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Catholic Culture News

Edith Stein's Letter

by William Doino, Jr.


This Dossier section from Inside the Vatican magazine March 2003 is based on new material discovered in the Vatican Archives which sheds light on the Church's resistance to Nazism under Pius XI, including a controversial letter by St. Edith Stein, a letter by Eugenio Pacelli (future Pope Pius XII) and background material from the work of historian Henri Daniel-Rops.

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Urbi et Orbi Communications, New Hope, KY, March 2003

Edith Stein has long been a source of needless controversy and misrepresentation — particularly among those ashamed to preach the Gospel and promote conversion to the Roman Catholic Church. A famous Catholic intellectual and convert from Judaism who became a nun, died at hands of the Nazis, and was canonized by John Paul II in 1998, Stein — known to the Church as Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross — was among the greatest women of modern times. She is both martyr and saint.

Many have alternately used Stein as an example of obscure (if not downright "offensive") pre-Conciliar thought, on the one hand, and yet as a "prophet" on the other — though only if she can be used to blacken the reputation of the papacy — notably in her alleged request for a papal encyclical in 1933, and the alleged failure of the Church to reply. James Carroll, the former priest and author of Constantine's Sword (2001), is perhaps the leading example of someone who uses and misuses Stein (see his article, "The Saint and the Holocaust," The New Yorker, June 7, 1999, pp. 52-57), alternately criticizing and praising her, and asserting in his book: "Before Easter in 1933, as she would later date it, she wrote to Pope Pius XI to request a private audience during which to plead for an encyclical condemning Nazi anti-Semitism" (Constantine's Sword, p. 540).

With the newly-released Vatican documents on February 15, her important letter to Pope Pius XI (see following) and related correspondence were finally released — but almost everybody got the revelations wrong in some respect, or made omissions which altered the true story. Having been misrepresented since her death, it was perhaps predictable that her letter, once released, would also be misrepresented. Sure enough, the Associated Press got the ball rolling with a Wednesday, February 19 news release — published throughout the world — reporting that Stein's letter "was published for the first time Wednesday [that same day] in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera" That was the first mistake. The letter was actually published for the first time the day before — Tuesday, February 18, in the German newspaper Die Welt, by German journalist Paul Badde, the first to acquire access to the letter.

Relying on the secondary Italian translation of the letter given by Corriere della Sera, rather than the original German published in Die Welt, the AP continued its misleading story by commenting: "On April 12, 1933, she [Stein] wrote a letter to the then-Pope, Pius XI, asking that he speak out against the 'war of exterminating Jewish blood' by the Nazis." Second mistake: Stein's letter bears no date on it; and the phrase "war of exterminating Jewish blood" (which is better translated from the original German as an "effort to destroy Jewish blood") was directly a response to the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses (April 1, 1933), and should not be confused with the "Final Solution" policy of actually physically exterminating Jews, which did not come until years later.

Moreover, the letter was not sent to Pius XI directly, but first given to Archabbot Raphael Walzer of the Beuron Abbey, with a request from Stein that he forward it to the Vatican. This the Archabbot dutifully did, enclosing a cover letter, written in Latin, and this is the letter dated April 12 (Stein's letter was presumably written shortly before then).

The Archabbot's cover letter reads (roughly): "The supplicant [Edith Stein] has most urgently asked me that the attached letter which she has given me under seal be transmitted to His Holiness [Pope Pius XI]. The supplicant is known everywhere in Catholic Germany as a woman of outstanding faith and virtue, and has authored numerous important works, which have gone through several editions. Making use of this good opportunity, I agreed, Your Most Reverend Eminence, in a most humble way, to ask that you should assist us in these most unhappy days. For, if I am not mistaken, if sober and prudent persons do not intervene, our whole country, and therefore also our Holy Mother Church in Germany, will continue in the greatest danger. The present danger is especially fearful since so many people are being deceived by word and treacherous claims. My only hope here on earth is the Holy Apostolic See. For our part, we will not cease to pray, and to insist and invoke in silence, God's help. I ask in a most humble way for a benediction; and while I kiss the sacred purple, I am your unworthy servant, Raphael, Archabbot"

What is so remarkable about this letter is that it demonstrates that the Archabbot, a major Catholic leader in Germany, was as concerned about Nazi racism and anti-Semitism as was Edith Stein.

Hence, Stein, the Jewish convert, naturally sensitive to the heresy of anti-Semitism, did not stand alone: mainstream Catholic leaders at the time, whatever is said about them today, and quite apart from apostates and collaborators, were quite aware of, and strongly opposed to, the evils of National Socialism as well.

