The Nazis were not simply demons who erupted out of some dark underworld to shatter what was good and just within the Western tradition, until they were put down by force of arms and the authentic humane and progressive values of Europe were restored. There were traditions of Western governments within which they worked. There were continuities between Nazism and what came before and after. There were examples and inspirations on which the Nazis drew, and American race law prominent among them. […]
Most books progress, with many chapters, each chapter tell different events, or different people, or different phases of life, usually progressing in some manner. But the story in Viktor Frankl’s account of life in the Nazi concentration camps during World War II is one long dreary struggle for survival, unrelieved misery, each day running into the next, no weekends, for a precious few a monotonous few years until the war ended, for some many, many months of misery, for most, for nine out of ten Jews, they had left only days before they stripped for showers not of streams of life-giving water but showers spewing noxious fumes into gas chambers.
Viktor Frankl was one of the few of the ten percent whose first shower in Auschwitz sprayed life giving water over their naked bodies, one of the few who survived years of what was the most brutal slave society the world had ever seen, where formerly free men and women were torn away from their families, whose luggage and their jewelry and clothes were taken, even their hair shorn from them. The Nazis even strove to steal from them their humanity, taking away their names, tattooing on their wrists the numbers they would be their new identity. […]
You need a strong moral compass to do what is right. Like Trump, Mussolini did not have a strong, he did not even have a weak moral compass, his compass had no morals at all. Shortly before the start of World War II Mussolini started looking up to Hitler, Mussolini visited Berlin, Hitler visited Rome, and Mussolini started to value the values of Nazi Germany over the values of the Catholic Church.
Starting in 1938, the Fascist government under Mussolini started to implement many of the same anti-Semitic race laws that had earlier been passed in Nazi Germany. In the years before 1938 the Catholic Church prospered in its partnership with Mussolini. In the remaining years of Mussolini’s rule these relations were more and more strained. The Pope had started hearing disturbing reports from his churches in Germany and across Europe, disturbing reports on the fate of the Jews and the disabled and dissenters, priests, and believers.
Pope Pius XI started to have regrets about his compromises with Mussolini, Pope Pius XI was elderly and in poor health, Pope Pius XI started to worry about his salvation. […]
How could most Christians either tolerate or support the totalitarian Nazi regime of Hitler? We cannot help but ask that question because we see bulging eyes of the skeletal concentration camp victims looking up in those black and white photographs, but we must realize that nobody in the prewar years could have predicted that the concentration camps would come to define Nazism. In the prewar years many saw a reawakened national German pride and family values after the humiliation imposed by the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I. […]
Although Mussolini’s totalitarian regime was brutal, and although Mussolini was not a practicing Catholic himself, he did cooperate with the Pope and the Catholic Church. Mussolini did not enact Nazi style anti-Semitic race laws until he fell under the spell of Hitler after 1938. Until then, the Catholics in the pews were not morally forced to choose between obeying the church and the state. […]
John Chrysostom is the most strident of the early Church writers in his writings opposing the Judaizers where he warned his flock that Christians should not adopt Jewish customs and practices, that Christians needed to celebrate the Church festivals rather than the Jewish festivals, that Christians should not attend services at the synagogue. His work “Against the Judaizers” is so polemic that it is far more anti-Semitic than the writings of Barnabas and St Justin Martyr and many other church fathers, it is painful for us modern readers to read, we who remember the horrific events of the Holocaust. This work is not in the standard collection of the works of the Nicene and Anti-Nicene Fathers, but it was widely read in medieval times and afterward, and unfortunately was used to justify the European and Russian pogroms and persecutions against the Jews.
One scholar who has pondered the problems posed polemic stands against the Judaizers by St John Chrysostom and also St Cyril is Robert Wilken. In this book “John Chrysostom and the Jews,” he explores the history of the early church to better understand the world of the early Church Fathers. We cannot totally excuse the errors in the teachings of the early Church Fathers, but neither can we blindly judge and condemn them for not knowing the lessons of the Holocaust. There is nothing wrong with reading the Church Fathers as they apply to our modern world, but particularly in this case we should also let the Church Fathers in their ancient historical context, we need to do both lest we have a distorted understanding of the history of our faith. […]