Jonathan Tremblay: Children in a Concentration Camp Trumps a Sad Pope

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Jonathan Tremblay is a historian and a Breaking News Editor for the History News Network.]

With the Pascal celebrations surrounding Easter, the Vatican was abuzz with religious pomp and circumstance. It is there, amongst thousands of Catholics, media representatives and the Pope himself that a few higher ups let go of their careful restraint. Commenting on the Church’s current Child Abuse Scandal, allegations that the Pope knew about an instituted cover-up and 200 new accusations against a single American priest, certain clerics were noticeably antagonised by the negative media attention. As such, Dean of the College of Cardinals Angelo Sodano preached, “Holy Father, the people of God are with you and will not let themselves be influenced by the petty gossip of the moment.” Going further, the Pope’s personal preacher, Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, compared the accusations brought against the Pope and the Church with “the more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism.” It has become clear that certain prominent clerics of the Church need a little perspective or perhaps renewed restraint.

Firstly, without picking a side in the current Church Child Abuse Scandal, there are a few basics that are established. Many priests have been found guilty of abusing children and many documents have been interpreted to show that Pope Benedict XVI, as Archbishop of Munich in the past, was made aware of abuse occurring in his churches and of the ordered cover-up surrounding it. Conversely, the Church has been an easy target for decades now and, the depravities of a certain few (up to 1.5% of the worldwide catholic clergy) are being overemphasized to imply the guilt of the entire Church, it’s entire ecclesiastic workforce and indeed its billion plus members. Whether any of these arguments are justified, valid, defamatory or sacrilegious is largely in the hands of judicial and ecclesiastic courts now. What is not up for debate is how the media focus on the Church’s Child Abuse Scandal is NOT comparable to “the more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism”.

So for the benefits of Rev. Cantalamessa and those that found no problem with his statement, here is the story of “the more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism” or what I like to call the Holocaust.

Once upon a time a man named Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany by proposing that the cause of all his nation’s ills (loss of WW1, extraordinary punishments imposed by the Treaty of Versailles, the Great Depression hitting Germany harder than any country) was the ‘International Jewry’. You see, the Fuhrer became Chancellor and President of the German republic by early 1933 and immediately began restricting the liberties of Jewish Germans. The civil service, medical professions and agricultural production became a big no-no for these Germans that were said to have conspired internationally for the ultimate poverty and subservience of the Aryan peoples.

Moving on to 1935, Adolf and his National Socialists had effectively done away with the short-lived Republic and instated a new Reich (Kingdom) that was to be built on racial purity. That year, laws were passed in Nuremburg that further exacerbated the “more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism”. Jews were no longer allowed to marry Aryans (such mixed race couples that were already married were forcefully annulled) were stripped of German citizenship and thus deprived of all civil rights in the Reich. As an interesting side-note, a ‘Jew’ in Nazi Germany was defined as a person with at least one Jewish grandparent unless that relative had converted from Judaism before 1871, the unification year of Germany’s 2nd Reich. This was basically the last ‘administrative’ measure against the Jewish population of Germany; the following years would simply get more violent and indeed exponentially more “shameful”.

1938 saw the annexing of Czechoslovakia along with Austria to Hitler’s Third Reich and thus the Nuremburg Laws began their rapid expansion and application to all European Jews. On Nov. 7th, a German official was murdered by a Jewish dissenter in Paris which showed that “Ah-ha!”, the Jews were really out to get the racially and morally superior Aryans. This was ample justification of the Kristallnacht, a riotous evening of vandalism against 9,000 of Germany’s synagogues and Jewish-owned shops, the death of countless Jews unfortunate enough to be on the streets that night and for the first state-organized deportation of 30,000 Jews to specially built concentration camps. Now pay attention reverend, these “concentration camps” are not centres of intellectual reflection for the Jewish populations of Europe as you might think; but we’ll get back to those soon enough.

