Via Media

Via Media

The Quality of Courage

posted by awelborn

Christopher Dickey in Newsweek on Pope Benedict and Europe:

In the end, there were 74 children—Jewish kids, from the ages of 6 to 18, who in 1942 and 1943 fled from Germany, Austria and Yugoslavia as their parents disappeared into the Nazis’ concentration camps. With borders closing all over Europe, a Zionist organization smuggled them into northern Italy, to the village of Nonantola, built around a Benedictine monastery. Though Fascist Italy was not a haven, it was as safe as could be found. Their refuge was a large empty house, the Villa Emma, rented for them on the edge of town.

Their story stands out as a singular moment of reason and humanity in the savage history of the Holocaust, an example of the values that Pope Benedict XVI today identifies as the Christian heart of Europe, and one that the priests in the village expect he will acknowledge in the next few months. It is a tale of courage, of rare integrity in the face of fear and oppression—but most important, it is a shared tale. From the start, empathetic townspeople brought food for the children of Villa Emma. They were supposed to keep to the house, for fear of prying (and potentially traitorous) eyes. But, being kids, they of course did not, and soon were making friends in the neighborhood, so much so that within months they had more or less been adopted by the village.

Another analysis by Dickey, based on Ratzinger’s Subiaco address a bit before the Conclave

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Al DelG

posted August 12, 2005 at 11:09 am

While this is a beautiful example of selfless charity it is troublesome that it is described as “singular”. The deportation of 1000 Jews from Rome is given as a counterpoint, the unstated premise being that no assistance was rendered there.
But as Orthodox Rabbi Pinchas Lapide recorded in “Three Popes and the Jews” (1967), “in Rome we saw a list of 155 convents and monasteries—Italian, French, Spanish, English, American, and also German—mostly extraterritorial property of the Vatican . . . which sheltered throughout the German occupation some 5,000 Jews in Rome. No less than 3,000 Jews found refuge at one time at the Pope’s summer residence at Castel Gandolfo; sixty lived for nine months at the Jesuit Gregorian University, and half a dozen slept in the cellar of the Pontifical Bible Institute.”
Overall it has been estimated that 80% of Italy’s Jews escaped the holocaust. The interventions of Catholic institutions, including the Holy See, played no small role in this.

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Deacon John M. Bresnahan

posted August 12, 2005 at 3:04 pm

I recently finished reading a very unheralded novel about how Italians in the North of Italy helped Jews escaping from places north of Italy. It is titled “A Thread of Grace” and is by Mary Doria Russell. It is a great read for those who like historical fiction with a dose of religion in it.

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posted August 13, 2005 at 12:41 am

I’m always wary when Christians start patting themselves on the back for the actions of a relative few of our forbears in the Holocaust.
To me the question is, why are there so few Christians to celebrate?
Just for a point of balance, let’s remember that virtually the entire Jewish population in Poland was wiped out by the Nazis–almost 3 million people. This genocide was often directly aided by the Jews’ Catholic neighbors.
So let us hope indeed that Pope Benedict not only reminds us of those individual acts of courage by Catholics, Jews and others during the war, but that he will implore us to reflect on why the majority of so-called Christians directly served the Hitler regime, abetted it, or stood by.

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Donald R. McClarey

posted August 13, 2005 at 5:31 am

“Just for a point of balance, let’s remember that virtually the entire Jewish population in Poland was wiped out by the Nazis–almost 3 million people. This genocide was often directly aided by the Jews’ Catholic neighbors.”
Whitcomb, this is simply a libel. I am sure you are not deliberately recycling misinformation, so here are the facts. Over 6,400,000 Poles died as a result of the Nazi invasion of Poland. Approximately 3,000,000 of the Poles were Jews; the remainder of the Poles were gentiles, overwhelmingly Catholic. The Germans were waging war against both types of Poles. The Poles could not stop the Germans from enslaving and slaughtering Poles of both religions. Did anti-semitism exist in Poland? Most assuredly, a blight on the history of Poland. Did some Poles help the Germans? Sadly yes, maggots in human form exist in every country. Did the vast majority of Poles do everything in their power to hinder the Nazis and fight against them at virtually every opportunity, no matter how hopeless? Yes.

