Auschwitz the Christian and the Council
AUSCHWITZ, THE CHRISTIAN, AND THE COUNCIL
by Msgr. John M. Oesterreicher
Born in Austria, Monsignor John M. Oesterreicher witnessed the Nazi invasion of Germany. He thus writes from experience. Author and editor of several books, he is the Director of the Institute of Judaeo-Chrisitan Studies, Seton Hall University, Newark, NJ, and a consultor to the Roman Secretariat for Christian Unity to which Pope John XXIII gave the mandate of preparing a declaration on the Church and the Jews for the Second Vatican Council
Men and women everywhere, those at home in the Church and those afar, see the Council as a great promise: a promise for the Church as well as for the world. Many expect vigorous stirrings from it; indeed, we are already witnessing the first movements of the Spirit. Many hope that it will contribute to a re-ordering of human society, that it will set a new pattern for the co-existence of men of all faiths in the sight of God, particularly for that of Jews and Christians.
The Secret of the Concentration Camps
It would be shallow optimism to assume that the new day will arrive without pain or anguish. The "will" in this sentence is incomplete. The birth pangs of the coming age are not reserved for today or tomorrow; much of the torment has already been borne, the heaviest portion of it, no doubt, by the Jewish people. Not only was their burden the heaviest in a world of many sufferers — it was heavier than any other they had endured. Jewish suffering during the 1930s and 1940s is best summed up in the name "Auschwitz," a name made so horrible that it stands for all the killing centers, all the concentration camps, all the gas ovens, all the barracks, cellars, and ditches the Nazis turned into tombs. Auschwitz is a symbol because there the process of murder was the most elaborate, the most technically developed.
Before I dare describe the horror of Auschwitz, I feel I must deal with a few vexing problems that may be on many minds. What was it that made the Nazis call the crematoria they had built to extinguish all Jewish life "special installations" or "bath houses"? Was it a last trace of shame? Was it a desire to avoid outside interference by throwing a net of secrecy over the horrors of mass murder? Or was it one more devilish device to forestall riots and enforce "orderly procedure," in death as in life? The three hundred wild geese kept at Sobibor, one of the largest extermination camps in Poland, seem to answer the question. Again and again, they were deliberately frightened by their keepers so that their shrieks would drown out the shouts of those about to die; thus even the screams of mothers for their children and the children's cries: "Mommy! Mommy!" failed to arouse the prisoners chosen, not yet to die, but to do forced labor.
The two great weapons in the death scheme of the Nazis were brutality and deception. Why, it is often asked, did millions of Jews permit their slayers to do as they pleased? Raul Hilberg has convincingly shown that resistance depends on two factors: the willingness of the victim to rise against his oppressors and a precise knowledge of the dangers he faces. For centuries, however, Jews "had deliberately unlearned the art of revolt"; moreover, the captives were kept in the dark by their Nazi oppressors about the fate that awaited them.
Undoubtedly, many incoming Jews had a premonition that they had arrived in a killing center. Reports, rumors, and logical deductions had accomplished that. But the victims did not know the details of the killing operation, the when and the how. They did not know what to expect from step to step.
In Belzec, as in other "plants," the first instruction given the new arrivals over the loud-speakers was to take off their clothes. Immediately afterwards, an SS man escorted the victims to the inhalation chamber. As they marched along, he "comforted" them: "Breathe deeply, it will strengthen your lungs. It's a good disinfectant!" This lie and similar ones with which the Nazis lulled their victims show the fiendish character of the plot in a special light: The murderers pretended to be good Samaritans.
When the deception had done its work, brutality took over. As soon as the naked columns arrived at the gas chambers, whips sped their final steps. The whip was the "scepter" of the guards. Often men, small-minded, petty, and weak, men who had never amounted to anything in life, they now wielded power over a whole world, as it were: even the best, even the wisest were helpless before them.
One wonders, however, what was more brutal, the lashing or the stripping. The forced nakedness of the prisoners was an attempt to divest them of their dignity as persons. Clothes not only protect and adorn the body, they also bespeak the spirit of man, his sense of beauty, his style, his respect for himself, his reverence for others. In short, clothes mark a man as a civilized being. When the victims were compelled to undress, they were robbed, therefore, of their part in civilization. They were thrown into a mass of like men, all drained of initiative, and the last flicker of resistance was snuffed out.
Most of the time, this efficiency device worked only too well. But in Treblinka, another death camp — where, during the winter, people had to stand naked at temperatures from 20 to 30 degrees below zero -- babies were not so easily silenced. When some of these little ones saw their mothers' hair being shaved to the scalp, they tried to interfere -- only to be grabbed by their feet and dashed against a wall. At times, the guard would return the little smashed body to the mother.
When one thinks of the coolness and the zeal with which the guards and other helpers seem to have served this program of mass murder, one is not surprised that Himmler himself was shaken, at least for a moment, when one of his lieutenants remarked: "Look at the eyes of the men. . . . They are finished for life. What sort of followers are we really training here? Neuropaths or brutes?"
The Horror of Auschwitz
Auschwitz was the model. There, inhuman efficiency was at its peak. There, the lie was cultivated. There, brutality had become a conveyor belt so that in a given day from ten to twenty thousand Jewish men, women, and children could be "eliminated." The total number of Jews gassed in Auschwitz will never be known. Hoss, its commander, first estimated the number at 2,500,000; later, at his trial, he reduced it to 1,350,000. Others speak of "only" 600,000. Each of these figures, one must remember, refers to the victims of the gas ovens, and not to those shot, starved to death, or dying in other ways.
When the victims, who had been herded into box cars, arrived at the railroad station, they were met by the camp physicians. There, on the platform, the doctors would choose those who were to die immediately and those who were first to give the few ounces of strength left in them to the Nazi industrial empire. As the deportees went by, the physicians selected, in a rather haphazard manner, the physically "fit" from the "unfit." A thumb pointing right meant work; a thumb pointing left, death. The majority of those going right became forced laborers; a few, however, were used as guinea pigs by the camp's "medical researchers" till they were of no further use to their torturers.
Those going left were deprived of their luggage; men and women were separated and led to the area of extermination. The better to deceive them, an outdoor symphony orchestra, made up of Jewish players, was sometimes placed along the road to death. The victims saw the chimneys, the flames, the smoke; they smelled the stench of the crematoria -- yet the farce of Nazi benevolence continued. In the halls leading to the gas chambers, signs had been posted, reading "wash and disinfection room." The low in the game of camouflage was reached by the receipts handed to the death candidates for clothing collected. Under the watchful eyes of Nazi guards -- but also of Jewish work gangs who were made accomplices in the murder of their kinsmen and held to this odious task by the bait of a temporary exemption from the fate of the rest -- the victims were shoved into the gas chambers. Even then many, still clinging to hope, thought they were to take showers. Those who hesitated were whipped to make them move along.
The moment the victims were trapped inside the "wash-room" they must have realized the ghastly hoax. The deceptive shower sprays did not work; the light suddenly went off. Zyklon B, a quick-working gas that Hoss, the above-mentioned commander of the camp, had introduced, was delivered to the building in -- of all things! -- a Red Cross car. The gas pellets were poured through a vent into the death chamber. As the fumes rose, panic sometimes took hold of the victims: The stronger among them struck down the weaker, stepping on them to reach a level of air not yet contaminated. But this desperate effort helped only for moments. Generally, the agonies lasted for about two minutes; in four, everyone was dead.
The Unvanquished Spirit
Only a man unfeeling and unconscious of his own frailty would dare judge those who, gripped by fear, fought to prolong their lives, no matter how foolish their struggle. Moreover, I would not only be lacking in compassion, I would also wrong the murdered were I to give the impression that, at Auschwitz and other places of terror, mutual aid and solidarity in suffering were unknown, that among the transients through these death factories fierce strife for survival was the only rule. One need only look at the famous photograph of men, women, and children being marched out of the burning Warsaw ghetto, at gun point. Some walk arm in arm; all keep close; the hatred of their torturers and their own fellowship in suffering makes them one heart and one body.
Eyewitnesses also tell of many who, the very instant they realized their doom, prayed aloud. Often the Jewish profession of faith: Shema Yisra'el, "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One" rent the air, thereby turning defeat into victory. That men, about to breathe the deadly gas, could proclaim the living God; that at the moment of agony, they could call upon Him who is love, foretold the ultimate ruin of the would-be masters of destruction.
While Hitler's war still lasted, Sholem Asch wrote an article, In the Valley of Death. The many victims of the Warsaw ghetto made him wonder who was to be pitied more, the victims or the murderers. The believers among the victims, he held, saw "the light of salvation in their martyr death." If the murderers, however, possessed any human feelings, he asked, did they not see the mark of Cain on their foreheads, a mark no detergent could wash away? Referring to a proclamation by the underground forces of Warsaw on the mass murder of Polish Jewry, Sholem Asch continues:
There is one sentence in the proclamation which is characteristic: "Catholics dying with the name of Christ and the Holy Mother on their lips, together with orthodox Jews calling their last prayer Hear O Israel . . ." I do not believe that since Nero those two calls have been mingled together in one arena of martyrdom.
