German government had to consider the possibility of nationwide
protests. While hundreds of ordinary priests and members of monastic orders were sent to
concentration camps throughout the Nazi period, only one German Catholic bishop was briefly
imprisoned in a concentration camp and another expelled from his diocese. From 1940, the
Gestapo launched an intense persecution of the monasteries invading, searching and seizing
them. The Provincial of the Dominican Province of Teutonia, Laurentius Siemer, a spiritual
leader of the German Resistance was influential in the Committee for Matters Relating to the
Orders, which formed in response to Nazi attacks against Catholic monasteries and aimed to
encourage the bishops to intercede on behalf of the Orders and oppose the Nazi state more
emphatically. Figures like Galen and Preysing attempted to protect German priests from arrest.
Suppression of Catholic press The flourishing Catholic press of Germany
faced censorship and closure. In March 1941, Goebbels banned all church press, on the pretext
of a “paper shortage”. In 1933, the Nazis established a Reich Chamber of Authorship
and Reich Press Chamber under the Reich Cultural Chamber of the Ministry for Propaganda. Dissident
writers were terrorised. The June – July 1934 Night of the Long Knives purge was the
culmination of this early campaign. Fritz Gerlich, the editor of Munich’s Catholic weekly,
Der Gerade Weg, was killed in the purge for his strident criticism of the Nazis. Writer
and theologian Dietrich von Hildebrand was forced to flee Germany. The poet Ernst Wiechert
protested the government’s attitudes to the arts, calling them “spiritual murder”. He
was arrested and taken to Dachau Concentration Camp. Hundreds of arrests and closure of Catholic
presses followed the issuing of Pope Pius XI’s Mit brennender Sorge anti-Nazi encyclical.
Nikolaus Gross, a Christian Trade Unionist, and director of the West German Workers’ Newspaper
Westdeutschen Arbeiterzeitung, was declared a martyr and beatified by Pope John Paul II
in 2001. Declared an enemy of the state in 1938, his a newspaper was shut down. He was
arrested in the July Plot round up, and executed on 23 January 1945.
Suppression of Catholic educationCatholic schools were a major battleground in the church
struggle. In 1933, the Nazi school superintendent of Munster issued a decree religious instruction
be combined with discussion of the “demoralising power” of the “people of Israel”, Bishop August
von Galen of Münster refused, writing that such interference in curriculum was a breach
of the Concordat and he feared children would be confused as to their “obligation to act
with charity to all men” and as to the historical mission of the people of Israel. Often Galen
directly protested to Hitler over violations of the Concordat. In 1936, Nazis removed crucifixes
in school. Protest by Galen led to public demonstration. Hitler sometimes allowed pressure
to be placed on German parents to remove children from religious classes to be given ideological
instruction in its place, while in elite Nazi schools, Christian prayers were replaced with
Teutonic rituals and sun-worship. Church kindergartens were closed and Catholic welfare programs
were restricted on the basis they assisted the “racially unfit”. Parents were coerced
into removing their children from Catholic schools. In Bavaria, teaching positions formerly
allotted to nuns were awarded to secular teachers and denominational schools transformed into
“Community schools”. In 1937, authorities in Upper Bavaria attempted to replace Catholic
schools with “common schools”. Cardinal Faulhaber offered fierce resistance. By 1939 all Catholic
denominational schools had been disbanded or converted to public facilities.
“War on the Church”After constant confrontations, by late 1935, Bishop August von Galen of Münster
was urging a joint pastoral letter protesting an “underground war” against the church. By
early 1937, the church hierarchy in Germany, which had initially attempted to co-operate
with the new government, became highly disillusioned. In March, Pope Pius XI issued the Mit brennender
Sorge encyclical – accusing the Nazi Government of violations of the 1933 Concordat, and it
was sowing the “tares of suspicion, discord, hatred, calumny, of secret and open fundamental
hostility to Christ and His Church”. The Nazis responded with an intensification of the church
struggle beginning around April. Goebbels noted heightened verbal attacks on the clergy
from Hitler in his diary and wrote that Hitler had approved the trumped up “immorality trials”
against clergy and anti-church propaganda campaign. Goebbels’ orchestrated attack included
a staged “morality trial” of 37 Franciscans. At the outbreak of World War II, Goebbels’
Ministry of Propaganda issued threats and applied intense pressure on the Churches to
voice support for the war, and the Gestapo banned church meetings for a few weeks. In
the first few months of the war, the German churches complied. No denunciations of the
invasion of Poland, nor the Blitzkrieg were issued. The Catholic bishops stated, “We appeal
to the faithful to join in ardent prayer that God’s providence may lead this war to blessed
success for Fatherland and people.” Despite such protestation of loyalty to the Fatherland,
the anti-church radical Reinhard Heydrich determined that support from church leaders
could not be expected because of the nature of their doctrines and internationalism, and
wanted to cripple the political activities of clergy. He devised measures to restrict
the operation of the churches under cover of war time exigencies, such as reducing resources
available to church presses on the basis of rationing, prohibiting pilgrimages and large
church gatherings on the basis of transportation difficulties. Churches were closed for being
“too far from bomb shelters”. Bells were melted down and presses were closed.With the expansion
of the war in the East from 1941 came an expansion of Germany’s attack on the churches. Monasteries
and convents were targeted and expropriation of church properties surged. Nazi authorities
claimed the properties were needed for wartime necessities such as hospitals, or accommodation
for refugees or children, but in fact used them for their own purposes. “Hostility to
the state” was a common cause given for the confiscations, and the action of a single
member of a monastery could result in seizure. The Jesuits were especially targeted. The
Papal Nuncio Cesare Orsenigo and Cardinal Bertram complained constantly to the authorities
but were told to expect more requisitions owing to war-time needs. Nazi authorities
decreed the dissolution of all monasteries and abbeys, many of them effectively being
occupied and secularized by the Allgemeine SS under Himmler. However, on July 30, 1941
the Aktion Klostersturm (Operation Monastery) was ended by a decree of Hitler, who feared
the increasing protests by the Catholic population might result in passive rebellions, harming
the Nazi war effort at the eastern front. Over 300 monasteries and other institutions
were expropriated by the SS. On 22 March 1942, the German Bishops issued a pastoral letter
on “The Struggle against Christianity and the Church”. The letter launched a defence
of human rights, the rule of law and accused the Reich Government of “unjust oppression
and hated struggle against Christianity and the Church”, despite the loyalty of German
Catholics to the Fatherland, and brave service of Catholics soldiers.
Long-term plansIn January 1934, Hitler had appointed neo-pagan and anti-Catholic Alfred
Rosenberg as the cultural and educational leader of the Reich. In 1934, the Sanctum
Officium in Rome recommended that Rosenberg’s book be put on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum
for scorning and rejecting “all dogmas of the Catholic Church, indeed the very fundamentals
of the Christian religion”. During the War, Rosenberg outlined the future envisioned by
the Hitler government for religion in Germany, with a thirty-point program for the future
of the German churches. Among its articles: the National Reich Church of Germany was to
claim exclusive control over all churches; publication of the Bible was to cease; crucifixes,
Bibles and saints were to be removed from altars; and Mein Kampf was to be placed on
altars as “to the German nation and therefore to God the most sacred book”; and the Christian
Cross was to be removed from all churches and replaced with the swastika.===Impact of the Spanish Civil War===
The Spanish Civil War (1936–39) saw Nationalists (aided by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany)
and Republicans (aided by the Soviet Union, Mexico as well as International Brigades of
volunteers, most of whom were under the command of the Comintern). The Republican president,
Manuel Azaña, was anticlerical, while the Nationalist Generalissimo Francisco Franco,
established a longstanding Fascist dictatorship which restored some privileges to the Church.
In a Table Talk of 7 June 1942, Hitler said he believed that Franco’s accommodation of
the Church was an error: “one makes a great mistake if one thinks that one can make a
collaborator of the Church by accepting a compromise. The whole international outlook
and political interest of the Catholic Church in Spain render inevitable conflict between
the Church and Franco regime”. The Nazis portrayed the war as a contest between civilization
and Bolshevism. According to historian, Beth Griech-Polelle, many church leaders “implicitly
embraced the idea that behind the Republican forces stood a vast Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy
intent on destroying Christian civilization.” Joseph Goebbels’ Ministry of Propaganda served
as the main source of German domestic coverage of the war. Goebbels, like Hitler, frequently
mentioned the so-called link between Jewishness and communism. Goebbels instructed the press
to call the Republican side simply Bolsheviks—and not to mention German military involvement.
Against this backdrop, in August 1936, the German bishops met for their annual conference
at Fulda. The bishops produced a joint pastoral letter regarding the Spanish Civil War: “Therefore,
German unity should not be sacrificed to religious antagonism, quarrels, contempt, and struggles.
Rather our national power of resistance must be increased and strengthened so that not
only may Europe be freed from Bolshevism by us, but also that the whole civilized world
may be indebted to us.” Faulhaber meets HitlerGoebbels noted the mood
of Hitler in his diary on 25 October: “Trials against the Catholic Church temporarily stopped.
Possibly wants peace, at least temporarily. Now a battle with Bolshevism. Wants to speak
with Faulhaber”. As Nuncio, Cesare Orsenigo arranged for Cardinal Faulhaber to have a
private meeting with Hitler. On November 4, 1936, Hitler met Faulhaber. Hitler spoke for
the first hour, then Faulhaber told him the Nazi government had been waging war on the
church for three years—600 religious teachers had lost their jobs in Bavaria alone—and
the number rose to 1700. The government instituted laws the Church could not accept—like the
sterilization of criminals and the handicapped. Faulhaber stated, “When your officials or
your laws offend Church dogma or the laws of morality, and in so doing offend our conscience,
then we must be able to articulate this as responsible defenders of moral laws”. Hitler
told Faulhaber religion was critical for the state, his goal was to protect the German
people from congenitally afflicted criminals such as now wreak havoc in Spain. Faulhaber
replied the Church would “not refuse the state the right to keep these pests away from the
national community within the framework of moral law.” Hitler argued the radical Nazis
could not be contained until there was peace with the Church and that either the Nazis
and the Church would fight Bolshevism together, or there would be war against the Church.
Kershaw cites the meeting as an example of Hitler’s ability to “pull the wool over the
eyes even of hardened critics”, “Faulhaber—a man of sharp acumen, who often courageously
criticized the Nazi attacks on the Catholic Church, went away convinced Hitler was deeply
religious”. On November 18, Faulhaber met with leading members of the German hierarchy
to ask them to remind parishioners of the errors of communism outlined in Leo XIII’s
1891 encyclical Rerum novarum. On November 19, Pius XI announced communism had moved
to the head of the list of “errors” and a clear statement was needed. On November 25
Faulhaber told the Bavarian bishops that he promised Hitler the bishops would issue pastoral
letter to condemned “Bolshevism which represents the greatest danger for the peace of Europe
and the Christian civilization of our country”. He stated, the letter “will once again affirm
our loyalty and positive attitude, demanded by the Fourth Commandment, toward today’s
form of government and the Fuhrer. “On December 24, 1936 the hierarchy ordered its priests
to read the pastoral letter, On the Defense against Bolshevism, from all the pulpits on
January 7, 1937. The letter included the statement: the fateful hour has come for our nation and
for the Christian culture of the western work. The Fuhrer saw the march of Bolshevism from
afar and turned his mind and energies towards averting this enormous danger from the German
people and the whole western world. The German bishops consider it their duty to do their
utmost to support the leader of the Reich with every available means in this defense.
Hitler’s promise to Faulhaber, to clear up small problems between the Catholic Church
and the Nazi state, never materialized. Faulhaber, Galen, and Pius XI, continued to oppose Communism
throughout their tenure as anxieties reached a highpoint in the 1930s with what the Vatican
termed the ‘red triangle’, formed by the USSR, Republican Spain and revolutionary Mexico.
