Nine days after Easter Sunday in the year 1923, a harsh voice made itself heard in the ancient Catholic city of Munich. "If a people is to become free," it proclaimed, "it needs pride, self-will, defiance, hate, hate, and once again hate!"
Four months later, this same speaker made a distinction which precisely defines, today, the gulf between the Christian faith and way of life, and his way and that of his followers. On August 1, 1923, he said, "There are two things which can unite men: common ideals, and common criminality."
Since that Eastertide of less than twenty years ago, the voice of Adolf Hitler has grown louder in the world, and infinitely more powerful for evil. And none have suffered more at his ruthless and ruinous hands than the clergy and faithful of the Church.
Adolf Hitler and his Nazis have perpetrated an assault upon the Catholic Church which in cunning, deceit, audacity and wantonness matches anything his dive-bombers and his armored divisions have done. The assault upon Christianity has accompanied, it has indeed guided and given ultimate meaning, to the violations and aggressions of his armed forces.
This assault is no haphazard thing. It was and is a calculated effort to root out and destroy the Christian religion. It was and is a shameless attempt to substitute a boastful and bloodthirsty paganism for the Sermon on the Mount. It is the vainglorious effort of the power of darkness, of the voice of destruction, to quench the Light which shineth in darkness, to still the Word by which were made all things that were made. Hitler's impious disciples proclaim him a divinity of strife, hate, and slavery, surpassing the Prince of Peace, the God of Love, whose service is perfect freedom. "It is," says Julius Streicher, "only in one or two exceptional points that Christ and Hitler stand comparison, for Hitler is far too big to be compared with one so petty."
Through the wall of censorship behind which the self-proclaimed Anti-Christ masks his crimes and profanations, have come accounts of persecutions and martyrdoms, in this twentieth century, which take their place with the early trials of our faith. The pages which follow can contain but a tithe of this sombre story. Often, some incidents, dates and places can not be given, for to do so would expose the victims of Hitler to yet further injury, or death. Yet a host of witnesses rises up, at their head the towering figures of the Supreme Pontiffs, Pius XI and Pius XII.
But first let the accused themselves speak their own indictment. Let then the witnesses testify to what they have heard, and seen, and felt.
THE CONCORDAT, 1933-1934
ON JANUARY 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of the Reich. The next day he issued a Proclamation to the German Nation. He said: "It (the National Government) will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built. It regards Christianity as the foundation of our national morality, and the family as the basis of national life."
On February 15, in a speech at Stuttgart, he said again: "And now Staatsprasident Bolz says that Christianity and the Catholic faith are threatened by us. And to that charge I can answer: In the first place it is Christians and not international atheists who now stand at the head of Germany. I do not merely talk of Christianity, no, I also profess that I will never ally myself with the parties which destroy Christianity."
Passing over Hitler's inclusion of himself and such as Rosenberg, Streicher, Roehm, Himmler, Goebbels and Goering under the name of Christian, we confine ourselves to the record. A month later, on March 23, 1933, addressing the Reichstag, the new Chancellor repeated no less than three times his protestations of the outstanding role which he purposed to give religion under his regime.
He said: "The Government, being resolved to undertake the political and moral purification of our public life, is creating and securing the conditions necessary for a really profound revival of religious life." And again: "The National Government regards the two Christian Confessions as the weightiest factors for the maintenance of our nationality. It will respect the agreements concluded between it and the federal States." And once more: "In the same way, the Government of the Reich, which regards Christianity as the unshakable foundation of the morals and moral code of the nation, attaches the greatest value to friendly relations with the Holy See, and is endeavoring to develop them."
These assurances, these solemn guarantees from the head of the new German state naturally made a profoundly reassuring impression throughout the world. Yet the records show that exactly two weeks after these last statements of purpose, Hitler expressed himself privately in a diametrically contrary sense. To his party henchmen, he laid bare the depths of his calculated hypocrisy. At the very time when his government was requesting the Vatican to resume negotiations for a Concordat between the Holy See
and the Reich, he explained to his intimates the course of his true intention.