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Donald R. McClarey

posted August 13, 2005 at 6:17 am

“A war of annihilation in Poland
The Nazis held that the Slavs, like the Jews, were subhuman. “All Poles,” Hitler swore, “will disappear from the world.” On August 22, 1939, one week before the Nazi invasion of Poland, Hitler gave the Wehrmacht their instructions: “Kill without pity or mercy all men, women and children of Polish descent or language…. Be merciless. Be brutal. It is necessary to proceed with maximum severity. The war is to be a war of annihilation.”
And in many respects it was precisely that. Approximately 6,028,000 Poles—22 percent of the country’s population—perished during World War II. Of these victims, 5,384,000 died in prison, death camps, raids, executions, the obliteration of ghettoes, epidemics, starvation, overwork or ill treatment. The extermination of Polish Jews remained the first priority. In the meantime, those Polish Christians who were not herded into the death camps could be used as slave labor. Once the Third Reich’s victory was complete, the Poles themselves would be eliminated.
The accounts of those first days of the invasion of Poland make chilling reading. In the western provinces, 531 villages and towns were burned and 16,376 civilians, most of them Christians, were murdered.
The first victims in the town of Bydgoszcz were a group of Boy Scouts, aged 12 to 16. They were lined up against a wall in the market square and shot. When a priest rushed forward to give them last rites, he was shot, too.
Another hundred boys were rounded up on the streets of Bydgoszcz and massacred before the town’s Jesuit church. The Jesuits were herded into a stable with the town’s Jews, where they were all beaten and humiliated by the Nazis.
At Leczyca, the Jesuits were expelled from their residence and forced to watch as their church was looted of sacred vessels, vestments, reliquaries and works of art. The priests were not even allowed into the church to save the Blessed Sacrament.
Although much of the violence in Poland during the last months of 1939 was erratic, there was a well-orchestrated campaign against the country’s political, military, cultural and intellectual elite. Heinrich Himmler told his SS officers, “You should hear this but also forget it again—shoot thousands of leading Poles.” Teachers, physicians, priests, military officers, businessmen, landowners and writers fell into this category. So did any Pole who possessed a high-school education.
In November 1939, nearly 200 professors from Cracow’s ancient Jagiellonian University and the Polytechnic were arrested and shipped to Sachsenhausen, where most of them died. Perhaps because some of the professors survived, Hans Frank, administrator of the General Government (the Nazi designation for a Polish ethnic enclave in Central Poland), issued an order that all Polish intellectuals be dealt with “on the spot and we shall do so in the simplest way possible.”
To that end, Frank’s office developed a program known as A-B, Ausserordentliche-Befreidungsaktion (Extraordinary Pacification Action). Under this program, 6,000 Poles were shot where they stood; thousands more were shipped to Auschwitz and murdered. Among the dead were Jan Poholski, deputy mayor of Warsaw; Jan Belcikowski, a distinguished writer; Maria Witkowska, a renowned artist; and Janusz Kusocinski, an Olympic champion.
Through the Nazis’ grim efficiency, Poland lost 57 percent of its attorneys, 45 percent of its physicians and dentists, 40 percent of its university professors, 30 percent of its technicians, 18 percent of its clergy and 15 percent of its schoolteachers. All scientific, cultural and literary institutions were shut down. Universities and secondary schools were closed, and their libraries and laboratories pillaged. Even grammar schools were closed if instruction was carried out in the Polish language. In Warsaw, the number of functioning elementary schools dropped from 350 in 1938 to 175 in 1941.
Food rations in Nazi-occupied Warsaw were allotted by race: 2,613 calories per day for a German, 699 for a Pole and 184 for a Jew. Only a flourishing black market kept the Poles alive.
Yet amidst the chaos, the Nazis kept an eye out for Polish children who possessed Aryan racial characteristics. Promising children were separated from their parents and sent to Lodz for further examination. If they passed the battery of racial, physical and psychological tests, they were sent on to Germany for “Germanization.” If they were rejected, they were shipped to Auschwitz where they were killed, most often by intercardiac injections.
The Polish Martyrology
The Catholic Church in Poland was especially hard hit by the Nazis. In 1939, 80 percent of the Catholic clergy and five of the bishops of the Warthegau region had been deported to concentration camps. In Wroclaw, 49.2 percent of the clergy were dead; in Chelmno, 47.8 percent; in Lodz, 36.8 percent; in Poznan, 31.1. In the Warsaw diocese, 212 priests were killed; 92 were murdered in Wilno, 81 in Lwow, 30 in Cracow, thirteen in Kielce. Seminarians who were not killed were shipped off to Germany as forced labor.
