On this day in 1941, Hitler declared his notorious Nacht und Nebel decree. This law held that any dissenter of the German government was to be executed if considered a threat to the Nazi Party. Today, it is important for Catholics to recall that, in addition to the six million Jews ruthlessly murdered in the Holocaust, another six million individuals, including thousands of Catholic priests and laity were also sent to their deaths during the pogroms, some of whom were our own Catholic ancestors. Many German Catholics who refused to acquiesce to the Nazi leviathan survived, and their courage lives with us today. Their stories of bravery will dwell in the annals of history forever. It is important for Milwaukee Catholics to know their history concerning the Second World War, and the ramifications it had on the contemporary perception of Catholicism today.
Oftentimes, the Catholic Church is accused of indifference towards the Nazi reign of terror during World War II, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, The London Times defended the actions of Pope Pius XII during the Christmas of 1942. “The voice of Pius XII is a lonely voice in the silence and darkness enveloping Europe this Christmas…In calling for a ‘real new order’ based on ‘liberty, justice and love’…the pope put himself squarely against Hitlerism.” This is not the same picture of the Pope that antagonists of the Church attempt to paint today. “Why is this?” you ask. In Michael Coren’s book Why Catholics Are Right, the author elucidates this narrative in the following words: “The view that the Church was on the right side, the good side, the moral side, the anti-Nazi side, was standard in the years following 1945, and it was only in the mid-1960s and as a part of a concerted campaign to libel Catholicism that attitudes toward Catholic opposition to Hitlerism changed.”
Milwaukee Catholics are constantly buffeted by historical revisionists in their universities, a profane, insipid pop-culture in entertainment and, all-too-often, a mediocre clergy in the churches. It’s time we learn our history and combat our enemies with our brains. Frequent critiques, such as “Well, why didn’t the pope do anything to combat Nazism in Europe?” should be met with a rejoinder that Albert Eisenstein himself used. “Only the Catholic Church protested against the Hitlarian onslaught on liberty. Up till then I had not been interested in the Church, but today I feel a great admiration for the Church, which alone has had the courage to struggle for spiritual truth and moral liberty.” The old saying, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating” certainly applies to the Catholic Church. Unfortunately for us, anything that is worth understanding takes countless hours of study, a virtue that the Venerable and Most Reverend Fulton J. Sheen once spoke of on his Emmy Award winning television program back in the 60s. The expression “you cannot love what you do not know” is a perennial truth, so let’s learn our history so we can defend our Church.