copyright: 1989 Therese Sprecace
September 1, 1989, will mark the 50th anniversary of the invasion of Poland and the ensuing destruction which followed. I visited Poland in 1979; 1 spent two weeks touring Poland and I was thrilled to visit Warsaw, Krakow and Czestochowa--cities I had learned about from the Polish nuns who taught me during my high school years. During that tour I saw the restored beauty of Warsaw; restored after total destruction, block by block, by Hitler's army- I saw monuments on busy city sidewalks --- places where fresh flowers are always present, in memory of those who were murdered by brutal occupiers. And I saw Auschwitz and Birkenau; I saw many of the areas where the madness occurred. Since then I have done much research on the Second World War; probably to try to find some personal answers as to how and why that degree of barbarism ever came about. Although I was initially drawn into the history of the time because of my Polish heritage, I also was drawn into it because of my Catholic heritage. And as Catholics, we sometimes are not well informed about Church history. Contemporary media pronouncements about past and present Church leadership can be biased; we Catholics make few responses to such misinformation or distorted information. Thoughtful, informative and factual defense is scarce. And then one wonders.... why must we put ourselves on the defensive? Why can't we be better prepared about our record? Why can't we be more knowledgeable about Church history? The Catholic Church during World War II has in some instances become sensitive subject matter and the angles of observation are varied. Slander and insinuations continue to plague the Church, and when a pope is defamed, as it has sometimes been with Pius XII, all Catholics suffer.
To understand the terror, horror and carnage of that time, it will be beneficial to recall a bit of the political climate of the 1920's and 1930's. I will touch on the USSR, with its Communism, and on Germany with Nazism-- both being extreme fascisms in the excess of right-wing groups of that era.
It has been said that as World War I was ending, World War II was beginning; the truce which ended hostilities in 1918 brought no real peace to Europe. Boundaries for the new states of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Rumania and Yugoslavia placed in close proximity ethnic minorities, many of whom were mutually and traditionally antagonistic.
The Treaty of Versailles left a legacy of frustration and hatred and none of the key signers, France, Italy, Germany or the United States were satisfied with its proposals. France felt deprived of a full victory, Italy felt cheated and began to see merit in Mussolini's new chauvinistic doctrine of Fascism, Germany felt betrayed and the United States retreated into isolationism. The Soviet Union, having no voice at the peace conference, felt no need to abide by any of the decisions made there. Consequently, along with the German feelings of betrayal came that country's embracing of Adolf Hitler and his expansionist National Socialist movement. Hitler, who had served as a corporal during the war was considered an exemplary soldier and received the Iron Cross First Class. However, he felt the humiliation of defeat and never forgot it. In 1923, Hitler's abortive putsch gave warnings of the criminal element in his bodyguards, the Brown Shirts; murder was an integral part of their activities. Hitler was tried for treason and although sentenced to five years in prison, he served only nine months. It was during this imprisonment that he wrote "MEIN KAMPF" --- a startling book which he used as a blueprint for many of his future plans; in it was a call for the elimination of Jews and Slavs. The question might be asked why his writings were not recognized, then, for their vitriolic and frightening content? His time in prison taught him one thing, to gain power by legal means and upon his release in 1924, he began his quest for a legitimate political career.
Subsequently, the German people gave him that legitimacy in the national elections of September, 1930, when the Nazi party gained a majority in the Reichstag; in 1932, almost 13.5 million voted for Hitler as President. With that acceptance of Hitler, Germany's experiment in parliamentary democracy was doomed. Since his Nazi bloc of elected representatives was the largest in the Reichstag, he was made chancellor in January, 1933. As a portent of what was in store--- in March of that same year, Dachau, the first concentration camp was built to confine political opponents of the regime; Buchenwald opened in July 1937, for the same purpose. Also, as early as 1936, Gypsies, non-political, but categorized as undesirables were imprisoned in concentration camps.
During these same years, in Russia, their civil war took its sweeping toll of lives; from 1917 to 1921 both sides, Red and White Russians, shared responsibility for indescribable cruelty. Approximately 15 million Russians were killed, of which 3.5 million died from disease and hunger.
The 1920's and early 1930's were unstable years; politically disruptive forces and economic disarray plagued the world. Communism entrenched itself in the Soviet Union, Fascism flourished in Italy and Nazism rooted itself in Germany. These new totalitarianisms played on the fears and frustrations of the times and exploited the mystique of national pride and the spirit of violence that had been brought forth by World War I.
Pierre Aycoberry, in his book, "THE NAZI QUESTION-AN ESSAY ON THE INTERPRETATION OF NATIONAL SOCIALISM (1922-1975)", produces much information on the emergence and foot-hold of Nazism. What began as the Nazi movement in 1920 and progressed to the Nazi regime had its share of sympathizers, provisional allies and naive believers. The brutal Nazi system included the most heinous offenses against human decency, such as: imprisonment and death of dissidents, a mockery of a free press, hounding and destruction of the Jews, intolerance of religion and, eventually, the annexation and enslavement of foreign nations. Aycoberry's book illustrates what today we recognize as political extremism. However, the silence of most historians, academics and media of those times is glaringly apparent. In 1989, with 20/20 political hindsight, we are appalled that thugs, (as the Nazis were) could have ascended to legitimate power. Maybe that ascendancy was successful because the propaganda machine of the Third Reich was designed more to camouflage than to reveal its actual war goals.
In chapter I, the author explains the Hitlerite "worldview" and gives us a clear indication of what was in store for the world. He states that, "at the time, there were not many people who took that "worldview' seriously. People did not bother to read MEIN KAMPF. Hitler's "second book" written in 1928, remained unpublished because of poor timing --- unfortunately for those living then, for that book exhibited the logic and consistency of the system, which lay concealed behind the smoke-screen of the first manifesto. As to Hitler's speeches, they were adapted to different audiences with a surprising flexibility, and they reinforced the image of the "something-for-everybody" opportunist. It would take the discovery of the concentration camps in 1945 for "Mein Kampf” finally to be considered a serious book, and with the publication of the "second book", in 1961, historians finally discovered the method in the madness.
The first of the two manifestos ought to be read, then, as a highly developed outline of what would follow, but only alert readers could discover the logic; suspicions should have been aroused by Hitler's repetition of "worldview". In his treatment of foreign policy, everything was subordinated to expansion to the East: "to obtain by the German sword, sod for the German plow and daily bread for the nation." This necessitated renunciations and compromises disturbing to the elemental nationalists: giving up the Tyrol in order to ally with Italy, foregoing expansion overseas in order to seduce England, and even renouncing conquests of French territory, for war against France as Hitler said, "will achieve meaning only if it offers the rear cover for an enlargement of our people's living space (to the East) in Europe". The struggle against the Soviet Union was closely linked to the destruction of the Jews, who Hitler believed were its masters. All the rest was a corollary: the romantic agrarianism, the search for independence from foreign imports, the social policy which must "bond the people together indissolubly in order to prepare for war and expansion."
