"I am absolutely clear in my own mind," Reich Leader Alfred Rosenberg echoed, "and I think I can speak for the Fuhrer as well, that both the Catholic Church and the Evangelical Confessional Church, as they exist at present, must vanish from the life of our people."
Speech was soon turned into action in a series of assaults upon the persons of churchmen of high position. Victims of physical violence, in the space of a few months only, were Bishop Sproll of Rothenburg, thrice attacked, Cardinal von Faulhaber of Munich, twice attacked, and Cardinal Innitzer of Vienna, also subjected to two attacks. The attacks on Cardinal Innitzer are typical of the general methods employed by the Nazis. A description of one of these we quote from the Osservatore Romano of October 15, 1938.
"On Friday, October 7, a service for Catholic youth took place in St. Stephen's Cathedral . . . The Hitler Youth and the SA had gathered there too and started counter-shouts and whistlings: 'Down with Innitzer! Our faith is Germany' . . . Bands of SA men gathered together in front of the Bishop's residence and staged noisy demonstrations with the shout that the Cardinal should be taken to Dachau . . .
"The next day, Saturday, October 8, at 8:15 in the evening, the demonstrations started again from all sides, including the Rothenturmstrasse, so that the residence was entirely surrounded. Stones came from all directions, and all the windows were broken. Again and again the police were asked for assistance, as the demonstrators were endeavoring to break in, and several police stations promised to give aid. In spite of this, however, the heavy door was broken a quarter of an hour later and a disorderly crowd poured in, destroying everything they came across in the antechambers and on the staircase. The inmates of the residence hurried towards the chapel to the Cardinal's protection.
It was feared that the Blessed Sacrament would be the object of a sacrilege and a priest consumed the Sacred Hosts— and indeed it was high time, for the intruders had reached the episcopal chapel, struck a secretary of the Cardinal unconscious, destroyed the statue of a saint and, pursuing their vandalism, stormed the study of the Cardinal, where they broke open a writing table and smashed a crucifix. The purple pectoral cross and ring of the Cardinal were stolen, and everywhere the furniture was smashed, pictures slashed and objects of art demolished . . .
"The crowd had insulted the Cardinal in a most violent and vulgar way. His life had, indeed, been saved, but in another house of the Cathedral Curia very brutal things had occurred. The house was first thoroughly damaged and then a curate, Fr. Kravarnik, was taken and thrown out of a window. He was seriously injured, and it is said that both his legs were broken so that his life is in danger.
"Outside on the square the Cardinal's purple mantle, some articles of personal use, furniture, carpets, etc., were burnt. The outrages were not reported in any of the Vienna newspapers."
At the close of the year, the Pope again protested against the violence of the Nazis, in language recalling Nero and Judas the Betrayer, comparing Hitler with Julian the Apostate. The Supreme Pontiff decried in particular efforts being made in Berlin to represent the recent occurrences in Vienna so as to make the assaulted Catholics appear as almost the authors of the aggression.
On January 30, 1939, Hitler celebrated the sixth anniversary of his accession to the dictatorship of the Reich, in one of his lengthier speeches. Despite the record of those six years, he protested that: "Among the outcries against Germany raised today in the so-called democracies is the assertion that National Socialist Germany is an anti-religious State." To counter these outcries, he baldly asserted that, "No one in Germany has hitherto been persecuted for his religious views, nor will anybody be persecuted on that account." Then he continued, "But the National Socialist State will ruthlessly make clear to those clergy who, instead of being God's ministers, regard it as their mission to speak insultingly of our present Reich, its organization or its leaders, that no one will tolerate a destruction of the State and that a clergy that places itself beyond the pale of the law will be called to account before the law like any other German citizen."
On February 10, the Holy Father died. Three weeks later, Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, Papal Secretary of State, was elected Pope, taking the name of Pius XII.
In the time of Pope Pius XI, the Nazi attack on Christianity was in the main confined to the German lands. His successor has been confronted by an assault upon the Church which has extended itself ever more widely over Europe, following step by step the Nazi military conquest of other peoples.
On October 1, 1938, Nazi armed forces crossed the frontiers of Czechoslovakia. Persecution of the Catholic clergy in the Sudetenland began, according to plan, almost at once.
Czech priests who for years had ministered to both Czechs and Germans in the Sudeten district were robbed of their property and were expelled by the Nazis. Those remaining were deprived of all financial support and forced to do manual labor. All private schools were closed. Religious instruction was forbidden in state schools. Religious orders were suppressed.