A series of encyclicals followed: Bona Sana (1920), Miserentissimus Redemtor (1928), Caritate
Christi Compusli (1932)and most importantly Divini redemptoris (1937). All of which condemned
communism.===Catholic opposition to Nazism inside Germany:
1933–1945=======Catholic resistance====
The 1933 Concordat between Germany and the Vatican prohibited clergy from participating
in politics, weakening the opposition offered by German Catholic leaders. Still, the clergy
were among the first major components of the German Resistance. “From the very beginning”,
wrote Hamerow, “some churchmen expressed, quite directly at times, their reservations
about the new order. In fact, those reservations gradually came to form a coherent, systematic
critique of many of the teachings of National Socialism.” Later, the most trenchant public
criticism of the Nazis came from some of Germany’s religious leaders. The government was reluctant
to move against them since they could claim to merely attend the spiritual welfare of
their flocks, “what they had to say was at times so critical of the central doctrines
of National Socialism that to say it required great boldness”, and became resistors. Their
resistance was directed not only against intrusions by the government into church governance,
arrests of clergy, and expropriation of church property, but also, matters like euthanasia
and eugenics, the fundamentals of human rights and justice as the foundation of a political
system.Neither the Catholic or Protestant churches were prepared to openly oppose the
Nazi State. While offering, in the words of Kershaw, “something less than fundamental
resistance to Nazism”, the churches “engaged in a bitter war of attrition with the regime,
receiving the demonstrative backing of millions of churchgoers. Applause for Church leaders
whenever they appeared in public, swollen attendances at events such as Corpus Christi
Day processions, and packed church services were outward signs of the struggle of … especially
of the Catholic Church—against Nazi oppression”. While the Church ultimately failed to protect
its youth organisations and schools, it did have some successes in mobilizing public opinion
to alter government policies. As in the case of the attempt to remove crucifixes from classrooms.
The churches did provide the earliest and most enduring centres of systematic opposition
to Nazi policies. Christian morality and the anti-Church policies of the Nazis motivated
many German resistors and provided impetus for the “moral revolt” of individuals in their
efforts to overthrow Hitler. Institutionally, the Catholic Church in Germany offered organised,
systematic and consistent resistance to government policies which infringed on ecclesiastical
autonomy. In his history of the German Resistance, Hoffmann writes, from the beginning:
[The Catholic Church] could not silently accept the general persecution, regimentation or
oppression, nor in particular the sterilization law of summer 1933. Over the years until the
outbreak of war Catholic resistance stiffened until finally its most eminent spokesman was
the Pope himself with his encyclical Mit brennender Sorge … of 14 March 1937, read from all
German Catholic pulpits. Clemens August Graf von Galen, Bishop of Münster, was typical
of the many fearless Catholic speakers. In general terms, therefore, the churches were
the only major organisations to offer comparatively early and open resistance: they remained so
in later years. Early political resistance
Political Catholicism was a target of the Hitler government. The formerly influential
Centre Party and Bavarian People’s Party were dissolved under terrorisation. Following “Hitler’s
seizure of power”, opposition politicians began planning how he might be overthrown.
Old political opponents faced a final opportunity to halt the Nazification of Germany, however
non-Nazi parties were prohibited under the proclamation of the “Unity of Party and State”.
Former Centre Party leader and Reich Chancellor Heinrich Brüning looked to oust Hitler, along
with military chiefs Kurt von Schleicher and Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord. Erich Klausener,
an influential civil servant and president of Berlin’s Catholic Action group organised
Catholic conventions in Berlin in 1933-34. At the 1934 rally, he spoke against political
oppression to a crowd of 60,000 following mass; just six nights before Hitler struck
in a bloody purge. The Conservative Catholic nobleman Franz von Papen, who had helped Hitler
to power and was serving as the Deputy Reich Chancellor, delivered an indictment of the
Nazi government in his Marburg speech of 17 June 1934. Papen’s speech writer and advisor
Edgar Jung, a Catholic Action worker, seized the opportunity to reassert the Christian
foundation of the state and the need to avoid agitation and propaganda. Jung’s speech pleaded
for religious freedom, and rejected totalitarian aspirations in the field of religion. It was
hoped the speech might spur a rising, centred on Hindenberg, Papen and the army. Hitler decided to kill his chief political
opponents in the Night of the Long Knives purge. It lasted two days over 30 June-1 July
1934. His leading rivals in the Nazi movement were murdered, along with over 100 opposition
figures, including high-profile Catholics. Klausener became the first Catholic martyr,
while Hitler personally ordered the arrest of Jung and his transfer to Gestapo headquarters,
Berlin where he too was killed. The Church had resisted attempts by the new Government
to close its youth organisations and Adalbert Probst, the national director of the Catholic
Youth Sports Association, was also killed. The Catholic press was targeted too, with
anti-Nazi journalist Fritz Gerlich among those murdered. On 2 August 1934, the aged President
von Hindenberg died. The offices of President and Chancellor were combined, and Hitler ordered
the Army to swear an oath directly to him. Hitler declared his “revolution” complete.
Clerical resistorsHistorian of the German Resistance, Joachim Fest wrote that at first
the Church had been quite hostile to Nazism and “its bishops energetically denounced the
‘false doctrines’ of the Nazis”, however, its opposition weakened considerably after
the Concordat. Cardinal Bertram “developed an ineffectual protest system” to satisfy
the demands of other bishops, without annoying the authorities. Firmer resistance by Catholic
leaders gradually reasserted itself by the individual actions of leading churchmen like
Joseph Frings, Konrad von Preysing, August von Galen, Conrad Gröber and Michael von
Faulhaber. According to Fest, the government responded with “occasional arrests, the withdrawal
of teaching privileges, and the seizure of church publishing houses and printing facilities”
and “Resistance remained largely a matter of individual conscience. In general they
[both churches] attempted merely to assert their own rights and only rarely issued pastoral
letters or declarations indicating any fundamental objection to Nazi ideology.” Nevertheless,
wrote Fest, the churches, more than any other institutions, “provided a forum in which individuals
could distance themselves from the regime”.The Nazis never felt strong enough to arrest or
execute senior office holders of the Catholic Church in Germany. Thus bishops were able
to criticise aspects of Nazi totalitarianism. Lesser senior figures faced imprisonment or
execution. An estimated one third of German priests faced some form of reprisal from the
Nazi Government and 400 German priests were sent the dedicated Priest Barracks of Dachau
Concentration Camp alone. Among the best known German priest martyrs were the Jesuit Alfred
Delp and Fr Bernhard Lichtenberg. Fr. Max Josef Metzger, founder of the German Catholics’
Peace Association, was arrested for the last time in June 1943 after being denounced by
a mail courier for attempting to send a memorandum on the reorganisation of the German state
and its integration into a future system of world peace. He was executed on April 17,
1944. Laurentius Siemer, provincial of the Provincial of the Dominican Province of Teutonia,
and Augustin Rösch, Jesuit Provincial of Bavaria, were among the high-ranking members
of orders who became active in the Resistance – both only narrowly survived the war, following
discovery of their knowledge of the July Plot. Bernhard Lichtenberg, and the Jesuit Rupert
Mayer are among the priest resistors posthumously honoured with beatification. While hundreds
of ordinary priests and members of monastic orders were sent to concentration camps, just
one German Catholic bishop was briefly imprisoned in a concentration camp, and just one other
expelled from his diocese. This reflected also the cautious approach adopted by the
hierarchy, who felt secure only in commenting on matters which transgressed on the ecclesiastical
sphere. Albert Speer wrote that when Hitler was read passages from a defiant sermon or
pastoral letter, he would become furious, and the fact that he “could not immediately
retaliate raised him to a white heat”. Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber gained an early
reputation as a critic of the Nazi movement. Soon after the Nazi takeover, his three Advent
sermons of 1933, entitled Judaism, Christianity, and Germany, affirmed the Jewish origins of
Christ and the Bible. Though cautiously framed as a discussion of historical Judaism, his
sermons denounced the Nazi extremists who were calling for the Bible to be purged of
the “Jewish” Old Testament, which he saw as undermining “the basis of Catholicism. Hamerow
wrote that Faulhaber would look to avoid conflict with the state over issues not strictly pertaining
to the church, but on issues involving the defence of Catholics he “refused to compromise
or retreat”. On November 4, 1936, Hitler and Faulhaber met. Faulhaber told Hitler that
the Nazi government had been waging war on the church for three years and had instituted
laws the Church could not accept—like the sterilization of criminals and the handicapped.
While the Catholic Church respected the notion of authority, he told the Dictator, “when
your officials or your laws offend Church dogma or the laws of morality, and in so doing
offend our conscience, then we must be able to articulate this as responsible defenders
of moral laws”. Attempts on his life were made in 1934 and in 1938. He worked with American
occupation forces after the war, and received the West German Republic’s highest award,
the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit. Among the most firm and consistent of senior Catholics
to oppose the Nazis was Konrad von Preysing. Preysing was appointed as Bishop of Berlin
in 1935. He was loathed by Hitler. He opposed the appeasing attitudes of Bertram towards
the Nazis and worked with leading members of the resistance Carl Goerdeler and Helmuth
James Graf von Moltke. He was part of the five-member commission that prepared the 1937
Mit brennender Sorge anti-Nazi encyclical of Pius XI, and sought to block the Nazi closure
of Catholic schools and arrests of church officials. In 1938, he became one of the co-founders
of the Hilfswerk beim Bischöflichen Ordinariat Berlin (Welfare Office of the Berlin Diocese
Office). He extended care to Jews and protested the Nazi euthanasia programme. His Advent
Pastoral Letters of 1942–43 on the nature of human rights reflected the anti-Nazi theology
of the Barmen Declaration of the Confessing Church, leading one to be broadcast in German
by the BBC. In 1944, Preysing met with and gave a blessing to Claus von Stauffenberg,
in the lead up to the July Plot to assassinate Hitler, and spoke with the resistance leader
on whether the need for radical change could justify tyrannicide. Despite Preysing’s open
opposition, the Nazis did not dare arrest him and several months after the war he was
named a cardinal by Pope Pius XII.The Bishop of Münster, August von Galen was Preysing’s
cousin. A conservative nationalist, in January 1934 he criticised Nazi racial policy in a
sermon and subsequent homilies. He equated unquestioning loyalty to the Reich with “slavery”
and spoke against Hitler’s theory of the purity of German blood. Often Galen directly protested
to Hitler over violations of the Concordat. When in 1936, Nazis removed crucifixes in
school, protest by Galen led to public demonstration. Like Presying, he assisted with the drafting
of the 1937 papal encyclical. In 1941, with the Wehrmacht marching on Moscow, denounced
the lawlessness of the Gestapo, the confiscations of church properties and the cruel program
of Nazi euthanasia. He protested the mistreatment of Catholics in Germany: the arrests and imprisonment
without legal process, the suppression of the monasteries and the expulsion of religious
orders. But, his sermons went further than defending the church. He spoke of a moral
danger to Germany from the government’s violations of basic human rights: “the right to life,
to inviolability, and to freedom is an indispensable parts of any moral social order”. He said
any government that punishes without court proceedings “undermines its own authority
and respect for its sovereignty within the conscience of its citizens”. His three powerful
sermons of July and August 1941 earned him the nickname of the “Lion of Munster”. The
sermons were printed and distributed illegally. Hitler wanted to have Galen removed, but Goebbels
told him this would result in the loss of the loyalty of Westphalia. Documents suggest
the Nazis intended to hang von Galen at the end of the war. Von Galen was among the German
conservatives who had criticised Weimar Germany, and initially hoped the Nazi government might
restore German prestige, but quickly became disenchanted with the anti-Catholicism and
racism of the Hitler administration According to Griech-Polelle, he believed the Dolchstosslegende
explained the German army’s defeat in 1918. Hamerow characterised the resistance approach
of senior Catholic clergy like Galen as “trying to influence the Third Reich from within”.
