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Catholic Church and Nazi Germany

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Catholic Church and Nazi Germany

Catholic Church and Nazi Germany
Catholics of the Nazi era.

Pius XI (1922–39) and Pius XII (1939–58) led the Roman Catholic Church through the rise and fall of Nazi Germany. In the 1930s, Catholics constituted about one third of the population and Political Catholicism was a major force in the interwar Weimar Republic. Prior to 1933, Catholic leaders denounced Nazi doctrines while Catholic regions generally did not vote Nazi. Once in office, Hitler remained less popular among Catholics.[1] After the November 1932 elections, ex-Catholic Centre Party member and former Chancellor [2] Franz von Papen, President von Hindenburg and Adolf Hitler, held a series of private meetings to form a compromise Coalition with Conservatives. On January 30, 1933, President Hindenburg appointed Hitler Chancellor, and Papen as Vice-Chancellor. Parliamentary elections were scheduled for March 5. The Reichstag fire of 27 February led to the abrogation of basic civil rights and exploited by the Nazis to persecute opponents.[3] The Nazi campaign Gleichschaltung of forced co-ordination of politics and society commenced. On 24 March, as Nazi paramilitary surrounded Parliament, Hitler pledged not to threaten the office of the President, the Reichstag, the political parties, or the churches.[4] and secured the vote of the Centre Party (led by prelate Ludwig Kaas), the Catholic aligned Bavarian People's Party and the DNF for the Enabling Act, granting Hitler "temporary" plenary powers. Only the Social Democratic Party rejected the Act. A protracted Church Struggle followed, during which the Catholic Church insisted on its loyalty to the nation, but resisted regimentation and oppression of Church organizations and contraventions of doctrine such as the sterilization law of 1933. By the death of Hindenberg in 1934, the Reichstag and all non-Nazi political parties had been abolished, and an old guard of Catholic lay political activists silenced: Erich Klausener and Edgar Jung of Catholic Action, along with the National Director of Catholic Youth and leading Catholic press dissident Fritz Gerlich, were killed in Hitler's Night of the Long Knives purge. Former Centre Party Chancellor Heinrich Brüning, who had been looking to topple the new regime, narrowly survived.

In the long-term, Nazi radicals like Goebbels, Himmler, Rosenberg and Bormann, backed by Hitler, hoped to de-Christianize Germany, or distort its theology to their point of view.[5][6] The Reich concordat of July 1933, had pledged to respect the autonomy of the Catholic Church in Germany, but prohibited clergy from engaging in politics, and political opposition from the Church diminished. Hitler welcomed the treaty, but routinely violated it. The regime claimed jurisdiction over all collective and social activity, therefore, interfered with Catholic schooling, youth groups, workers' clubs and cultural societies. It moved to close all Catholic institutions which were not strictly religious. Catholic schools were shut by 1939; Catholic press by 1941.[7][8] Clergy, women and men religious, and lay leaders were targeted. During the course of Hitler's rule, thousands were arrested, often on trumped up charges of currency smuggling or "immorality".[9] Cardinal Bertram developed an ineffectual protest system, leaving broader Catholic resistance to individual conscience. A formal Catholic critique of the regime was gradually advanced by the efforts of individuals like Bishops Preysing, Galen and Frings. By 1937, the church hierarchy, which had initially sought to co-operate, had become highly disillusioned and Pope Pius XI issued the Mit brennender Sorge encyclical. It condemned racism and accused the Nazis of violations of the Concordat and "fundamental hostility" to the Church.[9] The regime responded by renewing its crackdown and propaganda against Catholics.[7] A 1942 Pastoral Letter of the German bishops called Nazi policy towards the Church "unjust oppression" and "hated struggle".

Pope Pius XII, a former nuncio to Germany, became Pope on the eve of war. His legacy is contested. As Vatican Secretary of State, he had advocated for the controversial Concordat of 1933, hoping it would build trust and respect with the regime. He later assisted with the drafting of the Mit brennender Sorge anti-Nazi encyclical. His first encyclical, Summi Pontificatus, called the invasion of Poland an "hour of darkness". He affirmed the policy of Vatican neutrality, but maintained links to the German Resistance. A cautious diplomat, controversy surrounding a reluctance to speak publicly in explicit terms about Nazi crimes continues.[10] Pius used diplomacy to aid war victims and lobby for peace, shared intelligence with the Allies and used Vatican Radio and press to speak out against atrocities like race murders. In Mystici Corporis Christi (1943) he denounced the murder of the handicapped. A denunciation from German bishops of the murder of the "innocent and defenceless" including "people of a foreign race or descent" followed.[11] While Nazi antisemitism embraced modern pseudo-scientific racial principles, ancient antipathies between Christianity and Judaism contributed to European antisemitism. Under Pius XII, the Church rescued many thousands of Jews, by issuing false documents, lobbying Axis officials, and hiding them in monasteries, convents, schools and elsewhere including the Vatican and Castel Gandolfo.

In the Nazi Empire, responses to Nazism varied. Priests were watched closely, frequently denounced, or imprisoned. From 1940, the Nazis gathered priest-dissidents in a dedicated clergy barracks at Dachau, where 95% of inmates were Catholic: 2,579 in all, mostly Polish, among them 411 Germans. Vigorous resistance from bishops like Johannes de Jong and Jules-Géraud Saliège; papal diplomats such as Angelo Rotta; and nuns like Margit Slachta can be contrasted with the apathy of others, the inept diplomacy and fascist sympathies of Cesare Orsenigo (nuncio to Berlin), or the outright collaboration of Catholic politicians like Slovakia's Msgr. Jozef Tiso, and some fanatical Croat nationalists. In Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany, the Nazis attempted to eradicate the Church. Over 1800 Polish clergy died in concentration camps. Bishop von Galen's 1941 denunciation of the Nazi euthanasia program and defence of human rights roused rare popular dissent, and inspired some to resist. Influential members of the German Resistance included the Jesuits of the Kreisau Circle, and laymen like Stauffenberg, Kaiser and Letterhaus, whose faith inspired resistance.[12] During the war, from within the Vatican, Msgr. Hugh O'Flaherty coordinated the rescue of thousands of Allied POWs, and civilians, including Jews. A rogue Bishop Alois Hudal of the college for German priests in Rome was an informant for Nazi intelligence, and after the war, along with Msgr. Krunoslav Draganovic of the Croatian College, assisted the so-called "ratlines" which allowed fugitive Nazis to flee Europe.



Roman Catholicism has ancient roots among Germanic peoples dating to the missionary work of Columbanus and St. Boniface in the 6th–8th centuries. The Reformation, initiated by Martin Luther in 1517, divided German Christians between Protestantism and Catholicism. The south and west remained mainly Catholic, while north and east became mainly Protestant.[13] The Church enjoyed a degree of privilege in the Bavarian region, the Rhineland and Westphalia as well as parts of the south-west, while in the Protestant North, Catholics suffered some discrimination. In the 1930s, the episcopate of the Catholic Church of Germany comprised 6 Archbishops and 19 bishops while German Catholics comprised around one third of the population, served by 20,000 priests.[14][15]

The Nazi movement arose during the period of the Weimar Republic in the aftermath of the disaster of World War One (1914–1918) and the subsequent political instability and grip of the Great Depression. The ill-fated Weimar democracy replaced the German Empire and faced a series of social, economic and political challenges. Amidst resentment of the Treaty of Versailles, disastrous inflation and political turmoil of 1920–1923, radicals arose on the right and left. Adolf Hitler, came to lead the Nazi Party and formed alliances with other right-wing groups to attempt to overthrow the Republic. A period of economic and political stabilization followed and in the 1929 elections, the antirepublican parties of the left and right received only 13 percent of the total vote, with the Nazis taking just 2.6 percent. But, with the onset of worldwide economic Depression, the fortunes of the radical parties soared. At the outset of the 1930s, the Nazis, with their militarist, anti-democractic and antisemitic policies, were on the cusp of power.[16] With the collapse of Germany's post-WWI economic recovery, the stain of defeat weighed heavily on the German psyche, political and economic extremism ultimately won out against the centre by a combination of shrewd politics and terror tactics.[17] Following the Nazi takeover, the National Socialists moved quickly to outlaw other political parties. And following a campaign of intimidation, the Catholic Centre Party and the Bavarian People's Party (a regional Catholic party) ceased to exist by July 1933.[18]

Political Catholicism in Germany

Main article: Political Catholicism

In the 1930s, the Catholic Church and the Catholic Centre Party (Zentrum) were major social and political forces in predominantly Protestant Germany. Through the period of the Weimar Republic (1919–33/34) the Centre Party, aligned with both the Social Democrats and the leftist German Democratic Party, had maintained the centre ground against the rise of extremist parties of the left and right.[17][21]

Bismark's Kulturkampf ("Battle for Culture") of 1871–78 had seen an attempt to assert a Protestant vision of nationalism over Germany, and fused anticlericalism and suspicion of the Catholic population, whose loyalty was presumed to lie with Austria and France, rather than the new German Empire. The Centre Party had formed in 1870, initially to represent the religious interests of Catholics and Protestants, but was transformed by the Kulturkampf into the "political voice of Catholics".[22] Bismarck's Culture Struggle failed in its attempt to eliminate Catholic institutions in Germany, or their strong connections outside of Germany, particularly various international missions and Rome.[17]

The Centre Party assisted with the framing of the German constitution at the end of World War One, and participated in various Coalition governments during the Weimar period.[23] The revolution of 1918 and the Weimar constitution of 1919 had thoroughly reformed the former relationship between state and churches.[17] By law, the German churches (Protestant and Catholic) received tax supported subsidies based on church census data, therefore, were dependent on state support, causing them to be vulnerable to Government influence and the political atmosphere of Germany.[17] Five Centre Party politicians served as Chancellor of Weimar Germany: Konstantin Fehrenbach, Joseph Wirth, Wilhelm Marx, Heinrich Brüning, and Franz von Papen.[23]

Heinrich Brüning was chancellor and foreign minister shortly before Adolf Hitler came to power, with Germany facing immense economic problems and the Great Depression. Brüning was appointed to form a new, more conservative ministry in March 28, 1930, but did not have a Reichstag majority and on July 16, unable to have key points of his agenda pass through the parliament, Brüning used Article 48 of the Constitution to begin governing by presidential emergency decree, dissolving the Reichstag on 18 July, bringing on new elections in September, in which the Communist and Nazi representation greatly increased, hastening Germany's drift toward rightist dictatorship. Brüning backed Hindenberg over Hitler in the 1932 presidential election, but lost Hindenberg's support as Chancellor, and resigned in May of that year.[24] According to Ventresca, Vatican Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli had always been nervous of Brüning's reliance on Social Democrats for political survival - a sentiment shared by Ludwig Kaas and many German Catholics. Ventresca wrote that Brüning never forgave Pacelli for what he saw as betrayal of Catholic political tradition and his leadership.[20]

Historically the Centre Party had had the strength to defy Bismark and been a bulwark of the Weimar Republic, yet, according to Bullock, from the summer of 1932, the Party had become "notoriously a Party whose first concern was to make accommodation with any government in power in order to secure the protection of its particular interests".[25][26] It remained relatively moderate during the radicalisation of German politics which occurred with the onset of the Great Depression, but the party's deputies ultimately voted for the Enabling Act of March 1933, with which Hitler obtained plenary powers.[23]

During the 1920s and 1930s, Catholic leaders had made a number of forthright attacks on Nazi ideology and the main Christian opposition to Nazism in Germany had come from the Catholic Church.[17] Before Hitler came to power, German bishops warned Catholics against Nazi racism and some dioceses banned membership of the Nazi Party.[27] The Catholic press condemned Nazism.[27] John Cornwell wrote of the early Nazi period that:

Into the early 1930s the German Centre Party, the German Catholic bishops, and the Catholic media had been mainly solid in their rejection of National Socialism. They denied Nazis the sacraments and church burials, and Catholic journalists excoriated National Socialism daily in Germany's 400 Catholic newspapers. The hierarchy instructed priests to combat National Socialism at a local level whenever it attacked Christianity.[28]

Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber was appalled by the totalitarianism, neopaganism, and racism of the Nazi movement and, as Archbishop of Munich and Freising, contributed to the failure of the Nazi Munich Putsch of 1923.[29] At the beginning of 1931, the Cologne Bishops Conference condemned National Socialism, and were followed by the bishops of Paderborn and Freiburg. With ongoing hostility to the Nazis from the Catholic press and the Centre Party, few Catholics voted Nazi in the elections preceding the Nazi takeover in 1933.[30] Nevertheless, in Catholicism, as in other German churches, there were clergy and lay people who openly supported the Nazi regime.[21]

Catholic opposition to Communism

The ambivalent views held by 19th-century German sociologist Karl Marx on religion pitted Communist movements against religious organisations like the Catholic Church. Pope Leo XIII responded with the 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum. The Catholic Church feared the consequences of Communist conquest or revolution in Europe. German Christians were alarmed by the spread of militant Marxist‒Leninist atheism, which took hold in Russia following the 1917 Revolution, and involved a systematic effort to eradicate Christianity.[31][32] Seminaries were closed and teaching the faith to the young was criminalized. In 1922, the Bolsheviks arrested the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.[31] The Soviet leaders Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin energetically pursued the persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church through the 1920s and 1930s. Lenin wrote that every religious idea and every idea of God "is unutterable vileness... of the most dangerous kind, 'contagion of the most abominable kind".[32] In Bavaria in 1919, Communists briefly seized power. While serving as Apostolic Nuncio to Bavaria, Eugenio Pacelli (later Pope Pius XII) was in Munich during the Spartacist Uprising of 1919, which saw Communists burst into his residence brandishing guns—an experience which contributed to Pacelli's lifelong fear of Communism.[33]

It was within this atmosphere that the Nazi movement first emerged.[34] According to the historian Derek Hastings many Catholics felt threatened by the possibilities for radical socialism which was driven, as they perceived, by a cabal of Jews and atheists around Kurt Eisner.[35] Robert Ventresca wrote that, after witnessing the turmoil in Munich, Pacelli reserved his harshest criticism for Eisner. Pacelli saw Eisner as embodying the revolution in Bavaria—an atheist, a radical Socialist, with ties to the Russian nihilists—"What is more, Pacelli told his superiors, Eisner was a Galician Jew—a threat to Bavaria's religious, political, and social life"[36]

The brief Soviet experiment in Munich radicalized anti-Semitic and anti-Marxist attitudes among Munich's overwhelmingly Catholic population and Bavaria began to get a reputation as a refuge for right wing radicals from across Germany. The Catholic priest Anton Braun in a well-publicized sermon in December 1918 called Eisner a sleazy Jew and his administration a pack of unbelieving Jews.[35] Hitler was able to win some support from some German Christians in the belief that he would be a bulwark against Communism.[31] Pope Pius XI saw the rising tide of Totalitarianism in Europe with alarm and delivered three papal encyclicals challenging the new creeds, issuing Divini redemptoris ("Divine Redeemer") against atheist Communism in 1937.[37]

Nazi views on Catholicism

Richard J. Evans wrote that Hitler believed that in the long run National Socialism and religion would not be able to co-exist, and stressed repeatedly that Nazism was a secular ideology, founded on modern science: "Science, he declared, would easily destroy the last remaining vestiges of superstition". Germany could not tolerate the intervention of foreign influences such as the Pope and "Priests, he said, were 'black bugs', 'abortions in black cassocks'".[42] He believed in a world Jewish conspiracy operating though social democracy, Marxism and Christianity.[43]

The Nazis disliked universities, intellectuals and the Catholic and Protestant churches. Gill wrote that their long term plan was to "de-Christianise Germany after the final victory".[44] Aggressive anti-Church radicals like Joseph Goebbels and Martin Bormann saw the conflict with the Churches as a priority concern, and anti-church and anti-clerical sentiments were strong among grassroots party activists.[45] According to Shirer, "under the leadership of Rosenberg, Bormann and Himmler—backed by Hitler—the Nazi regime intended to destroy Christianity in Germany, if it could, and substitute the old paganism of the early tribal Germanic gods and the new paganism of the Nazi extremists."[38] The Nazi party had decidedly pagan elements.[46] Once the war was over, Hitler wanted to root out and destroy the influence of the churches:.[47]

In Hitler's eyes, Christianity was a religion fit only for slaves; he detested its ethics in particular. Its teaching, he declared, was a rebellion against the natural law of selection by struggle and the survival of the fittest.

— Extract from Hitler: a Study in Tyranny, by Alan Bullock

Catholicism clashed in various respects with key tenets of Nazism.[48][49] Nazism wanted to transform the subjective consciousness of the German people—their attitudes, values and mentalities—into a single-minded, obedient "national community". Kershaw wrote that the Nazis believed they would therefore have to replace class, religious and regional allegiances by a "massively enhanced national self-awareness to mobilize the German people psychologically" for the coming struggle and war.[50]

Hitler possessed radical instincts in relation to the continuing conflict with the Churches. Though he occasionally spoke of wanting to delay the Church struggle and was prepared to restrain his anti-clericalism out of political considerations, his "own inflammatory comments gave his immediate underlings all the license they needed to turn up the heat in the 'Church Struggle, confident that they were 'working towards the Fuhrer'".[45] Raised Catholic, Hitler retained some regard for the organisational power of the Church, but had utter contempt for its central teachings, which he said, if taken to their conclusion, "would mean the systematic cultivation of the human failure".[52] However, important conservative elements, such as the officer corps, opposed Nazi persecution of the churches and, in office, Hitler restrained his anticlerical instincts out of political considerations.[52][53] The 1920 Nazi Party Platform had promised to support freedom of religions with the caveat: "insofar as they do not jeopardize the state's existence or conflict with the moral sentiments of the Germanic race". It further proposed a definition of a "positive Christianity" which could combat the "Jewish-materialistic spirit".[21] The attitude of the Nazi party membership to the Catholic Church ranged from tolerance to near total renunciation.[54][55]

Once in power, the Nazi leadership co-opted the term Gleichschaltung to mean conformity and subservience to the Nazi Party line: "there was to be no law but Hitler, and ultimately no god but Hitler".[44] But Hitler was conscious that Bismark's kulturkampf struggle against the Church of the 1870s had been defeated by the unity of Catholics behind the Centre Party and was convinced that the Nazi movement could only succeed if Political Catholicism and its democratic networks were eliminated.[28][54][56]

In January 1934, Hitler appointed Alfred Rosenberg as the cultural and educational leader of the Reich. Rosenberg was a neo-pagan and notoriously anti-Catholic.[38][39] Rosenberg was initially the editor of the young Nazi Party's newspaper, the Volkischer Beobachter.[57] of th In 1924, following Hitler's arrest, Hitler had chosen Rosenberg to oversee the Nazi movement while he was in prison (though Rees wrote that Hitler chose Rosenberg because he was unsuitable for the task and unlikely to emerge as a rival).[58] In "Myth of the Twentieth Century" (1930), Rosenberg described the Catholic Church as one of the main enemies of Nazism.[40] Rosenberg proposed to replace traditional Christianity with the neo-pagan "myth of the blood":[59]

We now realize that the central supreme values of the Roman and the Protestant Churches [-] hinder the organic powers of the peoples determined by their Nordic race, [-] they will have to be remodeled "

The Myth of the 20th Century, Alfred Rosenberg, 1930.

Church officials were perturbed by Hitler's appointment of Rosenberg as the state's official philosopher. The indication was that Hitler was officially endorsing Rosenberg's anti-Jewish, anti-Christian, and neo-pagan philosophy. Pius XI and Cardinal Pacelli directed the Holy Office to place Rosenberg's Myth of the Twentieth Century on the Index of Forbidden books on February 7, 1934.[60] Cologne's Cardinal Schulte met with Hitler, and protested at Rosenberg's role in the government. Ignored by Hitler, Schulte decided that the church needed to respond and appointed the Reverend Josef Teusch to direct a defence against Nazi anti-Christian propaganda. Teusch eventually produced 20 booklets against Nazism—Catechism Truths alone sold seven million copies.[61] Later in 1934 Studien zum Mythus des XX, a pamphlet of essays attacking Rosenberg's Myth of the Twentieth Century, was released, in Bishop August von Galen's name. Krieg wrote that "Studien was a defence of the church, and that concern for the "preservation of Catholicism" had apparently eclipsed a commitment to the protection of human rights in general."[62] Joachim Fest wrote of Rosenberg as having little or no political influence in making the regime's decisions and as a thoroughly marginalized figure.[63] Hitler called his book "derivative, pastiche, illogical rubbish!"[64]

Joseph Goebbels, the Minister for Propaganda, was among the most aggressive anti-Church radicals.[45] The son of a Catholic family from Rheydt in the Rhineland, he became one of the regime's most relentless Jew-baiters.[65] Goebbels led the Nazi persecution of the clergy. On the "Church Question", he wrote "after the war it has to be generally solved... There is, namely, an insoluble opposition between the Christian and a heroic-German world view".[45] Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich headed the dreaded Nazi security forces and were key architects of the Final Solution. Both believed that Christian values were among the enemies of Nazism: the enemies were "eternally the same" wrote Heydrich: "the Jew, the Freemason, and the politically-oriented cleric." Modes of thinking like Christian and liberal individualism he considered to be residue of inherited racial characteristics, biologically sourced to Jewry—who must therefore be exterminated.[66] Following the failure of the pro-Nazi Ludwig Muller to unite Protestants behind the Nazi Party in 1933, Hitler appointed his friend Hans Kerrl as Minister for Church Affairs in 1935. A relative moderate among Nazis, Kerrl nonetheless confirmed Nazi hostility to the Catholic and Protestant creeds in a 1937 address during an intense phase of the Nazi Kirchenkampf:[67]

The Party stands on the basis of Positive Christianity, and positive Christianity is National Socialism... National Socialism is the doing of God's will... God's will reveals itself in German blood... Dr Zoellner and [Catholic Bishop of Munster] Count Galen have tried to make clear to me that Christianity consists in faith in Christ as the son of God. That makes me laugh... No, Christianity is not dependent upon the Apostle's Creed... True Christianity is represented by the party, and the German people are now called by the party and especially the Fuehrer to a real Christianity... the Fuehrer is the herald of a new revelation".

Hans Kerrl, Nazi Minister for Church Affairs, 1937

Hitler's chosen deputy and private secretary from 1941, Martin Bormann, was a rigid guardian of National Socialist orthodoxy.[51][68] He believed, and said publicly in 1941 that "National Socialism and Christianity are irreconcilable".[38]

Catholicism in the Third Reich

Nazis take power

Hitler became involved with the fledgling Nazi Party after World War One, and set the violent tone of the movement early, by forming the Sturmabteilung (SA) paramilitary.[69] Catholic Bavaria resented rule from Protestant Berlin, and Hitler at first saw revolution in Bavaria as a means to power - but an early attempt proved fruitless, and he was imprisoned after the 1923 Munich Beerhall Putsch. He used the time to produce Mein Kampf, in which he argued that the effeminate Jewish-Christian ethic was enfeebling Europe, and that Germany needed a man of iron to restore itself and build an empire.[70] He decided on the tactic of pursuing power through "legal" means.[71]

The Wall Street Crash of 1929 heralded worldwide economic disaster. The Nazis and the Communists made great gains at the 1930 Election. Greatest gains for the Nazis came in the Protestant, rural areas of North, while Catholic areas remained loyal to the Centre Party.[72] Both the Nazis and Communists were pledged to eliminating democracy, but between them secured over 50% of Reichstag seats, requiring the moderate parties to consider negotiations with anti-democrats.[73] "The Communists", wrote Bullock, "openly announced that they would prefer to see the Nazis in power rather than lift a finger to save the republic".[74]

Hitler appointed Chancellor

Germany's political system made it difficult for chancellors to govern with a stable parliamentary majority, and successive chancellors instead relied on the President's emergency powers to govern.[75] From 1931-1933, the Nazis combined terror tactics with conventional campaigning - Hitler criss-crossed the nation by air, while SA troops paraded in the streets, beat up opponents, and broke up their meetings.[76]

The Weimar political parties failed to stop the Nazi rise. A middle class liberal party strong enough to block the Nazis did not exist - the People's Party and the Democrats suffered severe losses to the Nazis at the polls. The Social Democrats were essentially a conservative trade union party, with ineffectual leadership. The Centre Party maintained its voting block, but was preoccupied with defending its own particular interests and, wrote Bullock: "through 1932-3... was so far from recognizing the danger of a Nazi dictatorship that it continued to negotiate with the Nazis". The Communists meanwhile were engaging in violent clashes with Nazis on the streets, but Moscow had directed the Communist Party to prioritise destruction of the Social Democrats, seeing more danger in them as a rival for the loyalty of the working class. Nevertheless, wrote Bullock, the heaviest responsibility lay with the German Right, who "forsook a true conservatism" and "not only failed to combine with the other parties in defence of the Republic, but made Hitler their partner in a coalition government".[77]

The Centre Party's Heinrich Brüning was Chancellor from 1930-32. Brüning and Hitler were unable to reach terms of co-operation, but Brüning himself increasingly governed with the support of the President and Army over that of the parliament.[78] The 84-year-old President von Hindenberg, a conservative monarchist, was reluctant to take action to suppress the Nazis, while the ambitious Major-General Kurt von Schleicher, as Minister handling Army and Navy matters hoped to harness their support.[79] With Schleicher's backing, and Hitler's stated approval, Hindenburg appointed the Catholic monarchist Franz von Papen to replace Brüning as Chancellor in June 1932.[80][81] Papen had been active in the resurgence of the Harzburg Front.[82] He had fallen out with the Centre Party.[83] He hoped ultimately to outmaneuver Hitler.[84]

At the July 1932 Elections, the Nazis became the largest party in the Reichstag and Hitler withdrew support for Papen, and demanded the Chancellorship. He was refused by Hindenberg. At this point, the Nazis approached the Centre Party to sound out a Coalition, though none was reached.[85] Papen dissolved Parliament, and the Nazi vote declined at the November Election.[86] In the aftermath of the election, Papen proposed ruling by decree while drafting a new electoral system, with an upper house. Schleicher convinced Hindenberg to sack Papen, and Schleicher himself became Chancellor, promising to form a workable coalition.[87]

The aggrieved Papen opened negotiations with Hitler, proposing a Nazi-Nationalist Coalition. Having nearly outmaneuvered Hitler, only to be trounced by Schleicher, Papen turned his attentions on defeating Schleicher, and concluded an agreement with Hitler.[88] Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Chancellor on January 30, 1933, in a coalition arrangement between the Nazis and the Nationalist-Conservatives. Papen was to serve as Vice-Chancellor in a majority conservative Cabinet - still falsely believing that he could "tame" Hitler.[81] Initially, Papen did speak out against some Nazi excesses, and only narrowly escaped death in the night of the long knives, whereafter he ceased to openly criticize the regime.