Hitler's armies marched into Prague on March 15, 1939. The provinces of Bohemia and Moravia were made into a Protectorate of the Reich. The "protection" immediately took an accustomed form. Within a month of the occupation, Nazi police had arrested various representatives of the Catholic church. Gestapo agents went into churches to supervise sermons. Hundreds of priests were denounced, hailed to the headquarters of the secret political police, and tortured.
In June 1939, Corpus Christi processions were forbidden in many districts. Monasteries and convents were requisitioned, and monks were humiliated and imprisoned.
Later in the year, after war had broken out, the persecutions were extended. In September, the Gestapo arrested four-hundred eighty-seven priests in the occupied territory of Czechoslovakia. These included Mgr. Stasek, Canon of Vysehrad in Prague and Mgr. Tenora, Dean of the Cathedral in Brno. They were taken to prison and later to concentration camps. Six directors of Catholic charities were seized, including the well-known leader, Mgr. Stanovsky.
Shortly after the occupation of Prague, Carlo Cardinal Kaspar, Archbishop of Prague and Primate of Bohemia, was arrested for refusal to obey the Nazis' order that he instruct priests to discontinue pilgrimages to shrines and holy places. He was reported, re-arrested in July, and again in September 1940, when he again refused to obey this order. He died the following year, it is said of grief over the fate of his country and faith, and as a consequence of treatment received at the hands of the Nazis.
On October 28, 1940, it was reported that priests were being forced to present their sermons in advance to the Gestapo, and that they were compelled to deliver them from the pulpit with the corrections made by the Nazis, on pain of imprisonment. Priests also are reported to have been instructed to use the Bible "only so far as its guidance is not contrary to Nazi aims."
was suppressed by the occupying power. Teachers of religion were driven from the schools. The theological faculties of Prague and Olmutz, and religious seminaries in all episcopal seats in the provinces were closed immediately after the occupation. The property of most monasteries and convents was confiscated. German administrators were installed in other Church properties. Monks and nuns were driven from secular hospitals where they had worked as attendants, nurses and physicians. Several hospitals maintained by religious orders were closed.
Early in September 1940, all Catholic associations in the Protectorate were dissolved. The Catholic press came under stricter supervision, and many individual publications were suppressed. In general, all were compelled to publish articles supplied by the Nazi Propaganda Ministry.
The Pope's Encyclical Summi Pontificatus was confiscated in the mail.
And all this was accompanied by the constant pressure of physical violence.
Reliable Czech eye-witnesses report that when the Canons of Brno Cathedral arrived at Spielberg fortress for internment, S. S. guards seized them and dragged them to the chapel. There, one priest was forced into the pulpit and compelled to read aloud a sacrilegious address. The older priests were made to dance around the altar holding torn-down crucifixes.
Again, at a Catholic festival at Bohdance, on June 15, 1941, the procession was kneeling before the altar in the open. Nazis threw themselves upon the procession, which consisted largely of women, girls and children. They knocked down and trampled the participants, particularly the girls in their white ceremonial dresses. When the priests led the procession back into the church, the Nazis stood outside, singing "Wir marschier-en in die ganze Welt." The priest was arrested and interned.
Catholics at church and attending pilgrimages to the shrine of Stara Boleslav found that Gestapo agents were mingling with them. Hundreds were denounced. Priests were arrested.
Finally pilgrimages were forbidden altogether. The last one took place at Domazlece, where the priest managed to finish his sermon, to an immense congregation, just before being arrested.
At dawn on September 1, 1939, Nazi Panzer divisions attacked Poland. The assault upon the Catholic faithful of Poland followed quick upon the invasion of the Polish soil. An official account of these persecutions has been submitted to the Vatican by Cardinal Hlond, Primate of Poland.
We quote a partial selection of these reports:
Excerpts from the Reports of Cardinal Hlond
Archdiocese of Gniezno —"The archiepiscopal seminary of philosophy at Gniezno was taken over by the soldiers. A German general has taken the archiepiscopal palace as his quarters. The homes of the expelled Canons, as likewise the dwelling places of the lower clergy of the Basilica, have been occupied by the Germans . . . The principal parish church, that of the Holy Trinity, was profaned, the parish house invaded, and the entire belongings were stolen.
