Catholic Church and Nazi Germany

Popes Pius XI (1922–39) and Pius XII (1939–58) led the Roman Catholic Church through the rise and fall of Nazi Germany. Around a third of Germans were Catholic in the 1930s. The Church in Germany had spoken against the rise of Nazism, but the Catholic aligned Centre Party capitulated in 1933 and was banned. In the various 1933 elections the percentage of Catholics voting for the Nazis party was remarkably lower than the average.[1] Nazi key ideologue Alfred Rosenberg was banned on the index of the Inquisition, presided by later pope Pius XII. Adolf Hitler and several key Nazis had been raised Catholic, but became hostile to the Church in adulthood. While Article 24 of the NSDAP party platform called for conditional toleration of Christian denominations and the 1933 Reichskonkordat treaty with the Vatican purported to guarantee religious freedom for Catholics, the Nazis were essentially hostile to Christianity and the Catholic Church faced persecution in Nazi Germany. Its press, schools and youth organisations were closed, much property confiscated, and around one third of its clergy faced reprisals from authorities. Catholic lay leaders were targeted in the Night of the Long Knives purge. The Church hierarchy attempted to co-operate with the new government, but in 1937, the Papal Encyclical Mit brennender Sorge accused the government of "fundamental hostility" to the church.

Catholics of the Nazi era

Among the most courageous demonstrations of opposition inside Germany were the 1941 sermons of Bishop August von Galen of Münster. Nevertheless, wrote Alan Bullock "[n]either the Catholic Church nor the Evangelical Church... as institutions, felt it possible to take up an attitude of open opposition to the regime".[2] In every country under German occupation, priests played a major part in rescuing Jews, but Catholic resistance to mistreatment of Jews in Germany was generally limited to fragmented and largely individual efforts. 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 Germans, adherence to the Christian faith proved compatible with at least passive acquiescence in, if not active support for, the Nazi dictatorship".[3]

Catholics fought on both sides in the Second World War. Hitler's invasion of predominantly Catholic Poland ignited the conflict in 1939. Here, especially in the areas of Poland annexed to the Reich—as in other annexed regions of Slovenia and Austria—Nazi persecution of the church was intense. Many clergy were targeted for extermination. Through his links to the German Resistance, Pope Pius XII warned the Allies of the planned Nazi invasion of the Low Countries in 1940. From that year, the Nazis gathered priest-dissidents in a dedicated clergy barracks at Dachau, where 95 percent of its 2,720 inmates were Catholic (mostly Poles, and 411 Germans) and 1,034 priests died there. Expropriation of church properties surged from 1941.

The Vatican, surrounded by Fascist Italy, was officially neutral during the war, but used diplomacy to aid victims and lobby for peace. Vatican Radio and other media spoke out against atrocities while Nazi antisemitism embraced modern pseudo-scientific racial principles, ancient antipathies between Christianity and Judaism contributed to European anti-Semitism. During the Nazi era, the Church rescued many thousands of Jews by issuing false documents, lobbying Axis officials, hiding them in monasteries, convents, schools and elsewhere; including in the Vatican and papal residence at Castel Gandolfo. The Pope's role during this period is contested. The Reich Security Main Office called Pius XII a "mouthpiece" of the Jews. His first encyclical, Summi Pontificatus, called the invasion of Poland an "hour of darkness", his 1942 Christmas address denounced race murders and his Mystici corporis Christi encyclical (1943) denounced the murder of the handicapped.[4]


In the 1930s, Catholics constituted a third of the population of Germany 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. Though hostility between the Nazi Party and the Catholic Church was real, the Nazi Party first developed in largely Catholic Munich, where many Catholics, lay and clerical, offered enthusiastic support.[5] This early [minority] affinity lessened after 1923. By 1925, Nazism had embarked on a different path following its reconstitution in 1920 taking a decidedly anti-Catholic-anti-Christian identity.[6] In early 1931, the German Bishops issued an edict excommunicating all Nazi leadership and banned Catholics from membership. The ban was conditionally modified in the spring of 1933 under pressure to address State law requiring all Civil Servants and Trade Union workers be members of the Nazi Party while retaining condemnation of core Nazi ideology.[7] In early 1933, following Nazi successes in the 1932 elections, lay Catholic monarchist Franz von Papen, and acting Chancellor and Presidential advisor, General Kurt von Schleicher, assisted Adolf Hitler's appointment as Reich Chancellor by President Paul von Hindenburg. In March, amidst the intimidating atmosphere of Nazi terror tactics and negotiation[8] following the Reichstag Fire Decree,[9] the lay Catholic Centre Party, (led by prelate Ludwig Kaas), on condition demand of a written commitment the President's veto power be retained,[10] the allied BNVP and the monarchists DNVP voted for the Enabling Act. The Center Party's attitude had become crucial since the act could not be passed by the Nazi and DNVP coalition alone. It marked the transition in Adolf Hitler's reign from democratic to dictatorial power.[11] By June 1933 the only institutions not under Nazi domination were the military and the churches.[12] The Reichskonkordat treaty of July 1933, signed between Germany and the Holy See, pledged to respect the autonomy of the Catholic Church but required clerics to refrain from politics. Hitler welcomed the treaty, though he routinely violated it in the Nazi struggle with the churches.[13] When president Hindenberg died in August 1934, the Nazis claimed jurisdiction over all levels of government and a referendum confirmed Hitler as sole Führer (leader) of Germany. A Nazi program known as Gleichschaltung sought control of all collective and social activity and interfered with Catholic schooling, youth groups, workers and cultural groups. The 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.

Hitler's ideologues Goebbels, Himmler, Rosenberg and Bormann hoped to de-Christianize Germany, or at least distort its theology to their point of view.[14][15] The government moved to close all Catholic institutions which were not strictly religious. Catholic schools were shut by 1939, the Catholic press by 1941.[16][17] Clergy, religious women and men, 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".[18] Germany's senior cleric, Cardinal Bertram, developed an ineffectual protest system, leaving broader Catholic resistance to individual conscience. By 1937 the church hierarchy, which initially sought dètente, was highly disillusioned. Pius XI issued the Mit brennender Sorge encyclical. It condemned racism, accused the Nazis of violations of the Concordat and "fundamental hostility" to the church.[18] The state responded by renewing its crackdown and propaganda against Catholics.[16] Despite violence against Catholic Poland, some German priests offered prayers for the German cause at the outbreak of war. Nevertheless, security chief Reinhard Heydrich soon orchestrated an intensification of restrictions on church activities. Expropriation of monasteries, convents and church properties surged from 1941. Bishop Clemens von Galens's ensuing 1941 denunciation of Nazi euthanasia and defence of human rights roused rare popular dissent. The German bishops denounced Nazi policy towards the church in pastoral letters, calling it "unjust oppression".[19][20]

Pius XII, former nuncio to Germany, became Pope on the eve of war. His legacy is contested. As Vatican Secretary of State, he advocated Détente via the Reich Concordat, hoping it would build trust and respect within Hitler's government, and assisted in drafting the anti-Nazi Mit brennender Sorge. 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. Controversy surrounding his reluctance to speak publicly in explicit terms about Nazi crimes continues.[21] He used diplomacy to aid war victims, lobbied for peace, shared intelligence with the Allies, and employed Vatican Radio and other media 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.[22] 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, hiding them in monasteries, convents, schools and elsewhere; including the Vatican and Castel Gandolfo.

In regions of Poland, Slovenia and Austria annexed by Nazi Germany, Nazi persecution of the Church was at its harshest. In Germany and its conquests, Catholic responses to Nazism varied. The papal nuncio in Berlin, Cesare Orsenigo, was timid in protesting Nazi crimes and had sympathies with Italian Fascism. German priests in general were closely watched and often denounced, imprisoned or executed, such as German priest-philosopher, Alfred Delp. From 1940, the Nazis gathered priest-dissidents in dedicated clergy barracks at Dachau, where 95 percent of its 2,720 inmates were Catholic (mostly Poles, and 411 Germans) and 1034 died there. In Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany, the Nazis attempted to eradicate the church and over 1800 Polish Catholic clergy died in concentration camps; most notably, Saint Maximilian Kolbe. Influential members of the German Resistance included Jesuits of the Kreisau Circle and laymen such as July plotters Klaus von Stauffenberg, Jakob Kaiser and Bernhard Letterhaus, whose faith inspired resistance.[23] Elsewhere, vigorous resistance from bishops such as Johannes de Jong and Jules-Géraud Saliège, papal diplomats such as Angelo Rotta, and nuns such as Margit Slachta, can be contrasted with the apathy of others and the outright collaboration of Catholic politicians such as Slovakia's Msgr Jozef Tiso and fanatical Croat nationalists. From within the Vatican, Msgr Hugh O'Flaherty coordinated the rescue of thousands of Allied POWs, and civilians, including Jews. A rogue Austrian bishop, Alois Hudal, of the college for German priests in Rome, was an informant for Nazi intelligence. After the war, he and Msgr Krunoslav Draganovic of the Croatian College assisted the so-called "ratlines" facilitating fugitive Nazis to flee Europe.