German Catholics met the Nazi takeover with apprehension, as leading clergymen had been warning against Nazism for years.[89] A threatening, though at first mainly sporadic persecution of the Catholic Church in Germany commenced.[90]

Enabling Law

Following the Reichstag fire, the Nazis began to suspend civil liberties and eliminate political opposition. The Communists were excluded from the Reichstag. At the March 1933 elections, again no single party secured a majority. Hitler required the vote of the Centre Party and Conservatives in the Reichstag to obtain the powers he desired. He told the Reichstag on March 23 that Positive Christianity was the "unshakeable foundation of the moral and ethical life of our people" and promised not to threaten the churches, or the institutions of the Republic if granted the powers.[91] Employing his characteristic mix of negotiation and intimidation (via the SA), the Nazis called on the Centre Party, led by Ludwig Kaas, and all other parties in the Reichstag to vote for the Enabling Act on 24 March 1933. Hitler was granted plenary powers "temporarily" by the passage of the Act.[92] The law gave Hitler the freedom to act without parliamentary consent and even without constitutional limitations.[93]

Hitler offered Kaas oral guarantees of the Centre Party's continued existence and the autonomy of the Church and her educational institutions. Kaas advocated supporting the bill in return for government guarantees. These mainly included respecting the Church's liberty, its involvement in the fields of culture, schools and education, the concordats previously signed by German states, and the continued existence of the Centre Party. Kaas was aware of the doubtful nature of such guarantees, but when his Party assembled on 23 March to decide on their vote, Kaas advised members to support the bill, given the "precarious state of the party". A number opposed the chairman's course, among these former Chancellors Brüning and Joseph Wirth and former minister Adam Stegerwald. Brüning called the Act the "most monstrous resolution ever demanded of a parliament", and was sceptical about Kaas' efforts.

Hitler offered the possibility of friendly co-operation, promising not to threaten the Reichstag, the President, the States or the Churches if granted the emergency powers. With Nazi paramilitary encircling the building, he said: "It is for you, gentlemen of the Reichstag to decide between war and peace".[91] The Centre Party, having obtained promises of non-interference in religion, joined with conservatives in voting for the Act (only the Social Democrats voted against).[26]

Hoffman wrote that the Centre Party and Bavarian People's Party, along with other groups between the Nazis and the Social-Democrats "voted for their own emasculation in the paradoxical hope of saving their existence thereby".[95] Hitler immediately set about abolishing the powers of the states and the existence of non-Nazi political parties and organisations.[96]

The Act, allowed Hitler and his Cabinet to rule by emergency decree for four years, though Hindenberg remained President.[97] The Act did not infringe upon the powers of the President, and Hitler would not fully achieve full dictatorial power until after the death of Hindenburg in August 1934. Hindenburg remained Commander and Chief of the military and retained the power to negotiate foreign treaties. On 28 March the German Bishops' Conference conditionally revised prohibition of Nazi Party membership.[98][99]

Amid Nazi intimidation, post his appointment as Chancellor, and through the winter/spring of 1933, Hitler ordered the wholesale dismissal of Catholic civil servants,[100] the leader of the Catholic Trade Unions, Mr. Stegerwald, was beaten by Brownshirts and Catholic politician, Mr. Bruening, sought protection after S.A. troopers had wounded a number of followers at a rally.[101] In this threatening atmosphere, Hitler publicly called for a reorganization of Church and State relations of both Catholic and Protestant Churches. By June, thousands of Centre Party members had been incarcerated in concentration camps. Two thousand functionaries of the Bavarian People's Party were rounded up by police in late June 1933, and it, along with the Centre Party, ceased to exist by early July.[102][103] Lacking public ecclesial support, the Center Party voluntary dissolved on July 5.[104] Non-Nazi parties were formally outlawed on 14 July, and the Reichstag abdicated its democratic responsibilities.[96]


Diplomatic policy during Pope's Pius XI's pontificate saw the Church conclude eighteen concordats, including agreements with Italy (1929), Germany (1933), Austria (1935), Yugoslavia (1935) and Latvia (1938). The aim of the Church in signing such treaties was to safeguard its institutional rights in those nations, however, wrote Hebblethwaite, the treaties were not to succeed in this regard, for "Europe was entering a period in which such agreements were were regarded as mere scraps of paper".[105] The Reich concordat (Reichskonkordat) with Germany was signed on July 20, 1933 and ratified in September of that year. The treaty was an extension of existing concordats already signed with Prussia and Bavaria, but wrote Hebblethwaite, it seemed "more like a surrender than anything else: it involved the suicide of the Centre Party... ".[106] Signed by President Hindenburg and Vice Chancellor Papen, it was a realization of a long standing program of the Church in Germany to secure a nationwide Concordat, dating back to the first year of the Weimar Republic in 1919, and first realized through the diplomacy of Eugenio Pacelli with the state level concordat of Bavaria in 1924.[107] Breaches of the treaty by the regime commenced almost immediately, and the Church continually protested such breaches throughout the Nazi period. The Church preserved diplomatic ties with the German Government right to the end of the Third Reich, and the treaty remains in force to the present day.[108][109]

In 1929, Eugenio Pacelli's brother, Francesco, had successfully negotiated a concordat with Mussolini's Italy, as part of the Lateran Treaty. A precondition of the these negotiations involved the dissolution of the parliamentary Catholic Italian People's Party. The Holy See, represented in Germany by Nuncio Eugenio Pacelli (future Pope Pius XII) made unsuccessful attempts to obtain an agreement with the federal government of Germany for such a treaty. Between 1930 and 1933 he attempted to initiate negotiations with representatives of successive German governments with limited success. He secured several state level concordats but a federal treaty proved elusive.[110] Catholic politicians from the Centre Party repeatedly pushed for a concordat with the new German Republic.[111] In February 1930 Pacelli became the Vatican's Secretary of State, and thus responsible for the Church's foreign policy, and in this position continued to work towards this 'great goal' of securing a treaty with the federal government.[110][112]

Kershaw wrote that, following the appointment of Hitler as Chancellor by President von Hindenberg, the Vatican was anxious to reach agreement with the new government, despite "continuing molestation of Catholic clergy, and other outrages committed by Nazi radicals against the Church and its organisations".[113] Recent biographer of Pius XII, Robert Ventresca, wrote that because of increasing harassment of Catholics and Catholic clergy, Pacelli sought a quick ratification of a treaty with the government, seeking in this way to protect the German Church. When Vice-Chancellor Papen and Ambassador Diego von Bergen met Pacelli in late June 1933 they found him "visibly influenced" by reports of actions being taken against German Catholic interests.[114] Hitler wanted an end to all Catholic political life, the Church wanted protection of its schools and organisations, recognition of canon law regarding marriage, and the right of the Pope to choose bishops.[115] The non-Nazi Vice Chancellor, Franz von Papen was chosen by the new government to negotiate for a Reich Concordat with the Vatican.[103]

The bishops announced on April 6 that negotiations toward a concordat would soon begin in Rome.[116] On April 10, Francis Stratmann O.P., who was a chaplain to students in Berlin wrote to Cardinal Faulhaber, "The souls of the well-intentioned are deflated by the National Socialist seizure of power—the bishops' authority is weakened among countless Catholics and non-Catholics because of their quasi-approbation of the National Socialist movement." Some Catholic critics of the Nazis soon chose to emigrate—among them Waldemar Gurian (fr), Dietrich von Hildebrand, and Hans A. Reinhold.[117] Hitler began enacting laws restricting movement of funds (making it impossible for German Catholics to send money to missionaries, for instance), restricting religious institutions and education, and mandating attendance at Hitler Youth functions (held on Sunday mornings).

On April 8 Vice Chancellor Papen, went to Rome. Von Papen, a Catholic nobleman, had formerly been a member of the right-wing of the Catholic Centre Party.[81] On behalf of Cardinal Pacelli, Ludwig Kaas, the out-going chairman of the Centre Party, negotiated the draft of the terms with Papen. The Centre Party's chairman Kaas had arrived in Rome shortly before Papen; because of his expertise in Church-State relations, he was authorized by Cardinal Pacelli to negotiate terms with Papen, but pressure by the German government forced him to withdraw from visibly participating in the negotiations.

The issue of the concordat prolonged Kaas' stay in Rome, leaving the party without a chairman, and on 5 May Kaas finally resigned from his post. The party now elected Heinrich Brüning as chairman. At that time, the Centre party was subject to increasing pressure in the wake of the process of Gleichschaltung and after all the other parties had dissolved, or were banned by the NSDAP, and the Centre Party dissolved itself on 6 July.

The bishops saw a draft of the Reich Concordat on May 30, 1933 when they assembled for a joint meeting of the Fulda bishops conference, (led by Breslau's Cardinal Bertram), and the Bavarian bishops' conference, (whose president was Munich's Michael von Faulhaber). Bishop Wilhelm Berning (de) of Osnabruck, and Archbishop Conrad Grober of Freiburg presented the document to the bishops.[118] Weeks of escalating anti-Catholic violence had preceded the conference and many Bishops feared for the safety of the Church if Hitler's demands weren't met.[119] The strongest critics of the concordat were Cologne's Cardinal Karl Schulte and Eichstatt's Bishop Konrad von Preysing who pointed out that since the Enabling Act had established a quasi dictatorship, the church lacked legal recourse if Hitler decided to disregard the concordat.[118] Notwithstanding, the bishops approved the draft and delegated Grober, a friend of Cardinal Pacelli and Msgr. Kaas, to present the episcopacy's concerns to Pacelli and Kaas. On June 3, the bishops issued a statement, drafted by Grober, that announced their support for the concordat.

The Reichskonkordat was finally signed, by Pacelli for the Vatican and von Papen for Germany, on 20 July. It was ratified on September 10, 1933. Article 16 required bishops to make an oath of loyalty to the state. Article 31 acknowledged that while the church would continue to sponsor charitable organisations, it would not support political organisations or political causes. Article 31 was supposed to be supplemented by a list of protected catholic agencies but this list was never agreed upon. Article 32 excluded clergy and the members of religious orders from political activities. Members of the clergy could join or remain in the NSDAP however without transgressing church discipline — the ordinance of the Holy See forbidding priests to be members of a political party was never issued — and the Nazis declared that "the movement sustaining the state cannot be equated with the political parties of the parliamentary multi-party state in the sense of Article 32."[120]

Though the Vatican tried to hold back the exclusion of Catholic clergy and organizations from politics during the negotiations, which had been one of Hitler's foremost reasons for seeking the Concordat,[121] Pacelli had acquiesced in the party's dissolution but was nonetheless dismayed that it occurred before the negotiations had been concluded. The day after, the government issued a law banning the founding of new political parties, thus turning the NSDAP into the party of the German state. On 14 July 1933 the Weimar government accepted the Concordat, which was signed a week later by President Hindenburg and the Vice Chancellor Papen. Shortly before signing the Reichskonkordat on 20 July, Germany signed similar agreements with the major Protestant churches in Germany.

Effects of the concordat

Most historians state it offered international acceptance of Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime.[122] Guenter Lewy, political scientist and author of The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany, wrote:

There is general agreement that the Concordat increased substantially the prestige of Hitler's regime around the world. As Cardinal Faulhaber put it in a sermon delivered in 1937: "At a time when the heads of the major nations in the world faced the new Germany with cool reserve and considerable suspicion, the Catholic Church, the greatest moral power on earth, through the Concordat expressed its confidence in the new German government. This was a deed of immeasurable significance for the reputation of the new government abroad.
The Catholic Church was not alone in signing treaties with the Nazi regime at this point. The concordat was preceded by the Four-Power Pact Hitler had signed in June 1933. After the signing of the treaty on 14 July, the Cabinet minutes record Hitler as saying that the concordat had created an atmosphere of confidence that would be "especially significant in the struggle against international Jewry." Controversial author John Cornwell offered this assessment of the dissolution of the Centre Party:[28]
The fact that the party voluntarily disbanded itself, rather than go down fighting, had a profound psychological effect, depriving Germany of the last democratic focus of potential noncompliance and resistance: In the political vacuum created by its surrender, Catholics in the millions joined the Nazi Party, believing that it had the support of the Pope. The German bishops capitulated to Pacelli's policy of centralization, and German Catholic democrats found themselves politically leaderless.

— John Cornwell

Historian, Michael Phayer, balances Cornwell states:[123]
John Cornwell in Hitler's Pope argues that the Concordat was the result of a deal that delivered the parliamentary votes of the Catholic Center Party to Hitler, thereby giving him dictatorial power (the Enabling Act of March 1933). This is historically inaccurate. But there is no doubt Pius XII's tenacious insistence on the Concordat retention before, during and after the Second World War.

— Michael Phayer

According to Cornwell, Ecclesiastical historian Robert Ventresca wrote that the Reichskonkordat left German Catholics with no "meaningful electoral opposition to the Nazis", while the "benefits and vaunted diplomatic entente [of the Reichskonkordat] with the German state were neither clear nor certain".[104]

In the Reichskonkordat, the German government achieved a complete proscription of all clerical interference in the political field (articles 16 and 32). It also ensured the bishops' loyalty to the state by an oath of fidelity. Restrictions were also placed on the Catholic organizations. In a two-page article in the L'Osservatore Romano on 26 July and 27 July, Cardinal Pacelli said that the purpose of the Reichskonkordat was: "not only the official recognition (by the Reich) of the legislation of the Church (its Code of Canon Law), but the adoption of many provisions of this legislation and the protection of all Church legislation." Pacelli told an English representative that the Holy See had only made the agreement to preserve the Catholic Church in Germany; he also expressed his aversion to anti-Semitism.[124]

According to John Jay Hughes, church leaders were realistic about the Concordat's supposed protections.[125] Cardinal Faulhaber is reported to have said: "With the concordat we are hanged, without the concordat we are hanged, drawn and quartered." In Rome the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pacelli (later Pius XII), told the British minister to the Holy See that he had signed the treaty with a pistol at his head. Hitler was sure to violate the agreement, Pacelli said—adding with gallows humor that he would probably not violate all its provisions at once.[125]

According to Paul O'Shea, Hitler had a "blatant disregard" for the Concordat, and its signing was to him merely a first step in the "gradual suppression of the Catholic Church in Germany".[126]

In 1942, Hitler said he said he viewed the Concordat as obsolete, and intended to abolish it after the war, and only hesitated to withdraw Germany's representative from the Vatican out of "military reasons connected with the war":[127]

Once the war is over, we will put a swift end to the Concordat. It will give me the greatest personal pleasure to point out to the Church all those occasions on which it has broken the terms of it. One need only recall the close co-operation between the Church and the murderers of Heydrich. Catholic priests not only allowed them to hide in a church on the outskirts of Prague, but even allowed them to entrench themselves in the sanctuary of the altar.

— Adolf Hitler, from a transcript in Hitler's Table Talk, dated 4 July 1942

Vatican protests

When the Nazi government violated the concordat (in particular article 31), German bishops and the Holy See protested against these violations. Between September 1933 and March 1937 Pacelli issued over seventy notes and memoranda protesting such violations. When Nazi violations of the Reichskonkordat escalated to include physical violence, Pope Pius XI issued the 1937 encyclical Mit brennender Sorge,[128][129]

Persecution of German Catholics

A threatening, though initially mainly sporadic persecution of the Catholic Church in Germany followed the Nazi takeover.[90] The Nazis claimed jurisdiction over all collective and social activity, interfering with Catholic schooling, youth groups, workers' clubs and cultural societies.[8] "By the latter part of the decade of the Thirties", wrote Phayer, "church officials were well aware that the ultimate aim of Hitler and other Nazis was the total elimination of Catholicism and of the Christian religion. Since the overwhelming majority of Germans were either Catholic or Protestant this goal had to be a long-term rather than a short-term Nazi objective".[130]

Hitler moved quickly to eliminate Political Catholicism. The Nazis arrested thousands of members of the German Centre Party.[27] The Catholic Bavarian People's Party government had been overthrown in Bavaria by a Nazi coup on 9 March 1933.[25] Two thousand functionaries of the Party were rounded up by police in late June, and it, along with the national Centre Party, dissolved themselves in early July. The dissolution of the Centre Party, a former bulwark of the Republic left modern Germany without a Catholic Party for the first time.[25] Vice Chancellor Papen meanwhile negotiated a Reich Concordat with the Vatican, which prohibited clergy from participating in politics.[103] Kershaw wrote that the Vatican was anxious to reach agreement with the new government, despite "continuing molestation of Catholic clergy, and other outrages committed by Nazi radicals against the Church and its organisations".[113] Hitler, nevertheless, had a "blatant disregard" for the Concordat, wrote Paul O'Shea, and its signing was to him merely a first step in the "gradual suppression of the Catholic Church in Germany".[131] Anton Gill wrote that "with his usual irresistable, bullying technique, Hitler then proceeded to take a mile where he had been given an inch" and closed all Catholic institutions whose functions weren't strictly religious:[132]

It quickly became clear that [Hitler] intended to imprison the Catholics, as it were, in their own churches. They could celebrate mass and retain their rituals as much as they liked, but they could have nothing at all to do with German society otherwise. Catholic schools and newspapers were closed, and a propaganda campaign against the Catholics was launched.

— Extract from An Honourable Defeat by Anton Gill

Almost immediately after signing the Concordat, the Nazis promulgated their sterilization law - the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring - an offensive policy in the eyes of the Catholic Church. Days later, moves began to dissolve the Catholic Youth League.[133] Political Catholicism was also among the targets of Hitler's 1934 Long Knives purge: the head of Catholic Action, Erich Klausener, Papen's speech writer and advisor Edgar Jung (also a Catholic Action worker); and the national director of the Catholic Youth Sports Association, Adalbert Probst. Former Centre Party Chancellor, Heinrich Brüning narrowly escaped execution.[134][135][136]

William Shirer wrote that the German people were not greatly aroused by the persecution of the churches by the Nazi Government. The great majority were not moved to face death or imprisonment for the sake of freedom of worship, being too impressed by Hitler's early foreign policy successes and the restoration of the German economy. Few, he said, paused to reflect that the Nazi regime intended to destroy Christianity in Germany, if it could, and substitute the old paganism of the early tribal Germanic gods and the new paganism of the Nazi extremists."[38] Anti-Nazi sentiment grew in Catholic circles as the Nazi government increased its repressive measures against their activities.[21]

Targeting of clergy

Clergy, nuns and lay leaders began to be targeted, leading to thousands of arrests over the ensuing years, often on trumped up charges of currency smuggling or "immorality".[133] Priests were watched closely and frequently denounced, arrested and sent to concentration camps.[137] From 1940, a dedicated Clergy Barracks had been established at Dachau concentration camp.[138] Intimidation of clergy was widespread. Cardinal Faulhaber was shot at. Cardinal Innitzer had his Vienna residence ransacked in October 1938 and Bishop Sproll of Rottenburg was jostled and his home vandalised. In 1937, the New York Times reported that Christmas would see "several thousand Catholic clergymen in prison." Propaganda satirized the clergy, including Anderl Kern's play The Last Peasant.[139]

Under Reinhard Heydrich and Heinrich Himmler, the Security Police and the SD were responsible for suppressing internal and external enemies of the Nazi state. Among those enemies were "political churches" - such as Lutheran and Catholic clergy who opposed the Hitler regime. Such dissidents were arrested and sent to concentration camps.[140] In the 1936 campaign against the monasteries and convents, the authorities charged 276 members of religious orders with the offence of "homosexuality".[141] 1935-6 was the height of the "immorality" trials against priests, monks, lay-brothers and nuns. In the United States, protests were organised in response to the sham trials, including a June 1936, petition signed by 48 clergymen, including rabbis and Protestant pastors: "We lodge a solemn protest against the almost unique brutality of the attacks launched by the German government charging Catholic clergy with gross immorality... in the hope that the ultimate suppression of all Jewish and Christian beliefs by the totalitarian state can be effected."[142] Winston Churchill wrote disapprovingly in the British press of the regime's treatment of "the Jews, Protestants and Catholics of Germany".[143]

A senior cleric could rely on a degree of popular support from the faithful, and thus the regime had to consider the possibility of nationwide protests if such figures were arrested.[144] While hundreds of ordinary priests and members of monastic orders were sent to concentration camps throughout the Nazi period, just one German Catholic bishop was briefly imprisoned in a concentration camp, and just one other expelled from his diocese.[145] This reflected also the cautious approach adopted by the hierarchy, who felt secure only in commenting on matters which transgressed on the ecclesiastical sphere.[146]

From 1940, the Gestapo launched an intense persecution of the monasteries – invading, searching and appropriating them. The Provincial of the Dominican Province of Teutonia, Laurentius Siemer, a spiritual leader of the German Resistance was influential in the Committee for Matters Relating to the Orders, which formed in response to Nazi attacks against Catholic monasteries and aimed to encourage the bishops to intercede on behalf of the Orders and oppose the Nazi state more emphatically.[147][148] Figures like Galen and Preysing attempted to protect German priests from arrest. In Galen's famous 1941 anti-euthanasia sermons, he denounced the confiscations of church properties.[149] He attacked the Gestapo for converting church properties to their own purposes - including use as cinemas and brothels.[150] He protested the mistreatment of Catholics in Germany: the arrests and imprisonment without legal process, the suppression of the monasteries and the expulsion of religious orders.[151]

Suppression of Catholic press

The flourishing Catholic press of Germany faced censorship and closure. Finally in March 1941, Goebbels banned all Church press, on the pretext of a "paper shortage".[152] In 1933, the Nazis established a Reich Chamber of Authorship and Reich Press Chamber under the Reich Cultural Chamber of the Ministry for Propaganda. Dissident writers were terrorised. The June–July 1934 Night of the Long Knives purge was the culmination of this early campaign.[153] Fritz Gerlich, the editor of Munich's Catholic weekly, Der Gerade Weg, was killed in the purge for his strident criticism of the Nazi movement.[154] Writer and theologian Dietrich von Hildebrand was forced to flee Germany. The poet Ernst Wiechert protested the government's attitudes to the arts, calling them "spiritual murder". He was arrested and taken to Dachau Concentration Camp.[155] Hundreds of arrests and closure of Catholic presses followed the issuing of Pope Pius XI's Mit brennender Sorge anti-Nazi encyclical.[156] Nikolaus Gross, a Christian Trade Unionist, and director of the West German Workers' Newspaper Westdeutschen Arbeiterzeitung, was declared a martyr and beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2001. Declared an enemy of the state in 1938, his newspaper was shut down. He was arrested in the July Plot round up, and executed on 23 January 1945.[157][158]

Suppression of Catholic education

Catholic schools were a major battleground in the Church Struggle. When in 1933, the Nazi school superintendent of Munster issued a decree that religious instruction be combined with discussion of the "demoralising power" of the "people of Israel", Bishop August von Galen of Munich refused, writing that such interference in curriculum was a breach of the Concordat and that he feared children would be confused as to their "obligation to act with charity to all men" and as to the historical mission of the people of Israel.[159] Often Galen directly protested to Hitler over violations of the Concordat. When in 1936, Nazis removed crucifixes in school, protest by Galen led to public demonstration.[160] Hitler sometimes allowed pressure to be placed on German parents to remove children from religious classes to be given ideological instruction in its place, while in elite Nazi schools, Christian prayers were replaced with Teutonic rituals and sun-worship.[161]

Church kindergartens were closed, crucifixes were removed from schools and Catholic welfare programs were restricted on the basis they assisted the "racially unfit". Parents were coerced into removing their children from Catholic schools. In Bavaria, teaching positions formerly allotted to nuns were awarded to secular teachers and denominational schools transformed into "Community schools".[142] When in 1937 the authorities in Upper Bavaria attempted to replace Catholic schools with "common schools", Cardinal Faulhaber offered fierce resistance.[162] By 1939 all Catholic denominational schools had been disbanded or converted to public facilities.[7]

"War on the Church"

After constant confrontations, by late 1935, Bishop August von Galen of Munich was urging a joint pastoral letter protesting an "underground war" against the church.[159] By early 1937, the church hierarchy in Germany, which had initially attempted to co-operate with the new government, had become highly disillusioned. In March, Pope Pius XI issued the Mit brennender Sorge encyclical - accusing the Nazi Government of violations of the 1933 Concordat, and further that it was sowing the "tares of suspicion, discord, hatred, calumny, of secret and open fundamental hostility to Christ and His Church".[133] The Nazis responded with, an intensification of the Church Struggle, beginning around April.[45] Goebbels noted heightened verbal attacks on the clergy from Hitler in his diary and wrote that Hitler had approved the start of trumped up "immorality trials" against clergy and anti-Church propaganda campaign. Goebbels' orchestrated attack included a staged "morality trial" of 37 Franciscans.[45]

At the outbreak of World War Two, Goebbels' Ministry of Propaganda issued threats and applied intense pressure on the Churches to voice support for the war, and the Gestapo banned Church meetings for a few weeks. In the first few months of the war, the German Churches complied.[163] No denunciations of the invasion of Poland, nor the Blitzkrieg were issued.[164] The Catholic bishops asked their followers to support the war effort: "We appeal to the faithful to join in ardent prayer that God's providence may lead this war to blessed success for Fatherland and people."[165] Despite such protestation of loyalty to the Fatherland, the anti-church radical Reinhard Heydrich determined that support from church leaders could not be expected because of the nature of their doctrines and internationalism, and wanted to cripple the political activities of clergy. He devised measures to restrict the operation of the Churches under cover of war time exigencies, such as reducing resources available to Church presses on the basis of rationing, and prohibiting pilgrimages and large church gatherings on the basis of transportation difficulties. Churches were closed for being "too far from bomb shelters". Bells were melted down. Presses were closed.[166]

With the expansion of the war in the East from 1941, there came also an expansion of the regime's attack on the churches. Monasteries and convents were targeted and expropriation of Church properties surged. The Nazi authorities claimed that the properties were needed for wartime necessities such as hospitals, or accommodation for refugees or children, but in fact used them for their own purposes. "Hostility to the state" was another common cause give for the confiscations, and the action of a single member of a monastery could result in seizure of the whole. The Jesuits were especially targeted.[167] The Papal Nuncio Cesare Orsenigo and Cardinal Bertram complained constantly to the authorities but were told to expect more requisitions owing to war-time needs.[168] The Nazi authorities decreed the dissolution of all monasteries and abbeys in the German Reich, many of them effectively being occupied and secularized by the Allgemeine SS under Himmler. However, on July 30, 1941 the Aktion Klostersturm (Operation Monastery) was put to an end by a decree of Hitler, who feared the increasing protests by the Catholic part of German population might result in passive rebellions and thereby harm the Nazi war effort at the eastern front.[169] Over 300 monasteries and other institutions were expropriated by the SS.[170]

On 22 March 1942, the German Bishops issued a pastoral letter on "The Struggle against Christianity and the Church".[171] The letter launched a defence of human rights and the rule of law and accused the Reich Government of "unjust oppression and hated struggle against Christianity and the Church", despite the loyalty of German Catholics to the Fatherland, and brave service of Catholics soldiers:[172]

For years a war has raged in our Fatherland against Christianity and the Church, and has never been conducted with such bitterness. Repeatedly the German bishops have asked the Reich Government to discontinue this fatal struggle; but unfortunately our appeals and our endeavours were without success.

