International Congress on Martyrs of Hitler’s Regime

ROME, 2 MAY 2000 (ZENIT).

On Thursday, May 4, the Pontifical Athenaeum "Regina Apostolorum" in Rome will hold a Congress on "The Martyrs of Eastern Europe and Nazism." The initiative will offer an occasion for an in-depth study of the topic in preparation for the memorial of 20th century witnesses of faith on May 7.

Among the speakers is Fr. Peter Gumpel, a prestigious historian and official postulator of the Society of Jesus, who will address the controversial topic of the relations between the Catholic Church and Nazism. ZENIT spoke with him about this troubled period in the Church’s history.FR. GUMPEL: Before Hitler’s arrival in power, the German Episcopate condemned the National Socialist Movement repeatedly and categorically. It prohibited Catholics from being associated with it or voting for it. The vast majority of faithful followed these instructions. From the statistics, regarding the political votes that took place on January 30, 1933, and on March 5 of the same year, it is readily seen that virtually all the Catholics remained faithful to the "Zentrum" Christian party, well-known for its opposition to Hitler’s Party.

This vehement opposition of the German Episcopate and the Catholic faithful was based essentially on the fact that in his book, "Mein Kampf," and in his speeches, Hitler took the supremacy of the State to an extreme, to the degree of doing away with the individual freedom. Moreover, his theology was totally pagan and racist, in conflict with the open and determined condemnation of anti-Semitism proclaimed by the Holy Office, by order of Pius XI as early as 1928. In a word, Hitler was a pure opportunist, who lied publicly and consciously; therefore, he was someone who did not inspire trust.ZENIT: What was the role of Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pius XII, in all this? He has been accused of failing to denounce Nazism sufficiently and of being "Hitler’s Pope"...FR. GUMPEL: The German Episcopate’s position was identical with that of Eugenio Pacelli, then Apostolic Nuncio in Germany. He also actively supported this position. At the beginning of 1930 he was named Secretary of State by Pius XI. During his stay in Germany, Pacelli made 44 public speeches and in 40 of these attacked the fundamental theses of communism and National Socialism.

As Sister Pascalina, his close collaborator, explains and is confirmed by other witnesses, Pacelli, the future Pius XII, said of Hitler: "This man is completely carried away; everything he says and writes has the mark of his egocentrism; this man is capable of trampling on corpses and eliminating anything that is an obstacle. I cannot understand how there are so many people in Germany who do not understand him, and cannot draw conclusions from what he says or writes. Has any of them even read his horrifying ‘Mein Kampf’?"ZENIT: Some authors maintain that the relation between the Church and Nazism changed after the Concordat between the Holy See and Germany in 1933.FR. GUMPEL: As the Vatican authority itself and the most astute Catholics foresaw, Hitler never had any intention of respecting the Concordat, rather, with the exception of the strictly liturgical or para-liturgical functions, the rest of the Church’s activities were systematically hampered and later gradually suppressed. The newspapers, magazines and books published by Catholics were quickly strictly censured and later eliminated. Religious schools were blocked in their activity by fraudulent methods and later closed.

Numerous Catholic associations were forced to join with Nazi associations, or were banned and dissolved. Government employees at all levels were fired if there was even a hint that they disapproved of Nazi ideology.

Convents and religious houses were confiscated under all kinds of pretexts. Priests and religious were spied on even in churches, and denounced to the Gestapo if they explained Christian doctrine in a way that displeased the Nazis. Close to a third of the diocesan and regular clergy suffered persecutions by the political police and a good number of them ended up in prisons or concentration camps, where several died. A large number of lay people suffered the same fate. They were persecuted by the Nazis because, contravening the prohibitions, they continued to carry out those activities that the Concordat itself guaranteed.

Adolescents who did not form part of the "Hitler Youth" were not admitted to graduation exams and much less to university, nor could they find work in factories, businesses, or crafts. There was a systematic campaign against the Catholic Church, the Pope, priests, religious, and believers in general in newspapers, magazines, and radio transmissions, which labeled them enemies of the Reich and often obscenely accused them of all kinds of crimes against morality. Public opinion was constantly influenced by recordings showing anti-Catholic shows and songs. The Bishops and Holy See protested but the German government did not respond.

Because of this, in 1937 when the cup overflowed, the Holy See published the encyclical "Mit Brennender Sorge" ("With Burning Concern") whose results, however, were dramatic, because it unleashed a violent reaction on the part of the Nazis, enormously increasing the persecution of the Church in Germany.ZENIT: Could you evaluate the Catholic Church’s conduct in confronting Hitler and National Socialism?FR. GUMPEL: From the beginning Hitler and his closest followers were motivated by a pathological hatred for the Catholic Church, which they appraised correctly as the most dangerous opponent to what they hoped to do in Germany. Proof of this, among other things, are Hitler’s (already published) discussions with those closest to him (known as "Tischgespräche"), Joseph Goebbels’ diary, Martin Bormann’s decrees, Alfred Rosenberg’s delirious diatribes, and Heinrich Himmler’s orders to the SS and Gestapo.

There was radical divergence between the Nazis and the Catholic Church. Hitler and his closest collaborators did not act by keeping to the most elemental moral norms, but on the strength of dialectic and opportunistic criteria of absolute relativism, which did not take truth or the fundamental rights of the individual and institutions into consideration. All those who did not adhere unconditionally to their way of thinking and acting were considered and treated as enemies who had to be annihilated.

This attitude necessarily meant determination in an enraged struggle against Christianity and, in particular, against the Catholic Church, which by its character and nature could not consent or appear as an accomplice of a radically criminal system. In the face of a totalitarian State, Catholics faithful to Christ and the Church essentially only had faith, hope, and charity, the weapons of the spirit. Because of this, they could only suffer persecution, remain firm and not cede and, if necessary, be ready to suffer martyrdom, as in fact happened in many cases. ZE00050204                                                                                                    Back to Pius XII index

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