Saturday, June 7, 2008

Wlodimir (Vladimir) Ledochowski- Holocaust: Critical Concepts in Historical Studies- Continued

Wlodimir Ledochowski S.J.

From Holocaust: Critical Concepts in Historical Studies

In any event, after some fifteen years the two researchers finally did beat a path to Breslin's door, and obtained the original NCR material, some sixty two documents in all. While some pieces of the puzzle are still missing, probably still locked away in Vatican archives, Passelecq and Suchecky now felt they were in a position to complete their analysis and present the "hidden" encyclical. Its full text, or at least the French language version of the document, published as an appendix to their book, conveys a somewhat different message that may have expected.

To begin, the draft encyclical is long-- nearly a hundred pages, in the French text -- written in the highly opaque language and triumphlist tone that characterized such pronouncements, faithfully reproducing Pius XI's characteristically tedious, repetitive, and even clumsy written expression. 39

Plunging into highly obtrusive discussion of doctrine and religious authority, the draft encyclical came to the Jews only after devoting more than half of its text to other matters, most importantly, the impact of modernity of humanity in general and on the Catholic understanding of race in particular. Missing from the document -- as indeed from all encyclicals of the era -- was reference to anything concrete: states, movements, policies, or leaders.

Intended to speak to the ages, to be received by princes of the church and accepted by generations of the faifful, the document deliberately exchewed the specifics of the here and now.

The starting pont of the draft was a lamentation about the state of the modern world, an important theme of twentieth-century Catholic discourse, memorably articulated in Pius XI's encyclical Quadragesimo Anno if 1931. The contemporary world was in a state of confusion and disorder, and the Church had an obligation to try to set things right. Human society was atomized and divided. Spirituality was in decay. Secularism was on the advance.

Industrialization tore masses of people loose from traditional environments. Materialism, private property, and private ambition had created a modern Tower of Babel. People looked too much to the state and bureaucracies to solve their problems. The result was a drift to totalitarianism, whether revolutionary or reactionary. Over all hung the threat of a war that would bring new catastrophe. "Our modern society is ill," said the draft, and modern panaceas only made matters worse. 40

Against the upheavals of modernity, the draft encyclical asserted fundamental principles. At the bottom lay the notion of the unity of humanity, based upon a human nature common to everyone-- a truth proclaimed with the full religious authority of the Church. All men were brothers, joined together for the redemption of he world. Racism negated these truths and thus assailed the universal values of morality and religion. Claiming that humanity was divided into superior and inferior races, racism contradicted truths about the fundamental unity of the human personality and destroyed the basis for human society. To be sure, there were differences among races, but such differences arose from environmental conditions (conditions du milieu), and were not innate, as racists claimed. 41

Rather then setting race over another, as sometimes was the case in colonialism, nations had an obligation to work for racial harmony: "men of good will should make every effort to eliminate public distinctions which are dishonorable and exclusive, in order that relations among social groups be governed exclusively by interracial justice and charity." 42 To be sure, there were limitations on interracial contacts "defined be sentiments of fraternity and prudence," particularly having to do with marriage. But on one issues, a sore point in relations with Nazi Germany because of the Nuremberg Laws, and soon to be a battleground in Fascist Italy, there could be no compromise: unwritten marriage preferences were one thing, but marriage was a sacrament instituted by Christ and was solely in the care of the Church."

State-imposed limitations on marriage between members of difference races were unjust, were insulting to races that were so singled out, and were an affront to human dignity. 43

The draft encyclical then turned to the subject of the Jews, noting how those who put race on a pedestal sometimes looked to divisions within races, and sought to purify their own race. In doing so, they launched a cruel campaign against the Jews, reminiscent of historic persecutions which had been repeatedly denounced by the Holy See, especially when such outrages had been conducted under the mantle of Christianity. In a remarkable passage, the draft spoke of the impact of antisemitic campaigns. "Once this persecution is launched, millions of people in their own native lands are stripped of the most elementary rights and privileges of citizenship, are refused legal protection against violence and robbery, are subjected to insult and shame

...People who fought so valiantly for their countries are treated as traitors; children of those who fell on the field of battle become outlaws, by the sole fact of their parentage ... This flagrant denial of elementary justice to the Jews leads to the expulsion of thousands into the hazards of exile, without any resources. Wandering from country to country, they are a burden to themselves and to humanity." 44

To be sure, the draft insisted, there was a Jewish question, but this was a religious and not a racial, national, or territorial question. Explaining, the text then repeated the traditional Catholic view of the Jews: having been chosen by God to prepare the way for the coming of Christ, the Jews rejected Jesus, violently repudiated him, and in collusion with others, had him put to death. Even after, "this unfortunate people ... condemned, it seems, to wander the face of the earth forever, had nevertheless been preserved from total ruin by the mysterious hand of providence, and has maintained itself over the cebturies up to our own time." 45 Having obstinately rejected Christ, the Jews have shown a constant enmity toward Christianity and as a result there has been a continuing tension between Jews and Christians.