— 22 March 1942 Pastoral Letter of the German Bishops

The letter outlined serial breaches of the 1933 Concordat, reitereated complaints of the suffocation of Catholic schooling, presses and hospitals and said that the "Catholic faith has been restricted to such a degree that it has disappeared almost entirely from public life" and even worship within churches in Germany "is frequently restricted or oppressed", while in the conquered territories (and even in the Old Reich), churches had been "closed by force and even used for profane purposes". The freedom of speech of clergymen had been suppressed and priests were being "watched constantly" and punished for fulfilling "priestly duties" and incarcerated in Concentration camps without legal process. Religious orders had been expelled from schools, and their properties seized, while seminaries had been confiscated "to deprive the Catholic priesthood of successors".[172] The bishops denounced the Nazi euthanasia program and declared their support for human rights and personal freedom under God and "just laws" of all people:[172]

We demand juridical proof of all sentences and release of all fellow citizens who have been deprived of their liberty without proof... We the German bishops shall not cease to protest against the killing of innocent persons. Nobody's life is safe unless the Commandment, "Thous shalt not kill" is observed... We the bishops, in the name of the Catholic people... demand the return of all unlawfully confiscated and in some cases sequestered property... for what happens today to church property may tomorrow happen to any lawful property.

— 22 March 1942 Pastoral Letter of the German Bishops

Long term plans

In January 1934, Hitler had appointed Alfred Rosenberg as the cultural and educational leader of the Reich. Rosenberg was a neo-pagan and notoriously anti-Catholic.[38][39] In 1934, the Sanctum Officium in Rome recommended that Rosenberg's book be put on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (forbidden books list of the Catholic Church) for scorning and rejecting "all dogmas of the Catholic Church, indeed the very fundamentals of the Christian religion".[173] During the War, Rosenberg outlined the future envisioned by the Hitler government for religion in Germany, with a thirty point program for the future of the German churches. Among its articles: the National Reich Church of Germany was to claim exclusive control over all churches; publication of the Bible was to cease; crucifixes, Bibles and saints were to be removed from altars; and Mein Kampf was to be placed on altars as "to the German nation and therefore to God the most sacred book"; and the Christian Cross was to be removed from all churches and replaced with the swastika.[38]

Impact of the Spanish Civil War

The Spanish Civil War (1936–39) saw Nationalists (aided by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany) and Republicans (aided by the Soviet Union, Mexico—as well as International Brigades of volunteers, most of whom were under the command of the Comintern). The Republican president, Manuel Azaña, was anticlerical, while the Nationlist Generalissimo Francisco Franco, established a longstanding Fascist dictatorship which restored some privileges to the Church.[174] In a Table Talk of 7 June 1942, Hitler said he believed that Franco's accommodation of the Church was an error: "one makes a great mistake if one thinks that one can make a collaborator of the Church by accepting a compromise. The whole international outlook and political interest of the Catholic Church in Spain render inevitable conflict between the Church and Franco regime".[175]

The Nazis portrayed the war as a contest between civilization and Bolshevism. According to historian, Beth Griech-Polelle, many church leaders "implicitly embraced the idea that behind the Republican forces stood a vast Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy intent on destroying Christian civilization."[176] Joseph Goebbels' Ministry of Propaganda served as the main source of German domestic coverage of the war. Goebbels, like Hitler, frequently mentioned the so-called link between Jewishness and communism. Goebbels instructed the press to call the Republican side simply Bolsheviks—and not to mention German military involvement.

Against this backdrop, in August 1936, the German bishops met for their annual conference at Fulda. The bishops produced a joint pastoral letter regarding the Spanish Civil War: "Therefore, German unity should not be sacrificed to religious antagonism, quarrels, contempt, and struggles. Rather our national power of resistance must be increased and strengthened so that not only may Europe be freed from Bolshevism by us, but also that the whole civilized world may be indebted to us."[177]

Faulhaber meets Hitler

Goebbels noted the mood of Hitler in his diary on 25 October: "Trials against the Catholic Church temporarily stopped. Possibly wants peace, at least temporarily. Now a battle with Bolshevism. Wants to speak with Faulhaber".[178] As Nuncio, Cesare Orsenigo arranged for Cardinal Faulhaber to have a private meeting with Hitler.[177] On November 4, 1936, Hitler met Faulhaber. Hitler spoke for the first hour, then Faulhaber told him that the Nazi government had been waging war on the church for three years—600 religious teachers had lost their jobs in Bavaria alone—and the number was set to rise to 1700 and the government had instituted laws the Church could not accept—like the sterilization of criminals and the handicapped. While the Catholic Church respected the notion of authority, nevertheless, "when your officials or your laws offend Church dogma or the laws of morality, and in so doing offend our conscience, then we must be able to articulate this as responsible defenders of moral laws".[178] Hitler told Faulhaber that religion was critical for the state, that his goal was to protect the German people from congenitally afflicted criminals such as now wreak havoc in Spain. Faulhaber replied that the Church would "not refuse the state the right to keep these pests away from the national community within the framework of moral law."[179] Hitler argued that the radical Nazis could not be contained until there was peace with the Church and that either the Nazis and the Church would fight Bolshevism together, or there would be war against the Church.[178] Kershaw cites the meeting as an example of Hitler's ability to "pull the wool over the eyes even of hardened critics" for "Faulhaber—a man of sharp acumen, who had often courageously criticized the Nazi attacks on the Catholic Church—went away convinced that Hitler was deeply religious".[180]

On November 18, Faulhaber met with leading members of the German hierarchy of cardinals to ask them to remind parishioners of the errors of communism outlined in Leo XIII's 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum. On November 19, Pius XI announced that communism had moved to the head of the list of "errors" and that a clear statement was needed.[181] On November 25 Faulhaber told the Bavarian bishops that he had promised Hitler the bishops would issue a new pastoral letter in which they condemned "Bolshevism which represents the greatest danger for the peace of Europe and the Christian civilization of our country".[179] In addition, he stated, the pastoral letter "will once again affirm our loyalty and positive attitude, demanded by the Fourth Commandment, toward today's form of government and the Fuhrer. "[182]

On December 24, 1936 the German joint hierarchy ordered its priests to read the pastoral letter, entitled On the Defense against Bolshevism, from all their pulpits on January 7, 1937. The letter included the statement : "the fateful hour has come for our nation and for the Christian culture of the western world—the Fuhrer and Chancellor Adolf Hitler saw the march of Bolshevism from afar and turned his mind and energies towards averting this enormous danger from the German people and the whole western world. The German bishops consider it their duty to do their utmost to support the leader of the Reich with every available means in this defense." Hitler's promise to Faulhaber, to clear up small problems between the Catholic Church and the Nazi state, never did materialize. Faulhaber, Galen, and Pius XI, continued to oppose Communism throughout their tenure as anxieties reached a highpoint in the 1930s with what the Vatican termed the 'red triangle', formed by the USSR, Republican Spain and revolutionary Mexico. They followed a series of encyclicals—Bona sana (1920), Miserentissimus redemtor (1928), Caritate Christi compusli (1932) and most importantly Divini redemptoris (1937)—all of which condemned communism.[183]

Catholic opposition to Nazism inside Germany: 1933–1945

Main article: Catholic resistance to Nazi Germany

Catholic resistance

The 1933 Concordat between Germany and the Vatican prohibited clergy from participating in politics and in the aftermath of the Nazi takeover and signing of the Concordat, the outspoken nature of opposition by German Catholic leaders towards the Nazi movement weakened considerably.[184] But it was from the clergy that the first major component of the German Resistance to the policies of the Third Reich emerged. "From the very beginning", wrote Hamerow, "some churchmen expressed, quite directly at times, their reservations about the new order. In fact those reservations gradually came to form a coherent, systematic critique of many of the teachings of National Socialism."[144] Later, the most trenchant public criticism of the Third Reich came from some of Germany's religious leaders, as the government was reluctant to move against them, and though they could claim to be merely attending to the spiritual welfare of their flocks, "what they had to say was at times so critical of the central doctrines of National Socialism that to say it required great boldness", and they became resistors. Their resistance was directed not only against intrusions by the government into church governance and to arrests of clergy and expropriation of church property, but also to matters like Nazi euthanasia and eugenics and to the fundamentals of human rights and justice as the foundation of a political system.[185]

Though neither the Catholic nor Protestent churches as institutions were prepared to openly oppose the Nazi State, The churches provided the earliest and most enduring centres of systematic opposition to Nazi policies, and Christian morality and the anti-Church policies of the Nazis motivated many German resistors and provided impetus for the "moral revolt" of individuals in their efforts to overthrow Hitler.[186] Institutionally, the Catholic Church in Germany offered organised, systematic and consistent resistance to the policies of the Third Reich which infringed on ecclesiastical autonomy.[187] In his history of the German Resistance, Hoffmann writes that, from the beginning:[188]

"[The Catholic Church] could not silently accept the general persecution, regimentation or oppression, nor in particular the sterilization law of summer 1933. Over the years until the outbreak of war Catholic resistance stiffened until finally its most eminent spokesman was the Pope himself with his encyclial Mit brennender Sorge... of 14 March 1937, read from all German Catholic pulpits. Clemens August Graf von Galen, Bishop of Munster, was typical of the many fearless Catholic speakers. In general terms, therefore, the churches were the only major organisations to offer comparatively early and open resistance: they remained so in later years.

— Extract from The History of the German Resistance 1933-1945 by Peter Hoffmann

While offering, in the words of Kershaw, "something less than fundamental resistance to Nazism", the churches "engaged in a bitter war of attrition with the regime, receiving the demonstrative backing of millions of churchgoers. Applause for Church leaders whenever they appeared in public, swollen attendances at events such as Corpus Christi Day processions, and packed church services were outward signs of the struggle of... especially of the Catholic Church—against Nazi oppression". While the Church ultimately failed to protect its youth organisations and schools, it did have some successes in mobilizing public opinion to alter government policies—as in the case of the attempt to remove crucifixes from German classrooms.[189]

Early political resistance

Political Catholicism was an early target of the Hitler regime. In the year following Hitler's "seizure of power", political players in Germany began wondering how the regime might be overthrown. The old political opponents of Nazism faced their final opportunity to halt the Nazification of Germany. The formerly influential Centre Party and Bavarian People's Party were dissolved under terrorisation, and non-Nazi parties were prohibited under the proclamation of the "Unity of Party and State".[191] The former Centre Party leader and Reich Chancellor Heinrich Brüning looked for a way to oust Hitler, along with military chiefs Kurt von Schleicher and Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord.[134] Erich Klausener, an influential civil servant and president of Berlin's Catholic Action group organised Catholic conventions in Berlin in 1933, and 1934. At the 1934 rally, he spoke against political oppression to a crowd of 60,000 following mass – just six nights before Hitler struck in a bloody purge.[192] The political temperature was also raised when the Conservative Catholic nobleman Franz von Papen, who had helped Hitler to power and was serving as the Deputy Reich Chancellor, delivered an indictment of the Nazi government in his Marburg speech of 17 June 1934.[134][193] Papen's speech writer and advisor Edgar Jung, a Catholic Action worker, seized the opportunity to reassert the Christian foundation of the state and the need to avoid agitation and propaganda.[194][195] Jung's speech pleaded for religious freedom, and rejected totalitarian aspirations in the field of religion. It was hoped the speech might spur a rising, centred on Hindenberg, Papen and the army.[196]

Hitler decided to strike at his chief political opponents in a bloody purge: the Night of the Long Knives. The purge lasted two days over 30 June and 1 July 1934.[197] Leading rivals of Hitler in the Nazi movement were murdered, along with over 100 opposition figures, including high profile Catholic resistors. Erich Klausener became the first Catholic martyr. Hitler personally ordered the arrest of Jung and his transfer to Gestapo headquarters, Berlin. Like Klausener, he was murdered in the Long Knives purge.[195] The Church had resisted attempts by the new Nazi Government to close its youth organisations and Adalbert Probst, the national director of the Catholic Youth Sports Association, was also killed.[136][136][198] The Catholic press was targeted too, with anti-Nazi journalist Fritz Gerlich among those murdered.[154] On 2 August 1934, the aged President von Hindenberg died. The offices of President and Chancellor were combined, and Hitler ordered the Army to swear an oath directly to him. Hitler declared his "revolution" complete.[199]

Clerical resistors

In a history of the German Resistance, Joachim Fest wrote that at first the Church had been quite hostile to Nazism and "its bishops energetically denounced the 'false doctrines' of the Nazis", however its opposition weakened considerably after the Concordat. Cardinal Bertram "developed an ineffectual protest system" so satisfy the demands of other bishops, without annoying the regime.[200] Firmer resistance by Catholic leaders gradually reasserted itself by the individual actions of leading churchmen like Joseph Frings, Konrad von Preysing, August von Galen, Conrad Gröber and Michael von Faulhaber.[201][202][203] According to Fest, the regime responded with "occasional arrests, the withdrawal of teaching privileges, and the seizure of church publishing houses and printing facilities" and "Resistance remained largely a matter of individual conscience. In general they [both churches] attempted merely to assert their own rights and only rarely issued pastoral letters or declarations indicating any fundamental objection to Nazi ideology." Nevertheless, wrote Fest, the churches, more than any other institutions, "provided a forum in which individuals could distance themselves from the regime".[200]

The Nazi regime never felt strong enough to arrest or execute senior office holders of the Catholic Church in Germany. Thus bishops were able to criticise aspects of Nazi totalitarianism, where less senior figures faced imprisonment or execution. An estimated one third of German priests faced some form of reprisal from the Nazi Government and 400 German priests were sent the dedicated Priest Barracks of Dachau Concentration Camp alone. Among the best known German priest martyrs were the Jesuit Alfred Delp and Fr Bernhard Lichtenberg.[189] Fr. Max Josef Metzger, founder of the German Catholics' Peace Association, was arrested for the last time in June 1943 after being denounced by a mail courier for attempting to send a memorandum on the reorganisation of the German state and its integration into a future system of world peace. He was executed on April 17, 1944.[204] Laurentius Siemer, provincial of the Provincial of the Dominican Province of Teutonia, and Augustin Rösch, Jesuit Provincial of Bavaria, were among the high-ranking members of orders who became active in the Resistance - both only narrowly survived the war, following discovery of their knowledge of the July Plot. Bernhard Lichtenberg, and the Jesuit Rupert Mayer are among the priest resistors posthumously honoured with beatification.

While hundreds of ordinary priests and members of monastic orders were sent to concentration camps throughout the Nazi period, just one German Catholic bishop was briefly imprisoned in a concentration camp, and just one other expelled from his diocese.[145] This reflected also the cautious approach adopted by the hierarchy, who felt secure only in commenting on matters which transgressed on the ecclesiastical sphere.[146] Albert Speer wrote that when Hitler was read passages from a defiant sermon or pastoral letter, he would become furious, and the fact that he "could not immediately retaliate raised him to a white heat".[205]

Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber gained an early reputation as a critic of the Nazi movement.[206] Soon after the Nazi takeover, his three Advent sermons of 1933, entitled Judaism, Christianity, and Germany, affirmed the Jewish origins of Christ and the Bible.[51] Though cautiously framed as a discussion of historical Judaism, his sermons denounced the Nazi extremists who were calling for the Bible to be purged of the "Jewish" Old Testament, which he saw as undermining "the basis of Catholicism.[207] Hamerow wrote that Faulhaber would look to avoid conflict with the state over issues not strictly pertaining to the church, but on issues involving the defence of Catholics he "refused to compromise or retreat".[162] On November 4, 1936, Hitler and Faulhaber met. Faulhaber told Hitler that the Nazi government had been waging war on the church for three years and had instituted laws the Church could not accept - like the sterilization of criminals and the handicapped. While the Catholic Church respected the notion of authority, he told the Dictator, "when your officials or your laws offend Church dogma or the laws of morality, and in so doing offend our conscience, then we must be able to articulate this as responsible defenders of moral laws".[208] Attempts on his life were made in 1934 and in 1938. He worked with American occupation forces after the war, and received the West German Republic's highest award, the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit.[51]

Among the most firm and consistent of senior Catholics to oppose the Nazis was Konrad von Preysing. Preysing was appointed as Bishop of Berlin in 1935. Preysing was loathed by Hitler.[209] He opposed the appeasing attitudes of Bertram towards the Nazis and worked with leading members of the resistance Carl Goerdeler and Helmuth James Graf von Moltke. He was part of the five-member commission that prepared the 1937 Mit brennender Sorge anti-Nazi encyclical of Pope Pius XI, and sought to block the Nazi closure of Catholic schools and arrests of church officials.[210][211] In 1938, he became one of the co-founders of the Hilfswerk beim Bischöflichen Ordinariat Berlin (Welfare Office of the Berlin Diocese Office). He extended care to Jews and protested the Nazi euthanasia programme.[211] His Advent Pastoral Letters of 1942 and 1943 on the nature of human rights reflected the anti-Nazi theology of the Barmen Declaration of the Confessing Church, leading one to be broadcast in German by the BBC. In 1944, Preysing met with and gave a blessing to Claus von Stauffenberg, in the lead up to the July Plot to assassinate Hitler, and spoke with the resistance leader on whether the need for radical change could justify tyrannicide.[210] Despite Preysing's open opposition, the Nazis did not dare arrest him and several months after the end of the war he was named a cardinal by Pope Pius XII.[211]

The Bishop of Munster, August von Galen was Preysing's cousin. A conservative nationalist, in January 1934 he criticised Nazi racial policy in a sermon and in subsequent homilies, equated unquestioning loyalty to the Reich with "slavery" and spoke against Hitler's theory of the purity of German blood.[212] Often Galen directly protested to Hitler over violations of the Concordat. When in 1936, Nazis removed crucifixes in school, protest by Galen led to public demonstration. Like Presying, he assisted with the drafting of the 1937 papal encyclical.[212] In 1941, with the Wermacht still marching on Moscow, Galen the old nationalist, denounced the lawlessness of the Gestapo, the confiscations of church properties and the cruel program of Nazi euthanasia.[149][150] He protested the mistreatment of Catholics in Germany: the arrests and imprisonment without legal process, the suppression of the monasteries, the expulsion of religious orders. But his sermons went further than defending the church, he spoke of a moral danger to Germany from the regime's violations of basic human rights: "the right to life , to inviolability, and to freedom is an indispensable part of any moral social order", he said - and any government that punishes without court proceedings "undermines its own authority and respect for its sovereignty within the conscience of its citizens".[151] His three powerful sermons of July and August 1941 earned him the nickname of the "Lion of Munster". The sermons were printed and distributed illegally.[150] Hitler wanted to have Galen removed, but Goebbels told him this would result in the loss of the loyalty of Westphalia.[150] Documents suggest the Nazis intended to hang von Galen at the end of the war.[21]

Von Galen was among the German conservatives who had criticised Weimar Germany, and initially hoped the Nazi government might restore German prestige, but quickly became disenchanted with the anti-Catholicism and racism of the Hitler regime[213] According to Griech-Polelle, he believed the Dolchstosslegende explained the German army's defeat in 1918.[214] Hamerow characterised the resistance approach of senior Catholic clergy like Galen as "trying to influence the Third Reich from within". While some clergymen refused ever to feign support for the regime, in the Church's conflict with the state over ecclesiastical autonomy, the Catholic hierarchy adopted a strategy of "seeming acceptance of the Third Reich", by couching their criticisms as motivated merely by a desire to "point out mistakes that that some of its overzealous followers committed" in order to strengthen the government.[215]

Josef Frings became Archbishop of Cologne in 1942 and his consecration was used as a demonstration of Catholic self-assertion. In his sermons, he repeatedly spoke in support of persecuted peoples and against state repression. In March 1944, Frings attacked arbitrary arrests, racial persecution and forced divorces. That autumn, he protested to the Gestapo against the deportations of Jews from Cologne and surrounds.[216] In 1943, the German bishops had debated whether to directly confront Hitler collectively over what they knew of the murdering of Jews. Frings wrote a pastoral letter cautioning his diocese not to violate the inherent rights of others to life, even those "not of our blood" and even during war, and preached in a sermon that "no one may take the property or life of an innocent person just because he is a member of a foreign race".[27] Following war's end, Frings succeeded Bertram as chairman of the Fulda Bishops' Conference in July 1945 and in 1946 he was appointed a cardinal by Pius XII.[216]


Main article: Nazi euthanasia and the Catholic Church

While the Nazi Final Solution liquidation of the Jews took place primarily on Polish territory, the murder of invalids took place on German soil. It involved interference in Catholic (and Protestant) welfare institutions. Awareness of the murderous programme became widespread and the Church leaders who opposed it - chiefly the Catholic Bishop of Munster, August von Galen and Dr Theophil Wurm, the Protestant Bishop of Wurttemberg - were therefore able to rouse widespread public opposition.[217] It was based on eugenics theories of the need to build a "healthy racial breeding stock". From 1939, the regime began its program of "euthanasia", under which those deemed "racially unfit" were to be "euthanased".[102] The senile, the mentally handicapped and mentally ill, epileptics, cripples, children with Down's Syndrome and people with similar afflictions were all were to be killed.[218] The program involved the systematic murder of more than 70,000 people.[102] The program deeply offended Catholic morality. Protests were issued by Pope Pius XII, and were led in Germany by Bishop von Galen of Munster, whose 1941 intervention, according to Richard J. Evans, led to "the strongest, most explicit and most widespread protest movement against any policy since the beginning of the Third Reich."[219]

The Papacy and German bishops had already protested against the Nazi sterilization of the "racially unfit". Catholic protests against the escalation of this policy into "euthanasia" began in the summer of 1940. Despite Nazi efforts to transfer hospitals to state control, large numbers of handicapped people were still under the care of the Churches. After Protestant welfare activists took a stand at the Bethel Hospital in August von Galen's diocese, Galen wrote to Bertram in July 1940 urging the Church take up a moral position. Bertram urged caution. Archbishop Conrad Groeber of Freiburg wrote to the head of the Reich Chancellery, and offered to pay all costs being incurred by the state for the "care of mentally people intended for death". The Fulda Bishops Conference sent a protest letter to the Reich Chancellery on 11 August, then sent Bishop Heinrich Wienken of Caritas to discuss the matter. Wienken cited the commandment "thous shalt not kill" to officials and warned them to halt the program or face public protest from the Church. Wienken subsequently wavered, fearing a firm line might jeopardise his efforts to have Catholic priests released from Dachau, but was urged to stand firm by Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber. The government refused to give a written undertaking to halt the program, and the Vatican declared on 2 December that the policy was contrary to natural and positive Divine law: "The direct killing of an innocent person because of mental or physical defects is not allowed".[220]

Subsequent arrests of priests and seizure of Jesuit properties by the Gestapo in his home city of Munster, convinced Galen that the caution advised by his superior had become pointless. On 6, 13 and 20 July 1941, Galen spoke against the seizure of properties, and expulsions of nuns, monks and religious and criticised the euthanasia programme. In an attempt to cow Galen, the police raided his sister's convent, and detained her in the cellar. She escaped the confinement, and Galen launched his most audacious challenge on the regime in a 3 August sermon. He declared the murders to be illegal, and said that he had formally accused those responsible for murders in his diocese in a letter to the public prosecutor. The policy opened the way to the murder of all "unproductive people", like old horses or cows, including invalid war veterans: "Who can trust his doctor anymore?", he asked.[221] Galen said that it was the duty of all Christians to oppose the taking of human life even it meant losing their own.[222]

"The sensation created by the sermons", wrote Evans, "was enormous".[223] Kershaw characterised Von Galen's 1941 "open attack" on the government's euthanasia program as a "vigorous denunciation of Nazi inhumanity and barbarism".[224] According to Gill, "Galen used his condemnation of this appalling policy to draw wider conclusions about the nature of the Nazi state".[150] The sermons were printed and distributed illegally.[150] Galen had the sermons read in parish churches. The British broadcast excerpts over the BBC German service, dropped leaflets over Germany, and distributed the sermons in occupied countries.[225]