Church background

Roman Catholicism in Germany dates back to the missionary work of Columbanus and St. Boniface in the 6th–8th centuries, but by the 20th century, Catholics were a minority. 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.[24] Bismarck's Kulturkampf ("Battle for Culture") of 1871–78 saw an attempt to assert a Protestant vision of nationalism over the new German Empire, and fused anticlericalism and suspicion of the Catholic population, whose loyalty was presumed to lie with Austria and France. The Catholic 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".[25] By the late 1870s, it was clear that the Kulturkampf was largely a failure, and many of its edicts were undone.[26]

The Catholic 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 six archbishops and 19 bishops while German Catholics comprised around one-third of the population, served by 20,000 priests.[27] The revolution of 1918 and the Weimar Constitution of 1919 had thoroughly reformed the former relationship between state and churches.[26] By law, Germany's Protestant and Catholic churches 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.[26]

Political Catholicism in Germany

The Catholic Centre Party (Zentrum) was a social and political force in predominantly Protestant Germany. It assisted the framing of the Weimar constitution at the end of World War I and participated in various Coalition governments of the Weimar Republic (1919–33/34).[28] It aligned with both Social Democrats and the leftist German Democratic Party, while maintaining the centre ground against the rise of extremist parties both left and right.[26][29] Historically, the Centre Party had the strength to defy Bismarck's Kulturkampf and was a bulwark of the Republic. Yet, according to Bullock, from summer 1932, the Party became "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".[30][31] It remained relatively moderate during the radicalisation of German politics with the onset of the Great Depression, but party deputies voted—with most other parties—for the Enabling Act of March 1933, offering Hitler plenary powers.[28]

In the 1920s and 1930s, Catholic leaders made a number of forthright attacks on Nazi ideology, and the main Christian opposition to Nazism in Germany arose from the Catholic Church.[26] Prior to Hitler's rise, German bishops warned Catholics against Nazi racism. Some dioceses banned membership in the Nazi Party.[32] and Catholic press condemned Nazism.[32] 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.[33]

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.[34] In early 1931, the Cologne Bishops Conference condemned National Socialism, followed by the bishops of Paderborn and Freiburg. With ongoing hostility toward the Nazis by Catholic press and Centre Party, few Catholics voted Nazi in elections preceding the Nazi takeover in 1933.[35] As in other German churches, there were some clergy and laypeople who openly supported the Nazi administration.[29]

Five Centre Party politicians served as Chancellor of Weimar Germany: Konstantin Fehrenbach, Joseph Wirth, Wilhelm Marx, Heinrich Brüning, and Franz von Papen.[28] With Germany facing the Great Depression, Brüning was appointed chancellor by Hindenburg and was foreign minister shortly before Hitler came to power. Brüning was appointed to form a new, more conservative ministry on March 28, 1930, but did not have a Reichstag majority. On July 16, unable to have key points of his agenda pass parliament, Brüning used Article 48 of the Constitution governing by presidential emergency decree and dissolving the Reichstag on 18 July. New elections were set for 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. He resigned in May of that year.[36] According to Ventresca, Vatican Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli was always 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 a betrayal of Catholic political tradition and his leadership.[37]

Catholic opposition to Communism

Karl Marx's writings against religion pitted Communist movements against the Catholic Church. The church denounced Communism in May 1891 with Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum novarum. The church feared 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.[38] Seminaries were closed and teaching the faith to the young was criminalized. In 1922, the Bolsheviks arrested the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.[38]

In 1919, Communists, initially led by the moderate Kurt Eisner, briefly attained power in Bavaria. The revolt was seized by the radical Eugen Leviné by force to establish the Bavarian Socialist Republic. This drew reaction across Germany to Bavaria from the right; ranging, moderate to radical. This brief but violent experiment in Munich radicalized anti-Marxist and anti-Semitic sentiment among some in Munich's largely Catholic population. In this atmosphere, the Nazi movement first emerged.[39] Hitler and the Nazis were able to garner some modicum of support. Some German Christians thought he would be a bulwark against Communism.[38] While serving as Apostolic Nuncio to Bavaria, Eugenio Pacelli (later 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 distrust of Communism.[40] According to historian Derek Hastings many Catholics felt threatened by the possibilities of radical socialism driven, they perceived, by a cabal of Jews and atheists.[41] Robert Ventresca wrote, "After witnessing the turmoil in Munich, Pacelli reserved his harshest criticism for Kurt Eisner." Pacelli saw Eisner as an atheist, radical Socialist, with ties to Russian nihilists as embodying the revolution in Bavaria; "What is more, Pacelli told his superiors, Eisner was a Galician Jew. A threat to Bavaria's religious, political, and social life".[42] 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.[41] Pius XI saw the rising tide of Totalitarianism in Europe with alarm. He delivered papal encyclicals challenging the new creeds, including Divini redemptoris ("Divine Redeemer") against atheistic Communism in 1937.[43]

Nazi views on Catholicism

Nazi ideology could not accept an autonomous establishment whose legitimacy did not spring from the government. It desired the subordination of the church to the state.[44] While the Article 24 of the NSDAP party platform called for conditional toleration of Christian denominations and a Reichskonkordat (Reich Concordat) treaty with the Vatican was signed in 1933, purporting to guarantee religious freedom for Catholics, Hitler believed religion was fundamentally incompatible with National Socialism."[45][46] Out of political expediency, the dictator intended to postpone the elimination of the Christian churches until after the war.[47] However, his repeated hostile statements against the church indicated to his subordinates that continuation of the Kirchenkampf (church struggle) would be tolerated and even encouraged.[48]

Many Nazis suspected Catholics of insufficient patriotism, or even of disloyalty to the Fatherland, and of serving the interests of "sinister alien forces".[49] Shirer wrote that "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."[50] Anti-church and anti-clerical sentiments were strong among grassroots party activists.[51]


Raised a Catholic, Hitler retained some regard for the organisational power of the Catholic 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] Hitler was aware Bismarck's kulturkampf of the 1870s was defeated by the unity of Catholics behind the Centre Party and was convinced Nazism could only succeed if Political Catholicism, and its democratic networks, were eliminated.[33][53][54] Important conservative elements, such as the officer corps, opposed Nazi persecution of the churches.[55][56]

Because of such political considerations, Hitler occasionally spoke of wanting to delay the church struggle and was prepared to restrain his anticlericalism. But, his own inflammatory remarks to his inner circle encouraged underlings to continue their battle with the churches.[51] He declared that science would destroy the last vestiges of superstition and that, in the long run, Nazism and religion could not co-exist. Germany couldn't tolerate intervention of foreign influences like the Vatican; and priests, he said, were "black bugs" and "abortions in black cassocks".[57]

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.


Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda, was among the most aggressive anti-Church radicals and saw the conflict with the churches as a priority concern.[51] Born to a Catholic family, he became one of the government's most relentless Jew-baiters.[58] 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".[51] He led the persecution of Catholic clergy.[51]

Himmler and Heydrich

Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich headed the Nazi security forces and were key architects of the Final Solution. Both believed 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 the residue of inherited racial characteristics, biologically sourced to Jewry—who must, therefore, be exterminated.[59] According to Himmler biographer Peter Longerich, Himmler was vehemently opposed to Christian sexual morality and the "principle of Christian mercy", both of which he saw as a dangerous obstacle to his plans to battle with "subhumans".[60] In 1937 he wrote:[61]

We live in an era of the ultimate conflict with Christianity. It is part of the mission of the SS to give the German people in the next half-century the non-Christian ideological foundations on which to lead and shape their lives. This task does not consist solely in overcoming an ideological opponent but must be accompanied at every step by a positive impetus: in this case, that means the reconstruction of the German heritage in the widest and most comprehensive sense.

Heinrich Himmler, 1937

Himmler saw the main task of his Schutzstaffel (SS) organisation to be that of "acting as the vanguard in overcoming Christianity and restoring a 'Germanic' way of living" in order to prepare for the coming conflict between "humans and subhumans":[60] Longerich wrote that, while the Nazi movement as a whole launched itself against Jews and Communists, "by linking de-Christianisation with re-Germanization, Himmler had provided the SS with a goal and purpose all of its own."[60] He set about making his SS the focus of a "cult of the Teutons".[62]


Hitler's chosen deputy and private secretary from 1941, Martin Bormann, was a militant anti-Church radical.[51] He had a particular loathing for the Semitic origins of Christianity.[63] He was one of the leading proponents of the ongoing persecution of the Christian churches.[64] When the Bishop of Munster led the public protest against Nazi euthanasia, Bormann called for him to be hanged.[65] Strongly anti-Christian, he stated publicly in 1941 that "National Socialism and Christianity are irreconcilable."[50]


In January 1934, Hitler appointed Alfred Rosenberg the cultural and educational leader of the Reich. Rosenberg was a neo-pagan and notoriously anti-Catholic.[50][67] Rosenberg was initially the editor of the young Nazi Party's newspaper, the Volkischer Beobachter.[68] In 1924, Hitler chose Rosenberg to oversee the Nazi movement while he was in prison (this may have been because he was unsuitable for the task and unlikely to emerge a rival).[69] In "Myth of the Twentieth Century" (1930), Rosenberg described the Catholic Church as one of the main enemies of Nazism.[70] Rosenberg proposed to replace traditional Christianity with the neo-pagan "myth of the blood":[71] He wrote: "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 remodelled " in The Myth of the 20th Century in 1930.