The death-ovens were a later development in the Nazi technique of extermination. The primitive method was an open ditch or a mass grave which the victims frequently had to dig themselves. At times, they were made to run toward the place of execution, to lie down at the bottom of the ditch, or on those just killed, so as to be machine-gunned by the SS. At other times, they were made to stand at the brink of their grave, so as to be shot and kicked into the charnel pit. All their efforts notwithstanding, the executioners were not able to suppress altogether the dignity of their Jewish victims,
An eyewitness recounts:
During the quarter hour that I stood near the pits, I heard no complaints or pleas to be spared. I watched a family group of about eight people, a man and his wife, both approximately fifty years old, surrounded by their children of about one, eight, and ten, as well as two grown-up daughters, between twenty and twenty-four. An elderly lady with snow white hair held the one year old baby in her arms, sang something to him and tickled him. The child gurgled with joy. The couple looked on with tears in their eyes. The father held the boy of about ten by the hand and spoke to him softly; the boy was fighting his tears. The father pointed toward heaven, stroked his head and apparently explained something to him.
The same sworn statement contains this description:
The pit was about three fourths full. According to my estimate about one thousand people already lay in it. I turned toward the sharpshooter. He, an SS man, sat on the ground at the edge of the narrow side, his legs dangling into the pit; an automatic pistol lay on his knees while he smoked a cigarette. The people, completely naked, went down some steps that had been cut into the clay wall of the pit, clambered over the heads of the people lying there, to the place indicated by the SS man. They lay down in front of the dead or injured, some caressing those who were still alive and whispering to them.
In this and other ways, some six million Jews died in the countries that had come under Hitler's mad rule. Many thousands were hidden and survived, thanks to the heroism of those who defied the ubiquitous hand of the persecutor. A few were daring and lucky enough to escape from the heavily guarded concentration camps. One such escapee tells how, at night, he and his comrades approached a peasant's house near the river Bug. They knocked, were welcomed in, offered rest, given bread for their journey by the woman of the house and, in the end, shown the road to safety by the young peasant himself. As they departed, the patriarch of the family made the sign of the Cross over them.
There were those who supported the Nazis, though not necessarily their program of murder. There were others who, feeling utterly paralyzed, feared to think or act. But there were also those who shared the anguish of the victims and gave them of their love. The old man near the Polish-Russian border stands for those few. His blessing was a pledge that the Son of Man, who had "nowhere to lay His head" (Mt 8:20), was not far from the persecuted.
The Cloak of Anti-Semitism
To tell the horrors of Auschwitz is to invite the question: Why? Why did the Nazis hate the Jews? Why did they try to wipe them out? Apparently, several motives spurred Hitler and his cohorts. The most obvious was a tactical one: Agitation against the Jews was a "superb" means of propaganda, a political and economic weapon in Germany as well as in the occupied countries. By pointing to a secret enemy, the Nazis thought to distract attention from their own doings. While they railed against "a Jewish plot for world domination," they had their followers sing: "Today Germany is ours, tomorrow the entire world." A mixture of audacity and cowardice, the Nazis transposed their own lust onto the Jews. In this way, they disguised their own actions as self-defense and prepared their own exoneration, should their tyranny collapse.
It was Jewry, Hitler declared again and again, that sought to encircle Germany, ruin it economically, and enslave it politically. It was the Jews who directed British imperialism, American plutocracy, and Russian bolshevism. Even in the farewell statement he drew up only hours before his suicide. Hitler could not refrain from blaming the Jews. "Those international statesmen who were either of Jewish descent or worked for Jewish interests," not he, had started the war. Jewry was "the real criminal of this murderous struggle." Forever will it be "saddled with responsibility." To the very end. Hitler remains true to form and thus concludes his testament with a call to "merciless resistance against the world poisoner of all nations, international Jewry."
Were Hitler's last words but wanton propaganda? Or did he tell his lies so often that he believed them himself? Like many of his sayings, his last utterance reveals the anti-Semitism of the Nazis to be something more than a mere technique. To be sure, it was an attempt -- not always unsuccessful -- to weaken other nations by disrupting their unity. It was a prelude to the attack on the "inferior Slavs," the "negroid French," the "mongrelized Americans." It was meant to serve as the training ground for world conquest. Though it became carefully planned strategy, its roots lay not in the calculating mind but in more primitive reactions. For the most part, the Nazis were hollow men who craved an ideology that would save them from their inner emptiness; they were misfits who needed the illusion of grandeur. Rather than watch their own disintegration, they let instinct push them toward the destruction of others. Thus the Jew became the symbol of their inner selves.
Few documents reveal the psychological structure of the Nazis so well as one published by the headquarters of the SS. It is entitled The Subman. "As the night rises against the day, as light and shadow are enemies forever -- so is man the greatest foe of the man destined to rule the earth," the anonymous author rhapsodizes. Outwardly the two types of men resemble one another. Hands and feet, eyes and mouth, make them look alike. Yet, the latter is a mere sketch; indeed, his urges make him rank below the beast. "Within this man, there reigns an appalling chaos of wild, unrestrained passions: a nameless drive toward destruction, a primitive greed, an undisguised meanness. Subman -- nothing else!" All the great thoughts and works that adorn the earth are the fruit of the man destined to rule. In his desire to advance, he made the plow, fashioned the tool, built the house. In his quest for a higher level of existence, he became social, good, and great. Family, people, state came into being, and man became God's neighbor.
But the subman, too, was alive. He hated the work of the other. He raged against it, secretly as a thief, publicly as a slanderer, a murderer. . . . Never did the subman maintain peace. Never did he leave the world undisturbed. He needed the twilight, the chaos. He shunned the light of cultural progress. For his self-preservation he required the swamp, hell, but not the sun. And this subworld of submen found their leader -- the eternal Jew.
No excursion into modern psychology is necessary to realize that the anonymous author unwittingly painted his own likeness and that of his comrades.
The Fear of Conscience
In the days of Auschwitz, Jews were defamed and killed because the Nazis had projected upon them the evil that possessed their own souls. This, however, was not the only function the Jews served in the Nazi scheme. As Scripture tells us, the Jewish people, bidden by God, once took its place at the foot of Mount Sinai. Ancient Jewish tradition goes a step further: The generation that witnessed the promulgation of the commandments represented all future generations. Because the children of Israel are, as it were, one body, the generations-to-come were gathered with the desert pilgrims around the mountain that trembled before the majesty of the Lord. The Jews are the people that heard -- not once, but again and again -- the words "You shall," "You shall not," words that are like thunder in man's rebellious ear. Theologically, then, the Jews are the people of the law; they are and remain this people, no matter whether individual Jews do or do not conform to the quality the law demands.
With the intuitive grasp that only deep passion, be it love or hatred, can give, Hitler saw the theological significance of the Jewish people. It was not an empty boast when he declared:
We are putting an end to the wrong path mankind has taken.
The tablets of Mount Sinai have lost their validity. Conscience is a Jewish invention. Like circumcision, it mutilates man.
A new age of magic world interpretation is on the rise: an interpretation that springs from the will, and not from knowledge.
There is no such thing as truth, either in the moral or in the scientific sense. . . . Every deed is meaningful, even crime. . . . The word crime belongs to a world over which we have triumphed. There are positive and negative activities. Every crime in the old sense towers above bourgeois immobility. . . .
One must distrust mind and conscience, one must place one's trust in one's instincts.
Thus spoke Hitler, champion of the new age, master of a new morality, founder of a new society. No wonder he was compelled to detest a people whose elite had preached to the world that man is not meant to be ruled by his inclinations but by the everlasting will of God. If, as he held, conscience was their legacy to the world, they had to be hated. If they were like the invaders of Troy, if theirs was a gift deceitful and lethal, they had to be disarmed, better still, wiped out. Such was the logic of absurdity.
The Scandal of Christ
Hitler's loathing of conscience still does not tell the whole story. As Jews reproach the man who wishes to live by instinct alone because their very existence reminds him of the moral imperative, so the very sight of them speaks to him of the Christ -- Christ leading man from the yoke of the commandments to the dynamic of love. If anything was more hateful to Hitler's circle than the words of Mount Sinai, it was the words spoken on the Mountain of the Beatitudes. Even of humanness, Himmler said that it was "a Christian softening of the spine." At his order, a plaque with Nietzsche's saying "Praised be what hardens" was hung in almost all SS offices. What might he have said about confidence in, and life by, grace?
The German bishops knew what they were saying when, on a Sunday in June of 1961, in a prayer for the murdered Jews and their persecutors, they asked all German Catholics to recite:
Lord, God of our fathers! God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. Father of mercy and God of all consolation! You ranged yourself at the side of Israel, your servant; you sent to him and to all men Jesus Christ your Son, their Redeemer. You delivered Him, the guiltless One, for our sakes so that we might all be saved.
We profess before you: In our midst, countless men were slain because they belonged to the people from which comes the Messiah, according to the flesh.