According to Gill, "Galen used his condemnation of this appalling policy to draw wider conclusions about the nature of the Nazi state".[218] He spoke of a moral danger to Germany from the regime's violations of basic human rights.[151] Bishop Antonius Hilfrich of Limburg wrote to the Justice Minister, denouncing the murders. Bishop Albert Stohr of Mainz condemned the taking of life from the pulpit. Some of the priests who distributed the sermons were among those arrested and sent to the concentration camps amid the public reaction to the sermons.[226] Bishop von Preysing's Cathedral Administrator, Fr Bernhard Lichtenberg met his demise for protesting directly to Dr Conti, the Nazi State Medical Director. On 28 August 1941, he endorsed Galen's sermons in a letter to Conti, pointing to the German constitution which defined euthanasia as an act of murder. He was arrested soon after and later died en route to Dachau.[227] Griech-Polelle wrote that Galen's protest came after he had been provided with the physical, verifiable proof of killings, that he demanded before he would issue a public statement and that Galen advised his listeners that passive disobedience to specific Nazi laws was all he expected of them. He never endorsed active resistance against the regime, wrote Griech-Polelle, and was himself not interrogated or arrested by state authorities after delivering the 1941 sermons.[228]

The speeches angered Hitler. In a 1942 Table Talk he reportedly said: "The fact that I remain silent in public over Church affairs is not in the least misunderstood by the sly foxes of the Catholic Church, and I am quite sure that a man like Bishop von Galen knows full well that after the war I shall extract retribution to the last farthing".[229] Hitler wanted to have Galen removed, but Goebbels told him this would result in the loss of the loyalty of Westphalia.[150] The RAF used the Galen's homilies in propaganda drops over Germany.[213] The regional Nazi leader, and Hitler's deputy Martin Bormann called for Galen to be hanged, but Hitler and Goebbels urged a delay in retribution till war's end.[230] With the programme now public knowledge, nurses and staff (particularly in Catholics institutions), now increasingly seeking to obstruct implementation of the policy.[231] Under pressure from growing protests, Hitler halted the main euthanasia program on 24 August 1941, though less systematic murder of the handicapped continued.[232] The techniques learnt on the Nazi euthanasisa program were later transferred for use in the genocide of the Holocaust.[233]

In 1943, Pius issued the Mystici Corporis Christi encyclical, in which he condemned the practice of killing the disabled. He stated his "profound grief" at the murder of the deformed, the insane, and those suffering from hereditary disease... as though they were a useless burden to Society", in condemnation of the ongoing Nazi euthanasia program. The Encyclical was followed, on 26 September 1943, by an open condemnation by the German Bishops which, from every German pulpit, denounced the killing of "innocent and defenceless mentally handicapped, incurably infirm and fatally wounded, innocent hostages, and disarmed prisoners of war and criminal offenders, people of a foreign race or descent".[11]

Mit brennender Sorge

Main article: Mit brennender Sorge

By early 1937, the church hierarchy in Germany, which had initially attempted to co-operate with the new government, had become highly disillusioned. In March, Pope Pius XI issued the Mit brennender Sorge encyclical—accusing the Nazi Government of violations of the 1933 Concordat, and further that it was sowing the " tares of suspicion, discord, hatred, calumny, of secret and open fundamental hostility to Christ and His Church". The Pope noted on the horizon the "threatening storm clouds" of religious wars of extermination over Germany.[133]

The encyclical condemned the Nazi theory of racism in Germany. Smuggled into Germany to avoid prior censorship and read from the pulpits of all German Catholic churches, it condemned Nazi ideology[234] as "insane and arrogant". It denounced the Nazi myth of "blood and soil", decried neopaganism of Nazism, its war of annihilation against the Church, and even described the Führer himself as a 'mad prophet possessed of repulsive arrogance.' Although there is some difference of opinion as to the impact of the document, it is generally recognized as the "first ... official public document to criticize Nazism". [237]

The encyclical accused the Nazi government of "systematic hostility leveled at the Church", and criticised a range of Nazi actions and beliefs—notably racism.[238] Despite the efforts of the Gestapo to block its distribution, the church distributed thousands to the parishes of Germany. Hundreds were arrested for handing out copies, and Goebells increased anti-Catholic propaganda including a show trial of 170 Franciscans at Koblenz.[30]

Impact and consequences

According to Eamon Duffy "The impact of the encyclical was immense, and it dispelled at once all suspicion of a Fascist Pope."[239] quotation "In a triumphant security operation, the encyclical was smuggled into Germany, locally printed, and read from Catholic pulpits on Palm Sunday 1937. Mit brennender Sorge ('With burning concern') denounced both specific government actions against the Church in breach of the concordat and Nazi racial theory more generally. There was a striking and deliberate emphasis on the permanent validity of the Jewish scriptures, and the Pope denounced the 'idolatrous cult' which replaced belief in the true God with a 'national religion' and the 'myth of race and blood'. He contrasted this perverted ideology with the teaching of the Church in which there was a home 'for all peoples and all nations'. The impact of the encyclical was immense, and it dispelled at once all suspicion of a Fascist Pope. While the world was still reacting, however, Pius issued five days later another encyclical, Divini Redemptoris denouncing Communism, declaring its principles 'intrinsically hostile to religion in any form whatever', detailing the attacks on the Church which had followed the establishment of Communist regimes in Russia, Mexico and Spain, and calling for the implementation of Catholic social teaching to offset both Communism and 'amoral liberalism'. The language of Divini Redemptoris was stronger than that of Mit Brennender Sorge, its condemnation of Communism even more absolute than the attack on Nazism. The difference in tone undoubtedly reflected the Pope's own loathing of Communism as the ultimate enemy. The last year of his life, however, left no one any doubt of his total repudiation of the right-wing tyrannies in Germany and, despite his instinctive sympathy with some aspects of Fascism, increasingly in Italy also. His speeches and conversations were blunt, filled with phrases like 'stupid racialism', 'barbaric Hitlerism'."

The "infuriated" Nazis increased their persecution of Catholics and the Church[240] by initiating a "long series" of persecution of clergy and other measures.[241][242] Gerald Fogarty asserts that "in the end, the encyclical had little positive effect, and if anything only exacerbated the crisis."[243] The American ambassador reported that it "had helped the Catholic Church in Germany very little but on the contrary has provoked the Nazi continue its oblique assault upon Catholic institutions."

Nazi retaliation

Frank J. Coppa asserts that the encyclical was viewed by the Nazis as "a call to battle against the Reich" and that Hitler was furious and "vowed revenge against the Church".[244] Thomas Bokenkotter writes that, "the Nazis were infuriated, and in retaliation closed and sealed all the presses that had printed it and took numerous vindictive measures against the Church, including staging a long series of immorality trials of the Catholic clergy."[245]

The German police confiscated as many copies as they could and called it "high treason." The Gestapo confiscated 12 printing presses that had printed the encyclical for distribution and the editors were arrested.[139] According to Owen Chadwick, the "infuriated" Nazis increased their persecution of Catholics and the Church.[246] According to John Vidmar, Nazi reprisals against the Church in Germany followed thereafter, including "staged prosecutions of monks for homosexuality, with the maximum of publicity".[247] Shirer reports that, "[d]uring the next years, thousands of Catholic priests, nuns and lay leaders were arrested, many of them on trumped-up charges of 'immorality' or 'smuggling foreign currency'."[248] While numerous German Catholics, who participated in the secret printing and distribution of "Mit brennender Sorge", went to jail and concentration camps, the Western democracies remained silent, which Pope Pius XI labeled bitterly as "a conspiracy of silence".[249]

Priests of Dachau

Main article: Priest Barracks of Dachau Concentration Camp

In effort to counter the strength and influence of spiritual resistance, Nazi security services monitored Catholic clergy very closely—instructing that agents be set up in every diocese, that the bishops' reports to the Vatican should be obtained and that the bishops' areas of activity must be found out. A "vast network" was established to monitor the activities of ordinary clergy: Nazi security agents wrote "The importance of this enemy is such that inspectors of security police and of the security service will make this group of people and the questions discussed by them their special concern".[250] Priests were watched closely and frequently denounced, arrested and sent to concentration camps, often simply on the basis of being "suspected of activities hostile to the State" or that there was reason to "suppose that his dealings might harm society".[137]

Dachau was established in March 1933 as the first Nazi Concentration Camp. Chiefly a political camp, it was here that the Nazis established dedicated Clergy Barracks.[251][252] Of a total of 2,720 clergy recorded as imprisoned at Dachau, some 2,579 (or 94.88%) were Catholic and a total of 1,034 clergy were recorded overall as dying in the camp, with 132 "transferred or liquidated" during that time—although R. Schnabel's 1966 investigation found an alternative total of 2,771, with 692 noted as deceased and 336 sent out on "invalid trainloads" and therefore presumed dead.[252]

By far the greatest number of priest prisoners came from Poland—in all some 1,748 Polish Catholic clerics, of whom some 868 died in the camp.[252] Germans constituted the next largest group—411 German Catholic priests were sent to Dachau, of whom 94 died in the camp and 100 were "transferred or liquidated".[189][252] France contributed the next main group, with 153 Catholic clerics, among whom ten died at the camp.[252] Other Catholic priests were sent from Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, Yugoslavia, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Hungary and Rumania, while from outside the Nazi Empire—two British and one Spaniard were incarcerated at Dachau, as well as one "stateless" priest.[252]

In December 1935, Wilhelm Braun, a Catholic theologian from Munich, became the first churchman imprisoned at Dachau. The annexation of Austria saw an increase in clerical inmates. Berben wrote: "The commandant at the time, Loritz, persecuted them with ferocious hatred, and unfortunately he found some prisoners to help the guards in their sinister work".[253] Despite SS hostility to religious observance, the Vatican and German bishops successfully lobbied the regime to concentrate clergy at one camp and obtained permission to build a chapel, for the priests to live communally and for time to be allotted to them for the religious and intellectual activity. From December 1940, priests were gathered in Blocks 26, 28 and 30, though only temporarily. 26 became the international block and 28 was reserved for Poles—the most numerous group.[254]

Conditions varied for prisoners in the camp. The Nazis introduced a racial hierarchy—keeping Poles in harsh conditions, while favouring German priests.[255] Many Polish priests simply died of the cold, not given sufficient clothing. A large number were chosen for Nazi medical experiments. In November 1942, 20 were given phlegmons. 120 were used by Dr Schilling for malaria experiments between July 1942 and May 1944. Several Poles met their deaths via the "invalid trains" sent out from the camp, others were liquidated in the camp and given bogus death certificates. Some died of cruel punishment for misdemeanors—beaten to death or worked to exhaustion.[256]

Religious activity outside the chapel was totally forbidden.[257] Priests would secretly take confessions and distribute the Eucharist among other prisoners.[258]

Amid the Nazi persecution of the Tirolian Catholics, the Blessed Otto Neururer, a parish priest was sent to Dachau for "slander to the detriment of German marriage", after he advised a girl against marrying the friend of a senior Nazi. He was cruelly executed at Buchenwald in 1940 for conducting a baptism there. He was the first priest killed in the concentration camps.[259] The Blessed Bernhard Lichtenberg died en route to Dachau in 1943. In December 1944, the Blessed Karl Leisner, a deacon from Munster who was dying of tuberculosis received his ordination at Dachau. His fellow prisoner Gabriel Piguet, the Bishop of Clermont-Ferrand presided at the secret ceremony. Leisner died soon after liberation of the camp.[260] Among other notable Catholic clerics sent to Dachau were: Father Jean Bernard of Luxembourg; the Dutch Carmelite Titus Brandsma (d.1942), Frs Stefan Wincenty Frelichowski (d.1945), Hilary Paweł Januszewski (d.1945), Lawrence Wnuk, Ignacy Jeż and Adam Kozłowiecki of Poland; Frs Josef Lenzel, and August Froehlich of Germany. Following the war, the Mortal Agony of Christ Chapel and a Carmelite Convent were built at Dachau in commemoration.[261]

The Clergy Barracks of Dachau : Statistics by main Nationalities[252]

Nationality Total number Total Catholic Total Released Total Transferred Total Liberated 29/4/45 Total Deceased
Poland 1780 1748 78 4 830 868
Germany 447 411 208 100 45 94
France 156 153 5 4 137 10
Czechoslovakia 109 93 1 10 74 24
Netherlands 63 39 10 0 36 17
Yugoslavia 50 35 2 6 38 4
Belgium 46 46 1 3 33 9
Italy 28 28 0 1 26 1
Luxembourg 16 16 2 0 8 6
Total 2720 2579 314 132 1240 1034

Catholics in the German Resistance

Josef Müller was sent to Rome in 1939 by the German Resistance, to seek assistance from the Pope in a plot to overthrow Hitler.[263]
Pope Pius XII secretly acted as an intermediary between the German Resistance and the Allies, during preparations for the coup.

The German Resistance to Hitler comprised various small opposition groups and individuals who at different stages plotted or attempted the overthrow of the Hitler regime. They were motivated by such factors as the mistreatment of Jews, harassment of the churches, and the harsh actions of Himmler and the Gestapo.[264] Christian morality and the anti-Church policies of the Nazis were a motivating factor driving many German resistors—providing impetus for the "moral revolt" of individuals, though neither the Catholic nor Protestent churches as institutions were prepared to shift themselves to a position of open opposition to the state under the Nazi regime.[265] Yet Wolf cites events such as the July Plot of 1944 as having been "inconceivable without the spiritual support of church resistance".[266] For many of the committed Catholics in the German Resistance—including the Jesuit Provincial of Bavaria, Augustin Rösch, the Catholic trade unionists Jakob Kaiser and Bernhard Letterhaus and the July Plot leader Klaus von Stauffenberg, "religious motives and the determination to resist would seem to have developed hand in hand".[267]

In the winter of 1939/40, with Poland overun but France and the Low Countries yet to be attacked, the early German military Resistance sought the Pope's assistance in preparations for a coup to oust Hitler. Colonel Hans Oster of the Abwehr sent Munich lawyer and devout Catholic, Josef Müller, on a clandestine trip to Rome to seek Papal assistance in the developing plot.[269] The Vatican considered Müller to be a representative of Colonel-General Ludwig Beck and agreed to offer the machinery for mediation.[270][271] Pius, communicating with Britain's Francis d'Arcy Osborne, channelled communications back and forth in secrecy.[270] The British government was non-committal. Hitler's swift victories over France and the Low Countries deflated the will of the German military to resist Hitler. Muller was arrested during the Nazis first raid on Military Intelligence in 1943. He spent the rest of the war in concentration camps, ending up at Dachau.[272] Pius retained his contact with the German Resistance and continued to lobby for peace.

An old guard of national-conservatives aligned to Carl Friedrich Goerdeler broke with Hitler in the mid-1930s. According to Kershaw, they "despised the barbarism of the Nazi regime. But were keen to re-establish Germany's status as a major power... ". Essentially authoritarian, they favoured monarchy and limited electoral rights "resting on Christian family values".[273] Laurentius Siemer, Provincial of the Dominican Province of Teutonia, spoke to resistance circles on the subject of Catholic social teaching as the starting point for the reconstruction of Germany, and worked with Carl Goerdeler and others in planning for a post-coup Germany. Following the failure of the 1944 July Plot to assassinate Hitler, Siemer evaded capture by the Gestapo at his Oldenberg monastery, and hid out until the end of the war, thus remaining one of the few conspirators to survive the purge.[147][148]

A younger group, dubbed the "Kreisau Circle" by the Gestapo, did not look to German imperialism for inspiration.[273] Though multi-denominational, it had a strongly Christian orientation, and looked for a general Christian revival, and reawakening of awareness of the transcendental. It's outlook was rooted both in German romantic and idealist tradition and in the Catholic doctrine of natural law.[274] It had around twenty core members.[275] Among the central membership of the Circle were the Jesuit Fathers Augustin Rösch, Alfred Delp and Lothar König.[276] Bishop von Preysing also had contact with the group.[277]

According to Gill, "Delp's role was to sound out for Moltke the possibilities in the Catholic Community of support for a new, post-war Germany".[278] Rösch and Delp also explored the possibilities for common ground between Christian and socialist trade unions.[278] Lothar König became an important intermediary between the Circle and bishops Conrad Grober of Freiberg and Presying of Berlin.[279]

The Kreisau group combined conservative notions of reform with socialist strains of thought—a symbiosis expressed by Delp's notion of "personal socialism".[280] The group rejected Western models, but wanted to "associate conservative and socialist values, aristocracy and workers, in a new democratic synthesis which would include the churches.[280] In Die dritte Idee (The Third Idea), Delp expounded on the notion of a third way, which, as opposed to Communism and Capitalism, might restore the unity of the person and society.[281] The Circle pressed for a coup against Hitler, but being unarmed, was dependent on persuading military figures to take action.[273]

Christian worker's movement activist and Centre Party politician Fr. Otto Müller was among those who argued for a firm line from the German Bishops against legal violations of the Nazis. In contact with the German military opposition before the outbreak of war, he later allowed individual opposition figures the use of the Ketteler-Haus in Cologne for their discussions and was involved with July Plotters Jakob Kaiser, Nikolaus Groß and Bernhard Letterhaus in planning a post Nazi-Germany. After the failure of the July Plot, the Gestapo arrested Müller, who was imprisoned in the Berlin Police Hospital, where he died.[282]

Smaller resistance groups were also heavily influenced by Christian morality. The White Rose student reistance group were partly inspired by August von Galen's anti-euthanasia homilies, as were the Lübeck martyrs.[283][284][285] From 1942, White Rose published leaflets to influence people against Nazism and militarism. They criticised the "anti-Christian" and "anti-social" nature of the war.[286] The leaders of the group were caught and executed in 1943.[287] Parish priests such as the Lübeck martyrsJohannes Prassek, Eduard Müller and Hermann Lange, and the Lutheran pastor Karl Friedrich Stellbrink - also participated in localised resistance. They shared disapproval of the Nazi regime, and the four priests spoke publicly against the Nazis - initially discreetly - distributing pamphlets to friends and congregants.[288] They distributed information from British radio and from leaflets including the sermons of Bishop von Galen.[284][289] They were arrested in 1942 and executed.[288] The so-called "Frau Solf Tea Party" group included another Jesuit, Fr Friedrich Erxleben. The purpose of the Solf Circle was to seek out humanitarian ways of countering the Nazi regime. It met at either Frau Solf or Elizabeth von Thadden's home.[290] They were all arrested in 1944, and some executed.[291]

July Plot

On 20 July 1944, an attempt was made to assassinate Adolf Hitler, inside his Wolf's Lair field headquarters in East Prussia. The July plot was the culmination of the efforts of several groups in the German Resistance to overthrow the Nazi-led German government. During interrogations or their show trials a number of the conspirators cited the Nazi assault on the churches as one of the motivating factors for their involvement. The Protestant clergyman Eugen Gerstenmaier said that the key to the entire resistance flowed from Hitler's evil and the "Christian duty" to combat it.[292] The leader of the plot, Catholic nobleman Claus Von Stauffenberg, had initially looked favourably on the arrival of the Nazis in power, but came to oppose the regime because of its persecution of the Jews and oppression of the church.[293] In 1944, he led the 20 July plot (Operation Valkyrie) to assassinate Hitler. In 1943 he joined the resistance and commenced planning the unsuccessful Valkyrie assassination and coup, in which he personally placed a time bomb under Hitler's conference table.[294] Killing Hitler would absolve the German military of the moral conundrum of breaking their oath to the Fuehrer. Faced with the moral and theological question of tyrannicide, Stauffenberg conferred with Bishop Konrad von Preysing and found affirmation in early Catholicism, and through Luther.[293][295]

The planned Cabinet which was to replace the Nazi regime included Catholic politicians Eugen Bolz, Bernhard Letterhaus, Andreas Hermes and Josef Wirmer. Wirmer was a member of the left of the Centre Party, had worked to forge ties between the civilian resistance and the trade unions and was a confidant of Jakob Kaiser—a leader of the Christian trade union movement, which Hitler had banned after taking office.[296] Lettehaus was also trade union leader. As a captain in the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (Supreme Command), he had gathered information and become a leading member of the resistance.[297] The "Declaration of Government" that was to be broadcast following the coup on 20 July 1944 appealed unambiguously to Christian sensibilities:[298] Following the failure of the plot, Stauffenberg was shot, the Kreisau circle dissolved and Moltke, Yorck and Delp, among others, were executed.

The shattered freedom of spirit, conscience, faith and opinion will be restored. The churches will once again be given the right to work for their confessions. In future they will exist quite separately from the state... The working of the state is to be inspired, both in word and deed by the Christian outlook..."

— Intended "Broadcast of Government" of the 1944 July Plot conspirators.

Catholic adaptation to Nazism

Kershaw wrote that, while the "detestation of Nazism was overwhelming within the Catholic Church", it did not preclude church leaders approving of areas of the regime's policies, particularly where Nazism "blended into 'mainstream' national aspirations"—like support for "patriotic" foreign policy or war aims, obedience to state authority (where this did not contravene divine law); and destruction of atheistic Marxism and Soviet Bolshevism. Traditional Christian anti-Judaism was "no bulwark" against Nazi biological antisemitism. On these issues "the churches as institutions felt on uncertain grounds", and opposition was generally left to fragmented and largely individual efforts.[299] Shirer wrote that, the Catholic hierarchy in Germany at first tried to co-operate with the Nazi Government, but by 1937 had become highly disillusioned by persecutions and the ongoing violations of the Reichsconcordat which had supposedly secured for the church the "right to regulate its own affairs". The Vatican therefore issued Mit brennender Sorge, outlining Nazi transgressions.[300] But the great majority of Germans were not moved to face death or imprisonment for the sake of freedom of worship, being too impressed by Hitler's early foreign policy successes and the restoration of the German economy. Few ordinary Germans, wrote Shirer, paused to reflect the Nazi regime intended to destroy Christianity in Germany, if it could.[38]

According to Dr Harry Schnitker, Kevin Spicer's 2007 book Hitler's Priests found that around 0.5% of German priests (138 of 42,000—including Austrian) might be considered "brown priests" (Nazis). One such priest was Karl Eschweiler, an opponent of the Weimar Republic, who was suspended from priestly duties by Cardinal Pacelli (the future Pope Pius XII) for writing Nazi pamphlets in support of eugenics.[301] Bishop Wilhelm Berning (de) of Osnabrück sat with the Protestant Deutsche Christen Reichsbishop in the Prussian State Council from 1933 to 1945, a clear signal of support for the Nazi regime. Cardinal Bertram, ex officio head of the German episcopate, sent Hitler birthday greetings in 1939 in the name of all German Catholic bishops, an act that angered bishop Konrad von Preysing.[302] Bertram was the leading advocate of accommodation as well as the leader of the German church, a combination that reigned in other would-be opponents of Nazism.[302]

Archbishop Konrad Gröber of Freiburg was known as the "Brown Bishop" for offering support to the Nazis: in 1933, he became a "sponsoring member" of the SS. In 1943, Grober expressed the opinion that bishops should remain loyal to the "beloved folk and Fatherland", despite abuses of the Reichskonkordat.[302] Yet Gröber was among those in the Catholic hierarchy in Germany who came to articulate and support resistance to the Nazis.[201] He protested the religious persecution of Catholics in Germany.[303] He supported German resistance worker Gertrud Luckner's "Office for Religious War Relief" (Kirchliche Kriegshilfsstelle) under the auspices of the Catholic aid agency, Caritas. The office became the instrument through which Freiburg Catholics helped racially persecuted "non-Aryans" (both Jews and Christians).[304] Luckner used funds received from the archbishop to help Jews.[305][304] After the war, Gröber said that he was such an opponent of the Nazis that they had planned to crucify him on the door for the Freiburg Cathedral.[306]

Mary Fulbrook wrote that when politics encroached on the church, Catholics were prepared to resist, but that the record was otherwise patchy and uneven, and that, with notable exceptions, "it seems that, for many German, adherence to the Christian faith proved compatible with at least passive acquiescence in, if not active support for, the Nazi dictatorship".[307]

Hamerow characterised the resistance approach of senior Catholic clergy like August von Galen of Munich as "trying to influence the Third Reich from within". While some clergymen refused ever to feign support for the regime, in the Church's conflict with the state over ecclesiastical autonomy, the Catholic hierarchy adopted a strategy of "seeming acceptance of the Third Reich", by couching their criticisms as motivated merely by a desire to "point out mistakes that that some of its overzealous followers committed" in order to strengthen the government.[308] Griech-Polelle wrote that Galen had argued that good Catholics could support a government whose aim was to destroy a 'Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy [214] When Galen delivered his famous 1941 denunciations of Nazi euthanasia and the lawlessness of the Gestapo, he also said that the church had never sought the "overthrow" of the regime.[309]

Second World War

The Holocaust


By 1941, most of the Christian inhabitants of Europe were living under Nazi rule. Generally, the life of their churches could continue, provided they did not attempt to participate in politics. At this time, the Nazi regime decided to use its military occupation to undertake the industrialized mass-extermination of the Jews. Strict censorship indicated a fear of public opinion regarding the plan, but the Nazis employed a great many willing participants.[310]

In the aftermath of the war, and full knowledge of the extent of Nazi crimes, scholars have undertaken critical examinations of the origins of Nazi anti-Semitism. Phayer wrote that the feelings of European Catholics toward Jews varied considerably, but Anti-Semitism was "prevalent throughout Europe", varying in its dimensions without distinction of national history or creed and contributed to the racism of Nazism.[311] Laurence Rees noted that "emphasis on Christianity" was absent from the vision expressed by Hitler in Mein Kampf and his "bleak and violent vision" and visceral hatred of the Jews had been influenced by quite different sources: the notion of life as struggle he drew from Social Darwinism, the notion of the superiority of the "Aryan race" he drew from Arthur de Gobineau's The Inequality of the Human Races; from events following Russia's surrender in World War One when Germany seized agricultural lands in the East he formed the idea of colonising the Soviet Union; and from Alfred Rosenberg he took the idea of a link between Judaism and Bolshevism.[312]

Geoffrey Blainey wrote that "Christianity could not escape some indirect blame for the terrible Holocaust. The Jews and Christians had been rivals and sometimes enemies for a long period of history. Furthermore it was traditional for Christians to blame Jewish leaders for the crucifixion of Christ... [-] At the same time, Christians showed devotion and respect. They were conscious of their debt to the Jews. Jesus and all the disciples an all the authors of his Gospels were of the Jewish race. Christians viewed the Old Testament, the holy book of the synagogues as equally a holy book for them... [-] Nonetheless the accusation will linger that Catholics and Protestants in many nations, and even Jews living in the United States, might have indirectly and directly given more help or publicity to the Jews during their plight in Hitler's Europe".[310]

Phayer writes, "Traditional Christian anti-Semitism was not the cause the Holocaust." Coinciding with more modern varieties, it conditioned some European Catholics to become part of Hitler's apparatus. He adds, "Had the Holy See possessed the influence to dictate Catholic feelings toward the Jews (which it did not) little change would have occurred." Under Pius XI, perhaps in anxiety of the anti-Semitism among the fascists, the Vatican issued a statement which denounced anti-Semitism in 1928. It did not mitigate its position, theologically, of the "blindness" of the Jewish people for "rejecting" their messiah; however, it did condemn, with out reserve, all anti-Semitic hatred and stated the Vatican desired to protect Jews from unjust treatment. While rejecting the journalist John Cornwell's, Hitler's Pope, to have "missed the mark" the historian writes, "If the Pope (Pius XII) had spoken out in language that directly challenged Hitler historians unanimously agree that Hitler would not have curtailed the Holocaust. If Pius (Pius XII) was tainted with anti-Semitism, it did not keep him from aiding the Jews before or after the Holocaust. To hold the Pope (Pius XII) always acted negatively toward the Jews is to close one's eyes to history."

