By Lothar Groppe, S.J., translated by Dr. Alan F. Lacy, Fidelity (November, 1983)
The question of the Catholic Church's attitude toward the persecution of the Jews by the
brown-shirted rulers now regains its relevance with the anniversary of Hitler's seizure of power some
fifty years ago. Hochhuth, (1) at the time that he wrote The Deputy, thought that he could accuse Pope
Pius XII of complicity in the mass murders. In his drama he has the young Jesuit Father Ricardo say:
"A vicar of Christ who is aware of that and nonetheless remains silent for reasons of state, who
deliberates only one day, who hesitates for just one hour to raise the voice of his pain to a curse that
would make even the last human being on earth shudder with fear - such a Pope is… a criminal."
In spite of the publications appearing in the meantime, which have proven the untenability of
his accusations, Hochhuth gave a large Norwegian newspaper an interview at the end of 1978 in
which he again dismissed Pius XII as a common coward."
The left-leaning author Bernt Engelmann, who is well known in Germany, declared in the West
German radio broadcast "The Direct Line," in response to the questions on the first broadcast of
Holocaust: "The official Catholic Church is guilty of complicity in these horrors." The editor of the self-proclaimed liberal weekly newspaper "Die Zeit," Marion Countess Donhoff, wrote on February 2, 1979,
in her article "A German History Lesson":
…on the other hand, no protests were heard against the persecution of the Jews - which was
gradually increased: First they were made ridiculous, then mistreated, then placed in camps, and
finally, transported off for gassing. Protests came neither from the Church nor from the citizens.
Neither within the country nor outside.
In the Zeit-Dossier of February 3, 1982, the author of the book SS Informer in Cassock, Georg
Denzler, (2) has his source, Albert Hartl, say the following on the topic "Silence on the Murder of the
Jews": "If the Church had rigorously rejected the anti-Semitism of National Socialism from the very
beginning, then Hitler would not have dared to annihilate the Jews so radically."
Was it really this simple? Cardinal Montini, even well after the war, was one of the closest
collaborators with the Cardinal Secretary of State Pacelli, later Pope Pius XII. Just before the
beginning of the conclave from which he emerged as Paul VI, he wrote to the editor of the English
newspaper The Tablet:
As for his omitting to take up a position of violent opposition to Hitler in order to save the lives of those
millions of Jews slaughtered by the Nazis, this will be readily understood by anyone who avoids
Hochhuth's mistake of trying to assess what could have been effectively and responsibly done then, in
those appalling conditions of war and Nazi oppression, by the standard of what would be feasible in
normal conditions - or in some hypothetical conditions arbitrarily invented by a young playwright's
imagination. An attitude of protest and condemnation such as this young man blames the Pope for not
having adopted would have been not only futile but harmful: that is the long and the short of the
matter. The thesis of Der Stellvertreter (The Deputy) betrays an inadequate grasp of psychological,
political, and historical realities and attempts to disguise reality with theatrical trickery.
Let us suppose that Pius XII had done what Hochhuth blames him for not doing. His action would
have led to such reprisals and devastations that Hochhuth himself, the war being over and he now
possessed of a better historical, political and moral judgment, would have been able to write another
play, far more realistic and far more interesting than the one that he has in fact so cleverly but also so
ineptly put together; a play, that is, about the Vicar who, through political exhibitionism or
psychological myopia, would have been guilty of unleashing on the already tormented world still
greater calamities involving innumerable innocent victims, less to his own detriment than that of other
It would be as well if the creative imagination of playwrights insufficiently endowed with historical
discernment (and possibly, though please God it is not so, with ordinary human integrity) would
forbear from trifling with subjects of this kind and with historical personages whom some of us have
known. In the present case the real drama, and tragedy, is not what the playwright imagines it to be: it
is the tragedy of one who tries to impute to a pope who was actually aware both of his own moral
obligations and of historical reality - and was moreover a very loyal as well as impartial friend to the
people of Germany - in spite of the horrible crimes of German Nazism.(3)
Before I cite a few facts which probably even our older readers no longer completely
remember, I would like to tell of an experience which I had in Jerusalem in 1968 at Yad Vashem, the
largest archives for the persecution of the Jews.
AN EXPERIENCE IN JERUSALEM
After a conversation with the director, he led me to a division-head who came from Hamburg,
where I was working at the time. His reception was quite polite but noticeably cool, until it was
remarked incidentally that I was a Catholic priest. The person I was talking with, Dr. Ophir (earlier:
Offenburg), jumped up, excused himself for his remote coolness, and said to me that he had thought
that I was a Protestant pastor since I came from Hamburg. Understandably, my surprise was great as
to what this might have to do with his behaviour. Then he pointed to the wall of his file cabinets and
said to me: "I have been working on the fate of the Jews in Bavaria for many years. With the
exception of three or four villages, all the Jews from the Catholic parishes in Bavaria were gassed."
Naturally, I was bewildered as to why precisely this terrible fact should speak for the Catholics. Dr.
Ophir continued: "You have to understand that correctly. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, the
Jews in Bavaria who lived in Catholic communities said to themselves, the Catholics will protect us,
they will not boycott us. And so they remained, in contrast to the Jews in the non-Catholic
communities. They did not emigrate, but then one day like a bolt of lightning they were arrested and
deported. From my work of many years I can say that there were only two real opponents to the
Nazis: the Communists and the Catholic Church."
Even though I would like to refine this claim a little bit - after all there was, for example, the
assassination attempt on Hitler's life - nonetheless, there is much that is true in it.
During my work for the book Erzbischofliche Hilfsstelle fur nichtarische Katholiken in Wien
(Archiepiscopal Support Center for Non-Aryan Catholics in Vienna) I ran across a letter from Dr.