While some clergymen refused ever to feign support for the Hitler government, in the
Church’s conflict with the state over ecclesiastical autonomy, the Catholic hierarchy adopted a
strategy of “seeming acceptance of the Third Reich”, by couching their criticisms as motivated
merely by a desire to “point out mistakes that some of its overzealous followers committed”
in order to strengthen the government. Josef Frings became Archbishop of Cologne in 1942.
His consecration was used as a demonstration of Catholic self-assertion. In his sermons,
he repeatedly spoke in support of persecuted peoples and against state repression. In March
1944, Frings attacked arbitrary arrests, racial persecution and forced divorces. That autumn,
he protested to the Gestapo against the deportations of Jews from Cologne and surrounds. In 1943,
the German bishops had debated whether to directly confront Hitler collectively over
what they knew of the murdering of Jews. Frings wrote a pastoral letter cautioning his diocese
not to violate the inherent rights of others to life, even those “not of our blood” and
even during war, and preached in a sermon that “no one may take the property or life
of an innocent person just because he is a member of a foreign race”. Following war’s
end, Frings succeeded Bertram as chairman of the Fulda Bishops’ Conference in July 1945
and in 1946 he was appointed a cardinal by Pius XII.====”Euthanasia”====The Final Solution murdering of the Jews took
place primarily on Polish territory. Murder of invalids took place on German soil. It
involved interference in Catholic (and Protestant) welfare institutions. Awareness of the murderous
programme became widespread and the Church leaders who opposed it—chiefly the Catholic
Bishop of Münster, August von Galen and Dr Theophil Wurm, the Protestant Bishop of Wurttemberg—were
able to rouse widespread public opposition. From 1939, Germany began its program of “euthanasia”,
under which those deemed “racially unfit” were to be “euthanised”. The senile, the mentally
handicapped and mentally ill, epileptics, cripples, children with Down’s Syndrome and
people with similar afflictions were to be killed. The program involved the systematic
murder of more than 70,000 people. The program deeply offended Catholic morality. Protests
were issued by Pope Pius XII, and were led in Germany by Bishop von Galen of Münster,
whose 1941 intervention, according to Richard J. Evans, led to “the strongest, most explicit
and most widespread protest movement against any policy since the beginning of the Third
Reich.”The Papacy and German bishops previously protested against the Eugenics inspired Nazi
sterilization of the “racially unfit”. Catholic protests against the escalation of this policy
into “euthanasia” began in the summer of 1940. Despite Nazi efforts to transfer hospitals
to state control, large numbers of handicapped people were still under the care of the Churches.
After Protestant welfare activists took a stand at the Bethel Hospital in August von
Galen’s diocese, Galen wrote to Bertram in July 1940 urging the Church take up a moral
position. Bertram urged caution. Archbishop Conrad Groeber of Freiburg wrote to the head
of the Reich Chancellery, and offered to pay all costs being incurred by the state for
the “care of mentally people intended for death”. The Fulda Bishops Conference sent
a protest letter to the Reich Chancellery on 11 August, then sent Bishop Heinrich Wienken
of Caritas to discuss the matter. Wienken cited the commandment “thous shalt not kill”
and warned officials to halt the program or face public protest from the Church. Wienken
subsequently wavered, fearing this might jeopardise his efforts to have Catholic priests released
from Dachau, but was urged to stand firm by Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber. The government
refused to give a written undertaking to halt the program, and the Vatican declared on 2
December that the policy was contrary to natural and positive Divine law: “The direct killing
of an innocent person because of mental or physical defects is not allowed”.Subsequent
arrests of priests and seizure of Jesuit properties by the Gestapo in his home city of Munster,
convinced Galen that the caution advised by his superior had become pointless. On 6, 13
and 20 July 1941, Galen spoke against the seizure of properties, and expulsions of nuns,
monks and religious and criticised the euthanasia programme. The police raided his sister’s
convent, and detained her in the cellar. She escaped, and Galen launched his most audacious
challenge on the government in a 3 August sermon. He declared the murders to be illegal,
and said he formally accused those responsible in a letter to the public prosecutor. The
policy opened the way to the murder of all “unproductive people”, like old horses or
cows, including invalid war veterans: “Who can trust his doctor anymore?”, he asked.
Galen said it was the duty of all Christians to oppose the taking of human life. Even it
meant losing their own. Galen spoke of a moral danger to Germany from the government’s violations
of basic human rights. “The sensation created by the sermons”, wrote Evans, “was enormous”.
Kershaw called the sermons a “vigorous denunciation of Nazi inhumanity and barbarism”. Gill wrote:
“Galen used his condemnation of this appalling policy to draw wider conclusions about the
nature of the Nazi state”. The sermons were printed and distributed illegally. Galen had
the sermons read in parish churches. The British broadcast excerpts over the BBC German service,
dropped leaflets over Germany, and distributed the sermons in occupied countries.Bishop Antonius
Hilfrich of Limburg wrote to the Justice Minister, denouncing the murders. Bishop Albert Stohr
of Mainz condemned the taking of life from the pulpit. Some of the priests who distributed
the sermons were among those arrested and sent to the concentration camps amid the public
reaction to the sermons. Bishop von Preysing’s Cathedral Administrator, Fr Bernhard Lichtenberg
met his demise for protesting by letter directly to Dr Conti, the Nazi State Medical Director.
He was arrested soon after and later died en route to Dachau. Griech-Polelle wrote that
Galen’s protest came after he had been provided with the physical, verifiable proof of killings,
that he demanded before he would issue a public statement and that Galen advised his listeners
that passive disobedience to specific Nazi laws was all he expected of them. He never
endorsed active resistance against the government, wrote Griech-Polelle, and was himself not
interrogated or arrested by state authorities after delivering the 1941 sermons. The speeches
angered Hitler. In a 1942 Table Talk he said: “The fact that I remain silent in public over
Church affairs is not in the least misunderstood by the sly foxes of the Catholic Church, and
I am quite sure that a man like Bishop von Galen knows full well that after the war I
shall extract retribution to the last farthing”. Hitler wanted to have Galen removed, but Goebbels
told him this would result in the loss of the loyalty of Westphalia. The regional Nazi
leader, and Hitler’s deputy Martin Bormann called for Galen to be hanged, but Hitler
and Goebbels urged a delay in retribution till war’s end. With the programme now public
knowledge, nurses and staff (particularly in Catholics institutions), increasingly sought
to obstruct implementation of the policy. Under pressure from growing protests, Hitler
halted the main euthanasia program on 24 August 1941, though less systematic murder of the
handicapped continued. The techniques learnt on the Nazi euthanasisa program were later
transferred for use in the genocide of the Holocaust. In 1943, Pius XII issued the Mystici
corporis Christi encyclical, in which he condemned the practice of killing the disabled. He stated
his “profound grief” at the murder of the deformed, the insane, and those suffering
from hereditary disease … as though they were a useless burden to Society”, in condemnation
of the ongoing Nazi euthanasia program. The Encyclical was followed, on 26 September 1943,
by an open condemnation by the German Bishops which, from every German pulpit, denounced
the killing of “innocent and defenceless mentally handicapped, incurably infirm and fatally
wounded, innocent hostages, and disarmed prisoners of war and criminal offenders, people of a
foreign race or descent”.====Mit brennender Sorge====By early 1937, the church hierarchy in Germany,
which had initially attempted to co-operate with the new government, became highly disillusioned.
In March, Pius XI issued the encyclical Mit brennender Sorge (“With burning concern”).
Smuggled into Germany to avoid censorship it was read from the pulpits of all German
Catholic churches on Palm Sunday 1937. It condemned Nazi ideology and accused the Nazi
government of violating the 1933 Concordat and promoting “suspicion, discord, hatred,
calumny, of secret and open fundamental hostility to Christ and His Church”. Although there
is some difference of opinion as to its impact, it is generally recognized as the “first … official
public document to criticize Nazism”. Bokenkotter describes it as “one of the greatest such
condemnations ever issued by the Vatican.” Despite the efforts of the Gestapo to block
its distribution, the church distributed thousands to the parishes of Germany. Hundreds were
arrested for handing out copies, and Goebbels increased anti-Catholic propaganda, including
a show trial of 170 Franciscans at Koblenz. The “infuriated” Nazis increased their persecution
of Catholics and the Church. Gerald Fogarty asserts, “in the end, the encyclical had little
positive effect, and if anything only exacerbated the crisis.”According to Frank J. Coppa the
Nazis saw the encyclical as “a call to battle against the Reich”. Hitler was furious and
“vowed revenge against the Church”. Thomas Bokenkotter writes, “the Nazis were infuriated.
In retaliation they closed and sealed all the presses that printed it. They took numerous
vindictive measures against the Church, including staging a long series of immorality trials
of the Catholic clergy.” The German police confiscated as many copies as they could,
and the Gestapo confiscated twelve printing presses. According to Owen Chadwick, John
Vidmar, and other scholars, Nazi reprisals against the Church in Germany followed thereafter,
including “staged prosecutions of monks for homosexuality, with the maximum of publicity”.
Shirer reports that “during the next years, thousands of Catholic priests, nuns and lay
leaders were arrested, many of them on trumped-up charges of ‘immorality’ or ‘smuggling foreign
currency’.”====Priests of Dachau====In an effort to counter the influence of spiritual
resistance, Nazi security services monitored Catholic clergy closely. They instructed agents
be placed in every diocese, the bishops’ reports to the Vatican obtained and the bishops’ areas
of activity be found out. A “vast network” was established to monitor the activities
of ordinary clergy: Nazi security agents wrote that “The importance of this enemy is such
that inspectors of security police and of the security service will make this group
of people and the questions discussed by them their special concern”. Priests were watched
closely,frequently denounced, arrested and sent to concentration camps. Often, simply
on the basis of being “suspected of activities hostile to the State”. Or, there was reason
to “suppose that his dealings might harm society”.Dachau was established in March 1933 as the first
Nazi Concentration Camp. Chiefly a political camp, it was here that the Nazis established
dedicated Clergy Barracks. Of a total of 2,720 clergy recorded as imprisoned at Dachau, some
2,579 (or 94.88%) were Catholic. A total of 1,034 clergy were recorded as dying in the
camp, with 132 “transferred or liquidated” during that time—although R. Schnabel’s
1966 investigation found an alternative total of 2,771, with 692 noted as deceased, 336
sent out on “invalid trainloads” and therefore presumed dead. By far the greatest number
of priest prisoners came from Poland. In all, some 1,748 Polish Catholic clerics. Of whom,
some 868 died in the camp. Germans constituted the next largest group . 411 German Catholic
priests, of whom, 94 died in the camp. 100 were “transferred or liquidated”. The French
accounted for 153 Catholic clerics. Among who, 10 died at the camp. Other Catholic priests
were sent from Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, Yugoslavia, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, Lithuania,
Hungary and Rumania. From outside the Nazi Empire, two British and one Spaniard were
incarcerated at Dachau, as well as one “stateless” priest. In December 1935, Wilhelm Braun, a Catholic
theologian from Munich, became the first churchman imprisoned at Dachau. The annexation of Austria
saw an increase in clerical inmates. Berben wrote: “The commandant at the time, Loritz,
persecuted them with ferocious hatred, and unfortunately he found some prisoners to help
the guards in their sinister work”. Despite SS hostility to religious observance, the
Vatican and German bishops successfully lobbied the government to concentrate clergy at one
camp and obtained permission to build a chapel, for the priests to live communally and for
time to be allotted to them for the religious and intellectual activity. From December 1940,
priests were gathered in Blocks 26, 28 and 30, though only temporarily. 26 became the
international block and 28 was reserved for Poles—the most numerous group. Conditions
varied for prisoners in the camp. The Nazis introduced a racial hierarchy—keeping Poles
in harsh conditions, while favouring German priests. Many Polish priests simply died of
the cold, not given sufficient clothing. A large number were chosen for Nazi medical
experiments. In November 1942, 20 were given phlegmons. 120 were used by Dr Schilling for
malaria experiments between July 1942 and May 1944. Several Poles met their deaths via
the “invalid trains” sent out from the camp, others were liquidated in the camp and given
bogus death certificates. Some died of cruel punishment for misdemeanor, beaten to death
or worked to exhaustion. Religious activity outside the chapel was totally forbidden,
and priests would secretly take confessions and distribute the Eucharist among other prisoners.Amid
the Nazi persecution of the Tirolian Catholics, the Blessed Otto Neururer, a parish priest
was sent to Dachau for “slander to the detriment of German marriage”, after he advised a girl
against marrying the friend of a senior Nazi. He was cruelly executed at Buchenwald in 1940
for conducting a baptism there. He was the first priest killed in the concentration camps.