This already furnished a strategy, but not yet a philosophy of history. The latter sprang forth fully armed in the book of 1928, where Hitler, abandoning the animal comparisons he had previously favored for defining the race struggle, revealed "the fundamental law of human societies": the vital instincts of preservation and reproduction were limitless, while space was limited. Hence, not austerity and restriction as in Malthus, but on the contrary, struggle on all sides. Hitler's foreign policy was the "art of preserving living space for a people," and his domestic policy, "the art of preserving a peoples" necessary strength, in the form of its racial value and the number of its population." Inequality of the races was no longer merely a begging of the question, not a personal obsession, it was the motor of history; not just an argument for chauvinists, but the justification for the limited elite that must dominate even the German people. For the superior race did not include all Germans, an idea that was still partly concealed toward 1930, and whose full implication was grasped only by those calling themselves the ruling class and by the entire SS." In essence, Nazism was a mixture of brutality, efficiency and cynicism about human life.
German populist and racist literature of the 1920's had much to say about the country's misfortunes down through the centuries; misfortunes which the writers alleged were caused by German indifference to racial purity. The role of leaders of peoples had been exalted long before Hitler took on the title of Fuhrer. To the Nazis, the Poles were "untermenshen" ( sub-humans) who occupied a land which was part of the "lebensruam" (living space) coveted by the superior German race. Richard C. Lukas, in the first chapter of his book, "Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles under German Occupation 1939-1944" writes, "The Poles became the first people in Europe to experience the inauguration of the German policies of systematic terror, enslavement and extermination of civilians on an unprecedented scale. The Nazi declaration of war against Poland was a declaration of war against the Polish people and against Polish nationhood." This made an enormous difference in the character of the occupation of Poland.
Poland was an independent Republic before it was brutally destroyed by the Germans and Soviets; they shared in the joint destruction. In fact, some historical writers say that without the assurance of Soviet collusion, the German Army could not have risked a unilateral attack on Poland. Stalin was no less responsible, than Hitler, for the outbreak of war. From the dawn attack by Germany on September 1st, until the September 17th entry of the Soviet Union, Polish forces fought, alone and in vain to defend their country. Both England and France had formal treaties with Poland, whereby, they would come to Poland's defense (and vice-versa), if attacked. Day after day, the Polish radio broadcasts played Chopin's "Military Polonaise" and made appeals for the "quickest aid from France and Britain", but no aid came. From that Summer until as late as 1947, Poland was a battleground; a country of 35 million citizens of whom over six million were killed, resulting in a casualty rate of about 18%-- the highest of any country involved in that war. The American ambassador to Poland, Anthony J. Drexel Biddle, Jr., who witnessed the killing of innocent civilians, reported to Washington that the German intention was "to terrorize the civilian population and to reduce the number of child-bearing Poles irrespective of category." Hitler's chief of the espionage service, Walter Schellenberg described Warsaw after its September 27th surrender: "I was shocked at what had become of the beautiful city I had known-ruined and burnt-out houses with starving and grieving people. The nights were already unpleasantly chilly and had a pall of dust and smoke which hung over the city; and everywhere there was the sweetish smell of burnt flesh.... Warsaw was a dead city." The atrocities that began in 1939 continued throughout the hostilities.
During the period of Nazi-Soviet collaboration, both countries were equally guilty of those atrocities. Twenty-two million Poles came under Nazi control and 13 million under Soviet control. The Germans shot 20,000 civilian ho stages in Bydgoscz, a city in Pomerania. In Lukas' book, an eyewitness account by an English women is as follows: "The first victims of the campaign were a number of Boy Scouts, from twelve to sixteen years of age, who were set up in the marketplace against a wall and shot. No reason was given. A devoted priest who rushed to administer the Last Sacrament was shot too. He received five wounds. A Pole said afterwards that the sight of those children lying dead was the most pitiful of all the horrors he saw. That week the murders continued. Thirty-four of the leading trades people and merchants of the town were shot, along with many other leading citizens. The square was surrounded by troops with machine-guns. Among the thirty-four was a man whom I knew was too ill to take any part in politics or public affairs. When the execution took place he was too weak to stand, and fell down; they beat him and dragged him again to his feet. Another of the first victims was a boy of seventeen, the only son of a well-known surgeon. who had died a year before. The father had been greatly esteemed by all, and had treated the Poles and Germans with the same care and devotion. We never heard of what the lad was accused." She continued: "These are only a few examples of the indiscriminate murders which took place. At the beginning it was done by the soldiers; afterwards the Gestapo and the SS took over and exceeded the troops in cruelty."
In Bohdan Wytwycky's book, "The Other Holocaust: Many Circles of Hell", he writes: "Any signs of resistance were suppressed through reliance upon the harshest measures. Fifty to one hundred randomly selected Poles would be killed for each fallen German. Any time a German was wounded or killed--even if by accident or even if the death resulted from the activities of common criminals--the retribution was the same. "The Black Book of Poland", a Polish Ministry of Information publication of 1942 recorded the following example of collective responsibility: "On the evening of December 26, 1939, in Wawer, a small town outside Warsaw, two German soldiers were killed by two common hold-up men in an attempt to avoid arrest in a small restaurant. Hours later a battalion of military police arrived in town and began to assemble the civilians to be shot in retribution. In the middle of the night, the police went from door to door with a demand for hostages, until every tenth inhabitant of Wawer and neighboring Anin had come forward. Some 170 were rounded up and made to wait until morning with their hands held above their heads. At dawn, 107 were machine-gunned and the rest were made to dig a mass grave. The proprietor of the restaurant in question was hanged and buried, then exhumed and re-hanged in public. The restaurant owner was the only one of the victims who had even known of the original shooting incident.
A Polish acquaintance of mine, a 60 year old man who survived the occupation, once said that the entire country was a concentration camp because of the large numbers of military manpower. The reason for such military force was that, from the beginning, Hitler knew he would also invade the Soviet Union at the earliest possible time. Poland was in the hands of the most fearful and terrorizing occupation force the modem world had ever known. Even after Poland's surrender, the Wehrmacht continued to take seriously Hitler's admonition of August 22, 1939 when he authorized killing "without pity or mercy, all men, women and children of Polish descent or language. Only in this way can we obtain the living space we need." The Nazi theory of colonial empire in Poland was based on the denial of humanity to the Poles whom, next to the Jews, Hitler hated the most. Similarly, in the German Extraordinary Pacification Campaign of 1940, some 15,000 Polish priests, teachers and political leaders were transported to Dachau , or shot in the Palmiry Forest. In fact, from the first days of the war, Poland was destined to experience inhuman treatment. German General Franz Halder, Chief of the Army General Staff, wrote in his diary, "We have no intention of rebuilding Poland, ....Low standard of living must be conserved. Cheap slaves.." This and other captured German documents give evidence of the projected horror to be meted out in Poland where from the beginning to the end of the war conditions were worse than in any of the other conquered countries. The circumstances in occupied Poland bore little relation to the more genteel conditions of occupied Denmark, France, or Holland.
