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Priest discusses Catholic response to Nazi policies in WWII

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Section: News

April 9, 2010

At war: Dr. Levom Spicer, C.S.C., a professor at Stonehill College spoke Thursday evening about the Catholic responce to Nazi policies leading up to and during World War II. Spicer began his speech discussing how Catholics were initially susceptable to anti-semitic ideas in the 1920s and how that vulnerability supported Nazi power.
PHOTO BY Nafiz R Ahmed

The Brandeis Catholic Chaplaincy welcomed Dr. Kevin Spicer, C.S.C., a professor at Stonehill College, to Brandeis Thursday to mark Holocaust Remembrance Week. He discussed Judeo-Christian relations in Germany before WWII, and drew on information from his most recent book, “Hitler’s Priests: Catholic Clergy and National Socialism,” and from historical German archives.

Spicer discussed the prejudices and difficulties that marked the relationship between these two religions, especially in the 1920s.

“Those Catholics susceptible and prone to anti-Semitism had only to institutionalize that anti-Semitism,” he said, to spread their own prejudices to the German people.

Spicer explained that anti-Semitism was present in two unique ways throughout this time period. On the one hand, the Church condemned overt prejudices, which were spreading through Germany. However, there was common acceptance of the desire to convert Jews to Christianity and of the belief that Judaism posed a risk to the Church.

There was the “unacceptable form [of anti-Semitism] that is ‘unchristian,’” said Spicer, and the “acceptable form that is a ‘healthy acceptance of the threat the Jews present.’”

Spicer focused on individual religious figures from the ’20s to illustrate the tense Judeo-Christian relationship that existed. Josef Roth, for example, not only worked for the church but was also involved with German socialist politics in the pre-WWII era. He preached that anti-Semitism was the duty of all religious Christians.

“Christian demand to love one’s neighbor excluded Jews, because from the beginning Jews presented a danger,” Spicer quoted from Roth’s works.

Spicer explained that Roth advocated that German Christians move beyond the swastika. He wanted Germans to attack the Jewish people with violence, and revoke their German citizenship.

“Roth was not the only [member of the] Catholic clergy who urgently and forthrightly expressed their anti-Semitism,” added Spicer. Through rhetoric and writing, Father Dr. Philipp Haeuser used religion as a basis for spreading prejudices against the Jewish religion.

“Haeuser joined with his fellow anti-Semites and blamed the existence of everything he detested on Jews,” said Spicer.

The German Cardinal Michael Faulhaber, of the other view, seemed to reject anti-Semitism in the Church. He askd one Franciscan, Constantin Bahmann, for an apology after Bahmann remarked on how both Jewish people and Prussians should be extinct. He also privately condemned Roth’s prejudiced ideas.

Unfortunately, “Depsite [his] overtures, Faulhaber in his own writing had evidence of lingering anti-Semitism,” said Spicer.

In fact, as anti-Semitism progressed in a movement all over Germany, Spicer said, Faulhaber “made it clear that he would not defend Germany’s Jews. Ultimately, all of Germany’s hierarchy would follow suit.”

After the lecture, Spicer, with the Catholic chaplain Reverend Walther Cuenin and the Jewish chaplain Rabbi Elyse Winick, discussed the anti-Semitism present in the world today. “I think it would be helpful for seminarians to have some education with a rabbi, or a person educated in the Jewish faith,” Spicer suggested. “Sometimes nobody will say anything on the surface, but I think that [anti-Semitism] is really below, at times,” he said.

Modern anti-Semitism, he said, “is just ignorance, or a lack of desire of knowing, or knowing, but still saying those remarks in a mean-spirited, anti-Semitic way.”

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