The Blessed Bernhard Lichtenberg died en route to Dachau in 1943. In December 1944, the Blessed
Karl Leisner, a deacon from Munster who was dying of tuberculosis received his ordination
at Dachau. His fellow prisoner Gabriel Piguet, the Bishop of Clermont-Ferrand presided at
the secret ceremony. Leisner died soon after the liberation of the camp. Among other notable
Catholic clerics sent to Dachau were: Father Jean Bernard of Luxembourg; the Dutch Carmelite
Titus Brandsma (d.1942), Frs Stefan Wincenty Frelichowski (d. 1945), Hilary Paweł Januszewski
(d. 1945), Lawrence Wnuk, Ignacy Jeż and Adam Kozłowiecki of Poland; Frs Josef Lenzel,
and August Froehlich of Germany. Following the war, the Mortal Agony of Christ Chapel
and a Carmelite Convent were built at Dachau in commemoration. The Clergy Barracks of Dachau : Statistics
by main Nationalities====Catholics in the German Resistance====
The German Resistance to Hitler comprised various small opposition groups and individuals,
at different stages, to plot, or attempted, the overthrow of Hitler. They were motivated
by such factors as the mistreatment of Jews, harassment of the churches, and the harsh
actions of Himmler and the Gestapo. Christian morality and the anti-Church policies of the
Nazis were a motivating factor driving many German resistors providing impetus for the
“moral revolt” of individuals. Neither the Catholic nor Protestent churches as institutions
were prepared to shift themselves to open opposition to the state. Yet, Wolf cites events
such as the July Plot of 1944 having been “inconceivable without the spiritual support
of church resistance”. For many of the committed Catholics in the German Resistance—including
the Jesuit Provincial of Bavaria, Augustin Rösch, the Catholic trade unionists Jakob
Kaiser, Bernhard Letterhaus and the July Plot leader Klaus von Stauffenberg, “religious
motives and the determination to resist would seem to have developed hand in hand”. In the
winter of 1939/40, with Poland overrun, but France and Low Countries yet to be attacked,
early German military Resistance sought the Pope’s assistance in preparations for a coup.
Colonel Hans Oster of the Abwehr sent lawyer and devout Catholic, Josef Müller, on a clandestine
trip to Rome to seek Papal assistance in the plot. The Vatican considered Müller to be
a representative of Colonel-General Ludwig Beck and agreed to offer the machinery for
mediation. Pius, communicating with Britain’s Francis d’Arcy Osborne, channelled communications
in secrecy. The British government was non-committal. Hitler’s swift victories over France Low Countries
deflated the will of the German military to resist. Müller was arrested in first raid
on Military Intelligence in 1943. He spent the rest of the war in concentration camps,
ending up at Dachau. Pius retained his contact with the German Resistance and continued to
lobby for peace. Old guard national-conservatives aligned to
Carl Friedrich Goerdeler broke with Hitler in the mid-1930s. According to Kershaw, they
“despised the barbarism of the Nazi regime. But, were keen to re-establish Germany’s status
as a major power …”. Essentially authoritarian, they favoured monarchy and limited electoral
rights “resting on Christian family values”. Laurentius Siemer, Provincial of the Dominican
Province of Teutonia, spoke to resistance circles on the subject of Catholic social
teaching as the starting point for the reconstruction of Germany, and worked with Carl Goerdeler
and others in planning for a post-coup Germany. Following the failure of the 1944 July Plot
to assassinate Hitler, Siemer evaded capture by the Gestapo at his Oldenberg monastery,
and hid out until the end of the war, thus remaining one of the few conspirators to survive
the purge. A younger group, dubbed the “Kreisau Circle” by the Gestapo, did not look to German
imperialism for inspiration. Though multi-denominational, it had a strongly Christian orientation, and
looked for a general Christian revival, and reawakening of awareness of the transcendental.
Its outlook was rooted both in German romantic and idealist tradition and in the Catholic
doctrine of natural law. It had around twenty core members. Among the central membership
of the Circle were the Jesuit Fathers Augustin Rösch, Alfred Delp and Lothar König. Bishop
von Preysing also had contact with the group. According to Gill, “Delp’s role was to sound
out for Moltke the possibilities in the Catholic Community of support for a new, post-war Germany”.
Rösch and Delp also explored the possibilities for common ground between Christian and socialist
trade unions. Lothar König became an important intermediary between the Circle and bishops
Conrad Grober of Freiberg and Presying of Berlin. The Kreisau group combined conservative
notions of reform with socialist strains of though. A symbiosis expressed by Delp’s notion
of “personal socialism”. The group rejected Western models, but wanted to “associate conservative
and socialist values, aristocracy and workers, in a new democratic synthesis which would
include the churches. In Die dritte Idee (The Third Idea), Delp expounded on the notion
of a third way, which, as opposed to Communism and Capitalism, might restore the unity of
the person and society. The Circle pressed for a coup against Hitler, but being unarmed,
was dependent on persuading military figures to take action. Christian worker’s activist and Centre Party
politician Fr. Otto Müller was among those who argued for a firm line from the German
Bishops against legal violations of the Nazis. In contact with the German military opposition
before the outbreak of war, he later allowed individual opposition figures the use of the
Ketteler-Haus in Cologne for their discussions and was involved with July Plotters Jakob
Kaiser, Nikolaus Groß and Bernhard Letterhaus in planning a post Nazi-Germany. After the
failure of the July Plot, the Gestapo arrested Müller, who was imprisoned in the Berlin
Police Hospital, where he died.Smaller groups were heavily influenced by Christian morality.
The White Rose student resistance group were partly inspired by August von Galen’s anti-euthanasia
homilies, as were the Lübeck martyrs. From 1942, White Rose published leaflets to influence
people against Nazism and militarism. They criticised the “anti-Christian” and “anti-social”
nature of the war. The leaders of the group were caught and executed in 1943. Parish priests
such as the Lübeck martyrs – Johannes Prassek, Eduard Müller and Hermann Lange, and the
Lutheran pastor Karl Friedrich Stellbrink also participated in localised resistance.
They shared disapproval of the Nazis, and the four priests spoke publicly against the
Nazis; initially, discreetly distributing pamphlets to friends and congregants. They
distributed information from British radio and from leaflets with the sermons of Bishop
von Galen. They were arrested in 1942 and executed. The so-called “Frau Solf Tea Party”
group included another Jesuit, Fr Friedrich Erxleben. The purpose of the Solf Circle was
to seek out humanitarian ways of countering the Nazis. It met at either Frau Solf or Elizabeth
von Thadden’s home. They were all arrested in 1944, and some executed.
July Plot On 20 July 1944, an attempt was made to assassinate
Adolf Hitler, inside his Wolf’s Lair field headquarters in East Prussia. The July plot
was the culmination of the efforts of several groups in the German Resistance to overthrow
the Nazi-led German government. During interrogations, or their show trials, a number of the conspirators
cited the Nazi assault on the churches as one of the motivating factors for their involvement.
The Protestant clergyman Eugen Gerstenmaier said the key to the entire resistance flowed
from Hitler’s evil and the “Christian duty” to combat it. The leader of the plot, Catholic
nobleman Claus Von Stauffenberg, initially looked favourably on the arrival of the Nazis
in power, but came to oppose them because of their persecution of the Jews and oppression
of the church. He led the 20 July plot (Operation Valkyrie) to assassinate Hitler. In 1943 he
joined the resistance and commenced planning the unsuccessful Valkyrie assassination and
coup, in which he personally placed a time bomb under Hitler’s conference table. Killing
Hitler would absolve the German military of the moral conundrum of breaking their oath
to the Fuehrer. Faced with the moral and theological question of tyrannicide, Stauffenberg conferred
with Bishop Konrad von Preysing and found affirmation in early Catholicism, and through
Luther. The planned Cabinet which was to replace the Nazi government included Catholic politicians
Eugen Bolz, Bernhard Letterhaus, Andreas Hermes and Josef Wirmer. Wirmer was a member of the
left of the Centre Party, had worked to forge ties between the civilian resistance and the
trade unions and was a confidant of Jakob Kaiser—a leader of the Christian trade union
movement, which Hitler had banned after taking office. Lettehaus was also trade union leader.
As a captain in the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (Supreme Command), he had gathered information
and become a leading member of the resistance. The “Declaration of Government” that was to
be broadcast following the coup on 20 July 1944 appealed unambiguously to Christian sensibilities:
Following the failure of the plot, Stauffenberg was shot, the Kreisau circle dissolved and
Moltke, Yorck and Delp, among others, were executed. The shattered freedom of spirit, conscience,
faith and opinion will be restored. The churches will once again be given the right to work
for their confessions. In future they will exist quite separately from the state … The
working of the state is to be inspired, both in word and deed by the Christian outlook
…”===Catholic adaptation to Nazism===Kershaw wrote that while “detestation of Nazism
was overwhelming within the Catholic Church” it did not preclude church leaders approving
of areas of government policy, particularly, where Nazism “blended into ‘mainstream’ national
aspirations”—like support for “patriotic” foreign policy, or war aims, obedience to
state authority (where this did not contravene divine law); and destruction of atheistic
Marxism and Soviet Bolshevism. Traditional Christian anti-Judaism was “no bulwark” against
Nazi biological antisemitism. On these issues “the churches as institutions fell on uncertain
grounds”, and opposition was generally left to fragmented and largely individual efforts.
According to Shirer, the Catholic hierarchy in Germany first tried to co-operate with
the Nazi Government, but by 1937 had become highly disillusioned. The Vatican therefore
issued Mit brennender Sorge outlining Nazi transgressions. Few ordinary Germans, wrote
Shirer, paused to reflect on the Nazis’ intention to destroy Christianity in Germany.According
to Dr Harry Schnitker, Kevin Spicer’s Hitler’s Priests found around 0.5% of German priests
(138 of 42,000—including Austrian) might be considered Nazis. One such priest was Karl
Eschweiler, an opponent of the Weimar Republic, was suspended from priestly duties by Cardinal
Pacelli (the future Pius XII) for writing Nazi pamphlets in support of eugenics. Cardinal
Bertram, ex officio head of the German episcopate, sent Hitler birthday greetings in 1939 in
the name of all German Catholic bishops, an act that angered bishop Konrad von Preysing.
Bertram was the leading advocate of accommodation as well as the leader of the German church,
a combination that reined in other would-be opponents of Nazism.In 1943, Grober expressed
the opinion bishops should remain loyal to the “beloved folk and Fatherland”, despite
abuses of the Reichskonkordat. Yet, Gröber was among those in the hierarchy in Germany
who came to articulate and support resistance to the Nazis. He protested the religious persecution
of Catholics in Germany. He supported German resistance worker Gertrud Luckner’s “Office
for Religious War Relief” (Kirchliche Kriegshilfsstelle) under the auspices of the Catholic aid agency,
Caritas. The office became the instrument through which Freiburg Catholics helped racially
persecuted “non-Aryans” (both Jews and Christians). Luckner used funds received from the archbishop
to help Jews. After the war, Gröber said he was such an opponent of the Nazis they
planned to crucify him on the door for the Freiburg Cathedral. Mary Fulbrook wrote that
when politics encroached on the church, Catholics were prepared to resist, but the record was
otherwise patchy and uneven with notable exceptions, “it seems that, for many Germans, adherence
to the Christian faith proved compatible with at least passive acquiescence in, if not active
support for, the Nazi dictatorship”.Hamerow characterised the resistance approach of senior
Catholic clergy like August von Galen of Münster as “trying to influence the Third Reich from
within”. While some clergymen refused ever to feign support for the government in the
Church’s conflict with the state over ecclesiastical autonomy, the Catholic hierarchy adopted a
strategy of “seeming acceptance of the Third Reich”, by couching their criticisms as motivated
merely by a desire to “point out mistakes that some of its overzealous followers committed”
in order to strengthen the government. Griech-Polelle wrote Galen had argued that good Catholics
could support a government whose aim was to destroy a ‘Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy When
Galen delivered his famous 1941 denunciations of Nazi euthanasia and the lawlessness of
the Gestapo, he also said that the church had never sought the overthrow of the government.==Second World War====
Papacy and Nazi Germany=====
Papacy of Pius XI===The pontificate of Pius XI coincided with
the early aftermath of the First World War. The old European monarchies had been largely
swept away and a new and precarious order formed across the continent. In the East,
the Soviet Union arose. In Italy, the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini took power, while
in Germany, the fragile Weimar Republic collapsed with the Nazi seizure of power.
DiplomacyPius’s major diplomatic approach was to make Concordats. He concluded eighteen
such treaties during the course of his pontificate. However, wrote Hebblethwaite, these Concordats
did not prove “durable or creditable” and “wholly failed in their aim of safeguarding
the institutional rights of the Church” for “Europe was entering a period in which such
agreements were regarded as mere scraps of paper”. In 1929, Pius signed the Lateran Treaty
and a concordat with Italy, confirming the existence of an independent Vatican City state,
in return for recognition of the Kingdom of Italy and an undertaking for the papacy to
be neutral in world conflicts. In Article 24 of the Concordat, the papacy undertook
“to remain outside temporal conflicts unless the parties concerned jointly appealed for
the pacifying mission of the Holy See”.In 1933, Pius signed the Reich concordat with
Germany—hoping to protect the rights of Catholics under the Nazi government. The treaty
was an extension of existing concordats already signed with Prussia and Bavaria, but wrote
Hebblethwaite, it seemed “more like a surrender than anything else: it involved the suicide
of the Centre Party …”. A persecution of the Catholic Church in Germany had followed
the Nazi takeover. The Vatican was anxious to conclude the concordat with the new government,
despite the ongoing attacks. Nazi breaches of the agreement began almost as soon as it
had been signed. From 1933 to 1936 Pius wrote several protests against the Nazis, while
his attitude to Mussolini’s Italy changed dramatically in 1938, after Nazi racial policies
were adopted in Italy.” Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli (future Pius XII) served as Pius XI’s Secretary
of State, in which capacity he made some 55 protests against Nazi policies, including
its “ideology of race”. In England over the period, there was a revival of interest in
the notion of Christendom, which it was hoped, would serve as a counter to Fascism and Communism.
G. K. Chesterton had written and spoken on the subject and was appointed a Knight of
St. Gregory by the Holy See in 1934. EncyclicalsPius XI watched the rising tide
of Totalitarianism with alarm and delivered three papal encyclicals challenging the new
creeds: against Italian Fascism Non abbiamo bisogno (1931; ‘We do not need (to acquaint
you)’); against Nazism “Mit brennender Sorge” (1937; ‘With deep concern’) and against atheist
Communist Divini redemptoris (1937; ‘Divine Redeemer’). He also challenged the extremist
nationalism of the Action Francaise movement and antisemitism in the United States. 1931’s
Non abbiamo bisogno condemned Italian fascism’s “pagan worship of the State” and “revolution
which snatches the young from the Church and from Jesus Christ, and which inculcates in
its own young people hatred, violence and irreverence.” In 1936, with the Church in
Germany facing clear persecution, Italy and Germany agreed the Berlin-Rome Axis. By early
1937, the church hierarchy in Germany, which had initially attempted to co-operate with
the new government, had become highly disillusioned. Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber drafted the
Holy See’s response in January 1937, and in March, Pius XI issued the Mit brennender Sorge
encyclical. It accused the Nazi Government of violations of the 1933 Concordat, and further
that it was sowing the “tares of suspicion, discord, hatred, calumny, of secret and open
fundamental hostility to Christ and His Church”. The Pope noted on the horizon the “threatening
storm clouds” of religious wars of extermination over Germany. Pius XI commissioned the American
Jesuit John Lafarge to prepare a draft for an encyclical, Humani generis unitas (“The
Unity of the Human Race”), demonstrating the incompatibility of Catholicism and racism.
However, Pius XI did not issue the proposed encyclical before his death, nor did his successor
Pius XII, partly fearing it might antagonize Italy and Germany at a time where he hoped
to act as an impartial peace broker. Nazi antisemitismFrom the earliest days of
the Nazi takeover in Germany, the Vatican was taking diplomatic action to attempt to
defend the Jews of Germany. In the spring of 1933, Pope Pius XI urged Mussolini to ask
Hitler to restrain the antisemitic actions taking place in Germany. Pius XI asserted
to a group of pilgrims that antisemitism is incompatible with Christianity:
Mark well that in the Catholic Mass, Abraham is our Patriarch and forefather. Antisemitism
is incompatible with the lofty thought which that fact expresses. It is a movement with
which we Christians can have nothing to do. No, no, I say to you it is impossible for
a Christian to take part in antisemitism. It is inadmissible. Through Christ and in
Christ we are the spiritual progeny of Abraham. Spiritually, we are all Semites. As the newly installed Nazi Government began
to instigate its program of anti-semitism, Pope Pius XI, through Pacelli, ordered the
Papal Nuncio in Berlin, Cesare Orsenigo, to “look into whether and how it may be possible
to become involved” in their aid. Orsenigo proved a poor instrument in this regard, concerned
more with the anti-church policies of the Nazis and how these might effect German Catholics,
than with taking action to help German Jews. Cardinal Innitzer called him timid and ineffectual
with respect to the worsening situation for German Jewry. Appearing before 250,000 pilgrims
at Lourdes in April 1935, Cardinal Pacelli said:
[The Nazis] are in reality only miserable plagiarists who dress up old errors with new
tinsel. It does not make any difference whether they flock to the banners of the social revolution,
whether they are guided by a false conception of the world and of life, or whether they
are possessed by the superstition of a race and blood cult. In 1936, Nuncio Orsenigo asked Cardinal Secretary
of State Pacelli for instructions regarding an invitation from Hitler to attend a Nazi
Party meeting in Nuremberg, along with the entire diplomatic corps. Pacelli replied,
“The Holy Father thinks it is preferable that your Excellency abstain, taking a few days’
vacation.” In 1937, Orsenigo was invited along with the diplomatic corps to a reception for
Hitler’s birthday. Orsenigo again asked the Vatican if he should attend. Pacelli’s reply
was, “The Holy Father thinks not. Also because of the position of this Embassy, the Holy
Father believes it is preferable in the present situation if your Excellency abstains from
taking part in manifestations of homage toward the Lord Chancellor.” During Hitler’s visit
to Rome in 1938, Pius XI and Pacelli avoided meeting with him by leaving Rome a month early
for the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo. The Vatican was closed, and the priests and
religious brothers and sisters left in Rome were told not to participate in the festivities
and celebrations surrounding Hitler’s Visit. On the Feast of the Holy Cross, Pius XI said
from Castel Gandolfo, “It saddens me to think that today in Rome the cross that is worshipped
is not the Cross of our Saviour.”===
Papacy of Pius XII===Eugenio Pacelli was elected to succeed Pope
Pius XI at the papal conclave of March 1939. Taking the name of his predecessor as a sign
of continuity, he became Pius XII. In the lead up to war, he sought to act as a peace
broker. As the Holy See had done during the pontificate of Benedict XV (1914–1922) during
World War I, the Vatican under, Pius XII (February 1939 – September 1958), pursued a policy
of diplomatic neutrality through World War II—Pius XII, like Benedict XV, described
the position as “impartiality”, rather than “neutrality.” A cautious diplomat, he did
not name the Nazis in his wartime condemnations of racism and genocide, but intervened to
save the lives of thousands of Jews through sheltering them in church institutions and
ordering his church to offer discreet aid. Upon his death in 1958, he was praised by
world leaders and Jewish groups for his actions during World War II, but his not specifically
condemning what was later termed the “Nazi Holocaust”, has become a matter of controversy.Pius
XII’s relations with the Axis and Allied forces may have been impartial, and his policies
tinged with uncompromising anti-communism, but early in the war he shared intelligence
with the Allies about the German Resistance and planned invasion of the Low Countries
and lobbied Mussolini to stay neutral.With Poland overrun, but France and the Low Countries
yet to be attacked, Pius continued to hope for a negotiated peace to prevent the spread
of the conflict. The similarly minded US President Franklin D. Roosevelt re-established American
diplomatic relations with the Vatican after a seventy-year hiatus by dispatching Myron
C. Taylor as his personal representative. Pius warmly welcomed Roosevelt’s envoy. Taylor
urged Pius XII to explicitly condemn Nazi atrocities. Instead, Pius XII spoke against
the “evils of modern warfare”, but did not go further. This may have been so for fear
of Nazi retaliation experienced previously with the issuance of the encyclical Mit brennender
Sorge in 1937.Pius allowed national hierarchies to assess and respond to their local situations
and utilized Vatican Radio to promote aid to thousands of war refugees, and saved further
thousands of lives by instructing the church to provide discreet aid to Jews. To confidantes,
Hitler scorned Pius XII as a blackmailer on his back, who constricted his ally Mussolini
and leaked confidential German correspondence to the world. For opposition from the Church
he vowed “retribution to the last farthing” after the conclusion of the war.====Early pontificate====
Nazi opposition to election of PacelliThe Nazi authorities disapproved of Pacelli’s
election as Pope. Historian of the Holocaust Martin Gilbert wrote: “So outspoken were Pacelli’s
criticisms that Hitler’s government lobbied against him, trying to prevent his becoming
the successor to Pius XI. When he did become Pope, as Pius XII, in March 1939, Nazi Germany
was the only government not to send a representative to his coronation.” Goebbels noted in his
diary on 4 March 1939 that Hitler was considering whether to abrogate the Concordat with Rome
in light of Pacelli’s election as Pope, adding “This will surely happen when Pacelli undertakes
his first hostile act”.Joseph Lichten wrote: “Pacelli had obviously established his position
clearly, for the Fascist governments of both Italy and Germany spoke out vigorously against
the possibility of his election to succeed Pius XI in March 1939, though the cardinal
secretary of state had served as papal nuncio in Germany from 1917 to 1929.” The day after
Pacelli’s election, the Berlin Morgenpost said: ‘The election of cardinal Pacelli is
not accepted with favor in Germany because he was always opposed to Nazism and practically
determined the policies of the Vatican under his predecessor.’ Der Angriff, the Nazi party
organ, warned that Pius’ policies would lead to a “crusade against the totalitarian states”.