More than 750,000 Polish peasants were expelled from Western Poland; later the same plans were applied to Central Poland. Simultaneously, the concentration camps began to flourish; there would be hundreds in operation before the war's end in 1945. Aside from the prisoner-of-war camps, there were penal-investigation camps, labor camps and, from 1941, the death camps. Inside the camps unimaginable bestiality flourished. Outside, in Polish towns and villages, the Nazi terror turned street executions, hangings, collective reprisals and murder for pleasure into commonplace activity. Some Poles were deemed suitable for Germanization, such as the hundreds of children kidnapped and sent to live in German homes, but the remainder of Poles were to be turned into a pool of half-educated slave laborers. What the occupiers did was to try to make Poland into a submissive, slave-state. With the elimination of all professionals and leaders, the masses would have no one to guide them and the Nazis task would be easier. With a population of approximately 30 million, consider these statistics of losses among Polish intellectuals: judges and prosecutors --- 1100; lawyers --- 4500; doctors --- 5000; dentists --- 2500; university professors --- 700; elementary school teachers --- 3963; railroad officials--6124; treasury officials--3958 and Catholic priests--2647. And this list is incomplete as for engineers and civil servants. Ten thousand Poles were liquidated in the first four months of the occupation.
At the same time the Soviets massacred prisoners in Vinnitsa, now part of the Ukraine. During this stage of the invasion and occupation, the Stalinist regime had a head start on the Nazis in the techniques and logistics of terror, having built up the necessary machinery during the recent purges in their own country. While the Germans were refining their preparations for concentration/death camps, the Soviets could accommodate millions in their "Gulag". The NKVD assigned some two million people associated with the professions or with pre-war state employment to forcible deportation to Arctic Russia, Siberia, or Kazachstan in railroad convoys. Of these two million, many of whom were children, at least one-half were dead within a year. As with the Germans, anyone possessing leadership qualities were marked for slaughter. And one should remember the brutality of the Soviet system when we recall that in 1932-1933, the Soviet authorities deliberately starved to death 5-7 million Ukrainian peasants.
One of the most infamous of the war crimes occurred in the spring of 1940, in the Katyn Forest, when over 4,000 Polish officer-prisoners were executed. The prisoners were mostly educated professional men-- doctors, civil servants and teachers; each one had his hands tied behind his back and was found with a bullet in the base of his skull. To this day Germans accuse the Soviets and Soviets accuse the Germans, but strong evidence points to it having been a Soviet crime. Hundreds of thousands of Polish prisoners were in Soviet captivity, of whom approximately 15,000 disappeared, and when asked about the disappearances, Stalin answered that he did not know.
While this bloodshed was going on the United States still was adhering to its isolationist policy; -Americans did not want to become involved in a "European war". And in these early days, who really knew or could believe such horror stories7 It should also be remembered that in this era, the atheistic Communism of the Soviet Union was considered a greater threat and danger than the more recent fascisms of Italy and Germany. After all, what happened in Russia, during and following the Revolution, was very much on the minds of most of the world leaders, not only the Pope.
As for the role of the Catholic Church, both Pius XI and Pius XII took definite action to stem the increasingly restrictive laws and civil rights violations of Fascism. On February 11, 1929, Mussolini’s government and the Vatican signed the Lateran Treaty; the papacy recognized the establishment of the kingdom of Italy and received in return recognition of its full sovereignty over the Vatican City-State. Further, the permanent neutrality of the Vatican and of the papacy in the military and diplomatic conflicts of the world was announced. The Pope would intervene in such affairs not as the head of a sovereign state but as head of the church, interested only insofar as he might work for the preservation of peace. These provisions were to prove of great value to the papacy in World War II. At the same time as the Lateran treaty, a concordant was concluded regulating the position of the Church in Italy itself. The part played by Pius XI in these negotiations was considerable, and their successful conclusion owed much to his appreciation both of the real interests of the Church and of the political realities of his age. Also in 1933, the Vatican concluded a similar agreement with the new Nazi government, in the vain hope that Hitler would discourage the extreme anti-Christian radicalism of National Socialism.
And as Pierre Aycoberry states in chapter 2, "the Catholic areas in Germany were the most reluctant to give their votes to Nazi candidates. Up to 1932, the bishops steadfastly condensed the glorification of the Nordic race and as early as 1920 demanded the greatest vigilance regarding what the party program called "positive Christianity." The popular Catholic associations, made up of the petit-bourgeois and the working-class mass of the faithful, greeted the revival of patriotism and the propaganda against plutocracy with approval, but always ranked Nazism side by side with Italian Fascism, which had shown its hostility toward the Church.
On the question of racism, the Bishop of Munich, Cardinal Faulhaber, delivered a sermon in 1933, entitled, "Judaism, Christianity and Germany". "Christianity", he said "was not separable from its Jewish roots, Jesus was not an Aryan". He emphasized that the teachings of the New Testament were but a logical sequel to those of the Old, and that exceptions taken to the latter were basically exceptions to the moral law in general. He added that the German tribes had become civilized only after they had become converted to Christianity and that Christian values were fundamental to German "Kultur". Throughout these sermons, as well as those which were to follow until the collapse of the "Third Reich", there runs a thread of vigorous criticism of Nazi theories and Nazi practices which the Cardinal repeated in communications to the government. A-ft attempt on his life was made in 1934 and his residence was attacked in 1938.
Although Hitler was born into Catholicism and served at Mass as a youngster, he never practiced the teachings of Catholicism and indeed, was an atheist. In fact, he made Nazism, itself, a pseudo-religious entity, intolerant of any other faith. In Germany, Catholics opposed, often with great courage, a series of decrees affecting the liberty of preaching, the treatment of minorities, the control of education and the silencing of the press. Hundreds of Catholic and Protestant clergymen were brought to trial imprisoned or executes and the severity of Nazi brutality towards clergy was even greater in the conquered lands. Indeed, it was Hitler's plan to destroy Christianity. Ronald Lewin, in his book--"Hitler's Mistakes", writes, "Speaking privately in 1937, Hitler recalled "the hard inward struggle" whereby he had released himself from the creed of his childhood: now, he said, "I feel as fresh as a foal in a meadow." Hitler showed only contempt for the Christian faith and he showed active hostility toward the Churches. His security forces always maintained three special departments for surveillance--one over Jews, one over Marxists, and one over "political Catholicism". However, the political illusions of the Church and its German bishops were to be of short duration; soon the entire regime, and not just its delirious wing was making assaults. In his book, "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich", William Shirer writes: " On July 25, 1933 five days after ratification of the concordat, the German government promulgated a sterilization law, which particularly offended the Catholic Church. Five days after that, the first steps were taken to dissolve the Catholic Youth League. During the next years thousands, of Catholic priests, nuns and lay leaders were arrested, many of them on trumped-up charges of immorality" or of "smuggling foreign currency". Erich Klausener, leader of Catholic Action, was murdered in the June 30, 1934 purge. Scores of Catholic publications were suppressed, and even the sanctity of the confessional was violated by Gestapo agents. By the Spring of 1937, the Catholic hierarchy, which like most of the Protestant clergy, had at first tried to cooperate with the new regime, was thoroughly disillusioned.