Of 690 priests in the Polish province of West Prussia, at least 460 were arrested. The remaining priests of the region fled their parishes. Of the arrested priests, 214 were executed, including the entire cathedral chapter of Pelplin. The rest were deported to the newly created General Government district in Central Poland. By 1940, only 20 priests were still serving their parishes in West Prussia.
Of the city of Poznan’s 30 churches and 47 chapels, the Nazis left two open to serve some 200,000 souls. Thirteen churches were simply locked and abandoned; six became warehouses; four, including the cathedral, were used as furniture storage centers. In Lodz, only four churches were allowed to remain open to serve 700,000 Catholics.
Cardinal Augustine Hlond, Archbishop of Gniezno-Poznan, wrote to the Holy See on December 10, 1939: “The Cathedral has been turned into a garage at Pelplin; the Bishop’s palace into a restaurant; the chapel into a ballroom. Hundreds of churches have been closed. The whole patrimony of the Church has been confiscated, and the most eminent Catholics executed.”
Throughout the country, monasteries, convents, seminaries, schools and other religious institutions were shut down.
Many nuns shared the same fate as priests. Some 400 nuns were imprisoned at Bojanowo concentration camp. Many were later sent to Germany as slave labor.
Without warning, on July 31, 1943, the Nazis entered the convent of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth at Nowogrodek. They arrested the superior, Sr. Maria Stella, and ten other nuns. The next day the sisters were loaded into a van, driven outside the town and shot. Their bodies were thrown into a mass grave. In Silesia, Bishop Stanislaw Adamski ordered his clergy and laity to declare themselves Volkdeutsch (German nationals), hoping that this ruse would keep his people, priests and religious from harm and his churches open. The effort was futile. Sixty convents and monasteries in Silesia were closed; 43 priests died in concentration camps and thirteen priests were deported, including Bishop Adamski. To his credit, the Bishop never tried to save his own life by declaring himself Volkdeutsch.
No exception was made for Poland’s higher clergy. Bishop Michael Kozal of Wladislava died in Dachau; Bishop Nowowiejski of Plock and his suffragan Bishop Wetmanski both died in prison in Poland; Bishop Fulman of Lublin and his suffragan Bishop Goral were sent to a concentration camp in Germany.
Nor were the small Evangelical churches of Poland spared. All the Protestant clergy of the Cieszyn region of Silesia were arrested and sent to the death camps at Mauthausen, Buchenwald, Dachau and Oranienburg.
Among the Protestant martyrs were Karol Kulisz, director of the Evangelical Church’s largest charitable organization, who died in Buchenwald in November 1939; Professor Edmund Bursche, a member of the Evangelical Faculty of Theology at the University of Warsaw, who died in the stone quarries of Mauthausen; and the 79-year-old Bishop of the Evangelical Church, Juliusz Bursche, who died in solitary confinement in Berlin.
In this dark time, one archbishop deserted his flock. Cardinal Hlond, whose Gniezno-Poznan archdiocese lay in the afflicted Warthegau region, simply disappeared. When he showed up in Rome, Pope Pius XII manifested his displeasure by refusing to grant the Cardinal an immediate audience.
After his humiliating visit to Rome, Cardinal Hlond went to France to join Poland’s government-in-exile. When France fell to the Nazis, the Cardinal was stranded. In 1943, as he was trying to return to Poland, the Nazis arrested and interned him. They offered Cardinal Hlond his freedom if he would send a message to Polish Catholics urging them to join the Germans in the fight against the invading Soviet army, but he refused.
A Polish Martyrology for 1939-45 lists six bishops, 2,030 priests, 127 seminarians, 173 lay brothers and 243 nuns murdered by the Nazis.”
Source: an article by Thomas Craughwell.
Mr. Craughwell’s figures are slightly different from mine. My figures are based roughly on those put out by the Polish government in 1947. Estimates range for Polish civilian deaths from 5,000,000 to 8,000,000. So many Poles died, and so many Poles were displaced during and after the war, that total accuracy is impossible. I recommend that everyone read about life in the General Government in Poland. The entire country was run on concentration camp principles. It is amazing that any Poles survived the war. I suspect that almost no Poles would have long survived a German victory. The soviet occupation of parts of Poland in 1939-1941, the Katyn massacre, etc, has its own list of woe. WWII was the Calvary of the Polish nation.