That Nazi hatred of the Jews was, at its deepest layer, hatred of Christ is the conviction even of witnesses not necessarily friendly to the Church. In The Black Book, for instance, published by a group of organizations, prominent among which was the Jewish anti-Fascist Committee of Moscow, its authors declare:
The war against Jewry and Judaism also served as the spearhead of the Nazi crusade against the Christian religion, diametrically opposed to the new gospel of the Fuehrer and the Fuehrer-State. Beginning with a vituperative attack on the Old Testament, the Nazis soon launched a crusade against the New Testament, "laden with the filth of Near Eastern Jewish and African life." They started by defiling and burning the synagogues, but before they were through they nearly dominated the churches of Germany and the occupied countries. Anti-Semitism was the strategic weapon for the attack on "Jewish-tainted Christianity."
Evidence of this thesis is overwhelming, though it may not easily be found in the Nazi literature designed for the outside world. To lull his pupils, and perhaps also himself, into a false peace, a grade school teacher went so far as to compare -- I hesitate as I write these words -- Hitler to Jesus. The ideas dominating the inside circles, however, were of a different order. A marching song of the storm troopers, called "Out with the Jews! Out with the Pope!", makes its point over and over again:
Defiantly, we struggled for fifteen years to win abiding power.
We stormed, we won, even though Rome and Judah mocked.
We did not shed our blood, without name or glory,
So that Christianity keep Jew-ridden the German way. . .
Let the Christian offer Palestine his years, his heart, his hand;
We are free of Mount Sinai, Germany is our Holy Land....
Pope and rabbi, both must go. Heathens we will be again,
No longer crawl to Church. Ours is the sun wheel's lead.
These are but four of the stanzas of a song whose theme is repeated endlessly by the refrain: "Out with the Jews! Out with the Pope! Turn them out of Germany's house!" Another rhyme that made its rounds among the storm troopers of Munich in the fall of 1934 proclaimed that "as long as priests utilize confession and altar to ensnare German souls into the Pope's militia, as long as Christian teaching betrays the Nordic way, Jewry will continue to violate German honor."
The Slow Awakening
Anyone who did not experience those years of utter disgrace may be tempted to consider these songs merely occasional vulgarities, as if one of the characteristics of that time had not been the marching columns that dominated, not only streets, but also hearts. The following episode shows how very slow the awakening was, no, how far the blindness went.
In 1938, I saw a photograph of the entrance to a German village that, like many others, had -- instead of the customary road sign or invitation to strangers -- a notice forbidding access to Jews: "Jews are not welcome here!" This dismal board was bad enough in itself. It may be that the village president had been told by higher authorities to erect the warning at the village gate, but certainly no one had commanded him to plant it next to -- a wayside cross. Obviously, neither he nor the other villagers were aware of the abysmal irony of this juxtaposition. Here hung the Crucified -- "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews," the inscription above His head proclaimed --, imploring with arms wide open: "Come to me, all of you who labor and are burdened. I will give you relief" (Mt 11:28) .There was the rejection, directed not only at Jewish passers-by but also at Him who, one might have thought, had found a lasting abode in the hearts of many villagers.
We must not read too much into a story like this. Yet, it shows how little the National-Socialist revolution was understood in those days. It shows how few realized that, to the masters of the Third Reich, Synagogue and Church were one and the same enemy. The really "final solution of the Jewish problem" was to be the doing away of the entire biblical heritage, of gospel and Church, of grace and mercy; the physical slaughter of the Jewish people was only a giant step toward this goal. To put it differently, Jews were made to "pay" for having been the instruments of God's revelation, Is it not appalling that rancor against salvation history should have made Adolf Hitler, Alfred Rosenberg and the rest pierce two thousand years of conflict between Christians and Jews, years of mutual recrimination and bitter hostility, to see their solidarity when, even today, there are still Christians as well as Jews who do not think or feel in terms of their common brotherhood? An inner mutual bond like this is not of our making, nor is it left to our choice. It exists whether we like it or not. For our own good, however, we had better like it.
I can understand that Jews find no comfort in the thought that the Nazis held them responsible for the coming of Christ, that the victims of Auschwitz were, therefore, unwitting martyrs for His sake. For centuries, they had been pursued as Christ-killers. Suddenly, they were attacked as Christ-bearers. Here is an antithesis, an irony a Jew cannot but find hard to take. It may even be offensive to him to think of his kinsmen tortured by the Nazis as forced witnesses to Jesus. A Christian, however, should go down on his knees. The thought that Jews were made to bear the Christian's burden should shake him into the realization of a kinship he has too long forgotten.
To return to the perplexity and pain experienced by Jews at the thought that, despite the long separation, their enemy should still link them to Jesus: Has this difficulty led Jews more and more to abandon the view that the Christophobia of their torturers fed the fire that engulfed them? During Hitler's war, men like Maurice Samuel favored this interpretation. To quote a few passages from various chapters of his book:
Anti-Semitism is the expression of the concealed hatred of Christ and Christianity, rising to a new and catastrophic level in the western world. . . .
The liberals, still committed to a non-moral dream of human perfectibility, though a few are shaking themselves free, refuse to understand that an attack on western civilization must operate as an attack on the Christian morality. Therefore they see in anti-Semitism one of many political devices instead of the specific symptom of the anti-Christ convulsion. . . .
We shall never understand the maniacal, world-wide seizure of anti-Semitism unless we transpose the terms. It is of Christ that the Nazi Fascists are afraid; it is in his omnipotence that they believe; it is him that they are determined madly to obliterate. But the names of Christ and Christianity are too overwhelming, and the habit of submission to them is too deeply ingrained after centuries and centuries of teaching. Therefore they must, I repeat, make their assault on those who were responsible for the birth and spread of Christianity. They must spit on the Jews as "the Christ-killers" because they long to spit on the Jews as the Christ-givers.
The fury of anti-Semitism is universal and inevitable because to destroy Christ and Christianity is the most important single idealistic objective of the force-philosophy. It is in fact, the objective.
The Result of Christian History?
At the time of Hitler's tyranny, not a few Jews saw eye to eye with Maurice Samuel. In our day, most agree with Jules Isaac. In The Teaching of Contempt, he asks whether it is really astonishing that after centuries of abuse -- centuries during which the Jews were called a people of Cains, of Judases, of God-slayers -- that there should arise from German Catholicism "the cruelest, most relentless fighters for Nazi racism." "They have only taken up," he continues, "and carried to its point of perfection a tradition well established in Christendom since the Middle Ages -- a tradition of hatred and contempt, of degradation and servitude, of disgrace and violence, on the official as well as the popular level."
I shall not discuss the careless manner with which "German Catholicism" is made to bear the responsibility for all those Nazis who had not only left the Church but hated her with venom and prided themselves on their unbelief. I shall deal here only with what might be called Isaac's "exposure" and its appeal to those who favor a straight-line reading of history. So plausible does it appear that it has been accepted not only by Jews but also by some Christians. Still, the evidence is to the contrary. It is more than probable that the horrifying charge that all Jews are deicides prevented many Christians, of high rank and of none, from seeing, for a time, the Nazi crimes for what they were. This warped view may have maimed the conscience of thousands, even millions, as irritation at the subversive activity of a few Jews deafened many ears to God's plea rising from the torture of all. In 1958, at the war crimes trial in Ulm, the prosecutor questioned a minister on his silence. He asked the pastor why he had not taken a stand when, back in his Lithuanian parish at the beginning of the war, the brutal Einsatzkommandos, the "special duty troops," had mowed down masses of Jews. After some hesitation, he declared it had been his opinion that their massacre was but a consequence of the curse with which they had once cursed themselves. They had shouted before the judgment seat of Pilate: "His blood be on us and on our children." (Mt 27:25) (The "they," incidentally, are not the Jews of all times but a crowd of that time -- a few thousand men at most, among them many sympathizers of Barabbas, the freedom fighter admired by some, feared by others -- which can hardly be considered the true representative of all Jewry and which certainly could not have forced Pilate to deliver Jesus to his soldiers for execution.) Mistaking the sinful and often inhuman chair of Pilate for the holy throne of God, mistaking, too, the shouting of an ill-tempered and foolish crowd, manipulated by Caiphas, not knowing what it was saying, for an unalterable decree of the Lord, the minister obviously thought the blood shed by the Nazis was the blood the mob had called upon their children. To hold, however, that the sin of a few is laid by God on an entire people till the end of time is poor, is bad theology.
I am sorry I can quote only a Protestant, and not a Catholic. A truly Christian critique of any situation demands that, instead of searching for the sawdust in the eyes of others, one seek first the beams in one's own eye and in the eyes of one's brethren. I am compelled to refer to a Lutheran pastor because I have never heard a similar statement by a Catholic priest, though many may have been made.
To speak of things that I myself have heard and seen: In the Austria of the middle thirties, there were Catholics who tried to adjust a little to the Nazi philosophy. Some even thought that they might "take the wind out of Nazi sails" by favoring a legislation that would give Jews a status apart from their fellow-citizens. One heard people use all the old slogans again: for instance, that Jews were too loud for Nordic ears; that they were given to luxury; that they were irresponsible in their business dealings; that they were strangers to the soil. Orientals really, and therefore obeying a different moral code, particularly in sexual matters. There seemed to be no end to these and similar phrases, and never did those who recited them ask themselves whether these facile judgments were really true and what consequences they might have. To a sickening point, one had to listen to these hollow declamations. Yet, I cannot remember a single instance in which one of those "fellow travelers" demanded a "special statute" for the Jews because they were guilty of the death of Christ. Never did I hear any of these Nazi sympathizers even refer to Jews as Christ-killers.
