1. Introduction- basic information regarding Nazi Anti-Semitic activities and the Catholic Church’ integration as well as role
  2. Discussion
    • Background – The incumbent Pope’s history as well as his Perspective on the Nazi regime
    • Questionable response- these are responses to the anti-Semitic activities deemed weak and inappropriate by the Catholic Church. Additionally, lack of timely response to information in hand and consequences is discussed.
    • Notable response- these are responses worth of commendation and could have been the most suitable under the existing circumstances to ease the Jews’ adverse plight.
    • German Catholic church response- Response of the German Catholic church to the internal anti-Semitic activities such as deportation and legislation in the wake of Nazi anti-Semitic
  3. Conclusion- personal opinion on the Catholic Church’ response where it’s deemed as inadequate in consideration of morality and information possessed by the institution.



Catholic Church’s responses to Nazi Anti-Semitism


            The attitudes and beliefs embraced by European Catholics prior to the holocaust varied immensely regardless of its prevalence. These variations resulted in some Catholics taking part in Nazi’s Anti-Semitic and were the result of the Vatican’s silence on Jews especially on the incumbent pope Pius XII. The Vatican is known to have secretly helped Jews at the peak of Anti-Semitic perpetuated by the Nazi and signified by the holocaust where an estimated six million Jews were massacred. The Nazi regime instigated the first phase of the holocaust in 1941 with the onset of operation Barbarossa where Russia was invaded by the Nazi. Up to one and a half million Jews died that year where the focus was on killing Jewish civilizations between the Baltic and Black seas. The reaction of the Catholic Church to atrocities associated with Anti-Semitic in the first six decades of the twentieth century is best described as inadequate typified by public indifference and secret concern.



            Eugenio Paceli was the pope’s name and he is regarded as the Vatican’s face during the period of escalated Anti-Semitic in Europe. The pope had lived in Germany for twelve years before his inauguration and was aware of ideologies inherent in the Nazi movement. In statements and perspectives he had communicated while a papal, he was objected to the totalitarian as well as racism aspects of the Nazi movement on the ground of threatening catholism. However, Pacelli and the Catholic Church illustrated double standards by creating a concordant with Hitler on his ascension to protect Catholic institutions on grounds the church would not engage in political sentiments and activities.

In March 1939 he was voted as pope with a presumed four hundred million followers of the Catholic Church besides his position of Vatican state chief. This inferred a lot of influence regarding events and activities unfolding in Europe particularly the deportation of Jews to German death camps. His interventions were however religiously prejudiced as evidenced in March 1939 where sought to grant three thousand Jews safe passage to South America on condition they would convert from Judaism (Lewy 248).

Questionable response

            During his the holocaust period, the Catholic Church was internally divided on appropriate action especially due to the silence of Pius XII on the Nazi salient predicament. Numerous pleas and messages were directed toward the Vatican under Pacelli. The Vatican received a request from Palestine’s head Rabbi to intervene and discontinue deportation of Jews to Germany from Spain and Lithuania. This was in 1940 and the request was met with indifference and silence. In addition, internal requests and complains from cardinals to chief office at the Vatican regarding deportations from Vienna to the Nazi death camps were cast into oblivion.

Given the enormous theoretical influence ascribed to the pope, the western nations were eager for the Vatican to make a public denunciation of the cannibalism by the Nazi.  For instance, in late 1941 the American delegation to the Vatican made an express request to the Highest Catholic office to issue publicly a statement condemning Hitler’s instigation’s against the Jews. However, the Vatican reiterated its desire to remain neutral in the conflict because of its obligation to the Catholic Church and institutions in Germany.

The following year saw the pope receive a long letter from a Ukrainian catholic official narrating the massacre of two hundred thousand Jews. The letter additionally, described the Nazi regime for its corruption and brutality. The Vatican replied urging tolerance and patience in spite of the precarious times experienced. In September 1942, a high-ranking catholic official who would later be Pope Paul VI acknowledged in a letter to the Vatican escalated form of massacres and violence against the Jews. Converse to earlier statements, the same official while offering a defense to the moral implications of Vatican’s silence, stated the impossibility of determining the accuracy of claims of Jew massacres in Germany. This further cast a shadow of doubt on the sincerity of the Catholic Church’s statements regularly issued condemning racism and inequalities on a generic level.