With the invasion of Poland in 1939 not only came the opening of WW2 but the preponderance of the ‘Jewish Question’ and the Search for a ‘Final Solution’ (Endlösung der Judenfrage). Indeed, Poland was home to some 3.3 million Jews and in order to maintain racial purity, they had to go (papers later showed that the next target of Hitler’s 1000-year Reich would have been the Slavic peoples; a plan that would take 25-30 years according to the Fuhrer). Proposals seriously envisioned mass deportations to Madagascar or to the vast Soviet Union (once conquered) but, for the moment, segregation was to be enacted in the form of ghettos. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were corralled into demarked sectors of cities (Warsaw’s ghetto actually held 300,000 or 30% of the city’s population in an area 2.4% the size of Warsaw). It is from overcrowding, proliferation of disease and ruthless brutality by Nazi guards in these ghettos that tens of thousands died in abjectly inhuman conditions. All those whom survived would soon be sent to ‘concentration’, ‘forced labour’ and/or ‘death’ camps.

Penultimately, Nazi high command enforced a more proactive way of answering the Jewish Question as soon as the invasion of Soviet territory, Operation Barbarossa, began. This was a heavily Jewish-populated region, especially in the Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic States. The Reich’s soldiers went on a Blitzkrieg to decimate the Red army and rid the territory of military forces and were then immediately followed by German Einsatzgruppen, battalions of death soldiers whose sole purpose was to ‘cleanse’ the newly acquired territory. By inciting the help of local non-Jews in denouncing and murdering their circumcised neighbours, hundreds of thousands of Jewish civilians were dispatched of on site by machine-gun fire (as an epilogue, the Einsatzgruppen suffered 0 losses and exterminated over 300,000 Jews in the countries mentioned). Conscious of the effect mass open graves of men, women and children would have on worldwide public opinion, this ’solution’ was cancelled and a ‘final’, more discrete one was put into action.

There were 50,000 ‘camps’ from France to the Ukraine by 1942 and that same year, they simply became ‘extermination camps’. From 1933, many had been opened to house ‘criminals’ as the Nazis saw fit. Political opponents, Communists, Homosexuals, Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, POWs and the mentally ill were all part of the camp inmates that were originally used as slave labour in the camps and as a means to separate the country’s undesirables from the proposed Aryan nation. In January of 1942 however, ‘Operation Reinhard’ commanded nothing less than the extermination of all Jews in Europe. Scientists were recruited to invent gas trucks and eventually the Zyklon B pellets and gas chamber that would be used in the camps to quickly dispose of these internationally conspiring Jews. “The victims were found half-squatting, their skin coloured pink with red and green spots, some foaming at the mouth or bleeding from the ears”, such was the scene as witnessed by Nazis and Jewish survivors alike at Poland’s Auschwitz camp where 8,000 inmates were being gassed every day by 1944.

Finally, as defeat of the Reich seemed imminent and as Nazi high command seemed eerily aware of the monstrous nature of their actions, camps on the Eastern Front were emptied and inmates moved west as Soviet troops liberated camp after camp (the Nazis carefully bombed crematoria, seeded the fields and dug up mass graves to cover their tracks). These ‘death marches’ from camp to camp saw the death of 250,000 more Jews that had already survived a decade of persecution, violence and torture. With Soviets in the East and British and American in the West, the Nazi no longer had any time and the world was first exposed to the atrocities that had been committed. Majdanek, then Auschwitz, then Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau and Treblinka revealed to the world that the Second World War had been a lot more than a military engagement. American Colonel Quinn liberated Dachau famously saying “There our troops found sights, sounds, and stenches horrible beyond belief, cruelties so enormous as to be incomprehensible to the normal mind.” What Colonel Quinn had found was indeed the MOST “shameful aspect of anti-Semitism”.