German Catholics and the Holocaust

Nazi persecution of the Jews grew steadily worse throughout the period of the Third Reich. Hamerow wrote that, during the prelude to the Holocaust between Kristallnacht in November 1938 and the 1941 invasion of Soviet Russia, the position of the Jews "deteriorated steadily from disenfranchisement to segregation, ghettoization and sporadic mass murder".[313] The Vatican responded to Kristallnacht by seeking to find places of refuge for Jews and Pope Pius XII instructed local bishops to help all those in need at the outbreak of the war.[314]

Hamerow wrote that sympathy for the Jews was common among Catholic churchmen in the Resistance, who saw that both Catholics and Jews were religious minorities exposed to bigotry on the part of the majority: "Both were charged with insufficient patriotism or even of disloyalty to the nation. Both were suspected of greater sympathy for their co-religionists abroad than for their compatriots at home. And both were denounced... for serving the interests of sinister alien forces. The common experience of discrimination thus encouraged a measure of mutual understanding between them." This sympathy led some lay and clergy resistors to speak publicly against the persecution of the Jews, as with the priest who wrote in a periodical in 1934 that it was a sacred task of the church to oppose "sinful racial pride and blind hatred of the Jews". But the leadership of the Catholic Church in Germany was generally hesitant to speak out specifically on behalf of the Jews.[315] While racists were rare among the Catholic hierarchy in Germany, the bishops nevertheless feared that protests against the anti-Jewish policies of the regime would invite retaliation against Catholics.[316] The considerable energies expended by the German church in opposing government interference in the churches was not matched in public by protests against the anti-Jewish policies of regime. Such protests as were made, tended to be by way of private letters to government ministers.[189]

In relations with the Nazi regime, figures like Cardinal Bertram, favoured a policy of concessions, while figures like Bishop Preysing of Berlin called for more concerted opposition.[317] In 1933, Cardinal Adolf Bertram refused to intervene on behalf of Jewish merchants who were the targets of Nazi boycotts, saying that they were a group "which has no very close bond with the church." Bishop Buchberger of Regensburg called Nazi racism directed at Jews "justified self-defense" in the face of "overly powerful Jewish capital." Bishop Hilfrich of Limburg said that the true Christian religion "made its way not from the Jews but in spite of them."

According to Kershaw, the "detestation of Nazism was overwhelming within the Catholic Church", yet traditional Christian anti-Judaism offered "no bulwark" against Nazi biological antisemitism.[299] Cardinal Faulhaber gained an early reputation as an opponent of the regime by denouncing the Nazi extremists who were calling for the Bible to be purged of the "Jewish" Old Testament, because, wrote Hamerow, in seeking to adhere to the central anti-Semitic tenets of Nazism, these "anti-Semitic zealots" were also undermining "the basis of Catholicism."[207][319] He delivered three Advent sermons in 1933. Entitled Judaism, Christianity, and Germany, the sermons affirmed the Jewish origins of the Christian religion, the continuity of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, and the importance of the Christian tradition to Germany.[319] The pre-Christian "people of Israel were the bearers of the revelation" and their books were "building stones for God's kingdom". Unlike the Nazis, Faulhaber believed that Judaism was a religious and not a racial concept, and in his private correspondence, his sympathy for the Jews of his own time is clear, but Faulhaber feared that going public with these thoughts would make the struggle against the Jews also a "struggle against the Catholics".[320]

Faulhaber's sermons appeared to undermine the central racist tenet of Nazism, but were, in essence, a defence of the church. Similarly, when in 1933, the Nazi school superintendent of Munster issued a decree that religious instruction be combined with discussion of the "demoralising power" of the "people of Israel", Bishop von Galen refused, writing that such interference in curriculum was a breach of the Concordat and that he feared children would be confused as to their "obligation to act with charity to all men" and as to the historical mission of the people of Israel.[159] The language of Galen's later 1941 sermons on the "right to life, and inviolability" of all people, did not mention the Jews by name, but had far reaching resonance. He declared himself speaking to protect the "rights of the human personality", not the narrow denominational interests of the Catholic Church.[151]

During the war, the Fulda Conference of Bishops met annually in Fulda.[302] The issue of whether the bishops should speak out against the persecution of the Jews was debated at a 1942 meeting.[321] The consensus was to "give up heroic action in favor of small successes".[321] A draft letter proposed by Margarete Sommer was rejected, because it was viewed as a violation of the Reichskonkordat to speak out on issues not directly related to the church.[321] Bishops von Preysing and Frings were the most public in their statements against genocide.[318] Phayer asserts that the German episcopate, as opposed to other bishops, could have done more to save Jews.[322] Professor Robert Krieg has argued the Church's model of itself "as a hierarchical institution intent on preserving itself so that God's grace would be immediately available to its members" prevailed over other models, such as the model of mystical communion, or moral advocate.[323] According to Phayer, "had the German bishops confronted the Holocaust publicly and nationally, the possibilities of undermining Hitler's death apparatus might have existed. Admittedly, it is speculative to assert this, but it is certain that many more German Catholics would have sought to save Jews by hiding them if their church leaders had spoken out".[322] In this regard, Phayer places the responsibility with the Vatican, asserting that "a strong papal assertion would have enabled the bishops to overcome their disinclinations" and that "Bishop Preysing's only hope to spur his colleagues into action lay in Pope Pius XII".[324] Yet Some German bishops have been praised for their wartime actions and according to Phayer, "several bishops did speak out".[322]

In 1935, Pope Pius XI appointed Konrad von Preysing as Bishop of Berlin, the German capital. Preysing assisted in drafting the anti-Nazi encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge and, together with Cologne's Archbishop, Josef Frings, sought to have the German Bishops conference speak out against the Nazi death camps. Preysing even infrequently attended meetings of the Kreisau Circle German resistance movement.[325] Von Preysing was a noted critic of Nazism, but was protected from Nazi retaliation by his position. His cathedral administrator and confidant Bernard Lichtenberg, was not. Lichtenberg was under the watch of the Gestapo by 1933, for his courageous support of prisoners and Jews.[326] He ran Preysing's aid unit (the Hilfswerke beim Bischöflichen Ordinariat Berlin) which secretly assistance to those who were being persecuted by the regime. From 1938, Lichtenberg conducted prayers for the Jews and other inmates of the concentration camps, including "my fellow priests there". For preaching against Nazi propaganda and writing a letter of protest concerning Nazi euthanasia, he was arrested in 1941, sentenced to two years penal servitude, and died en route to Dachau Concentration Camp in 1943.[150] He was subsequently honoured by Yad Vashem as Righteous among the Nations.[327]

Josef Frings became Archbishop of Cologne in 1942. In his sermons, he repeatedly spoke in support of persecuted peoples and against state repression. In March 1944, Frings attacked arbitrary arrests, racial persecution and forced divorces. That autumn, he protested to the Gestapo against the deportations of Jews from Cologne and surrounds. Following war's end, Frings succeeded Bertram as chairman of the Fulda Bishops' Conference in July 1945 and in 1946 he was appointed a cardinal by Pius XII.[216] In 1943, the German bishops had debated whether to directly confront Hitler collectively over what they knew of the murdering of Jews. Frings wrote a pastoral letter cautioning his diocese not to violate the inherent rights of others to life, even those "not of our blood" and even during war, and preached in a sermon that "no one may take the property or life of an innocent person just because he is a member of a foreign race".[27]

Among the laity, Gertrud Luckner, was among the first to sense the genocidal inclinations of the Hitler regime and to take national action.[328] From 1938 she worked at the head office of "Caritas". She organized aid circles for Jews, assisted many to escape.[305] She personally investigated the fate of the Jews being transported to the East and managed to obtain information on prisoners in concentration camps.[305] Caritas secured safe emigration for hundreds of converted Jews, but Luckner was unable to organise an effective national underground network. She was arrested in 1943 and only narrowly escaped death in the concentration camps.[328] In 1935, Margarete Sommer took up a position at the Episcopal Diocesan Authority in Berlin, counseling victims of racial persecution for Caritas Emergency Relief. In 1941 she became director of the Welfare Office of the Berlin Diocesan Authority, under Bernhard Lichtenberg.[329] Following Lichtenberg's arrest, Sommer reported to Bishop von Preysing.[329] While working for the Welfare Office, Sommer coordinated Catholic aid for victims of racial persecution - giving spiritual comfort, food, clothing, and money. She gathered intelligence on the deportations of the Jews, and living conditions in concentration camps, as well as on SS firing squads, writing several reports on these topics from 1942, including an August 1942 report which reached Rome under the title "Report on the Exodus of the Jews".[329]

In East Prussia, the Bishop of Ermland, Maximilian Kaller denounced Nazi eugenics and racism, pursued a policy of ethnic equality for his German, Polish and Lithuanian flock, and protected his Polish clergy and laypeople. Threatened by the Nazis, he applied for a transfer to be chaplain to a concentration camp. His request was denied by Cesare Orsenigo, a Papal Nuncio with some Fascist sympathies.[301]

Knowledge of the Holocaust

Unlike the Nazi euthanasia murder of invalids, which the churches led protests against, the Final Solution liquidation of the Jews did not primarily take place on German soil, but rather in Polish territory. Awareness of the murderous campaign was therefore less widespread.[217]

According to historians David Bankier and Hans Mommsen a thorough knowledge of the Holocaust was well within the reach of the German bishops, if they wanted to find out.[322] According to historian Michael Phayer, "a number of bishops did want to know, and they succeeded very early on in discovering what their government was doing to the Jews in occupied Poland".[324] Wilhelm Berning (de), for example, knew about the systematic nature of the Holocaust as early as February 1942, only one month after the Wannsee Conference.[324] Most German Church historians believe that the church leaders knew of the Holocaust by the end of 1942, knowing more than any other church leaders outside the Vatican.[330]

US Envoy Myron C. Taylor passed a US Government memorandum to Pius XII on 26 September 1942, outlining intelligence received from the Jewish Agency for Palestine which said that Jews from across the Nazi Empire were being systematically "butchered". Taylor asked if the Vatican might have any information which might tend to "confirm the reports", and if so, what the Pope might be able to do to influence public opinion against the "barbarities".[331] Cardinal Maglione handed Harold Tittman a response to a letter from Taylor regarding the mistreatment of Jews on 10 October. The note thanked Washington for passing on the intelligence, and confirmed that reports of severe measures against the Jews had reached the Vatican from other sources, though it had not been possible to "verify their accuracy". Nevertheless, "every opportunity is being taken by the Holy See, however, to mitigate the suffering of these unfortunate people".[332] The Pope raised race murders in his 1942 Christmas Radio Address. However, after the war, some bishops, including Adolf Bertram and Conrad Grober claimed that they had not been aware of the extent and details of the Holocaust, and were unsure of the veracity of the information that was brought to their attention.[330]

Catholic Church in the Nazi Empire

Central Europe


The Anschluss saw the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in early 1938. The Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg had traveled to Germany to meet Hitler, who, according to Shuschnigg's later testimony, launched into a threatening rage against the role of Austria in German history, saying: "Every national idea was sabotaged by Austria throughout history; and indeed all this sabotage was the chief activity of the Hapsburgs and the Catholic Church". Hitler gave an ultimatum, which was to end Austrian independence and hand the nation to the Nazis.[333]

Austria was overwhelmingly Catholic.[334] On April 9 in Vienna, Hitler, speaking before a vote to endorse the Nazi annexation, told the Austrian public that it was "God's will" that he lead his homeland into the Reich and that the Lord had "smitten" his opponents.[334] At the direction of Cardinal Innitzer, the churches of Vienna pealed their bells and flew swastikas for Hitler's arrival in the city on 14 March.[335] However, wrote Mark Mazower, such gestures of accommodation were "not enough to assuage the Austrian Nazi radicals, foremost among them the young Gauleiter Globocnik".[336]

Globocnik launched a crusade against the Church, and the Nazis confiscated property, closed Catholic organisations and sent many priests to Dachau.[337] The martyred Austrian priests Jakob Gapp and Otto Neururer were beatified in the 1996.[338] Neururer was tortured and hanged at Buchenwald and Jakob Gapp was guillotined in Berlin.[339] Anger at the treatment of the Church in Austria grew quickly and October 1938, wrote Mazower, saw the "very first act of overt mass resistance to the new regime", when a rally of thousands left Mass in Vienna chanting "Christ is our Fuehrer", before being dispersed by police.[340]

A Nazi mob ransacked Cardinal Innitzer's residence, after he had denounced Nazi persecution of the Church.[334] L'Osservatore Romano reported on 15 October that Hitler Youth and the SA had gathered at Innitzer's Cathedral during a service for Catholic Youth and started "counter-shouts and whistlings: 'Down with Innitzer! Our faith is Germany'". The following day, the mob stoned the Cardinal's residence, broke in and ransacked it—bashing a secretary unconscious, and storming another house of the cathedral curia and throwing its curate out the window.[341] The American National Catholic Welfare Conference wrote that Pope Pius, "again protested against the violence of the Nazis, in language recalling Nero and Judas the Betrayer, comparing Hitler with Julian the Apostate."[341]

In a Table Talk of July 1942 discussing his problems with the Church, Hitler singles out Innitzer's early gestures of cordiality as evidence of the extreme caution with which Church diplomats must be treated: "there appeared a man who addressed me with such self-assurance and beaming countenance, just as if, throughout the whole of the Austrian Republic he had never even touched a hair of the head of any National Socialist!"[342]

Czech lands

Czechoslovakia was created after World War One and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.[344] Shortly before World War II, Czechoslovakia ceased to exist, swallowed by Nazi expansion. Its territory was divided into the mainly Czech Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and the newly declared Slovak Republic, while a considerable part of Czechoslovakia was directly joined to the Third Reich (Hungary and Poland also annexed areas).

Catholicism had had a strong institutional presence in the region under the Hapsburg Dynasty, but Bohemian Czechs in particular had had a troubled relationship with the Church of their rulers.[345] Despite this, According to Schnitker, "the Church managed to gain a deep-seated appreciation for the role it played in resisting the common Nazi enemy."[346] 122 Czechoslovak Catholic priests were sent to Dachau Concentration Camp. 76 did not survive the ordeal.[347]

Following its October 1938 annexation, Nazi policy in the Sudetenland saw ethnic Czech priests expelled, or deprived of income and forced to do labour, while their properties were seized. Religious orders were suppressed, private schools closed and religious instruction forbidden in schools.[348]

When the Germans advanced on Prague in March 1939, churches came under gestapo surveillance and hundreds of priests were denounced. Monasteries and convents were requisitioned and Corpus Christi processions curtailed. As elsewhere, the Catholic press was muzzled. Following the outbreak of war, 487 priests were rounded up from occupied Czechoslovakia—among them the Canon of Vysehrad, Msgr. Bohumil Stašek.[349] On 13 August 1939, Stašek had given a patriotic address to a 100,000 strong crowd of Czechoslovaks, criticising the Nazis: "I believed that truth would triumph over falsehood, law over lawlessness, love and compassion over violence". For his resistance efforts, Bohumil spent the remainder of the war in prison and the concentration camps.[350] Msgr. Tenora, Dean of the Brno Cathedral was also among those arrested, while six directors of Catholic charities were also seized including Mgr Otto Lev Stanovsky.[348]

Karel Kašpar, the Archbishop of Prague and Primate of Bohemia was arrested soon after the occupation of his city, after he refused to obey an order to direct priests to discontinue pilgrimages. Kaspar was repeatedly arrested by the Nazi authorities and died in 1941.[348] In announcing the Archbishop's death on radio, Josef Beran, the director of the Prague diocese main seminary, called on Czechs to remain true to their religion and to their country.[347]

Konstantin von Neurath served as Reich Protector (Governor) from March 1939 until he was replaced by Reich Security Central Office chief Reinhard Heydrich. Heydrich was a fanatical Nazi anti-Semite and anti-Catholic. One of the main architects of the Nazi Holocaust, he believed that Catholicism was a threat to the state.[343] He was assassinated by Czech commandos in Prague in 1942.[351] Hitler was angered by the co-operation between the church and the assassins who killed Heydrich.[127] Following the assassination of Heydrich, Josef Beran was among the thousands arrested, for his patriotic stance. Beran was sent to Dachau, where he remained until Liberation, whereafter he was appointed Archbishop of Prague—which had remained vacant since the death of Kašpar.[347]


Slovakia was a new rump state formed by Hitler when Germany annexed the western half of Czechoslovakia. Hitler was able to exploit Czechoslovakia's ethnic diversity—in particular the presence of the German-speaking Sudetenlanders, and the independent minded Slovaks.[352] The Slovak People's Party (SPP) had been founded in 1913 by a Catholic priest, Andrej Hlinka, and became a significant player in the Slovak struggle for autonomy.[353] In March 1939, Prague arrested Hlinka's successor, Fr. Jozef Tiso, the Prime Minister of the Slovakian region, for advocating independence. Hitler invited Tiso to Berlin, and offered assistance in obtaining Slovak nationhood. Tiso declared independence, and with German warships pointing their guns at the Slovakian Government offices, the Assembly agreed to ask Germany for "protection".[354] The Fascist Slovak Republic became a nominally independent Nazi puppet with Tiso as president. According to Phayer, "Hitler demanded a price for Slovak independence, its 90,000 Jews. Pius XII wanted to save them, or at least the 20,000 who had converted to Christianity".[355] Giuseppe Burzio, the Apostolic Delegate to Bratislava, protested the antisemitism and totalitarianism of the Tiso regime.[353]

Phayer wrote that antisemitism existed well before the Nazi time and during the interwar period antisemitism characterised the Catholicism of the Slovak people.[356] The People's Party, founded and dominated by clergymen, used antisemitism as part of its political presentation.[356] An American diplomat, George F.Kennan witnessed the antisemitic terror practised by the party's vigilante wing, the Hlinka Guard.[356] With the People's Party ruling Slovakia, Msgr. Jozef Tiso, the president, promulgated the first antisemitic legislation in 1939 and 1940. Pius XII extended an apostolic blessing to President Tiso.[356]

The Vatican was pleased to see a new Catholic state, but disapproved of the Codex Judaicum, passed in September 1941, based on the Nuremberg Laws, by which the legal rights of Jews were ended, and reacted with a letter of protest.[353] The Slovakian bishops told Tiso that, through persecution of people on the basis of their race, he acted against the principles of religion and the Vatican demoted Tiso. According to Phayer, the Vatican's main concern was for the rights of Jewish converts.[357]

The Vatican began to receive reports from Slovak army chaplains in October 1941 of mass shootings of Jews on the Eastern Front, but did not take action. When, in early 1942, papal diplomats in Bratislava, Hungary and Switzerland predicted impending deportations and exterminations, the Vatican protested. Burzio advised Rome of deportations to Poland "equivalent to condemning a great part of them to death" and the Vatican protested to the Slovakian legate. According to Phayer, the protests, not made in public, were ineffectual and 'resettlements' continued in the summer and autumn of 1942—57,000 by the end of 1942.[358]

Slovakia, under Tiso and prime minister Bela Tuka, (who described himself as a daily communicant), had power over 90000 Jews.[355] Like the Nazis other main allies, Petain, Mussolini, and Horthy - Tiso did not share the racist hardline on Jews held by Hitler and radicals within his own government, but held a more traditional, conservative antisemitism.[360] His regime was nonetheless highly antisemitic.[361] In February 1942, Tiso agreed to begin deportations of Jews and Slovakia became the first Nazi ally to agree to deportations under the framework of the Final Solution.[362] Later in 1942, amid Vatican protests as news of the fate of the deportees filtered back, and the German advance into Russia was halted, Slovakia became the first of Hitler's puppet states to shut down the deportations.[363]

The Nazis had asked for 20,000 young able-bodied Jews. Tiso hoped that compliance would aid in the return of 120,000 Slovak workers from Germany.[364] Msgr. Burzio protested to Prime Minister Bela Tuka.[353] Burzio reported to Rome that some of the Slovakian bishops were indifferent to the plight of the Jews. Others, such as Bishop Pavol Jantausch (sk) were active in protecting Jews.[365] The Vicar of Bratislava Augustin Pozdech (sk) and Jozef Čársky (sk), Bishop of Prešov, emphatically denounced the deportations.[353]

Knowledge of the conditions at Auchwitz began to spread. Mazower wrote: "When the Vatican protested, the government responded with defiance: 'There is no foreign intervention which would stop us on the road to the liberation of Slovakia from Jewry', insisted President Tiso".[366] Burzio and others reported to Tiso that the Germans were murdering the deported Jews. Tiso hesitated and then refused to deport Slovakia's 24,000 remaining Jews.[362] According to Mazower "Church pressure and public anger resulted in perhaps 20,000 Jews being granted exemptions, effectively bringing the deportations there to an end".[367] According to Phayer, Raul Hilberg wrote that "Catholic Slovakia, wanting to serve its two masters, Berlin and Rome, gave up its Mosaic Jews- a journey by train to Auschwitz required one hour—to please Hitler, while holding back its 20,000 Christian Jews to please the Holy See".[355]

When in 1943 rumours of further deportations emerged, the Papal Nuncio in Istanbul, Msgr. Angelo Roncalli (later Pope John XXIII) and Burzio helped galvanize the Holy See into intervening in vigorous terms. On April 7, 1943, Burzio challenged Tuka, over the extermination of Slovak Jews. The Vatican condemned the renewal of the deportations on 5 May and the Slovakian episcopate issued a pastoral letter condemning totalitarianism and antisemitism on 8 May 1943.[353]

In August 1944, the Slovak National Uprising rose against the People's Party regime. German troops were sent to quell the rebellion and with them came security police charged with rounding up Slovakia's remaining Jews.[362] Burzio begged Tiso directly to at least spare Catholic Jews from transportation and delivered an admonition from the Pope: "the injustice wrought by his government is harmful to the prestige of his country and enemies will exploit it to discredit clergy and the Church the world over."[353]

Eastern Europe

Main article: Nazi persecution of the Catholic Church in Poland

Kerhsaw wrote that, in Hitler's scheme for the Germanization of Eastern Europe, "There would, he made clear, be no place in this utopia for the Christian Churches".[368] The invasion of predominantly Catholic Poland by Nazi Germany in 1939 ignited the Second World War. The Nazi plan for Poland entailed the destruction of the Polish nation, which necessarily required attacking the Polish Church, particularly in those areas annexed to Germany.[369] In Nazi ideological terms, Poland was inhabited by a mixture of Slavs and Jews, both of which were classed as Untermenschen, or subhumans who were occupying German Lebensraum, living space.[370]

The Nazis instigated a policy of genocide against Poland's Jewish minority and of murdering or suppressing the ethnic Polish elites.[371] Historically, the church had been a leading force in Polish nationalism against foreign domination, thus the Nazis targeted clergy, monks and nuns in their terror campaigns—both for their resistance activity and their cultural importance.[372][373] According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, 1811 Polish priests died in Nazi concentration camps.[374]

Special death squads of SS and police accompanied the invasion and arrested or executed those considered capable of resisting the occupation: including professionals, clergymen and government officials. The following summer, the A-B Aktion round up of several thousand Polish intelligentsia by the SS saw many priests shot in the General Government sector.[372] In September 1939 Security Police Chief Heydrich and General Eduard Wagner agreed upon a "cleanup once and for all of Jews, intelligentsia, clergy, nobility".[375] Of the brief period of military control from 1 September 1939-25 October 1939, Davies wrote: "according to one source, 714 mass executions were carried out, and 6,376 people, mainly Catholics, were shot. Other put the death toll in one town alone at 20,000. It was a taste of things to come."[376]

Poland was divided into two parts by the Nazis: the Reich directly annexed Polish territories along Germany's eastern border, while and second part came under the administration of the so-called Generalgouvernement (General Government)[377] - a "police run mini-state" under SS control and the rule of Nazi laywer Hans Frank, which, wrote Davies, "became the lawless laboratory of Nazi racial ideology" and in due course the base for the main Nazi concentration camps.[378] Yet here, Nazi policy toward the Church was less severe than in the annexed regions.[379] The annexed areas were all to be "Germanized", and the Polish Church within them was to be thoroughly eradicated - though German Catholics could remain or settle there.[369]