This personal experience may not be conclusive. A look, however, at the history of ideas makes clear that Auschwitz was not the logical conclusion, not the climax of a distorted reading or understanding of the passion of Christ. Auschwitz was the bitter fruit of an ancient ressentiment against the crucified Lord. Having smoldered for centuries, it burst out first in Nietzsche's writings, then in Hitlers deeds.
Nietzsche, The Trail Blazer
In calling Nietzsche one of the forerunners of Nazi anti-Semitism, indeed, one of its major trail blazers, I do not wish to imply that, had he witnessed its appearance, he would have approved it; on the contrary, he would have turned from its every aspect in utter horror. Still, Nazi hostility toward the Jews was, at times directly, at times indirectly, nourished by his words. I readily admit that he was not only critical of the anti-Semites of his day, he detested them. He called anti-Semitism a folly and poured his scorn on "anti-Jewish stupidity," in the same breath with which he had ridiculed anti-Polish, Wagnerian, Prussian stupidities -- all mental derangements of a people afflicted by the fever of nationalism.
In The Antichrist, written in 1888, however, he said "that before reading the New Testament one had better put on gloves" -- it was simply unclean. "One would as little choose 'early Christians' for companions as Polish Jews. . . . Neither has a pleasant smell." Nietzsche could not bear the incomparable greatness of a Redeemer whose invitation went out to the healthy but also, indeed above all, to "the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind" (Lk 14:13)! A few lines later, he declares that the only New Testament figure worthy of honor is Pontius Pilate, the man who refused to take a Jewish brawl seriously. "One Jew more or less" did not matter to the Governor, animated as he was by "the noble scorn of a Roman."
That noble scorn "enriched the New Testament with the only saying that has any value -- and which is, at once, its criticism and its destruction: 'What is truth?'"
In the context of Nietzsche's life, his words on "the predatory beast," "the magnificent blond brute, avidly rampant for spoil and victory" may have been no more than subconscious outcries of ebbing vitality. In the context of his thought, "the blond beast" hardly meant what his inferior imitators made of it. Still, he coined the phrase, and this coinage, like other words of his, became the rallying cry of the would-be strong. Nietzsche applauded the mighty, the rulers who, when among their own were restrained by respect, custom, jealousy; who, toward their own kind, distinguished themselves by consideration, self-control, tenderness, loyalty, and friendship, whereas toward the outside world, toward things alien, they were "not much better than beasts of prey let loose."
There they relish freedom from all social constraint; in the wilderness, they make up for the tension a long enclosure and imprisonment within the peace of the community brings about. They revert to the innocence, the [unhampered] conscience of the beast of prey, like jubilant monsters who have come, let us say, from a ghastly series of murder, arson, rape, and torture with a bravado and equanimity as if they had taken part in nothing but a students' prank. . . . At the center of all these noble races, there is the beast of prey.
When Nietzsche concluded that, from time to time, the predatory animal needed release that "the beast must be let out again, must return to the wilderness," he gave to the Nazi tormentors of the Jews, and of all the groups and nations they disdained, not only free rein, but he also crowned them with false glory.
To repeat, I am not concerned with the totality of Nietzsche's thought nor with its contradictions. I cannot possibly analyze here what in his writings is sheer spite, sheer perversity, and what is real conviction. Neither have I the least desire to judge Nietzsche the man, but I must judge his role in the history of anti-Semitism. As judge of this role, I cannot but say that he sired the anti-theological impulse of Nazism. One only has to read aloud his outpourings in order to realize their poisonous effect on the generation that followed him. Here is an example:
Christianity, sprung from Jewish roots and understandable only as a growth of that soil, is the counter movement against every morality of breeding, race, and privilege: It is the anti-Aryan religion par excellence. Christianity is the transposition of all Aryan values, the victory of chandala values [values common to the "untouchables," the outcasts]. It is the gospel preached to the poor, the lowly, the total revolt of all that is downtrodden, wretched, ill-developed, or crippled against "race" -- the immortal revenge of the chandala as the religion of love.
What is Christianity, then, for Nietzsche? Contempt for the body; cruelty toward oneself and toward others; mortal enmity for all that is aristocratic; hatred of the mind, of pride, courage, and freedom, hatred of the senses, of joy in the senses, of joy in general. The god of Christians is "the patron of the sick," "a spider" -- "one of the most corrupt god-concepts ever attained on earth." So pale is he that all that is strong, brave, lordly, and proud is gone from his image. Here god has sunk to a level where he is nothing but "a staff for the weary, a sheet anchor for the drowning." So distorted is Nietzsche's vision that he mistakes the lofty summons of the Christian message for a call to the great leveling.
Nietzsche's sarcasm continues through his later writings; like any craving, it is never satisfied. "The poor man's god, the sinner's god," he mocks, went with the chosen people into strange lands, went about till he was at home everywhere, "the Great Cosmopolitan." Though he won half the earth to his side,
he has remained a Jew, he has remained the god of back streets, the god of dark holes, of shacks, of all the unhealthy quarters of the world! His universal kingdom is, now as always, a domain of the underworld, a hospital, a basement realm, a ghetto kingdom.
Here speaks no deep thinker, rather, I am sorry to say, a sensation-hungry writer. His pathos is false, his rhetoric that of a man inebriated by the wine of his own words. Behind the scornful "he has remained a Jew" stands the fact -- so shocking to Nietzsche, the Aryan -- that the holy and living One, the Creator of the heavens and of the earth, wishes for all time to be known and to be addressed as the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and that the Church adores Him as such. Behind the flippant "the god of back streets and dark holes" hides the resentment that Jesus was born in a cave; that He spent much of His life in "unhealthy quarters" till, at the hour of His death, He made the agonized cry of all pain-laden creatures His own. Himself the very opposite of a life-intoxicated, dancing Dionysos, Nietzsche compensated for his delicate constitution by hymning the lust for life and for destruction, by ridiculing the "pale" redeemer who broke down under his burden. Nietzsche did not tire of speaking of the ressentiment of others because his own did not let him go.
Christianity, the Jewish Revenge
Lest his readers brush his "diagnosis" aside, Nieztsche "hammers" it in. Christianity is "not: a reaction against Jewish instincts, it is their natural issue, another step in their fearsome logic." I am the last one to deny that Christianity is deeply rooted in the faith, the life, and the worship of ancient Israel. But it is not rooted in any instincts, Jewish or "Aryan," rather does it crucify them. It proclaims to all, Jews as well as heathens, that the "old Adam" must give way to the new man; that in order to have a share in God's kingly reign, everyone -- no matter where he was born, no matter what the color of his skin, no matter what his language -- is in need of rebirth.
Nonetheless, Nietzsche sees the origin of Christianity like this: Faced with the question of whether to be or not to be, the Jews chose to be at any price, and the price was falsification of everything natural. To get even with their enemies, their conquerors, they upset the aristrocratic equation: good = noble = mighty = beautiful == happy = loved by the gods. In its place they set the opposite. The wretched alone are the good, none but the suffering, the needy, the loathsome are the truly devout. Thus, "the hatred of the impotent" begot, what Nietzsche considers, the Jewish slave revolt in the moral realm, the most subtle revenge.
Not only did Nietzsche misunderstand the gospel completely, he was blind to the fact that it was power, divine power (I Cor 1:18, 24). Never does it praise degradation, suffering, or want as such. Yet, it empowers everyone who lives by it to bless his own burden, indeed to turn that burden into a source of blessing. Nietzsche's counter-proclamation of the gaiety of Greece, the joyousness of the pagan world, the triumphant exuberance of the "blond brute" was nothing but propaganda. His ideals were wish dreams: The man of antiquity, like the neopagan, was at bottom a man of desperation. But Nietzsche refused to acknowledge the gospel's victory over despair.
For him, Christ's entry into the pagan world had nothing majestic, nothing magnanimous about it. What took place was simply this:
From the trunk of that tree of revenge and hatred, Jewish hatred -- that most profound and sublime hatred which creates ideals and transforms values) the like of which has never existed on earth -- there grew something equally incomparable, a new love, the most profound and sublime of all loves. And from what other trunk could it have grown? Let no one think that this love went on its upward climb as the very negation of that thirst for revenge, as an antithesis to the Jewish hate! No, the opposite is the truth! . . . This Jesus of Nazareth, incarnate gospel of love, this "redeemer" who brought bliss and victory to the poor, the sick, the sinful -- was he not really temptation in its most uncanny and irresistible form, the temptation and detour to none other than those Jewish values? . . . Has not Israel obtained the first goal of its sublime revenge, by precisely the snare of this "redeemer," for all that he might appear as Israel's adversary and destroyer.