As an epilogue and conclusion, what we now call the Holocaust or Shoah of the Jewish peoples during the Second World War is nothing less than the brutal and organized death of 5.9 million Jews (including 90% of Jews inhabiting Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia and the Baltic countries) along with the murder of up to 10 million more civilians in camps and on fields. For Rev. Cantalamessa to compare current media focus/exaggeration/obsession with the Church’s Child Abuse Scandal to what we have just seen above is selfish, inconsiderate and I dare say ignorant. His statement belittles the sacrifice, terror and horror of the Holocaust victims, never mind the victims of child abuse that have been recognized by international courts.

The Reverend has since timidly apologised for his statement and will hopefully temper his words when mixing passion with surely one of the darkest parts of human history.

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Jerry Jones - 4/27/2010

It is an insult to memorialize the handful of anti-societal trouble-seeking Jehovah's Witnesses alongside the SIX MILLION Jewish Holocaust victims given that Jehovah's Witnesses view the Jews much as did the Nazis.

The WatchTower Cult teaches its own version of "replacement theology", which says that GOD rejected the Jews as His "chosen people", and replaced them with today's "Jehovah's Witnesses". In fact, the title "Jehovah's Witnesses" was originally applied to the Jews by the Prophet Isaiah, and is even quoted on the wall at the entrance to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. The WatchTower Society, in calling its own members "Jehovah's Witnesses" is attempting to steal that designation away from the Jews. The WatchTower Cult even teaches that all of the Bible's promises of restoration for the Jewish people now belongs to the followers of the Cult.

There were only approximately 6000 Jehovah's Witnesses in Germany during the 1930s-40s. While many of those 6000 German JWs were repeatedly arrested during the 1930s and 1940s, only a fraction were jailed or imprisoned for any significant length of time. Only about 200-300 German JWs lost their lives, and the majority of those died from any number of causes other than having been executed. Approximately 1000 JWs from other European countries lost their lives while incarcerated by the Nazis.

During that same time period, there were more Jehovah's Witnesses arrested and jailed in the United States than in Germany. In fact, from 1941 until 1945, approximately 4500 American Jehovah's Witnesses "elected" to go to prison rather than serve in the U.S. Military and go fight against those same Nazis who were committing those atrocities. Approximately 3000 of those 4500 American JWs were even offered "conscientious objector" status, in which they were offered "non-combatant" work as a substitute, but 99% of those JWs refused to even help that much.

It is also an insult to SINGLE OUT for memorialization the handful of anti-societal trouble-seeking Jehovah's Witnesses alongside the FIVE MILLION Non-Jewish Holocaust victims given that Jehovah's Witnesses view some of those fellow victims (Homosexuals, Gypsies, etc. ) much as did the Nazis. Additionally, of the 5,000,000 Non-Jewish Holocaust victims, Jehovah's Witnesses constituted the LEAST number of all -- less than 1300 persons.

Jonathan Dresner - 4/6/2010

I'm not sure what this has to do with anything, either. I'm not a Europeanist, but the document looks to me like a pretty typical Concordat, confirming existing practice quite typical of Western European church-state relations.

Jonathan Tremblay - 4/6/2010

There is no such quote in the article but I will try to eliminate all ambiguity in that matter.

Thank you.

Jonathan Tremblay - 4/6/2010

I, not sure you exactly read the article. This makes no reference to Popes Pius XI or XII.

Lee Andersen - 4/6/2010

When people were not there it is easy to assume the truth about historical facts. CHECK out the Catholic Encyclopedia at: where it states "His Holiness Pope Pius XI and the President of the German Reich, moved by a common desire to consolidate and enhance the friendly relations existing between the Holy See and the German Reich, wish to regulate the relations between the Catholic Church and the State for the whole territory of the German Reich in a permanent manner and on a basis acceptable to both parties." and so forth.

jim przedzienkowski - 4/6/2010

Your statement "Polish Concentration Camps' is misleading and incorrect. The Nazi Germans set up concentration camps on Polish occupied soil. Your article needs to be corrected to correctly reflect history.