Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

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Newsletter- September 2001- Supplement

 

 

Mr Karol Gajewski, who teaches history in Sandbach,
Cheshire, U.K. has sent the following response to my Editorial
of last week, which, with his permission, I now pass on to you
all:

Dear Professor Conway,

Many thanks for sending the editorial; the first, I hope of many.
Your analysis of the troubled history of the Catholic-Jewish
Study Group is truly excellent and I have much admiration for
your lucid synthesis. But may I suggest that your description of
the supporters and detractors of Popes needs some
differentiation. The former are not always outraged Catholics,
nor the latter critical Jews. For example, John Cornwell is a
Catholic. His attempt to write a 'definitive' biography of Pius
XII, has been heavily criticised not just by orthodox Catholic
historians but by Jewish commentators too and is of highly
questionable historical value. William Rubinstein, author of
ìThe Myth of Rescueî (1997) described ìHitler's Popeî as 'a
malign exercise in defamation and character assassination' in a
review for the well-known journal 'First Things'. Recently
Rabbi David G. Dalin wrote a most interesting piece in 'The
Weekly Standard' in defence of Piusí actions as I'm sure you
know.

There is a plainly observable tradition in which Jewish scholars
have proved to be among the most trenchant defenders of Pope
Pius XII and his wartime record (Lapide, Levai et al) whilst
some of the bitterest attacks have emanated from what is often
referred to as the 'liberal' Catholic wing of the Church
(Cornwell, Carroll). Furthermore, at least one Jewish admirer
of Pius (Alfred Lilienthal) describes himself as an 'anti-Zionist'
Jew, whereas strong condemnation of Pius has come from
political organisations (ADL as an example) that see their
primary role as strengthening the state of Israel under sustained
attack from a hostile Arab world. Thus, the lines of - for want
of better terms, 'attack and defence' - cut through historical
levels to a theological/political argument involving sections of
both Jewish and Catholic populations. In a perfect world, it
might be possible to dissect out the purely historical from the
school of special pleading, but the historianís scalpel will have
to be specially honed to do this. I believe strongly, in spite of
this caveat, that the attempt must be made.

You write that 'from 1942 onwards...a more outspoken policy
of protest would lead to increased repercussions or vengeance
from the Nazis . . ë My own feeling is that Pius was conscious
of the dangers of retaliation arising out of hasty official
condemnations from much earlier than this date. In fact the
genesis of Pius' assessment of the value of 'protest' in wartime
resides not in World War II, but specifically out of his
experiences in World War I, even before he was appointed
Nuncio to Bavaria in 1917 by Benedict XV. An early
example was the demand from Belgium and its allies Britain
and France that Benedict must denounce the atrocities
allegedly committed by the Germans in August 1914. When an
immediate response was not forthcoming from the Holy
See, Benedict was accused of a morally culpable ësilenceí.
More food for thought must have been provided on the
publication of Mit brennender Sorge in 1937. There was a
dramatic increase in clergy/religious trials after the
reading of the encyclical in Germany: editors were arrested,
printing presses confiscated and journalists thrown out of their
offices. Admittedly a pinprick compared with what was to
come, these events did weigh heavily on the conscience of both
Pius XI and his Secretary of State, Cardinal Pacelli.
More importantly perhaps, it gave an insight into the
pathological response that could be expected from Hitler and
Goebbels when core beliefs of Nazi ideology were questioned
(from 1933 of course, both men had warned of the
ominous repercussions that would ensue for Jews in Germany
if the foreign press continued to file hostile reports on the
government-sponsored boycott of Jewish businesses).

The post-war criticism of Pius, although often assumed to
begin with Hochhuth's 'Representative' in 1963 can, like Pius'
views on 'protest' above, be traced back through the years, in
this former case to political turmoil in the Europe of 1944 -
1948 and the efforts of Communists in Italy and Eastern
Europe to delegitimise the Papacy. Indeed, when ìDer
Stellvertreterî first appeared on the German stage,
commentators noted that Hochhuth had not worked
from a dramatic vacuum: there was a discernible Communist
agit-prop derivation. (One of the most eminent German critics
of Hochhuth at this time was Mgr. Klausener, son of the
murdered leader of Catholic Action, Erich Klausener). Of
particular note here was a publication that appeared in 1954,
translated into English in 1955: ìDer Vatikan im Zweiten
Weltkriegî by M. Scheinmann and published by the Historical
Institute of the Soviet Academy of Sciences and also in a
German edition by Dietz-Verlag, Berlin (1954).

The need for an ultimate explanation for the Holocaust which
you describe as a 'therapeutic necessity' is, of course, beyond
the realms of a purely historical investigation. It is not even
confined within a ëpsycho-analyticalí framework. It involves
much metaphysical examination into the deepest recesses of
the human psyche; into the nature of evil itself; into the
responses of ordinary men and women to the devastating
effects of a totalitarian stateís ëstructures of enslavementí.
Novelists are capable of providing essential insights too -
Orwell's 1984, Koestler's ìDarkness at Noonî and Golding's
ìLord of the Fliesî spring into mind here.

Further, the 'therapeutic necessity' resides not only in a
determined investigation of horrendous events and in the
motivating factors behind them, but in actively suppressing
memories of the very same. Norman Finkelstein in
ìThe Holocaust Industryî makes this point about his own
family. My father, although not Jewish, witnessed many
devastating scenes and hardly spoke about his wartime
experiences. One of the striking points about the study of the
Holocaust per se is that the number of University departments,
books, courses etc concentrating on this phenomenon have
increased exponentially as the generation that were actual
witnesses psses away. Should we perhaps be talking about a
'transferred' psychological imperative: one that is transferred
from those who experienced the massive disruptions, trauma
and genocide of the war to those who, born too late, do not
possess the emotional scarring of the period? Even this latter
postulate does not, in my opinion, answer fully questions of
how the Holocaust has come to dominate historical
discussion of the war, particularly in North America.

I hope these comments prove useful and I emphasise they are
meant as a springboard for more discussion (if you feel like
taking them up) and may I reiterate my admiration for your
essay.

Kindest regards,

Karol Jozef Gajewski