Catholic Church and Antisemitism, Poland, 1933-1939
Catholic Church and Antisemitism, Poland, 1933-1939
Studies in Antisemitism
Series Editor: Yehuda Bauer
Chairman, Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
1. Poland, Jews, and the Catholic Church: History and Context 1
A History of Ambivalence 2
1. Jewish origins and autonomy 2
Interwar Poland: A Context for Conflict 182. Liberalism: The Masonic-Jewish “Alliance” 451. The partitions and the church 18The Catholic Church in Interwar Poland 36
Freemasonry and Liberalism 463. The Protocols: The Myth of World Domination 89
The Protocols in Poland 924. The Soviet Union and “Judeo-Communism” 103
On the Soviet Union 1105. Nazi Germany and Racist Antisemitism 129
Nazi Racism and the Vatican 1306. Jews and the Spanish Civil War 159
The Civil War 1597. Everywhere Else: Why not Poland? 175
Belgium 1788. Accusations against the Talmud 189
Talmud on Trial 1919. The Interwar Economy: Poverty and the Boycott 213
Maly Dziennik 22110. A Culture Catholic or else not Polish 243
Christian Culture 24511. Catholic Solutions to the “Jewish Question” 269
Conversion 27012. Violence at the Universities and in the Streets 301
Violence at the Universities 30413. The Vatican and the Polish Bishops 325
Pope Pius XI 32914. By Way of Contrast: The Polish Opponents of Antisemitism 359
Spiritual Semites 354
More Catholics and more Jews lived side by side for more years in Poland than anywhere else in their histories. Before the frontiers of the First Polish Republic began to recede in 1772, an estimated four-fifths of the world's Jews lived within them. This was hardly surprising, since Jews had earlier been expelled from England (1290), France (1394), Spain (1492), Portugal (1497), and Hungary (1526). Blamed for epidemics like the Black Death (1347+1351), regularly harassed and persecuted in Germany and Bohemia, Jews came to Poland as a place of refuge. The climates of Western European might have been milder and the economies more diversified, but, in the opinion of Rabbi Moses Isserles in seventeenth century Kraków, it was “preferable to live on dry bread and in peace in Poland.”
One of the most influential sages in all of Jewish history, Isserles interpreted the Hebrew word for Poland, Polin, to mean “here” (poh) there is “rest” (lin). Poland in the late middle ages had become what first Babylonia and then Spain had been earlier, the spiritual center of world Jewry and principal wellspring of its learning. Needless to say, the idea of a haven and spiritual center for Jews was hardly congruous with what would be a dominant Roman Catholic perspective on Poland, namely a bulwark of Western Christianity vis-à-vis Muslim infidels, Eastern Orthodox schismatics, and in this century Soviet atheists.
I have written this book to fill a gap and draw attention to the activity of the Catholic church at a critically sensitive time and place. The topic is controversial. Selective traditions of writing the history of Polish-Jewish relations have developed over the last several decades. Some Polish historians have tended to focus on the centuries when Poland was a haven for Jews. Jewish historians generally give much more attention to the twentieth century, when Nazi Germany transformed Poland into what is now for many Jews simply a cemetery. Of course, Poland is much more than that, especially now after the collapse of the communist empire which it helped to engineer. But even for those for whom the events of 1933 to 1945 are a source of profound personal loss, for Jews and Christians both, cemeteries are places that command respectful attention.
No nation suffered more under German occupation than Poland did. Three million Polish Jews and three million ethnic Poles died under the Nazi terror. Although World War II was fought conventionally on the western front, it was anything but conventional in Poland. Under ordinary rules of warfare, the killing of non-combatants ends with surrender. In Poland the killing of unarmed civilians increased with pacification. Poland was filled, in Richard L. Rubenstein's apt and insightful phrase, with “surplus populations.”
In the Nazi hierarchy of races, the Poles, like all Slavic peoples, were classified as Untermenschen (sub-humans), fit only to be slaves (Slaven = Sklaven) for the Herrenvolk. Obviously the Reich did not need more than twenty million slaves to work its factories, mines, and quarries. The surplus Polish population was marked for programmatic reduction by way of overwork, starvation, and, beginning with potential leaders of a resistance, more systematic measures. Poland's more than three million Jews, the largest Jewish community in Europe, were even less than sub-human according to the Nazi taxonomy. Designated as inhuman, disease-ridden vermin, they were not only “not worthy of life” but a mortal danger to the rest of Europe, fit only for extermination.
Auschwitz was the ultimate outcome not only of engineering and modern bureaucratic routine, but of a racist ideology that saw state-sponsored genocide as an Endlösung or “Final Solution.” The phrase is often used today without advertence to the fact that solutions are answers to problems or questions. Before there was a “Final Solution,” there was,not only for Nazis but for Christians throughout Europe, especially for conservative Catholics, and even for Jews who succumbed to the prevailing ideology,a “Jewish question.”
This book is largely an exercise in retrieval. It seeks to recover an era made distant not only by the passage of over fifty years but by the horrific events of World War II, the Holocaust, and the Cold War. Substantial historical research and reflection has been brought to bear on the Shoah, the destruction of Europe's six million Jews. Less attention has been given to the years immediately prior to it. This book attempts to recall that period in European, specifically Polish history, when Jews constituted a “question.” It also reappraises and rejects the commonplace assumption that the church's traditional “teaching of contempt” (Jules Isaac's term) was of peculiar significance for the Polish church. There was more to the “Jewish question”for traditionalist Catholics than seeing Jews as rejected by God for their supposedly singular responsibility for the death of Jesus.
In interwar Poland as elsewhere in Catholic Europe, the “Jewish question” was seen as largely originating in 1717. Catholic theologians found it striking that Providence seemed to unleash Satan at two-hundred year intervals: first 1517, then 1717, and most recently 1917. Readers with a sense of history will recognize 1517 as the onset of the Protestant Reformation, and 1917 as the year of the Bolshevik revolution. But 1717? Most reflection on the 1930s and the “Jewish question” ignores or gives short shrift to the founding of the Grand Lodge in London and the organization of modern Freemasonry in 1717.
The notion of a sinister alliance between Freemasons and Jews to subvert traditional European society originated in Germany but first flourished in France, where it played a conspicuous role in the turn-of-the-century Dreyfus Affair. “Juden und Freimauer” was a battle-cry for the German right wing, as it was for Hitler in his rise to power. Although a staple of the antisemitic arsenal of the 1930s and closely connected with the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the idea of a Masonic-Jewish alliance has been largely forgotten today, neglected even by writers on Christian-Jewish relations and the Holocaust.
The enormously important book by Jacob Katz, Jews and Freemasons (1970), has not had the impact on scholarship that, in my opinion, it deserves. Hans Küng, in his imposing and virtually encyclopedic work on Judaism and Jewish-Christian relations, Judaism: Between Yesterday and Tomorrow (1992), appears unaware of Katz's work on the significant role played by the mythic alliance. Even in its revised, updated edition, Edward Flannery's excellent history of Christian antisemitism, The Anguish of the Jews (1985), gives the alliance only brief notice. No author, to my knowledge, has expounded with any detail the connection of the supposed alliance with the Catholic church's century-long struggle against political liberalism. And yet this, my research reveals, was not only present but central to the efforts of the Polish hierarchy and clergy to create or preserve what they conceived of as a “Catholic Poland.” Far from singular, their efforts, the literature also indicates, were merely one component in the broader Catholic polemic that saw Jews as agents of liberalism, associated with Masons to disestablish the church.
This is not a book about Poland. I am not a student of Polish history. My training has been that of a theologian, and, as an American Roman Catholic, I have spent much of my professional life studying and reflecting on the history and theology of the Roman Catholic church. Three of my grandparents came from Poland, however, and I have expended considerable time and effort toward understanding the historical stance of my church toward Jews. This is a book about one aspect of the Catholic church,in the 1930s, when Jews throughout Europe constituted a “question”; in Poland, where no other institution could claim an even comparable moral authority in forming popular attitudes and opinions.