The Leap from Reverie to Crime
The gospel had often been maligned but never with Nietzsche's vehemence. It had had powerful foes but hardly ever enemies as obsessed, as twisted as he and his epigoni. No opponent who went before him equaled his intensity in making Church and Jewry a joint target. To be sure, his animosity was not that of the vulgar anti-Semite, but it was nonetheless dangerous. No doubt, Nazi anti-Semitism had other mentors as well -- Count Joseph de Gobineau, Richard Wagner, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, to mention only a few. Fichte, Treitschke, Stocker, Lueger, and others contributed to its formation. But compared with Nietzsche, they were just bunglers. Even if someone could prove that the ideologists of the Third Reich had never read a single line of Nietzsche's anti-Semitic declarations, it would mean little. Surely, his outbursts against Germans and things German must have infuriated them, but they were still under his spell. One cannot call, as Nietzsche did, the Christian concept of God "the perverse castration of a god to make him a god of goodness alone" and expect it to be cast to the winds. Nietzsche's challenge to his time was:
Is it not part of the secret black art of a truly great policy of revenge -- of a farseeing, subterranean, slow moving, and calculating revenge -- that Israel herself had to brand the actual instrument of her revenge before all the world as a mortal enemy and nail him to the cross so that "all the world," that is, all of Israel's adversaries could, without suspicion, nibble at this bait? Further, is it possible, even for the most cunning of minds, to invent a bait more dangerous than this one?
Once questions like these are shouted into the world, they will be echoed, again and again. Not only will they be echoed -- they will be magnified and translated into deeds. Nietzsche's provocations were, alas, acted out in blood.
Despite all the passages I have given, despite the evidence they seem to offer, my thesis, I fear, will meet resistance. Some will simply say that I attribute too great an influence to Nietzsche -- though, if I may repeat myself, I do not maintain that Nietzsche, and Nietzsche alone, made the Nazis what they were. Nonbelievers whose hearts may not be free of ressentiment against everything Christian, indeed, against everything religious, will find my conviction unacceptable because they will find in it an unspoken call to a change of mind. Many a Jew will not read my thesis with pleasure because its acceptance would compel him to relinquish the cherished view that Nazi anti-Semitism sprang from Christianity. Many a Christian, himself filled with, or scathed by, aversion to Jews will suddenly become aware of the company he keeps and in what direction he is moving. Will he try to repress his awareness or will he reverse his course?
Yet, whether or not I am right in the assumption that Nietzsche was a -- no doubt unwitting -- sponsor of Nazi anti-Semitism, its doubly murderous character is undeniable reality. In this respect, I should like to make my own the words of a Lutheran friend:
In the days of the so-called Third Reich, days that now lie behind us, Jews and Christians were persecuted together, with our Jewish brethren bearing the main burden. Only since then have we been granted the altogether new opportunity of seeing the suffering that overtook the two groups as a sign of election and of the resulting kinship (Zusammengehorigkeit). Hence, enmity against the Jews ultimately becomes enmity against the Jew Jesus of Nazareth. This enmity may become manifest in mild or brutal protests, in all sorts of "Aryanizing" efforts, or in terrifying attacks in which all masks are dropped, as in the shocking incident that took place in the Wilna ghetto. In that ghetto, there was a Jew whom the police mockingly called "Jew Jesus." One day, they seized him, took him outside the camp, lacerated his head with a crown of barbed wire and -- in order to taunt both Jews and Christians -- crucified him. Here the curtain is torn from the dreadful nakedness of anti-Semitism: In the end, anti-Semitism storms against the God of Israel and the Israel of God.
The Revolt of Nothingness
In singling out Nietzsche as one whose ravings cut the road to Auschwitz, I in no way wish to imply that he was the only one who did so. Others, too, helped in laying it: philosophers, poets, historians, even simple people, indeed, an entire age that had lost its moorings. In Nazism, the black emptiness of a world that thought it could do without the living God was made manifest; the great void appeared as if on a large screen. Max Picard's Hitler in Our Selves sees the Fuhrer as the prototype of the "disconnected, discontinuous man." Morally and spiritually uprooted. Hitler made moral rootlessness his program. So fascinated was he by the idea of the superman -- the uprooted man par excellence -- that even without Nietzsche, Picard holds, he would have lived and died acting the superman. For where can the disconnected man go, Picard asks, if not "above" or "below" man, "to crime or to madness or to both"?
To lay bare the roots of Hitlers hostility to the Jews in the thought and life of a society in which apostasy from the biblical tradition had gone much further than believers and unbelievers imagined is not to absolve Christians from any guilt. Quite the contrary, Nazism lived by principles like these: "One most sacred human right, which is at the same time the most sacred obligation, is to see that the blood be kept pure," or: "The sin against blood and race is the original sin of this world," or: "The most universal and pitiless law of life is . . . the struggle for existence and growth, the struggle of the races for their living space." A Christian who did not know that these maxims were daggers plunged into the heart of faith indicted himself. Again, in 1934, the Nazi government justified the treacherous assassination of several early associates of the Fuhrer, who had become "inconvenient" to him, with these words: "The . . . accomplished measures are to be considered self-defense of the State; they are, therefore, lawful." A Christian who, after such a declaration, remained unaware of what was in store for him and for the world was simply blind.
To be fruitful, the examination of conscience must not be restricted to Christians. The holocaust does not dispense even a Jew from such self-scrutiny. As a matter of fact, he should be driven to ask whether or not he helped prepare the atmosphere in which a Hitler could thrive. To give one or two examples: "Man, the image of God" is an essential part of Israel's faith, and so is the call derived from his image-existence to be God's presence on earth. A Jew, however, who exchanged this faith for the opinion that man was nothing but a highly developed animal lent his support, however unknowingly, to Hitler's idea that men be bred as cattle are bred; unconsciously, he made it possible for many to find Hitler's plan, if not acceptable, at least tolerable. No less disastrous was the notion that law was but a convention among the citizens of a state, without basis or sanction in the eternal order; no less disastrous the advice that a man ought to obey his "nature," ought never to restrain it or keep his passions reined, lest he lose his "personality."
Hitler responded to these ideas, which many had taken lightly, with deadly seriousness and thus disclosed their inner absurdity. But Hitler's recklessness does not render innocent those Jews and Christians in name only, those agnostics or humanists who advocated them. As Hitler's insanity does not free them from their complicity in the rise of Nazism, so it warns us, too, not to become guilty of allowing another daemonic invasion.
Similarities and Differences
Without flinching, we must face these facts, discern their quality and value, if we wish to understand what happened and to prepare for what we hope will become more and more real: the reconciliation and brotherliness of Christians and Jews. Many writers on the Nazi crimes against the Jews lay the blame at the door of Christianity, occasionally even at the door of Christianity alone. With ease, they can show that most of the measures the Nazis took against the Jews were advocated centuries before by Luther. With the same ease, they can point out that much of the Nazi legislation against the Jews had parallels in conciliar and synodal statutes.
As a decree of the Third Reich empowered local authorities to banish Jews from the streets on Nazi holidays, so the Third Synod of Orleans in the mid sixth century, and the Fourth Lateran Council six hundred years later, forbade Jews to walk out in public at the end of Holy Week or on Easter Sunday. (The background of the latter decree seems to have been the feeling that by donning festive garments during Holy Week Jews wished to express their disdain for the passion of Jesus.) Under Hitler, Jews in Germany and all occupied countries were compelled to wear a yellow star. Imitating a Moslem decree that made Christians wear blue belts and Jews yellow ones, the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 ordered Jews to wear such clothes as would mark their identity. (For the sake of historical accuracy, one must add that the Council Fathers cited not only the example of Mohammed's successor but also Leviticus 19:19. They obliged the clergy, too, to wear a distinctive garb. Moreover, the ordinance was never vigorously enforced. Pope Honorius III, for instance, mitigated its application.) The same Council sought to bar Jews from public office, an exclusion in which the Third Reich succeeded as no medieval prince or ecclesiastic ever had. As the engineers of the "final solution" clamored for the blood of the Jews as the ultimate enemy, so, during the crusades, armed hordes demanded it as that of "infidels" and "enemies of Christ." (One ought not to forget that in the first instance the agents of death were government officials, in the second, the riffraff of the time.)
There is no denying that parallels exist. But resemblance is not identity nor does parallelism establish dependence. A post hoc is not always a propter hoc; what follows in time need not have been caused by what preceded it. Though I am convinced that it was apostates from Christianity, and not Christian teachers and writers -- no matter how distorted, mistaken, and deplorable their views were -- who handed the deadly poison to the Nazis, I readily admit that there is a common element that binds the hostility of recent days to the hostility of the remote past. When, on November 9, 1938, storm troopers burned down all the synagogues of Germany and took every Jew they could find into "custody"; when the lackeys of death kept the transports rolling, the camps filled, and the ovens smoking; when the crusaders trampled Torah scrolls in the mud, plundered Jewish houses, and left their inhabitants no other choice but to be baptized or killed -- they were all animated by blind perversity.