A deduction from a public statement from the Vatican in 1942 indicates avoiding a standoff against the entire communist notion as the reason behind the silence. The Vatican feared its opposition to the Nazi Anti-Semitism would be associated with anti-communism resulting to alienation from communist countries some having high numbers of Catholics. This explained why public statements from the Catholic capital were generic in nature without particularly addressing the Jews. In contrast, the Vatican had previously stated morality and neutrality were not compatible but were mutually exclusive especially when addressing issues of human inequality. This had been affirmed two years earlier in 1940.

Some scholars have perceived the Catholic Church as very apathetic towards the plight of the Jews in the wake of Nazi Anti-Semitic. This is arrived at by comparing the immense information possessed by the Vatican regarding the holocaust against the speediness of response by the Catholic Church. Information accumulation was on piecemeal basis from different locations in Europe where the Nazi regime used mobile killing squads or set up death camps. For instance, September 1943 had the Nazi’s raiding Italy to extradite Jewish civilizations to the German death camps. This was significant since the Pope’s position made it the home authority responsible for protecting the Jews. The Catholic Church internally started taking in Jews into convents and monasteries for protection purposes but remained adamant in issuing a public condemnation to the Anti-Semitism agenda. In fact Vatican had endorsed laws enacted in France against the Jews on condition they were not racist. This was very ironical coupled with the fact it considered anti-Jewish laws acceptable as long as they were not violating catholic beliefs (Lewy 271).

A notable illustration was the mass gassing witnessed in 1942 of Jews allegedly deported to East Germany for isolated settlement. A certain colonel named Kurt Gerstein had joined the German force deliberately to uncover truth regarding treatment of the Jews in various settlements. In August 1942, he made a journey to Berlin to inform Papal Nuncio of the mass gassings he had witnessed with aim of the information reaching the pope. The Papal denied him audience but nonetheless he passed the information to the Papal’s legal advisor. By the end of 1942, the Catholic Church had accumulated enough information from other sources like Dr Hans Globke a high official in the ministry of interior racial matters mostly known for informing the Pope about marriage dissolution laws. These laws were meant to invalidate marriage between non-Jews and Jews with aim of deporting the Jewish partners.

Notable response

Occasionally the Catholic Church responded though discretely. One notable moment was in Hungary where the Nazi regime had laid siege and demanded Jews to be deported. The pope gave counsel to the Hungarian government suggesting restrained treatment of the Jews in addition to vehemently opposing deportation. The influence of the pope coupled by western remonstration applied pressure on the Hungarian government to stop deportations in July 1944. There are instances as the war ended where the pope used his influence in South America to sway governments to issuing crisis visas to enable the Jewish escape from Europe. The Catholic Church is recorded to have helped six thousand Jewish children travel from Bulgaria to Palestine as threats of their annihilation increased.

As fore mentioned, there were notable instances where elements in the Catholic Church displayed disapproval and consequently challenged actions by the Nazi. For instance, Hitler made a decree to be implemented in every German held region in Europe to mark every Jew above six years (Lewy 285). This was in September 1941 and required every Jew to be marked with star whenever in public. It started in Poland and was to spread to every other region Germany conquered.

Through a letter addressed to the Vatican by Cardinal Bertram, restraint in implementing such measures to Jewish Catholics was emphasized to avoid hurting the feelings of Jewish Catholics. The letter quoted biblical writing dismissing identification of a Christian as either Jew or Gentile. At the same time, other Catholic leaders in Berlin were tried to make an appeal against wearing the star mark while in church. This appeal however failed and with time, the Catholic Church in Berlin stopped petitioning since they noted their congregation had not decreased remarkably.

