Scholars, diplomats reflect on U.S. and church’s response to the Holocaust

ROME (CNS) – More than three hundred years after the largest massacre in history, the United States and the Catholic Church are still coming to terms with their response to the Holocaust.

Scholars and diplomats discussed the historical accounts of the responses of the United States and the church at a screening of Ken Burns’ film, “The US and the Holocaust,” at the University of Notre Dame Rome Global Gateway on the Remembrance of International Holocaust Remembrance. The date is January 27.

In his opening speech, Joe Donnelly, the United States ambassador to the Vatican, highlighted the joint efforts of the United States government and the Vatican to fight religious persecution worldwide, especially in the face of the global increase in religious hatred.

Joe Donnelly, the US ambassador to the Holy See, speaks before a panel review of “US and Genocide” at the University of Notre Dame’s Rome Global Gateway in Rome Jan. 27, 2023. (CNS photo/Courtesy of University of Notre Dame Rome Global Gateway)

“At a time when people choose to forget or deny the past, it is very important to celebrate the International Holocaust Remembrance Day,” the ambassador said.

The German and Israeli ambassadors to the Holy See also attended the screening and expressed the need to ensure that the study of the Holocaust remains important in education and the wider culture, especially when the survivors of the The last of the Holocaust grew old and died.

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Burns’ three-part, six-hour documentary takes a sharp look at the anti-immigrant and antisemitic sentiments in the United States in the 1930s that made immigration possible for only a small minority. of European Jews seeking asylum in the United States.

Another thing the film focuses on is the role of Christians in fueling opposition to immigration.

It was estimated that 85 percent of Protestants and 84 percent of Catholics opposed legislation that would have allowed more European refugees into the United States when World War II broke out. The film also tells the story of Father Charles Coughlin, a Catholic priest living in Michigan whose radio sermons from 1926 to 1940 often included anti-Semitic language. and attracted an audience of 40 million at their peak.

“There was a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment in America that prevented the law from being enacted, but when we think about the Roman Catholic Church, it is difficult to more in the sense that the pope is the head of state but also the representative of Christ in the world,” said Suzanne Brown-Fleming, director of international education programs at the United States’ Mandel Center of the Holocaust Memorial Museum during an interview after that review.

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He said: “I am the shepherd of Catholics who look to the Holy See for their example of what it means to do good.

The Pope during World War II, Pope Pius XII, has been criticized for not publicly condemning the Nazi regime or the genocide against the Jews in the 1940s, however, scholars found that he facilitated the burying of thousands of Jews on church property and coordinated efforts to rescue and locate displaced people in Europe during and after the war.

Massimiliano Valente, a professor at the European University of Rome and a fellow at the University of Notre Dame in Rome’s Global Gateway, likened the Vatican’s work during World War II to a snow mountain, which is only a small part of it. most of which is visible above the water.

“What the pope said in his words is only the tip of the iceberg, because behind them there was something else,” he said. “The strategy of the Vatican was not to criticize one country but the whole war. The Vatican had to play the role of mediator.”

Valente and Brown-Fleming are both studying in the Vatican’s wartime archives, which were opened to scholars in March 2020.

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The challenge during World War II for both Pope Pius XII and the United States, Brown-Fleming said, was “to balance personal sentiments with realpolitik.”

He added: “This is a battle that no one will solve, and it was the same for the church.

Although the church worked to save Jews from the Holocaust, its legacy of anti-Semitism even during World War II remains difficult, according to Brown-Fleming.

He said: “Hitler’s description of the race and nature of the Jews was unacceptable because baptism can make you a Catholic regardless of your blood, but these words (of racism) by Jews completely he reached the Holy See itself,” he said. It was only in 1965 that the Roman Catholic Church rejected anti-Semitism as a sin, and “2,000 years before that it was actually Catholic teaching that Jews were dangerous ,” said Brown-Fleming.

He said: “I can say that this is something that the church has won since Vatican II, although there is still work to be done.

Read more in Vatican News

Copyright © 2023 Catholic News Service/US Conference of Catholic Bishops


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