In a week's time, the Archabbot received a warm and supportive reply, from the then-Cardinal Secretary of State, Eugenio Pacelli (the future Pius XII, successor to Pius XI in 1939).

The letter, dated April 20, 1933, is written in German, and reads: "With special thanks I have confirmed to Your Grace the reception of your kind letter of April 12 and the attached document [Edith Stein's letter]. I leave it to you to inform the sender [Edith Stein] in an opportune way that her letter has been dutifully presented to His Holiness [Pope Pius XI]. With you, I pray to God that in these difficult times He may, in a special way, protect His Holy Church and grant all the children of the Church the grace of fortitude, and generous mentality, which are the presuppositions of our final victory. With the expression of my special estimation, and with my intimate wishes for the entire Archabbey, I am, Your Grace, very devotedly, Eugenio Pacelli."

Needless to say, the Associated Press failed to mention the Archabbot's cover letter, and Pacelli's swift and supportive reply — especially his last sentence about "our final victory," which was a clear reference to the Church's ongoing struggle against Nazism, and a (prophetic) prediction of its ultimate victory over it. No doubt the AP was unaware of them. But this ignorance is really inexcusable, since Stein's letter was released with a contemporaneous cover document from the then-"Congregazione degli Affari Ecclesiastici Straordinari" ["Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs"] containing the entire correspondence — Stein's undated letter, Walzer's cover letter of April 12th, and Pacelli's letter of reply on April 20th. All the AP had to do was contact the appropriate officials at the Vatican, who could have provided the news service with all the relevant documents.

The AP's failure to know about the entire Stein correspondence was particularly harmful to the public reputation of the Church because, without this knowledge, the AP reported, "Stein referred to her letter in a 1938 autobiography, wondering whatever became of it . . . Historians also have wondered what became of the letter, because they say it may have been the first of many appeals to the Vatican for intervention on behalf of the Jews." The implication was that a desperate Stein tried to awaken the Church from its slumber of indifference, but was coldly treated, and never received a reply.

This myth — that Stein's letter never received a reply — took on a life of its own, as other newspapers reported on the affair in even worse fashion. The Sydney Morning Herald (Feb. 21) entitled an article "Pope Was Deaf to Scholar's Plea on Nazis," reporting that "In response [to her letter], Ms. Stein received only a papal blessing" and that this tepid reply will only "feed controversy about the Church's failure to oppose the Nazis."

The Independent (Feb. 21) baldly asserted that "Stein's letter received no answer," and that Stein was obviously "in great distress at the Church's apparent unconcern about Nazi atrocities." In an op-ed piece entitled "Silence Not Golden," the Toronto Sun (Feb. 23) stated: "In her 1938 autobiography, however, Stein bitterly recalls that 'nothing came of it,' meaning her letter."

Countless other articles and opinion pieces repeated these falsehoods, resulting in a wave of anti-papal propaganda.

To its credit, the AP mentioned — as other papers did not — that a week before Stein's letter was forwarded to the Vatican by Walzer, the Vatican had already taken action on behalf of the persecuted Jews: "Another document that has emerged, according to the Catholic-issues news agency Zenit, is an April 4, 1933 letter by Eugenio Pacelli — then the Vatican secretary of state and later Pope Pius XII — instructing his nuncio [Cesare Orsenigo, who was actually Pius XI's nuncio, not Pacelli's] in Germany to intervene [against] anti-Semitic excesses in Germany.'"

The full text of the instruction is important to emphasize. Cardinal Pacelli wrote: "Important Jewish personalities have appealed to the Holy Father to ask for his intervention against the danger of anti-Semitic excesses in Germany. Given that it is part of the traditions of the Holy See to carry out its mission of universal peace and charity toward all men, regardless of the social or religious condition to which they belong, by offering, if necessary, its charitable offices, the Holy Father asks Your Excellency to see if and how it is possible to be involved in the desired way."

This instruction, which is one of the most remarkable documents to emerge from the recently-released archives, has also been one of the most underreported. Forty years ago, Fr. Robert Leiber, Eugenio Pacelli's lifelong assistant, mentioned it in an article for the German Jesuit periodical Stimmen der Zeit, on the 1937 anti-Nazi papal encyclical Mit brennender Sorge (Volume 169, p. 120).

But because documentary proof of the order was not available, very few scholars, and certainly not those hostile to the Holy See, ever mentioned it.

The protest, it turns out, was among the very first that the Holy See lodged with the Nazi government during the years leading up to Mit brennender Sorge. Many — but not all — of these diplomatic interventions had already been published in two volumes, in 1965 and 1969 by the German scholar Dieter Albrecht (ed.), who reproduced them from the German state archives. One of the documents unavailable to Albrecht was this new one relating to the Vatican's support for Jews.

The fact that the protest was among the very first of the Holy See's interventions demonstrates that, contrary to the thesis of certain anti-papal authors, papal concern for Nazi anti-Semitism was a top priority.

But as if this important instruction, which deserves a separate analysis all by itself, was too favorable to the Church, the AP immediately tried to minimize it by quoting a professor of Jewish thought from Notre Dame, who had not even seen the document, much less was an expert on Vatican diplomacy and German history, speculating that it obviously got lost in diplomatic "channels" because the German Catholic bishops remained silent. In fact, the instruction was not sent to the German bishops, but to the papal nuncio so that he could make a direct protest to the German government itself.

As for the much-maligned German Catholic bishops, no less an authority than Albert Einstein, the most famous Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, declared that they were the only ones who did speak out against the Nazi evil:

"Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler's campaign for suppressing truth. I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great admiration because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom" (Time, December 23, 1940, p. 38).

Einstein's opinion was seconded by other eyewitnesses to the Third Reich such as the leftist reporter Howard K. Smith (Last Train From Berlin), and Protestant scholar Gerhard Ritter (The German Resistance). Concerning the claim that Edith Stein's letter requested a papal encyclical, the AP acknowledged "that request is not specifically made in the letter" — one statement that the AP actually got correct.

On February 16, the day after the release of the Vatican archives, CNN's Vatican analyst John Allen made one of the few sober observations about the newly-released archives: "There is a famous letter written by someone by the name of Edith Stein. She was a Jew who converted to Catholicism and became a nun, and eventually died in Auschwitz. She wrote this letter in April of 1933, complaining about Nazi persecution of the Jews to Pius XI. Now a lot of people have long believed that in that letter she asked the Pope to write an encyclical . . . What we now know, as of yesterday morning, once that letter is on record, is that she did not make any such request. So at least in that way, it resolves a historical debate in favor of the Vatican's position."

Until now, the usual accusations against the Vatican involving Edith Stein have been that she begged for a papal encyclical in her 1933 letter, never got a reply, and that both the Vatican and the German hierarchy were completely silent until the publication of Mit brennender Sorge, four long years later, in 1937.

But now we know that:

(1) There is absolutely no mention of, or request for, a papal encyclical in Edith Stein's April 1933 letter [see the translated text of the letter]; (2) Edith Stein did get a reply, swiftly, and from Cardinal Pacelli no less; (3) At the time the Vatican received the letter, both Pius XI and Pacelli had already moved into action for the persecuted Jews of Nazi Germany, as shown by the newly-released April 4, 1933 order to Orsenigo; the letter from Stein did not, therefore, awaken them from passivity, but merely confirmed their shared moral and religious concerns, which were being acted upon; (4) Anyone who examines the public statements of the Holy See from 1933-1937, over Vatican Radio and in the pages of L'Osservatore Romano, will find that there are many condemnations of Nazism, anti-Semitism, racism and excessive nationalism; the publication of Mit brennender Sorge was the culmination of a long series of declarations — not an isolated, belated statement. Indeed, as early as October 11, 1930, the first year Cardinal Pacelli became Vatican secretary of state, and several years before the Nazis obtained power, L'Osservatore Romano proclaimed in an editorial: "Belonging to the National Socialist Party of Hitler is irreconcilable with the Catholic conscience."

Franz Jagerstatter, the famous anti-Nazi Austrian Catholic martyr, was influenced by such declarations, as indeed were countless other faithful Catholics who followed the pronouncements of their Church. As Pope Pius XII said at the end of World War II: "No one can accuse the Church of not having denounced and exposed in time the true nature of the National Socialist movement and the danger to which it exposed Christian civilization" (June 2, 1945, address to the Sacred College of Cardinals).

If all of this is true, then why did Edith Stein reportedly make remarks in her diary/autobiography wondering what became of her letter? There are a variety of answers.