Church officials were perturbed by Hitler's appointment of Rosenberg as the state's official philosopher. The indication being, Hitler was endorsing his anti-Jewish, anti-Christian, and neo-pagan philosophy. The Vatican directed the Holy Office to place Rosenberg's Myth of the Twentieth Century on the Index of Forbidden books on February 7, 1934.[72] Joachim Fest wrote of Rosenberg having little, or no, political influence in making government decisions, and thoroughly marginalized.[73] Hitler called his book "derivative, pastiche, illogical rubbish!"[74]


Following the failure of the pro-Nazi Ludwig Müller to unite Protestants behind the Nazi Party in 1933, Hitler appointed his friend Hans Kerrl Minister for Church Affairs in 1935. A relative moderate among Nazis, Kerrl confirmed Nazi hostility to the Catholic and Protestant creeds in a 1937 address during an intense phase of the Nazi Kirchenkampf:[75]

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 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

Catholicism in Nazi Germany

Nazis take power

After World War I, Hitler became involved with the fledgling Nazi Party. He set the violent tone of the movement early, forming the Sturmabteilung (SA) paramilitary.[76] Catholic Bavaria resented rule from Protestant Berlin, and Hitler initially saw the revolution in Bavaria as a means to power, but an early attempt proved fruitless. He was imprisoned after the 1923 Munich Beerhall Putsch. He used the time to produce Mein Kampf, in which he claimed that an effeminate Jewish-Christian ethic was enfeebling Europe, and Germany needed a man of iron to restore itself to build an empire.[77] He decided on the tactic of pursuing power through "legal" means.[78]

Following the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the Nazis and Communists made great gains at the 1930 Election. Greatest gains for the Nazis came in the Protestant, rural towns of the North, while Catholic areas remained loyal to the Centre Party.[79] Both Nazis and Communists pledged to eliminate democracy; between them, they secured over 50 percent of Reichstag seats.[80] Germany's political system made it difficult for chancellors to govern with a stable parliamentary majority. Successive chancellors instead relied on the president's emergency powers to govern.[81] From 1931–33, 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.[78] A middle class liberal party strong enough to block the Nazis did not exist: the Social Democrats were essentially a conservative trade union party, with ineffectual leadership; the Centre Party maintained its voting block, but was preoccupied defending its own particular interests; and the Communists, meanwhile, were engaging in violent clashes with Nazis on the streets. Moscow had directed the Communist Party to prioritise destruction of the Social Democrats, seeing more danger in them as a rival. But it was the German Right who made Hitler their partner in a coalition government.[82]

This coalition did not come about immediately: the Centre Party's Heinrich Brüning, Chancellor from 1930–32, was unable to reach terms with Hitler, and increasingly governed with the support of the President and Army over that of the parliament.[83] With the backing of Kurt von Schleicher and Hitler's stated approval, the 84-year-old President von Hindenberg, a conservative monarchist, appointed the Catholic monarchist Franz von Papen to replace Brüning as Chancellor in June 1932.[84][85] Papen was active in the resurgence of the Harzburg Front,[86] and had fallen out with the Centre Party.[87] He hoped, ultimately, to outmaneuver Hitler.[88]

At the July 1932 elections, the Nazis became the largest party in the Reichstag. Hitler withdrew his support for Papen and demanded the chancellorship. Hindenberg refused. In return, the Nazis approached the Centre Party to sound out a coalition but no agreement was reached.[89] Papen dissolved Parliament, and the Nazi vote declined in the November Election.[90] Hindenberg appointed Schleicher as chancellor,[91] whereupon the aggrieved Papen opened negotiations with Hitler, and came to an agreement.[92] 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 Cabinets, falsely believing he could "tame" Hitler.[85] Initially, Papen did speak out against some Nazi excesses and only narrowly escaped death in the Night of the Long Knives, where after he ceased to openly criticize the Hitler government. German Catholics met the Nazi takeover with apprehension, as leading clergy had been warning against Nazism for years.[93] A threatening though at first sporadic persecution of the Catholic Church in Germany commenced.[94]

Enabling Law

Following the Reichstag fire, the Nazis began to suspend civil liberties and eliminate political opposition, excluding the Communists from the Reichstag. At the March 1933 elections, again no single party secured a majority. Hitler required the Reichstag votes of the Centre Party and Conservatives. 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 plenary powers.[95] Employing a characteristic mix of negotiation and intimidation, 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.[96] The law was to give Hitler the freedom to act without parliamentary consent or constitutional limitations.[97]

Hitler offered the possibility of friendly co-operation, promising not to threaten the Reichstag, the President, the states, or the churches if granted emergency powers. With Nazi paramilitary encircling the building, he said: "It is for you, gentlemen of the Reichstag to decide between war and peace".[96] Hitler offered Kaas oral guarantees of the Centre Party's continued existence, autonomy of the Church, her educational and cultural institutions. Kaas was aware of the doubtful nature of such guarantees, but told members to support the bill, given the "precarious state of the party". A number opposed the chairman's course, among them 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. 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).[31] 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".[97] Hitler immediately set about abolishing the powers of the states, the existence of non-Nazi political parties and organisations.[98] The Act, allowed Hitler and his Cabinet to rule by emergency decree for four years, though Hindenberg remained President.[99] 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.[100][101]

Through the winter/spring of 1933 Hitler ordered the wholesale dismissal of Catholic civil servants,[102] The leader of the Catholic Trade Unions was beaten by Brownshirts and a Catholic politician sought protection after S.A. troopers wounded a number of followers at a rally.[103] In this threatening atmosphere, Hitler called for a reorganization of church and state relations of both Catholic and Protestant churches. By June, thousands of Centre Party members were incarcerated in concentration camps. Two thousand functionaries of the Bavarian People's Party were rounded up by police in late June 1933; along with the Centre Party it ceased to exist by early July.[104][105] Lacking public ecclesial support, the Center Party voluntary dissolved on July 5.[106] Non-Nazi parties were formally outlawed on 14 July, and the Reichstag abdicated its democratic responsibilities.[98]


Diplomatic policy under Pius XI saw the Catholic Church conclude eighteen concordats, starting in the 1920s. The aim of the church was to safeguard its institutional rights. Historians note the treaties were unsuccessful since, "Europe was entering a period in which such agreements were regarded as mere scraps of paper".[107] The Reich concordat (Reichskonkordat) was signed on July 20, 1933 and ratified in September of that year. The treaty remains in force to the present day.[108][109] It was an extension of existing concordats with Prussia and Bavaria, first realized via the diplomacy of nuncio Eugenio Pacelli with a state level concordat with Bavaria (1924).[108] Peter Hebblethwaite wrote, it was "more like a surrender than anything else: it involved the suicide of the Centre Party ...".[107] Signed by President Hindenburg and Vice Chancellor Papen, it was a realization of a long-standing program of the Catholic Church to secure a nationwide Concordat, dating back to the first year of the Weimar Republic. Breaches of the treaty by the state commenced almost immediately. The church continually protested throughout the Nazi era and preserved diplomatic ties with the Government of Nazi Germany.

Between 1930-33, the church initiated negotiations with successive German governments with limited success while a federal treaty proved elusive.[110] Catholic politicians of the Centre Party repeatedly pushed for a concordat with the German Republic.[111] In February 1930, Pacelli became the Vatican's Secretary of State responsible for the Church's global foreign policy. In this position, he continued to work towards the 'great goal' of securing a treaty with Germany.[110][112] 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 Nazis against the Church and its organisations".[113] Biographer of Pius XII, Robert Ventresca, wrote, "because of increasing harassment of Catholics and Catholic clergy, Pacelli sought a quick ratification of a treaty, 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 to end 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 select bishops.[115] The non-Nazi Vice Chancellor Papen was chosen by the new government to negotiate with the Vatican.[105] The bishops announced on April 6 negotiations toward a concordat would begin in Rome.[116] On April 10, Francis Stratmann O.P., 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, 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), restricting religious institutions, education, and mandating attendance at Hitler Youth functions (held on Sunday mornings).

On April 8 Vice Chancellor Von Papen, went to Rome. On behalf of Cardinal Pacelli, Ludwig Kaas, the out-going chairman of the Centre Party, negotiated a draft with Papen. Kaas 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. The concordat prolonged Kaas' stay in Rome, leaving the party without a chairman. On 5 May Kaas resigned his post. In his place, the party elected Heinrich Brüning. Congruently, the Centre party was subjected to increasing pressure under the Nazi campaign of Gleichschaltung. The bishops saw a draft May 30, 1933 as they assembled for a joint meeting of the Fulda bishops conference, led by Breslau's Cardinal Bertram. And, the Bavarian bishops' conference, led by its president, Munich's Michael von Faulhaber. Bishop's Wilhelm Berning of Osnabrück, and Archbishop Conrad Grober of Freiburg presented the document to the bishops.[118] Weeks of escalating anti-Catholic violence preceded the conference. Many Catholic bishops feared for the safety of the church if Hitler's demands were not met.[119] The strongest critics of the concordat were Cologne's Cardinal Karl Schulte and Eichstätt's Bishop Konrad von Preysing. They pointed out the Enabling Act established a quasi dictatorship, while the church lacked legal recourse if Hitler decided to disregard the concordat.[118] 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. After all the other parties had dissolved, or banned by the NSDAP, the Centre Party dissolved itself on 6 July.