"The religions are all alike," Hitler declaimed, "no matter what they call themselves. They have no future — certainly none for the Germans. Fascism, if it likes, may come to terms with the Church. So shall I, why not? That will not prevent me from tearing up Christianity root and branch, and annihilating it in Germany."
Hitler has often boasted of the efficacy of the lie as an instrument of his policy. Still speaking to his party henchmen, he said:
"I am willing to sign anything. I will do anything to facilitate the success of my policy. I am prepared to guarantee all frontiers and to make non-aggression pacts and friendly alliances with anybody. It would be sheer stupidity to refuse to make use of such measures merely because one might possibly be driven into a position where a solemn promise would have to be broken. Anyone whose conscience is so tender that he will not sign a treaty unless he can be sure he can keep it in any and all circumstances is a fool. Why should one not please others and facilitate matters for oneself by signing pacts if the others believe that something is thereby accomplished or regulated? I shall make any treaty I require. It will never prevent me from doing at any time what I regard as necessary for Germany's interests."
On the night of April 6, 1933, the Fuhrer thus expounded his views on the real role of Christianity and the Church, to Rauschning, Goebbels, Streicher, and a few others of the inner circle. After a passing reflection on the Italians, Hitler went on to say, as reported by Rauschning in his book, The Voice of Destruction: "Besides, Mussolini will never make heroes of his Fascists. It doesn't matter whether they are Christians or heathens. But for our people it is decisive whether they acknowledge the Jewish Christ-creed with its effeminate pity-ethics, or a strong, heroic belief in God in Nature, God in our own folk, in our destiny, in our blood. Do you really believe the masses will ever be Christian again? Nonsense. Never again. That tale is finished. No one will listen to it again. But we can hasten matters. The parsons will be made to dig their own graves. They will betray their God to us. They will betray anything for the sake of their miserable little jobs and incomes."
Almost immediately, Hitler explained to Rauschning his conviction that the Christian priesthood could be corrupted to become the messengers of a pagan Nazi religion. "Do you think these liberal priests who have no longer a belief, only an office, will refuse to preach our God in their Churches? I can guarantee that, just as they have made Haeckel and Darwin, Goethe and Stefan George the prophets of their Christianity, so they will replace the cross with our swastika. Instead of worshipping the blood of their quondam saviour, they will worship the pure blood of our folk. They will receive the fruits of the German soil as a divine gift, and will eat it as a symbol of the eternal communion of the people, as they have hitherto eaten of the body of their God. And when we have reached that point, Streicher, the churches will be crowded again. If we wish it, then it will be so—when it is our religion that is preached there."
This dissertation by Adolph Hitler to his party intimates in the first months of his Chancellorship is remarkable not only for its candid immorality. Even more, it reveals the surpassing cunning with which he laid his plot, and the exactness with which he foresaw the steps he would take.
In the most cynical and sinister words of all, he anticipated for his little audience of the inner circle the "immorality" trials of two years later.
"Catholic priests know where the shoe pinches," he said to Rauschning, after having paid grudging tribute to the organizing abilities of the clergy. "But their day is done, and they know it. They are far too intelligent not to see that, and to enter upon a hopeless battle. But if they do, I shall certainly not make martyrs of them. We shall brand them as ordinary criminals. I shall tear the mask of honesty from their faces. And if that is not enough, I shall make them appear ridiculous and contemptible. I shall order films to be made of them. We shall show the history of the monks on the cinema. Let the whole mass of nonsense, selfishness, repression and deceit be revealed: how they drained the money out of the country, how they haggled with the Jews for the world, how they committed incest. We shall make it so thrilling that everyone will want to see it. There will be queues outside the cinemas. And if the pious burghers find the hair rising on their heads in horror, so much the better. The young people will accept it—the young people and the masses. I can do without the others."
Exultant in his foretaste of triumph, Hitler went on, as reported in Rauschning's book: "The Church was really something big. Now we are its heirs. We too are a Church. Its day is gone. It will not fight. As long as youth follows me, I don't mind if the old people limp to the confessional. But the young ones—they will be different. I guarantee that."
"I promise you," Hitler concluded, "that if I wished to, I could destroy the Church in a few years. It is hollow and rotten and false through and through. One push and the whole structure would collapse."
