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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Holocaust and the "Christian" churches 1933-1945

The statements, the courage and the influence or non-influence of the different "Christian" churches  for saving Jews during the Holocaust

from: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 8 [?]

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)

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The Catholic Church. [never criticized anti-Semitism - a rumour of Pius XI having said that "Christians" would be Semites]

In response to Hitler's anti-Semitic policies, *Pius XI, like the German episcopate, seems to have limited his concern to Catholic non-Aryans. [...] (col. 910)

anxiety") of March 1937 rejected the myths of "race" and "blood" as contrary to revealed Christian truth, but neither mentioned nor criticized anti-Semitism per se. Nor was anti-Semitism mentioned in the statement of the Roman Congregation of Seminaries and Universities (issued on April 13, 1938) attacking eight theses taken from the Nazi doctrine as erroneous [[wrong]]. On Sept. 7, 1938, during a reception for Catholic pilgrims from Belgium, Pius XI is said to have condemned the participation of Catholics in anti-Semitic movements and to have added that Christians, the spiritual descendants of the patriarch Abraham, were "spiritually Semites". This statement, however, was omitted by all the Italian papers, including L'Osservatore Romano, from their accounts of the pope's address.

[[The concordat of the Vatican with Hitler's regime from 1933 is mentioned later only in one single sentence in this article]].

The elevation of Cardinal Pacelli to the papacy as *Pius XII in the spring of 1939 brought to the throne of St. Peter a Germanophile who, in contrast to his predecessor, was unemotional, dispassionate, and a master of the language of diplomatic ambiguity.

[1942: emotionless statements about the Holocaust from the pope]

The Vatican received detailed information about the murder of Jews in the concentration camps from 1942 on, [[and surely knew about the mass shootings in NS occupied eastern Europe]], but Pius XII restricted all his public utterances to carefully phrased expressions of sympathy for the victims of injustice and to calls for a more humane conduct of hostilities.

In his Christmas message of 1942, the pope spoke of his concern for the hundreds of thousands who, without personal guilt and merely on account of their nationality or descent, were doomed to death. Again, addressing the College of Cardinals in June 1943, the pontiff mentioned his twofold duty to be impartial and to point out moral errors. He had given special attention, he recalled, to the plight of those who were still being harassed because of their nationality or descent and who, without personal guilt, were subjected to measures that spelled destruction.

[1943: Jews rounded up in Rome - 50 kg of gold within 36 hours - the pope remains silent - deportations and hiding]

The pope's policy of neutrality encountered its crucial test when the Nazis began rounding up the 8,000 Jews of Rome of Rome in the autumn of 1943. Prior to the arrests, the Nazis told the Jewish community that unless it raised 50 kilograms of gold within 36 hours, 300 hostages would be taken. When it seemed that the Jews themselves could raise only part of this ransom, a representative of the community asked for and received an offer of a loan from the Vatican treasury. The pope approved of this offer of help, which, as it later transpired, did not have to be invoked.

During the German authorities hunt for the Jews of Rome, Pius XII, contrary to German fears, remained silent. On Oct. 18, 1943, over 1,000 Roman Jews - more than two-thirds of them women and children - were transported to the death camp *Auschwitz [[and then probably to the tunnel systems]]. About 7,000 Roman Jews were able to elude their hunters by going into hiding.

More than 4,000, with the knowledge and approval of the pope, found refuge in the numerous monasteries and houses of religious orders in Rome, and a few dozen were sheltered in the Vatican itself. the rest were hidden by their Italian neighbours, among whom the anti-Jewish policy of the Fascists had never been popular.

[Criticism against the mute pope 1941-1945]

Pius' failure to publicly protest against Nazi atrocities, especially against the murder of the Jews, drew criticism. In July 1942, Harold H. Tittmann, the assistant to Roosevelt's personal representative at the Holy See, Myron C. Taylor, pointed out to the Vatican that its silence was endangering its moral prestige. In January 1943, Wladislaw Raczkiewicz, president of the Polish government in exile, appealed to the pope to issue an unequivocal denunciation of Nazi violence [[and of their collaborators]] in order to strengthen the willingness of the Poles to resist the Germans and help the Jews.

Bishop Preysing of Berlin, a man of courage and compassion, urged the Pope on at least two occasions to issue a public appeal on behalf of the Jews. A similar request with regard to the Hungarian Catholics was (col. 9119

directed to Pope Pius in September 1944 by Isaac *Herzog, the chief rabbi of Palestine.