On 14 July 1933, the Weimar government accepted the Reichskonkordat. It was signed by Pacelli for the Vatican and von Papen for Germany, 20 July; subsequently, President Hindenburg signed, and it was ratified in September. Article 16 required bishops to make an oath of loyalty to the state. Article 31 acknowledged 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 gave Hitler what he was seeking: exclusion of clergy and members of religious orders from politics. Yet, it was a gratuitous, according to Guenter Lewy's interpretation. In theory, Lewy reasons, members of the clergy could join or remain in the NSDAP without transgressing church discipline. "An ordinance of the Holy See forbidding priests to be members of a political party was never issued." states Lewy. The Nazis state allowed such membership reasoning, "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][121] The day after, the government issued a law banning the founding of new political parties, thus turning Germany into a one party state.

Effects of the concordat

Most historians state it offered international acceptance of Adolf Hitler's government.[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 government 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.

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

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".[106] 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.[123] According to John Jay Hughes, church leaders were realistic about the Concordat's supposed protections.[124] 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 he would probably not violate all its provisions at once.[124] 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".[125] In 1942, Hitler stated 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 for "military reasons connected with the war": At the war's end we will put a swift end to the Concordat.[126] 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,[127][128]

Persecution of German Catholics

A threatening, initially sporadic, persecution of the Catholic Church in Germany followed the Nazi takeover.[94] The Nazis claimed jurisdiction over all collective and social activity, interfering with Catholic schooling, youth groups, workers' clubs and cultural societies.[17] "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 vast majority of Germans were either Catholic or Protestant this goal was a long-term rather than short-term Nazi objective".[129] Hitler moved quickly to eliminate Political Catholicism. The Nazis arrested thousands of members of the German Centre Party.[32] The Catholic Bavarian People's Party government had been overthrown in Bavaria by a Nazi coup on 9 March 1933.[30] Two thousand functionaries of the Party were rounded up by police in late June. The national Centre Party, dissolved themselves in early July. The dissolution of the Centre Party left modern Germany without a Catholic Party for the first time[30] and the Reich Concordat prohibited clergy from participating in politics.[105] 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 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".[130] Anton Gill wrote that "with his usual irresistible, bullying technique, Hitler proceeded to "take a mile where he had been given an inch" and closed all Catholic institutions whose functions weren't strictly religious:[131]

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

Immediately prior to the signing of the Concordat, the Nazis had promulgated the 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.[132] 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 adviser 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.[133][134][135] William Shirer wrote that the German people were not greatly aroused by the persecution of the churches by the Nazi Government. The 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 Nazis intended to destroy Christianity in Germany, and substitute old paganism of tribal Germanic gods and the new paganism of the Nazi extremists."[50] Anti-Nazi sentiment grew in Catholic circles as the Nazi government increased its repressive measures against their activities.[29]

Targeting of clergy

Clergy as well as members of male and female religious orders 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".[132] Priests were watched closely and frequently denounced, arrested and sent to concentration camps.[136] From 1940, a dedicated Clergy Barracks had been established at Dachau concentration camp.[137] Intimidation of clergy was widespread and 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.[138] 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 Hitler. Such dissidents were arrested and sent to concentration camps.[139] In the 1936 campaign against the monasteries and convents, the authorities charged 276 members of religious orders with the offence of "homosexuality".[140] 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."[141] Winston Churchill wrote disapprovingly in the British press of Germany's treatment of "the Jews, Protestants and Catholics of Germany".[142]

Since senior clerics could rely on a degree of popular support from the faithful the German government had to consider the possibility of nationwide protests.[143] While hundreds of ordinary priests and members of monastic orders were sent to concentration camps throughout the Nazi period, only one German Catholic bishop was briefly imprisoned in a concentration camp and another expelled from his diocese.[144] From 1940, the Gestapo launched an intense persecution of the monasteries invading, searching and seizing 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.[145][146] Figures like Galen and Preysing attempted to protect German priests from arrest.[147][148][149]

Suppression of Catholic press

The flourishing Catholic press of Germany faced censorship and closure. In March 1941, Goebbels banned all church press, on the pretext of a "paper shortage".[150] 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 terrorized. The June – July 1934 Night of the Long Knives purge was the culmination of this early campaign.[151] Fritz Gerlich, the editor of Munich's Catholic weekly, Der Gerade Weg, was killed in the purge for his strident criticism of the Nazis.[152] 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.[153] Hundreds of arrests and closure of Catholic presses followed the issuing of Pope Pius XI's Mit brennender Sorge anti-Nazi encyclical.[154] 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 a newspaper was shut down. He was arrested in the July Plot round up, and executed on 23 January 1945.[155][156]

Suppression of Catholic education

Catholic schools were a major battleground in the church struggle. In 1933, the Nazi school superintendent of Munster issued a decree religious instruction be combined with discussion of the "demoralising power" of the "people of Israel", Bishop Clemens von Galen of Münster refused, writing that such interference in curriculum was a breach of the Concordat and 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.[157] Often Galen directly protested to Hitler over violations of the Concordat. In 1936, Nazis removed crucifixes in school. Protest by Galen led to public demonstration.[158] 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.[159] Church kindergartens were closed 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".[141] In 1937, authorities in Upper Bavaria attempted to replace Catholic schools with "common schools". Cardinal Faulhaber offered fierce resistance.[160] By 1939 all Catholic denominational schools had been disbanded or converted to public facilities.[16]

"War on the Church"

After constant confrontations, by late 1935, Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen of Münster was urging a joint pastoral letter protesting an "underground war" against the church.[157] By early 1937, the church hierarchy in Germany, which had initially attempted to co-operate with the new government, became highly disillusioned. In March, Pope Pius XI issued the Mit brennender Sorge encyclical - accusing the Nazi Government of violations of the 1933 Concordat, and it was sowing the "tares of suspicion, discord, hatred, calumny, of secret and open fundamental hostility to Christ and His Church".[132] The Nazis responded with an intensification of the church struggle beginning around April.[51] Goebbels noted heightened verbal attacks on the clergy from Hitler in his diary and wrote that Hitler had approved the trumped up "immorality trials" against clergy and anti-church propaganda campaign. Goebbels' orchestrated attack included a staged "morality trial" of 37 Franciscans.[51] At the outbreak of World War II, 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.[161] No denunciations of the invasion of Poland, nor the Blitzkrieg were issued.[162] The Catholic bishops stated, "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."[161] 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, 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 and presses were closed.[163]

With the expansion of the war in the East from 1941 came an expansion of Germany's attack on the churches. Monasteries and convents were targeted and expropriation of church properties surged. Nazi authorities claimed 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 a common cause given for the confiscations, and the action of a single member of a monastery could result in seizure. The Jesuits were especially targeted.[164] 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.[165] Nazi authorities decreed the dissolution of all monasteries and abbeys, 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 ended by a decree of Hitler, who feared the increasing protests by the Catholic population might result in passive rebellions, harming the Nazi war effort at the eastern front.[166] Over 300 monasteries and other institutions were expropriated by the SS.[167] On 22 March 1942, the German Bishops issued a pastoral letter on "The Struggle against Christianity and the Church".[19] The letter launched a defense of human rights, 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.[20]

Long-term plans

In January 1934, Hitler had appointed neo-pagan and anti-Catholic Alfred Rosenberg as the cultural and educational leader of the Reich.[50][67] In 1934, the Sanctum Officium in Rome recommended that Rosenberg's book be put on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum for scorning and rejecting "all dogmas of the Catholic Church, indeed the very fundamentals of the Christian religion".[168] 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.[50]

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 Nationalist Generalissimo Francisco Franco, established a longstanding Fascist dictatorship which restored some privileges to the Church.[169] 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".[170] 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."[171] 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."[172]

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".[173] As Nuncio, Cesare Orsenigo arranged for Cardinal Faulhaber to have a private meeting with Hitler.[172] On November 4, 1936, Hitler met Faulhaber. Hitler spoke for the first hour, then Faulhaber told him 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 rose to 1700. The government instituted laws the Church could not accept—like the sterilization of criminals and the handicapped. Faulhaber stated, "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".[173] Hitler told Faulhaber religion was critical for the state, his goal was to protect the German people from congenitally afflicted criminals such as now wreak havoc in Spain. Faulhaber replied the Church would "not refuse the state the right to keep these pests away from the national community within the framework of moral law."[174] Hitler argued 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.[173] Kershaw cites the meeting as an example of Hitler's ability to "pull the wool over the eyes even of hardened critics", "Faulhaber—a man of sharp acumen, who often courageously criticized the Nazi attacks on the Catholic Church, went away convinced Hitler was deeply religious".[175] On November 18, Faulhaber met with leading members of the German hierarchy 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 communism had moved to the head of the list of "errors" and a clear statement was needed.[174] On November 25 Faulhaber told the Bavarian bishops that he promised Hitler the bishops would issue pastoral letter to condemned "Bolshevism which represents the greatest danger for the peace of Europe and the Christian civilization of our country".[174] He stated, the letter "will once again affirm our loyalty and positive attitude, demanded by the Fourth Commandment, toward today's form of government and the Fuhrer. "[176]