According to Karol Jozef Gajewski, Heinrich Himmler’s Das Schwarze Korps (‘The Black Corps’),
house newspaper of the SS, had formerly labelled Pacelli a “co-conspirator with Jews and Communists
against Nazism” and decried his election as “the “Chief Rabbi of the Christians, boss
of the firm of Judah-Rome.” Early Diplomatic effortsPius selected Cardinal
Luigi Maglione as his Secretary of State, and retained Domenico Tardini and Giovanni
Montini (future Pope Paul VI) as Under-Secretaries of State. According to Hebblethwaite, Maglione
was pro-democracy and anti-dictatorship, “detested Hitler and thought Mussolini a clown”, but
the career-diplomat Pope largely reserved diplomatic matters for himself. The new Pope
hoped to stop Hitler’s war, and inaugurated his reign with a message of peace to Germany,
and the day after Hitler and Stalin signed their secret pact, sealing the fate of Poland,
Pius delivered a 24 August appeal for peace: I speak to all of you, leaders of nations,
in the name of God … lay aside threats and accusations … It is by force of reason and
not by force of arms that justice makes progress. Empires not founded on justice are not blessed
by God. Immoral policy is not successful policy. Hidden encyclicalSome historians have argued
that Pacelli, as Cardinal Secretary of State, dissuaded Pope Pius XI—who was nearing death
at the time—from condemning Kristallnacht in November 1938, when he was informed of
it by the papal nuncio in Berlin. Likewise the draft for the preposed encyclical Humani
generis unitas (“On the Unity of Human Society”), which was ready in September 1938, was, according
to the two publishers of the draft text and other sources, not forwarded to the Vatican
by the Jesuit General Wlodimir Ledochowski. On January 28, 1939, eleven days before the
death of Pope Pius XI, a disappointed Gundlach informed author LaFarge,.”It cannot continue
like this. The text has not been forwarded to the Vatican.” He had talked to the American
assistant to Father General, who promised to look into the matter in December 1938,
but did not report back. It contained an open and clear condemnation of colonialism, racism
and antisemitism. Some historians have argued that Pacelli learned about its existence only
after the death of Pius XI and did not promulgate it as Pope. He did however use parts of it
in his inaugural encyclical Summi Pontificatus, which he titled “On the Unity of Human Society.”====Outbreak of war: Summi Pontificatus====
Pope Pius XII lobbied world leaders to prevent the outbreak of World War II, up to the very
last day of peace. On 24 August 1939, he made a public broadcast appealing for peace, and
on 31 August, the last day before the war, the Pope wrote to the German, Polish, Italian,
British and French governments saying that he was unwilling to abandon hope that pending
negotiations might lead to “a just pacific solution” and beseeching the Germans and Polish
“in the name of God” to avoid “any incident” and for the British, French and Italians to
support his appeal. The “pending negotiations” turned out to be a mere Nazi propaganda trick.
The following day, Hitler invaded Poland.Summi Pontificatus (“On the Limitations of the Authority
of the State”), issued 20 October 1939, was the first papal encyclical issued by Pius,
and established some of the themes of his papacy. Couched in diplomatic language, Pius
endorses Catholic resistance and states his disapproval of the war, racism, anti-Semitism,
the invasion of Poland, and the persecutions of the Church. With Italy not yet an ally
of Hitler in the war, Italians were called upon to remain faithful to the Church. Pius
avoided accusing Hitler and Stalin, establishing the “impartial” public tone which critics
have used against him in later assessments of his pontificate: “A full statement of the
doctrinal stand to be taken in face of the errors of today, if necessary, can be put
off to another time unless there is disturbance by calamitous external events; for the moment
We limit Ourselves to some fundamental observations.”Pius wrote of “anti-Christian movements” bringing
forth a crop “poignant disasters” and called for love, mercy and compassion against the
“deluge of discord”. Following themes addressed in Non abbiamo bisogno (1931); Mit brennender
Sorge (1937) and Divini redemptoris (1937), Pius wrote of a need to bring back to the
Church those who were following “a false standard … misled by error, passion, temptation and
prejudice, [who] have strayed away from faith in the true God”. He wrote of “Christians
unfortunately more in name than in fact” showing “cowardice” in the face of persecution by
these creeds, and endorsed resistance.In a further rejection of Nazi ideology, Pius reiterated
Catholic opposition to racism and anti-Semitism, saying that man “is neither Gentile nor Jew,
circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free. But Christ is
all and in all”Pius commented on the invasion of Poland as well: “The blood of countless
human beings, even noncombatants, raises a piteous dirge over a nation such as Our dear
Poland, which, for its fidelity to the Church, for its services in the defense of Christian
civilization, written in indelible characters in the annals of history, has a right to the
generous and brotherly sympathy of the whole world In Poland, the Nazis murdered over 2,500
monks and priests and even more were imprisoned.====Assistance to German Resistance and Allies
====With war underway, the focus of Holy See policy
became the prevention of Mussolini from bringing Italy into the war. In April 1940, the Italian
Foreign Minister, Count Ciano, officially complained to Cardinal Secretary of State
Maglione, that so many churches were offering “sermons about peace and peace demonstrations,
perhaps inspired by the Vatican”, and the Italian Ambassador to the Holy See complained
that L’Osservatore Romano was too favourable to the democracies.With Poland overrun but
France and the Low Countries yet to be attacked, the German Resistance sought the Pope’s assistance
in preparations for a coup to oust Hitler. Pius advised the British in 1940 of the readiness
of certain German generals to overthrow Hitler if they could be assured of an honourable
peace, offered assistance to the German resistance in the event of a coup and warned the Allies
of the planned German invasion of the Low Countries in 1940.Colonel Hans Oster of the
Abwehr sent Munich lawyer and devout Catholic, Josef Müller, on a clandestine trip to Rome
to seek Papal assistance in the developing plot. The Pope’s Private Secretary, Robert
Leiber acted at the intermediary between Pius and the Resistance. He met with Müller, who
visited Rome in 1939 and 1940. The Vatican considered Müller to be a representative
of Colonel-General Ludwig Beck and agreed to assist mediation. Pius, communicating with
Britain’s Francis d’Arcy Osborne, channelled communications back and forth in secrecy.
The Vatican agreed to send a letter outlining the bases for peace with England and the participation
of the Pope was used to try to persuade senior German Generals Halder and Brauchitsch to
act against Hitler. Hoffmann wrote that, when the Venlo Incident stalled the talks, the
British agreed to resume discussions primarily because of the “efforts of the Pope and the
respect in which he was held. Chamberlain and Halifax set great store by the Pope’s
readiness to mediate.” Pius, advised Osbourne that a German offensive was planned for February,
but that this could be averted if the German generals could be assured of peace with Britain,
and not on punitive terms. The British government was non-committal, nevertheless, the resistance
were encouraged by the talks, and Müller told Leiber that a coup would occur in February.
Pius appeared to continue to hope for a coup in Germany into March 1940.On 4 May 1940,
the Vatican advised the Netherlands envoy to the Vatican that the Germans planned to
invade France through the Netherlands and Belgium on May 10. On May 7, Alfred Jodl noted
in his diary that the Germans knew the Belgian envoy to the Vatican had been tipped off,
and the Fuehrer was greatly agitated by the danger of treachery. Following the Fall of
France, peace overtures continued to emanate from the Vatican as well as Sweden and the
United States, to which Churchill responded resolutely that Germany would first have to
free its conquered territories. In Rome in 1942, US envoy Myron C. Taylor, thanked the
Holy See for the “forthright and heroic expressions of indignation made by Pope Pius XII when
Germany invaded the Low countries”. Müller was arrested in a 1943 raid on the Abwehr
and spent the rest of the war in concentration camps, ending up at Dachau. The raid marked
a serious blow to the Resistance. Following the arrests, Beck’s first order was for an
account of the incidents to be sent to the Pope. Hans Bernd Gisevius was sent in place
of Müller to advise of the developments and met with Fr. Leiber.Unsuccessfully, Pius attempted
to dissuade the Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini from joining Nazi Germany in the war. Following
the Fall of France, Pius XII wrote confidentially to Hitler, Churchill and Mussolini proposing
to offer to mediate a “just and honourable peace”, but asking to receive confidential
advice in advance of how such an offer would be received. When, by 1943 the war had turned
against the Axis Powers, and Mussolini’s Foreign Minister Count Ciano was relieved of his post
and sent to the Vatican as ambassador, Hitler suspected that he had been sent to arrange
a separate peace with the Allies. On July 25, the Italian King dismissed Mussolini.
Hitler’s told Jodl to organise for a German force to go to Rome and arrest the Government
and restore Mussolini. Asked about the Vatican, Hitler said: “I’ll go right into the Vatican.
Do you think the Vatican embarrasses me? We’ll take that over right away … later we can
make apologies”. His generals urged caution.After Mussolini was rescued by the Nazis and installed
as leader in Northern Italy, the Vatican feared a Communist takeover, but refused to recognise
Mussolini’s new state. As Italy lurched towards civil war, the Vatican urged moderation. At
Easter 1944, Italian bishops were directed to “stigmatise every form of hatred, of vendetta,
reprisal and violence, from wherever it comes”. 191 priests were killed by fascists and 125
by the Germans, while 109 were killed by partisans. Though some joined pro-fascist bands, the
Vatican backed the so-called anti-Fascist ‘partisan chaplains’ and ‘red priests’, hoping
that they would provide religious guidance to partisans being exposed to Communist propaganda.====Pius XII and the Holocaust=========Aid to Jews=====
At the close of his predecessor’s pontificate, Pacelli received word from nuncios of increasing
persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany. According to Gordon Thomas, he already conceived of
a strategy to work behind the scenes to help the Jews, because he believed “any form of
denunciation in the name of the Vatican would inevitably provoke further reprisals against
the Jews”. During his pontificate Pius XII, Catholic institutions across Europe were opened
as shelter for Jews, and the institutions of the Vatican itself were employed in this
purpose. Pius allowed the national hierarchies of the Church to assess and respond to their
local situation under Nazi rule, but himself established the Vatican Information Service
to provide aid to, and information about, war refugees and saved thousands of Jewish
by directing the church to discreetly provide aid. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica,
Pius chose to “use diplomacy to aid the persecuted”. Upon his death he was “praised effusively
by world leaders especially by Jewish groups for his actions during World War II on behalf
of the persecuted”. The Israeli historian Pinchas Lapide interviewed war survivors concluded
that Pius XII “was instrumental in saving at least 700,000, but probably as many as
860,000 Jews from certain death at Nazi hands”. Deák writes that most historians dispute
this estimate while Rabbi David Dalin called Pinchas Lapide’s work “the definitive work
by a Jewish scholar” on the holocaust. Prelude to HolocaustAccording to Thomas, of
the forty-four speeches Pacelli gave as Nuncio, forty denounced aspects of Nazi ideology.
In an open letter to the Bishop of Cologne, Pacelli described Hitler as a “false prophet
of Lucifer”, while Hitler ordered the Nazi press to refer to Pacelli as a “Jew lover
in the Vatican”. Following the Kristalnacht pogrom of 1938, the Vatican took steps to
find refuge for Jews. L’Osservatore Romano (the Holy See’s newspaper) reported that Pacelli
(as Vatican Secretary of State) condemned the pogrom. On 30 November, Pacelli issued
an encoded message to archbishops around the world, instructing them to apply for visas
for “non-Aryan Catholics” for departure from Germany. The Concordat of 1933 had expressly
provided for protection of converts to Christianity, but Pacelli intended the visas to be extended
to all Jews. According to Thomas, some 200,000 Jews escaped the Nazis under the scheme.From
1939-44, Pius XII supplied passports, money, tickets and letters of recommendation to foreign
governments so Jewish refugees could receive visas. Through these actions, another 4,000–6,000
Jews reached safety. On January 2, 1940, the United Jewish Appeal for Refugees and Overseas
Needs in Chicago sent the Pope a contribution of $125,000 toward the Vatican’s efforts to
save “all those persecuted because of religion or race.” The papal emigration program helped
Jews gain admittance to Brazil. From 1939-41, 3,000 Jews reached safety in South America.
