Op-Ed: The Holocaust was Caused by the Church, not Just Hitler
The Holocaust didn’t occur because of Hitler but because of the Church. Hitler merely built upon the policies of the Church and drove them to their logical conclusion.
Of course I am familiar with the idea that but for Christianity, the Holocaust wouldn’t have happened, but wasn’t fully aware of the debt owed by Hitler to precedents set by the Church for the details of his policies, including the final solution.
R. Hilberg’s classic The Destruction of European Jews provides the link. Hiberg begins his introduction with these words:
- The German destruction of the European Jews was a tour de force; the Jewish collapse under the German assault was a manifestation of failure. Both of these phenomena were the final product of an earlier age.
- Anti-Jewish policies and anti-Jewish actions did not have their beginning in 1933. For many centuries, and in many countries, the Jews have been victims of destructive action. What was the object of these activities? What were the aims of those who persisted in anti-Jewish deeds? Throughout Western history, three consecutive policies have been applied against Jewry in its dispersion.
The policies referred to included 1) conversion, 2) expulsion and 3) extermination. The first and second were often accompanied by the threat of execution; all of which were sanctioned by the Church.
- The first anti-Jewish policy started in the fourth century after Christ in Rome. In the early 300’s, during the reign of Constantine, the Christian Church gained power in Rome, and Christianity became the state religion. From this period, the state carried out Church policy. For the next twelve centuries, the Catholic Church prescribed the measures that were to be taken with respect to the Jews. Unlike the pre-Christian Romans, who claimed no monopoly on religion and faith, the Christian Church insisted upon acceptance of Christian doctrine.
- For an understanding of Christian policy toward Jewry, it is essential to realize that the Church pursued conversion not so much for the sake of aggrandizing its power (the Jews have always been few in number), but because of the conviction that it was the duty of true believers to save unbelievers from the doom of eternal hellfire. Zealousness in the pursuit of conversion was an indication of the depth of faith. The Christian religion was not one of many religions, like other religions. It was the true religion, the only religion. Those who were not in its fold were either ignorant or in error.
The Jews could not accept Christianity.
The same might be said of Islam, though it allowed Jews and Christians, “peoples of the book”, to be dhimmis and pay a tax, Jizya”, for the privilege. The Church also imposed a similar tax on Jews.
- In the very early stages of the Christian faith, many Jews regarded Christians as members of a Jewish sect. The first Christians, after all, still observed the Jewish law. They had merely added a few non-essential practices, such as baptism, to their religious life. But this view was changed abruptly when Christ was elevated to godhood. The Jews have only one G-d. That G-d is indivisible. He is a jealous G-d and admits of no other G-ds. He is not Christ, and Christ is not He. Christianity and Judaism have since been irreconcilable. An acceptance of Christianity has since signified an abandonment of Judaism.
- With patience and persistence, the Church attempted to convert obstinate Jewry, and for twelve hundred years, the theological argument was fought without interruption. The Jews were not convinced. Gradually the Church began to back its words with force. The Papacy did not permit pressure to be put on individual Jews; Rome never permitted forceful conversions.
- However, the clergy did use pressure on the whole. Step by step, but with ever widening effect, the Church adopted “defensive” measures against its passive victims. Christians were “protected” from the “harmful” consequences of intercourse with Jews by rigid laws against intermarriage, by prohibitions of discussions about religious issues, by laws against domicile in common abodes. The Church “protected” its Christians from the “harmful” Jewish teachings by burning the Talmud and by barring Jews from public office.
And yet it is the Jews who are always attacked for their separateness.
- The clergy was not sure of its success – hence the widespread practice, in the Middle Ages, of identifying proselytes as former Jews, hence the inquisition of new Christians suspected of heresy, hence the issuance in Spain of certificates of “purity” (limpieza) signifying purely Christian ancestry, and the specification of half new Christians, quarter new Christians, one-eighth new Christians, etc.
Hitler’s racial purity laws found their antecedent and precedent in these laws. And so did his order that Jews identify themselves by wearing a yellow Star of David.
Efforts to convert the Jews were spectacularly unsucessful, even aided by all the restrictions placed on the Jews.
- Too much had been invested in twelve hundred years of conversion policy. Too little had been gained. From the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries, the Jews of England, France, Germany, Spain, Bohemia and Italy were presented with ultimatums which gave them no choice but one: conversion or expulsion.
In 1542 Martin Luther rejected the authority of Rome and started the Lutheran Church. He, too, hated the Jews. He and others who broke away from Rome became known as Protestants. There followed hundreds of years of war between Catholics and Protestants.
At the end of the Eighteenth Century, the French Revolution took place, a by-product of which was the liberation of the French Jews, who thereafter enjoyed equal rights. The armies of the revolution, headed by Napoleon, spread the values of “liberte, fraternite and egalite” to the east, including in Germany and Italy. With the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, the Bourbons in France kept the liberating legislation, but the monarchs in Germany and Italy cancelled it. Nevertheless, Jews embraced the belief, after a taste of liberation, that full equality was the inevitable corollary of the emerging secular-political order throughout Europe. In Germany, Reform Judaism was founded and in Russia and Poland, Jews flocked to the Communist banner.
But many segments of society remained deeply anti-Semitic, leaving many Jews to conclude that the promise of “liberte, fraternite and egalite” was a pipe dream even though the society was now secular. And so was born the the movement for the Auto-Emancipation of the Jews, which became known as Zionism. Jews had to reconstitute themselves as a nation in their own land.
In Christian Europe, the Jews had only to convert to be accepted. The Christians were against the practise of Judaism. In secular Europe, the Jews themselves were rejected as a race. Thus, conversion was not open to them. But expulsion or emigration was still available. Thus millions of Jews the Pale of Settlement beginning in 1880 emigrated well into the nineteen thirties. Hitler searched in vain for a country to which to expel Germany’s Jews, but no one wanted them. In 1942 he instituted the final solution, extermination.
R. Hiberg in his masterful study, argues:
- if we analyze that singular massive upheaval, we discover that most of what happened in those 12 years, 1933 to 1945, had already happened before. The Nazi destruction process did not come out of a void, it was the culmination of a cyclical trend beginning in the Fourth Century in Rome.
During the conversion era, the Church said, “you have no right to live among us as Jews”. Then in the segregation/expulsion process, “you have no right to live among us” and finally in the extermination process, “you have no right to live”.
- These progressively more drastic goals brought in their wake a slow and steady growth of anti Jewish action and anti-Jewish thinking…. The German Nazis then, did not discard the past, they built upon it. They did not begin a development, they completed it. In the deep recesses of anti-Jewish history we shall find many of the administrative and psychological tools with which the Nazis implemented their destruction process. In the hollows of the past we shall also discover the roots of the characteristic Jewish response to an outside attack.
To better understand this statement, Hilberg presents a table of Canonical Law restricting the Jews beginning in the Fourth Century opposite which he places similar Nazi measures.
- No summation of Canonical Law can be as revealing as a description of the Rome ghetto, maintained by the Papal State until the occupation of the city by the Royal Italian Army in 1870. A German journalist who visited the city in its closing days, published such an account:
- “To rent any house or business establishment outside the ghetto boundaries, the Jews needed the permission of Cardinal Vicar. Acquisition of real estate outside the ghetto was prohibited. Trade or industrial products or goods were prohibited. Higher schooling was prohibited.. The professions of lawyer, druggist, notary, painter and architect were prohibited. A Jew could be a doctor provided he confined his practice to Jewish patients. No Jew could hold office. Jews were required to pay taxes like everyone else and, in addition, the following: 1) A yearly stipend for the upkeep of the Catholic officials who supervised the Ghetto Finance Administration and the Jewish Community Organization, 2) A yearly sum of 5250 lira for Casa Pia for missionary work among Jews, 3) A yearly sum of 5250 lira to the Cloister of the Converted for the same purpose. In return the Papal State expended a yearly sum of 1500 lira for welfare work. But no state money was paid for education or the care of the sick.”
Hiberg also provided a table of Pre-Nazi and Nazi Anti-Jewish Measures. As can be seen, the destructive process was at work in Germany long before the Nazis came to power.
But all this in no way is meant to excuse Hitler.
After the Holocaust, the manifestations of anti-Semitism became very subdued. It was not "cool" to express such feelings in any way. Unfortunately, the haters began expressing the anti-Semitism as anti-Zionism. These expression are now commonplace and the hatred of Israel is growing exponentially. As a result, the movement to exterminate Israel has become very strong.
But we Jews will survive that too