To the extent that it is read by Catholic apologists and others who have a broad and deep knowledge of Europe in the 1930s and 40s, Martin Rhonheimer's "The Holocaust: What Was Not Said" (November 2003) has considerable value. However, it will also be read by many who do not know much about that time, and by others who will see it as vindicating their idea that the Church did nothing to help the Jews. They will not find in Father Rhonheimer's article the balanced perspective appropriate to understanding those terrible days.
The great story of the Catholic Church during the Holocaust is that the Church did a great deal to help the Jews, far more than any other institution of any kind. At the same time, Pius XII did not provide stentorian rhetoric. Presenting both of these observations together would have constituted a balanced assessment, but Fr. Rhonheimer concentrated exclusively on "what was not said." Looking only at the weakest part of the Church's record does not constitute a balanced assessment.
But even if focusing only on "what was not said" were a fair subject for his article, a balanced perspective would have required some explanation of why it was not said. Pius XII'S highest responsibility was the protection and preservation of the Holy See, a tiny 109-acre enclave in the middle of the capital city of an Axis power at war. Could that have made a difference?
When we say that someone should have said more, we always need a standard by which we measure sufficiency. In the Holocaust context, the American Jewish response is an appropriate reference. American Jews had the greatest sympathy for their brother European Jews, they had the physical safety that Pius XII lacked, and they had the New York Times, at that time the world's newspaper of record. Yet American Jewish organizations also maintained a discreet silence. If Fr. Rhonheimer had said that neither the Church nor American Jews said enough about the Holocaust, there would have been some sense of balance.
Martin K. Barrack
I read Father Martin Rhonheimer's article with great interest. I must say that I found it to be informative and intriguing but also highly disappointing. While I appreciate the author's desire to highlight the errant ways in which many Catholic apologists have overemphasized the Church's actions during this period of history, I am quite shocked at his tone and the cavalier manner in which he derides the Church for caring for her own.
Although I acknowledge that the Church, as the universal instrument and sacrament of salvation, had (and has) an obligation to speak out and defend the dignity and rights of all human persons, the Church also had (and has) an obligation to defend the dignity and rights of her own faithful. Indeed, does not our faith teach that the Church is our Mother? What mother would concentrate on defending neighborhood children from a bully at the expense of her own children? Or what mother, when forced to make a choice as to whom she had more power to help, would sacrifice her own children? I believe this was the situation of the Church during the Second World War--clearly in Nazi Germany but also throughout Europe.
I also take issue with Fr. Rhonheimer's statement that "the only thing that could have derailed the trains to Auschwitz--if indeed that was ever possible--was unmistakeable condemnation of anti-Semitism in any form." I find this statement to be the height of folly. History proved that the trains to Auschwitz were derailed only by the troops and tanks of Generals Bradley, Patton, Montgomery, Koniev, Zhukov, and Rokossovski.
Finally, I find Fr. Rhonheimer's treatment of Michael Cardinal von Faulhaber to be pedantic. Was this not the same cardinal who ordered yellow Star of David armbands to be placed on the statues of Christ and Mary in his archdiocese in response to the Nazi treatment of Jews?
I do sincerely appreciate Fr. Rhonheimer's article, but I find it hard to...