Giovanni Ferrofino is credited with saving 10,000 Jews. Acting on secret orders from
Pius XII, Ferrofino obtained visas from the Portuguese Government and the Dominican Republic
to secure their escape from Europe and sanctuary in the Americas. In response to Mussolini’s
anti-Jewish legislation, Pacelli arranged for Jewish friends and eminent Jewish doctors,
scholars and scientists to emigrate safely to Palestine and the Americas. Twenty-three
were appointed to positions in Vatican educational institutions. At the outbreak of the war,
local bishops were instructed to assist those in need. In his first encyclical, Summi Pontificatus,
Pius XII rejected anti-semitism, stating that in the Catholic Church there is “neither Gentile
nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision.”In 1940, the Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von
Ribbentrop led the only senior Nazi delegation permitted an audience with Pius XII asked
why the Pope had sided with the Allies, Pius replied with a list of recent Nazi atrocities
and religious persecutions committed against Christians and Jews, in Germany, and in Poland,
leading the New York Times to headline its report “Jews Rights Defended” and write of
“burning words he spoke to Herr Ribbentrop about religious persecution”. Cardinal Secretary
of State Luigi Maglione received a request from Chief Rabbi of Palestine Isaac Herzog
in the spring of 1940 to intercede on behalf of Lithuanian Jews about to be deported to
Germany. Pius called Ribbentrop on March 11, repeatedly protesting against the treatment
of Jews. 1942 Christmas radio address
In 1942, Pius XII delivered a Christmas message over Vatican Radio which expressed sympathy
for the victims of the Nazis’ genocidal policies. From May 1942, the Nazis had commenced their
industrialized slaughter of the Jews of Europe—the Final Solution. Gypsies and others were also
marked for extermination. The Pope addressed the racial persecutions in the following terms:Humanity
owes this vow to those hundreds of thousands who, without any fault on their part, sometimes
only because of their nationality or race, have been consigned to death or to a slow
decline” [also translated: “marked down for death or gradual extinction”]
The New York Times called Pius “a lonely voice crying out of the silence of a continent.”
The speech was made in the context of the near total domination of Europe by the armies
of Nazi Germany at a time were the war had not yet turned in favour of the Allies. According
to the Encyclopædia Britannica, Pius refused to say more “fearing that public papal denunciations
might provoke the Hitler regime to brutalize further those subject to Nazi terror—as
it had when Dutch bishops publicly protested earlier in the year—while jeopardizing the
future of the church”. Holocaust historian, Sir Martin Gilbert, assesses the response
of the Reich Security Main Office calling Pius a “mouthpiece” of the Jews in response
to his Christmas address, as clear evidence that all sides knew that Pius was one who
was raising his voice for the victims of Nazi terror. Pius protested the deportations of
Slovakian Jews to the Bratislava government from 1942. In 1943 he protested that “The
Holy See would fail in its Divine Mandate if it did not deplore these measures, which
gravely damage man in his natural right, mainly for the reason that these people belong to
a certain race.” Nazi occupation of ItalyFollowing the capitulation
of Italy in September 1943, the Nazis occupied Rome. Pius held a secret meeting to plan how
to save the Jews of the city and the many Allied PoWs then taking refuge in Rome. Msgr.
Angelo Dell’Acqua acted as liaison with relief groups. When news of the 15 October 1943 round-up
of Roman Jews reached the Pope, he instructed the Holy See’s Secretary of State, Cardinal
Maglione to protest to the German Ambassador to “save these innocent people”.
The Pope then ordered Rome’s Catholic institutions to open themselves to the Jews, sheltering
4715 of the 5715 listed for deportation by the Nazis were sheltered in 150 institutions—477
in the Vatican itself. As German round-ups continued in Northern Italy, the Pope opened
his summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, to take in thousands of Jews and authorised institutions
across the north to do the same.Assessing Pius’ role as a protector of Jews during the
war, David Klinghoffer wrote for the Jewish Journal in 2005 that ” I’m not sure it’s true, as Dalin argues, that
Pius saved more Jews than any other Righteous Gentile in World War II. But it seems fairly
certain that he was, overall, a strenuous defender of Jews who saved tens of thousands,
maybe hundreds of thousands. While 80 percent of European Jews were murdered in the Holocaust,
85 percent of Italian Jews survived, thanks in large part to the Vatican’s efforts.
In August 1944, Pius met British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who was visiting Rome.
During the meeting, and with the war ongoing, the Pope acknowledged the justice of punishing
war criminals, but expressed a hope that the people of Italy would not be punished, preferring
that they be made “full allies”. Diplomatic activities (1942–1945)In Croatia,
the Vatican used a Benedictine abbot, Giuseppe Marcone, as its Apostolic Visitor—together
with Archbishop Aloysius Stepinac of Zagreb—to pressure its leader Pavelić to cease its
facilitation of race murders.In the newly formed Slovak Republic, the Apostolic Delegate
to Bratislava Giuseppe Burzio protested the antisemitism and totalitarianism of the pro-nazi
state. From 1942 onwards the Vatican protested the deportations of Jews by the Nazi allied
Slovakian government.From 1943, Pius instructed his Bulgarian representative to take “all
necessary steps” to support Bulgarian Jews facing deportation and his Turkish nuncio,
Angelo Roncalli (later Pope John XXIII) arranged for the transfer of thousands of children
out of Bulgaria to Palestine. Roncalli also advised the Pope of Jewish concentration camps
in Romanian occupied Transnistria. The Pope protested to the Romanian government and authorised
for funds to be sent to the camps. Roncalli saved a number of Croatian, Bulgarian and
Hungarian Jews by assisting their migration to Palestine. He succeeded Pius XII as Pope
John XXIII, and always said that he had been acting on the orders of Pius XII in his actions
to rescue Jews. In 1944 Pius appealed directly to the Hungarian government to halt the deportation
of the Jews of Hungary and his nuncio, Angelo Rotta, led a citywide rescue scheme in Budapest.
Rotta been recognised as Righteous among the Nations by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust
Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority. Andrea Cassulo, the papal nuncio to Bucharest
and the Ion Antonescu government had also been honoured as Righteous among the Nations
by Yad Vashem. In 1944, the Chief Rabbi of Bucharest praised the work of Cassulo on behalf
of Romania’s Jews: “the generous assistance of the Holy See … was decisive and salutary.
It is not easy for us to find the right words to express the warmth and consolation we experienced
because of the concern of the supreme Pontiff, who offered a large sum to relieve the sufferings
of deported Jews—sufferings which had been pointed out to him by you after your visit
to Transnistria. The Jews of Romania will never forget these facts of historic importance.”=====Cautious public statements=====
In public, Pius XII spoke cautiously in relation to Nazi crimes. When Myron C. Taylor, US President
Franklin Roosevelt’s personal representative to the Vatican, urged him to condemn Nazi
atrocities—Pius “obliquely referred to the evils of modern warfare”, fearing that to
go further would provoke Hitler into brutal action, as occurred following the 1942 protest
by Dutch Bishops against the deportation of Jews. In a conversation with Archbishop Giovanni
Battista Montini (later Pope Paul VI), Pius said, “We would like to utter words of fire
against such actions; and the only thing restraining Us from speaking is the fear of making the
plight of the victims worse” In June 1943, Pope Pius XII told the Sacred College of Cardinals
in a secret address that: “Every word We address to the competent authority on this subject,
and all Our public utterances have to be carefully weighed and measured by Us in the interests
of the victims themselves, lest, contrary to Our intentions, We make their situation
worse and harder to bear”. Catholic clergy, religious and laity, especially converted
Jews, all suffered persecution under the Nazis. Such Nazi brutality made an enormous impression
on Pius XII. Dr. Peter Gumpel writes: The action of the Dutch bishops had important
repercussions. Pius XII had already prepared the text of a public protest against the persecution
of the Jews. Shortly before this text was sent to L’Osservatore Romano, news reached
him of the disastrous consequences of the Dutch bishops’ initiative. He concluded that
public protests, far from alleviating the fate of the Jews, aggravated their persecution
and he decided that he could not take the responsibility of his own intervention having
similar and probably even much more serious consequences. Therefore he burnt the text
he had prepared. The International Red Cross, the nascent World Council of Churches and
other Christian Churches were fully aware of such consequences of vehement public protests
and, like Pius XII, they wisely avoided them. In Poland, the Nazis murdered over 2,500 monks
and priests and even more were imprisoned. In a 30 April 1943 letter to Bishop von Preysing
of Berlin, Pius referred to the Nazi retribution in the Netherlands as one reason for muted
criticism in his public statements: We give to the pastors who are working on
the local level the duty of determining if and to what degree the danger of reprisals
and of various forms of oppression occasioned by episcopal declarations …ad maiora mala
vitanda (to avoid worse) … seem to advise caution. Here lies one of the reasons, why
We impose self-restraint on Ourselves in our speeches; the experience, that we made in
1942 with papal addresses, which We authorized to be forwarded to the Believers, justifies
our opinion, as far as We see … The Holy See has done whatever was in its power, with
charitable, financial and moral assistance. To say nothing of the substantial sums which
we spent in American money for the fares of immigrants. Furthermore, without being even-handed and
condemning Stalin’s atrocities against Soviet and Polish citizens, the Pope would be vulnerable
to accusations of bias; which could have seriously undermined the influence the Vatican might
have with Germany. The Allies were exceedingly anxious to prevent a Papal condemnation of
Stalin, which would have hurt the Allied effort. According to Piotrowski, Pius XII also never
publicly condemned the Nazi massacre of 1.8–1.9 million mainly Catholic Poles (including 2,935
members of the Catholic Clergy), nor did he ever publicly condemn the Soviet Union for
the deaths of 1 million mainly Catholic Polish citizens including an untold number of clergy.
In December 1942, when Tittman asked Cardinal Secretary of State Maglione if Pius would
issue a proclamation similar to the Allied declaration “German Policy of Extermination
of the Jewish Race”, Maglione replied that the Vatican was “unable to denounce publicly
particular atrocities.” However, in his 1942 Christmas address, the Pope proceeded to voice
concerns for the “hundreds of thousands who, through no fault of their own, and solely
because of their nation or race, have been condemned to death or progressive extinction.”
A month later Ribbentrop wrote to Germany’s Vatican ambassador: “there are signs that
the Vatican is likely to renounce its traditional neutral attitude and take up a political position
against Germany. You are to inform him (the Pope) that in that event Germany does not
lack physical means of retaliation.” The Ambassador reported that Pius indicated that he did not care what happened to himself,
but that a struggle between Church and State could have only one outcome—the defeat of
the State. I replied that I was of the contrary opinion … an open battle could bring some
very unpleasant surprises for the Church … Pacelli (Pius XII) is no more sensible to threats
than we are. In event of an open breach with us, he now calculates that some German Catholics
will leave the Church but he is convinced that the majority will remain true to their
Faith. And that the German Catholic clergy will screw up its courage, prepared for the
greatest sacrifices.=====Criticism=====
Assessments of Pius’s role during World War II were initially positive; however, following
his death, some have been more critical. Early on the Soviets were keen to discredit Pius
in the eyes of Catholics in the Eastern Bloc. Some historians argue the Pope did not “do
enough” to prevent the Holocaust. Commentators said he was “silent” in the face of the Holocaust.
Others have accused the Church and Pius of antisemitism. These accusations are strongly
contested. According to historian William Doino (author of The Pius War: Responses to
the Critics of Pius XII), Pius XII was “emphatically not ‘silent’, and did condemn the Nazis’ horrific
crimes through Vatican Radio, his first encyclical, Summi Pontificatus, major addresses (especially
his Christmas allocutions), the L’Osservatore Romano” and he “intervened, time and time
again, for persecuted Jews, particularly, during the German occupation of Rome. He was
cited and hailed by the Catholic rescuers as their leader and director.David Kertzer
accuses the Church of “encouraging centuries of antisemitism”, and Pius XII of not doing
enough to stop Nazi atrocities. Many scholars dispute Kertzer. Jose Sanchez, of St. Louis
University criticized Kertzer’s work as polemical exaggerating the papacy’s role in anti-Semitism.