In the annexed regions, the Nazis set about systematically dismantling the Church — arresting its leaders, exiling its clergymen, closing its churches, monasteries and convents. Many clergymen were murdered.[380] Eighty per cent of the Catholic clergy and five bishops of Warthegau were sent to concentration camps in 1939; 108 of them are regarded as blessed martyrs.[381] In a report to Pius XII regarding the dire situation, the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Hlond wrote "Hitlerism aims at the systematic and total destruction of the Catholic Church in the... territories of Poland which have been incorporated into the Reich...":[382]

Following the Polish surrender, the Polish Underground and the Armia Krajowa (Home Army) resisted the Nazi occupation. The Home Army was conscious of the link between morale and religious practice and the Catholic religion was integral to much Polish resistance, particularly during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944.[383] Adam Sapieha, Archbishop of Lvov, became the defacto head of the Polish church following the invasion and openly criticised Nazi terror.[380] A principle figures of the Polish Resistance, Sapieha opened a clandestine seminary in an act of cultural resistance. Among the seminarians was Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II.[384] Among the most revered Polish martyrs was the Franciscan, Saint Maximillian Kolbe, who died at Auschwitz-Birkenau, having offered his own life to save a fellow prisoner who had been condemned to death.[385] During the War he provided shelter to refugees, including 2,000 Jews whom he hid in his friary in Niepokalanów.[386]

Poland had its own tradition of antisemitism.[380] Poland had a large Jewish population, and according to Davies, more Jews were both killed and rescued in Poland, than in any other nation: the rescue figure put at between 100-150,000 - the work of the Catholic affiliated Council to Aid Jews was instrumental in much rescue work.[387] Thousands of Poles have been honoured as Righteous Among the Gentiles - constituting the largest national contingent -[388] and hundreds of clergymen and nuns were involved in aiding Jews during the war, though precise numbers are difficult to confirm.[380]

When AK Home Army Intelligence discovered the true fate of transports leaving the Jewish Ghetto, the Council to Aid Jews - Rada Pomocy Żydom (codename Zegota) was established in late 1942, in co-operation with church groups. Instigated by the writer Zofia Kossak-Szczucka and Catholic democrat activists, the organisation saved thousands.[389][390] Emphasis was placed on protecting children, as it was near impossible to intervene directly against the heavily guarded transports. False papers were prepared, and children were distributed among safe houses and church networks.[391] Jewish children were often placed in church orphanages and convents.[390]

Karol Niemira, the Bishop of Pinsk, co-operated with the Underground maintaining ties with the Jewish ghetto and sheltered Jews in the Archbishop's residence.[380] Matylda Getter, mother superior of the Franciscan Sisters of the Family of Mary, hid many children in her Pludy convent and took in many orphans and dispersed them among Family of Mary homes, rescuing more than 750 Jews.[392] Oscar Schindler, a German Catholic businessman came to Poland, initially to profit from the German invasion. He went on to save many Jews, as dramatised in the film Schindler's List.[327] Under the Papacy of the Polish born Pope John Paul II, the Polish Church asked for forgiveness for failings during the war, saying that, while noble efforts had been made to save Jews during World War II, there had also been indifference or enmity among Polish Catholics.[393]

According to Norman Davies, the Nazi terror was "much fiercer and more protracted in Poland than anywhere in Europe."[372] Phayer wrote of two phases of Nazi policy in Poland—before Stalingrad, when Poles were suppressed, and after the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk, when Germany sought to use the church to bring the Polish people into the war effort against Russia. When Cardinal Hlond was captured in 1943 the Germans promised to free him if he would seek to inspire the Polish people against the common enemy, Bolshevist Russia.[394] Hlond refused to negotiate with his captors. He was the only member of the Sacred College of Cardinals to be arrested by the Nazis, and was held by the Gestapo, first at their headquarters in Paris and then confined at a convent at Bar-le-Duc, until the Allied advance forced the Germans to shift him to Wiedenbrtick, in Westphalia, where he remained for seven months, until released by American troops in 1945.[395]

In response to the Nazi/Soviet invasion, Pope Pius XII's first encyclical Summi Pontificatus wrote of an "hour of darkness" and the deaths of "countless human beings, even noncombatants". "Dear Poland", he said, deserved "the generous and brotherly sympathy of the whole world, while it awaits... the hour of a resurrection in harmony with the principles of justice and true peace".[396] In April 1940, the Holy See advised the US government that all its efforts to deliver humanitarian aid had been blocked by the Germans, and that it was therefore seeking to channel assistance through indirect routes like the American "Commission for Polish Relief".[397] In 1942, the American National Catholic Welfare Conference reported that "as Cardinal Hlond's reports poured into the Vatican, Pope Pius XII protested against the enormities they recounted with unrelenting vigor". The Conference noted the Pope's 28 October Encyclical and reported that Pius addressed Polish clergy on 30 September 1939 and spoke of "a vision of mad horror and gloomy despair" and said that he hoped that despite the work of the enemies of God, Catholic life would survive in Poland. In a Christmas Eve address to the College of Cardinals, Pius condemned the atrocities "even against non-combatants, refugees, old persons, women and children, and the disregard of human dignity, liberty and human life" that had taken place in the Polish war as "acts that cry for the vengeance of God".[398]

According to Phayer, from 1939–1941 there was a determined appeal for papal intercession in Poland, but the Holy See argued that intervention would only worsen the situation, though this was not a popular position. When the French urged Pius to condemn Germany's aggression he declined "out of consideration for repercussions on Roman Catholics of the Reich."[399] August Hlond and the General of the Jesuits Wladimir Ledochowski met with Pius on September 30, 1940 and left disappointed when he did not condemn Russia and Germany for destroying Poland. The Vatican used its press and radio to tell the world in January 1940 of terrorization of the Polish people, a reference to the Warthegau area Poles and the Poles of the Polish corridor who had been dispossessed and driven into the General Government region. A further broadcast in November lacked the detail of January communications and "Thereafter", wrote Phayer, "Vatican radio fell silent regarding Poland and the decimation of its populace."[400] On 16 and 17 November 1940, Vatican Radio said that religious life for Catholics in Poland continued to be brutally restricted and that at least 400 clergy had been deported to Germany in the preceding four months:[401]

The Catholic Associations in the General Government also have been dissolved, the Catholic educational institutions have been closed down, and Catholic professors and teachers have been reduced to a state of extreme need or have been sent to concentration camps. The Catholic press has been rendered impotent. In the part incorporated into the Reich, and especially in Posnania, the representatives of the Catholic priests and orders have been shut up in concentration camps. In other dioceses the priests have been put in prison. Entire areas of the country have been deprived of all spiritual ministrations and the church seminaries have been dispersed.

— Vatican Radio, November 1940

In November 1941 Bishop Sapieha requested explicitly that Pius speak out against Nazi atrocities. According to Lucas, the pope's "silence" led some Polish Catholics to conclude that the Vatican was unconcerned and there was even talk of cutting off allegiance to Rome.[402] Pius alluded vaguely to atrocities at Easter 1941 and Cardinal Secretry of State Luigi Maglione explained to the Polish ambassador to the Holy See that Pius spoke in veiled words, but had Poland in mind. The policy was intended to spare Poles from greater atrocities. Word came later from Poland objecting to this, but it would be used again, during the Holocaust itself.[400]

Catholic religious fervour was a feature of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. General Antoni Chruściel issued instructions on how front-line troops could continue to continue religious observance. Clergy were involved on many levels - as chaplains to military units, or tending to the ever increasing wounded and dying. "Nuns of various orders", wrote Davies, "acted as universal sisters of mercy and won widespread praise. Mortality among them higher than among most categories of civilians. When captured by the SS, they aroused a special fury, which frequently ended in rape or butchery".[403] According to Davies, the Catholic religion was an integral component of the struggle.[404]


Hungary joined the Axis Powers in 1940. It's leader, Admiral Horthy later wavered in support for the Nazi alliance. The Nazis occupied Hungary in March 1944, soon after Horthy, under significant pressure from the church and diplomatic community, had halted the deportations of Hungarian Jews.[407] In October, they installed a pro-Nazi Arrow Cross Dictatorship.

After Germany's 1935 Nuremberg Laws were promulgated, copycat legislation had followed in much of Europe. Catholic priests and bishops in western Europe were not active in parliaments that established antisemitic legislation, but in eastern Europe they were.[405] The Arrow Cross, Hungary's far-right antisemitic political organisation, was supported by individual priests, and bishops, such as Jozsef Grosz, who was promoted in 1943 by Pius XII to the bishopric of Kalocsa. Cardinal Justinian Seredi and Bishop Gyula Glattfelder who served in Hungary's Upper Chamber of Parliament, voted in favour of antisemitic legislation first passed in 1938.[408] Seredi later spoke out against the Nazi persecution of Hungary's Jews.[406] The antisemitic laws placed economic and social restrictions on Jews; during World War II they evolved into initiatives to expel Jews from Hungary. Margit Slachta, a nun and Hungary's first woman Member of Parliament, spoke against the antisemitic laws.[409] Following the October 1944 Arrow Cross takeover, Bishop Vilmos Apor (who had been an active protester against the mistreatment of the Jews), together with other senior clergy including József Mindszenty, drafted a memorandum of protest against the Arrow Cross government.[409]

Margit Slachta sheltered the persecuted, protested forced labour and antisemitism and went to Rome in 1943 to encourage papal action against the Jewish persecutions.[409] Angelo Rotta, Papal Nuncio from 1930, actively protested Hungary's mistreatment of the Jews, and helped persuade Pope Pius XII to lobby the Hungarian leader Admiral Horthy to stop their deportation.[410] Rotta became a leader of diplomatic actions to protect Hungarian Jews.[410] With the help of the Hungarian Holy Cross Association, he issued protective passports for Jews and 15,000 safe conduct passes—the nunciature sheltered some 3000 Jews in safe houses.[410] An "International Ghetto" was established, including more than 40 safe houses marked by the Vatican and other national emblems. 25,000 Jews found refuge in these safe houses. Elsewhere in the city, Catholic institutions hid several thousand more Jewish people.[411] Other leading church figures involved in the 1944 rescue of Hungarian Jews included Bishops Vilmos Apor, Endre Hamvas and Áron Márton. Primate József Mindszenty issued public and private protests and was arrested on 27 October 1944.[409]

By late summer 1944 Pius XII was asked to speak directly to the Hungarian people, ideally through Vatican Radio, now that the diplomatic avenues were exhausted. A direct public appeal it was felt, especially in American circles, might have some effect. This Pius XII would not do however, arguing that a public radio appeal and condemnation of Nazi actions, would necessitate a papal criticism of Soviet behavior as well.[412] And there was apparently some skepticism still in Vatican circles about the seriousness of the situation. In September 1944 Amleto Cicognani, papal representative in Washington, told Aryeh Leon Kubowitzki (later Aryeh Leon Kubovy) of the World Jewish Congress that, "the situation in Hungary is much less acute, since the persons responsible for the previous persecution have been removed from power". "Contradictory information", it was claimed, was arriving about the Hungarian situation. Ultimately, when called upon to condemn publicly Nazi policies against Jews Pius XII chose to exercise restraint, in the name of avoiding a greater evil.[413]


Angelo Roncalli (later Pope John XXIII) advised Pope Pius XII of the plight of Jews being kept in concentration camps in Romanian-occupied Transnistria. The Pope interceded with the Romanian government, and authorized for money to be sent to the camps.[414] Andrea Cassulo, the papal nuncio to Bucharest has been honoured as Righteous among the Nations by Yad Vashem. In 1944, the Chief Rabbi of Bucharest praised the work of Cassulo on behalf of Romania's Jews: "the generous assistance of the Holy See… was decisive and salutary. It is not easy for us to find the right words to express the warmth and consolation we experienced because of the concern of the supreme Pontiff, who offered a large sum to relieve the sufferings of deported Jews—sufferings which had been pointed out to him by you after your visit to Transnistria. The Jews of Romania will never forget these facts of historic importance."[415]

Southern Europe


After World War One, the desire of Croatian nationalists for independence was not realised, and the region found itself first in the Serb dominated dictatorship of Yugoslavia. Repression of the Croat minority spurred extremism, and the Ustaša ("Insurgence") was formed in 1929 by Ante Pavelić, with the support of Fascist Italy.[416] Germany, Italy, Bulgaria and Hungary dismembered Yugoslavia in April 1941.[417] In regions controlled by Italy, the Italian authorities protected Jews from Nazi roundups, as occurred throughout Italian territory. Martin Gilbert wrote that, when negotiations began for the deportation of Jews from the Italian zone, General Roatta flatly refused, leading Hitler's envoy, Siegfried Kasche, to report that some of Mussolini's subordinates had "apparently been influenced" by opposition in the Vatican to German anti-Semitism.[418] Most of Croatia fell to the new Independent State of Croatia, where Pavelic's Ustase were installed in power. Unlike Hitler, Pavelic was pro-Catholic, but their ideologies overlapped sufficiently for easy co-operation. Phayer wrote that Pavelic wanted Vatican recognition for his fascist state and Croatian church leaders favoured an alliance with the Ustase because it seemed to hold out the promise of an anti-Communist, Catholic state.[419]

Peter Hebblethwaite wrote that Pavlevic was anxious to get diplomatic relations and a Vatican blessing for the new 'Catholic state' but that "Neither was forthcoming": Giovanni Montini (future Pope Paul VI) advised Pavlevic that the Holy See could not recognise frontiers changed by force. The Yugoslav royal legation remained at the Vatican. When the Italian King advised that Duke of Spoleto was to be "King of Croatia", Montini advised that the Pope could not hold a private audience with the Duke once any such coronation occurred. Pius subsequently relented, allowing a half hour audience with Pavlevic.[420] The Archbishop of Zagreb, Aloysius Stepinac, wanted Croatia's independence from the Serb dominated Yugoslav state (the jail of the Croatian nation).[419] Stepinac arranged the audience with Pius XII for Pavelic.[419] Montini's minutes of the meeting noted that no recognition of the new state could come before a peace treaty and that "The Holy See must be impartial; it must think of all; there are Catholics on all sides to whom the [Holy See] must be respectful."[421]

Phayer wrote that Montini kept Pius informed of matters in Croatia — and Domenico Tardini interviewed Pavelic's representative to Pius; he let the Croat know the Vatican would be indulgent—"Croatia is a young state—Youngsters often err because of their age. It is therefore not surprising that Croatia has also erred."[422]

The Vatican refused formal recognition but Pius sent a Benedictine abbot, Giuseppe Ramiro Marcone, as his apostolic visitor. Phayer wrote that this suited Pavelic well enough and Stepinac felt the Vatican had de facto recognised the new state.[419] Gilbert wrote that "In the Croatian capital of Zagreb, as a result of intervention by [Marcone] on behalf of Jewish partners in mixed marriages, a thousand Croat Jews survived the war", while "Stepinac, who in 1941 had welcomed Croat independence, subsequently condemned Croat atrocities against both Serbs and Jews, and himself saved a group of Jews in an old age home".[423]

In April and May 1941 thousands of Serbs were murdered and Nazi copycat laws eliminated Jewish citizenship and compelled the wearing of the Star of David. The German army pulled out of Croatia in June 1941. As the terror continued Archbishop Stepinac had begun, by May 1941, to distance himself from the Ustase.[424] Hebblethwaite wrote that "The Vatican's policy was to strengthen the hand of [Spepinac] in his rejection of forcible conversions and brutalities".[425] Pavelic told Nazi Foreign Minister Ribbentrop that while the lower clergy supported the Ustase, the bishops, and particularly Stepinac, were opposed to the movement because of "Vatican international policy".[426]

In July Stepniac wrote to Pavelic objecting to the condition of deportation of Jews and Serbs and then, realizing that conversion could save Serbs he instructed clergy to baptise people upon demand without the usual waiting and instruction. Summer and autumn of 1941 Ustasha murders increased, but Stepinac was not yet prepared to break with the Ustase regime entirely. Some bishops and priests collaborated openly with Pavelic and even served in Pavelic's body guard, Ivan Guberina, the leader of Catholic Action, among them. Notorious examples of collaboration included Bishop Ivan Šarić and the Franciscan Miroslav Filipovic-Majstorovic, 'the devil of the Jasenovac'.[427] For three months,[428] Filipovic-Majstorovic headed the notorious Jasenovac Concentration Camp.[429] He was suspended as an army chaplain in 1942, expelled from the Franciscan Order in 1943, and executed as a war criminal after the war.[430][431] He was not, evidently, excommunicated.[432]

Phayer wrote that Archbishop Stepinac himself came to be known as jeudenfreundlich (Jew friendly) to the Nazis and Croat regime and suspended a number of priest collaboratos in his diocese.[429] In the Spring of 1942, Stepinac, following a meeting with Pius XII in Rome, declared publicly that it was "forbidden to exterminate Gypsies and Jews because they are said to belong to an inferior race".[433] When Himmler visited Zagreb a year later, indicating the impending roundup of remaining Jews, Stepinac wrote Pavelic that if this occurred, he would protest for "the Catholic Church is not afraid of any secular power, whatever it may be, when it has to protect basic human values". When deportatation began, Stepinac and Marcone protested to Andrija Artukovic.[434] The Vatican ordered Stepinac to save as many Jews as possible during the upcoming roundup.[429] In July and October 1943, Stepinac condemned race murders in the most explicit terms, and had his condemnation read from pulpits across Croatia. The Germans took this to be a denunciation of the murder of both Serbs and Jews, and arrested 31 priests. Phayer wrote that, despite knowing that he would be a target of Communists if the Croat regime fell, "no leader of a national church ever spoke as pointedly about genocide as did Spepinac".[435] Though Stepinac personally saved many potential victims, his protests had little effect on Pavlevic.[434]

The Apostolic delegate to Turkey, Angelo Roncalli, saved a number of Croatian Jews—as well as Bulgarian and Hungarian Jews—by assisting their migration to Palestine. Roncalli succeeded Pius XII as Pope, and always said that he had been acting on the orders of Pius XII in his actions to rescue Jews.[429]

In 1943 after the German military became active once again in Croatia 6-7000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz, and others murdered in gas vans in Croatia. Rather than jeopardize the Ustase government of Croatia by diplomatic wrangling the Vatican chose to help Jews privately—but the chaos of the country meant this was little. Historian John Morley has called the Vatican record particularly shameful in Croatia because it was a state that proudly proclaimed its Catholic tradition and whose leaders depicted themselves as loyal to the Church and to the Pope.[436] Diplomatic pressure was preferred to public challenges on the immorality of genocide and Pavelic's diplomatic emissaries to the Holy See were merely scolded by Tardini and Montini. At the war's end leaders of the Ustasha including its clericals supporters such as Saric fled, taking gold looted from massacred Jews and Serbs with them.[437]


Following the German invasion of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in April 1941, Slovenia was partitioned, between Italy, Hungary and Germany, which annexed the north. In the Carinthian and Styrian regions, the mainly Austrian rulers commenced a brutal campaign to destroy the Slovene nation.[438] The Jesuit John Le Farge reported in the Catholic press in the America that the situation an official report sent to the Vatican following the invasion "may be briefly described as hell for Catholics and Catholicism in Slovenia, a 98% Catholic country, a hell deliberately planned by Adolf Hitler out of his diabolical hatred of Christ and His Church". As in other occupied territories, the German army confiscated church property, dissolved religious houses and arrested and exiled priests.[439]

Western Europe

Low Countries

The Nazi Occupation of the Netherlands was particularly protracted. While the Dutch civil service collaborated extensively with the occupying administration, the Dutch Church, and leaders like the Archbishop of Utrecht Johannes de Jong, firmly opposed National Socialist movement, which Dutch Catholics were forbidden from joining.[440] As in other parts of the Nazi Empire, the Catholic press was suppressed, and clergy were arrested and forced out of educational positions. On 2 September 1940, the Nazi Governor of the Netherlands, Arthur Seyss-Inquart ordered a purge of clergy who refused to advocate National Socialism. In November, the office of the Bishop of Roermond and the Hague headquarters of the Jesuits were raided. On 26 January 1941, the Dutch Bishops issued a critical Pastoral Letter. The Nazi press responded with threats. The Nazi press also reported that Archbishop de Jong has been fined for refusing to preach that the Nazi invasion of Russia was a "religious crusade" against Bolshevism. When Seyss-Inquart installed a Dutch Nazi at the head of the Catholic Workers' Union, De Jong told Catholics to quit the Union.[441]

The occupation of the Netherlands also saw a particularly efficient cruelty towards the Jews, and harsh punishment for their protectors. When Jewish deportations began, many were hidden in Catholic areas. Parish priests created networks for hiding Jews and close knit country parishes were able to hide Jews without being informed upon by neighbours, as occurred in the cities.[440] On July 11, 1942, the Dutch bishops, joined all Christian denominations in sending a letter to the Nazi General Friedrich Christiansen in protest against the treatment of Jews. The letter was read in all Catholic churches against German opposition. It brought attention to mistreatment of Jews and asked all Christians to pray for them:[442]

Ours is a time of great tribulations of which two are foremost: the sad destiny of the Jews and the plight of those deported for forced labor. … All of us must be aware of the terrible sufferings which both of them have to undergo, due to no guilt of their own. We have learned with deep pain of the new dispositions which impose upon innocent Jewish men, women and children the deportation into foreign lands. … The incredible suffering which these measures cause to more than 10,000 people is in absolute opposition to the divine precepts of justice and charity. … Let us pray to God and for the intercession of Mary … that he may lend his strength to the people of Israel, so severely tried in anguish and persecution

— Protest of the Dutch Bishops, 1942

The Nazis responded by revoking the exception that had been given to Jews who had been baptized and a round up was ordered. The Gestapo made a special effort to round up every monk, nun and priest who had even a drop of Jewish blood. Some 300 victims were deported to Auschwitz and immediately sent to the gas chambers. Among them was Saint Edith Stein. According to John Vidmar, "The brutality of the retaliation made an enormous impression on Pope Pius XII."[443] Henceforth, he avoided open, confrontational denunciations of the Nazis.[444]

The Nazis retaliated with a series of repressive measures.[445] Deportations of Jews increased—and Catholic converts were included.[445] Among the Catholics in Holland abducted in this way was Saint Edith Stein who died at Auchwitz. Another Dutch Catholic dissident was the Carmelite priest and philosopher, Titus Brandsma.[442] A journalist and a founder of Holland's Catholic University, Brandsma publicly campaigned against Nazism from the mid-1930s. Chosen by the Dutch Bishops as spokesmen in the defence of freedom of the press, he was arrested by the authorities in January 1942. He was later transferred to Dachau, where he was the subject of Nazi medical experiments and was issued with a lethal injection on 26 July 1942.[446]

Following the Nazi occupation of Belgium, the Primate of Belgium Jozef-Ernst Cardinal van Roey wrote a refutation of Nazi racial doctrines and of the incompatibility of Catholicism and Nazism. In a dialogue, Van Roey wrote that Catholics could never adapt to governments which "oppress the rights of conscience and persecute the Catholic Church"; asserted the right to freedom of the press; and said that Catholics ought not resign themselves to defeat and collaboration with the Nazis, because "we are certain that our country will be restored and rise again".[447]

The Church played an important role in the defence of Jews in Belgium.[448] The Comité de Défense des Juifs (CDJ) was formed to work for the defence of Jews in the summer of 1942. Of its eight founding members, Emile Hambresin was Catholic. Some of their rescue operations were overseen by the priests Joseph André and Dom Bruno. Among other institutions, the CDJ enlisted the help of monasteries and religious schools and hospitals. Yvonne Nèvejean of the Oeuvre Nationale de l'Enfance greatly assisted with the hiding of Jewish children.[449] The Queen Mother Elizabeth and Léon Platteau of the Interior Ministry also made a stance to protect Jews.[450] The Belgian Superior General of the Jesuits, Jean-Baptiste Janssens was also honoured as a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem.[451]


Following the capitulation of France, the nation was divided between a military occupation of the north and the nominally independent "Vichy regime" in the south. Valerio Valeri remained nuncio to the divided nation. Marshal Philippe Pétain, the leader of the Vichy government had no religious convictions, but courted Catholic support. His great rival, and leader of the Free French, General Charles de Gaulle was a devout Catholic.[452] De Gaulle's Free French chose the Catholic symbolism of Saint Joan of Arc's standard, the Cross of Lorraine, as their emblem.[453][454]

As elsewhere under Nazi occupation, French clergy faced intimidation and interference. In July 1940, the residence of Cardinal Suhard, Archbishop of Paris, along with those of Cardinal Baudrillart and Cardinal Liénart and other church offices were searched by the Gestapo for "evidence of collusion between the late Cardinal Verdier and the Jews".[455] Verdier had described World War II as "a crusade... We are struggling to preserve the freedom of people throughout the world, whether they be great or small peoples, and to preserve their possessions and their very lives. No other war has had aims that are more spiritual, moral, and, in sum, more Christian".[456] On September 9, the Bishop of Quimper was arrested for opposing Nazi plans for Brittany. The Bishop of Strasbourg was prevented from returning from Vichy France to his dioceses and his Cathedral was closed to the public. The Bishop of Metz was expelled from his diocese—which was itself later dissolved for "political reasons".[455] In October, the Archbishop of Besançon and Vicar General Galen were jailed—the Archbishop for gathering food for French PoWs, and "turning people against Germans".[457]

Vatican Radio denounced the treatment of the Church in predominantly Catholic Alsace-Lorraine. In March 1941, Vatican Radio announced that in Alsace, Catholics were facing "cruel persecution".[457] On April 4, Vatican Radio stated that:[458]

Former Catholic teachers must now give instruction in accordance with National Socialist programs; that membership in Hitler Youth organizations is obligatory for boys and girls over 10; that religious seminaries are being closed, all Catholic organizations are being dissolved, and that Catholic newspapers are being suppressed in Alsace-Lorraine; and that to the end of December of the preceding year, 20,000 persons had been expelled from Alsace, including 60 priests.