[Criticism against the mute pope after 1945: no excommunication of Hitler and Goebbels - an appeal could have had a great flight and helping effect]

After the end of World War II, Pius XII was again criticized for his silence. It has been argued - among others, by the German playwright Rolf *Hochhuth - that the pope could have saved numerous lives, if indeed he could not have halted the machinery of destruction altogether, had he chosen to take a public stand and confront the Germans with the threat of an interdict or with the excommunication of Hitler, Goebbels, and other leading Nazis belonging to the Catholic faith.

As an example of the effectiveness of public protest, it is possible to cite the resolute reaction of the German episcopate to the euthanasia program. In Slovakia, Hungary, and Rumania, the forceful intervention of papal nuncios, who threatened the pro-Nazi governments with public condemnation by the pope, was also able, albeit [[though]] temporarily, to halt the deportations. At the very least, it has been suggested, a public denunciation of the mass murders by Pius XII broadcast widely over the Vatican radio, would have revealed to Jews and Christians alike what deportation to the east actually meant. Many of the deportees might thus have been warned and given an impetus to escape, many more Christians might have helped and sheltered Jews, and many more lives might have been saved.

No way of proving or disproving these arguments exists, of course. Whether a papal decree of excommunication against Hitler would have dissuaded Hitler from carrying out his plan do destroy the Jews is doubtful, and revocation of the Concordat by the Holy See would have bothered Hitler still less. However, a flaming protest against the massacre of the Jews, coupled with an imposition of the interdict upon all of Germany, or the excommunication of all Catholics in any way involved with the apparatus of the "Final Solution" [[e.g. mass shootings and tunnel systems]] would have been a more formidable and effective weapon.

[German Catholics should not leave the Church - Communism should not come forward]

This was precisely the kind of action that the pope would not take, however, without risking the allegiance of the German Catholics. Given the indifference of the German population to the fate of the Jews and the highly ambivalent attitude of the German Church toward Nazi anti-Semitism, a forceful stand by the pope on the Jewish question might well have led to a large-scale desertion from the Church.

The pope had other, perhaps still stronger, reasons for remaining silent. In a world war that pitted Catholics against Catholics, the Holy See, as Mr. Tittmann was told by highly placed officials of the Curia, did not want to jeopardize [[to endanger]] its neutrality by condemning German atrocities, and the pope was unwilling to risk later charges of having been partial and contributing to a German defeat.

Moreover, the Vatican did not with to undermine Germany's struggle against Russia. Late in the summer of 1943, the papal secretary of state declared that the fate of Europe was dependent upon a German victory on the Eastern front. The Apostolic delegation in Washington warned the American Department of State in a note dated August 20, 1943, that Communism was making steady headway in Italy and Germany, and Europe was in grave peril of finding itself overrun by Communism immediately upon the cessation of hostilities.

Father Robert Leiber, one of Pius XII's secretaries, later recalled (in Stimmen der Zeit [["Voices of the Time"]], March 1961) that the Pope had always looked upon Russian Bolshevism as more dangerous than German National Socialism. Hitler, therefore, hat to be treated with some forbearance [[patience]].

[Papal nuncios are actively helping the Jews]

The reluctance of Pius XII to be drawn into a public protest against the "Final Solution" stands in contrast to the often energetic rescue activities of several of the papal nuncios in Slovakia, Hungary, Rumania [[Romania]], and Turkey. Monsignor Roncalli, the nuncio in Istanbul, who later became (col. 912)

Pope *John XXIII, in particular helped save many thousands of lives. The extent to which these men acted upon instructions from Rome is not clear, but the motives for the Vatican's solicitude seem to have been mixed. It appears that from late 1942 on, the Vatican was well aware that an ultimate Allied victory was inevitable. Considerations of expediency began to reinforce whatever moral revulsion the pope may have felt at the massacre of the Jews, and Pius began to drop hints to the bishops of Germany and Hungary that it was in the interest of their people, as well as that of the Church, to go on record against the slaughter of the Jews.

For example, he wrote an Austrian churchman on Oct. 15, 1942, that to intercede for those suffering in the conquered territories was not only a Christian duty but ultimately could only be of advantage to the cause of Germany.

[The climate of opinion against the Jews - the different nationalism movements and anti-Semitism]

The Nazis' assault on European Jewry [[and by their collaborators]] occurred in a climate of Christian hostility to Jewish religion and people.

[[This is above all true for the situation in eastern Europe since 1919. In central Europe the situation was not this extreme and many Christians even helped the Jews by danger of life and anti-Semitism had to be instigated by SS or SA]].

At the same time, other factors, such as varying patterns of nationalism, had an important bearing on the attitude of the Catholic churches of different European countries toward the Jewish tragedy. Thus it is important to differentiate between the situation in Germany and in the various Nazi-occupied countries of Europe.