First, we don't have all of Edith Stein's papers, because "her Carmelite Sisters felt forced to destroy much of Edith's correspondence out of fear that it might harm her or the other Carmelite Sisters if her letters were found by the Nazis." (Edith Stein: Sr. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, by Maria Ruiz Scaperlanda, Our Sunday Visitor Press, 2001, p. 95); (2) We don't know exactly how Archabbot Walzer — who himself was under Nazi surveillance, and no doubt discreet about his correspondence — communicated Pacelli's response to Stein: he may have not given her the text of Pacelli's letter, but only summarized it as a "papal blessing," which is what Stein herself acknowledges; (3) Stein's statements have been heavily edited by a series of commentators, who may or may not be representing all her writings accurately; (4) In the latter half of 1933, Stein formally entered the religious life and became a cloistered nun, and could hardly have been listening to Vatican Radio's statements against Nazism and anti-Semitism, or been reading L'Osservatore Romano, especially in totalitarian Nazi Germany, where it was banned (even her own 1933 letter speaks of "public opinion being gagged"). Her knowledge was obviously limited and given to her piecemeal from friends and religious contacts who were able to communicate with her in private and with great difficulty. She herself was forced to leave Germany for a Carmelite monastery in the Netherlands at the end of 1938.

She would later be arrested and executed at Auschwitz in 1942 in retaliation for the Dutch bishops' pastoral condemnations of Nazism and anti-Semitism — precisely what she had requested from the Church.

What should not be overlooked in any of this is that twice in her 1933 letter, Edith Stein rejoices and celebrates the fact that she is a Catholic: "As a child of the Jewish people who, by the grace of God, for the past eleven years has also been a child of the Catholic Church"; and "We all, who are faithful children of the Church" — and similarly refers to the "thousands of faithful Catholics in Germany, and, I believe, all over the world." She obviously saw the Church as a rock of stability and spiritual sustenance, not as current polemicists would have it, a decrepit, reactionary institution.

Her letter is not the anguish of a bitter and resentful Catholic, but a heartfelt affirmation of a devout Catholic, as well as an exhortation of the power and obligations of the Church, which, as we have seen, certainly did not betray her, but shared her concerns, supported her, and ultimately proved to be her last resource of strength as she walked through the gates of hell at Auschwitz, only to emerge as a saint in heaven.

Text Of Stein's 1933 Letter To The Pope

Holy Father!

As a child of the Jewish people who, by the grace of God, for the past eleven years has also been a child of the Catholic Church, I dare to speak to the Father of Christendom about that which oppresses millions of Germans. For weeks we have seen deeds perpetrated in Germany, which mock any sense of justice and humanity, not to mention love of neighbor. For years the leaders of National Socialism have been preaching hatred of the Jews. Now that they have seized the power of government and armed their followers, among them proven criminal elements, this seed of hatred has germinated. The government has only recently admitted that excesses have occurred. To what extent, we cannot tell, because public opinion is being gagged. However, judging by what I have learned from personal relations, it is in no way a matter of singular exceptional cases. Under pressure from reactions abroad, the government has turned to "milder" methods. It has issued the watchword "no Jew shall have even one hair on his head harmed." But through boycott measures — by robbing people of their livelihood, civic honor and fatherland — it drives many to desperation; within the last week, through private reports I was informed of five cases of suicide as a consequence of these hostilities. I am convinced that this is a general condition, which will claim many more victims. One may regret that these unhappy people do not have greater inner strength to bear their misfortune. But the responsibility must fall, after all, on those who brought them to this point and it also falls on those who keep silent in the face of such happenings.

Everything that happened and continues to happen on a daily basis originates with a government that calls itself "Christian." For weeks not only Jews but also thousands of faithful Catholics in Germany, and, I believe, all over the world, have been waiting and hoping for the Church of Christ to raise its voice to put a stop to this abuse of Christ's name. Is not this idolization of race and governmental power, which is being pounded into the public consciousness by the radio open heresy? Isn't the effort to destroy Jewish blood an abuse of the holiest humanity of our Savior, of the most blessed Virgin and the apostles? Is not all this diametrically opposed to the conduct of our Lord and Savior, who, even on the cross, still prayed for his persecutors? And isn't this a black mark on the record of this Holy Year which was intended to be a year of peace and reconciliation?

We all, who are faithful children of the Church and who see the conditions in Germany with open eyes, fear the worst for the prestige of the Church, if the silence continues any longer. We are convinced that this silence will not be able in the long run to purchase peace with the present German government. For the time being, the fight against Catholicism will be conducted quietly and less brutally than against Jewry, but no less systematically. It won't take long before no Catholic will be able to hold office in Germany unless he dedicates himself unconditionally to the new course of action.