— Vatican Radio, 4 April 1941, describing persecution of Church in Alsace

The Catholic newspaper Esprit criticised Petain for his anti-semitic laws, and the paper was suppressed.[459] The French bishops were initially cautious in speaking out against mistreatment of Jews. In 1997, the French church issued a Declaration of Repentance for this approach.[460] Soon after Pacelli became pope, Vichy France put forward antisemitic decrees. Vichy's ambassador to the Vatican, Léon Bérard, reported to his government that having spoken to competent authorities the Holy See had no insurmountable difficulties with this and did not intend to become involved.[461] During the War, Cardinal Tisserant, called on the Vatican to forcefully condemn Nazism by name.[445] Following the Velodrom d'Hiver roundup of Jews of July 15, 1942, the Northern assembly of cardinals and archbishops sent a protest letter to Petain, and following round ups of Jews in Vichy France in 1942, several Bishops—Archboshop Saliège of Toulouse, Bishop Théas of Montauban, Jean Delay (Archbishop) (fr), Cardinal Gerlier (Archbishop of Lyon), Monseigneur Edmund Vansteenberghe from Bayonne and Monseigneur Moussaron of Albi—denounced the roundups from the pulpit and through parish distributions, in defiance of the Vichy regime. Thousands of priests, nuns and lay people acted to assist French Jews, protecting large numbers in convents, boarding schools, presbyteries and families.[462] According to the New York Times, "The defiant attitude of those churchmen after 1942 contributed to the fact that that three-quarters of France's Jewish population survived, many of them protected by French Catholics".[460] French Catholic religious among the Righteous among the Nations include: the Capuchin friar Père Marie-Benoît, Cardinal Gerlier, the Archbishop of Toulouse Jules-Géraud Saliège and Bishop of Montauban Pierre Marie Théas.

Following the 4 June 1944 Liberation of Rome by the Allies, Cardinal Tisserant delivered a letter from De Gaulle to Pius XII, assuring the Pontiff of the filial respect and attachment of the French people, and noting that their long wartime suffering had been attenuated by the Pope's "testimonies of paternal affection". Pius thanked De Gaulle for his recognition of the charity works of the papacy for the victims of the war, and offered an Apostolic blessing upon De Gaulle and his nation.[463] De Gaulle himself came to meet the Pope on 30 June, following which, the French leader wrote of great admiration for Pius, and assessed him to be a pious, compassionate and thoughtful figure, upon whom the problems of world situation weighed heavily.[463] De Gaulle's visit was reported by the Vatican Press in the manner of a head of state, though the Vichy Regime had not yet been toppled.[464] Following the 1944 Liberation of France and fall of the Vichy government, De Gaulle told the Vatican that the Papal Nuncio Valerio Valeri had become persona non grata to the French people, for having worked with the Vichy regime.[465] Valeri was replaced by Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII—however, prior to departing, Valeri was presented with the Legion d'honneur medal by De Gaulle.[466]

Papacy and Nazi Germany

Papacy of Pius XI

The pontificate of Pius XI coincided with the early aftermath of the First World War. The old European monarchies had been largely swept away and a new and precarious order formed across the continent. In the East, the Soviet Union arose. In Italy, the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini took power, while in Germany, the fragile Weimar Republic collapsed with the Nazi seizure of power.[37]


Pope's Pius's major diplomatic approach was to make Concordats. He concluded eighteen such treaties during the course of his pontificate. However, wrote Hebblethwaite, these Concordats did not prove "durable or creditable" and "wholly failed in their aim of safeguarding the institutional rights of the Church" for "Europe was entering a period in which such agreements were were regarded as mere scraps of paper".[467]

In 1929, Pius signed the Lateran Treaty and a concordat with Italy, confirming the existence of an independent Vatican City state, in return for recognition of the Kingdom of Italy and an undertaking for the papacy to be neutral in world conflicts.[37] In Article 24 of the Concordat, the papacy undertook "to remain outside temporal conflicts unless the parties concerned jointly appealed for the pacifying mission of the Holy See".[468]

In 1933, Pius signed the Reich concordat with Germany—hoping to protect the rights of Catholics under the Nazi government.[37] The treaty was an extension of existing concordats already signed with Prussia and Bavaria, but wrote Hebblethwaite, it seemed "more like a surrender than anything else: it involved the suicide of the Centre Party... ".[469] A persecution of the Catholic Church in Germany had followed the Nazi takeover.[90] The Vatican was anxious to conclude the concordat with the new government, despite the ongoing attacks.[113] Nazi breaches of the agreement began almost as soon as it had been signed.[133] From 1933 to 1936 Pius wrote several protests against the Nazi regime, while his attitude to Mussolini's Italy changed dramatically in 1938, after Nazi racial policies were adopted in Italy."[37] Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli (future Pius XII) served as Pius XI's Secretary of State, in which capacity he made some 55 protests against Nazi policies, including its "ideology of race".[414] In England over the period, there was a revival of interest in the notion of Christendom, which it was hoped, would serve as a counter to Fascism and Communism. G. K. Chesterton had written and spoken on the subject and was appointed a Knight of St. Gregory by the Holy See in 1934.[470]


Pius XI watched the rising tide of Totalitarianism with alarm and delivered three papal encyclicals challenging the new creeds: against Italian Fascism Non abbiamo bisogno (1931; 'We do not need (to acquaint you)'); against Nazism "Mit brennender Sorge" (1937; 'With deep concern') and against atheist Communist Divini redemptoris (1937; 'Divine Redeemer'). He also challenged the extremist nationalism of the Action Francaise movement and antisemitism in the United States.[37]

1931's Non abbiamo bisogno condemned Italian fascism's "pagan worship of the State" and "revolution which snatches the young from the Church and from Jesus Christ, and which inculcates in its own young people hatred, violence and irreverence."[471] In 1936, with the Church in Germany facing clear persecution, Italy and Germany agreed the Berlin-Rome Axis.[472] By early 1937, the church hierarchy in Germany, which had initially attempted to co-operate with the new government, had become highly disillusioned.[133] Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber drafted the Holy See's response in January 1937, and in March, Pius XI issued the Mit brennender Sorge encyclical.[473] It accused the Nazi Government of violations of the 1933 Concordat, and further that it was sowing the "tares of suspicion, discord, hatred, calumny, of secret and open fundamental hostility to Christ and His Church". The Pope noted on the horizon the "threatening storm clouds" of religious wars of extermination over Germany.[133] Pius XI commissioned the American Jesuit John La Farge to draft an encyclical demonstrating the incompatibility of Catholicism and racism: Humani generis unitas ("The Unity of the Human Race"). Following the death of Pius XI however, Pius XII did not issue the encyclical. partly fearing it might antagonize Italy and Germany at a time where he hoped to act as an impartial peace broker.[49]

Nazi antisemitism

From the earliest days of the Nazi takeover in Germany, the Vatican was taking diplomatic action to attempt to defend the Jews of Germany. In the spring of 1933, Pope Pius XI urged Mussolini to ask Hitler to restrain the antisemitic actions taking place in Germany.[474] Pius XI asserted to a group of pilgrims that antisemitism is incompatible with Christianity:[475]

"Mark well that in the Catholic Mass, Abraham is our Patriarch and forefather. Antisemitism is incompatible with the lofty thought which that fact expresses. It is a movement with which we Christians can have nothing to do. No, no, I say to you it is impossible for a Christian to take part in antisemitism. It is inadmissible. Through Christ and in Christ we are the spiritual progeny of Abraham. Spiritually, we are all Semites.

— Pope Pius XI, 1933

As the newly installed Nazi Government began to instigate its program of anti-semitism, Pope Pius XI, through Pacelli, ordered the Papal Nuncio in Berlin, Cesare Orsenigo, to "look into whether and how it may be possible to become involved" in their aid. Orsenigo proved a poor instrument in this regard, concerned more with the anti-church policies of the Nazis and how these might effect German Catholics, than with taking action to help German Jews. Cardinal Innitzer called him timid and ineffectual with respect to the worsening situation for German Jewry.[476] Appearing before 250,000 pilgrims at Lourdes in April 1935, Cardinal Pacelli said:[477]

[The Nazis] are in reality only miserable plagiarists who dress up old errors with new tinsel. It does not make any difference whether they flock to the banners of the social revolution, whether they are guided by a false conception of the world and of life, or whether they are possessed by the superstition of a race and blood cult.

— Cardinal Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli, Lourdes, April 1935

In 1936, Nuncio Orsenigo asked Cardinal Secretary of State Pacelli for instructions regarding an invitation from Hitler to attend a Nazi Party meeting in Nuremberg, along with the entire diplomatic corps. Pacelli replied, "The Holy Father thinks it is preferable that your Excellency abstain, taking a few days' vacation." In 1937, Orsenigo was invited along with the diplomatic corps to a reception for Hitler's birthday. Orsenigo again asked the Vatican if he should attend. Pacelli's reply was, "The Holy Father thinks not. Also because of the position of this Embassy, the Holy Father believes it is preferable in the present situation if your Excellency abstains from taking part in manifestations of homage toward the Lord Chancellor." During Hitler's visit to Rome in 1938, Pius XI and Pacelli avoided meeting with him by leaving Rome a month early for the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo. The Vatican was closed, and the priests and religious brothers and sisters left in Rome were told not to participate in the festivities and celebrations surrounding Hitler's Visit. On the Feast of the Holy Cross, Pius XI said from Castel Gandolfo, "It saddens me to think that today in Rome the cross that is worshipped is not the Cross of our Saviour."[478]

Papacy of Pius XII

Main article: Vatican City during World War II
Further information: Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust and Pius XII and the German Resistance

Eugenio Pacelli was elected to succeed Pope Pius XI at the papal conclave of March 1939. Taking the name of his predecessor as a sign of continuity, he became Pius XII.[479] In the lead up to war, he sought to act as a peace broker. As the Holy See had done during the pontificate of Benedict XV (1914–1922) during World War One, the Vatican under, Pius XII (February 1939 – September 1958), pursued a policy of diplomatic neutrality through World War Two—Pius XII, like Benedict XV, described the position as "impartiality", rather than "neutrality."[480] A cautious diplomat, he did not name the Nazis in his wartime condemnations of racism and genocide, but intervened to save the lives of thousands of Jews through sheltering them in church institutions and ordering his church to offer discreet aid. Upon his death in 1958, he was praised by world leaders and Jewish groups for his actions during World War Two, but his not specifically condemning what was later termed the "Nazi Holocaust", has become a matter of controversy.[481]

Pius XII's relations with the Axis and Allied forces may have been impartial, and his policies tinged with uncompromising anti-communism, but early in the war he shared intelligence with the Allies about the German Resistance and planned invasion of the Low Countries and lobbied Mussolini to stay neutral.[482]

With Poland overrun, but France and the Low Countries yet to be attacked, Pius continued to hope for a negotiated peace to prevent the spread of the conflict. The similarly minded US President Franklin D. Roosevelt re-established American diplomatic relations with the Vatican after a seventy-year hiatus by dispatching Myron C. Taylor as his personal representative.[483] Pius warmly welcomed Roosevelt's envoy.[484] Taylor urged Pius XII to explicitly condemn Nazi atrocities. Instead, Pius XII spoke against the "evils of modern warfare", but did not go further.[485] This may have been so for fear of Nazi retaliation experienced previously with the issuance of the encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge in 1937.[486]

Pius allowed national hierarchies to assess and respond to their local situations and utilized Vatican Radio to promote aid to thousands of war refugees, and saved further thousands of lives by instructing the church to provide discreet aid to Jews.[161] To confidantes, Hitler scorned Pius XII as a blackmailer on his back,[487] who constricted his ally Mussolini and leaked confidential German correspondence to the world.[488] For opposition from the Church he vowed "retribution to the last farthing" after the conclusion of the war.[229]

Early pontificate

Nazi opposition to election of Pacelli

The Nazi regime disapproved of Pacelli's election as Pope. Historian of the Holocaust Martin Gilbert wrote: "So outspoken were Pacelli's criticisms that Hitler's regime lobbied against him, trying to prevent his becoming the successor to Pius XI. When he did become Pope, as Pius XII, in March 1939, Nazi Germany was the only government not to send a representative to his coronation."[489] Goebbels noted in his diary on 4 March 1939 that Hitler was considering whether to abrogate the Concordat with Rome in light of Pacelli's election as Pope, adding "This will surely happen when Pacelli undertakes his first hostile act".[490]

Dr. Joseph Lichten wrote: "Pacelli had obviously established his position clearly, for the Fascist governments of both Italy and Germany spoke out vigorously against the possibility of his election to succeed Pius XI in March 1939, though the cardinal secretary of state had served as papal nuncio in Germany from 1917 to 1929."[491] The day after Pacelli's election, the Berlin Morgenpost said: ‘The election of cardinal Pacelli is not accepted with favor in Germany because he was always opposed to Nazism and practically determined the policies of the Vatican under his predecessor.' Der Angriff, the Nazi party organ, warned that Pius' policies would lead to a "crusade against the totalitarian states". According to Karol Jozef Gajewski, Heinrich Himmler's Das Schwarze Korps ('The Black Corps'), house newspaper of the SS, had formerly labelled Pacelli a "co-conspirator with Jews and Communists against Nazism" and decried his election as "the "Chief Rabbi of the Christians, boss of the firm of Judah-Rome."[139]

Early Diplomatic efforts

Pius selected Cardinal Luigi Maglione as his Secretary of State, and retained Domenico Tardini and Giovanni Montini (future Pope Paul VI) as Under-Secretaries of State. According to Hebblethwaite, Maglione was pro-democracy and anti-dictatorship, "detested Hitler and thought Mussolini a clown", but the career-diplomat Pope largely reserved diplomatic matters for himself.[492] The new Pope hoped to stop Hitler's war, and inaugurated his reign with a message of peace to Germany.[493] The day after Hitler and Stalin signed their secret pact, sealing the fate of Poland, Pius delivered a 24 August appeal for peace:[494]

I speak to all of you, leaders of nations, in the name of God... lay aside threats and accusations... It is by force of reason and not by force of arms that justice makes progress. Empires not founded on justice are not blessed by God. Immoral policy is not successful policy.

— Pope Pius XII, 24 August 1939

Hidden encyclical

Some historians have argued that Pacelli, as Cardinal Secretary of State, dissuaded Pope Pius XI—who was nearing death at the time[495]—from condemning Kristallnacht in November 1938,[496] when he was informed of it by the papal nuncio in Berlin.[497] Likewise the prepared encyclical Humani Generis Unitas ("On the Unity of Human Society"), which was ready in September 1938 but, according to the two publishers of the encyclical[498] and other sources, not forwarded to the Vatican by the Jesuit General Wlodimir Ledochowski.[499] On January 28, 1939, eleven days before the death of Pope Pius XI, a disappointed Gundlach informed author La Farge,."It cannot continue like this" The text has not been forwarded to the Vatican. He had talked to the American assistant to Father General, who promised to look into the matter in December 1938, but did not report back.[500] It contained an open and clear condemnation of colonialism, racism and antisemitism.[499][501][502] Some historians have argued that Pacelli learned about its existence only after the death of Pius XI and did not promulgate it as Pope.[503] He did however use parts of it in his inaugural encyclical Summi Pontificatus, which he titled "On the Unity of Human Society."[504]

Outbreak of war: Summi Pontificatus

Pius lobbied world leaders to prevent the outbreak of World War Two, up to the very last day of peace. On 24 August 1939, he made a public broadcast appealing for peace, beseeching: "by the blood of Christ... 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 31 August, the last day before the war, the Pope wrote to the German, Polish, Italian, British and French governments saying that he was unwilling to abandon hope that pending negotiations might lead to "a just pacific solution" and beseeching the Germans and Polish "in the name of God" to avoid "any incident" and for the British, French and Italians to support his appeal. The "pending negotiations" turned out to be a mere Nazi propaganda trick. The following day, Hitler invaded Poland.[505]

Summi Pontificatus ("On the Limitations of the Authority of the State"), issued 20 October 1939, was the first papal encyclical issued by Pope Pius XII, and established some of the themes of his papacy.[506] During the drafting of the letter, the Second World War commenced with the Nazi/Soviet invasion of Catholic Poland. Couched in diplomatic language, Pius endorses Catholic resistance, and states his disapproval of the war, racism, anti-Semitism, the invasion of Poland and the persecutions of the Church.[507] With Italy not yet an ally of Hitler in the war, Italians were called upon to remain faithful to the Church. Pius avoided naming the belligerent allies Hitler and Stalin as the evildoers, establishing the "impartial" public tone which critics have used against him in later assessments of his pontificate: "A full statement of the doctrinal stand to be taken in face of the errors of today, if necessary, can be put off to another time unless there is disturbance by calamitous external events; for the moment We limit Ourselves to some fundamental observations."[508]


The Pope wrote of "anti-Christian movements" bringing forth a crop "poignant disasters" and called for love, mercy and compassion against the "deluge of discord". Following themes addressed in Non abbiamo bisogno (1931); Mit brennender Sorge (1937) and Divini redemptoris (1937), Pius wrote of a need to bring back to the Church those who were following "a false standard... misled by error, passion, temptation and prejudice, [who] have strayed away from faith in the true God".[509] He wrote of "Christians unfortunately more in name than in fact" having showed "cowardice" in the face of persecution by these creeds, and endorsed resistance:[509]

Who among "the Soldiers of Christ"—ecclesiastic or layman—does not feel himself incited and spurred on to a greater vigilance, to a more determined resistance, by the sight of the ever-increasing host of Christ's enemies; as he perceives the spokesmen of these tendencies deny or in practice neglect the vivifying truths and the values inherent in belief in God and in Christ; as he perceives them wantonly break the Tables of God's Commandments to substitute other tables and other standards stripped of the ethical content of the Revelation on Sinai, standards in which the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount and of the Cross has no place?

Summi Pontificatus Section 7 - Pope Pius XII, Oct. 1939


In a further rejection of Nazi ideology, Pius reiterated Catholic opposition to racism and anti-Semitism:

In accordance with these principles of equality, the Church devotes her care to forming cultured native clergy and gradually increasing the number of native Bishops. And in order to give external expression to these, Our intentions, We have chosen the forthcoming Feast of Christ the King to raise to the Episcopal dignity at the Tomb of the Apostles twelve representatives of widely different peoples and races. In the midst of the disruptive contrasts which divide the human family, may this solemn act proclaim to all Our sons, scattered over the world, that the spirit, the teaching and the work of the Church can never be other than that which the Apostle of the Gentiles preached: "putting on the new, (man) him who is renewed unto knowledge, according to the image of him that created him. Where there is neither Gentile nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free. But Christ is all and in all" (Colossians iii. 10, 11).

Summi Pontificatus Section 48 - Pope Pius XII, Oct. 1939.

Invasion of Poland

Pius wrote of a persecuted Church[510] and a time requiring "charity" for victims who had a "right" to compassion. Against the invasion of Poland and killing of civilians he wrote:[507]

The blood of countless human beings, even noncombatants, raises a piteous dirge over a nation such as Our dear Poland, which, for its fidelity to the Church, for its services in the defense of Christian civilization, written in indelible characters in the annals of history, has a right to the generous and brotherly sympathy of the whole world, while it awaits, relying on the powerful intercession of Mary, Help of Christians, the hour of a resurrection in harmony with the principles of justice and true peace.

Summi Pontificatus Section 106 - Pope Pius XII, Oct. 1939

In Poland, the Nazis murdered over 2,500 monks and priests and even more were imprisoned.[246]

Assistance to German Resistance and Allies

With war underway, the focus of Holy See policy became the prevention of Mussolini from bringing Italy into the war.[511] In April 1940, the Italian Foreign Minister, Count Ciano, officially complained to Cardinal Secretary of State Maglione, that so many churches were offering "sermons about peace and peace demonstrations, perhaps inspired by the Vatican", and the Italian Ambassador to the Holy See complained that L'Osservatore Romano was too favourable to the democracies.[512]

With Poland overun but France and the Low Countries yet to be attacked, the German Resistance sought the Pope's assistance in preparations for a coup to oust Hitler. Pius advised the British in 1940 of the readiness of certain German generals to overthrow Hitler if they could be assured of an honourable peace, offered assistance to the German resistance in the event of a coup and warned the Allies of the planned German invasion of the Low Countries in 1940.[269][271][513]

Colonel Hans Oster of the Abwehr sent Munich lawyer and devout Catholic, Josef Müller, on a clandestine trip to Rome to seek Papal assistance in the developing plot.[269] The Pope's Private Secretary, Robert Leiber acted at the intermediary between Pius and the Resistance. He met with Müller, who visited Rome in 1939 and 1940.[514] The Vatican considered Müller to be a representative of Colonel-General Ludwig Beck and agreed to assist mediation.[270][271] Pius, communicating with Britain's Francis d'Arcy Osborne, channelled communications back and forth in secrecy.[270] The Vatican agreed to send a letter outlining the bases for peace with England and the participation of the Pope was used to try to persuade senior German Generals Halder and Brauchitsch to act against Hitler.[269] Hoffmann wrote that, when the Venlo Incident stalled the talks, the British agreed to resume discussions primarily because of the "efforts of the Pope and the respect in which he was held. Chamberlain and Halifax set great store by the Pope's readiness to mediate."[270] Pius, advised Osbourne that a German offensive was planned for February, but that this could be averted if the German generals could be assured of peace with Britain, and not on punitive terms. The British government was non-committal, nevertheless, the resistance were encouraged by the talks, and Müller told Leiber that a coup would occur in February. Pius appeared to continue to hope for a coup in Germany into March 1940.[515]

On 4 May 1940, the Vatican advised the Netherlands envoy to the Vatican that the Germans planned to invade France through the Netherlands and Belgium on May 10.[516] On May 7, Alfred Jodl noted in his diary that the Germans knew the Belgian envoy to the Vatican had been tipped off, and the Fuehrer was greatly agitated by the danger of treachery.[517] Following the Fall of France, peace overtures continued to emanate from the Vatican as well as Sweden and the United States, to which Churchill responded resolutely that Germany would first have to free its conquered territories.[518] In Rome in 1942, US envoy Myron C. Taylor, thanked the Holy See for the "forthright and heroic expressions of indignation made by Pope Pius XII when Germany invaded the Low countries".[519] Müller was arrested in a 1943 raid on the Abwehr and spent the rest of the war in concentration camps, ending up at Dachau.[520] The raid marked a serious blow to the Resistance. Following the arrests, Beck's first order was for an account of the incidents to sent to the Pope. Hans Bernd Gisevius was sent in place of Müller to advise of the developments and met with Fr. Leiber.[514]

Unsuccessfully, Pius attempted to dissuade the Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini from joining Nazi Germany in the war.[513] Following the Fall of France, Pius XII wrote confidentially to Hitler, Churchill and Mussolini proposing to offer to mediate a "just and honourable peace", but asking to receive confidential advice in advance of how such an offer would be received.[521] When, by 1943 the war had turned against the Axis Powers, and Mussolini's Foreign Minister Count Ciano was relieved of his post and sent to the Vatican as ambassador, Hitler suspected that he had been sent to arrange a separate peace with the Allies.[522] On July 25, the Italian King dismissed Mussolini. Hitler's told Jodl to organise for a German force to go to Rome and arrest the Government and restore Mussolini. Asked about the Vatican, Hitler said: "I'll go right into the Vatican. Do you think the Vatican embarrasses me? We'll take that over right away... later we can make apologies". His generals urged caution.[523]

After Mussolini was rescued by the Nazis and installed as leader in Northern Italy, the Vatican feared a Communist takeover, but refused to recognise Mussolini's new regime. As Italy lurched towards civil war, the Vatican urged moderation. At Easter 1944, Italian bishops were directed to "stigmatise every every form of hatred, of vendetta, reprisal and violence, from wherever it comes". 191 priests were killed by fascists and 125 by the Germans, while 109 were killed by partisans. Though some joined pro-fascist bands, the Vatican backed the so-called anti-Fascist 'partisan chaplains' and 'red priests', hoping that they would provide religious guidance to partisans being exposed to Communist propaganda.[524]

Pius XII and the Holocaust

Aid to Jews

At the close of his predecessor's pontificate, Pacelli received word from nuncios of increasing persecution of the Jews in the Third Reich. According to Gordon Thomas, he had already conceived of a strategy to work behind the scenes to help the Jews, because he believed that "any form of denunciation in the name of the Vatican would inevitably provoke further reprisals against the Jews".[525] During his pontificate as Pius XII, Catholic institutions across Europe were opened as shelter for Jews, and the institutions of the Vatican itself were employed in this purpose.[445] Pius allowed the national hierarchies of the Church to assess and respond to their local situation under Nazi rule, but himself established the Vatican Information Service to provide aid to, and information about, war refugees and saved thousands of Jewish lives by directing the church to discreetly provide aid to Jews.[526] According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Pius chose to "use diplomacy to aid the persecuted" and upon his death was "praised effusively by world leaders and especially by Jewish groups for his actions during World War II on behalf of the persecuted".[481] The Israeli historian Pinchas Lapide interviewed war survivors and concluded that Pius XII "was instrumental in saving at least 700,000, but probably as many as 860,000 Jews from certain death at Nazi hands". Deák writes that most historians dispute this estimate[527] while Rabbi David Dalin called Pinchas Lapide's work "the definitive work by a Jewish scholar" on the holocaust.[528]

Prelude to Holocaust

According to Thomas, of the forty-four speeches Pacelli gave as Nuncio, forty denounced aspects of Nazi ideology and, in an open letter to the Bishop of Cologne, Pacelli described Hitler as a "false prophet of Lucifer", while Hitler ordered the Nazi press to refer to Pacelli as a "Jew lover in the Vatican".[529] Following the vicious Kristalnacht pogrom of 1938, the Vatican took steps to find refuge for Jews.[445] L'Osservatore Romano (the Holy See's newspaper) reported that Pacelli (as Vatican Secretary of State) condemned the pogrom.[529] On 30 November, Pacelli issued an encoded message to archbishops around the world, instructing them to apply for visas for "non-Aryan Catholics" for departure from Germany. The Concordat of 1933 had expressly provided for protection of converts to Christianity, but Pacelli intended the visas to be extended to all Jews. According to Thomas, some 200,000 Jews escaped the Third Reich under the scheme.[530]

Between 1939 and 1944, Pius XII supplied passports, money, tickets and letters of recommendation to foreign governments so Jewish refugees could receive visas. Through these actions, another 4,000–6,000 Jews reached safety. On January 2, 1940, the United Jewish Appeal for Refugees and Overseas Needs in Chicago sent the Pope a contribution of $125,000 toward the Vatican's efforts to save "all those persecuted because of religion or race." The papal emigration program helped Jews gain admittance to Brazil. Between 1939 and 1941, 3,000 Jews reached safety in South America. Giovanni Ferrofino is credited with saving 10,000 Jews. Acting on secret orders from Pope Pius XII, Ferrofino obtained visas from the Portuguese Government and the Dominican Republic to secure their escape from Europe and sanctuary in the Americas.[327]

In response to Mussolini's anti-Jewish legislation, Pacelli arranged for Jewish friends and eminent Jewish doctors, scholars and scientists to emigrate safely to Palestine and the Americas. Twenty-three were appointed to positions in Vatican educational institutions.[414][531]

At the outbreak of the war, local bishops were instructed to assist those in need.[445] In his first encyclical, Summi Pontificatus, Pius XII rejected anti-semitism, stating that in the Catholic Church there is "neither Gentile nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision."[414][532] On January 2, 1940, the United Jewish Appeal for Refugees and Overseas Needs in Chicago sent the Pope a contribution of $125,000 toward the Vatican's efforts to save "all those persecuted because of religion or race."