[[Polish anti-Semitism after 1919 was very strong with boycott movements, discrimination movements, hunger and unemployment for the Jews]].

[since 1919: The German Catholic Church adopting anti-Semitic elements - opening data for the Nazi system]

During the 19th century some elements of German Catholicism contributed toward the emergence of modern anti-Semitism, and in the 1920s many Catholic publicists agreed with the Nazis on the importance of fighting Jewish liberalism and the Jews' alleged destructive influence in German public life (see *Church, Catholic, Modern Period). This anti-Semitic trend received a powerful impetus after Hitler's accession to power in 1933. Seeking to counter the Nazis' offensive against the Catholic Church, as a rival for the loyalty of the German people, churchmen attempted to gain favour with the Nazi regime and its followers by adopting certain aspects of Nazi ideology.

[[The Church was praying for another Germany after the two hyperinflations and huge unemployment, and the Church opened the marriage books to detect half Jews, quarter Jews and so on, the so called "non-Aryans"]].

They stressed the elemental values of race and racial purity, and limited their dissent to insisting that this National Socialist goal be achieved without resort [[change]] to immoral means. The sacred books of the Old Testament, it was argued, were not only beyond the Jewish mentality but in direct conflict with it. Jesus, it was conceded, had been a non-Aryan, but the son of God was fundamentally different from the Jews of his time, who hated and eventually murdered him. They also said that the Jews had had a demoralizing effect on Germany's national character; the press, literature, science, and the arts had to be purged of the "Jewish mentality".

[[There were Catholic clubs excluding Jews, the Catholic students organized rallies against Jewish students etc., in Austria even since the 1880s, in Germany after the defeat of 1919]].

In the face of the Nazis' anti-Semitic legislation the Church retreated, even when the ordinances touched on vital domains of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, such as matrimony. The diocesan chancelleries helped the Nazi state to detect people of Jewish descent by supplying data from Church records on the religious background of their parishioners [[community members]]. The bishops facilitated the emigration of non-Aryan Catholics, but little, if any, solicitude was shown for non-Aryans who were not of the Catholic faith.

Similarly, when mass deportations of German Jews began in October 1941 [[the first deportations took place in 1940 to south of France]], the episcopate limited its intervention with the government to pleading for Christian non-Aryans. When the bishops received reports about the mass murder of Jews in the death camps from Catholic officers and civil servants, their public reaction remained limited to vague pronouncements that did not mention the word Jews. An exception was the Berlin prelate Bernhard *Lichtenberg, who prayed publicly for the Jews. The joint pastoral letter of the German episcopate of August 1943, for example, spoke of the right to life and liberty, [...] (col.913)

[Prohibition to speak about the Jews]

Almost half the population of the greater German Reich (43.1% in 1939) was Catholic and even among the S.AS. despite Nazi pressure to leave the Church, almost a quarter belonged to the Catholic faith. While in the past the episcopate had issued orders to deny the sacraments to Catholics who engaged in dueling or agreed to have their bodies cremated, the word that would have forbidden the faithful, on pain of excommunication, to go on participating in the massacre of Jews was never spoken.

The bishops had demonstrated their willingness to risk a serious clash with the Nazi regime by protesting the extermination of the insane and retarded in the "euthanasia" program. This intervention had been successful in large measure because it had had the backing of public opinion. In the case of the Jews, however, it was far from clear whether the episcopate could count on the support of the faithful, and this was probably one of the main reasons why a clear public protest against the "Final Solution" [[e.g. mass shootings, tunnel systems]] was never issued. Only a handful of Jews were hidden by the clergy or helped by individual Catholics in Germany.

[The Catholic Church in anti-Semitic Poland]

[[Polish anti-Semitism was absolutely heavy since 1919, with political anti-Semitic parties and boycotts over years, see:
-- Boycott, anti-Jewish,
-- and the book from Yehuda Bauer: The Joint in Poland and the "Polish methods" against the Jewish population since 1919 ]].

In Poland, where no official policy on the part of the Catholic Church has never been discerned, it would seem that, as in Germany, the initiative to help Jews was taken only by individuals.

[Clerical resistance in Holland, Belgium, France, and Italy: 1000s of saved Jews by hiding and conversions]

This situation stands in marked contrast to that prevailing in Nazi-occupied Europe. In western Europe declarations of solidarity and help for the Jews were almost universally regarded as signs of patriotism and resistance to the Germans. Here some of the highest Church dignitaries condemned the persecution of the Jews.