At the feet of Your Holiness, requesting your apostolic blessing,

Dr. Edith Stein, Instructor at the German Institute for Scientific Pedagogy, Munster in Westphalia, Collegium Marianum

The Vatican Archives — 30 Miles Of Shelves

by Crista Kramer von Reisswitz

The Vatican Secret Archives have 30 miles of shelves and are really not so secret. Msgr. Sergio Pagano, prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives, told Inside the Vatican recently: "Since we have never counted our exact number of documents, we like to describe the space we actually take up. And by 'secret,' we really mean 'private,' that is, not open to the public." The Vatican Secret Archives, now housed in a building in the Belvedere Courtyard, was founded in 1611 by combining existing bureaucratic collections of the time. In 1880, Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) opened the collection to interested scholars.

Obviously, applicants are very carefully screened; each must have academic qualifications and a specific study project (for instance, a doctoral thesis). Pope Leo's rule &*#151; "No false statements, and no deliberate omissions" — still holds today. Each Pope opens the Archives at some time during his pontificate; only the Pope decides which documents are to be released.

The Vatican Archive is an exclusive working research institution. It is not meant to be a tourist attraction. Although many an ambitious tour operator hopes to sneak an especially nosy group into the underground library, so far only scholarly archivists or true historians have been allowed entrance. These days most requests are for viewing the letter written to Pope Pius XI (1922-39) by the Jewish convert and Carmelite nun Edith Stein, or for documents relating to Vatican diplomatic activity just before World War II. Some of the oldest archives relate to the "Privilege" of Otto the Great in 962 and the Worms Concordat of 1122. There are pages with signatures of Emperor Napoleon I (1769-1821), French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire (1694-1778), and the Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898). The Archive includes a text written by a Chinese empress of the 17th century and a letter from the Catholic Queen of Scotland, Mary Stuart, to the Pope a few days before her execution. Even Pope Leo X's (1513-21) excommunication of Martin Luther and the Meister Eckhart oath against heresy are to be found in the Secret Archives.

Msgr. Pagano is swamped by loan requests for exhibits and expositions. Recently, a group of Japanese scholars applied for documentation of a Japanese legation to the Holy See in 1613-15. Another scholarly institute sought materials for the 800th anniversary of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. (Pagano says that original documents are never released from the archives for such exhibits, only high-quality facsimiles.)

How can a researcher enter the Vatican Archives? First step: a recommendation from a university or a Church official. Doctoral candidates with letters from their advisors are also given study permits. Some 15,000 researchers use the archives each year. The hours are from 8:30 AM to 1:15 PM; scholars from far away are allowed to remain from 4 to 7 PM. There is no cost for use of the Archives.

A History Of The Church's Resistance

by Inside the Vatican Staff

The following are excerpts from the great French historian Henri Daniel-Rops' book, A Fight for God — volume nine of an acclaimed ten-volume Church history. These excerpts show how much the Church was doing to resist Nazism and anti-Semitism before, during and after Edith Stein's 1933 letter. The critics of the Church are misusing and misrepresenting Edith Stein's letter, claiming that Pope Pius XI, and especially the German Catholic hierarchy, did not view Nazism as so great an evil as did Edith Stein. No one who reads these excerpts from Daniel-Rops can possibly maintain that. — The Editor

Excerpts from "The Great Battles of Pope Pius XI," in A Fight for God: 1870-1939 by Henri Daniel-Rops (J. M. Dent and Sons: London, 1966), pp. 314-323

Pius XI Against National Socialist Racism

The first half of Pius XI's pontificate coincided exactly with the troubled but finally irresistible ascent to power of "National Socialism." The term denoted a movement which, inaugurated in 1918 by Anton Drexel, a mechanic, as the "Workers' National-Socialist Party" (N.S.D.A.P.), began to attract some notice with the advent of its seventh member, Adolf Hitler.

Their rise was observed with anxiety by Pius XI, and perhaps even more so by Cardinal Pacelli, who had been nuncio in Munich, then in Berlin, from 1917 until 1930, when he was appointed secretary of state.

From the very beginning National Socialism had clashed with the Christian Churches. The movement's earliest publications revealed it as fundamentally antichristian.

Arthur Dinter, one of the triumvirate which had directed the party during Hitler's imprisonment [after his attempted Putsch in 1923], had launched his Hundred and Ninety-seven Theses for the completion of the Reformation.

Rosenberg's entirely pagan Myth of the Twentieth Century had been issued by the Hoheneighen-Verlag Press, which was owned by Hitler. In Deutscher Tag (1922) an advocate of "The League for a German Church" had written in glowing terms of a "neo-Germanic cult." Hitler's first biographer, Schott, had presented him as a "genuine foe of the papacy and the Jesuits." And year-by-year the Nazi press had printed articles demanding in the name of national unity the suppression of the Christian schools.