Here and there, the brute in man -- normally held in check by fear of those who represent the law, or mastered by the love that springs from faith in God -- was let loose. In the first instance, man the beast masked his crime as a cleansing of soil and blood; in the second, he disguised his cruelty as a defense of the faith. In both instances, otherwise decent men -- men, however, with little or no personal commitment to a life of goodness -- were absorbed by the mob, indeed, liked being sucked into it. In both instances, men who under ordinary circumstances would hardly have dared transgress even the smallest rule were ready to do anything at all, as long as the ringleaders barked their commands loudly enough.
There is no other way of preventing mob rule than the continuous strengthening of every man's conscience and the resultant watchfulness of each citizen who sees to it that only men of integrity be allowed to wield authority at all levels. There is no substitute for that commitment which makes a man free because it binds him irrevocably, at least in intention, to justice and love.
As, in this age of mass media and mass standards, the man truly reborn -- the individual who remains true to his pledge and refuses to be carried off by the tide -- is our hope, so light cannot be shed on the past unless one distinguishes between various forms of anti-Semitism. A massacre that is government ordered and controlled, that is carried out with the efficiency and precision of a conveyor-belt and on an astronomical scale, a massacre whose secret drive is contempt for literally everything human, everything divine, cannot be called the logical climax of the kind of abuse and tortures the Jews had to suffer in medieval times. The motive) the method, the goal are in many ways different.
I would serve neither truth nor peace, however, were I to insist only on the distinctions, and not on the common features. Though I deny that the intemperate and abusive speech of Chrysostom or the vituperative and aggressive writings of Luther caused Hitlers fever and frothings, they have one thing in common: They held Jews up to contempt. It is this common bond -- the ugliness, the eeriness of every form of Jew-hatred, indeed, of all hatred -- that Auschwitz reveals.
Jesus in Auschwitz
In September 1938, before anyone thought the death factories of the Third Reich possible, Pius XI condemned anti-Semitism as a mouvement antipathique, a movement revolting to the heart, repugnant to moral awareness, offending true Christian sense. Though it would be wrong to say that Nazi anti-Semites were the heirs of the many preachers who, alas, treated the Jews as an accursed people, cast away by God, there is a link between them, as there is an even stronger link between them and the medieval inciters of mobs. Though Himmler's massacre of the Jews was a unique move to erase Christ's name from the earth, a Jewish chronicler at the time of the crusades, Ephraim Bar Jacob, was able to record these words of Bernard of Clairvaux: "Whoever touches a Jew to lay hand on his life, does something as sinful as if he had laid hand on Jesus Himself."
Whoever has followed the soaring thought of the Abbot of Clairvaux will not be puzzled by the outcry of the American-French writer Julian Green:
Jesus' torment goes on in this world, day and night. Having once been nailed to a Roman cross, He has been persecuted with inexorable cruelty in the person of His own people. One cannot strike a Jew without having the same blow fall on Him who is the Man par excellence and, at the same time, the Flower of Israel. It is Jesus who was struck in the concentration camps. It is always He, His suffering is never ended. Ah, to put an end to all this, and to begin anew! That we could only meet one another on the morning of the Resurrection, that we could embrace Israel, weep, and not say a word. After Auschwitz, tears alone have meaning. Christian, wipe the tears and the blood from the face of your Jewish brother, and the face of Christ will shine on both of you.
It would be wrong to quarrel with a poet who, in a passionate diary note, skips over the time that saw the oppression of the young Church by the Synagogue and, in doing so, has the persecution of the Jewish people at the hands of Christians follow immediately on the crucifixion of Jesus. It would be wrong, too, to quarrel with him when he only touches the mystery of the One who suffers in all men unjustly afflicted. "It is always He, His suffering is never ended." It would be wrong to quarrel with a poet because, in him, the heart speaks, and it is good to let the heart speak.
A few years ago, a wave of anti-Semitic desecrations swept across parts of the Western world. The walls of synagogues and churches were besmeared with swastikas. At that time, Cardinal Suenens -- then auxiliary bishop of Malines-Brussels -- went on the radio to denounce the outbursts. He concluded his pithy broadcast with these words:
The long sufferings of a people down the centuries and in many lands, whose mystery continues to this day, beckon us to discard all human prejudice and open our heart to that people. Let us honor its high spirit. Let us honor the way of the cross it has had to walk. Let us honor God's design which unfolds before our eyes and which one day will assume its full meaning and splendor. Let us honor the people of Israel which has given to the world the most precious treasure the earth bears, our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Word of the Council
Only a man sluggish of heart can resist voices as strong and ardent as these. But what is the import of words charged with emotion, words like "embrace," "weep," "honor," "open the heart"? Who mourns with the mourners lessens their pain; who weeps at the injustice done to Jews, done to men everywhere, cleanses, as tar as he can, the face of history. Yet -- here one must contradict the poet -- tears are not enough. Tears may renew a man, emotions are one of the most wondrous gifts of God. To underrate them impoverishes, but to overrate them does not enrich.
What we need is a new encounter between Christians and Jews. Does not God speak to every man through his fellow, the one near and the one far? Above all, does He not address the Christian through the Jew, and the Jew through the Christian? Only where His summons is thus heard can the new encounter come about. Obviously, this encounter requires warmth, tact, delicatesse du coeur. But it demands, no less, articulation: that kind of speech which is truly human because it is nourished by the word of God.
In this light, it seems to me, one must view the draft of the conciliar statement on the attitude of Catholics toward Jews, which Cardinal Bea proposed to the bishops at the Council's second session and which, in the course of its third session, became part of an all-encompassing declaration on the Church's relationship toward non-Christian religions. This is not the place to quote or compare the various texts, rather to expound the guiding thoughts that are more or less common to all.
(1) With joy does the Church acknowledge that her roots reach deeply into the Israel of old to whom the living God revealed His will, the Israel that honored Him in sacrifice, song, prayer, and praise. The beginnings of the Church are thus amidst the patriarchs and the prophets of the chosen people. They go back to the day on which Abraham received the mysterious summons to sever the ties binding him to his family and to their idols so as to take the new and venturesome road of faith. They go back to that hour when God singled out Moses to lead the children of Israel from bondage to freedom, a freedom that was to be theirs only if they forsook the bulls of Egypt and turned to their mighty Deliverer, the God who is holy, After a long pilgrimage, marked by hardship and wonder, the great Moses brought his people to the gates of the promised land.
Israel's humble beginning in the desert is not the least of the reasons why the Church must see herself as the people of God en route, as the pilgrim community of the Lord. As long as she remains mindful of her birth in poverty -- the poverty of Egypt and the wilderness, the nakedness of Bethlehem and Golgotha, the hiddenness of the tomb and the cenacle -- she remembers that she is but on the way to the glory of God. When, however, her members forget those beginnings and anticipate the triumph that is not to come till the end of time, they mock her, and the world suffers.
(2) Though her roots are in the ancient Israel, the Church is a new creation because in her Jews and Gentiles have been made one through Christ, our Peace, who by His death broke down the wall of separation. Real though this unity is, it is not complete: a seed, a sign, it points to the future, to the ultimate reconciliation of the whole earth with God, in Christ. Yet, the Church's newness does not wipe off her Hebrew features, provided they are not taken in a narrow, restrictive spirit but understood in the light of salvation history. For her rise and growth in the bosom of the Jewish people is not merely a historic event, a fact of the past, but also an existential reality. At all times, this reality moves the life of the Church and quickens that of every Christian.
(3) The deepest bond of the Church with the Jewish people is the humanity of Jesus. Never can she nor will she forget that when the Lord was made man's brother, He entered the world as a Jew. In other words, He, the Saviour of the entire world, lived and died a member of the people God had chosen and formed. The Church can never overlook that the mother of Jesus was of the house of David, nor that His apostles and disciples were of Abraham's stock, nor that she herself spent her pristine youth amidst the children of Israel.
(4) Though the primitive community of Jerusalem was made up entirely of Jewish men and women, though thousands upon thousands of Jews accepted the gospel of the risen Lord, by far the greater part of the chosen people did not recognize Jesus as the Christ. It is not to make light of the awe-full drama of redemption acted on the stage of ancient Jerusalem, rather is it to give honor to God when we say that it is wrong to see in the Jews a people upon which rests His curse and which, driven by that curse, must go from place to place, must wander from country to country -- as Christians of the past have often asserted and as some even think today. The Jewish people is not cast off. It remains, as the Apostle says, dear and precious to God because of the patriarchs, that is, because of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It remains loved by God because the God of Israel, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is a God of fidelity, a God firm in His promise and in His choice (cf. Rom. 11:18-29).
(5) It is not the doctrine of Holy Scripture and cannot therefore be the doctrine of the Church -- nor has it ever been her doctrine, even though many of her preachers and teachers have spoken as if it were -- that the Jews of all times, and the Jews alone, are guilty of Christ's passion. Whatever the guilt of Christ's antagonists in the drama of salvation may have been, it runs counter to the mystery of that passion to impose its burden on a single group of men. Every grievous sin is an attempt, however vain, to dethrone God, to do away with Him. Every grievous sin sent Jesus to the hill of pain and nailed Him to the cross. Since the cross is the place on which redemption was wrought, it can never be anything for the Christian but the wood of mercy, the tree of love.