When in 1940, the Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop led the only senior Nazi delegation permitted an audience with Pius XII and asked why the Pope had sided with the Allies, Pius replied with a list of recent Nazi atrocities and religious persecutions committed against Christians and Jews, in Germany, and in Poland, leading the New York Times to headline its report "Jews Rights Defended" and write of "burning words he spoke to Herr Ribbentrop about religious persecution".[414] Cardinal Secretary of State Luigi Maglione received a request from Chief Rabbi of Palestine Isaac Herzog in the Spring of 1940 to intercede on behalf of Lithuanian Jews about to be deported to Germany. Pius called Ribbentrop on March 11, repeatedly protesting against the treatment of Jews.[532]

1942 Christmas radio address

In 1942, Pius XII delivered a Christmas message over Vatican Radio Address which expressed sympathy for the victims of the Nazis' genocidal policies.[533] From May 1942, the Nazis had commenced their industrialized slaughter of the Jews of Europe—the Final Solution.[533] Gypsies and others were also marked for extermination. The Pope addressed the racial persecutions in the following terms:"Humanity owes this vow to those hundreds of thousands who, without any fault on their part, sometimes only because of their nationality or race, have been consigned to death or to a slow decline"[534] [also translated: "marked down for death or gradual extinction"][535] The New York Times called Pius "a lonely voice crying out of the silence of a continent."

The speech was made in the context of the near total domination of Europe by the armies of Nazi Germany at a time were the war had not yet turned in favour of the Allies. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, Pius refused to say more "fearing that public papal denunciations might provoke the Hitler regime to brutalize further those subject to Nazi terror—as it had when Dutch bishops publicly protested earlier in the year—while jeopardizing the future of the church".[526] Holocaust historian, Sir Martin Gilbert, assesses the response of the Reich Security Main Office calling Pius a "mouthpiece" of the Jews in response to his Christmas address, as clear evidence that all sides knew that Pius was one who was raising his voice for the victims of Nazi terror.[536]

Pius protested the deportations of Slovakian Jews to the Bratislava government from 1942. In 1943 he protested that "The Holy See would fail in its Divine Mandate if it did not deplore these measures, which gravely damage man in his natural right, mainly for the reason that these people belong to a certain race."[414]

Nazi occupation of Italy

Following the capitulation of Italy in September 1943, the Nazis occupied Rome. Pius held a secret meeting to plan how to save the Jews of the city and the many Allied PoWs then taking refuge in Rome. Msgr. Angelo Dell'Acqua acted as liaison with relief groups.[538] When news of the 15 October 1943 round-up of Roman Jews reached the Pope, he instructed the Holy See's Secretary of State, Cardinal Maglione to protest to the German Ambassador to "save these innocent people".[414][526]

The Pope then ordered Rome's Catholic institutions to open themselves to the Jews, sheltering 4715 of the 5715 listed for deportation by the Nazis were sheltered in 150 institutions—477 in the Vatican itself. As German round-ups continued in Northern Italy, the Pope opened his summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, to take in thousands of Jews and authorised institutions across the north to do the same.[414]

Assessing Pius' role as a protector of Jews during the war, David Klinghoffer wrote for the Jewish Journal in 2005 that "I'm not sure it's true, as Dalin argues, that Pius saved more Jews than any other Righteous Gentile in World War II. But it seems fairly certain that he was, overall, a strenuous defender of Jews who saved tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands. While 80 percent of European Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, 85 percent of Italian Jews survived, thanks in large part to the Vatican's efforts." In August 1944, Pius met British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who was visiting Rome. During the meeting, and with the war ongoing, the Pope acknowledged the justice of punishing war criminals, but expressed a hope that the people of Italy would not be punished, preferring that they be made "full allies".[539]

Diplomatic activities (1942–1945)

In Croatia, the Vatican used a Benedictine abbot, Giuseppe Marcone, as its Apostolic Visitor—together with Archbishop Aloysius Stepinac of Zagreb—to pressure the Pavlevic regime to cease its facilitation of race murders.[434] In Slovakia, Giuseppe Burzio, the Apostolic Delegate to Bratislava, protested the antisemitism and totalitarianism of the Tiso regime.[353] From 1942 onwards the Vatican protested the deportations of Jews by the Nazi allied Slovakian government.[353]

From 1943, Pius instructed his Bulgarian representative to take "all necessary steps" to support Bulgarian Jews facing deportation and his Turkish nuncio, Angelo Roncalli (later Pope John XXIII) arranged for the transfer of thousands of children out of Bulgaria to Palestine.[414] Roncalli also advised the Pope of Jewish concentration camps in Romanian occupied Transnistria. The Pope protested to the Romanian government and authorised for funds to be sent to the camps.[414] Roncalli saved a number of Croatian, Bulgarian and Hungarian Jews by assisting their migration to Palestine. He succeeded Pius XII as Pope John XXIII, and always said that he had been acting on the orders of Pius XII in his actions to rescue Jews.[540]

In 1944 Pius appealed directly to the Hungarian government to halt the deportation of the Jews of Hungary and his nuncio, Angelo Rotta, led a city-wide rescue scheme in Budapest.[414][445] Rotta been recognised as Righteous among the Nations by Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority. Andrea Cassulo, the papal nuncio to Bucharest and the Ion Antonescu regime has also been honoured as Righteous among the Nations by Yad Vashem. In 1944, the Chief Rabbi of Bucharest praised the work of Cassulo on behalf of Romania's Jews: "the generous assistance of the Holy See… was decisive and salutary. It is not easy for us to find the right words to express the warmth and consolation we experienced because of the concern of the supreme Pontiff, who offered a large sum to relieve the sufferings of deported Jews—sufferings which had been pointed out to him by you after your visit to Transnistria. The Jews of Romania will never forget these facts of historic importance."[415]

Cautious public statements

In public, Pius XII spoke only cautiously in relation to Nazi crimes, though under his leadership, the Church hid hid thousands in its monasteries, convents and even the Vatican itself. According to Hitler biographer John Toland, the church saved more Jews than all other churches and rescue organizations combined.[541] In June 1943, Pope Pius XII told the Sacred College of Cardinals in a secret address that: "Every word We address to the competent authority on this subject, and all Our public utterances have to be carefully weighed and measured by Us in the interests of the victims themselves, lest, contrary to Our intentions, We make their situation worse and harder to bear".[541]

Catholic clergy, religious orders and laity, especially converted Jews, all suffered persecution under the Nazis. Many were deported to concentration camps to face death or privation. Such Nazi brutality made an enormous impression on Pius XII.[542] Dr. Peter Gumpel writes:

The action of the Dutch bishops had important repercussions. Pius XII had already prepared the text of a public protest against the persecution of the Jews. Shortly before this text was sent to L'Osservatore Romano, news reached him of the disastrous consequences of the Dutch bishops' initiative. He concluded that public protests, far from alleviating the fate of the Jews, aggravated their persecution and he decided that he could not take the responsibility of his own intervention having similar and probably even much more serious consequences. Therefore he burnt the text he had prepared. The International Red Cross, the nascent World Council of Churches and other Christian Churches were fully aware of such consequences of vehement public protests and, like Pius XII, they wisely avoided them.[543]

When Myron C. Taylor, US President Franklin Roosevelt's personal representative to the Vatican, urged him to condemn Nazi atrocities—Pius "obliquely referred to the evils of modern warfare", fearing that to go further would provoke Hitler into brutal action, as occurred following the 1942 protest by Dutch Bishops against the deportation of Jews.[161][544]

In Poland, the Nazis murdered over 2,500 monks and priests and even more were imprisoned.[246] In an 30 April 1943 letter to Bishop von Preysing of Berlin, Pius referred to the Nazi retribution in Holland as one reason for muted criticism in his public statements:

"We give to the pastors who are working on the local level the duty of determining if and to what degree the danger of reprisals and of various forms of oppression occasioned by episcopal declarations... ad maiora mala vitanda (to avoid worse)... seem to advise caution. Here lies one of the reasons, why We impose self-restraint on Ourselves in our speeches; the experience, that we made in 1942 with papal addresses, which We authorized to be forwarded to the Believers, justifies our opinion, as far as We see.... The Holy See has done whatever was in its power, with charitable, financial and moral assistance. To say nothing of the substantial sums which we spent in American money for the fares of immigrants."

— Pius XII, letter to Bishop von Presying of Berlin, 1943.[546]

In a conversation with Archbishop Giovanni Battista Montini (later Pope Paul VI), Pius said, "We would like to utter words of fire against such actions; and the only thing restraining Us from speaking is the fear of making the plight of the victims worse"[547]

Another reason proffered for Pius' caution was a perceived need for firm proof that would be sustainable in any diplomatic exchanges or in the court of world opinion; unproven (and demonstrably false accusations) had been made regarding atrocities allegedly committed by German troops during World War I. Furthermore, without being even-handed and condemning Stalin's atrocities against Soviet and Polish citizens, the Pope would be vulnerable to accusations of bias; which could have seriously undermined the influence the Vatican might have in Germany. The Allies were exceedingly anxious to prevent a Papal condemnation of Stalin, which would have hurt the Allied effort.[Note 1] According to Piotrowski, Pius XII also never publicly condemned the Nazi massacre of 1.8–1.9 million mainly Catholic Poles (including 2,935 members of the Catholic Clergy),[549][550] nor did he ever publicly condemn the Soviet Union for the deaths of 1,000,000 mainly Catholic Polish citizens including an untold number of clergy.[551]

In December 1942, when Tittman asked Cardinal Secretary of State Maglione if Pius would issue a proclamation similar to the Allied declaration "German Policy of Extermination of the Jewish Race", Maglione replied that the Vatican was "unable to denounce publicly particular atrocities."[552] However, in his 1942 Christmas address, the Pope proceeded to voice concerns for the "hundreds of thousands who, through no fault of their own, and solely because of their nation or race, have been condemned to death or progressive extinction."

A month later Ribbentrop wrote to Germany's Vatican ambassador: "there are signs that the Vatican is likely to renounce its traditional neutral attitude and take up a political position against Germany. You are to inform him (the Pope) that in that event Germany does not lack physical means of retaliation." The Ambassador reported that Pius indicated that "he did not care what happened to himself, but that a struggle between Church and State could have only one outcome—the defeat of the State. I replied that I was of the contrary opinion... an open battle could bring some very unpleasant surprises for the Church.... Pacelli (Pius XII) is no more sensible to threats than we are. In event of an open breach with us, he now calculates that some German Catholics will leave the Church but he is convinced that the majority will remain true to their Faith. And that the German Catholic clergy will screw up its courage, prepared for the greatest sacrifices."


Assessments of Pius's role during World War Two were initially mostly positive. However, following his death, some authors have subsequently been more critical. The Soviets were keen to discredit Pius in the eyes of the Catholics of the Eastern Bloc they controlled following the Nazi surrender. Some historians have argued the Pope did not "do enough" to prevent the Holocaust. Some commentators have said he was "silent" in the face of the Holocaust. Some commentators have accused the Church and Pius of antisemitism. These accusations are strongly contested. According to ecclesiastical historian William Doino (author of The Pius War: Responses to the Critics of Pius XII), Pius XII was "emphatically not 'silent', and did in fact condemn the Nazis' horrific crimes–through Vatican Radio, his first encyclical, Summi Pontificatus, his major addresses (especially his Christmas allocutions), and the L'Osservatore Romano" and he "intervened, time and time again, for persecuted Jews, particularly during the German occupation of Rome, and was cited and hailed by the Catholic rescuers themselves as their leader and director.[553]

David Kertzer accuses Church of "encouraging centuries of antisemitism", and Pope Pius XII of not doing enough to stop Nazi atrocities. Many scholars dispute Kertzer. Jose Sanchez, of St. Louis University criticized Kertzer's work as polemical and exaggerating the papacy's role in anti-Semitism.[554] Scholar of Jewish-Christian relations Rabbi David G. Dalin criticized Kertzer for using evidence selectively to support his thesis.[555] Ronald J. Rychlak, lawyer and author of Hitler, the War, and the Pope, also decried Kertzer's work for omitting strong evidence that the Church was not anti-Semitic.[556][557] Many others including prominent members of the Jewish community have refuted criticisms and written highly of Pius' efforts to protect Jews.[558]

Among the prominent Jews to praise Pius after the war was Rabbi Isaac Herzog.[559] Other prominent members of the Jewish community have also defended Pius.[558] Lichten, Lapide, and other Jewish historians report that the Catholic Church provided funds totalling in the millions of dollars to assist Jews during World War II.

In 1999, British writer John Cornwell published the highly controversial Hitler's Pope, which charged that Pius had assisted the legitimization of the Nazi regime by agreeing the 1933 Reichskonkordat. The book was critical of Pius' conduct during the war, arguing that he did not "do enough", or "speak out enough", against the Holocaust. Cornwell wrote that Pius' entire career as the nuncio to Germany, cardinal secretary of state, and pope was characterized by a desire to increase and centralize the power of the Papacy, and that he subordinated opposition to the Nazis to that goal. He further argued that Pius was anti-Semitic and that this stance prevented him from caring about the European Jews.[560] The Encyclopedia Britannica assesses Cornwell's depiction of Pius as anti-Semitic and indifferent to the Holocaust as lacking "credible substantiation".[526] Various commentators have subsequently characterized his book as having been "debunked".,[561][562][563][564][565] Cornwell, himself, has since retracted his accusations in substantial part,[562][566][567] saying that it is "impossible to judge the motives" of the Pope.[564][565] but that "Nevertheless, due to his ineffectual and diplomatic language in respect of the Nazis and the Jews, I still believe that it was incumbent on him to explain his failure to speak out after the war. This he never did."[568] Historian John Toland noted: "The Church, under the Pope's guidance... saved the lives of more Jews than all other churches, religious institutions and rescue organizations combined... hiding thousands of Jews in its monasteries, convents and the Vatican itself. The record of the Allies was far more shameful".[569]

In the summer of 1942, Pius explained to his college of Cardinals the reasons for the great gulf that existed between Jews and Christians at the theological level: "Jerusalem has responded to His call and to His grace with the same rigid blindness and stubborn ingratitude that has led it along the path of guilt to the murder of God." Historian Guido Knopp describes these comments of Pius as being "incomprehensible" at a time when "Jerusalem was being murdered by the million".[570]

In 1963, The Deputy, a fictional play by German playwright Rolf Hochhuth contained an unhistorical depiction of the Pope as indifferent to the Nazi genocide. In 1999 the highly controversial Hitler's Pope by John Cornwell, depicted the Pope as an anti-Semite. In the assessment of the Encyclopedia Britannica: "Both depictions, however, lack credible substantiation" and "though Pius's wartime public condemnations of racism and genocide were cloaked in generalities, he did not turn a blind eye to the suffering but chose to use diplomacy to aid the persecuted. It is impossible to know if a more forthright condemnation of the Holocaust would have proved more effective in saving lives, though it probably would have better assured his reputation."[481]

Conversions of Jews to Catholicism

The conversion of Jews to Catholicism during the Holocaust is one of the most controversial aspects of the record of Pope Pius XII during that period. According to Roth and Ritner, "this is a key point because, in debates about Pius XII, his defenders regularly point to denunciations of racism and defense of Jewish converts as evidence of opposition to antisemitism of all sorts.[571] The Holocaust is one of the most acute examples of the "recurrent and acutely painful issue in the Catholic-Jewish dialogue", namely "Christian efforts to convert Jews".[572]

In his study of the rescuers of the Jews, Martin Gilbert noted the heavy involvement of the Christian Churches, and wrote that many of the rescued eventually converted to Christianity, and were absorbed into the faith and a "sense of belonging to the religion of the rescuers. It was the price - the penalty, from a strictly Orthodox Jewish perspective - that was paid hundreds, even thousands, of times for the gift of life."[573]

The Ratlines: Helping Nazis to flee

Following the end of the war, clandestine networks smuggled fugitive Axis officials out of Europe. The USA codenamed the activity the "Ratline". In Rome, the pro-Nazi Austrian bishop, Alois Hudal, was linked to the chain, and the Croatian College offered refuge to Croatian fugitives, guided by Msgr. Krunoslav Draganovic.[574]

During this period, across Eastern Europe, Axis war criminals, including Catholics, were seeking to flee, but a number of non-Nazi Catholic leaders were being arrested as potential sources of dissent in the new Communist regimes being formed. The priest-collaborator Joseph Tiso, former President of the Nazi Puppet State of Slovakia, was hanged as a war criminal - but elsewhere, potential anti-Communist leaders were being being framed by anti-Catholic regimes, as with the anti-Nazi Archbishop József Mindszenty in Hungary, the Zegota Jewish aid council in Poland, and the Croatian Archbishop of Zagreb, Aloysius Stepinac.[575][576]

Bishop Alois Hudal who had been rector of the pan-Germanic college in Rome for the training of German priests was also a member of the Nazi Party and an informant for German Intelligence.[538] Gerald Steinacher wrote that Hudal had enjoyed close personal relations with Pius XII for many years, was an influential figure in the process of escape; and the Vatican Refugee Committees for Croats, Slovenes, Ukrainians and Hungarians aided former fascists and Nazi collaborators to escape those countries.[577]

Rome had been advised that the new Tito regime in Yugoslavia was threatening to destroy Catholicism in Croatia.[578] In this climate, wrote Hebblethwaite, the Church faced the prospect that the risk of handing over the innocent could be "greater than the danger that some of the guilty should escape".[579] Croatian priest Krunoslav Dragonovic aided Croatian Fascists to escape through Rome. Ventresca wrote that there is evidence to suggest that Pius XII gave tacit approval to his work and that, according to reports from the CIC (Counter Intelligence Corps) agent, Robert Mudd, some 100 Ustasa were in hiding at the Saint Jerome seminary hoping to reach Argentina in due course through Vatican channels, and with the full knowledge of the Vatican. Within days of Pius XII's death, in 1958, Vatican officials asked Draganovic to leave the College of St. Jerome from where he had operated since the latter part of the war.[580] According to Peter Hebblethwaite however, Draganovic "was a law unto himself and ran his own show". In 1948, Draganovic brought the Nazi collaborator and wanted war criminal Ante Pavelić to the Collegio Pio Latino Americano disguised him as a priest until Peron invited him to Argentina.[581]

Post war attitudes to Nazi Germany

Since the end of the Second World War, the Catholic Church has moved to honour Catholic resistors and victims of Nazism through canonisation of saints, beatification of the virtuous and recognition of martyrs. The Church has also issued statements of repentance for its failings and the failings of its membership during the Nazi period.

In Germany, the resistor Bishop Joseph Frings of Cologne succeeded the more passive Cardinal Bertram as chairman of the Fulda Bishops' Conference in July 1945.[216] In the immediate aftermath of the war, Pius XII elevated a number of high profile resistors of Nazism to the College of Cardinals in 1946, among them Frings and the German Bishops August von Galen of Munich and Konrad von Preysing of Berlin. From elsewhere in the liberated Nazi Empire Pius selected other resistors: Dutch Archbishop Johannes de Jong; Hungarian Bishop József Mindszenty; Polish Archbishop Adam Stefan Sapieha; and French Archbishop Jules-Géraud Saliège. Italian Papal diplomat Angelo Roncalli (later Pope John XXIII) and Polish Archbishop Stefan Wyszyński were among those elevated in 1953.

Of the post-war popes, the Italians John XXIII and Pope Paul VI had been actively involved in the protection of Jews during the war. Pope Benedict XVI had had first hand experience of life in Nazi Germany. As a boy he had been forced to join the Hitler youth, drafted into the anti-aircraft corps and trained as a child soldier—later to desert, he was briefly held as a POW at the end of the war.[582] In 2008, Benedict offered support to the cause for the Canonization of Pope Pius XII, which, like the legacy of the wartime pontiff, has met with controversy.[583]

Pope John Paul II

[T]heories began to appear which denied the unity of the human race, affirming an original diversity of races. In the 20th century, National Socialism in Germany used these ideas as a pseudo-scientific basis for a distinction between so called Nordic-Aryan races and supposedly inferior races. Furthermore, an extremist form of nationalism was heightened in Germany by the defeat of 1918 and the demanding conditions imposed by the victors, with the consequence that many saw in National Socialism a solution to their country's problems and cooperated politically with this movement. The Church in Germany replied by condemning racism.

— From We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah (1998)

On the roots of the Nazi Holocaust, We Remember said:[588]
The Shoah was the work of a thoroughly modern neo-pagan regime. Its anti-Semitism had its roots outside of Christianity and, in pursuing its aims, it did not hesitate to oppose the Church and persecute her members also.

— From We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah (1998)

But on the question of the response of the church and individual Catholics to the Nazi Holcaust, We Remember acknowledged both success and failure, concluding with a call for penitence:

Those who did help to save Jewish lives as much as was in their power, even to the point of placing their own lives in danger, must not be forgotten. During and after the war, Jewish communities and Jewish leaders expressed their thanks for all that had been done for them, including what Pope Pius XII did personally or through his representatives to save hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives. Many Catholic bishops, priests, religious and laity have been honoured for this reason by the State of Israel. Nevertheless... the spiritual resistance and concrete action of other Christians was not that which might have been expected from Christ's followers. We cannot know how many Christians in countries occupied or ruled by the Nazi powers or their allies were horrified at the disappearance of their Jewish neighbours and yet were not strong enough to raise their voices in protest. For Christians, this heavy burden of conscience of their brothers and sisters during the Second World War must be a call to penitence

— From We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah (1998)

In 2000 Pope John Paul II on behalf of all people, apologized to Jews by inserting a prayer at the Western Wall that read "We're deeply saddened by the behavior of those in the course of history who have caused the children of God to suffer, and asking your forgiveness, we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant."[589] This papal apology, one of many issued by Pope John Paul II for past human and Church failings throughout history, was especially significant because John Paul II emphasized Church guilt for, and the Second Vatican Council's condemnation of, anti-Semitism.[586]

In 2000 the Church acknowledged its use of some forced labour in the Nazi era; Cardinal Karl Lehmann stated, "It should not be concealed that the Catholic Church was blind for too long to the fate and suffering of men, women and children from the whole of Europe who were carted off to Germany as forced laborers".[590]



  1. The Nazi Master Plan: The Persecution of the Christian Churches, Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion, Winter 2001, publishing evidence compiled by the O.S.S. for the Nuremberg war-crimes trials of 1945 and 1946
  2. World fascism: a historical encyclopedia, Volume 1, p. 10, ABC-CLIO, 2006: "There is no doubt that in the long run Nazi leaders such as Hitler and Himmler intended to eradicate Christianity just as ruthlessly as any other rival ideology, even if in the short term they had to be content to make compromises with it."
  3. Mosse, George Lachmann, Nazi culture: intellectual, cultural and social life in the Third Reich, p. 240, Univ of Wisconsin Press, 2003: "Had the Nazis won the war their ecclesiastical policies would have gone beyond those of the German Christians, to the utter destruction of both the Protestant and the Catholic Church."
  4. Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany, p. p 240, Simon and Schuster, 1990: "the Nazi regime intended eventually to destroy Christianity in Germany, if it could, and substitute the old paganism of the early tribal Germanic gods and the new paganism of the Nazi extremists."
  5. Historical Dictionary of the Holocaust , p. 123, Scarecrow Press, 2010: "The objective was to either destroy Christianity and restore the German gods of antiquity or to turn Jesus into an Aryan."
  6. Dill, Marshall, Germany: a modern history , p. 365, University of Michigan Press, 1970: "It seems no exaggeration to insist that the greatest challenge the Nazis had to face was their effort to eradicate Christianity in Germany or at least to subjugate it to their general world outlook."
  7. Wheaton, Eliot Barculo The Nazi revolution, 1933–1935: prelude to calamity:with a background survey of the Weimar era, p. 290, 363, Doubleday 1968: The Nazis sought to "to eradicate Christianity in Germany root and branch."


  • Berben, Paul (1975). Dachau: The Official History 1933–1945. Norfolk Press. ISBN 085211009.
  • Gill, Anton (1994). An Honourable Defeat; A History of the German Resistance to Hitler. Heinemann Mandarin. 1995 paperback ISBN 9780434292761.

External links

  • German Historic Museum: Das Reichskonkordat (German)
  • by Robert.E. Krieg
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