On December 24, 1936 the hierarchy ordered its priests to read the pastoral letter, On the Defense against Bolshevism, from all the 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 work. The Fuhrer 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 materialized. 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. A series of encyclicals followed: Bona Sana (1920), Miserentissimus Redemtor (1928), Caritate Christi Compusli (1932)and most importantly Divini redemptoris (1937). All of which condemned communism.[177]

Catholic opposition to Nazism inside Germany: 1933–1945

Catholic resistance

The 1933 Concordat between Germany and the Vatican prohibited clergy from participating in politics, weakening the opposition offered by German Catholic leaders.[178] Still, the clergy were among the first major components of the German Resistance. "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."[179] Later, the most trenchant public criticism of the Nazis came from some of Germany's religious leaders. The government was reluctant to move against them since they could claim to merely attend 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 became resistors. Their resistance was directed not only against intrusions by the government into church governance, arrests of clergy, and expropriation of church property, but also, matters like euthanasia and eugenics, the fundamentals of human rights and justice as the foundation of a political system.[180]

Neither the Catholic or Protestant churches were prepared to openly oppose the Nazi State. 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 classrooms.[181] The churches did provide the earliest and most enduring centres of systematic opposition to Nazi policies. 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.[182] Institutionally, the Catholic Church in Germany offered organised, systematic and consistent resistance to government policies which infringed on ecclesiastical autonomy.[183] In his history of the German Resistance, Hoffmann writes, from the beginning:[184]

[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 encyclical Mit brennender Sorge ... of 14 March 1937, read from all German Catholic pulpits. Clemens August Graf von Galen, Bishop of Münster, 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
Early political resistance

Political Catholicism was a target of the Hitler government. The formerly influential Centre Party and Bavarian People's Party were dissolved under terrorisation. Following "Hitler's seizure of power", opposition politicians began planning how he might be overthrown. Old political opponents faced a final opportunity to halt the Nazification of Germany, however non-Nazi parties were prohibited under the proclamation of the "Unity of Party and State".[186] Former Centre Party leader and Reich Chancellor Heinrich Brüning looked to oust Hitler, along with military chiefs Kurt von Schleicher and Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord.[133] Erich Klausener, an influential civil servant and president of Berlin's Catholic Action group organised Catholic conventions in Berlin in 1933-34. 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.[187] 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.[133][188] 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.[189] 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, centered on Hindenberg, Papen and the army.[190]

Hitler decided to kill his chief political opponents in the Night of the Long Knives purge. It lasted two days over 30 June-1 July 1934.[191] His leading rivals in the Nazi movement were murdered, along with over 100 opposition figures, including high-profile Catholics. Klausener became the first Catholic martyr, while Hitler personally ordered the arrest of Jung and his transfer to Gestapo headquarters, Berlin where he too was killed.[192] The Church had resisted attempts by the new Government to close its youth organisations and Adalbert Probst, the national director of the Catholic Youth Sports Association, was also killed.[135][135] The Catholic press was targeted too, with anti-Nazi journalist Fritz Gerlich among those murdered.[152] 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.[193]

Clerical resistors

Historian 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" to satisfy the demands of other bishops, without annoying the authorities.[178] Firmer resistance by Catholic leaders gradually reasserted itself by the individual actions of leading churchmen like Joseph Frings, Konrad von Preysing, Clemens August Graf von Galen, Conrad Gröber and Michael von Faulhaber.[194][195][196] According to Fest, the government 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".[178]

The Nazis never felt strong enough to arrest or execute senior office holders of the Catholic Church in Germany. Thus bishops were able to criticize aspects of Nazi totalitarianism. Lesser 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.[181] 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.[197] 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 honored with beatification. While hundreds of ordinary priests and members of monastic orders were sent to concentration camps, just one German Catholic bishop was briefly imprisoned in a concentration camp, and just one other expelled from his diocese.[198] This reflected also the cautious approach adopted by the hierarchy, who felt secure only in commenting on matters which transgressed on the ecclesiastical sphere.[199] 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".[200]

Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber gained an early reputation as a critic of the Nazi movement.[201] 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.[63] 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.[202] 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 defense of Catholics he "refused to compromise or retreat".[203] 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".[173] 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.[63] 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. He was loathed by Hitler.[204] 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 Pius XI, and sought to block the Nazi closure of Catholic schools and arrests of church officials.[205][206] 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.[206] His Advent Pastoral Letters of 1942–43 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.[205] Despite Preysing's open opposition, the Nazis did not dare arrest him and several months after the war he was named a cardinal by Pope Pius XII.[206]

The Bishop of Münster, Clemens August Graf von Galen was Preysing's cousin. A conservative nationalist, in January 1934 he criticized Nazi racial policy in a sermon and subsequent homilies. He equated unquestioning loyalty to the Reich with "slavery" and spoke against Hitler's theory of the purity of German blood.[158] 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.[158] In 1941, with the Wehrmacht marching on Moscow, denounced the lawlessness of the Gestapo, the confiscations of church properties and the cruel program of Nazi euthanasia.[147][148] 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. But, his sermons went further than defending the church. He spoke of a moral danger to Germany from the government's violations of basic human rights: "the right to life, to inviolability, and to freedom is an indispensable parts of any moral social order". He said any government that punishes without court proceedings "undermines its own authority and respect for its sovereignty within the conscience of its citizens".[207] 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.[148] Hitler wanted to have Galen removed, but Goebbels told him this would result in the loss of the loyalty of Westphalia.[148] Documents suggest the Nazis intended to hang von Galen at the end of the war.[29] Von Galen was among the German conservatives who had criticized 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 administration[147] According to Griech-Polelle, he believed the Dolchstosslegende explained the German army's defeat in 1918.[208] Hamerow characterized 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 Hitler government, 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 some of its overzealous followers committed" in order to strengthen the government.[209] Josef Frings became Archbishop of Cologne in 1942. 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.[210] 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".[32] 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.[210]


The Final Solution murdering of the Jews took place primarily on Polish territory. 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 Münster, Clemens August Graf von Galen and Dr Theophil Wurm, the Protestant Bishop of Wurttemberg—were able to rouse widespread public opposition.[211] From 1939, Germany began its program of "euthanasia", under which those deemed "racially unfit" were to be "euthanised".[212] The senile, the mentally handicapped and mentally ill, epileptics, cripples, children with Down's Syndrome and people with similar afflictions were to be killed.[148] The program involved the systematic murder of more than 70,000 people.[212] The program deeply offended Catholic morality. Protests were issued by Pope Pius XII, and were led in Germany by Bishop von Galen of Münster, 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."[213]

The Papacy and German bishops previously protested against the Eugenics inspired 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" and warned officials to halt the program or face public protest from the Church. Wienken subsequently wavered, fearing this 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".[214]

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 criticized the euthanasia programme. The police raided his sister's convent, and detained her in the cellar. She escaped, and Galen launched his most audacious challenge on the government in a 3 August sermon. He declared the murders to be illegal, and said he formally accused those responsible 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.[215] Galen said it was the duty of all Christians to oppose the taking of human life. Even it meant losing their own.[216] Galen spoke of a moral danger to Germany from the government's violations of basic human rights.[207] "The sensation created by the sermons", wrote Evans, "was enormous".[217] Kershaw called the sermons a "vigorous denunciation of Nazi inhumanity and barbarism".[181] Gill wrote: "Galen used his condemnation of this appalling policy to draw wider conclusions about the nature of the Nazi state".[148] The sermons were printed and distributed illegally.[148] 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.[213]

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.[213] Bishop von Preysing's Cathedral Administrator, Fr Bernhard Lichtenberg met his demise for protesting by letter directly to Dr Conti, the Nazi State Medical Director. He was arrested soon after and later died en route to Dachau.[218] 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 government, wrote Griech-Polelle, and was himself not interrogated or arrested by state authorities after delivering the 1941 sermons.[219] The speeches angered Hitler. In a 1942 Table Talk he 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".[220] Hitler wanted to have Galen removed, but Goebbels told him this would result in the loss of the loyalty of Westphalia.[148] 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.[221] With the programme now public knowledge, nurses and staff (particularly in Catholics institutions), increasingly sought to obstruct implementation of the policy.[222] Under pressure from growing protests, Hitler halted the main euthanasia program on 24 August 1941, though less systematic murder of the handicapped continued.[223] The techniques learnt on the Nazi euthanasisa program were later transferred for use in the genocide of the Holocaust.[224] In 1943, Pius XII 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 defenseless mentally handicapped, incurably infirm and fatally wounded, innocent hostages, and disarmed prisoners of war and criminal offenders, people of a foreign race or descent".[22]