Margarete Sommer, the former Director of the Berlin Support Center (for Jews) to Father Ludger
Born, S.J., the head of the support center in Vienna. This letter said:
The longer I think about this task (she was supposed to write about the Berlin Support Center) the
more it oppresses me. My work from the period of the persecution seems to me so unimportant, so
downright pitiful. To be sure, when I happened to hear on the radio an excerpt from an article by
Gruber regarding his role in Jerusalem in the Eichmann trial, it increased my resistance against these
"guilt tirades," this accusation against the Christians, against the Church. Little by little, it looks as if
the Christians - as Christians - persecuted the Jews. Even the opposition: Jew-Christian is wrong!
For the period of persecution the opposition should be: Jew and non-Jew! The persecutors were really
anything but Christians, even if they happened to have been baptized in a church.
It was the de-Christianization of man of the time which first made this persecution possible!(4)
The letter of condolences from the head of the Jewish community in Berlin, Heinz Galinski,
upon the occasion of Dr. Sommer's death, written to the Vicar General of Berlin, shows that Dr.
Sommer is competent to make this judgment.
The Jewish community owes Dr. Sommer thanks for her exemplary attitude towards the welfare of
those who were formerly persecuted by the National Socialist regime, to whom she gave help and
support with the greatest self-sacrifice… The Jewish community in Berlin will always hold the memory
of Dr. Sommer in honor.(5)
EFFECT OF THE CONCORDAT
In the article "The Church and the Third Reich" we already indicated that just a few days after
Hitler's sensational government proclamation to the effect that the national government saw important
factors for the maintenance of the German nation in both Christian confessions, whose rights were not
to be impinged upon, the German bishops published a pastoral letter in which they considered the
general prohibitions and warnings against the Nazis no longer to be necessary. Certainly people can
have divided opinions regarding whether such a pastoral letter was appropriate, following so to speak,
immediately on the heels of the announcement. Even with the same goals, views regarding the path
which should be taken are often very different. However we cannot overlook the fact that even in this
same pastoral letter the bishops emphasized that they did not want to withdraw the condemnation of
certain religious and moral errors.
Among these religious and moral errors were racism and anti-Semitism. As early as 1928, Pius
XI had already clearly and publicly taken up a position against this, and a decree of the Holy Office
reminded the people that the Pope condemns "especially hate against that people which was once
chosen by God, that hate which is now usually called 'anti-Semitism.'" Likewise, the German as well
as the Austrian bishops clearly objected to anti-Semitism both before and after 1933. In their pastoral
letters in which they warned against increasing National Socialism, the rejection of the racial ideology
played a relevant role.(6)
RESPONSE OF THE BISHOPS
In a letter from the episcopal authorities dated September 30, 1930, written in answer
To a question from the district authorities of the Nazi party regarding the attitude of the Church to the
Party program, the response concerning paragraph 24 says:
The second part of paragraph 24 says: "We call for the freedom of all religious confessions in the
State insofar as they do not offend against the ethical and moral feelings of the Germanic race." We
ask: What is the ethical and moral feeling of the Germanic race? What is the relationship of this
Germanic feeling of ethics and morals to Church morals? The Christian ethical law is based upon love
of neighbor… Furthermore, the Christian ethical law is general; it is valid for all times and all races.
Thus it is a great error to demand that the Christian confession be adapted to the ethical and moral
feeling of the Germanic race. Incidentally, in matters of religion, it is not feelings but rather
understanding and will, which are decisive.(7)
On April 1, 1933, upon the order of the Reich leadership of the Nazi Party, a one-day boycott
was carried out in all of Germany against Jewish stores of all types, against the sales of Jewish
goods, against Jewish doctors and lawyers, etc. This introduced the first phase of national Socialist
Jewish politics, while the exclusion of the "non-Aryans" from public life followed.
Some days prior to this, the director of the German Bank had gone to Cardinal Bertram, the
Chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, and had asked him to intervene with the Reich
President. The Cardinal answered that this was an area which only tangentially concerned the Church
and that the State therefore would consider it an undue interference. He also said that the episcopacy
had good reasons to limit itself to its own area of duties.
By April 1, 1933, however, the Pope had already sent a note protesting the anti-Jewish boycott,
to which he did not receive an answer. It is certainly informative that of the 55 protest notes which the
Holy See sent to Berlin between 1933 and 1939, no more than 12 of them were answered.(8)
Things did not go any better with the papal protests after the outbreak of the war. Hitler's
foreign minister Ribbentrop declared in the Nuremberg trials that there was an "entire drawer full of
It is correct, but probably also obvious, that the bishops, first and foremost, took care of Church
interests. After all, they are the officials of the Catholic Church and have to care first of all for the
welfare and the problems of those who are directly entrusted to them, since they were assured of the
integrity of ecclesiastical realm, by the Reich concordat. But in spite of the danger of exposing
themselves to the accusation that their declarations were a statement of political Catholicism, they
also frequently intervened expressly for those who were persecuted and who did not belong to the
Church. Thus the pastoral letter of the Bavarian bishops, dated May 6, 1933, says:
We hope that the Reich government does not approve of the efforts and the actions of those who
apply a different measure of justice as a matter of principle, or who want to apply the expression
"bringing into line" in a manner which contradicts the assurance of the Reich Chancellor that he
"grants equality before the law to all of those who join in supporting the nation and who do not deny
their support to the government." Just as we demand equality for our German brothers in foreign
countries and condemn exceptive laws, so also must we object to any deprivation of rights or
inequality by law brought about by members of our own State. We are obligated to show justice and
love to all men.
The pastoral letter of all the German prelates dated June 8, 1933, is even clearer:
… of course we do not forget our natural and Christian bonds with other peoples and other families of
peoples because of our love for our own people and our Fatherland, but rather we think about the
great worldwide kingdom of God on the earth which our Redeemer appointed to include all men in His
salvation without regard to language, time, or nation and race… However we believe that a unity of
people can be realized not through the identity of blood but rather through the identity of belief, and
that the exclusive emphasis on race and blood with regard to the membership in a State leads to
injustices which burden the Christian conscience, especially when they are applied to fellow men who
are reborn in Christ through the Holy Sacrament of Baptism and have become a "new creature" in
Him. What has been valid for every nation up until now - that is, that justice is the basis of the welfare
of all people - must also be valid especially in the new order of the German nation.(10)0
Certainly one must not overestimate the possibilities that the bishops had at the time. They
were very limited even within the Catholic area and often condemned to ineffectiveness.
Thus Bishop Nikolaus Bares of Berlin protested against the claims of the Nazis that the leader
of the Berlin Catholic Action, ministerial dirtier Dr. Erich Klausener, who was murdered on June 30,
1934, had committed suicide. Along with the entire chapter of the cathedral he participated in the
solemn requiem and the internment of the urn with the murdered man's ashes. On July 8, he had an
obituary to Klausener read in every church of the bishopric. He had the Catholic Church Gazette for
the Bishopric of Berlin of July 15 appear as a memorial number, and he himself wrote a page-long
obituary. After 120,000 copies of this issue were distributed, the prohibition against further printings
was issued. The bishop wrote to Hitler three times to save the murdered man's honor. His first letter
was answered with excuses; the two other letters remained without any answer at all.
MIT BRENNENDER SORGE
In his world-famous encyclical "Mit brennender Sorge" (To the Bishops of German on the
Church and the German Reich) of March 14, 1937, Pius XI once more gave his views regarding the
racial question, after he had already said about a dozen times that "a god Catholic cannot serve the
idol of racism" and that National Socialism and Christianity were irreconcilable:
He who takes the race, or the people, or the State, or the form of government, the bearers of the
power of the State or other fundamental elements of human society - which in the temporal order of
things have an essential and honorable place - out of the system of their earthly valuation and makes
them the ultimate norm of all, even of religious values, and deifies them with an idolatrous worship,
perverts and falsifies in order of things created and commanded by God. Such a person is far from
true belief in God and a conception of life corresponding to true belief… This God has given His
commandments in His capacity as Sovereign. They apply regardless of time and space, country or
race. As God's sun shines on all that bear human countenance, so does His law know no privileges or
exceptions… Only superficial minds can lapse into the heresy of speaking of a national God, of a
national religion; only such can make the mad attempt of trying to confine within the boundaries of a
single people, within the narrow blood stream of a single race, God the Creator of the world…
The language of the encyclical left nothing to be desired in clarity. What now was the reaction
to this worldwide message, which, after all, was addressed to all peoples? In Germany itself the
struggle against the Church was greatly intensified; at the direction of the Reich government the
German ambassador to the Vatican lodged the strongest protest. The Reich Minister for Churches,
Kerrl, attacked the bishops for this encyclical in internal writings, and Hitler himself did the same thing
on May 1, at a mass rally in the Berlin Lustgarten.(11)2
On March 23, 1937, Hitler had his Reich Minister for the Churches prohibit the printing,
reproduction, and distribution of the papal encyclical. The official publications of the bishops which
had printed the encyclical were banned for three months. Twelve print shops which had printed the
encyclical before March 21 were expropriated without compensation. Heydrich directed the immediate
arrest of persons who distributed the encyclical outside of churches and rectory grounds, if they were
not members of the clergy.(12)3
On April 6, 1937, Hitler ordered the resumption of the Morals Trials. He thought he had in them
and their propagandistic exploitation an effective weapon against the papal encyclical.(13)4
On April 13, 1938, the Papal Congregation of Students called for the professors to fight with all
their power against the completely erroneous doctrine of racism and the idolization of race. The
following propositions, as well as others, were condemned:
1. Human races are different from each other in their innate and unchanging manner so much that
the lowest human race is further removed from the highest than it is from the highest animal race.
2. The power of the race and the purity of blood must be protected and furthered in all possible ways;
everything which serves this goal is, of itself, already good and permitted.
3. From the blood in which the nature of the race is contained there flows, as the most essential
source, all the spiritual and moral properties of human beings.
4. The most important goal of teaching is the advancement of the development of the nature of the
race and the encouragement of the spirit to a burning love for its own race as the highest existing
5. Religion is subordinate to the law of the race and must be adapted to it.
6. The first source and the highest measure of all legal order is racial instinct…
7. Individuals exist solely through the State; all rights which come to them receive their force from the
fact that they have been granted by the State.(14)5
On July 15, 1938, Pope Pius XI gave an address before the students of the Propaganda Fide, the
papal university where citizens of almost every nation in the world studied. The main point of his
speech: "It is forgotten today that mankind is only one large all-inclusive general race."
The Volkische Beobachter reacted to this address in its edition of August 2, 1938:
The Vatican has rejected the racial doctrine from the very beginning, partially because it was first
proclaimed publicly by German National Socialism and because the latter drew the first practical
consequences from this knowledge; for the Vatican adopted a political stance of opposition
towards National Socialism. However, the Vatican also had to reject the racial doctrine because it
contradicts its dogma of the equality of all men, which is again a consequence of the Catholic
claim for universality, which incidentally, it also shares with liberals, Jews, and Communists.(15)6
JEWS BEGIN TO EMIGRATE
Since many Jews, even though not all of them by far, recognized more and more that
continuing to remain in Germany would entail greater and greater risks, a steadily increasing
number of them attempted to emigrate. But this was not as simple as one might imagine it today
when anyone can change his residence or country at will. The difficulties were of a different nature
but in a certain way similar to those faced by people who wish to move from the German
Democratic Republic to West Germany, if they have not yet reached retirement age.
Professing Jews enjoyed significantly great possibilities, especially if they were well-to-do. But
for poor Jewish citizens the difficulties were almost insurmountable, especially if they belonged to a
Christian Church. The society of St. Raphael, originally founded for the "normal" emigration of the
previous century, tried to help the "non-Aryan Catholics" who wanted to emigrate. The German
charitable organization Caritas attended to those who were not able or did not want to emigrate.
Both organizations were represented in the "Relief Committee for Catholic non-Aryans," founded in
1935. In 1934 the "Caritas Relief Works" was established, in 1938 the "Relief Works of the
Episcopal Ordinariat in Berlin," in 1939 the "Caritas Reich Office for Non-Aryan Catholics." After
the so-called "Anschluss" the "Organization to Aid the Emigration of Non-Mosaic Jews in the
Ostmark" was founded in Austria. At first this group concerned itself with emigration, evacuation,
and public relief.(16)7
In Vienna, where a disproportionately high percentage of Jews who did not practice Judaism
lived - altogether 7, 914 in the year 1941, of these 3,836 Catholics - there were various attempts
to help the persecuted Jews at first on a more or less private basis, then within the framework of
Caritas.(17)8 Then in 1940, Cardinal Innitzer founded the 'Archiepiscopal Relief Office for Non-Aryan
Catholics" which began its activity in the palace of the Viennese Archbishop and continued to work
effectively until after the end of the war. Without going too deeply into details, we will single out
two cases as example which may show the general refusal of foreign countries to accept German
RESPONSE OF OTHER COUNTRIES
There were various reasons for this aversion. First of all, the anti-Semitism practiced in many
other countries was no less strong than in Germany. Then too, the consequences of the world
depression were not over yet by far. Professional organizations, especially among academics,
were afraid of unpleasant competition, especially as there were still many unemployed, even in
foreign countries. To be fair however, it must also be admitted that not a few emigres "attracted
attention through their behavior in Brazil, their lack of willingness to work and their inadequate
adaptation to the customs of the country, and they reversed not only the spirit of sacrifice and
enthusiasm of the relief committee but above all too the friendly attitude of the authorities," as the
society of St. Raphael was forced to observe.(18)9
In the spring of 1939 a ship set sail from Hamburg to Havana, with 900 Jewish refugees on
board, all of whom had Cuban visas. Having arrived in Cuba, the authorities declared that the
visas were invalid and refused to allow the ship to dock. In its search for asylum the ship sailed to
eleven nations in all, but all of them forbade the landing. Many Jews were brought back to
Germany and later ended up in the gas chambers.(19)0
A further somber chapter is the so-called Brazil action. After the Cardinal Secretary of State
Pacelli was elected Pope on March 2, 1939, the Vatican joined the negotiations to obtain 3,000
visas for Christian "non-Aryans." Finally the Brazilian President Dr. Getulio Vargas pledged the
new Pope that he could grant them to German Catholic non-Aryans. The effort to obtain the visas
lasted from June 1939 until June 1941. In this respect, it must be realized that the Gestapo made
the release of Jewish prisoners from concentration camps dependent upon the possession of a
visa. Then, within ten days of their release, they had to leave Germany. The anti-Semitic and
negative attitude of Brazil's representatives in Berlin and Hamburg continued to create new
difficulties. A few "regulations for implementation" will illustrate this:
Only families with at least three persons between ages of twelve and fifty who were able to
work were eligible. Each family which was selected by a Brazilian delegation had to deposit 20,000
Conto de Reis. According to the official exchange rate, that amounted to 2,800 Reichsmarks (RM);
for Jews, however, a "special exchange rate" of 39,000 RM was in effect.(20)1
The following figures will serve to give the reader a good idea of the financial magnitude of
these amounts: A chaplain who was ordained in 1938 received in July of 1940 in Vienna a net
salary of 106.56 RM per month. An unmarried secondary schoolteacher-senior government official
of the same number of years of service received as a beginning salary 408.00 RM, and as his
highest salary 684.00 RM. If he was married and had a child, then he received a beginning salary
of 439.00 RM, and a maximum salary of 725.00 RM.(21)2
The family which was chosen had to promise to go to work in agriculture or industry. Of the
3,000 visas which had been promised 1,000 were finally set aside for "non-Aryans" who were
already outside of Germany and were waiting to continue their journey overseas. For 150 of them
the invasion of the army into Holland, and after that the Gestapo, came quicker than the
permission to enter Brazil. The society of St. Raphael, Bishop Berning from Osnabruck, the Head
of the Archiepiscopal Relief Organization in Vienna, Father Ludger Born, S.J., as well as the
highest offices in the Vatican worked in vain to secure the distribution of the remaining 2,000
Looked at soberly, this is what the real influence of the Church - of its highest representatives
yet! - looked like in a "Catholic" country such as Brazil.
H.G. Adler, the author of the extensive monograph "Theresienstadt 1941 - 1945"(22)3 describes
these phenomena this way:
The failure of the most powerful people of this earth formed the gloomy background against which
the desperate struggle against the implementation of the "final solution" stands out in sharp
contrast… Protests, radio announcements, threats of jail and feeble petty relief actions made little
impression upon the murderers who skillfully took advantage of this weakness and lamentable
inactivity. The extermination camps in Auschwitz and elsewhere, as well as the railroad tracks
leading up to them were never bombed, even though the necessary details had been reported to
the West via Geneva. The attempt was never made to help these people who were marked for
death in the camps and in the enforced ghettoes by dropping weapons and explosives, or even
with paratroopers, even though volunteers could have been found, who through a skillful surprise
raid could have made the Auschwitz camp unusable for months, or if the raid were repeated,
forever. Too much was neglected in the West as well as in the East.(23)4
CATHOLIC RESPONSE IN THE NETHERLANDS
By 1934 in the Netherlands, the bishops had already threatened the harshest penalties for all
Catholics who joined the Dutch Nazis. The anti-Jewish measures began immediately after the
occupation in May 1940. Since the bishops protested sharply against this many times, the Nazis
"avenged" themselves by deporting even those Jews who were baptized. Dr. Harster, high ranking
leader in the SS and the police, declared in his memorandum of July 30, 1942, literally: "Since the
Catholic bishops - without being involved - have interfered in these affairs, the entire population of
Catholic Jews will now be sent off this week yet. No intervention will be considered."
As the Deutsche Zeitung in den Niederlanden reported on the following day, General
Commissar Schmidt said at a Party meeting on August 2, 1942: "However, if the Catholic clergy
can thus ignore negotiations, then we in turn are forced to consider the Catholic full-blooded Jews
as our worst opponents and to take measures to ship them off to the East as quickly as possible.
This has happened."(24)5 The most prominent victim was the Carmelite nun Edith Stein, who has
since become world famous.
These deportations had a fairly long prologue. In the Netherlands, strikes had come about
against the deportation of the Jews. A publication which cannot be doubted writes on this topic:
"The vain strike on February 25, 1941, did not improve the position of the Jews in Holland - as a
matter of fact the protest led to an intensification of the anti-Jewish measures by the Germans."(25)6
The Dutch bishops had made several protests to the Reich Commissar Dr. Seyss-Inquart against
anti-Jewish measures. They also threatened with pastoral letters. Dr. Harster warned that
measures would also be taken against baptized Jews who had been spared up until then. The
Reformed Church reacted to this in silence, but the Archbishop of Utrecht got a pastoral letter
against anti-Semitism accepted by his peers, which was then read in all the churches on July 26,
1942. Just five days later, the security police had all Dutch Catholics of Jewish descent deported.(26)7
Whoever wants to make an objective judgment regarding the events of the time should bear in
mind the following: In none of the countries occupied by the Nazis did the bishops protest more
loudly, more emphatically and more often than in the Netherlands. But on the other had, no
country anywhere else in the West had more Jews deported - specifically 79 percent - into the
THE ARCHEPISCOPAL RELIEF OFFICE FOR NON-ARYAN CATHOLICS
In the article "The Church and the Third Reich" we already called attention to the various
pastoral letters of the German bishops against the despotism of the official authorities towards
innocent men; there were various relief offices for non-Aryan Catholics which developed partially
from earlier relief organizations and were partially created specifically for the hopeless plight of
those being persecuted. Insofar as we can get a clear view of things, the only relief organization
which was able to continue its beneficent activity even until after the end of the war, was the
Archiepiscopal Relief Organization for Non-Aryan Catholics in Vienna founded by Cardinal Innitzer.
Because of the numerous "non-Aryans" in the "Ostmark," as Austria was then called, it probably
was also the largest of all of them by far. After years of research and questioning many witnesses,
a compendious documentation could be presented which gives a more or less complete overview
of the impressive Christian work of Caritas.(28)9 The relief organization had altogether 23 female co-workers besides its director. Of these nine were sent to concentration camps, where only one
Day in and day out the sick were visited, the despairing were comforted - and all of this in the
shadow of the omnipresent Gestapo. We dealt with giving advice in legal questions, how one
should act when summoned by the Gestapo, placement in jobs and apartments, finding medical
and dental treatment. "Aryan" doctors were not allowed to treat Jews. We asked for medicine and
glasses, everything which was not allowed to Jews. It was necessary to arrange placements in
homes for children or old people, and whenever someone died then the difficult problem of his
burial arose. Jews were not allowed to be interred in "Aryan" cemeteries.
Altogether the relief organization expended 375,417.44 RM. This sum may seem relatively small
today, but comparisons from that period of time can give us a more or less appropriate idea…
In his book Emigrant for Germany the journalist and author Frederic W. Nielsen quotes a letter of
the PEN-Club of which he was a member. The club decided that it was unable "to send the
promised support of ten marks." Instead of that the British refugee committee provided a "weekly
contribution of 2.50 marks… "
From the end of 1940 to the end of 1942, 48 trainloads of 1,000 Jews each were sent from the
General-gouvernement to Litzmannstadt (Lodz) and the Theresienstadt; in 1943 smaller shipments
followed. All told, approximately 2,000 Catholics were involved here… All the attempts of the
cardinal to block these shipments, through Church organizations and non-Church organizations,
were unsuccessful… The relief organizations also sent packages to Poland from Vienna, from the
Province, and from the Protectorate. This was no simple task - even ignoring the acquisition of
food and clothing, since everything was rationed - because many post offices refused to accept
"Jewish packages… " The shipments to Theresienstadt began after Christmas in 1942. At first
there were 20 to 30 per month, but from July of 1943 on, the number increased to 200 or more per
month. In the year 1944 there were exactly 7,277 packages sent, most of them weighing 2
kilograms. Individual packages also were sent to the concentration camps of Ravensbruck,
Buchenwald, Birkenau and Auschwitz.
In spite of the material aid which was the only thing that made survival possible for some of them,
the spiritual support was probably even more important: "That you did not leave us alone in our
fear… That you came to us again and again, even though our dwellings were branded as the
dwellings of Jews… That we were allowed to come to you when we no longer knew what else to
do… That you were simply there for us, all of this comforted us, all of this we took along with us as
a hope and a consolation into the camps, into deportation and into the gruesome end… "(29)0
Not a few critic of the Church have found fault with the fact that the bishops did not use harsh
language and said nothing concrete about the extermination of the Jews. Yet no one would have
been served with theatrical thundering. The bishops knew, just as well as the ruling powers of the
time, who had the leverage. Many people could still be helped quietly, and a large number of non-full-blooded Jews still lived in relative security within the "Greater German Reich." Given the
conditions of the time, only quiet help extended in secrecy was possible and effective. In the
Nuremberg trials the counsel for the prosecution found out how cynically the major war criminals
reacted to the Allied threats that those who were guilty of the annihilation of the Jews would be
brought to justice: "I am very honored", "Look to the records", etc.(30)1
On March 12, 1944, the Archbishop of Cologne, Josef Frings, objected to government
despotism and the persecution of the Jews:
We will use the opportunity (of the installation of the Pope) in order to demand, in the spirit of the
Holy Father that:
1. Freedom be not withdrawn from any citizen without his having the opportunity to defend himself
and to be brought before a regular or extraordinary court.
2. No one who is innocent be robbed of his possessions or indeed of his life, on the grounds that
he belongs to a foreign race. This can only be called outrageous injustice.
3. The rights of the Christian family are preserved. Marriages between members of our people and
those from other peoples, if they have been made with ecclesiastical approval, and especially if
both partners are baptized Catholic Christians, are indissoluble, and it is a crime against God's law
on marriage to break up such marriages through any kind of machinations.(31)2
One might wonder why the Nazis took no steps against the bishops. Certainly, as for example
Goebbels wrote, (32)3 they wanted to "adjourn the criminal court until later." But another reason may
have played a role. As early as May 1936, Cardinal Bertram stated frankly at a press conference:
"Those on the other side no longer take us seriously."(33)4 Perhaps the Nazis hoped that the bishops'
words would have less effect on the faithful if they purposely ignored them. Hitler said in the
company of his followers, that the first 10,000 copies of the Myth of the Twentieth Century were
not finally sold until it was mentioned in a pastoral letter. "Only the fact that the Cardinal of Munich,
Faulhaber, was dumb enough to quote from the Myth at a bishops' conference and to attack it,
made the second edition possible." The various articles by the Catholic Church attacking
Rosenberg had finally caused the number of copies printed to rise as high as 170,000, and then to
RESPONSE OF THE POPE
What did the Pope do? Nothing, if one may believe his accusers. However, the facts tell a different
story. The Counselor of the Embassy, Haidlen, expert for Vatican questions in the Foreign Office
of the Third Reich, was asked by the Deputy U.S. Prosecuting Attorney, Robert M.W. Kempner,
about the reactions of the Holy See to the excesses of the national Socialist terror organizations.
Haidlen admitted that the nuncio Cesare Orsenigo was continually making protests against the
measures and the acts of violence of the Gestapo and the SS, but in most cases he had not been
able to accomplish anything. Occasionally his intervention had fatal consequences for those on
whose behalf he used his influence. Not infrequently, the persons concerned were eliminated and
then the Foreign Office was informed that there were no persons at all by this name in custody. "In
view of such practices it soon seemed more advisable to the Vatican to cease its public
announcements, and to use other ways to work quietly to restrain the national Socialist ruling
powers, a mode of behavior which today is often misunderstood as a failure of the Church."(35)6
On May 13, 1940, Msgr. Montini, later Pope Paul VI, noted that Pius XII had said to the Italian
ambassador, Dino Alfieri, in an audience: "We would have to speak words of fire against the
terrible things (which are going on in Poland) and that the only thing that keeps us from doing this
is the knowledge that we would make the fate of these unfortunate people even worse if we were
to speak more strongly."(36)7
As Montini reports, Pius XII several times considered breaking his "silence" and expressing more
than general condemnation of crimes and breaches of international law. But again and again the
realization came through to him that flaming protests would only be considered theatrical
thundering and would cause the Nazi to increase the temp of their murderous activities and to
extend them even further. On the other hand, they would finally foil the Pope'' limited diplomatic
and humanitarian efforts, as well as the not insignificant successes in those countries such as
Hungary, Rumania, or Slovakia, which had not been fully "brought into line." The German
ambassador, von Weizsacker, also shared this evaluation of the situation, and sought to
strengthen the Vatican in this attitude. On January 25, 1940, while he was still the Secretary of
State in the foreign office, Weizsacker wrote to the ambassador from the Vatican, von Bergen: "To
be sure the Vatican does express itself in general terms, but it is totally clear who is meant.(37)8
The manner of proceeding in the international arena depends upon many conditions which cannot
be judged without a through knowledge of the background and the context. For example, one
should remember the very different treatment of the question of human rights by U.S. President
Carter and the Austrian Federal Chancellor Kreisky. The former American Secretary of State,
Henry Kissinger, came out in favor of a "quiet diplomacy" in the struggle for human rights. In an
interview with the American publication "Trialogue," he supported the view that a "loud campaign
concealed great dangers." According to him the political developments in Iran after the fall of the
Shah "are one of the results of such a loud policy" (Die Welt, February 6, 1979). Here one must
not overlook the fact that the United States is not only a military but also an economic superpower
par excellence, and possesses many ways of influencing other countries which the military and
economic have-nots, such as the Vatican, do not possess.
The far-reaching impotence of those countries which are only "moral superpowers," such as the
Holy See, becomes abundantly clear in the example of the Spanish civil war. The Spanish
communists shot to death, tortured to death or murdered in other ways 12 bishops, 5,255 priests,
2,492 monks, 283 nuns and 294 novices.(38)9 Are we to assume that the Pope was indifferent to
this? But what could he attain in fact?
Father Robert Leiber, S.J., who was one of Pope Pius XII's closest assistants for decades, writes
regarding the dilemma in which the Pope found himself, that is whether and to what extent he
should express his views regarding the terrible crimes of mass murder and, at the same time, the
merciless bombing terror against the civilian population:
One may speculate that it was an act of Providence that the Church was directed during World
War II by a Pope who adopted Benedict XV's principle of objecting to injustice, force, and cruelty
only in a general form, regardless of where they happen and who perpetrates them. In World War
II and even afterwards, acts of violence and cruelty were committed in unimaginable forms on
almost all sides, so that there would be no end to the Pope's lodging protests in order that he
might not seem to be taking sides…
The effect of a solemn condemnation was also looked upon very soberly be others. The Roman
Jews were in any case thankful to the Pope that he maintained his silence during the German
occupation of that city…(39)0
In his book Three Popes and the Jews(40)1 which shows the light and dark sides of the Catholic
Church with respect to the Jews through the course of decades, Pinchas E. Lapide writes the
The Catholic Church, under the pontificate of Pius XII was instrumental in saving at least 700,000,
but probably as many as 860,000, Jews from certain death at Nazi hands… It was as if this
crusade of rescue was meant to atone in part, for the hateful teachings of the past. These figures,
small as they are in comparison with our six million martyrs whose fate is beyond consolation,
exceed by far those saved by all other churches, religious institutions and rescue organizations
Moreover, they stand in startling contrast to the unpardonable foot-dragging and hypocritical lip-service of those outside Hitler's reach, who certainly disposed of far greater means to rescue Jews
whilst there was still time: the International Red Cross specifically and the Western democracies in
The London Jewish Chronicle wrote in its lead article on September 11, 1942: "A word of
sincere and earnest appreciation is due from Jews to the Vatican for its intervention in Berlin and
Vichy on behalf of their tortured co-religionists in France…" (42)3 Barely one month later, on October
9, 1942, The Universe wrote:
From St. Peter's throne the late Pope himself uttered the strongest protests and declarations that
anti-Semitism is an un-Christian policy. His successor has repeated those warnings and quite
recently sent his nuncio to Vichy to protest in person against the anti-Jewish measures that have
been decreed in France.(43)4
The protest however, was rejected. Prime Minister Laval proclaimed that he would not let himself
be influenced by the Holy See. A censorship order to the press said: "No mention is to be made of
the Vatican protest to Marshal Petain in favor of the Jews."(44)5
On the occasion of the first deportation of foreign and stateless Jews from France - French
government offices had agreed on this "compromise" with the Gestapo, in order to save at least
the French Jews - the Archbishop of Toulouse, Saliege, had a proclamation read on Sunday,
August 22, 1942, which said: "Jews… are our brothers. A Christian cannot forget that." Upon the
express direction of Pius XII the Osservatore Romano and Radio Vatican repeated this protest
twice and commented upon it for the next six days.(45)6
The Jewish historian Leon Poliakov, who himself was saved by Christians, characterizes the
situation in France at the time as follows: "Priests, members of the religious orders and laymen
were rivals in giving asylum, thereby saving, as Mauriac wrote, the honor of French Catholics. The
saving of their honor saved tens of thousands of Jewish lives."(46)7
Even in Poland, where anti-Semitism was much more deeply rooted than in Germany or
Austria, a few hundred Catholic priests, monks, and nuns saved, according to Lapide, at least
15,000, perhaps 50,000 Jews during the years 1940 to 1945.(47)8
Msgr. Nowowiejski, one of the six bishops in German concentration camps during the war,
wrote on June 28, 1964: "If the Pope could do nothing against the Nazi criminals who habitually
broke their promises and ignored every diplomatic obligation; if he failed to save his own priests
from death, what would Hitler have conceded him on behalf of others?"(48)9
After all, more than 4,000 priests, monks and nuns died at the hand of the Nazis - in spite of
the numerous energetic interventions and protests of the Pope and his nuncios in Germany,
Belgium, France, Holland, especially Poland, but also in other countries. Not a few priests who had
helped, concealed or aided Jews in their escape were discovered and murdered. Don Aldo Mei, a
young priest from Fiano in Italy, may serve as a representative for many of them. He had
concealed a Jewish family for seven months. When the Gestapo discovered them, the Jews were
immediately shot to death. Don Aldo however was tortured for two days in order to get from him
the names of other Jews he had concealed. Before finally having to dig his own grave, he wrote in
his breviary: "I die content with sealed lips and serene in God's peace." (49)0
Rabbi Arthur Gilbert wrote about of all of them:
These Catholic priests had looked upon the faces of their Jewish neighbours and recognized
Jesus willingly sacrificed in an act of atoning love. In their opposition to Hitler they demonstrated
that Christianity is not to be judged by the failure of Christians, just as Judaism should not be
measured by the sinfulness of some Jews. Faith that calls upon God, the Creator of man in His
Own Image, heals and reconciles man to his brother.(50)1
From the book Three Popes and the Jews we clearly see that the Catholic Church does not
need to shy away from comparison with any institution regarding its attitude towards the
persecution of the Jews. This becomes especially clear, for example, when we investigate the
results of the Bermuda conference held in May 1943 to discuss the problems of refugees. These
results are shocking and make manifest the double standards of many politicians who fight for the
"protection of human rights." The "Jewish Comment" of May 14, 1943, states: "The truth is that
what stands in the way of aid to the Jews in Europe… is not that such a program is dangerous, but
simple lack of good will to go to any trouble on their behalf." (51)2
Professor Haim Fineman from the Zionist Worker's Movement in the United States summarizes
the facts as follows: "What renders the situation so horrifying is the fact that this tragedy was not
unavoidable. Many of these dead might have been alive were it not for the refusal and delays by
our own State Department, the International Red Cross, the War Refugee Board and other
agencies to take action." (52)3
At the same time the Nuncio Roncalli, later Pope John XXIII, was making thousands of
baptismal certificates available for those Jews who were condemned to death, without attaching
any conditions to them. In the process, not a single Jew was baptized. Two members of the Relief
Committee of the Jewish Agency wrote to Roncalli on October 14, 1944:
The humanitarian interest which the Holy See and its noble representatives showed in various
countries of Europe where Jews were threatened with deportation, and the help which was
granted to them so magnanimously, through which thousands of people were saved from sure
death, will never be forgotten by our nation and by the conscience of the civilized world.(53)4
Pinchas Lapide, from whose book we have made several citations, was often asked why a
practicing Jew like himself would waste his time defending the Pope (Pius XII). His answer should
give pause to all of those who want to brand the Church and the Pope as being jointly guilty in the
abominations of the Nazis:
If fairness and historical justice are keystones of Jewish morality, then keeping silent in view of
slanderous attacks on a benefactor is an injustice… Did not Pius speak out clearly against
Nazism, for equal mercy towards all the victims of the persecution, doubtlessly also towards the
Jews, in his many radio appeals, pastoral letters, embassies and letters to his bishops? Would
these neo-heathens, who shamelessly disregarded the divine law and the basic commands of
Jesus, have listened to any appeal from Rome? And would Pius have been able to defy Hitler, with
absolutely no power - and at the same time have been able to go on saving Jews secretly? …
Whoever is of the opinion that the situation could not have gotten any worse, should remember
that after all far more than two million Jews - more than one quarter of the European Jews - did
indeed survive Hitler's butchery, even if just barely - thanks to the help of the Church, bishops,
The Talmud teaches us "whoever saves a life receives as much credit as if he had saved an entire
world." If this is true - and it is just as true as the most typical of all Jewish principles: that of the
holiness of human life - then a Jew must also defend loudly a great saver of Jewish life.(54)5
