The Nazi persecution of Catholics
1. When the Communists seized power in Russia, the imprisonment and killing of priests and the destruction of churches, were reported in much of the Western press. But Hitler used a more subtle technique to achieve the same aim. This was described in 1942 as follows:
“Propaganda, carried out with typical German thoroughness and organizing ability, has succeeded in clouding over this issue of religious persecution (and many questions besides) in such a way that for the most part it is impossible to get at the facts or know the truth.
The system which is so fond of lightning strokes in all that it under-takes,
and boasts of launching its relentless attacks "into the very gates of the enemy," is cautious and wary to-a degree in the measures taken against the Church. Whatever happens, there is the desire to avoid giving the impression of fundamental enmity towards the Church.
For this reason the Church's positions are not all attacked at once, but step by step after the most careful and painstaking preparation of public opinion. It is in this way that even the most radical measures are put into operation; recourse is had to petty subterfuges and trifling mitigations are offered to mollify the public and cloud the situation: the measures will be ascribed to “the mistake of some subordinate,” a few exemptions will be granted, and at least a show will be made of withdrawing noxious regulations temporarily.
Above all the effort is made to allay public disquiet by constantly repeated assurances that there is no question at all of any intention to institute a persecution against the Church. Year after year, up to the present day, the National Socialist press and the leading personalities of the movement are never tired of proclaiming that the new State is to be built up "on a basis of positive Christianity," that all that is being done is to “purge and free the Church and Religion from politics," and so on.
Woe to the parish priest in his pulpit, or the writer in his parish magazine, who hazards the faintest suggestion that the Church is oppressed in Germany today: such “dissemination of atrocity fables” would at once be rewarded by a sentence of imprisonment. …”
The above is an extract from the Preface to the following book:
2. The Persecution of the Catholic Church in the Third Reich (1942).
It was published in London during 1942 and the author’s identity had, at the time, to be kept secret. Copies and reprints are available on the Internet and seem to vary between £5 - 18 or $9 - 25 plus delivery.
This book, of 565 tightly printed pages, is full of detailed events and is indispensable to anyone researching this subject.
After the war the history of the book’s formation could be revealed. Admiral Canaris was a German hero during the First World War and very patriotic. In 1935, when the army was still free from close Nazi control, Canaris was appointed head of the Army Forces Intelligence Service – the Abwehr.
Canaris (a non-practising Catholic) organised a secret group within the Abwehr, which included Josef Muller, a dedicated Catholic. So Muller, while travelling widely on secret army work, was able to collect details of persecution without raising Nazi suspicions. When completed, he delivered the information to the Vatican where Fr. Walter Mariaux translated and organised the material. In 1941 he passed the typescript to ‘Burns and Oates’, a Catholic publisher in London. They published it in 1942.
The Canaris group were involved in an assassination attempt on Hitler’s life, to be followed by an army seizure of power. On July 20th 1944, Colonel Von Stauffenberg, another dedicated Catholic, planted a bomb close to Hitler, but he was not killed. Most of the group, including Canaris, were exposed and executed, but Muller managed to remain free.
3. The story of the double life of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris is available:
Nazi Policy and the Catholic Church is a good short article, based on Muller’s book. It is available at: Catholic Educator’s Resources Center. Enter Gajewski into the site’s search engine. Or go direct to:
5. The Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal
A document, prepared by the OSS (precursor of the CIA) for these trials provides an outline of material being assembled by the prosecution. One section concerns persecution of all churches, including evidence from those outside of Germany. The book, mentioned above was, at the time, still without a public author, so not suitable for use in Court. But the prosecutors followed up the material in the book to find key witnesses. The document is at:
Scroll to: Instalment 1. Nazi Master Plan: The Persecution of the Christian Churches.
6. The Jesuits and the Third Reich by Vincent A Lapomada (1989).
The title of this book is self-explanatory.
Copyright ©; CHURCHinHISTORY 2007