Scholar of Jewish-Christian relations Rabbi David G. Dalin criticized Kertzer for using
evidence selectively to support his thesis. Ronald J. Rychlak, lawyer and author of Hitler,
the War, and the Pope, decried Kertzer’s work for omitting strong evidence the Church was
not anti-Semitic. Others, including prominent members of the Jewish community, have refuted
criticisms and written highly of Pius’ efforts to protect Jews. Among the prominent Jews
to praise Pius after the war was Rabbi Isaac Herzog. Other prominent members of the Jewish
community have also defended Pius. Lichten, Lapide, and other Jewish historians report
that the Catholic Church provided funds totalling in the millions of dollars to assist Jews
during World War II. In the summer of 1942, Pius explained to his college of Cardinals
the reasons for the great gulf that existed between Jews and Christians at the theological
level: “Jerusalem has responded to His call and to His grace with the same rigid blindness
and stubborn ingratitude that has led it along the path of guilt to the murder of God.” Historian
Guido Knopp describes these comments of Pius as being “incomprehensible” at a time when
“Jerusalem was being murdered by the million”.In 1999, British writer John Cornwell published
the highly controversial Hitler’s Pope, which charged Pius assisted the legitimization of
the Nazis by agreeing to the 1933 Reichskonkordat. The book is critical of Pius, arguing, he
did not “do enough”, or “speak out enough”, against the Holocaust. Cornwell wrote that
Pius’ entire career was characterized by a desire to increase and centralize the power
of the Papacy, and subordinated opposition to the Nazis to that goal. He further argued
Pius was anti-Semitic and this stance prevented him from caring about the European Jews. The
Encyclopædia Britannica assesses Cornwell’s depiction of Pius as anti-Semitic and indifferent
to the Holocaust as lacking “credible substantiation”. Various commentators have subsequently characterized
his book as having been “debunked”. Cornwell, himself, has since retracted his accusations
in substantial part, saying that it is “impossible to judge the motives” of the Pope. but that
“Nevertheless, due to his ineffectual and diplomatic language in respect of the Nazis
and the Jews, I still believe that it was incumbent on him to explain his failure to
speak out after the war. This he never did.” Historian John Toland noted: “The Church,
under the Pope’s guidance … saved the lives of more Jews than all other churches, religious
institutions and rescue organizations combined … hiding thousands of Jews in its monasteries,
convents and the Vatican itself. The record of the Allies was far more shameful”.In 1963,
The Deputy, a fictional play by German playwright Rolf Hochhuth contained an unhistorical depiction
of the Pope as indifferent to the Nazi genocide. John Cornwell also depicted the Pope as an
anti-Semite. In an assessment by the Encyclopædia Britannica: “Both depictions, however, lack
credible substantiation” and “though Pius’s wartime public condemnations of racism and
genocide were cloaked in generalities, he did not turn a blind eye to the suffering
but chose to use diplomacy to aid the persecuted. It is impossible to know if a more forthright
condemnation of the Holocaust would have proved more effective in saving lives, though it
probably would have better assured his reputation.” Conversions of Jews to CatholicismThe conversion
of Jews to Catholicism during the Holocaust is one of the most controversial aspects of
the record of Pius XII. According to Roth and Ritner, “this is a key point because,
in debates about Pius XII, his defenders regularly point to denunciations of racism and defense
of Jewish converts as evidence of opposition to antisemitism of all sorts. The Holocaust
is one of the most acute examples of the “recurrent and acutely painful issue in the Catholic-Jewish
dialogue”, namely “Christian efforts to convert Jews”. In his study of the rescuers of the
Jews, Martin Gilbert noted the heavy involvement of the Christian Churches, and wrote that
many of the rescued eventually converted to Christianity, and were absorbed into the faith
and a “sense of belonging to the religion of the rescuers. It was the price – the penalty,
from a strictly Orthodox Jewish perspective – that was paid hundreds, even thousands,
of times for the gift of life.”==”Ratlines”: Helping Nazis to flee==After the war, clandestine networks smuggled
fugitive Axis officials out of Europe. The U.S. codenamed the activity the “Ratline”.
In Rome, pro-Nazi Austrian bishop, Alois Hudal, was linked to the chain, and the Croatian
College offered refuge to Croatian fugitives, guided by Msgr. Krunoslav Draganovic. Catholics
and non-Nazi Catholic leaders were being arrested as potential sources of dissent in the new
Communist republics being formed across Eastern Europe and sought to emigrate. This migration
was exploited by some Axis fugitives. Potential anti-Communist leaders were being framed by
anti-Catholic governments, as with the anti-Nazi Archbishop József Mindszenty in Hungary,
the Zegota Jewish aid council in Poland, and the Croatian Archbishop of Zagreb, Aloysius
Stepinac.Bishop Alois Hudal, the former rector of the pan-Germanic college in Rome training
German priests, was secretly a member of the Nazi Party and informant for German Intelligence.
Gerald Steinacher wrote that Hudal enjoyed close personal relations with Pius XII for
many years prior and was an influential figure in the process of escape. The Vatican Refugee
Committees for Croats, Slovenes, Ukrainians and Hungarians aided former fascists and Nazi
collaborators to escape those countries.Rome had been advised the new Socialist Federal
Republic of Yugoslavia was threatening to destroy Catholicism within its territory.
In this climate, wrote Hebblethwaite, the Church faced the prospect that the risk of
handing over the innocent could be “greater than the danger that some of the guilty should
escape”. Croatian priest Krunoslav Dragonovic aided Croatian Fascists to escape through
Rome. Ventresca wrote that there is evidence to suggest that Pius XII gave tacit approval
to his work and that, according to reports from the CIC (Counter Intelligence Corps)
agent, Robert Mudd, some 100 Ustasa were in hiding at the Saint Jerome seminary hoping
to reach Argentina in due course through Vatican channels, and with the full knowledge of the
Vatican. Within days of Pius XII’s death (1958) Vatican officials asked Draganovic to leave
the College of St. Jerome from where he operated since the latter part of the war. According
to Hebblethwaite however, Draganovic “was a law unto himself and ran his own show”.
In 1948, Draganovic brought the Nazi collaborator, and wanted war criminal, Ante Pavelić, to
the Collegio Pio Latino Americano disguised as a priest until Argentine President Juan
Perón invited him to the country.==Post-war attitudes to Nazi Germany==
Since the end of the Second World War, the Catholic Church has moved to honour Catholic
resistors, victims of Nazism, canonisation of saints, beatification of the virtuous and
recognition of martyrs. The Church has also issued statements of repentance for its failings
and that of its membership during the Nazi Era. Pius XII elevated a number of high-profile
resistors of Nazism to the College of Cardinals in 1946. Among them, Bishop Joseph Frings
of Cologne who succeeded the more passive Cardinal Bertram as chairman of the Fulda
Bishops’ Conference in July 1945., August von Galen of Münster and Konrad von Preysing
of Berlin. Elsewhere in the liberated Nazi Empire Pius selected other resistors: Dutch
Archbishop Johannes de Jong; Hungarian Bishop József Mindszenty; Polish Archbishop Adam
Stefan Sapieha; and French Archbishop Jules-Géraud Saliège. Italian Papal diplomat Angelo Roncalli
(later Pope John XXIII) and Polish Archbishop Stefan Wyszyński were among those elevated
in 1953. Of the post-war popes, the Italians John XXIII
and Pope Paul VI were actively involved in the protection of Jews during the war. Pope
Benedict XVI had first hand experience of life in Nazi Germany. As a boy, he was forced
to join the Hitler youth, drafted into the anti-aircraft corps and trained as a child
soldier. At the end of the war, he deserted, was briefly held as a POW and released. In
2008, Benedict offered support to the cause for the Canonization of Pope Pius XII, which,
like the legacy of the wartime pontiff, has met with controversy. On his first visit to
Germany as pontiff, Benedict went to the Roonstrasse Synagogue in Cologne and denounced antisemitism.
Pope John Paul IIPope John Paul II had suffered through the Nazi occupation of Poland, was
involved in the Polish cultural resistance and joined a clandestine seminary during the
war. In 1979, soon after his election, John Paul II visited Auschwitz concentration camp,
in homage to those who had died there. In 1998, the Vatican published We Remember: A
Reflection on the Shoah. The Pope said he hoped it would “help heal the wounds of past
misunderstandings and injustices” and described the wartime sufferings of the Jews as a “crime”
and “indelible stain” on history. We Remember spoke of a “duty of remembrance” that the
“inhumanity with which the Jews were persecuted and massacred during this century is beyond
the capacity of words to convey”. The document repudiated persecution and condemned genocide.
It acknowledged a negative history of “long-standing sentiments of mistrust and hostility that
we call anti-Judaism” from many Christians towards Jews, but distinguished these from
the racial antisemitism of the Nazis: [T]heories began to appear which denied the
unity of the human race, affirming an original diversity of races. In the 20th century, National
Socialism in Germany used these ideas as a pseudo-scientific basis for a distinction
between so called Nordic-Aryan races and supposedly inferior races. Furthermore, an extremist
form of nationalism was heightened in Germany by the defeat of 1918 and the demanding conditions
imposed by the victors, with the consequence that many saw in National Socialism a solution
to their country’s problems and cooperated politically with this movement. The Church
in Germany replied by condemning racism. On the roots of the Nazi Holocaust, We Remember
said:The Shoah was the work of a thoroughly modern neo-pagan regime. Its anti-Semitism
had its roots outside of Christianity and, in pursuing its aims, it did not hesitate
to oppose the Church and persecute her members also. But on the question of the response of the
church and individual Catholics to the Nazi Holocaust, We Remember acknowledged both success
and failure, concluding with a call for penitence: Those who did help to save Jewish lives as
much as was in their power, even to the point of placing their own lives in danger, must
not be forgotten. During and after the war, Jewish communities and Jewish leaders expressed
their thanks for all that had been done for them, including what Pope Pius XII did personally
or through his representatives to save hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives. Many Catholic
bishops, priests, religious and laity have been honoured for this reason by the State
of Israel. Nevertheless … the spiritual resistance and concrete action of other Christians
was not that which might have been expected from Christ’s followers. We cannot know how
many Christians in countries occupied or ruled by the Nazi powers or their allies were horrified
at the disappearance of their Jewish neighbours and yet were not strong enough to raise their
voices in protest. For Christians, this heavy burden of conscience of their brothers and
sisters during the Second World War must be a call to penitence In 2000 Pope John Paul II on behalf of all
people, apologized to Jews by inserting a prayer at the Western Wall that read, “We’re
deeply saddened by the behavior of those in the course of history who have caused the
children of God to suffer, and asking your forgiveness, we wish to commit ourselves to
genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant.” This papal apology, one of many
issued by Pope John Paul II for past human and Church failings throughout history, was
especially significant because John Paul II emphasized Church guilt for, and the Second
Vatican Council’s condemnation of, anti-Semitism. The Church acknowledged its use of some forced
labour in the Nazi era; Cardinal Karl Lehmann stated, “It should not be concealed that the
Catholic Church was blind for too long to the fate and suffering of men, women and children
from the whole of Europe who were carted off to Germany as forced laborers”.==See also==
Raphael’s Verein==Notes====References====Sources==
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Vidmar, John (2005). The Catholic Church Through the Ages. Paulist Press. ISBN 0-8091-4234-1.==External links==
German Historic Museum: Das Reichskonkordat (in German)
The Vatican Concordat With Hitler’s Reich by Robert E. Krieg

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