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Catholic Church and Nazi Germany
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Popes Pius XI (1922–39) and Pius XII (1939–58) led the Roman Catholic Church through the rise and fall of Nazi Germany. Around a third of Germans were Catholic in the 1930s. The Church in Germany had spoken against the rise of Nazism, but the Catholic aligned Centre Party capitulated in 1933 and was banned. In the various 1933 elections the percentage of Catholics voting for the Nazis party was remarkably lower than the average. Nazi key ideologue Alfred Rosenberg was banned on the index of the Inquisition, presided by later pope Pius XII. Adolf Hitler and several key Nazis had been raised Catholic, but became hostile to the Church in adulthood. While Article 24 of the NSDAP party platform called for conditional toleration of Christian denominations and the 1933 Reichskonkordat treaty with the Vatican purported to guarantee religious freedom for Catholics, the Nazis were essentially hostile to Christianity and the Catholic Church faced persecution in Nazi Germany. Its press, schools and youth organisations were closed, much property confiscated and around one third of its clergy faced reprisals from authorities. Catholic lay leaders were targeted in the Night of the Long Knives purge. The Church hierarchy attempted to co-operate with the new government, but in 1937, the Papal Encyclical Mit brennender Sorge accused the government of "fundamental hostility" to the church.
Among the most courageous demonstrations of opposition inside Germany were the 1941 sermons of Bishop August von Galen of Münster. Nevertheless, wrote Alan Bullock "[n]either the Catholic Church nor the Evangelical Church... as institutions, felt it possible to take up an attitude of open opposition to the regime". In every country under German occupation, priests played a major part in rescuing Jews, but Catholic resistance to mistreatment of Jews in Germany was generally limited to fragmented and largely individual efforts. Mary Fulbrook wrote that when politics encroached on the church, Catholics were prepared to resist, but that the record was otherwise patchy and uneven, and that, 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".Catholics fought on both sides in the Second World War. Hitler's invasion of predominantly Catholic Poland ignited the conflict in 1939. Here, especially in the areas of Poland annexed to the Reich—as in other annexed regions of Slovenia and Austria—Nazi persecution of the church was intense. Many clergy were targeted for extermination. Through his links to the German Resistance, Pope Pius XII warned the Allies of the planned Nazi invasion of the Low Countries in 1940. From that year, the Nazis gathered priest-dissidents in a dedicated clergy barracks at Dachau, where 95 percent of its 2,720 inmates were Catholic (mostly Poles, and 411 Germans) and 1,034 priests died there. Expropriation of church properties surged from 1941.
The Vatican, surrounded by Fascist Italy, was officially neutral during the war, but used diplomacy to aid victims and lobby for peace. Vatican Radio and other media spoke out against atrocities. While Nazi antisemitism embraced modern pseudo-scientific racial principles, ancient antipathies between Christianity and Judaism contributed to European antisemitism. During the Nazi era, the church rescued many thousands of Jews by issuing false documents, lobbying Axis officials, hiding them in monasteries, convents, schools and elsewhere; including in the Vatican and papal residence at Castel Gandolfo. The Pope's role during this period is contested. The Reich Security Main Office called Pius XII a "mouthpiece" of the Jews. His first encyclical, Summi Pontificatus, called the invasion of Poland an "hour of darkness", his 1942 Christmas address denounced race murders and his Mystici corporis Christi encyclical (1943) denounc ...