In Holland, where the Church as early as 1934 had prohibited the participation of Catholics in the Dutch Nazi movement, the bishops in 1942 immediately and publicly protested the first deportations of Dutch Jews, and in May 1943, they forbade the collaboration of Catholic policemen in the hunting down of Jews, even at the cost of losing their jobs.

In Belgium members of the episcopate actively supported the rescue efforts of their clergy, who hid many hundreds of Jewish children.

Several French bishops used their pulpits to denounce the deportations and to condemn the barbarous treatment of the Jews. Throughout Western Europe numerous priests and members of the monastic clergy organized the rescue of Jews, and hid them in monasteries, parish houses, and private homes. French priests issued thousands of false certificates of baptism.

Many lay Catholics in France, Holland, Belgium, and Italy acted similarly, thus saving thousands of Jewish lives. The concern of the population of these countries for Jewish fellow-countrymen was undoubtedly a key factor behind the bold protests of the French, Dutch, and Belgian bishops.

[Catholic church in eastern Europe prevents Jews from conversion]

In eastern Europe anti-Semitism had deeper roots, and the record of the Catholic churches there is more ambiguous. IN Slovakia, a Catholic priest, Dr. Josef Tiso, was president of a pro-Nazi regime; the Church there was more interested in saving souls than lives, although the episcopate did protest the deportations as a violation of human and divine law. Several Hungarian bishops protested to the authorities the deportation and mistreatment of the Jews but at the same time put difficulties in the way of issuing conversion certificates that would have saved many Jews from deportation. Large numbers of Jews, nevertheless, owed their lives to the courageous rescue activities of lesser clerics, monks, and Catholic laymen.


Protestant and Greek Orthodox Churches.

Protestant churches and their leaders in Britain, the United States, France, Switzerland, and Sweden protested against the first anti-Semitic measures in Germany, the promulgation of the *Nuremberg Laws, and *Kristallnacht of 1938 [[Chrystal Night]]. In (col. 914)

[German Protestant Church excludes "Christs" with Jewish origin - "Confessing Church"]

Germany, Hitler's supporters within the Protestant Church complied with anti-Jewish legislation, applying it even within the Church by going so far as to exclude Christians of Jewish origin from membership. Although the "Confessing Church" (Niemoeller's dissident Bekenntniskirche) defended the rights of Christians of Jewish origin within the church, it generally neither publicly opposed discrimination against them outside the church, nor condemned the persecution of Jews. An Exception to this rule was the memorandum sent by the "Confessing Church" to Hitler (May 1936), which stated that "when, in the framework of the National-Socialist ideology, anti-Semitism is forced on the Christian, obliging him to hate the Jews, he has nonetheless the divine commandment to love his neighbour."

A number of ministers of the "Confessing Church" were sent to concentration camps because they did not cooperate with anti-Jewish directives. During the war, the Protestants in Germany maintained their silence, the notable exception being Bishop Wurm of Wuerttemberg, who intervened on behalf of the so-called "privileged non-Aryans", in 1943.

[Protestant Church in Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, and France]

In the occupied countries, however, the situation was different. The Lutheran churches in Norway and Denmark issued a public protest when the deportations from their countries began. The Protestant churches in the Netherlands, together with the Roman Catholic Church, sent several protests, some of which were read from the pulpits. In France, the president of the Protestant Federation, the Rev. Marc Boegner, sent letters to the French chief rabbi, to Admiral Darlan, Marshal Pétain, Pierre Laval, and others. A message was read from the pulpits twice.

[Orthodox Church in Yugoslavia and Greece]

The persecution of the Orthodox Serbs in Yugoslavia matched in cruelty the persecution of Jews. It has been reported that Orthodox Church leaders stood up for the Jews, but hardly any details are available.

In Greece, the archbishop of Athens, Damaskinos, headed a group of prominent citizens who sent a strong protest against the deportations of the Jews to the prime minister of the puppet regime and to the German representative in Athens. The contents of these protests show that they were based mainly on national, rather than on religious, considerations. Damaskinos was personally active in the rescue of individual Jews. The bishop of Salonika, Genadios, also intervened on behalf of Jews. The attitude of nonresistance of the population of Salonika, however, shows that the faithful did not always follow the example of their leaders.

SATELLITE COUNTRIES. [Slovakia and Romania]

The Lutheran Church in Slovakia protested in November 1939 and in May 1942. Rumania [[Romania]] has a long record of anti-Semitic activities in which leaders and members of the church frequently participated. However, the metropolitan of the Bukovina region, Tot Simedrea, the metropolitan of Transylvania, Balan, and Patriarch Nicodemus personally and successfully intervened with the Rumanian [[Romania]] government on behalf of the Jews after fervent appeals from Chief Rabbi Safran.

