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ROME NOTES: Anti-Judaism in the Hitler Era; Rabbis and Reconciliation

1/23/2004 - 6:00 AM PST

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Vatican Archives Point to a Church Failure in Nazi Germany

By Delia Gallagher

ROME, JAN. 22, 2004 (Zenit) - The Vatican seems to be recognizing that "anti-Judaism" played a part in the Church's stance in the early years of Hitler's rise in Germany.

Documents from the Vatican's Secret Archives are revealed for the first time in the journal La CiviltÓ Cattolica, in an article entitled, "Anti-Semitic Legislation in Germany and the Holy See," written by Jesuit Father Giovanni Sale. Articles in the journal are reviewed by the Vatican Secretariat of State before publication.

The article reveals important correspondence between the Holy See, the papal nuncio in Germany and others regarding Hitler's 1933 implementation of discriminatory laws, which forbade Jews from working and limited the number who could be enrolled in school or university.

It also contains portions of telegrams sent by American and Austrian rabbis pleading with Pius XI to condemn the actions. The article says that Pius XI was not unmoved, but that the Vatican wished to first attempt diplomacy via the German bishops.

The article goes on to say, however, that the German bishops' denouncement was "very timid and generic."

While accepting that the German prelates were in a difficult position given their desire to prevent any escalation of anti-Catholicism, the article poses the question: "Why the silence of the representatives of the German bishops in matters of racial discrimination?"

Part of the answer to that, claims CiviltÓ Cattolica, is what the bishops called "anti-Judaism," a discrimination not based on race (anti-Semitism) but of a "popular religious or ideological character."

While singling out by name the German bishops who "were probably imbued with an anti-Judaic spirit," the article contends "there were many -- even among men of the Church -- who considered discriminatory legislation against the Jews in not such a negative way."

"In fact, they viewed positively," the article continues, "the fact that the new authoritarian government [of Hitler] had limited by law the 'superpower' of the Jews in some activities of vital importance for the nation. Weighing in on such behavior was also a certain traditional anti-Judaism on which European Christian communities had fed for centuries."

Yet, when Hitler's government began to act violently against the Jews themselves, the Church defended them, the article says.

"If for the ecclesiastical authorities a certain discrimination at the social and economic level could be tolerated, it could no longer be the case when the discrimination touched the human person in his fundamental rights, since this was in open violation of Christian morality and natural law," the CiviltÓ Cattolica article says.

The article names other reasons for the Holy See's "caution in dealing with the problem of German Jews." Primary was the desire to not be seen as meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign country and an initial hope that Nazism, "not yet a well-defined political doctrine," would be a bulwark against Bolshevism.

When, however, the Holy See realized that Nazism was "a fundamentally anti-Christian movement," Pius XI and the Vatican "raised its voice to solemnly condemn the nationalist and racist doctrine," using various means including the encyclical "Mit Brennender Sorge"; the refusal to meet Hitler in Rome; and the Syllabus Against Racism, a 1938 pastor letter.

This CiviltÓ Cattolica article comes shortly after another by Father Martin Rhonheimer, a Swiss professor of theology at Rome's Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, "The Holocaust: What Was Not Said" (First Things, November 2003) which calls upon the Vatican to re-examine its role during the early years of Hitler's regime.

Father Rhonheimer claims that a citing of "Mit Brennender Sorge" and the Syllabus Against Racism as examples of the Church's defense of the Jews is not enough.

"This defense of the Church," writes Father Rhonheimer, "fails to account for a number of important facts." He continues:

"It ignores the existence of a specifically modern anti-Semitism, shared in varying degrees by Catholics. Nourished by traditional Christian anti-Judaism, it had social, political and economic aspects as well. In its Catholic form it was rooted in the Church's political and social anti-modernism, especially its opposition to liberalism and all its works.

"For German Catholics this resulted in openness to 'volkisch' and racist ideas that blurred the boundaries with Nazi ideology. Finally, there was the Catholic openness to an authoritarian state, which allowed people to think, at the start of Hitler's rule, that the Nazi state might be an acceptable alternative to liberal democracy and a bulwark ...

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