Ardently hoping for their conversion, the draft maintained, the Church had nonetheless been attentive to the dangers to which contact with the Jews could expose the souls of its followers -- a concern that was certainly as urgent now as in the past. "As long as the unbelief of the Jews and their hostility toward Christianity persist, the Church must guard against the dangers that this unbelief and hostility pose to the faithful. The dangers are especially acute when they involve the promotion of revolutionary movements that seek to overthrow the social order and undermine respect for and love of God. To protect the faithful, therefore, the Church has "warned against relations with the Jewish community that were overly casual and that could introduce into Christianity customs and ways of perception that were incompatible with its ideals." The Church supported "energetic measures to protect the faith and protect society itself against the pernicious influences of error." 46

Antisemitism, however, was not the right way to achieve this objective. Its methods of persecution were incompatible with he authentic spirit of the Catholic Church. Moreover, antsemitism did not work. While some effort "to eliminate or reduce [the Jews'] antisocial or injurious character" was indicated, persecution made matters worse. Rather than eliminating the characteristics of the oppressed group, such measures only accentuated them.

Those who were unjustly persecuted often became persecutors themselves and their hatred of Christianity intensified. The victims of persecution turned to those who sought to stir up political, social or economic hatreds. What could be done thereof? There as no single way to deal with the Jews, because their circumstances differed throughout the world. For practical reasons, action was best left to the "interested parties". Defensive moves, for that was what they were, should eschew solutions that had to do with violence, force, or brutal means of coercion, and prefer "measures dictated by a healthy spiritualism." There was one guideline, however: "no solution is a true solution if it contradicts the strict requirements of justice and charity." 47

Concluding, the draft underscored the role of the Church in pointing out the road for society to follow. There was no denunciation of Nazi policies, no condemnation of specific anti-Jewish programs, and no indication that Fascist Italy was poised to adopt racial laws of its own. After nearly a hundred pages, the draft ended not with a flourish, but rather with a reiteration of Catholic teachings on "unity and peace: fruits of redemption."

Antisemitic polices were indeed condemned, but to our ears at least there is a distressing willingness to grant a wide berth to secular authorities acting against Jews, and to contemplate "energetic measures to protect the faith and morals of the faithful - language that was sometimes used to justify anti-Jewish campaigns in prewar Poland and Hungary, for example. In 1941, faced with wartime persecutions such as mounted by the Vichy regime in France, the Vatican was willing to countenance an entire anti-Jewish program as more or less acceptable- providing, of course, as a Vatican source indicated to the French ambassador to the Holy See sing the familiar refrain, that such laws were enforced with due regard to "justice and charity." Apparently, the Vatican thought that they were. 48

Read in context, the draft encyclical seems much more like a repetition of conventional wisdom of the Church on antisemitism than a call to arms against antisemitic forces in Germany and Italy. Indeed, antisemitism seems to have had a much less prominent place in the encyclical than the subsequent interest in this theme- for obvious reasons -- might suggest. Race was of central importance to John LaFarge and it was clearly of vital interest to him to have the Vatican comment authoritatively on this question. The American priest seems to have had little or no interest in Jewish matters, however. So far as one can tell from his biography and his published writings, he wrote nothing of substance about them- neither before nor even during the Second World War. The passages on the Jews were probably drafted by Gundlach. In 1930, as Passelecq and Suchnecky note, the German Jesuit had contributed an article "Antisemitismus" to a basic reference work, the Lexicon fur Theologie und Kirche, that essentially reflected Catholic thinking of the day, and these are the themes, that there was nothing new in Humani Generis Unitas about the Jews.

Under these circumstances, it is hard to imagine that the issuing of the World War would have made a great deal of difference encyclical on the eve of the Second World War would have made a great deal of difference- let alone that it might have "averted the Holocaust." Both in its condemnation of antsemitism and in its recitation of the traditional anti-Judaism of the Catholic Church - to be reversed only by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s -- the draft articulated Catholic views that were well known. Using much more forthright language at times, and with words not heavily freighted by anti-Judaism, Pius XI repeatedly denounced the Italian Fascist government's embrace of racism and antisemitism in the weeks following the completion of the draft encyclical-- all to no effect, of course, just as Mit brennender Sorge, issued in 1937, had failed to arrest the Nazi tide. 50

The story of the draft encyclical "ends on a sour note" in the words of one reviewer, Frederick Brown. 51 Not only did the efforts of LaFarge and his colleagues miscarry, their challenge to fascist antisemitism also included Catholic teachings of contempt for Jews- the doctrine finally condemned by the Church only in 1965, with Nostra Aetate, the Second Vatican Council's declaration on the Jews. The "lost encyclical" turns out not to have been a tragically spurned instrument that might have restrained Nazism, but part of a wider cultural distaste for Jews, despite its rejection of Fascist antisemitism. Our own quest for a "lost encyclical" thereby leaves us with an air of futility. This might have been turns out not to have been so different from what actually was. Psychologically, of course, the search for might have beens is understandable- and despite the lack of evidence that the Nazis could readily have been deflected from their murderous objectives towards the Jews. We will probably keep searching for other options considered and not taken, so long as we remain so unsettled by the catastrophe that really did happen, and not fully convinced by the explanation for it that we have.

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