In 1937, when the leaders of the Western democracies were scurrying to Munich to negotiate with Hitler, the Holy See condemned the theory and practice of the "Nationalist State". With this deterioration of conditions, Pope Pius XI, in close association with his Secretary of State, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli--the future Pius XII-issued the anti-Nazi encyclical, MIT BRENNEDER SORGE (With Burning Anxiety). The Pope condemned in Nazi doctrine, not only the divinization of race, but also the divinization of the nation and the state. He also charged the Nazi government with "evasion" and violation" of the concordat and accused it of sowing "the tares of' suspicion, discord, hatred, calumny, of secret and fundamental hostility to Christ and His Church." On "the horizon of Germany" the Pope saw "the threatening storm clouds of destructive religious wars ... which have no other aim than ... of extermination." The encyclical was read from all pulpits, but was immediately banned by the Nazis from being printed or circulated.
The Jesuits' Civilta Cattolica, a periodical founded in 1850 in Rome, has been an unofficial organ of the Vatican ever since. It was hostile to National Socialism in Germany from the start; it condemned Nazism's neopaganism, worship of the state, Teutonic racism, totalitarianism and anti-Catholic policies. After the annexation of Austria, Civilta Cattolica became more intense in its anti-Nazi stance and strongly condemned anti-Semitism for the first time. It now saw National Socialism as an enemy of European civilization.
During these years the persecution of the Jews and of the Christian Churches was simultaneous although the abuses toward Christians, according to Lewin (chapter 5), "were not to be equally compared to what was to happen to those whom Hitler decided to "deal with". He developed no full scale program of euthanasia for Christianity. From the beginning his technique was rather to absorb, or to conciliate until the time was ripe for harsher action. This was not a sign of goodwill. It was the application of the art of the possible. Condemnation of Nazi policy was made from many clergy. Lewin states-- "There is the honorable list of dignitaries who inveighed from their pulpits: Faulhaber, the Cardinal Archbishop of Bavaria: the "lion of Munster, the Cardinal Archbishop Clemens Graf von Galen; Brenard Lichtenberg, dean of St. Hedwig's Cathedral in Berlin, who died when dispatched to Dachau for open defense of LI-le Jews; the Jesuit Father Mayer, who for his preaching was deemed "all enemy of the State" and ended up in Sachsenhausen; and another Jesuit, Father Delp, who was executed for involvement in the July 20, 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler.
In part three of Wytwycky's book, he states: " the Nazis were well appraised of the central role that the Polish clergy had played ill resisting all foreign attempts to destroy the fabric of Polish life. The single most victimized sector of Polish society in the incorporated territories was the clergy. The Nazis tried to destroy the Church completely. In the annexed region of Pomerania, only some 20 of the pre-invasion total of 650 priests were permitted to remain at their posts.
“By January of 1941, barely 16 months after the outbreak of the war, the total number of Polish priests killed is estimated at 700. An additional 3,000 were in concentration camps, of which 96 percent or 2,600 of them died. Among all the countries of occupied Europe, the Nazis arrested and abused not only the priests, but also the bishops of the Church, only in Poland. A revealing look at Nazi treatment of the Polish clergy is contained in an eyewitness account recorded in the Polish Ministry of Information "Black Book", (194--)1).355) : "In the diocese of Lodz, alone, several dozens of priests and religious clergy, with their Bishop, Msgr. Tomczak, were sent to Radogoszcz (a camp). The newcomers were greeted with a terrible hail of blows with sticks, which did not spare even His Excellency, Msgr. Tomczak. The majority were then left without food for three days. The number of those detained amounted to about 2,000. The guards insulted and cruelly maltreated the prisoners. One could not enumerate all the insults and humiliations inflicted upon them. The priests were made to wash out the latrines with their hands. It was not rare for the guards to order the prisoners to kneel down in a row, touch the ground with their foreheads, and call out, "We are Polish pigs." One day a policeman came into a room and said sarcastically, "You would like me to hang an image of the Virgin on the wall for you to pray for victory? That would be the last straw." Then turning to the Bishop, he added, "You also will be hanged soon." A man who asked to be allowed to tend the Bishop's injured foot was shot. The majority of priests perished slowly and methodically from medical experiments and starvation labor; compared to which a quick, horrible death in a gas chamber might have seemed a perverse kind of mercy.
Father William J. O'Malley, a Jesuit who teaches at Fordham Prep, in the Bronx, wrote an article, "Priests of the Holocaust", which appeared in Columbia", the Knights of Columbus magazine. Another similar article, "The Priests of Dachau" appeared in the magazine, "America." I am going to quote from those articles because they have much information about tonight's subject matter.
"Somehow the Nazi genocide associated with the word "Holocaust" focuses primarily on those who died in extermination camps. If the word "genocide" means the deliberate extermination of a national or racial group, the six million tragic Jewish victims surely qualify. However, so do the nine to ten million Slavic victims who were eliminated--not in war, not as saboteurs, not as guerrillas, but solely because they were Slavic. One might also argue the case of the half million Gypsies and perhaps even the thousands of homosexuals executed because they were not the virile Aryans Hitler considered the only members of the true human race.
Hitler believed (in his mythology) that Providence intended Slavs to be serfs to the godlike Aryans. Thus all educated Slavs, especially members of a clergy Hitler had vowed to "crush like a toad", were to be liquidated after the war, but were to be subjected to a year or two of humbling starvation and slavery. As Martin Bormann put it: "All Polish intelligentsia must be exterminated. This sounds cruel, but such is the law of life. ...(Polish priests) "ill preach what we want them to preach. If any priest acts differently, we will make short work of him. The task of the priest is to keep the Poles quiet, stupid, and dull-witted."
In the first week of December, 1940, the SS consolidated the 1,197 priests from all the concentration and execution camps in Europe into a single camp: Dachau-- where they could be tightly controlled. They were housed in two barracks, #26 mid #28, ringed with a barbed-wire fence-- a camp within a camp-- so they would be less able to act as priests during their few free hours. By the day of liberation, 2,720 priests, brothers and seminarians from 134 dioceses and 29 religious orders had dragged out their lives in Konzentrationzlager Dachau. Over 1,000 died there, which included 868 Polish priests-- 300 of them in medical experiments or by torture in the prison showers. Included, also, were 109 Protestant, 30 Orthodox and two Moslem clergymen. These numbers do not include priests executed in their towns and cities. Of 162 French priests arrested by the Gestapo in February, 1944, for instance, 123 were shot or guillotined before reaching any camp. Nor does it count those priests who lived and died in other camps; the International Tribunal at Nuremburg said that 780 priests died of exhaustion in the quarries of KZ Mauthausen alone. Nor does it consider that one- third of those shipped to any camp were often dead on arrival.
The Polish, Czech, Slovak- and Yugoslavian clergy were killed for the same satanic reason as the Jews: race, coupled with achieving an education and an association with a Jewish-founded Christianity which Hitler despised for its attempts to effeminize Aryan males with doctrines of mercy and love. Clergy and religious from the occupied countries had run escape routes for downed Allied airmen, published underground newspapers, disguised Jews as nuns, seminarians and Christian orphans, and issued false baptismal certificates. Abbe Maury of Nancy, France was arrested because the Gestapo had found his notice in every French concentration camp: "If you are ever in need of a Good Samaritan, here is my address."
In addition to Father O'Malley's information we know that for German priests, refusal to bow to the Third Reich was not only resistance but treason, especially during the war. With the complete suppression of the Catholic press, priests went underground, and duplicate the sermons of the previously mentioned Bishop von Galen of Meunster who exhorted the people to resist the pagan racism of the Nazi regime. Any priest was free to defy the Pulpit Law, but it would be his final public word. As the figures attest, several hundred German and Austrian priests took that risk-- contrary to the view held even by eminent historians that the German Church was embarrassingly, shamefully quiet. The German and Austrian clergy at Dachau (447) were for the most part men who realized that being a good Christian and a good Nazi were as irreconcilable as compression and sadism.
As mentioned previously, Dachau opened in 1933. Its first inmates were Communists, criminals and "other enemies of the state." Consequently, when the priests arrived, these toughs were by then the trusties of the camp, in sadistic charge of the barracks and the work crews. Every morning at 4:30, the Kapos routed the prisoners from their bunks, where they slept from three to five men on a shelf which was two-and-a half-feet wide. After a quick wash--(about 275 men at sinks ands latrines intended for 50 prisoners) and a tepid cup of substitute coffee, the prisoners were subjected to the endless roll call. Until midway through the war, even the corpses had to be present. From roll call, prisoners trudged off to the enormous plantation to the east of the camp and to the SS industrial complex to the west of it. In Winter, they removed every speck of snow, even from the rooftops; if there were not enough shovels, they reversed their thin zebra-striped jackets as scoops; they slept in the cold, wet clothes since each prisoner had only one uniform. As the war turned and manpower became crucial, the commandant seconded prisoners to nearby industries. BMW in Allach employed 3800 Dachau prisoners and four Messerschmidt factories accounted for 5600 more. Manpower meant Reich Marks--money. Around noon, the meal was watery soup and in the evening the same thin soup and a wad of bread which the prisoner could wolf down or save to calm his hunger pains long enough to get to sleep. However, many saved their pittance of bread because it was the principal currency of the camp. All prisoners were emaciated down to about one-third their former weight.
Punishment was frequent, often for no observable reason. As one Dachau commandant said, "Softies belong in a monastery, not in the SS." With priests, Jews and Russians, the SS could do absolutely anything. One young SS took a great interest in Father Andreas Reiser, who seemed incapable of being broken. One day, after beating Reiser throughout the camp, the SS man stopped near a group of Jews dismantling rusted barbed wire entanglements. He looked at the bruised, sweating priest and laughed. "You look like Christ!" he howled, and picked up a length of barbed wire and began whipping Reiser with it. "Braid yourself a crown," he snapped. The young trooper hammered the crown onto the priest's head and forced the Jews to spit on him. "That's how you treated Christ," he laughed. "A stinking Jew, just like you." Also in Dachau, a Polish priest, the Reverend Stanislaus Bednarski, was hanged on a cross. Needless to say, these are certainly clear examples of Nazi contempt for Christianity.
Along with the rampant barbaric and sadistic treatment, the prisoners had an ever-present fear of falling ill with diarrhea, enteritis, edema and especially typhus, which raged through the camp the two final Winters, when 200-300 died each day. When the SS refused to enter the contagious wards, 20 priests volunteered to care for the victims; bathing the bodies with Lysol and stacking their bodies in the alleys, like cords of wood.
Several barracks served as laboratories for medical experiments. Dr. Klaus Schilling injected inmates with malaria, tuberculosis and pus to study the effects of various drugs, or no drugs. His favorite subjects were Polish priests and seminarians between the ages of 20 and 45; at least 140 of them had their death certificates completed before the experiments even began. Despite the starvation, the illness, the dawn-to-dusk workdays and the harassment these men managed to wangle a dormitory as a chapel which they slowly adorned with bits and pieces mysteriously and magically liberated from other areas: vestments and draperies were sewn, and a monstrance was made from empty fish cans picked from their captors' garbage. When Bishop Gabriel Piguet of Clermont-Ferrand was imprisoned in Dachau, the priests succeeded in ordaining a young German seminarian, Karl Leisner, who was dying of tuberculosis. For the ordination, full vestments with biretta, miter, crozier and ring were made in the Messerschmidt factory, for the Bishop, and the SS never found out.
A case might be made as to why the Pope did not publicly protest the barbaric treatment dealt his own priests. According to the Reverend Robert Graham, a Jesuit based in Rome who is actively engaged in research on the history of the Holy See, these priest-prisoners prayed that the Pope would not mention them. Father Graham further states that those clergy had already experienced brutal reprisals because of supposed Vatican protests. A papal provocation would not change anything for the better, but would merely give a pretext for much such behavior. "Why can't your Pope learn to keep his mouth shut?" complained a Protestant inmate when more Nazi atrocities followed an alleged papal protest.
Communion was distributed throughout the camp in aspirin tins and cigarette packets. Priests heard confessions of workers who squatted next to them weeding on the plantation. Every night at the wire surrounding the priests barracks, starving prisoners quietly whispered the names of priests they knew could be counted on for a bit of bread. When two priests got jobs in the package depot, they distributed parcels to the worst cases. Former university professors set up classes in theology for seminarians. Each year the priests made an eight-day retreat, the points of meditation typed and mimeographed in the job office. Every Sunday evening they held a seminar on such topics as: the Church after the war, the human development of the priest, and adaptation of the apostolate to the real life from which their priestly position had so long insulated them but which they now so painfully had rediscovered."
Information from Lukas' book (p. 14) says that nuns, in many cases, shared the same fate as priests. It was reported that 400 nuns were imprisoned at a concentration camp at Bojanowo and that a large number were transferred from there to Germany for forced labor. Action taken by the occupiers against the congregation of the Sisters of the Resurrection was rather typical of what befell other religious orders. In fact, at Auschwitz, the criminal doctor, Joseph Mengele used a group of Polish nuns in the barbarous x-ray experiments which left those victims, who survived, with deep and painful x-ray burns.
The Germans closed seven of the Sisters of the Resurrection convents and seized their property. A large number of the nuns either joined their fan-lilies or joined their fellow Poles in forced labor. Of the congregation's 277 sisters, 37 died during the war. Those who struggled to survive cared for children and aided the resistance movement.
In the general population, in spite of some questions of priestly conduct, most of the clergy behaved with dignity in the face of the German occupation. Priests and nuns played an important role in charitable and humanitarian work on behalf of Christians and Jews, and as stated earlier, in the resistance. Convents housed printing machines and became distribution centers for the underground press. In Cracow, three priests played a major role in creating depositories for money sent from abroad. Despite the risks, priests frequently made strong references in their sermons to the resurrection of Poland. Again, a reminder that the Nazis promulgated a law in Poland unique in all of occupied Europe; it formally established that any Pole helping a Jew would automatically receive the death penalty. Not only was that the law, it was ruthlessly and unfailingly enforced to the letter by the Germans. A Pole who gave as much as a glass of water to a Jew outside the ghetto was liable to be shot. A Pole who failed to report to the authorities knowledge of a Jew in hiding was unfailingly deported to a concentration camp. But if Poland was the only country in occupied Europe where helping a Jew required the courage of men who were prepared to die for their fellow human beings, it was also the only country in Europe where, from the beginning to the end of the war, a full- scale secret organization (Zegota) existed for the sole purpose of spiriting as many Jews as possible to safety. (Postwar statistics of the Israeli War Crime Commission indicated that only 7000 Poles out of a population of over 20 million ethnic Poles collaborated with the Nazis.)
And what is particularly impressive is that the help came from every section of the population. The Church behaved with extraordinary courage, even though nuns and priests were not immune from prosecution by the occupiers. It has been established that virtually every convent in Poland had some dealings with Jews in its locality, hiding thousands, principally women and children. Many orders, like the Congregation of Franciscan Sisters of the Family of Mary, made it mandatory on their houses throughout the country to do all in their power to assist Jews. So, too, did the Ursuline Sisters acquit themselves with honor, as did the nuns of the Benedictine Samaritan Order of the Holy Cross, the Sisters of the Order of Resurrection, the Franciscan Sisters, the Sisters of Charity who saved many Jewish children in the hospitals where they worked as nurses, the Sacre Coeur Congregation in Lvov, and the Sisters of the Lady Immaculate.
Monks also were involved; included were the Congregation of Father Missionaries of St. Vincent de Paul, the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, the Salesian Order, the Association of Catholic Apostleships, the Congregation of Marist Friars, the Franciscans, the Capuchins and the Dominicans.
The individual acts of heroism by members of the clergy are almost too numerous to list. There was Father Andreas Gdowski in Vilna who not only hid Jews in his church but provided a room suitably camouflaged to use as their synagogue. Father Urbanowicz of Brzesc-on-Bug was shot by the Germans in June 1943 for helping Jews; the rector of the Clerical Academy in Warsaw was sent to Majdanek where he died by torture; The Deacon of the Grodno Parish and a prior of the Franciscan Order were both shot for also helping Jews.
As Father John A. O'Brien, of the University of Notre Dame, states in a forward of Philip Friedman's, "Their Brothers' Keepers": "It shows that nineteen centuries of Christian teaching were not without results. So deeply had the fundamental law of the Christian religion, the duty to love one's neighbor, been woven into the warp and woof, the very fiber, of the Christian conscience that thousands in all lands defied the stem edicts and threats of the Gestapo and sheltered Jews in their homes, in monasteries, churches, convents, orphanages and rectories.
And in spite of documentation of "Good Samaritan" acts during World War II, there is serious controversy concerning Pope Pius XII's actions during that time. The main shortcomings of some of the capable and serious critics of the Pope at times, lies in their unconscious distortion of their historical perspectives. Pius XII, through mediation, made vain efforts to prevent the war. According to William Schirer (p.746): "The Pope took to the air on August 24, 1939, to make a broadcast appeal for peace, beseeching "by the blood of Christ... for the strong [to] hear us that they may not become weak through injustice... [and] if they desire that their power may not be a destruction." On the afternoon of August 3 1, the Pope sent identical notes to the governments of Poland, Germany, Italy and the two Western. powers, "beseeching, in the name of God, the German and Polish governments... to avoid any incident," begging the British, French and Italian governments to support his appeal and adding: "The Pope is unwilling to abandon hope that pending negotiations may lead to a just pacific solution." In December, 1939, he denounced "premeditated aggression and the contempt for freedom and human life which originate acts crying to God for vengeance." In his Christmas messages of 1941 and 1942, the Pope received praise from the editorial writers of the New York Times who described him as "a lonely voice crying out of the silence of a continent." The Pope spoke of his sorrow for " the hundreds of thousands of people who, through no fault of their own and solely because of their nation or their race, have been condemned to death or progressive extinction." By contrast, captured Nazi documents reveal that the German Secret Service noted that through those messages Pius had "repudiated the National Socialist New European Order", and that by "clearly speaking on behalf of the Jews.... he is virtually accusing the German people of injustice toward the Jews and makes himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals."
Pius XII had just ascended the papacy when the world was engulfed in war; and that war provided the cover for the deliberate attempt at genocide of the Jews. As Father Graham says, "This ultimate atrocity of genocide called for action, not words, and it was with action that the Holy See responded. While Britain and the United States were refusing to admit refugees to their territories, the Holy See was distributing thousands of false documents --lifesaving passports to freedom -- to the beleaguered Jews. While the Allies were trying to use the rumors of death camps for war propaganda, Catholic priests, nuns and lay people were hiding Jews in their flight to safety, and often paying for it with their lives. While the Allied military leaders were refusing to bomb the rail lines into the camps, Vatican diplomats were dealing with the leaders of occupied areas, trying to keep Jews off the trains.
I have been in contact, by mail, with Father Graham and I recently attended a talk he gave in Maryland, entitled, "The Good Samaritan in World War II. The Record of Relief and Rescue, Particularly by the Vatican, in Favor of the Victims of War." Father Graham is a scholar and writer of distinction in the fields of international affairs and Vatican history. He was the associate editor of "America" magazine and has written numerous articles and several books, his best known being, "Vatican Diplomacy". He also writes a regular column on the Vatican for the Knights of Columbus magazine, "Columbia". He has written frequently on the records from the Vatican archives (the 12 volume work entitled "The Acts and Documents of the Holy See Relative to the Second World War") in Pope Pius XII's efforts on behalf of Jews and others during the war years.
In some of the information from Father Graham he states, " In the first years of the war, the papal humanitarian initiatives were much in the traditional line. One of these was the Papal "Information Service", which consisted of the transmission of messages from prisoners of war, or any person desirous of assuring far-distant relatives of their situation. There was also the search for missing persons. These operations had the merit of being recognized as a legitimate "neutral" service, with precedents from the first World War."
“Frequently, the Pope found his actions blocked because of suspicions. Possible abuse for espionage purposes was the chief pretext alleged by the Reich to block all papal efforts. On the Allies' side it was argued that the Vatican Information Service only duplicated the Red Cross and imposed a burden on the overworked ministries. In the initial wartime months, the record shows how much the Vatican labored to assist the emigration of refugees, driven out of Germany on racial or political grounds."
"In 1941, a new form of man's inhumanity to man appeared on the scene of war-tom Europe. There began first decisive steps by the Nazis toward the liquidation of the European Jews, of which the preceding years of harassment and spoliation were remote preparation. The closing, by the Gestapo, in June, 1941, of the Hamburg central office of the Raphaelsverein was a warning that could not be missed. This was the agency solidly backed by the Holy See for the emigration, particularly of Jews, out of Germany. The Nazi over-running of France, Belgium and the Netherlands in 1940 cut off many would-be refugees in those countries. But in the middle of 1941, the expression "auf staatspolizeische Gruende"---for general reasons of police-- appeared more frequently in the answers of rejection reaching the Vatican. It was the signal that the Gestapo had assumed absolute authority in the Jewish question, and that against it there was no appeal by any other agency of the Reich, should someone seek an appeal."