The Church had not remained inattentive or indifferent to these attacks. In 1923 Cardinal Faulhaber of Munich, who later occupied a foremost place in the resistance of National Socialism, warned his flock against the perils to which this still obscure movement might expose them. In 1925, 1926 and 1927, several bishops and Catholic publicists spoke in similar terms. In 1930, when the N.S.D.A.P. became the second party in Germany, formal warnings appeared in several dioceses, e.g., that of Munster, whose bishop went so far as to declare that the National Socialist program contained ideas "which no Catholic could accept without denying his faith upon cardinal points of belief." Msgr. von Galen's conclusion resounded throughout Germany: "Can a Catholic join Hitler's party? Can a priest admit members of that party, as such, to religious ceremonies? We answer negatively." In February 1931, in a joint letter, the Bavarian episcopate repeated the condemnation, and actually used the word "heresy." And when the Nazi Gauleiter of Hesse died, the honors of Catholic burial were refused. Pius XI approved all those declarations and measures on several occasions.

Hostile to individualism, Nazism tended to destroy the human person, sacrificing it to the Moloch of race as it had been sacrificed elsewhere to the Moloch of the State or of Society. More clearly still, racism, with its contempt of inferior races, was the very negation of the great precept of charity, upon which the Christian religion is founded. Hate instead of charity was proposed to millions of men; for Hitler and his doctrinaires were careful to name the enemies who would have to be destroyed — all those who "sullied their race" . . . One category in particular was doomed to annihilation — the Jews . . . To them, Hitler and Rosenberg had devoted many vehement pages. By marrying German women the Jews were irretrievably defiling the Aryan race. The Church, of course, could not tolerate such theories, and in 1928 a decree of the Holy Office reminded Catholics that the Church "condemns in the most unqualified manner hatred of God's chosen people, that hatred which is known as anti-Semitism."

No one therefore could have any doubt as to the abiding opposition between the religion of the Cross of Christ and that of racism with its crooked cross — the swastika. The Nazi doctrinaires certainly entertained no such doubt. Rosenberg fumed against Christianity, and especially against Catholicism, which he described as "judaized and asianized." Hitler himself declared: "A German Church is a mockery; one is Christian or German, not both together." Rosenberg, again, denounced St. Boniface, the apostle of Germany, as guilty of crime against the Aryan race. And one of the songs of the Hitlerjugend [Hitler Youth] contained these words: "The autumn wind scours the stubble; the age of the Cross is past. What has the son of a German mother in common with Pope and priests?"

The Catholic Church has the honor of having stood, almost alone for several years, in the front rank of the battle against tyranny. While Protestant resistance to Hitlerism was the work of a few outstanding individuals such as Pastor Niemoller, the members of the Catholic hierarchy withstood the threat, if not unanimously, at least in very large numbers.

Led by Cardinal Faulhaber of Munich and Bishops von Preysing, von Galen and Frings, the episcopate launched a bold counter-offensive.

Msgr. von Galen, for example, answered the official thesis of unconditional obedience to the State as follows: "An obedience which imprisons the soul, which violates conscience, the inmost sanctuary of freedom, is slavery — the most degrading form of slavery. It is worse than murder, for it crushes the very person of man; it attempts to destroy his resemblance to God."

From Fulda the government received continual and vehement protests against the violations of the Concordat. Resistance came also from the great religious orders, Jesuit, Dominican and Benedictine, many of whose members were arrested or driven into exile.

Pius XI naturally supported this heroic stand with all the means at his disposal. It has been estimated that between September 25th, 1933, and June 26th, 1936 alone, the Holy See sent to the government of the Reich more than fifty notes in one form or another, all protesting against the violations of the Concordat. Hardly a day passed without the Osservatore Romano and the Vatican Radio denouncing the doctrines of Nazism and its violence, with the result that the Roman newspaper was seized by the Gestapo and listening to the broadcasts was prohibited.

The principal National Socialist works, notably those of Rosenberg and Bergman, were condemned by the Holy Office.

Pius XI played a personal part in the struggle. He took every opportunity — a ceremony of canonization, a message to Cardinal Schulte of Cologne, general audiences granted to German pilgrims — to repeat his protests with untiring regularity. "They want to dechristianize Germany," he would say, "and lead her back to barbarian paganism."