I have limited my research almost exclusively to published works and to the years circumscribed by the Nazi rise to power and the German invasion Poland. I have concentrated on Polish Catholic periodical literature to create a window on the public Catholic consciousness of that most Catholic nation. My research is based on some two-thousand pages of material, photocopied from virtually every important periodical published during those years under Catholic auspices. They were gleaned from thousands of pages more, perused for any significant reference to Jews, Judaism, or antisemitism. No one, of course, read all those periodicals. (In some instances I found myself opening journals previously uncut.) And it is methodologically impossible to determine the precise influence they had on their readers, let alone the broader Polish Catholic consciousness. But taken collectively they tell us not only what individual Catholic writers thought about Jews but what their readers, especially priests, were wont to think. They are indicative of the clerical mind-set at the time. How much influence the church's pulpit exerted on Catholics at the time is even more indeterminate, but it was hardly negligible.
In the analysis and presentation of my research, I allow my sources to speak for themselves, saving any extended moral assessment until the end. I have found it necessary, however, to place it in an historical context. No church in the Roman Catholic communion is an island. The church in Poland was the recipient of a tradition and part of a network, very much in union with the Holy See. I will also leave to the end any judgment whether or not it was out of step with the other Catholic churches of Europe when it came to antisemitism and the “Jewish question.”
I came to this study inspired by the dedicated example of Dr. Joseph Lichten of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, a professional in Catholic-Jewish relations, a pioneer in Polish-Jewish relations. I came to it too after many years on the Advisory Committee to the U.S. National Council of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish Relations. It was, however, my participation in the Polish-American Jewish-American Council that most convinced me of the need for such a work. When I first approached the Jewish Community Council of Detroit to enter into dialogue with Polish-American representatives, I never imagined that the American Jewish Committee and Polish American Congress would raise that local interchange to the level of a national coalition. I am obliged to those who made it possible: Harold Gales, George Szabad, Leonard Chrobot, and David Roth.
More immediately my research was made possible by an initial grant from the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism (SICSA) of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and a sabbatical granted by Saint Louis University, both of which allowed me to travel to libraries in Poland and Rome. Subsequent grants for research travel came from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Philosophical Association, and the Mellon Faculty Development Fund of Saint Louis University. A fellowship awarded by the Annenberg Research Institute (Philadelphia) allowed me to begin the analysis of my research, freed from my university teaching responsibilities.
I wish to acknowledge the helpful courtesy of the staffs of at the following institutions: in Rome the Polish Institute, the Polish College, and the Pontifical Center for Ecclesiastical Research; the Secret Vatican Archives; in Kraków the Jagiellonian University and the Jesuit College; the University of Warsaw; Yad Vashem in Jerusalem; Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.; Saint Hyacinth Seminary-College (Granby, MA), home of the Maximilian Kolbe Archives; the Library of Congress; the New York City Library; the YIVO Institute (New York); and the library of Saint Louis University.
I wish to thank those colleagues and friends who read parts of this manuscript and offered their helpful and constructive criticism: Rabbi David Berger (Brooklyn); Dr. John Klier (London); Dr. Anthony Kosnik (Detroit); Dr. Francis Nichols (St. Louis); Dr. Harry Offenbach (St. Louis); Dr. Kenneth Parker (St. Louis); Dr. Neal Pease (Milwaukee); Dr. Jose M. Sanchez (St. Louis); Mr. and Mrs. George and Shirley Szabad (Haverford), and Rabbi Sherwin Wine (Detroit). They are, of course, not responsible for its shortcomings. I am indebted to Mrs. Janice Harbaugh for her invaluable expertise and technical assistance in bringing this manuscript to completion, and to Ms. Alifa Saadya of the Vidal Sasson International Center for the Study of Antisemitism of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for her skill and solicitude in editing it. Singular thanks go to my wife, Mary Elizabeth Hogan, for sitting with me in under-heated libraries and lending this enterprise her long-suffering support.
Saint Louis University
Copyright ©,2005 , The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. All Rights Reserved.