Mit brennender Sorge

By early 1937, the church hierarchy in Germany, which had initially attempted to co-operate with the new government, became highly disillusioned. In March, Pius XI issued the encyclical Mit brennender Sorge ("With burning concern"). Smuggled into Germany to avoid censorship it was read from the pulpits of all German Catholic churches on Palm Sunday 1937.[225] It condemned Nazi ideology and accused the Nazi government of violating the 1933 Concordat and promoting "suspicion, discord, hatred, calumny, of secret and open fundamental hostility to Christ and His Church".[132] Although there is some difference of opinion as to its impact, it is generally recognized as the "first ... official public document to criticize Nazism".[226] Bokenkotter describes it as "one of the greatest such condemnations ever issued by the Vatican."[227] 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 Goebbels increased anti-Catholic propaganda, including a show trial of 170 Franciscans at Koblenz.[35] The "infuriated" Nazis increased their persecution of Catholics and the Church. Gerald Fogarty asserts, "in the end, the encyclical had little positive effect, and if anything only exacerbated the crisis."[228]

According to Frank J. Coppa the Nazis saw the encyclical as "a call to battle against the Reich". Hitler was furious and "vowed revenge against the Church".[229] Thomas Bokenkotter writes, "the Nazis were infuriated. In retaliation they closed and sealed all the presses that printed it. They took numerous vindictive measures against the Church, including staging a long series of immorality trials of the Catholic clergy."[227] The German police confiscated as many copies as they could, and the Gestapo confiscated twelve printing presses.[138] According to Owen Chadwick,[230] John Vidmar, and other scholars, Nazi reprisals against the Church in Germany followed thereafter, including "staged prosecutions of monks for homosexuality, with the maximum of publicity".[231] Shirer reports that "during 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'."[232]

Priests of Dachau

In an effort to counter the influence of spiritual resistance, Nazi security services monitored Catholic clergy closely. They instructed agents be placed in every diocese, the bishops' reports to the Vatican obtained and the bishops' areas of activity be found out. A "vast network" was established to monitor the activities of ordinary clergy: Nazi security agents wrote that "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".[233] Priests were watched closely,frequently denounced, arrested and sent to concentration camps. Often, simply on the basis of being "suspected of activities hostile to the State". Or, there was reason to "suppose that his dealings might harm society".[136]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.[234][235] Of a total of 2,720 clergy recorded as imprisoned at Dachau, some 2,579 (or 94.88%) were Catholic. A total of 1,034 clergy were recorded 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, 336 sent out on "invalid trainloads" and therefore presumed dead.[235] 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.[235] Germans constituted the next largest group . 411 German Catholic priests, of whom, 94 died in the camp. 100 were "transferred or liquidated".[181][235] The French accounted for 153 Catholic clerics. Among who, 10 died at the camp.[235] Other Catholic priests were sent from Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, Yugoslavia, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Hungary and Rumania. From outside the Nazi Empire, two British and one Spaniard were incarcerated at Dachau, as well as one "stateless" priest.[235]

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".[236] Despite SS hostility to religious observance, the Vatican and German bishops successfully lobbied the government 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.[237] Conditions varied for prisoners in the camp. The Nazis introduced a racial hierarchy—keeping Poles in harsh conditions, while favouring German priests.[238] 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 misdemeanor, beaten to death or worked to exhaustion.[239] Religious activity outside the chapel was totally forbidden,[240] and priests would secretly take confessions and distribute the Eucharist among other prisoners.[241]

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.[242] 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 the liberation of the camp.[243] 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.[244]

The Clergy Barracks of Dachau : Statistics by main Nationalities[235]

NationalityTotal numberTotal CatholicTotal ReleasedTotal TransferredTotal Liberated 29 April 1945Total 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

The German Resistance to Hitler comprised various small opposition groups and individuals, at different stages, to plot, or attempted, the overthrow of Hitler. They were motivated by such factors as the mistreatment of Jews, harassment of the churches, and the harsh actions of Himmler and the Gestapo.[246] 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. Neither the Catholic nor Protestent churches as institutions were prepared to shift themselves to open opposition to the state.[247] Yet, Wolf cites events such as the July Plot of 1944 having been "inconceivable without the spiritual support of church resistance".[248] For many of the committed Catholics in the German Resistance—including the Jesuit Provincial of Bavaria, Augustin Rösch, the Catholic trade unionists Jakob Kaiser, 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".[249] In the winter of 1939/40, with Poland overrun, but France and Low Countries yet to be attacked, early German military Resistance sought the Pope's assistance in preparations for a coup. Colonel Hans Oster of the Abwehr sent lawyer and devout Catholic, Josef Müller, on a clandestine trip to Rome to seek Papal assistance in the plot.[250] The Vatican considered Müller to be a representative of Colonel-General Ludwig Beck and agreed to offer the machinery for mediation.[251][252] Pius, communicating with Britain's Francis d'Arcy Osborne, channelled communications in secrecy.[251] The British government was non-committal. Hitler's swift victories over France Low Countries deflated the will of the German military to resist. Müller was arrested in first raid on Military Intelligence in 1943. He spent the rest of the war in concentration camps, ending up at Dachau.[253] Pius retained his contact with the German Resistance and continued to lobby for peace.

Old guard 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".[255] 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.[145][146] A younger group, dubbed the "Kreisau Circle" by the Gestapo, did not look to German imperialism for inspiration.[255] Though multi-denominational, it had a strongly Christian orientation, and looked for a general Christian revival, and reawakening of awareness of the transcendental. Its outlook was rooted both in German romantic and idealist tradition and in the Catholic doctrine of natural law.[256] It had around twenty core members.[257] Among the central membership of the Circle were the Jesuit Fathers Augustin Rösch, Alfred Delp and Lothar König.[258] Bishop von Preysing also had contact with the group.[259] 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".[260] Rösch and Delp also explored the possibilities for common ground between Christian and socialist trade unions.[260] Lothar König became an important intermediary between the Circle and bishops Conrad Grober of Freiberg and Presying of Berlin.[261] The Kreisau group combined conservative notions of reform with socialist strains of though. A symbiosis expressed by Delp's notion of "personal socialism".[262] 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.[263] 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.[264] The Circle pressed for a coup against Hitler, but being unarmed, was dependent on persuading military figures to take action.[255]

Christian worker's 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.[265]

Smaller groups were heavily influenced by Christian morality. The White Rose student resistance group were partly inspired by Clemens August von Galen's anti-euthanasia homilies, as were the Lübeck martyrs.[266][267][268] 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.[269] The leaders of the group were caught and executed in 1943.[270] 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 Nazis, and the four priests spoke publicly against the Nazis; initially, discreetly distributing pamphlets to friends and congregants.[271] They distributed information from British radio and from leaflets with the sermons of Bishop von Galen.[267][272] They were arrested in 1942 and executed.[271] 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 Nazis. It met at either Frau Solf or Elizabeth von Thadden's home.[273] They were all arrested in 1944, and some executed.[274]

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 the key to the entire resistance flowed from Hitler's evil and the "Christian duty" to combat it.[275] The leader of the plot, Catholic nobleman Claus Von Stauffenberg, initially looked favourably on the arrival of the Nazis in power, but came to oppose them because of their persecution of the Jews and oppression of the church.[276] 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.[277] 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.[276][278] The planned Cabinet which was to replace the Nazi government 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.[279] 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.[131] The "Declaration of Government" that was to be broadcast following the coup on 20 July 1944 appealed unambiguously to Christian sensibilities:[280] 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 "detestation of Nazism was overwhelming within the Catholic Church" it did not preclude church leaders approving of areas of government policy, 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 fell on uncertain grounds", and opposition was generally left to fragmented and largely individual efforts.[281] According to Shirer, the Catholic hierarchy in Germany first tried to co-operate with the Nazi Government, but by 1937 had become highly disillusioned. The Vatican therefore issued Mit brennender Sorge outlining Nazi transgressions.[232] Few ordinary Germans, wrote Shirer, paused to reflect on the Nazis' intention to destroy Christianity in Germany.[50]

According to Dr Harry Schnitker, Kevin Spicer's Hitler's Priests found around 0.5% of German priests (138 of 42,000—including Austrian) might be considered Nazis. One such priest was Karl Eschweiler, an opponent of the Weimar Republic, was suspended from priestly duties by Cardinal Pacelli (the future Pius XII) for writing Nazi pamphlets in support of eugenics.[282] 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.[283] Bertram was the leading advocate of accommodation as well as the leader of the German church, a combination that reined in other would-be opponents of Nazism.[283]

In 1943, Grober expressed the opinion bishops should remain loyal to the "beloved folk and Fatherland", despite abuses of the Reichskonkordat.[283] Yet, Gröber was among those in the hierarchy in Germany who came to articulate and support resistance to the Nazis.[194] He protested the religious persecution of Catholics in Germany.[284] 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).[285] Luckner used funds received from the archbishop to help Jews.[285][286] After the war, Gröber said he was such an opponent of the Nazis they planned to crucify him on the door for the Freiburg Cathedral.[287] Mary Fulbrook wrote that when politics encroached on the church, Catholics were prepared to resist, but the record was otherwise patchy and uneven with notable exceptions, "it seems that, for many Germans, adherence to the Christian faith proved compatible with at least passive acquiescence in, if not active support for, the Nazi dictatorship".[288]

Hamerow characterised the resistance approach of senior Catholic clergy like August von Galen of Münster as "trying to influence the Third Reich from within". While some clergymen refused ever to feign support for the government 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 some of its overzealous followers committed" in order to strengthen the government.[209] Griech-Polelle wrote Galen had argued that good Catholics could support a government whose aim was to destroy a 'Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy[208] 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 government.[249]

Second World War

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.[43]


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 regarded as mere scraps of paper".[107] 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.[43] 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".[289]

In 1933, Pius signed the Reich concordat with Germany—hoping to protect the rights of Catholics under the Nazi government.[43] 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 ...".[107] A persecution of the Catholic Church in Germany had followed the Nazi takeover.[94] 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.[132] From 1933 to 1936 Pius wrote several protests against the Nazis, while his attitude to Mussolini's Italy changed dramatically in 1938, after Nazi racial policies were adopted in Italy."[43] 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".[290] 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.[289]


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.[43] 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."[291] In 1936, with the Church in Germany facing clear persecution, Italy and Germany agreed the Berlin-Rome Axis.[292] By early 1937, the church hierarchy in Germany, which had initially attempted to co-operate with the new government, had become highly disillusioned.[132] Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber drafted the Holy See's response in January 1937, and in March, Pius XI issued the Mit brennender Sorge encyclical.[292] 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.[132] Pius XI commissioned the American Jesuit John Lafarge to prepare a draft for an encyclical, Humani generis unitas ("The Unity of the Human Race"), demonstrating the incompatibility of Catholicism and racism. However, Pius XI did not issue the proposed encyclical before his death, nor did his successor Pius XII, partly fearing it might antagonize Italy and Germany at a time where he hoped to act as an impartial peace broker.[293]

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.[294] Pius XI asserted to a group of pilgrims that antisemitism is incompatible with Christianity:[295]

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.[296] Appearing before 250,000 pilgrims at Lourdes in April 1935, Cardinal Pacelli said:[297]

[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."[298]

Papacy of Pius XII

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.[299] 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 I, the Vatican under, Pius XII (February 1939 – September 1958), pursued a policy of diplomatic neutrality through World War II—Pius XII, like Benedict XV, described the position as "impartiality", rather than "neutrality."[300] 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 II, but his not specifically condemning what was later termed the "Nazi Holocaust", has become a matter of controversy.[301]

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.[302]

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.[303] Pius warmly welcomed Roosevelt's envoy.[304] Taylor urged Pius XII to explicitly condemn Nazi atrocities. Instead, Pius XII spoke against the "evils of modern warfare", but did not go further.[305] This may have been so for fear of Nazi retaliation experienced previously with the issuance of the encyclical Mit brennender Sorge in 1937.[306]

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.[159] To confidantes, Hitler scorned Pius XII as a blackmailer on his back,[307] who constricted his ally Mussolini and leaked confidential German correspondence to the world.[308] For opposition from the Church he vowed "retribution to the last farthing" after the conclusion of the war.[220]

Early pontificate

Nazi opposition to election of Pacelli

The Nazi authorities disapproved of Pacelli's election as Pope. Historian of the Holocaust Martin Gilbert wrote: "So outspoken were Pacelli's criticisms that Hitler's government 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."[309] 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".[310]

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."[311] 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."[138]

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.[312] The new Pope hoped to stop Hitler's war, and inaugurated his reign with a message of peace to Germany, and the day after Hitler and Stalin signed their secret pact, sealing the fate of Poland, Pius delivered a 24 August appeal for peace:[313]

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[314]—from condemning Kristallnacht in November 1938,[315] when he was informed of it by the papal nuncio in Berlin.[316] Likewise the draft for the preposed encyclical Humani generis unitas ("On the Unity of Human Society"), which was ready in September 1938, was, according to the two publishers of the draft text[317] and other sources, not forwarded to the Vatican by the Jesuit General Wlodimir Ledochowski.[318] On January 28, 1939, eleven days before the death of Pope Pius XI, a disappointed Gundlach informed author LaFarge,."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.[319] It contained an open and clear condemnation of colonialism, racism and antisemitism.[318][320] Some historians have argued that Pacelli learned about its existence only after the death of Pius XI and did not promulgate it as Pope.[321] He did however use parts of it in his inaugural encyclical Summi Pontificatus, which he titled "On the Unity of Human Society."[322]

Outbreak of war: Summi Pontificatus

Pope Pius XII lobbied world leaders to prevent the outbreak of World War II, up to the very last day of peace. On 24 August 1939, he made a public broadcast appealing for peace, and 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.[323]

Summi Pontificatus ("On the Limitations of the Authority of the State"), issued 20 October 1939, was the first papal encyclical issued by Pius, and established some of the themes of his papacy.[324] 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.[325] With Italy not yet an ally of Hitler in the war, Italians were called upon to remain faithful to the Church. Pius avoided accusing Hitler and Stalin, 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."[326]

Pius 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".[327] He wrote of "Christians unfortunately more in name than in fact" showing "cowardice" in the face of persecution by these creeds, and endorsed resistance.[327]

In a further rejection of Nazi ideology, Pius reiterated Catholic opposition to racism and anti-Semitism, saying that man "is neither Gentile nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free. But Christ is all and in all"[328]

Pius commented on the invasion of Poland as well: "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[325] In Poland, the Nazis murdered over 2,500 monks and priests and even more were imprisoned.[230]

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.[329] 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.[330]

With Poland overrun 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.[250][252][331]

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.[250] 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.[332] The Vatican considered Müller to be a representative of Colonel-General Ludwig Beck and agreed to assist mediation.[251][252] Pius, communicating with Britain's Francis d'Arcy Osborne, channelled communications back and forth in secrecy.[251] 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.[250] 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."[251] 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.[333]

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.[334] 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.[335] 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.[336] 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".[337] Müller was arrested in a 1943 raid on the Abwehr and spent the rest of the war in concentration camps, ending up at Dachau.[338] The raid marked a serious blow to the Resistance. Following the arrests, Beck's first order was for an account of the incidents to be sent to the Pope. Hans Bernd Gisevius was sent in place of Müller to advise of the developments and met with Fr. Leiber.[332]

Unsuccessfully, Pius attempted to dissuade the Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini from joining Nazi Germany in the war.[331] 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.[339] 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.[340] 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.[341]

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 state. As Italy lurched towards civil war, the Vatican urged moderation. At Easter 1944, Italian bishops were directed to "stigmatise 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.[342]

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 Nazi Germany. According to Gordon Thomas, he already conceived of a strategy to work behind the scenes to help the Jews, because he believed "any form of denunciation in the name of the Vatican would inevitably provoke further reprisals against the Jews".[343] During his pontificate Pius XII, Catholic institutions across Europe were opened as shelter for Jews, and the institutions of the Vatican itself were employed in this purpose.[344] 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 by directing the church to discreetly provide aid.[345] According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, Pius chose to "use diplomacy to aid the persecuted". Upon his death he was "praised effusively by world leaders especially by Jewish groups for his actions during World War II on behalf of the persecuted".[301] The Israeli historian Pinchas Lapide interviewed war survivors 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[346] while Rabbi David Dalin called Pinchas Lapide's work "the definitive work by a Jewish scholar" on the holocaust.[347]

Prelude to Holocaust

According to Thomas, of the forty-four speeches Pacelli gave as Nuncio, forty denounced aspects of Nazi ideology. 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".[348] Following the Kristallnacht pogrom of 1938, the Vatican took steps to find refuge for Jews.[344] L'Osservatore Romano (the Holy See's newspaper) reported that Pacelli (as Vatican Secretary of State) condemned the pogrom.[348] 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 Nazis under the scheme.[349]

From 1939-44, 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. From 1939-41, 3,000 Jews reached safety in South America. Giovanni Ferrofino is credited with saving 10,000 Jews. Acting on secret orders from Pius XII, Ferrofino obtained visas from the Portuguese Government and the Dominican Republic to secure their escape from Europe and sanctuary in the Americas.[350] 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.[290][351] At the outbreak of the war, local bishops were instructed to assist those in need.[344] 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."[290][352]

In 1940, the Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop led the only senior Nazi delegation permitted an audience with Pius XII 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".[290] 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.[352]

1942 Christmas radio address

In 1942, Pius XII delivered a Christmas message over Vatican Radio which expressed sympathy for the victims of the Nazis' genocidal policies.[353] From May 1942, the Nazis had commenced their industrialized slaughter of the Jews of Europe—the Final Solution.[353] 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"[354] [also translated: "marked down for death or gradual extinction"]

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".[345] 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.[355] 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."[290]

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.[356] 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".[290][345] 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.[290]

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".[357]

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 its leader Pavelić to cease its facilitation of race murders.[358]