The aged pontiff . . . was not to be silenced. During the 23 months that elapsed between the publication of Mit brennender Sorge [the anti-Nazi encyclical of 1937] and his death [1939], twenty-three allocutions repeated the same warnings and the same condemnations; and his anguish increased as he watched the infiltration into Italy of the National Socialist heresy and even of racism. In 1938, three great speeches furnished him with an opportunity to speak still more loudly and extend the scope of the dispute, reminding his hearers that the Church of Christ is open to all men without exception, without distinction of race, and that there is "only one universal Catholic race."

It was in this year also that he spoke some words which echoed round the world and are now famous: "It is not possible for Christians to embrace anti-Semitism: spiritually we are Semites." His departure from Rome on the day of Hitler's official visit was a form of protest which the whole world could understand; his last Christmas allocution, delivered a few weeks before his death, voiced the same indignation, likening Hitler to the Emperor Nero.

Pacelli Denounces The Nazis

by Inside the Vatican Staff

Editor's Note: Inside The Vatican is following closely all correspondence which is currently being studied by scholars in the recently opened Vatican Archives. As we receive them, they are posted on our website:

Below is an ITV translation of an extraordinary letter written by Eugenio Pacelli (the future Pope Pius XII) discovered a few days after the February 15 opening of the Vatican Archives by one of the historians working there.

The letter is dated November 14, 1923, and was written by Eugenio Pacelli, at that time the Holy See's nuncio (ambassador) in Bavaria (southern Germany), to Cardinal Pietro Gasparri, Vatican secretary of state under Pope Pius XI (1922-1939).

The letter refers to Adolf Hitler's failed attempt to take over the local government in Munich in the National Socialist Party's putsch of November 9, 1923 — just five days before the day this letter was written.

In his letter, Pacelli, contrary to the allegations of a number of recent authors like John Cornwell (author of Hitler's Pope) on the relations between Pius XII and the Nazis, denounces the National Socialist movement as an anti-Catholic threat and at the same time notes that the cardinal of Munich had already condemned acts of persecution against Jews. Therefore, this letter is previously unknown proof that Pacelli was in opposition to Nazism, seen as both anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic, already in 1923, 10 years before Hitler came to power.

The letter thus seems important evidence refuting the charge of Cornwell and others that Pius XII was in some way sympathetic to the Nazi regime.

Archives protocol number 28961

Your Eminence,

The facts about the nationalist uprising, which in recent days has disturbed the city of Munich (see dispatches No. 443, 444 and 445) are already known to Your Most Reverend Eminence from the Italian press; I therefore do not need to repeat them in this respectful report. Still, upon one point, which I alluded to already in dispatch No. 444, I believe it opportune to communicate to Your Eminence some further details, that is, regarding the demonstrations of an anti-Catholic character which accompanied the uprising itself, but which have not surprised those who have followed the publications of the papers of the right-wing radicals, like the Volkischer Beobachter (Peoples' Observer) and Heimatland (Homeland). This character was revealed above all in the systematic attacks on the Catholic clergy with which the followers of Hitler and Ludendorff, especially in street speeches, stirred up the population, thus exposing the ecclesiastics to insults and abuse.

The attacks were especially focused on this learned and zealous Cardinal Archbishop, who, in a sermon he gave in the cathedral on the 4th of this month and in a letter of his to the Chancellor of the Reich published by the Wolff Agency on the 7th, had denounced the persecutions against the Jews. To this was added the unfounded and absurd rumor in the city, probably spread intentionally, that accused the cardinal of having changed von Kahr's mind, who, as is known, while at the beginning in the Burgerbraukeller (beer hall) had apparently, to avoid violence, adhered to the Hitler-Ludendorff coup d'etat, later came out against it.

Thus it was that, during the confusing events of last Saturday, a numerous group of demonstrators gathered in front of the front door of the bishop's residence, shouting "Down with the Cardinal!" ("Nieder mit dem Kardinal!") His Eminence was by good fortune absent from Munich, having left that day to consecrate a new church in a town near Muldorf; but, when he returned in his car the following evening, he was greeted by a similar hostile demonstration. These anti-Catholic sentiments also manifested themselves in chaotic student gatherings, the day before yesterday, in the university, which were attended by people who did not attend the university (and were not even from Bavaria) obliging the Rector in the end to close the university until further notice. Also in the university, object recently of repeated acts of the charitable solicitude and generosity of the Holy Father on behalf of the students, there were denunciations of the Pope, of the Archbishop, of the Catholic Church, of the clergy, of von Kahr, who, even though he is a Protestant, was characterized by one of the orators as an honorary member of the Society of Jesus (Ehrenmitglied der Jesuiten)."