If someone were to throw the blame for the pain and death of Jesus on the Jews alone, if he were to call them all Christ-killers, indeed God-slayers, he would not only sow disgust, contempt, ill-will, and hatred, he would turn the mystery of divine suffering upside down, he would, however unknowingly, put the Christian message to ridicule. Nothing could be more twisted than to think that the blood of Jesus -- the very sap of salvation -- cries for revenge. To think so is to be deaf to Christ's summons. It is to resist the redeeming power of His death, the death by which we are to be freed not only from sin, but also from the spell of those primitive drives that lead to it.
(6) As the Church rejects the injustices against any man, any group, so does she deplore and condemn the hatred, the persecutions to which the Jewish people were and are subjected. If true to her calling, the Church must reject injustice, must repudiate hatred in its subtle as well as in its savage forms, for both injustice and hatred are the very opposite of her nature. She must reject them, not only when they strike her own members. Were she to do so, she would be like one of the many associations of men. But she is not a club, not a party, not a segment -- she is mankind redeemed; she is the People of God, embracing, or rather called to embrace, all individuals, all tribes, all nations. Whoever experiences her deepest nature perceives her as the shelter of every creature. Hence he knows that whenever men are tormented, she is tormented; whenever Jews suffer, she suffers. Indeed, in the case of the Jews, her pain is special, as her bond is special. Moreover, real anti-Semitism, if it does not begin with bitterness against Christ, will so end.
(7) With unshaken hope, the Church expects, at or near the end of time, the perfect reconciliation and final union with the people from which Jesus the Christ sprang. The day on which this hope will be fulfilled -- a day known only to God -- may be far away in a future, beyond anything we can imagine. Still, the Church cannot wait idly for that great hour. Nor can the Synagogue, different though her vision of the consummation of time is, live behind ramparts. The patrimony both Church and Synagogue have in common -- despite all that separates them -- is too great, too deep, for them to pass each other by, uninterested, unconcerned. Hence Christians and Jews must learn to know one another better, and respect one another more. But that such knowledge and respect may grow, theological, biblical, and other studies are necessary, and no less, brotherly conversation.
Response to Auschwitz
It may be good to repeat that the points just given are the themes of the conciliar statement on the Jews, not an exact wording. How the final version will read has not yet been decided. I am confident, however, that it will contain all these points, though in a simpler, sometimes even rudimentary form. Such abbreviation need not astonish anyone. It is not the purpose of the Second Vatican Council to issue documents that do not belong to space and time, or to settle every question before it, once and for all. Rather, its task is, in the persuasive words of Pope John, to open windows, that is, to inspire, to give fresh incentives, to create a new intellectual and spiritual atmosphere. No doubt the Council wishes to proclaim truths but it also wishes to spur theologians on to further work and all men on to greater love; it wishes to usher in a vibrant, unfolding of Christian teaching and a brilliant flowering of Christian action, of Christian life.
In a certain sense, the declaration on the Jews -- in its text as well as in its conception -- is a response to the terror of Auschwitz, indeed, to the manifold wrongs of the past. Critics have complained that expressions, such as "we confess," "we beg God's forgiveness," are missing from all the draft versions. This is true. But is this prayer not the inner significance of the document the Council contemplates and to which it has already given a preliminary affirmative vote? Is it not deeply bound up with the shattering confession Pope Paul made at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem? There, he prayed:
Lord, Jesus, we stand before you.
We have come here like guilty men who return to the place of their misdeed.
We have come here like the one who followed you but also betrayed you.
Faithful, unfaithful we have been, so many times.
We have come to confess the mysterious relationship between our sins and your Passion, our work, your work.
We have come to beat our breasts, to ask your forgiveness and to beg your mercy.
We have come because we know that you are able to forgive, that you are willing to do so because you have atoned for us.
You are our redemption, you are our hope.
Thus spoke the Pope during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Am I the victim of an illusion if I relate the spirit of this penitential service to the conciliar pronouncement on the attitude of Christians toward the Jews? I do not think so. And I am not alone, for two noted American priest-journalists share my view. "The statement on the Jews presented at the second session of the Council showed not only prophetic vision but also contrition for two millennia of injustice to the Jews," wrote Father John B. Sheerin, C.S.P., the Editor of the Catholic World. Of like mind is the Editor of the Catholic Star Herald, Monsignor Salvatore J. Adamo: "Brotherhood with the Jewish people is not only a welcome act of amity; it is a Christian imperative, and in a measure, an act of atonement for the past misdeeds and misunderstandings of some Catholics."
The Task of the Individual
In the context of our theme, words like "contrition" and "atonement" must not be pressed beyond their intended meaning. Fundamentally, I can be contrite only for my own sins, not for the sins of other men, much less the evil of a whole society. I can deplore, however -- when necessary, detest -- the aberrations, the wrongdoings of generations past or present, and I ought to. Though it is impossible to undo what was done to act as if what happened had not happened, no inexorable fate looms over us. As soon as a past injustice is lifted into our consciousness, is mourned, confessed, repudiated, it receives a new meaning: The misdeed loses its poisoned barb, the fault may even become a source of blessing. Thus an erroneous path can, in the end, lead to wisdom. This is not to say that the Christian possesses this miraculous gift of transformation through any native power, it rather flows to him from the love and work of Christ. In His name, then, he may and must make amends, he must try to repair the damage of the past.
Neither the individual Christian nor the whole of Christendom is ever done with learning. Till the end of time, they will remain learners for whom failures may turn to gain. When Christians cease to learn -- even to relearn, when the occasion demands it -- the past becomes a deadening weight; when they continue to learn, the past turns into a lever to great things. Certainly, no one can flee the effect of the evil deeds of his spiritual or physical forebears any more than he can altogether escape the influence of their good deeds. What was, is part of him. It would be foolish, then, for him to disavow the things gone by as though they were none of his concern. Christians are particularly bound to understand the past, to penetrate its obscurity, to "love away" its festers, in a word, to "redeem" it.
The task of individual Christians goes deeper still. By pointing to the fact that the Church is anchored in the ancient Israel, the Council's declaration on the Jews leads her children to marvel at God's ways and seeks to awaken in them gratitude for His gracious choice of Israel as the first guardian of revelation. Such gratitude, however, must not be confined to the Creator-God, it must be offered to His creature and instrument as well. By impressing on Christians that they are sons and daughters of Abraham, sons and daughters of his spirit, of his faith, and that they ought to feel as such; by impressing on them that they are the descendants of the wanderers through sea and desert, followers also of Israel's mighty prophets, indeed, the choir of divine praise united to Israel's psalmists in Christ, the Singer of singers, the declaration seeks to fill them with a sense of the continuity of salvation-history, a sense without which their faith lacks a proper dimension.
The Church has budded from Israel's history with God or, rather, from God's dealings with Israel; she is still nourished by the root and sap of the olive tree He cultivated (Rom. 11:18). This is so because Christ is the true, though sovereign, Fulfiller of the promises given to the chosen people. To be and to remain aware of this vital link between the Church and Israel tends to make the Christian humble, while the steady awareness of Christ's "accomplishment" opens to him a true understanding of the Church's mission. So deeply are Old and New Covenants entwined that their interdependence is best expressed in a twofold statement, one part complementing the other: It was in Jesus the Christ that Abraham became the blessing with which all the generations of the earth are blessed (Gen. 12:3; 18:18; Ac 3:25; Gal 3:8); it was Abraham's obedience that made possible the stream of grace flowing upon all the earth in and through Jesus, Abraham's unique Offspring. Thus communion with Jesus is, at the same time, communion with Abraham, and communion with Abraham should be fellowship with all of Abraham's sons. But whenever this fellowship cannot be one of faith, it ought to be, at least, one of respect, concern, and love.
The declaration tells Christians to be wary of some pitfalls on the road to perfection. There are, for instance, those scriptural passages in which Jews are castigated. Nothing is easier, but nothing more detrimental to the spiritual life, than barricading oneself behind them in order to declare: "Those wicked Jews! It is they who opposed the good Master and nailed Him to the cross." To do so is to forget that the gospel is at once history and parable, report and message, that, no matter of and to whom it speaks, it speaks also, in some way, of and to me.
Anyone who thinks the mob before the Jerusalem residence of the Roman governor shouted: "Crucify Him!" (Mt 27:22f) because it was a Jewish mob; anyone who thinks that the crowd of another city, another land, another people would have espoused the cause of the accused -- of the little understood Jesus, whose stature eluded not only the people's grasp but that of His judges as well -- does not know human nature or, more concretely, does not know himself. Anyone who forgets that those Jews and Romans who brought Jesus to the cross were his own deputies, his own envoys, bars himself from many graces. Unless he has the courage to say: "I did it, my sins delivered you to the cross," he pretends not to belong to the world-community of sinners -- he even runs the risk of excluding himself from the community of the redeemed resting on grace.
