Catholic Church and Nazi Germany during World War II
Several Catholic countries and populations fell under Nazi domination during the period of the Second World War (1939-1945), and ordinary Catholics fought on both sides of the conflict. Despite efforts to protect its rights within Germany under a 1933 Reichskonkordat treaty, the Church in Germany had faced persecution in the years since Adolf Hitler had seized power, and Pope Pius XI accused the Nazi government of sowing 'fundamental hostility to Christ and his Church'. Pius XII became Pope on the eve of war and lobbied world leaders to prevent the outbreak of conflict. His first encyclical, Summi Pontificatus, called the invasion of Poland an ""hour of darkness"". He affirmed the policy of Vatican neutrality, but maintained links to the German Resistance. Despite being the only world leader to publicly and specifically denounce Nazi crimes against Jews in his 1942 Christmas Address, controversy surrounding his apparent reluctance to speak frequently and in even more explicit terms about Nazi crimes continues. He used diplomacy to aid war victims, lobbied for peace, shared intelligence with the Allies, and employed Vatican Radio and other media to speak out against atrocities like race murders. In Mystici corporis Christi (1943) he denounced the murder of the handicapped. A denunciation from German bishops of the murder of the ""innocent and defenceless"", including ""people of a foreign race or descent"", followed.Hitler's invasion of Catholic Poland sparked the War. Nazi policy towards the Church was at its most severe in the areas it annexed to the Reich, such as the Czech and Slovene lands, Austria and Poland. In Polish territories it annexed to Greater Germany, the Nazis set about systematically dismantling the Church - arresting its leaders, exiling its clergymen, closing its churches, monasteries and convents. Many clergymen were murdered. Over 1800 Catholic Polish clergy died in concentration camps; most notably, Saint Maximilian Kolbe. Nazi security chief Reinhard Heydrich soon orchestrated an intensification of restrictions on church activities in Germany. Hitler and his ideologues Goebbels, Himmler, Rosenberg and Bormann hoped to de-Christianize Germany in the long term. With the expansion of the war in the East, expropriation of monasteries, convents and church properties surged from 1941. Clergy were persecuted and sent to concentration camps, religious Orders had their properties seized, some youth were sterilized. The first priest to die was Aloysius Zuzek. Bishop August von Galen's ensuing 1941 denunciation of Nazi euthanasia and defence of human rights roused rare popular dissent. The German bishops denounced Nazi policy towards the church in pastoral letters, calling it ""unjust oppression"".From 1940, the Nazis gathered priest-dissidents in dedicated clergy barracks at Dachau, where (95%) of its 2,720 inmates were Catholic (mostly Poles, and 411 Germans), 1034 died there. Mary Fulbrook wrote that when politics encroached on the church, German Catholics were prepared to resist, but the record was otherwise patchy and uneven with notable exceptions, ""it seems that, for many Germans, adherence to the Christian faith proved compatible with at least passive acquiescence in, if not active support for, the Nazi dictatorship"". Influential members of the German Resistance included Jesuits of the Kreisau Circle and laymen such as July plotters Klaus von Stauffenberg, Jakob Kaiser and Bernhard Letterhaus, whose faith inspired resistance. Elsewhere, vigorous resistance from bishops such as Johannes de Jong and Jules-Géraud Saliège, papal diplomats such as Angelo Rotta, and nuns such as Margit Slachta, can be contrasted with the apathy of others and the outright collaboration of Catholic politicians such as Slovakia's Msgr Jozef Tiso and fanatical Croat nationalists. From within the Vatican, Msgr Hugh O'Flaherty coordinated the rescue of thousands of Allied POWs, and civilians, including Jews. While Nazi antisemitism embraced modern pseudo-scientific racial principles rejected by the Catholic Church, ancient antipathies between Christianity and Judaism contributed to European antisemitism; during the Second World War the Catholic Church rescued many thousands of Jews by issuing false documents, lobbying Axis officials, hiding them in monasteries, convents, schools and elsewhere; including the Vatican and Castel Gandolfo.