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The confused historian who claims that Catholics are responsible for the Holocaust

Melanie Phillips says that Islam is intrinsically anti-Semitic; Daniel Goldhagen tries the same argument with Catholicism

By on Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Daniel Goldhagen, author of A Moral Reckoning

Daniel Goldhagen, author of A Moral Reckoning

Melanie Phillips has got a typically forthright and thought-provoking piece on her blog, commenting on Baroness Warsi’s recent speech about anti-Semitism. You can read it here.

As I am neither Muslim nor Jewish, I should probably not comment on the question raised, which is essentially this: is Islam intrinsically anti-Semitic? Melanie Phillips says it is, and marshals some compelling evidence, whereas Lady Warsi takes the opposing view, seeing anti-Semitism as hijacking Islam for its own purposes. The only thing I would say about this is that when it comes to the interpretation of religious texts, those texts have to be interpreted in the context of the faith community from which they emerged, and in the context of the faith community that receives them today – though that in itself may be obvious to a Christian, but deeply controversial to many Muslims and some Jews.

But the controversy, seen from outside, is nevertheless interesting to Catholics. Is Catholicism intrinsically anti-Semitic? There are Catholic anti-Semites, no one would deny, but few could assert that Catholicism is an anti-Semitic religion per se. There has been only one writer who I have read who has come close to arguing this, and that is Daniel Jonah Goldhagen. The book in question where he does so is entitled A Moral Reckoning, which is, to put it mildly, a very bad book. I wrote as much at the time in the print edition of this paper, in an article that is not online.

One of the things Goldhagen implies is that the verse “His blood be on us and on our children” is anti-Semitic. This occurs at Matthew 27:25 and is tellingly attributed to “all the people”. Now, if this is truly anti-Semitic, that would be a grave matter. Goldhagen suggests that this verse be excised from the Bible. But this verse has to be understood properly. In the Old Testament the children of Israel sprinkle the blood of the Paschal lamb on their doorposts and lintels (see Exodus 12:7), thus ensuring their salvation when the Angel of Death visits Egypt to unchild it. All the Matthean verse is doing is calling to mind the parallel and pointing out that Jesus is the new paschal lamb, and that all sprinkled with his blood (as all Christians are) will be saved. The sprinkling of blood on people by Moses himself occurs also at Sinai (see Exodus 24:8), and has nothing to do with the attribution of guilt. Rather it is to do with the attribution of saving grace.

After reading Goldhagen’s book, almost 10 years ago, I was struck by the way he never ever quotes any Catholic ephemera from the pre-War years: by which I mean parish magazines, prayer cards, parish newsletters, leaflets and manuals of devotion, all the things that a good historian would make ample use of. If one wanted to find evidence of Catholic anti-Semitism, that would be the place to find it. Nor does he have any quotes from sermons in ordinary parishes. I spoke at the time to many elderly Catholics who were children or adolescents in the 1930s and asked them if they had ever encountered, for example, anti-Jewish sermons or any literature that could be construed as fostering hatred of Jews. All answered in the negative.

Goldhagen’s thesis, which has been amply refuted, is that Catholics were morally responsible for the Holocaust by creating the conditions which made the Holocaust possible. In fact, it is worth pointing to three countries were the fewest Jews were murdered: Bulgaria, Denmark and Italy – one Orthodox, one Lutheran, one Catholic. What does that tell us about anti-Semitism and religious belief?

Incidentally, the only anti-Semitic literature I have ever seen outside a museum was some Soviet propaganda postcards from the 1980s and some leaflets being distributed outside a mosque in Turkey after Friday prayers in the 1990s. Both featured the standard hook-nosed caricatures reminiscent of the Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer. A sobering thought that such stereotypes are still with us. How little the world has learned.

  • Oconnordamien

    Within the last year the pope made a speech repeating that catholics should not blame jewish people alive today for the death of christ. Why would he need to repeat an obvious fact again?

    Perhaps it was the “Blood Libel” so loved by the church for centuries. Such an insane idea to us today, jewish babies are cursed to be blind.. until the blood of a christian baby is smeared on their eyelids. So every time you saw a jew, or more to the point, they saw you, a catholic baby died in some obscure ritual.

    Catholics have done more to hurt jewish people than any group in history, to deny it would be foolish. But there is a rage amongst muslims now that will remind us of our guilty past. 

    I hope to be one who stands on the right side. My choice and no divine back-up. 

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    “Catholics have done more to hurt jewish people than any group in history”, you say, Damien, but any such statement needs to be backed up by careful argument and presentation of evidence. Historically Jews have been terribly persecuted in Orthodox lands, and also by Lutherans…. I am not trying to spread the guilt, but to point out a few historical facts. And indeed by the Nazis, who were hardly conventionally religious; ditto Stalin.
    As for the Pope’s words about the myth of Deicide, these were addressed to people outside the Church as much as in it. After all, didn’t President Assad accuse the Jews of killing Christ in a speech during the visit of JPII to Syria? I do not have a reference, but I remember the incident well, and it might well be online somewhere. Best wishes, ALS.

  • Anonymous

    “Perhaps it was the “Blood Libel” so loved by the church for centuries”, you say.

    Objectively, it would be fairer to regard such an irrational fear as “blood libel” in the context of the myriad popular (and from our perspective bizarre) folk superstitions that constituted a sizeable proportion of the Medieval mindset in general, wouldn’t you think? 

    As to what extent it was “so loved”, and by whom in particular, do you not think there is danger in especially attributing such irrationality to Catholics (as opposed to, say, Lutherans, Orthordox, Muslims, ancient Middle Eastern pagans, 20th century Nazis., Marxist Materialists, etc., etc.) rather than to the irrational itself, of which our own opinions (e.g., in your post, “Catholics have done more to hurt jewish people than any group in history”) are often signal examples. 

    There is, of course, always a need to tread extremely carefully if one is not to err on the wrong side when electing to choose the “right side” that accords with one’s own inclinations (or understanding). 

    As for “divine back-up”, the Catholic understanding is that God always leaves us free to choose: divine (not our) judgement on what and how we chose comes later… 

    So whatever you choose, it will indeed be your choice “and no divine back-up”. 

    God bless. 


  • Cjkeeffe

    Why do we bother giving these people airspace?
    Why can’t they just accept that Hitler hated the Jews simply because he hated them. No where in Mein Kampf does Hitler cite Catholic Teaching as a source of this hatred.
    If anything Martin Luther’s extreme hatred of Jews would have fed it as Luther wanted to eliminate the Old Testament from the Bible.
    The Jews during, after the war and at his death where the biggest thankers of Pius XII and the Catholic Church.
    Even the Jewish Anti Defamation League published glowing praise to Pius in its October 1958 bulletin.
    The Jewish diplomat Pichas Lipide using the Vad Yesham data demonstrated that the Catholic Church and Pius XII saved an estimated 850,000 Jew.
    The International Red Cross chose to remain silent and like Pius XII act diplomatically to save Jews.
     Two incidents during the War proves the wisdom of the approach of Pius. In 1942 the Catholic Archbishop of Utrecht and fellow bishops forcefully condemned the Nazi deportation of Jews. This act was to be a joint enterprise with the Protestant Bishops/leaders. The Nazi’s found out about it and warned the churches that any public statement would lead to the deportation of Jews who had converted to Christianity. The protestants kept their mouth shout. The catholic Bishops decided not to. At the end of the war some 85% of Holland’s Jews where dead. Including St Edith Stein and her sister Rosa both Carmelite religious. St Edith is a martyr not because she was born a Jew. But because the Catholic Bishops of Holland could not keep their mouths shut. The brutal fact that the Nazi’s left protestant convert Jews intact testifies to this.  In October 1943 the Nazi started to round up the Jews of Rome, Pius through his Secretary of State intervene and the round stopped. At the end of the war 85% of Rome’s Jews and survived the War.  So who was right the Archbishop of Utrecht and the Bishops of Holland or the Pope? Obviously the pope was right as his actions saved lives.
    Perhaps before slinging mud these detractors should actually learn the facts and tell us what they would have done.

  • loyalcatholic

    I write as a Catholic and a friend of Jewish people and admirer of the  Jewish tradition.
    I accept  Goldhagen’s views are onesided and he overstates his case. I have read the book.

    But I do think in examining the causes of the Holocaust we need to be  self critical and honest as Catholics.

    Pius X11 treated Hitler with kid gloves in 1933 by signing a Concordat with the Nazi authorities in Germany.

    Despite the existence of the confessional Christians in Germany condemning Hitler as demonic , top Nazis were not excommunicated  by the Church for hate crimes.

    Shakespeare’s  jibe against Shylock the Christ killer in Merchant of Venice reflects a widespread anti Semitism  in  medieval/ Renaissance Catholic/ Christian Europe. This prejudice survived into the twentieth century.

    Also there was anti Semitsim in some of the comments of the early fathers of the Church ,episcopal leaders and  theologians.

    I would never say  Catholicism caused the Holocaust but  the seeds of the Holocaust were present in the portrayal and caricature of Jews which formed in many Christian and Catholic minds.

    To say Catholics have never befriended Jews is nonsense. Pope John Paul11 in his youth played goalie for  a mainly Jewish football team in Wadowice . Pope John XX111  Angelo Roncalli as the papal legate in Turkey during WW11 was  responsible for the safe passage and rescue  of thousands of Jews .This is on record in Jewish archives. Let us take our lead from these generous  minded guides who befriended Jews.

  • Oconnordamien

    Surely you can see the common belief amongst the groups you named, christianity. As to Hitler, he was baptised catholic, raised as a catholic, always professed himself catholic and seeing as he wasn’t excommunicated, died a catholic.

    Stalin’s role models in life were the priest he lived with from the age of five and his religious mother. He was educated in religious schools and went on to win a scholarship to theological seminary. It’s perfectly plausible that later in life he decided he didn’t believe in a deity but still retained a hatred of a group of people that had been instilled in him from an early age.

    My statement “Catholics have done more to hurt jewish people than any group in history”, my apologies, I should clarify that my reasoning was purely by numbers. Catholics being the oldest and most numerous christians and also the group with the strongest central authority.

    As to the islamic view of jews, well that’s a subject worthy of an article of it’s own. 

  • Oconnordamien

    And to add…”After all, didn’t President Assad accuse the Jews of killing Christ in a speech during the visit of JPII to Syria?”

    True but that merely shows he doesn’t  know much about his own religion. In islam Jesus was not killed. To put it rather simply, jesus was rescued by allah, he put another man in his place. Allah then glamoured the people into thinking that man was Jesus. A teaching which again raises far more questions.

  • Ray Dubuque

    In order to make a RATIONAL claim that “No where in Mein Kampf does Hitler cite Catholic Teaching as a source of this hatred. ”  CFKeefe would have had to read Mein Kampfe IN ITS ENTIRETY.  If he had in fact read ANY of it, he would have had to crawl all over the following :
    “And the founder of Christianity made no secret indeed of his estimation of the Jewish people. When He found it necessary, He drove those enemies of the human race out of the Temple of God.”

      Hitler, Mein Kampf, pp.174
    “Catholics and Protestants are fighting with one another . . . while the enemy of Aryan humanity and all Christendom is laughing up his sleeve.”

      Hitler, _Mein Kampf_, pp.309
    “I had an excellent opportunity to intoxicate myself with the solemn splendor of the brilliant church festivals. As was only natural, the abbot seemed to me, as the village priest had once seemed to my father, the highest and most desirable ideal.”

      Hitler, “Mein Kampf”, Vol. 1, Chapter 1
    9. “I was not in agreement with the sharp anti-Semitic tone, but from time to time I read arguments which gave me some food for thought. At all events, these occasions slowly made me acquainted with the man and the movement, which in those days guided Vienna’s destinies: Dr. Karl Lueger (a famous Roman Catholic) and the Christian Social Party.”

      Hitler, “Mein Kampf”, Vol. 1, Chapter 2
    ” . . . the unprecedented rise of the Christian Social Party . . . was to assume the deepest significance for me as a classical object of study.”

      Hitler, “Mein Kampf”, Vol. 1, Chapter 3
    9. “For the political leader, the religious doctrines and institutions of his people must always remain inviolable; or else has no right to be in politics, but should become a reformer, if he has what it takes!

      Hitler, “Mein Kampf”, Vol. 1, Chapter 3
    “In nearly all the matters in which the Pan-German movement was wanting, the attitude of the Christian Social Party was correct and well-planned.”

      Hitler, “Mein Kampf”, Vol. 1, Chapter 3
    “It [Christian Social Party] recognized the value of large-scale propaganda and was a virtuoso in influencing the psychological instincts of the broad masses of its adherents.”

      Hitler, “Mein Kampf”, Vol. 1, Chapter 3
    “If Dr. Karl Lueger had lived in Germany, he would have been ranked among the great minds of our people.”

      Hitler, “Mein Kampf”, Vol. 1, Chapter 3, about the leader of the Christian Social movement
    “Even today I am not ashamed to say that, overpowered by stormy enthusiasm, I fell down on my knees and thanked Heaven from an overflowing heart for granting me the good fortune of being permitted to live at this time.”

      Hitler, “Mein Kampf”, Vol. 1, Chapter 5
    “I had so often sung ‘Deutschland uber Alles’ and shouted ‘Heil’ at the top of my lungs, that it seemed to me almost a belated act of grace to be allowed to stand as a witness in the divine court of the eternal judge and proclaim the sincerity of this conviction.”

      Hitler, “Mein Kampf”, Vol. 1, Chapter 5 9. “Due to his own original special nature, the Jew cannot possess a religious institution, if for no other reason because he lacks idealism in any form, and hence belief in a hereafter is absolutely foreign to him. And a religion in the Aryan sense cannot be imagined which lacks the conviction of survival after death in some form. Indeed, the Talmud is not a book to prepare a man for the hereafter, but only for a practical and profitable life in this world.”

      Hitler, “Mein Kampf”, Vol. 1, Chapter 11
    “The best characterization is provided by the product of this religious education, the Jew himself. His life is only of this world, and his spirit is inwardly as alien to true Christianity as his nature two thousand years previous was to the great founder of the new doctrine. Of course, the latter made no secret of his attitude toward the Jewish people, and when necessary he even took the whip to drive from the temple of the Lord this adversary of all humanity, who then as always saw in religion nothing but an instrument for his business existence. In return, Christ was nailed to the cross, while our present-day party Christians debase themselves to begging for Jewish votes at elections and later try to arrange political swindles with atheistic Jewish parties – and this against their own nation.”

      Hitler, “Mein Kampf”, Vol. 1, Chapter 11
    “The greatness of Christianity did not lie in attempted negotiations for compromise with any similar philosophical opinions in the ancient world, but in its inexorable fanaticism in preaching and fighting for its own doctrine.”

      Hitler, “Mein Kampf” Vol. 1 Chapter 12  just SOME of the 130 quotes on my http://JesusWouldBeFurious.Org/Hitlersfaith.html  which shows what a Conservative Roman Catholic Adolf Hitler was, and perhaps why he was never excommunicated by his conservative R.C. church.

  • Ray Dubuque

    Just because the internet provides nobodies like you, Cj, an opportunity to display your ignorance to the whole world doesn’t mean you should jump at the opportunity.
    You ask “Why do we bother giving these people airspace?”
    Maybe it’s because he not only demonstrated the intellectual heft to get INTO schools like Harvard, but to be invited to TEACH at them.  Maybe it’s because he has published books that YOU may not be able to understand or appreciate, but which thousands of other people do.  My guess is that you have read as much of Goldhaggen’s books as you have Mein Kampf.  Having read this book in its entirety, and being the beneficiary of 25 years of Catholic education, including ordination and advanced degrees in Philosophy and Theology, I can attest to the fact that Goldhaggen is not only an outstanding scholar when it comes to the history of the Holocaust (which I have studied extensively) but when it comes to Roman Catholic ethics.  
    One of the remarkable features of this book is that Goldhaggen demonstrates enough knowledge of Catholic moral teaching to put a great many R.C. bishops to shame, and he shows how immoral the Catholic church’s role in the holocaust was ACCORDING TO ITS OWN TEACHING !

  • Chut

    In paragraph 6 you misspelt “where” as “were”. It made me think that this is a lightweight website. 

  • Anonymous

    “All the Matthean verse is doing is calling to mind the parallel and pointing out that Jesus is the new paschal lamb, and that all sprinkled with his blood (as all Christians are) will be saved. The sprinkling of blood on people by Moses himself occurs also at Sinai (see Exodus 24:8), and has nothing to do with the attribution of guilt.”

    ## That is part of its meaning – but, only part.  Paschal lamb typology is Johannine, rather than Matthean. By their words in v. 25, the Jews are taking responsibility for the blood of Jesus. To deny this, is to deny an essential part of the meaning of Matthew’s theology – both Jew & Gentile are guilty of the Blood of Christ, Pilate and the Jews. To say otherwise is to deny that Jesus, Who reigns from the Cross, is the King Who rules all nations and all peoples (as in Psalm 72, Daniel 7; & see Acts 4.24-31: The 666 in Rev.13 does so too, as an anti-Messiah). Those who are not guilty of the Blood of the Crucified Messiah, can by the same logic have no part in the Salvation He brings. This is the same logic as that of St. Paul in Romans: “God has shut up all men under sin, that He might have mercy upon all”. Only sinners can receive mercy. Those who are not guilty of killing God Incarnate, cannot be forgiven. They remain imprisoned in their own Christless, deadly, righteousness. To deprive the Jewish killers of Jesus – and their descendants to this day – of their Messiah, is a terrible disservice to them.   

    Jesus is “better than” David, & than Solomon. He is also better than Moses; all these typologies are found in this gospel. Exodus 24.8 is bettered by Matthew 26.26: “This is the New Covenant in My Blood”. So Exodus 24.8 is most certainly important for Matthew’s theology – but it does not mean that the Jews did not take upon themselves the responsibility for the death of Jesus.  Even if the incident as described is a theological construction to bring out the meaning of the Death of Jesus, and did not happen historically as presented, the Jews *have to be* responsible for the death of Jesus, and not guiltless, for otherwise the scandal of the Kingship of Jesus of Nazareth the Crucified Messiah is destroyed.  They only way to make the Jews innocent, is to say that Jesus is not their Messiah. He is the only Messiah on offer, & His identity as Messianic King is inextricable from His universal Kingship. To deny He is the Messianic King, is to deny that His Church is Catholic; the King cannot be rejected, without the destruction of the Church that is beginning of His Kingdom. Which makes any attempts by Catholics to deny that Matthew 27.24-25, whatever else it may mean, at least includes a taking of responsibility for the Blood of Jesus by the Jewish crowd, rather pointless.  

    The best comment on the evil that is hatred of the Jews is the teaching of the Tridentine Catechism (repeated in the CCC), that all mankind is guilty of the Blood of Christ. 

    These verses are rather striking:

    Deu 19:10 That innocent blood be not shed in thy land, which the LORD thy God giveth thee [for] an inheritance, and [so] blood be upon thee.

    2 Samuel 1:16 And David said unto him, Thy blood [be] upon thy head; for thy mouth hath testified against thee, saying, I have slain the LORD’S anointed.

    Act 18:6 And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook [his] raiment, and said unto them, Your blood [be] upon your own heads; I [am] clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles.

  • darkflux

    saying that a religion is anti-Semitic is about like saying God is anti-Semitic, since technically, He created the conditions that made the Holocaust possible as well…

    seeing as how there are Jewish Catholics, and Jewish members of Islam (albeit, very few of the latter), i can hardly believe that such a statement could hold much truth.

    people come to their own conclusions on things, because of the environments and things they experience. saying that a religion has caused some horrible event is just a scapegoat for the fact that an individual (or group of individuals) caused the tragedy, either because of their religion, or despite it. only speaking with the individual would confirm or deny this…

  • Paul Halsall

    Luther was very anti-Semitic, but it is not really true to say that Lutherans as such persecuted Jews from the pulpit to the extent that occured in Orthodox and Catholic countries.