One can render the trial of Jesus, and thus the mystery of His pain, "inoffensive," as is frequently done today, but one can also render it "offensive," as was often done in the past. To my mind, faith forbids either posture: The Christian can neither load nor empty the events of Holy Week. Once their uniqueness dawns on him, he will approach the beata passio, the saving passion -- as the Canon of Mass calls the Good Friday mystery -- with nothing but tenderness, discretion, and awed discernment. Where is there a love like this one, a love that makes sin the tool of reconciliation? Sin erected the cross, but the cross blotted out sin. Once a man has grasped this secret, he cannot blame Christ's climb to Golgotha on anyone but himself; were he to act differently, he would cheat himself out of the wonder that turns guilt into grace, solace, and life.
Seen in this light, the planned statement on the Jews is a gift to Christians. It summons each Christian man and woman to strive for gratitude and humility, to seek reverence and love, to live by faith and hope, and not by instinct. It charges him, as worshipper and witness, with great tasks. The theologian, too, is called upon to pursue the problems the declaration touches, with boldness and with restraint.
I have made clear, I am sure, that the contemplated document on the Jews is meant for Christians. It therefore speaks, and must speak, the language of the Church. Some were interested in a document that would merely serve Christian-Jewish relations, order them anew, and steady them. But these relations -- their circumstances, scope, and impact -- vary from country to country. They are one thing in Germany, another in France or England, still another in the United States or Canada; they are again different in Latin America, in African countries, or the state of Israel. What the Council has before its eyes, however, is not a regional problem, rather a new vision of faith, a deepening of the Christian consciousness, another effort to make the life of Christians pure and whole.
Guide to a New Future
When Cardinal Bea, wise advocate of all ecumencial concerns, introduced the first draft of the declaration on the Jews to the Council Fathers, he explained its purpose. In the course of his introduction, he mentioned the ardent desire of John XXIII that the Council become for the Church a second Pentecost. It was the Pope's hope that it restore to the Church's face the simple and pure features of her early youth. The declaration on the relationship of Christians toward the Jews -- together with all other decrees -- is intended, therefore, to serve that inner renewal which wells up from the everlasting fountains. "In this Council," the Cardinal declared, "the Church strives to renew herself and thus, in the words of John XXIII of venerable memory, 'seeks to find again the contours of her growing youth.' It is obvious that she must also take up this question."
Clearly and unequivocally, the declaration on the Jews is a theological, a pastoral, and not a political document. In no way does it treat civic, socio-psychological, or similar problems. Still, by its very nature, it must shape anew the conduct of Christians towards Jews. Its salutary influence must go beyond this. I hope it will not only serve a new encounter between Christians and Jews but also help to bring Catholics and evangelical Christians nearer to one another. As a profession of brotherliness it calls for ultimate brotherhood.
I should like to close with a small but telling experience. In the spring of 1964, I spoke to the League of Catholic Women in Boston on the new age of the Church, particularly on the fresh look she is taking at the Jewish people. One of the rabbis of the city was asked to comment. The climax of his remarks was the recitation of the blessing an observant Jew pronounces on various occasions of newness: on tasting the first fruit of the season; on taking possession of a new house or a new parcel of land; on donning a garment for the first time. The rabbi applied this blessing to what he hoped was the dawn of a new period of history, an era of greater openness, deeper loyalty, and mightier love. In reciting it, he wished to give voice to his expectation that the world-grown-old would don a new garment; that the earth would be a shelter to all; that its children would relish the fruits of the spirit as if they had never tasted them before.
The Christian, too, knows that revealed, and therefore never-aging truth must ever be seen, thought, felt, and lived anew. Yet, unless he is a man of illusion, he knows that on the way to a new epoch, he will be spared neither tears nor toil. Thus the venerable blessing of the Synagogue seems to me, not only an appropriate conclusion to my own thoughts but a beautiful invitation to all of us to make ourselves ready for God's gift. The words of praise I wish to make my own are:
Baruch atah Adonay Eloheynu
ve-higiyanu la-seman lia-seh
Blessed are you, Lord our God,
King of the universe!
You quickened us, you kept us,
you brought us to this season.
Please God, we may be bolder still and say:
Blessed are you. Lord our God!
You brought us to this appointed season.
You let us see this, your time.
1. See Albert Nirenstein, A Tower from the Enemy (New York: Orion Press, 1959), p. 312.
2. Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1961), pp. 624-625.
3. See ibid., p. 625.
4. Obergruppenfuhrer von dem Bach-Zelewski; see ibid., pp. 218, 646.
5. See, for instance, William L, Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (New York: Simon Schuster, 1960), p. 973.
6. See Hilberg, op. cit., pp. 626-627.
7. See Time, June 23, 1958,
8. The New York Times Magazine, February 7, 1943.
9. See Rudolf Vrba and Alan Bestic, I Cannot Forgive (New York: Grove Press, 1964), pp. 70-71; Leon Wells, The Janowska Road (New York: Macmillan, 1963), pp. 173-174.
10. Affidavit by Hermann Friedrich Graebe (PS 2992); see Leon Poliakov, Harvest of Hate (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1954), pp. 125-126 and Hilberg, op. cit., p. 669. Rather than give the original references to Nazi documents not easily accessible to the majority of readers, books are referred to that can be obtained with little difficulty.
11. See Nirenstein, op. cit., pp. 345-347.
12. See Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (New York; Reynal and Hitch-cock, 1940), pp. 928-929.
13. Political Testament by Hitler, April 29, 1945 (PS 3569); see Hilberg, op. cit., p. 635.
14. Der Reichsfuhrer-SS, SS-Hauptamt (Doc. No. 1805); see Leon Poliakov, Josef Wulf, das Dritte Reich und die Juden (Berlin: Verlags-GmbH, 1955), p. 217.
15. Hermann Rauschning, Gesprache mit Hitler (4th ed.; Zurich: Europa Verlag, 1959), op. 210-211; cf. The Voice of Destruction (New York: Putnam, 1940), pp. 223-224.
16. See Poliakov, Wulf, op. cit., p. 92.
17. Katholische Nachrichten-Agentur, May 31, 1961 (No. 39/61).
18. The Black Book. The Nazi Crime Against the Jewish People (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1946), pp. 12-13. The words quoted in the passage are those of Alfred Rosenberg, the author of Mythus des Zwanzigaten Jahrhunderts (Munchen, 1932), p. 91.
19, See Johann Neuhausler, Kreuz und Hakenkreuz (2nd ed.; Munchen: Katholische Kirche Bayerns Verlag, 1946), 1, 111-112.
20. Ibid., pp. 331-332.
21. Maurice Samuel, The Great Hatred (New York: Knopf, 1940), pp. 36, 56, 127-128, 142.
22. Jules Isaac, L'Enseignement du Mepris (Paris: Fasquelle, 1962), pp. 105-106; cf. The Teaching of Contempt (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964), p. 116.
23. See Rudolf Pfisterer, Juden, Christen -- getrennt, versohnt (Glad-beck: Schriftenmissions-Verlag, 1964), pp. 13-14.
24. See Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, VIII, 251.
25. Nietzsche, The Antichrist, 46.
27. Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals, I, II.
29. Nietzsche, The Twilight of the Idols, VII, 4.
30. Nietzsche, The Antichrist, 21, 18.
31. Ibid., 17.
32. See Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, "Introduction."
33. Nietzsche, The Antichrist, 24.
34. See ibid.
35. Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals, 1, 7.
36. Ibid., 1, 8.
37. Nietzsche, The Antichrist, 16.
38. Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals, 1, 8.
39. Pfisterer, op cit., p. 49.
40. Max Picard, Hitler in uns selbst (Erlenbach-Zurich: Eugen Rentsch Verlag, 1946), pp. 193-195; cf. Hitler in Our Selves, trans. Heinrich Hauser (Hinsdale: Henry Regnery, 1947), pp. 197-199.
41. Hitler, Mein Kampf, p. 606.
42, Ibid., p. 339.
43. Karl Zimmermann, Die geistigen Grundlagen des Nationalsozialismus (Leipzig, 1933), p. 73.
44. See the government declaration of July 3, 1934, issued after the murder of Rohm and others; cf. Reichsgesetzblatt, 1934, 1, 71 (529).
45. For the full text of Pius XI's address, see John M. Oesterreicher, Racisme-Antisemitisme-Antichristianisme (New York; Editions de la Maison Francaise, 1943), pp. 104-105.
46. Ps 58 : 12; Quellen zur Geschichte der Juden in Deutschland, ed. A. Neubauer, M. Stern (Berlin, 1892), II, 188.
47. Julian Green, "Journal," Revue de Paris, June 1949.
48, "Antisemitisme, ' Demi-heure religieuse. Radio-television nationale belge, January 17, 1960.
49. Il pellegrinaggio di Paolo VI in Terra Santa (Libreria editrice Vaticana, 1964), pp. 41-42.
50. America, III, 1 (July 4, 1964), p. 1.
51. Ibid., p. 2.
52. See St. Augustine, Sermon on Ps 122 (PL 37:1630-31).
53. Cf. Council Speeches of Vatican II, ed. Hans Kung, Yves Congar, O.P., Daniel O'Hanlon, S.J. (Glen Rock, N.J.: Paulist Press, Deus Books, 1964), p. 259; the words of Pope John are taken from his discourse of November 14, 1960. (See AAS 52 , 960.)
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