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posted August 13, 2005 at 1:06 pm

Donald, thanks for the wealth of information.
My post was not intended to minimize the fate of Polish Catholics or “libel” Poland. I am well aware of Polish suffering in World War II and for another 45 years after the war. These are complicated matters, and I will concede that my initial post sounds glib. There were most righteous Gentiles in Poland who tried to save their Jewish neighbors. But I am sure you are aware that many Polish scholars today are examining instances of citizens collaborating with the Nazis to rid their country of the Jews.
I have no animus against Poland or Polish Catholics. We know the same sort of thing happened in France and other European nations during the war.
One of the paradoxes to me is that Europe in the mid-20th century would be considered a much more Christian culture than it is today. yet in the center of that supposedly Christian continent the “neo-paganism” of Nazism took root with disastrous consequences for the world and the Jews in particular.

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Boniface McInnes

posted August 13, 2005 at 5:43 pm

Well, as long as we can reduce “This genocide was often directly aided by the Jews’ Catholic neighbors” to “many Polish scholars today are examining instances of citizens collaborating with the Nazis to rid their country of the Jews.”
Sorry, Whitcomb, but it was glib, libelous and myopic. That doesn’t lessen or excuse the disgusting anti-semitism in Europe or elsewhere in the world. Sorting out the good guys and the bad guys can be very difficult, very complicated. But this idea that the Germans were “often aided” by Catholic Poles is ridiculous, and demonstrates a dreadful ignorance of the history of Poland.

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Donald R. McClarey

posted August 13, 2005 at 5:47 pm

Points well taken Whitcomb. France I think had much more of a collaborationist problem than Poland and much less of an excuse for it. The old Drefuss feud had highlighted how divided France was, and remained. The Vichy government actively assisted the Nazi in rounding up French Jews and performed shamefully, although even in France there were many heroic acts of resistance.
As to the rise of the Nazis, I think they are sui generis. Fascist movements in Italy and Spain, although totalitarian, were not anti-Christian and their anti-Semitism was only skin-deep. Until Mussolini became nothing but a puppet of Hitler some Jews held high office in the Fascist Party and many Jews, perhaps 40,000, found refuge in Spain during the war. The Nazis were fundamentally anti-Semitic, of course, and anti-Christian. Pius XII referred to them on more than one occasion as demonic, and perhaps that is as good an explanation as any.

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Donald R. McClarey

posted August 13, 2005 at 6:08 pm

As to Poland, Boniface and I are in complete agreement.

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