According to the preface in one of Father Graham’s published works, Pius XII's Defense of the Jews and others: 1944 -1945",(p.3): when Jews felt the cruel sting of Nazi hatred, the German bishops protested: "Whoever wears a human face owns rights which no power on earth is permitted to take away", which echoed Pius XI's declaration, We are all spiritual Semites."
We tend to forget that a ferocious war was being waged; almost all of Europe was under Hitler's domination, accompanied by unimaginable atrocities. According to Father Graham, explicitly criticizing Hitler would not have stopped him from killing Jews, and "might have had the opposite effect." How much of what the Pope said in his previous public pronouncements was effective against the totalitarian oppression. Any effort on behalf of Jews or others oppressed by Hitler had to be scrutinized for its effectiveness and for possible consequences.
In an article of "Columbia" magazine, May, 1988, Pete Sheehan writes: "Critics of Pope Pius remarked that the (Vatican) contention that discretion was necessary to prevent the situation from becoming worse is a fallacy. The situation, say those critics, could not have been any worse. Such criticisms are rejected by Father Graham. "It could have been a lot worse. There were hundreds of cases where things could be done and they were." In fact, according to estimates, more than 800,000 Jews were saved through discreet but spirited efforts of the pope and the Church. Pius was able to have the most influence in countries in which there was a papal nuncio, a high proportion of Catholics in the population, and in countries which were not entirely under the control of the Nazis, such as parts of France, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Hungary. One hero-priest, Angelo Roncalli (later Pope John XXIII), Apostolic Delegate to Istanbul, who took concerted action in such defense and rescue of Jews, never failed to insist that what he did,- he did with the approval, and even on orders of his chief, Pope Pius XII.
It could be asked whether these good works were enough, whether it would have been better for the Pope to have denounced from the rooftops, the crimes that were occurring. This thought troubled Pius XII , and he confided afterwards to an associate, "No doubt a protest would have gained me the praise and respect of the civilized world, but it would have submitted the poor Jews to an even worse persecution."
The Vatican has published 12 volumes of correspondence during the war years, including four volumes largely given to communication with Jewish organizations in London, Geneva, New York, Hungary, Rumania, Slovakia and Italy. The U.S. Catholic Historical -Society, with the support of the Archdiocese of New York, plans to publish English translations of the documents which contain much information which has never been publicized.
In October 1945, the World Jewish Congress made a token financial gift to the Vatican to recognize the work of the Holy See in rescuing Jews from Fascist and Nazi persecutions. In the November 1950 issue of "Commentary", a leading Jewish periodical, French-Jewish scholar, L. Poliakov wrote about saving the Jews of Rome: "And this direct aid accorded to the persecuted Jews by the Pope in his position as Pope of Rome was only the symbolic expression of an activity that spread throughout Europe, encouraging and stimulating the efforts of Catholic churches in about every country. There is no doubt that secret instructions went out from the Vatican urging national churches to intervene in favor of the Jews by every possible means."
In May 1955, the Israeli Philharmonic presented a concert in the Vatican, in the presence of Pius XII, as a gesture of thanks for his services to Jews during the war. Moshe Sharett, who would later become Israel's first foreign minister and second prime minister, told Pope Pius that his, "first duty was to thank him, and through him the Catholic Church, on behalf of the Jewish public, for all they had done in various countries to rescue Jews." Isaac Herzog, chief rabbi of Jerusalem, one of the Jewish leaders who had sought Pius XII's help, praised the pope for "his life-saving efforts on behalf of the Jews during the Nazi occupation."
In 1958, at the time of his death, Pius' efforts were explicitly and gratefully acknowledged by Jewish leaders, among whom were: Rabbi Jaochim Prinz, president of the American Jewish Congress, Dr. Israel Goldstein, chairman of the Western Hemisphere executive for the World Jewish Congress, and Dr. Nahum Goldman, World Jewish Congress president. Dr. Raphael Cantoni, a hero of Italy's Jewish Assistance Committee, and who was in occupied Europe during the war, said: "the Church and the Papacy have saved Jews as much and insofar as they could Christians. Six million of my co-religionists have been murdered by the Nazis ... but there would have been many more victims had it not been for the efficacious intervention of Pius XII.”
Since 1963, an on-going rash of accusations assert that Pope Pius XII had been unduly passive and, indeed, a culprit, after the Nazis, for. the Holocaust. Allegedly, a word from him could have stayed Hitler's hand. This is a grave and undeserved indictment of a historical figure, a man of God, a true Christian. I suppose there VAH always be some who are critical of Pius XII; however, they can question his judgment, but not his motives.
To single out for fault, Pope Pius XII, during the 1939-1945 conflagration is an injustice against the memory of a good and courageous world leader during one of the great crises of humanity. And as the history of the time shows, anyone (i.e., Chamberlain for Great Britain, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Rumania, and even Stalin) who agreed to negotiate with Hitler, emerged the loser. Many mean-spirited and even vicious amputations of Pius XII are based on flimsy, distorted and falsified historical arguments. It is character assassination.
Many others suffered and died in the camps. In fact, at Auschwitz, 30 different nationalities were represented, including 10,000 Spaniards who had fought against Franco in the Spanish Civil War, and who had been residing in France when Hitler's invasion caught them. Only 500 survived the camps. I have only concentrated on the Catholic Church's efforts during World War II; there are other documented cases of Protestant and Greek Orthodox clergymen and their respective flocks who thundered their protests against the anti-Semitic measures of the Nazis. Albert Einstein once noted that whatever resistance was marshalled came not from university circles, but from simple Christian lay people and their pastors. He said, "The most active, most effective and most consistent resistance came from the churches." But as Father O'Brien states in the previously mentioned foreword: " Alas! all too often the Christian people of the countries under the Nazi heel were compelled to undergo the horror of watching in stunned silence and agonizing impotence as their Jewish neighbors were seized and shipped to camps and the gas ovens. Why? Because they could not fight armored tanks and machine guns with bare hands. Such was the predicament of millions who loathed the Nazi creed and all its works."
We must remember the 6 million Jews who died and we must remember the 9 to 10 million others--people whose great misfortune was to be part of a group who were labeled, by Nazi madmen, as undesirables. Those 16 million who died were brothers and sisters in death and suffering; good and saintly people from all walks of Life, from all denominations and creeds, from all age groups. There is only one race, the human race and the deaths of each and every one of the 16 million is an affront to the entire human race. And as Father O'Brien writes: "The canons of (that) war are silenced now. Subdued, and hopefully banished, is the hatred of the Jews which the Nazis whipped into a frenzy never witnessed before. Auschwitz, Dachau and Buchenwald live only as symbols of horror and infamy. Can such an outrage happen again? Civilization must build up its defenses-social, cultural and spiritual--so that the massacre of any people will never again be attempted. The struggle will not be an easy one. It must be waged with education, courage, determination; and with all the light which science and religion can throw upon man's groping efforts to emancipate himself from the strait jacket of racial and religious hatreds, in order to see in every man his brother."