In the newly formed Slovak Republic, the Apostolic Delegate to Bratislava Giuseppe Burzio protested the antisemitism and totalitarianism of the pro-nazi state.[359] From 1942 onwards the Vatican protested the deportations of Jews by the Nazi allied Slovakian government.[359]

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.[290] 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.[290] 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.[360] 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 citywide rescue scheme in Budapest.[290][344] 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 government had 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."[361]

Cautious public statements

In public, Pius XII spoke cautiously in relation to Nazi crimes.[362] 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.[159][363] 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"[364] 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".[362] Catholic clergy, religious and laity, especially converted Jews, all suffered persecution under the Nazis. Such Nazi brutality made an enormous impression on Pius XII.[366] 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.[367]

In Poland, the Nazis murdered over 2,500 monks and priests and even more were imprisoned.[230] In a 30 April 1943 letter to Bishop von Preysing of Berlin, Pius referred to the Nazi retribution in the Netherlands 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 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.[368]

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 with 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),[370][371] nor did he ever publicly condemn the Soviet Union for the deaths of 1 million mainly Catholic Polish citizens including an untold number of clergy.[372] 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."[373] 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 II were initially positive; however, following his death, some have been more critical. Early on the Soviets were keen to discredit Pius in the eyes of Catholics in the Eastern Bloc. Some historians argue the Pope did not "do enough" to prevent the Holocaust. Commentators said he was "silent" in the face of the Holocaust. Others have accused the Church and Pius of antisemitism. These accusations are strongly contested. According to historian William Doino (author of The Pius War: Responses to the Critics of Pius XII), Pius XII was "emphatically not 'silent', and did condemn the Nazis' horrific crimes through Vatican Radio, his first encyclical, Summi Pontificatus, major addresses (especially his Christmas allocutions), the L'Osservatore Romano" and he "intervened, time and time again, for persecuted Jews, particularly, during the German occupation of Rome. He was cited and hailed by the Catholic rescuers as their leader and director.[374]

David Kertzer accuses the Church of "encouraging centuries of antisemitism", and 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 exaggerating the papacy's role in anti-Semitism.[375] Scholar of Jewish-Christian relations Rabbi David G. Dalin criticized Kertzer for using evidence selectively to support his thesis.[376] Ronald J. Rychlak, lawyer and author of Hitler, the War, and the Pope, decried Kertzer's work for omitting strong evidence the Church was not anti-Semitic.[377][378] Others, including prominent members of the Jewish community, have refuted criticisms and written highly of Pius' efforts to protect Jews.[379] Among the prominent Jews to praise Pius after the war was Rabbi Isaac Herzog.[380] Other prominent members of the Jewish community have also defended Pius.[379] 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 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".[381]

In 1999, British writer John Cornwell published the highly controversial Hitler's Pope, which charged Pius assisted the legitimization of the Nazis by agreeing to the 1933 Reichskonkordat. The book is critical of Pius, arguing, he did not "do enough", or "speak out enough", against the Holocaust. Cornwell wrote that Pius' entire career was characterized by a desire to increase and centralize the power of the Papacy, and subordinated opposition to the Nazis to that goal. He further argued Pius was anti-Semitic and this stance prevented him from caring about the European Jews.[382] The Encyclopædia Britannica assesses Cornwell's depiction of Pius as anti-Semitic and indifferent to the Holocaust as lacking "credible substantiation".[345] Various commentators have subsequently characterized his book as having been "debunked".[383][384][385][386][387] Cornwell, himself, has since retracted his accusations in substantial part,[384][385][388] saying that it is "impossible to judge the motives" of the Pope.[386][387] 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."[389] 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".[390]

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. John Cornwell also depicted the Pope as an anti-Semite. In an assessment by the Encyclopædia 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."[301]

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 Pius XII. 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.[391] 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".[392] 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."[393]

"Ratlines": Helping Nazis to flee

After the war, clandestine networks smuggled fugitive Axis officials out of Europe. The U.S. codenamed the activity the "Ratline". In Rome, 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.[394] Catholics and non-Nazi Catholic leaders were being arrested as potential sources of dissent in the new Communist republics being formed across Eastern Europe and sought to emigrate. This migration was exploited by some Axis fugitives. Potential anti-Communist leaders were being framed by anti-Catholic governments, 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.[395][396]

Bishop Alois Hudal, the former rector of the pan-Germanic college in Rome training German priests, was secretly a member of the Nazi Party and informant for German Intelligence.[356] Gerald Steinacher wrote that Hudal enjoyed close personal relations with Pius XII for many years prior and was an influential figure in the process of escape. The Vatican Refugee Committees for Croats, Slovenes, Ukrainians and Hungarians aided former fascists and Nazi collaborators to escape those countries.[397]

Rome had been advised the new Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was threatening to destroy Catholicism within its territory.[398] 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".[395] 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 (1958) Vatican officials asked Draganovic to leave the College of St. Jerome from where he operated since the latter part of the war.[399] According to 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 as a priest until Argentine President Juan Perón invited him to the country.[400]

Post-war attitudes to Nazi Germany

Since the end of the Second World War, the Catholic Church has moved to honour Catholic resistors, victims of Nazism, canonisation of saints, beatification of the virtuous and recognition of martyrs. The Church has also issued statements of repentance for its failings and that of its membership during the Nazi Era. Pius XII elevated a number of high-profile resistors of Nazism to the College of Cardinals in 1946. Among them, Bishop Joseph Frings of Cologne who succeeded the more passive Cardinal Bertram as chairman of the Fulda Bishops' Conference in July 1945.,[210] Clemens August von Galen of Münster and Konrad von Preysing of Berlin. In other countries, 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 were actively involved in the protection of Jews during the war. Pope Benedict XVI had first hand experience of life in Nazi Germany. As a boy, he was forced to join the Hitler youth, drafted into the anti-aircraft corps and trained as a child soldier. At the end of the war, he deserted, was briefly held as a POW and released.[401] 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.[402] On his first visit to Germany as pontiff, Benedict went to the Roonstrasse Synagogue in Cologne and denounced antisemitism.[403]

Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II had suffered through the Nazi occupation of Poland, was involved in the Polish cultural resistance and joined a clandestine seminary during the war.[404] In 1979, soon after his election, John Paul II visited Auschwitz concentration camp, in homage to those who had died there.[405] In 1998, the Vatican published We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah.[405] The Pope said he hoped it would "help heal the wounds of past misunderstandings and injustices" and described the wartime sufferings of the Jews as a "crime" and "indelible stain" on history.[406][407] We Remember spoke of a "duty of remembrance" that the "inhumanity with which the Jews were persecuted and massacred during this century is beyond the capacity of words to convey". The document repudiated persecution and condemned genocide. It acknowledged a negative history of "long-standing sentiments of mistrust and hostility that we call anti-Judaism" from many Christians towards Jews, but distinguished these from the racial antisemitism of the Nazis:[408]

[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.

On the roots of the Nazi Holocaust, We Remember said:[408]

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.

But on the question of the response of the church and individual Catholics to the Nazi Holocaust, 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

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."[409] 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.[406] 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".[410]

Pope Francis

In June 2018, Pope urged the Catholic Church to never forget the "Shoah," the Hebrew translation for "Holocaust", stating that “the memory of the Shoah and its atrocious violence must never be forgotten.”[411] The Pope further stated that “It should be a constant warning for all of us of an obligation to reconciliation, of reciprocal comprehension and love toward our ‘elder brothers,’ the Jews.”[411] In March 2019, Pope Francis agreed to open the Holocaust-era Vatican Archives.[412] In August 2019, Pope Francis argued in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Stampa that isolationism and populism lead to war.[413] The Pope expressed concern about what he terms as “sovereignism” which he describes as an attitude of isolation.[413] While “sovereignism” involves closing in upon oneself, sovereignty is not, the Pope explains.[413] The Pope stated that sovereignty must be defended and relations with other countries, with the European Community, must also be protected and promoted.[413] When asked about recent speeches promoting isolationism and nationalism, the Pope stated "that Europe needs to respect identities of peoples without closing itself in" and "I am worried because you hear speeches that resemble those by Hitler in 1934."[413][414] He previously denounced populism for leading the rise of Hitler as well.[415]

See also


  1. Pius XII explained to Tittman that he could not name the Nazis without at the same time mentioning the Bolsheviks.[369]


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    A recent article by American rabbi, David G. Dalin, challenges this judgement. He calls making Pius XII a target of moral outrage a failure of historical understanding, and he thinks Jews should reject any 'attempt to usurp the Holocaust' for the partisan purposes at work in this debate. Dalin surmises that well-known Jews such as Albert Einstein, Golda Meir, Moshe Sharett, and Rabbi Isaac Herzog would likely have been shocked at these attacks on Pope Pius ... Dalin points out that Rabbi Herzog, the chief rabbi of Israel, sent a message in February 1944 declaring 'the people of Israel will never forget what His Holiness ... (is) doing for our unfortunate brothers and sisters in the most tragic hour of our history.'" Dalin cites these tributes as recognition of the work of the Holy See in saving hundreds of thousands of Jews."
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