1. Rolf Hochhuth, Der Stellvertreter (Hamburg, 1963).
2.2 Why Die Zeit consults with two more excommunicated priests, besides the author, for its attack against the Church, does not appear
completely understandable. By doing this, suspicion falls on the renegade that he wants to justify his own actions through attacks
against that Church, to which he one vowed faithfulness. Furthermore, there is certainly no lack of experts, and even the author himself
attests that the Jesuit Ludwig Volk, for example, is "an excellent authority on church conditions at the time of national Socialism."
3.3 G.B. Cardinal Montini, "Pius XII and the Jews" In The Storm Over The Deputy, Eric Bentley (Ed.), (New York, 1964), p. 68.
4.4 Letter from Dr. Sommer to Fr. Born, S.J., dated November 21, 1961.
5.5 Petrusblatt (July 11, 1965).
6.6 Gotto-Repgen, Kirche, Katholiken und Nationalsozialismus (Mainz, 1980), p. 85.
7.7 Gerhart Binder, Irrtum und Widerstand (Munich, 1968), p. 72f.
8.8 Lothar Groppe, Kirche und Juden im Dritten Reich (Vienna, 1979), p. 5.
9.9 Ibid., p. 5.
1.10 Johann Neuhausler, Kreuz und Hakenkreuz (Munich, 1946), II, p. 50.
1.12 Walter Adolph, Hirtenamt und Hitler-Diktatur (Berlin, 1965), p. 134.
1.13 Walter Adolph, Die katholische Kirche im Deutschland Adolf Hitlers (Berlin, no year (1974), p. 76f.
1.14 Cf. "The Church and the Third Reich," in this publication, note 14.
1.15 Neuhausler, op. cit., II p. 378f.
1.16 Ibid., p. 379.
1.17 Born-Groppe, Die Erzbischofliche Hilfsstelle fur nichtarische Katholiken in Wien (Vienna, 1978), pp. 5, 191f.
1.18 Lothar Groppe, Die Erzbischofliche Hilfsstelle fur nichtarische Katholiken in Wien, (2) (1981), p. 12f.
1.19 Lutz-Eugen Reutter, Katholische Kirche als Fluchthelfer im Dritten Reich (Recklinghausen-Hamburg, 1971), p. 141.
2.20 Pinchas E. Lapide, Three Popes and the Jews (New York, 1967), p. 216.
2.21 Reutter, op. cit., p. 141f.
2.22 Born-Groppe, Die Erzbischofliche Hilfsstelle (Vienna, 1978), p. 90.
2.23 Reutter, op. cit., p. 142f.
2.24 H.G. Adler, Theresienstadt 1941-1942 (2) (Tubingen, 1960).
2.25 H.G. Adler, Der Kampf gegen die "Endlosung" (Supplement to the weekly newspaper Das Parlament), p. 98.
2.26 Israel Digest (March 12, 1965).
2.27 Lothar Groppe, Deutsche Tagespost (December 22-23, 1978).
2.28 Lapide, op. cit., p. 202.
2.29 Born-Groppe, Die Erzbischofliche Hilfsstelle fur nichtarische Katholiken in Wien, 1978; Lothar Groppe, in Heimfuhren werd
ich euch von uberall her (Vienna, no year ).
3.30 Lothar Groppe in Heimfuhren… , p. 5f.
3.31 B.J.J. Visser, Gewalt gegen Gewissen (Wurzburg, 1974), p. 246.
3.32 Ibid., p. 205f.
3.33 Ibid., p. 162.
3.34 Lothar Groppe, Kirche und Juden im Dritten Reich, p. 12.
3.35 Henry Picker, Hitlers Tischgesprache (2) (Stuttgart, 1965), p. 269.
3.36 Alfred, Schickel, "Aus den Protokollen eines Anklagers," (FAZ) (December 19, 1969).
3.37 Visser, op. cit., p. 35.
3.38 Dieter Albrecht (Ed.), Katholische Kirche im Dritten Reich, (Mainz, 1976), p. 187.
3.39 Thomas Hugh, The Spanish Civil War, p. 144.
4.40 Lothar Groppe, Kirche und Juden im Dritten Reich (Vienna, 1979), p. 14.
4.41 Pinchas E. Lapide, Three Popes and the Jews (New York, 1967).
4.42 Ibid., p. 214f.
4.43 Ibid., p. 197.
4.44 Ibid., p. 194.
4.46 Ibid., p. 189f.
4.47 Ibid., p. 193.
4.48 Ibid., p. 187.
4.49 Ibid., p. 185.
5.50 Ibid., p. 213.
5.52 Ibid., p. 218.
5.53 Ibid., p. 222.
5.55 Die Welt (July 16, 1966).