Here are some pertinent points of fact
written to the Editors of Commentary magazine (1964), by former U.S. Deputy
Chief of Counsel at the Nuremburg War Crimes Trials, Robert M.W. Kempner-"I
should like to add a few points about the factors that were behind Pope
(1) Pius XII knew that the public statements by Roosevelt, Churchill, etc. warning that the murderers of the Jews would be brought to justice, had proved completely futile. High Nazi functionaries, as we know from the Nuremburg files, reacted to such warnings with comments like... "I feel myself honored"; or "Put this in the files."
(2) The Pope had met with only discouraging results in his numerous efforts to intervene on behalf of persecuted Catholic priests as well as on behalf of many Jews. Despite his efforts, more than 3,000 Catholic priests in Germany, Austria, Poland, France and other countries were put to death by the Nazis, as shown in the forthcoming study, "Chronicle of the Martyr Priests", by Mrs. B.M. Kempner.
(3) The study will show further that besides Provost Lichtenburg, there were many German priests who helped Jews to escape, gave them assistance in other ways, and preached openly against the Nazi doctrine. They were tried by the Nazi Peoples' Court and either executed or sent to concentration camps.
(4) On learning of a possible public protest by the Vatican, Ribbentrop, who issued numerous deceptive answers to Vatican protests, sent his Ambassador Ernst von Weizsacker a guideline on silencing the Vatican, as follows (telegram # 181, dated January 24, 1943): "Should the Vatican plan to make a political or propagandist statement against Germany, it should be made clear to them that any worsening in relations would by no means work one-sidedly to Germany’s disadvantage. It should be made clear that the Reich government has no lack of effective propaganda material and certainly could take adequate steps to counter effectively any strike against Germany attempted by the Vatican.
(5) Among the measures scheduled to follow upon Hitler's victory were the following: "every Catholic State must select its own Pope"...[and] "the Bishop of Muenster will go before the firing squad one day." These and similar pronouncements by Hitler were noted by Alfred Rosenberg in his diary... Similar threats are in Hitler's "Table Talk"
(6) Every propaganda move of the Catholic Church against Hitler's Reich would have been not only "provoking suicide," as Rosenberg actually stated, but would have hastened the execution of more Jews and priests."
The imputations of the mass media, the artistic license taken by writers of plays, "docu-dramas" and literature, concerning the war-time activity of the Vatican, in many ways, show how sensationalism and drama can sway people's minds away from the truth and inspire bitterness and injustice. Some who write about that terrible time make virtually no attempt to avoid a fatal flaw; a flaw that is drummed into every graduate student in a historical research methods course: beware of hindsight. They should write history as if they were there at the time it occurred and through the eyes of the participants. To me, historical facts show the positive efforts to resist Nazism by Poles and the Catholic Church; it was human effort and human courage during a demonic era of history and it was honorable.
In his prepared talk given in Bethesda, Maryland, on January 30, 1989, the Reverend Robert A. Graham, S.J. states: " As we know, after the war, long after the war, Pope Pius XII was criticized for his alleged "silence" in respect to the deportations. This implies that he was indifferent, ineffective, or remiss at this crucial point in the history of humanity. It is said he should have "cried out", or excommunicated with "Roman bolts" all the malefactors. Such criticisms emerged only after, and not during, the war. It is significant that the world Jewish organizations themselves, in those years, were not in the main pressing the Pope to make the kind of public statements that, later, the Pope was criticized for not having made. The correspondence on the record reveals, on the contrary, that the main thrust of Jewish policy was not to indulge in appeals or provocations of the kind that they knew from bitter experience would have absolutely no effect. Their appeal was for papal assistance at points--to adapt the phrase of Winston Churchill--"on the soft underbelly of the Axis", namely the Balkans, France, Italy, where there was some prospect of rescue. For to Pope and Rabbi alike, it was evident that open and explicit allusions would stifle in its beginnings any possibility of success in the particular operation envisaged."
In the introduction of Father Graham's monograph, "Pius XII's Defense of Jews and Others: 1944-1945", Dr. Joseph Lichten, a Polish born Jew who is a longstanding proponent of mutual understanding and cooperation between Catholic and Jewish communities writes: "The closing months of the war sealed the fate of world Jewry, marking a disaster, the extent of which cannot be fully assessed even today. If we are to have a balanced view of the past, it is pertinent that we should know as many facts as possible. It is our sacred duty to establish what happened, what was not done but also what was done. It is especially important that we should know what was done, not merely for the sake of consolation but in order to understand the truth and to do justice to those who did stretch a helping hand to the Jews in those tragic days. Many authors have been in a hurry to write, to accuse, to blame. Perhaps it would have been wiser to wait for the last volumes of the Actes to appear."
Being a member of a different ethnic group determined to a large extent one's experiences, as well as one's perception of the occupation. Hostility between ethnic groups prevented each other from seeing objectively, across nationality lines, how the others fared.
In conclusion, I repeat some of Father O'Malley's words: "But if the Holocaust, and World War II, taught us anything, it surely taught us the idiocy of inflexible dividing lines: nationalism, denominationalism, racism, sexism. Of course our ethnic, national, and religious traditions are a source of rootedness, identity and community. But not when it ceases to be a matter of honest pride and corrodes into divisiveness and bitterness." And I add! if we truly mean to keep catastrophe from happening again, we have to look unblinkingly at how it happened before, at the beginning, as well as the end.
The purpose of this paper is to illuminate and to inform that both Poland and the Catholic Church performed with honor and humanity during World War II. It is up to us who share a bond of justice and accuracy to educate society about these historical facts.
1. Astor, Gerald. The Last Nazi (The Life and Times of Dr. Joseph Mengele). New York: Donald 1. Fine, 1985.
2. Aycoberry, Pierre. The Nazi Question (An Essay on the Interpretation of National Socialism 1922-1975). New York: Pantheon Books, 1981.
3. Bartoszewski, Wladyslaw, and Lewin, Zofia, (American Edition edited by Alexander T. Jordan). The Samaritans (Heros of the Holocaust). New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc.
4. Blejwas, Stanislaus A. Holocaust Illiteracy. New Horizon Magazine, June-August 1981 Edition.
5. Davis, Norman. Heart of Europe. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.
6. Friedman, Philip. Their Brother's Keepers. New York: Holocaust Publications, 1978.
7. Graham, Robert A., S.J., Pius XII's Defense of Jews and Others: 1944-1945. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. 1987.
8. Iranek-Osmecki, Kazimierz. He Who Saves One Life. New York: Crown Publishers 7 1971.
9. Kaplan, Chaim A. Scroll of Agony (The Warsaw Diary translated and edited by Abraham 1. Katsh). New York: Collier Books, 1973.
10. Lapide, Pinchas. Three Popes and the Jews. New York: Hawthorne Books,1967
11. Lewin, Ronald. Hitler's Mistakes. New York: William Morrow, 1984.
12. Lukas, Richard C. Forgotten Holocaust (The Poles Under German Occupation:1939-1944). Lexington, Kentucky: the University Press of Kentucky, 1986.
13. Muller, Filip. Eyewitness Auschwitz (Three years in the Gas Chambers). New York: Stein and Day, 1981.