Historical Note: On November 8th, 1923, the Bavarian government held a meeting of about 3,000 officials. While Gustav von Kahr, the prime minister of Bavaria, was making a speech, Adolf Hitler and armed stormtroopers entered the building. Hitler jumped onto a table, fired two shots in the air and told the audience that the Munich Putsch was taking place and the National Revolution had begun.

Leaving Hermann Goering and the SA to guard the 3,000 officials. Hitler took Gustav von Kahr, Otto von Lossow, the commander of the Bavarian Army and Hans von Lossow, the commandant of the Bavarian State Police, into an adjoining room. Hitler told the men that he was to be the new leader of Germany and offered them posts in his new government.

Aware that this would be an act of treason, the three men were initially reluctant to agree to this offer. Adolf Hitler reportedly was furious and threatened to shoot them and then commit suicide: "I have three bullets for you, gentlemen, and one for me!" After this the three men agreed.

Soon afterwards Eric Ludendorff arrived. Ludendorff had been leader of the German Army at the end of the First World War. He had therefore found Hitler's claim that the war had not been lost by the army but by Jews, Socialists, Communists and the German government, attractive, and was a strong supporter of the Nazi Party. Ludendorff agreed to become head of the German Army in Hitler's government.

While Adolf Hitler had been appointing government ministers, Ernst Roehm, leading a group of stormtroopers, had seized the War Ministry and Rudolf Hess was arranging the arrest of Jews and left-wing political leaders in Bavaria. Adolf Hitler now planned to march on Berlin and remove the national government. Surprisingly, Hitler had not arranged for the stormtroopers to take control of the radio stations and the telegraph offices. This meant that the national government in Berlin soon heard about Hitler's putsch and gave orders for it to be crushed.

The next day Adolf Hitler, Eric Ludendorff, Hermann Goering and 3,000 armed supporters of the Nazi Party marched through Munich in an attempt to join up with Roehm's forces at the War Ministry. At Odensplatz they found the road blocked by the Munich police. As they refused to stop, the police fired into the ground in front of the marchers. The stormtroopers returned the fire and during the next few minutes 21 people were killed and another hundred were wounded, included Goering.

When the firing started, Adolf Hitler threw himself to the ground dislocating his shoulder, then ran to a nearby car. Although the police were outnumbered, the Nazis followed their leader's example and ran away. Only Eric Ludendorff and his adjutant continued walking towards the police.

Later Nazi historians were to claim that the reason Hitler left the scene so quickly was because he had to rush an injured young boy to the local hospital.

After hiding in a friend's house for several days, Hitler was arrested and put on trial for his role in the Beer Hall Putsch. If found guilty, Hitler faced the death penalty. However, it soon became clear that the Nazi sympathizers in the Bavarian government were going to make sure Hitler would not be punished severely. At his trial Adolf Hitler was allowed to turn the proceedings into a political rally, and although he was found guilty he only received the minimum sentence of five years. Other members of the Nazi Party also received light sentences and Eric Ludendorff was acquitted.

Other texts:

(1) In 1923 Ernst Hanfstaengel took part in the Beer Hall Putsch. He wrote about the experience in his book, Hitler: The Missing Years (1957): "Kahr was sending us off to sleep. He had just said the words 'and now I come to the consideration,' which, for all I know, was to be the high spot of his speech, when the door behind us which we had come through flew open and in burst Goering with about twenty-five brownshirts with pistols and machine guns. Hitler began to plough his way towards the platform and the rest of us surged forward behind him. Tables overturned with their jugs of beer. On the way we passed a major named Mucksel, one of the heads of the intelligence section at Army headquarters, who started to draw his pistol as soon as he saw Hitler approach, but the bodyguard had covered him with theirs and there was no shooting. Hitler clambered onto a chair and fired a round at the ceiling. It is always maintained that he did this to terrify the gathering into submission, but I swear he did it to wake people up. Anyway, on home ground at last, Hitler barked an impromptu proclamation: 'The national revolution has broken out. The Reichswehr is with us. Our flag is flying on their barracks.'"

(2) Adolf Hitler, speech made at the Burgerbraukeller (November 8th, 1923): "The Bavarian Ministry is removed. I propose that a Bavarian government shall be formed consisting of a Regent and a Prime Minister invested with dictatorial powers. I propose Herr von Kahr as Regent and Herr Pohner as Prime Minister. The government of the November Criminals and the Reich President are declared to be removed. I propose that, until accounts have been finally settled with the November criminals, the direction of policy in the national government be taken over by me. Ludendorff will take over the leadership of the German National Army, Lossow will be German Reichswehr Minister, Seisser Reich Police Minister."

©2003 Robert Moynihan

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