Now that the veneration of Pope Pius XII has ignited another firestorm of Catholic bashing on the part of those who persist in believing -- in the face of the Everest of evidence to the contrary -- that the Church in general, and Ven. Pius XII in particular, did nothing to oppose Hitler, it seems the time is ripe for re-posting my honor roll of Catholic heroes from last spring -- with some additions (it is still a very short list).
St. Maximilian Kolbe
Franciscan priest, a prisoner at Auschwitz. In July of 1941, a prisoner from his barracks escaped; as a punishment, the guards chose ten men out of the barracks to be starved to death. One of them, Franciszek Gajowniczek, lamented for his wife and family; St. Maximilian approached the guards and offered his own life in place of Gajowniczek's. The offer was accepted. After three weeks of starvation and dehydration, St. Maximilian was dispatched by an injection of carbolic acid. The man he saved was later reunited with his wife (although his sons perished in the war), and lived to see the canonization of the priest who had given his life for him.
The Martyrs of Nowogrodek
When the Nazis arrested 120 citizens of Nowogrodek, Poland on July 18, 1943, the town's community of Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth unanimously offered in prayer to take their places. In the name of their community, Sister Mary Stella, their superior, begged God that if the sacrifice of lives was needed, to take their lives in place of the imprisoned, who included their chaplain. On July 31, 1943, all but one of the sisters was arrested; the following day, they were taken out to the woods and shot, and buried in a common grave. Meanwhile, most of the other prisoners, including their chaplain, were spared.
St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)From afar, Edith Stein, who had been born and raised Jewish, discerned the fate that awaited her people at the hands of the Nazis. In 1933, she wrote: "I had heard of severe measures against Jews before. But now it dawned on me that God had laid his hand heavily on His people, and that the destiny of these people would also be mine." Six years later, in her last will and testament, the child who had been born on the Day of Atonement would offer herself up for the sake of atonement: "Even now I accept the death that God has prepared for me in complete submission and with joy as being His most holy will for me. I ask the Lord to accept my life and my death...so that the Lord will be accepted by His people and that His Kingdom may come in glory, for the salvation of Germany and the peace of the world." Although her order smuggled her to the Netherlands for her safety, she desired to share the fate of her Jewish brethren. This desire was granted on August 9, 1942, when St. Theresa Benedicta and her sister Rose, also a convert to the Faith, were murdered in the gas chamber at Auschwitz.
Bl. Hilary Pawel Januszewski
Carmelite friar. When the Gestapo came to arrest some friars out of the Carmel in Cracow in December of 1940, Fr. Hilary volunteered to go in place of a sick, elderly friar. He gave himself to the care of dying prisoners at Dachau, and died of typhus in 1945 -- just days before the camp was liberated.
Bl. Julia Rodzinska
A Dominican nun, Sr. Julia was interned in the Stuthoff concentration camp, where she gave herself to serving the Jewish women prisoners. She died of typhoid at the camp in 1945.
Bl. Natalia Tulasiewicz
Bl. Natalia Tulasiewicz was a teacher from Poznan, Poland. She volunteered to be deported with other women sent to do heavy slave labor in Germany in order to give them spiritual comfort. On finding out what she was up to, the Gestapo arrested and tortured her, and sent her to Ravensbruck concentration camp. On March 31, 1945 -- Good Friday -- Bl. Natalia used the little strength she had left to mount a stool and give the other prisoners a talk about the Passion and death of Jesus. Two days later, she was put to death in the gas chamber.
Polish midwife, arrested by the Germans in 1943 and sent to work in Hell on earth, the "sick ward" at Auschwitz. She delivered more than 3,000 babies at Auschwitz, and made sure every one was baptized. Miraculously, despite the unspeakable conditions, she never lost a single mother or child in childbirth, though few of the babies survived the war. Despite threats on her life, she flatly refused to drown newborns, even facing down the notorious Dr. Mengele. She died in 1974, and is still venerated in Poland. Evidence is being gathered for her cause for sainthood.
Bl. Franz Jägerstätter
Austrian farmer, husband and father of four. Jägerstätter was outspokenly anti-Nazi, and was the only one in his village to vote against the Anschluss (the annexation of Austria by Germany). After being drafted in the German army and serving for a brief period, he refused to serve any further, and was arrested. Though tormented by the fear that he was acting out of pride, and therefore condemning himself to damnation, he held firm. He spent time in prison before finally being beheaded, saying that it was better for his children to live without a father than for them to keep their father as a Nazi collaborator. Here are some excellent articles on the trials of this courageous martyr for the faith.
Bl. Maria Restituta KafkaA Franciscan Sister of Charity, Bl. Maria Restituta was born in Brno in what is now the Czech Republic. A trained nurse, she went to work at the hospital in Mödling, south of Vienna after World War I, eventually becoming the head surgical nurse. Her refusal to take down crucifixes that she had hung in the hospital, plus her writings critical to the regime, led to her arrest by the Gestapo on Ash Wednesday, 1942. She was eventually sentenced to death, and was beheaded on March 30, 1943. Here is the link to Pope John Paul II's homily on the occasion of her beatification.
Mother Ricarda Beauchamp Hambrough and Bl. Mary Elizabeth HasselbladWhen Pope Pius XII ordered the convents and cloisters of Rome to open their doors to Jewish refugees in 1943, Bl. Mary Elizabeth Hasselblad, Bridgettine abbess, and her assistant, Sr. (later Mother) Ricarda Beauchamp Hambrough, an Englishwoman, sprang into action. Thanks to their efforts, Casa di San Brigida, became a refuge for more than 60 Jews during the war. Bl. Mary Elizabeth died in 1957, whereupon Mother Ricarda, who died in 1966, succeeded her as abbess. Pope John Paul II beatified Bl. Mary Elizabeth in 1999; early last year, the Bridgettines petitioned Rome for permission to open a cause for the sainthood of Mother Ricarda, who played a leading role in this life-saving work.
Irena SendlerDuring the Nazi occupation of Poland, Irena Sendler used her position as an employee of Poland's Social Welfare Department to smuggle Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto, to which her duties gave her access. While apparently conducting health inspections, Sendler hid children in boxes, suitcases, packages, trams, ambulances, and whatever else would answer the purpose, and got them out to various refuges and hiding places. In order to make it possible for the children to be reunited with their families after the war, she buried jars full of lists of their names. In 1943, the Gestapo caught Sendler, put her to torture and sentenced her to death; bribed by her friends, the guards whose task was to take her to her execution abandoned her in a wood instead, unconscious and with broken arms and legs. Officially dead, Sendler passed the war in hiding but continued her work. After the war, she dug up the jars she had buried and tried to reunite the approximately 2,500 children she had saved with their families; however, most of the latter had perished in the death camp at Treblinka. Sendler died in 2008 at the age of 98.
Dietrich von HildebrandBorn in 1889 in Florence to a renowned German sculptor, Dietrich von Hildebrand was raised in a milieu in which natural gifts and virtues flourished in an absence of religion. Gifted himself with a brilliant intellect, the young von Hildebrand decided to become a philosopher, and studied first at the University of Munich, and then the University of Göttingen. In 1914, he and his wife accepted Baptism and entered the Catholic Church. Von Hildebrand was an early and vocal denouncer of the budding Nazi party, and quickly earned a place of honor on their blacklist. When Hitler tried to take over Bavaria in November of 1923 (the infamous "Beer Hall Putsch"), von Hildebrand was compelled to flee, but returned after the putsch failed. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, von Hildebrand was compelled to abandon his property and his professorship at the University of Munich and return, penniless, to Florence, the city of his birth. Appalled and grieved at the confusion of those -- especially Catholics, and even Catholic clergy -- who failed to recognize the evil of the Nazi ideology, von Hildebrand determined to continue to wage war against it; later in 1933, he moved to Vienna and, with the backing of Chancellor Dollfuss, founded a magazine devoted entirely to attacking and exposing the intellectual underpinnings of Nazism and its first cousin, Communism. Von Hildebrand -- whom the Nazis had sentenced to death in absentia -- again became a refugee after the Anschluss and, after many adventures in Switzerland and France, made it to America in 1940. The author of a large body of theological and philosophical works (Pope Pius XII called him a "20th-century doctor of the Church"), von Hildebrand died in New Rochelle, New York in 1977.
Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss of AustriaChancellor Engelbert Dollfuss called himself the youngest (43) and the shortest Chancellor in all of Europe. A devout Catholic, he was also the only European head of state to actively and openly oppose Hitlerism in the 1930s. In 1933, he met Dietrich von Hildebrand and agreed to provide financial backing for Hildebrand's anti-Nazi, anti-Communist magazine. Determined to preserve the independence of Austria, Dollfuss took stern measures in the face of Nazi and Communist attempts to take power. On July 25, 1934, as part of an attempted coup, Nazi assassins dressed as Austrian guards invaded the Chancery and shot Dollfuss. Dollfuss lay dying for seven hours, during which time the Nazis refused to bring him either a doctor or a priest; he breathed his last praying for his murderers.
Bl. Clemens August Graf von GalenBl. Clemens, a Count and a scion of one of Germany's oldest noble families, became bishop of Münster in 1933, the same year that Hitler came to power in Germany. He immediately became a thorn in Hitler's side with his vocal and unrelenting campaigns against Nazi racial ideology, concentration camps, forced sterilization, euthanasia, deportation of the Jews and the persecution of the Catholic Church. Copies of his sermons circulated throughout war-torn Europe. As much as the Nazis would have liked to be rid of this turbulent bishop, they did not dare to kill him. After the war, Bl. Clemens earned the wrath of the British by speaking out injustices perpetrated on the populace by occupying forces. In 1946, Ven. Pius XII created him a cardinal; he died a few days after his return from the Vatican of appendicitis. He was beatified in 2005, on the anniversary of Ven. Pius' death.
Msgr. Angelo Roncalli (Bl. John XXIII)
Working from Istanbul with Chaim Barlas of the Jewish Agency Rescue Committee, Msgr. Roncalli arranged for false papers, transit passes, false baptismal certificates and other documents that made it possible for thousands of Jews to escape the slaughter in Europe.
And last (though only on this list) but certainly not least...
Eugenio Pacelli (Ven. Pius XII)
Just a few of the things Pope Pius XII -- whom the Nazis mocked as a "Jew-lover," and whom Hitler plotted to kidnap -- did to save the Jews before and during World War II include:
-- As Cardinal Pacelli, helped to author Mit Brennender Sorge (With Burning Sorrow), Pope Pius XI's anti-Nazi encyclical
-- As Pope, calmly confronted Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop with a list of Nazi atrocities in Poland during a personal audience, to Ribbentrop's deep mortification
-- Ordered the opening of monastaries, convents and even cloisters to Jewish refugees
-- Sheltered thousands of Jews at Castel Gandolfo
-- Sheltered as many refugees in the Vatican as could make their way there, and kept the railway lines into the Vatican running so as to be able to supply for all their needs
-- Came up with 100 pounds of gold to ransom the Jews of Rome, whom the Nazis threatened with deportation during the occupation, never revealing what he had to melt down to get it
-- Personally intervened to halt the deportation of Jews out of Hungary, Romania and Slovakia
-- Contributed unstintingly to relief efforts, even personally assisting those affected by the devastation of air strikes in Rome
-- Stuck to his post in Rome, despite the dangers to himself personally; his mere presence was a hindrance to Nazi atrocities in Rome
It is worth noting that when, after the war, Israel Anton Zoller, Chief Rabbi of Rome from 1939 to 1945, converted to Catholicism, he took the baptismal name Eugenio Zolli in honor of Pope Pius XII.
No, it is not the Catholic Church that owes an apology for the Holocaust. If any apologies are owed, they are owed by people whose blind hatred of the Church makes them equally blind to the facts, and enemies of the truth.