On July 20, 1933, the Concordat was signed at Vatican City by Franz von Papen, Vice-Chancellor and plenipotentiary of the Reich, and Cardinal Pacelli, Papal Secretary of State and plenipotentiary of the Holy See.
In a radio broadcast from Bayreuth soon after this event, Hitler delivered himself as follows: "National Socialism has always affirmed that it is determined to take the Christian Churches under the protection of the State." Referring to the Lateran Treaties as clarifiers of Church and State relations, Hitler went on to say that "The German Concordat which now has been signed is a second equally clear step in this sphere. It is my sincere hope," he protested, "that thereby for Germany too, through free agreement there has been produced a final clarification of spheres in the functions of the State and of the Church."
Hitler, not the Vatican, had sought the Concordat. Hitler, not the Vatican, reduced it to nothing. In keeping with his one immutable principle, Hitler was "willing to sign anything" to facilitate the success of his policy.
Wiser, more prescient than other men of those days, the Holy Father did not suffer from many illusions about the value of Hitler's signature. He could not be aware of those statements of policy and purpose which Rauschning has since revealed to us. Yet the Pope was profoundly troubled. In his Encyclical, Mit Brennender Sorge ("With Burning Anxiety"), Pius XI explained in 1937 why he entered into the agreement of four years before:
"When ... at the request of the German Government We resumed negotiations for a Concordat on the basis of the proposals worked out several years before, and to the satisfaction of you all concluded a solemn agreement, We were moved by the solicitude that is incumbent on Us to safeguard the liberty of the Church in her mission of salvation in Germany and the salvation of the souls entrusted to her—and at the same time by the sincere desire to render an essential service to the peaceful development and welfare of the German people.
"In spite of many serious misgivings, We then brought Ourselves to decide not to withhold Our consent . . . By Our act We wished to show to all that, seeking only Christ and the things that are Christ's, We refuse to none who does not himself reject it the hand of peace of Mother Church."
The Concordat consisted of thirty-four articles and a Supplementary Protocol. To list these articles in detail, and the hundredfold violations by which each guarantee, each safeguard was repeatedly flouted, is beyond our present scope. A comprehensive treatment of the whole subject? including a compilation of documents and data, is contained in a volume of over five hundred closely printed pages, entitled The Persecution of the Catholic Church in the Third Reich. Published by Burns Oates & Washbourne, Ltd., in 1940, this book is already out of date; and its five hundred pages deal with the persecution of the Church in Germany alone.
A treaty is worth the good faith in which it is signed. Article 1 of the Concordat reads in part as follows: "The German Reich guarantees freedom of profession and public practice of the Catholic religion. It acknowledges the right of the Catholic Church, within the limits of those laws which are applicable to all, to manage and regulate her own affairs independently . . !"
Within three months, Cardinal Bertram wrote in a Pastoral letter of his "grievous and gnawing anxiety" about Catholic organizations, the freedom of Catholic works of charity, Catholic youth, the freedom of the Catholic press, Catholic Ac-tion, and, not least, about the fate of many good Catholics who now had to suffer because of their former political opinions.
In January 1934, within six months of the signing of the Concordat, Hitler coolly showed his hand by a significant appointment: the elevation of Alfred Rosenberg to be the cultural and educational leader of the Reich—Rosenberg, so-called mystic or philosopher of National Socialism, notorious for his enmity to the Christian religion in general and to the Catholic Church in particular. On April 2, 1934, at a time when Franz von Papen was in Rome to offer suave explanation of the action of Baldur von Schirach in disbanding young people's organizations, sweeping them into the Hitler Youth, Pope Pius XI issued this message to the Catholic youth of Germany:
"Despite all the hardships through which Providence is leading you and in the face of propaganda working with allurements and with pressure for a new outlook on life which points away from Christ and back to paganism, you have kept your pledge of love and loyalty to the Saviour and His Church."
On May 20, 1934, when speaking in Rome to five thousand German pilgrims, the Pope again vigorously condemned the new paganism. Twice more that year he repeated his condemnations, with mounting emphasis.
Original from UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN