Jerusalem Post ............ International Edition
December 5, 1992
The likely visit of Pope John Paul II, a further step on the road towards formal relations with the Vatican, is cause for deep satisfaction in Jerusalem. Many Holocaust survivors and their descendants, however, are less than euphoric.
A papal visit will inevitably bring to mind the behavior of the Church at the time of Hitler's Final Solution. As Prof. Guenter Lewy points out in his book, The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany, that role can be best understood in the context of the traditional hostility of the Church to Judaism.
When Hitler took power in 1933 German bishops expressed their appreciation of the importance of racial purity. Cardinal Fulhaber preached that the Jews were condemned to wander restlessly over the earth. Bishop Hilfrich taught that the Jews murdered God, and were under a curse ever since. Father Senn hailed Hitler as "the tool of God...to overcome Judaism." Bishop Hudal defended the anti-Jewish Nuremberg laws, emphasizing that the Church had maintained similar views.
Given such widespread religious convictions, it should surprise no one that the papal secretary of state, Eugenio Pacelli, who was to become Pope Pius XII, engineered the Vatican's Concordat with Hitler.
As late as 1941, Archbishop Grober, in a pastoral letter filled with antisemitic utterances, blamed the Jews for the death of Jesus, saying that "the self-imposed curse of the Jews - 'His blood be upon us and our children' - has come true... today."
Virulently antisemitic writings by priests and in books bearing the Church imprimatur fueled the German anti-Jewish flames.
By the end of 1942, substantiated reports of the extermination of the Jews had reached Catholic bishops and the Holy See. Pastoral letters, including one by Archbishop Frings and one by the German episcopate on August 19, 1943 condemning the "murder of innocent people," have been cited as evidence that the German bishops did publicly protest. But these vague declarations - not once were the words "Jew" or "Aryan" mentioned came late and accomplished nothing. The constant deportations of Jews elicited no Church protests.
When Edith Stein, the Jewish convert to [Roman] Catholicism, asked the pope to issue an encyclical on the Jewish question, he refused.
In 1941, the Vichy ambassador to the Holy See reported to Marshal Petain that the Holy See did not consider anti-Jewish laws as contravening Catholic teachings.
In 1942, Harold Tittman and Myron Taylor, US diplomats at the Holy See provided evidence of mass executions of Jews and of deportations to death camps. They told the Vatican that its silence was "endangering its moral prestige and undermining faith both in the [Roman Catholic] Church and in the Holy Father." The Holy See responded that the pope would not condemn German atrocities because
he didn't want to hurt [Roman] Catholics who were under the Nazis, and because he didn't want Germans to blame the [Roman Catholic] Church for their defeat.
In June 1943, the pontiff spoke of his duty to be impartial, and said statements had to be weighed "in the interest of those suffering so that their situation would not..... be made still more difficult and unbearable." He told the Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano:
"Do not forget that millions of [Roman] Catholics serve in the German armies. Shall I bring them into conflicts of conscience?"
Nazi State Secretary Weizacker commended the pope, saying the Vatican had so far conducted itself "very cleverly" in these matters. Not surprisingly, Himmler also praised the Vatican's "discretion."
When the Nazis demanded 50 kg of gold from Roman Jewry, the Vatican offered to lend them some. However, when 1,007 of Rome's Jews were sent to Auschwitz, the pope was silent. (Some 7,000 Roman Jews survived by hiding, some in Roman monasteries and with the knowledge of the pope.)
Some saw the pope's reticence not as "Christian prudence," but "unChristian cowardice" - the spiritual head and moral leader of the Roman Catholic Church silent "in the face of the greatest of moral depravities" mankind had ever witnessed (Lewy).
Cardinal Tisserant bitterly condemned the Church's silence, saying "history will reproach the Holy See with having practised a policy of selfish convenience and not much else."
SOME CATHOLICS defied the Church and helped Jews. True, some rescued Jewish children only in order to raise them as [Roman] Catholics, but many did so purely out of humanitarian motives. Dr. Gertrud Luckner of Caritas, the Catholic philanthropic organization, helped Jews escape from Germany and was arrested in 1943 and sent to a concentration camp. A priest in the Rhineland in 1933 characterized the vilification of the Jews as unjust, and one in Bavaria actually said, back in 1926, that they were lies.
Provost Lichtenberg of Berlin said, the morning after Kristallnacht "Outside [this church] the synagogue is burning, but that is also a house of God." He was sentenced to two years at Dachau for saying a daily prayer for the Jews - and died en route. Father Delp and others also died resisting the Nazis. When American troops reached Dachau on April 26, 1945, they found 326 German [Roman] Catholic priests. Some had died in the camp. After the war, the pope invoked these and other acts to proclaim that the [Roman] Catholic Church had resisted the Nazis. What the pope omitted to say was that these [Roman] Catholics were a rare few, and had acted in opposition to the Church.
The [Roman Catholic] Church not only discouraged,
but even condemned acts against the Nazis.
The Holocaust was largely the product of the incessant teachings of hatred of Jews and Judaism by the Church and the Church's instigation of their legal, economic and physical persecution over the previous 1,500 years - teachings which conditioned people for the ultimate outrage. These began with pejorative general references to Òthe Jews," and were honed to the basest level by all the Fathers of the Church. Christian prelates throughout Europe portrayed Jews as Christ-killers and ritual murderers. The hundreds of expulsions, pogroms and massacres instigated or led by the Church over the years fertilized European soil for the Holocaust.
In the words of French scholar Jules Isaac:
"Without centuries of Christian catechism, preaching and vituperation, the Hitlerian teachings, propaganda and vituperation would not have been possible."
Hitler pointed out to German Bishop Berning and Monsignor Steinman that he was merely going to do what the [Roman Catholic] Church had done to the Jews for 1500 years.
Similarly, Hitler wrote to Pope Pius XII:
"We are continuing the work of the Catholic Church."
The problem is not, as some assert, that certain Christian leaders deviated from Christian teachings and behaved in an unChristian manner; it is "the teachings themselves" that are bent.
As [Roman] Catholic priest and theologian Edward Flannery emphasizes in his study of Christian antisemitism:
"the principle source of Christian antisemitism was the Church's theological antiJudaism."
Erasmus of Rotterdam put it succinctly:
"If it is Christian to hate Jews, then we are all good Christians."
The difficulty, however, is not with Christians. The problem is Christian teachings. Christians would do well to consider a fundamental re-examination of those teachings, the source of Christian antisemitism - to scrutinize the New Testament and the Patristic teachings about the Jews, and to learn what the Church has done to the Jews.
To be sure, it is not for the members of one religious persuasion to suggest to those of another to re-examine their teachings. Nevertheless, if Jewry has undergone horrors, suffering and constant decimation as a direct result of those teachings, such an examination by Christians is long overdue. Jews may certainly feel free to urge Christians to effect vital changes so that Jews need no longer suffer from the antiJudaism of Christian teachings.
Undoubtedly, such a re-appraisal will necessitate nothing less than a Copernican revolution in the Church, and no one need have any illusions that it will embark on so fundamental a quest. Although [Roman] Catholic theologian Rosemary Radford Reuther and others have expressed the awareness that antisemitism is intrinsic to traditional Christology, they are in a distinct minority.
However, at the very least, the Church should be made aware of Jewish concerns about the nature of Christian teachings. With all due respect, if the Church wishes meaningful relations with the Jewish people it should address those concerns - not, I should emphasize, through dialog with the Jews, but in dialog between themselves.
Dr. [Kaniel] Kaufman's latest book is Love, Marriage and Family in Jewish Law and Tradition.