The first phase of the Holocaust was characterized by mass deportation of German Jews to the east of the country a matter the Catholic Church through its leaders in Germany objected through letter seeking clarifications on the necessity of such a move. The Nazi regime reassured the Catholic church that only in exceptional situations would Christian Jews be deported, an assurance never fulfilled. This is evidenced in a letter written by Bishop of Limburg complaining of mass deportation of Catholic Jews with no indications of preferential treatment.

German Catholic Church response

Much of the literature addressing Catholic Church response focuses on the influence inferred by the pope; however, Phayer classifies the response in regards to countries. A case in point being German Catholic church response compared to European counterparts. The German Catholic Church empathized with the Jewish community in wake of Nazi anti-Semitic. Cardinal Faulhaber was noted to engage in fierce arguments with Nazified Christians since he instated the God had entrusted the bible to all his people thus diminishing barriers between Judaism and Christianity. Most of the Catholic theologians and leaders supporting Nazism did on a cultural basis and later on rejected inhumane treatment of the Jews (Phayer 16). Such leaders and theologians include Michael Schmaus and Bishop Grober of Freiburg who on the commencing of deportations protested to the Nuncio as Jews had resorted to suicide as a means of escaping the deportations.

Church leaders in Germany in spite of lacking public protest never took part in the legislation of Anti-Semitic regulations. Support for such laws was absent in the catholic society apart from one Catholic newspaper called klerublatt. The Nuremberg laws and the national pogrom of 1938 were privately opposed by the greater portion of the German catholic community. It is important to note catholic and Jews in German were socially immiscible but the bigotry broke in the Third Reich as both were oppressed by the Nazi regime as exemplified by the cordial relationship between Cardinal Faulhaber and Rabbi Leo Baerwald (Phayer 17).

Motivations behind the response

Various motivations and explanations for the Catholics church response have been put forth. One deems politics as primary to moral where the Catholics commenced active aid in 1942 after learning of the allied forces intentions to fully conquer the Nazi regime and deter communism spread. Pius XII is suspected to have issued secret recommendations to cardinals besides bishops to oppose publicly Jew’s mass execution. These recommendations where made in German and Hungary aimed at placing the church at a favorable political position as the allied forces progressed. Political motivation is thought to have contributed to the May 1940 intervention where the pope allowed papal messages to be accompanied by a warning to Belgium and Holland Capitals warning them of mine placed by the Germans in the routes used by the invading armies.

Another explanation of the behavior portrayed by the incumbent pope is his anti-semantic background as a catholic. Based on the belief Jews murdered Jesus, most Catholics harbored reservations against the Jews. However, the Pope’s anti-Semitism was not similar to that perpetuated by the Nazi Regime since the later was based on distorted social darwinism. This credited superiority or inferiority to a particular group of people based on racial stock while wanting to eliminate those considered weak (Lewy 271).


            The Catholic Church’ response to anti-Semitic carried forth by the Nazi regime remains a historical statement marked by controversial shades (Spicer 285). The delayed public condemnation of atrocities committed against the Jews by the Nazi regime between 1931 and 1945 has remained a hideous dot in the canvas of morality and justice in the Catholic Church. Many historians and scholars are of the opinion the church would have done more given substantial information possessed and the larger number of followers. However, priorities were not in place since political neutrality was deemed more important than morality and justice in most parts of the Church.



Lewy, Guenter. The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany. Boulder, Colo.: Da Capo Press, 2001. Print. The author is a political and historical writer with vast experience in Major historical events such as the Vietnam War, the cold war and most reputably the Nazi era. He was  born in 1923 and is currently a Political science professor.

Phayer, Michael. The Catholic Church and the Holocaust: 1930-1965. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000. Print. The author holds a PhD from the University of Munich in history and has focused research in the holocaust as well as Europe’s history. He was born in 1935 and has written numerous articles on the holocaust incumbent pope Pius XII.

Spicer, Kevin . Antisemitism, Christian Ambivalence, and the Holocaust. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007. Internet resource. The author has focused on modern revelations and repercussions of historical events most remarkably the role of the church in the Nazi anti-Semitic regime.

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