In Bulgaria, the metropolitan of Sofia, Stephan, and the metropolitan of Plovdiv, Kyril, intervened personally with King Boris using extremely forceful expressions. The "Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church" repeatedly sent strong protests in writing to the government. According to a Jewish spokesman, Joseph Geron, the Orthodox Church played a major role among the "collective factors" that helped in the rescue of the Bulgarian Jews.

In Hungary, the bishops of the Reformed and Lutheran churches voted in the upper house for the first and second anti-Jewish laws in 1938 and 1939. They protested when mass deportations began in 1944, but, due to government pressure, a prepared public statement was not read out from the pulpits.

[Church actions in the "neutral" countries]

In the neutral countries the Church of Sweden strongly protested against the deportation of the Norwegian Jews. In Switzerland, protests of the (col. 915)

Protestant churches were a factor leading to the alleviation [[reduction]] and ultimate canceling of the government measures against Jewish refugees entering Switzerland "illegally", who were at first sent back to their doom [[sent back to Nazi Germany into SS hands]].

[Church help to Jewish refugees]

The churches also rendered material aid to the refugees. In Great Britain, the archbishop of Canterbury, the bishop of Chichester, and other church leaders voiced strong protests, but their demands for practical steps were of no avail. The same is true of the United States, where church leaders issued many protests.

The World Council of Churches, then still in process of formation, had offices in New York, London, and Geneva. The general secretary, Willem Visser 't Hooft, and the director of the Department for Refugees, Adolf Freudenberg, sent three letters to the International Red Cross, in which they reported on deportations and mass executions of Jews and pleaded for help. Together with Gerhart Riegner of the world Jewish Congress, Visser 't Hooft sent an aide-mémoire to the governments of the U.S.A. and Great Britain, informed church leaders in these countries about the extermination of Jews [[e.g. by mass shootings and tunnel systems]], intervened with the Swiss government on behalf of Jewish refugees, and helped send gift parcels to Jews in concentration camps.

[Silent Churches 1933-1945]

The non-Roman Catholic churches in Austria, Belgium, the Protectorate (Bohemia-Moravia), Finland, Italy, Poland, and Russia apparently did not issue any public protest during World War II.

[Individual "Christian" help]

Individual Christians rendered practical help, though the importance of this fact should not be overrated: only a small minority of the Protestant and Orthodox Christians in occupied Europe risked their lives on behalf of the persecuted Jews. It is difficult to assess the practical results of interventions and protests by churches and church leaders. In satellite countries, where they could turn to their own governments, the interventions of church leaders were of some avail.

In the occupied countries, the protests hardly influenced the German authorities; but, in so far as they were read out from the pulpits, the protests contributed to breaking the silence and complacency that surrounded the extermination of the Jews and stirred the faithful to noncooperation with the Germans and to render individual aid to the Jews.



-- S. Friedlaender: Pius XII and the Third Reich (1966)
-- G. Lewy: Catholic Church and Nazi Germany (1964), ch. 10
-- P. Blet et al. (eds.): Lettres de Pie XII aux évęques allemands (1966)
-- E. Bentley (ed.): Storm Over the Deputy (1964), incl. bibl.
-- J. Nobécourt: "Le Vicaire" et l'histoire (1964)
-- Rothkirchen, in: Yad Vashem Studies, 6 (1967), 27-53
-- P. Friedman: Their Brothers' Keepers (1957)
-- M. Faulhaber: Judaism, Christianity and Germany (1934)
-- Carpi, in: Yad Vashem Studies, 4 (1960), 43-56
-- Lewy, in: Commentary, 37 no. 2 (1964), 23-35
-- J.S. Conway: The Nazi Persecution of the Churches, 1933-1945 (1968)

-- J.M. Snoek: The Grey Book ... (1969), incl. bibl.
-- W.A. Visser 't Hooft: Struggle for the Dutch Church ... (1944)
-- Les Eglises Protestantes pendant la guerre et l'occupation (1946)
-- Die Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland und die Judenfrage (1945)
-- M. Leviev: Nashata Blagodarnost (Bul., n.d.)> (col. 916)

Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Holocaust
                            and Christian churches, vol. 8, col. 910,
                            911, 912
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Holocaust and Christian churches, vol. 8, col. 910, 911, 912
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Holocaust
                            and Christian churches, vol. 8, col.
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Holocaust and Christian churches, vol. 8, col. 913-914
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Holocaust
                            and Christian churches, vol. 8, col.
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Holocaust and Christian churches, vol. 8, col. 915-916