"Many priests are imprisoned, suffering humiliations, blows, maltreatment. A certain number were deported to Germany . . . Others have been detained in concentration camps . . . Imprisonment and arrest were carried out in such circumstances that priests did not even have the opportunity either of consuming or of placing the Blessed Sacrament in a place secure from profanation ... In the camp of Gorna Grupa they have been frequently maltreated. It is not rare to see a priest in the midst of labour gangs working in the fields, repairing roads and bridges, drawing wagons of coal, at work in the sugar factories, and even engaged in demolishing the synagogues. Some of them have been shut up for the night in pigsties, barbarously beaten and subjected to other tortures.
"At Bydgoszcz, in September (1939), about 5,000 men were imprisoned in a stable, in which there was not even room to sit on the ground. A corner of the stable had been designated as the place for the necessities of nature. The Canon Casimir Stepczynski, rural dean and parish priest of the place, was obliged, in company with a Jew, to carry away in his hands the human excrement, a nauseating task . . The curate, Adam Musial, who wished to take the place of the venerable priest, was brutally beaten with a rifle-butt.
"The Rev. Anthony Bobrzynski, curate at Znin, was arrested on the street while, vested in surplice and stole, he was carrying the Viaticum to a dying person. The sacred vestments were torn from his back, the Blessed Sacrament was profaned, and the unfortunate priest was dragged at once to prison.
"Those churches which still have the ministrations of priests are permitted to be open only on Sunday, and then only from nine to eleven o'clock in the morning . . . Sermons are allowed to be preached only in German, but since these serve often as a pretext for the Germans to carry off the priests to prison there is scarcely any preaching. Church hymns in Polish have been forbidden . .. Marriages are not being celebrated, as it is severely forbidden to bless a marriage which has not already been contracted before an official of the civil government. The latter, as a matter of principle, does not admit marriages between Poles. In various places the priests are interned in their own homes, and cannot bring the last sacraments to the dying.
"The crucifixes were removed from the schools. No religious instruction is being imparted. It is forbidden to collect offerings in the churches for the purpose of worship. The priests are being compelled to recite publicly a prayer for Hitler after the Sunday Mass.
". . . The Catholic Action, so flourishing but six months ago, has been proscribed . . . Catholic societies of charity, the Ladies of Charity, the Conferences of St. Vincent de Paul, the pious foundations, have been dissolved, and their funds confiscated.
"From the time of the entrance of the German troops into these regions, numerous crucifixes, busts and statues of Our Lord, the Blessed Virgin and of the Saints that adorned the streets were battered to the ground. The artistic statues of the patron saints, placed in the squares of the cities, and even the pictures and sacred monuments on houses and on private grounds, met with the same fate.
"A repugnant scene took place at the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration of Bydgoszcz. The Gestapo invaded the papal cloister, and summoned the nuns to the chapel, where the Blessed Sacrament was exposed. One of the police ascended the pulpit and cried that the nuns were wasting their time praying, because 'God does not exist, for if there were a God, we would not be here.' The nuns, with the exception of the Superioress, who was gravely ill, were conducted outside of the cloister, and shut up for twenty-four hours in the cellars of the Passtelle (passport office). Meanwhile the Gestapo searched the convent, and one of the policemen carried to the Superioress, confined to bed in her cell, the ciborium that had been taken out of the tabernacle. He commanded her to consume the consecrated hosts, crying: 'Auffressen!* (Eat them up). The unfortunate nun carried out the command, but at one point asked for water, which was refused. With an effort the nun managed to consume all the sacred species, and thus save them from further profanation."
Archdiocese of Poznan —"The Curia and the Metropolitan Court, whether of first or second instance, for Cracow, Lwow and Wloclawek are closed and in the hands of the Gestapo, who are making a study of the records. The archiepis-copal palace was invaded by soldiers who have remained there for weeks ruining its fittings. The records of the Primatial Chancellory have been and still are being carefully examined by the Gestapo, who also raided the important archiepiscopal archives.
.. The Cathedral of Poznan, which is at the same time parish church of 14,000 souls, was closed by the police under the pretext of being unsafe for use. The keys are in the hands of the Gestapo. The most beautiful of Poznan's churches, the Collegiate Church of St. Mary Magdalene, a parish of 23,000 souls, has likewise been closed.
. . The Theological Seminary, which numbered 120 students in the four-year course, was closed by the German authorities in October and the buildings were given over to a school for policemen. The land belonging to the Seminary, about 1,700 hectares, has been given to the confidence agents to be exploited by them.
Original from UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN