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Wartime German Catholic Leaders and the 'Extermination of the Jews'


In West Germany doubting that 6,000,000 Jews were killed, mostly by gassing, by the Germans in World War II can lead to legal complications. Numerous personal cases demonstrate that a reissue of the censorship practices of the Third Reich is still a reality. Doubters become the target of negative publicity and ostracism. Especially hard hit are those with families. Offenders against the taboo are automatically portrayed as guilty without the right to appeal. Those doubters who refuse to keep their doubts a secret can end up in jail, lose part, if not all, of their pension and their right to gainful employment. Pastors, teachers and university professors are not exempt from these measures. This legal barrier, however, does not prohibit researchers from raising questions as to whether individuals or groups had any knowledge of the “extermination” of the Jews before the end of the war. This ray of German liberty is reflected in the research of the late Jesuit scholar, Ludwig Volk. Father Volk extensively researched official minutes, correspondences and documents of leading German Roman Catholic churchmen. His findings and his reflections were published in the highly scholarly Roman Catholic journal Stimmen der Zeit, 1980. [1]

Father Volk’s article is entitled “Episkopat und Kirchenkampf im Zweiten Weltkrieg” (The Episcopate and the Church Struggle in World War II). It consists of two parts, the first of which deals with the Episcopate and the German wartime practice of euthanasia. The second part (pp.687-702) deals with “Judenverfolgung und Zusammenbruch des NS- Staats” (The Persecution of the Jews and the Collapse of the National Socialist State.) This respected scholar has cited the book The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany by the American Guenter Lewy in one of the footnotes. [2] Since Lewy’s book was translated into the German in 1965 and had some impact, it may well have been that Volk was thereupon commissioned by the Church to research this topic. Lewy scathingly attacked what he regarded as indifference on the part of the Catholic leadership in the face of what has become known as the “extermination of the Jews.”

On the basis of my hour long visit with Father Volk in 1984 and my reading of his article, I can state categorically that he was not a Revisionist, as he accepted the Exterminationist claim that Hitler and Himmler carried out, as much as they could, their alleged program to exterminate European Jewry.

Attempting to exonerate his Catholic church leaders in the face of the charge of blindness and complacency, Volk points out differences between the German euthanasia program, which the church leaders countered sucessfully, and the “extermination” program. Volk tells us that the paramount reason for the success in terminating euthanasia was that enough Germans were aware of the program and thereby could be unified by a common effort. Such was not the case with the purported extermination of the Jews, since Himmler had learned his lesson from his mistakes with euthanasia, and he insisted upon as much secrecy as possible. Thus when the Jews were murdered, there were no announcements of deaths and no cremation urns for the relatives.

Volk speaks of “a thick wall” and “a secret stemming from the highest command.” All information connections with the Jews were cut after their deportation to the East. Throughout the article Volk insists, however, that the Catholic leaders were as equally zealous in countering the murder of the Jews as they had been in halting the euthanasia — based on what they knew. The list of churchmen who spoke out on this matter is impressive. It includes two German cardinals, M.F. Faulhaber (Munich), A. Bertram (Breslau), and four German bishops, K. von Preysing (Berlin), J.G. Machens (Hildesheim), W. Berning (Breslau) and H. Wienken, secretary of the Conference of Bishops.

Bishop C. Galen (Münster), the superlatively fearless spokesman against euthanasia, does not figure on Volk’s list.

Bishop Galen had to curtail his activities, seemingly for health reasons. One might mention that this vocal fighter against euthanasia died in 1946 while traveling from Rome back to Germany. Bishop Galen made a trip to Pope Pius XII on behalf of the millions of German soldiers still penned up in Allied prison and concentration camps. His untimely death on the train, supposedly from appendicitis, remains shrouded in mystery. [3] Needless to say the victorious Allies, who were then carrying out their vengeful Morgenthau Plan against the Germans, hardly wanted to heed such a voice. It is also noteworthy that after the war Cardinal Faulhaber wrote the American authorities to plead that the condemned in the Nuremberg trials be given the right to appeal after new evidence was presented. [4] He failed. (With some 20,000 Dutch out of a population of about 13 million being annually killed by peacetime “mercy-killing,” one wonders what has happened to these fearless Christian voices of yesteryear.)

On the work of alleviating the plight of the Jews, Volk mentions the founding, by Bishop Preysing, of the Bishop’s Welfare Agency in Berlin, with Frau Margarete Sommer as its hardworking leader. This agency, founded in September 1938, carried out charity work among the Jews, assisting them especially in their emigration from Germany. Besides this Catholic organ there existed official Jewish organizations of similar function while non-Aryan Protestants (that is, ethnic Jews) had the Paulusbund, named after the Apostle Paul. The latter organization functioned until 1944.

With the onset of the war and the end of Jewish emigration, Frau Sommer’s agency, beginning in 1941, became involved in helping Jews deported to the East. Many of the deportation trains either originated in Berlin or passed through the German capital.

In his article Father Volk sketches, as was noted, a relationship between the program of euthanasia and what he calls the murder of the Jews. But he might have pointed out another relationship between the two, as does the 89-year-old Regimentsarzt (regimental surgeon), Henning Fikentscher, who shared some of his thoughts with me. Doctor Fikentscher was involved in the euthanasia program, in the sense that he took mentally incurables to institutions, only to learn months later they they had been eliminated. Fikentscher claims that a contributing factor in this mercy-killing was that the massive emigration and the deportation to the East of incurables and physically handicapped became a problem of sheer numbers, especially since countries allowed the entry only of healthy persons, erecting strict laws against misfits. Thus the Zionists in Palestine insisted, for example, that they could use only healthy Jews. [5]

A further dimension to the Volk article could have been added if the author had included some ideas from a book by Dr. Erwin Goldmann, Zwischen den Völkern (Between Two Peoples — in this case, the Germans and the Jews), written five years before Volk’s article. Goldmann, who could trace his ancestry back over 500 years, was a non-Aryan (Jewish) Protestant, who had been associated with both the officially recognized Paulusbund and the Sicherheitsdienst (SS Security Service). Goldmann was a veteran of World War I. Although he lived in the Stuttgart area, he learned in 1938 that a fellow asset of the Security Service was Georg Kareski, a Berlin banker who was president of the Zionist Organization of Germany. Kareski was consulted by the regime in matters pertaining to Jews. As a Zionist he was concerned, above all with promoting the migration of Jews to Palestine. He thus accepted the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, knowing that a prerequisite for a meaningful migration to Palestine was to ascertain first of all who was and who was not a Jew. [6]

Likewise, in 1938, Direktor Kareski advocated that Jews be forced to wear the Jewish star. Upon hearing of this, Goldmann, during the winter of 1938, immediately took a train to Berlin having arranged a personal meeting with Kareski by telephone. Kareski let his guest wait in a bitter cold room for an hour and half, and then had a confrontation with Goldmann. As Goldmann put it, if both of them had guns, it would be difficult to say who would have shot the other one first. At one point Kareski asked “What do we have to do with you 'goyim?,” [7] revealing his antipathy for converted Jews such as Goldmann.

On October 28, 1939 the wearing of the Jewish star by Jews was made law in Poland, and on September 15, 1941 in all the Third Reich.

Writing of this in 1975, Goldmann wrote: “Direktor Kareski recommended the introduction of the Jewish star, which was introduced by Admiral [Wilhelm] Canaris against the protests of most of the National Socialist leadership, including Goebbels.” [8]

Father Volk discusses in some detail the issue of the so-called Mischlinge, that is, “half and quarter” Jews. Generally, 150,000 is given for the number of Mischlinge. Volk points out that the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 prohibited marriage between non-Aryans Jews] and Germans, but it did not break up any existing marriages.

The Mischlinge problem, in its connection with the deportation of the Jews of the Reich, came to a head on February 27, 1943, when some 6,000 women, German wives of the Reich Jews, protested in the detention area in Berlin. Their protests became so embarrassing that the authorities halted the deportation, thereby raising the question: Who deserves credit for this? [9]

Lewy, who argues that this episode shows that vigorous protest could bring results even in Hitler’s dictatorial Germany, credits the wives. Volk, on the other hand, terms Lewy’s claim mere speculation, and would have us believe that the Catholic Church should be given considerable credit. The fact remains that a law to force the deportation of the Mischlinge was never enacted.

Excluding, at this point, such topics as gas chambers from our vocabulary, undoubtedly the fate of the Reich Jews who were deported was not an enviable one. In this regard one should recall Gerald Reitlinger’s claim, in The Final Solution: “The Reich Jews were not easily assimilated to the conditions of the impoverished Jewish communities of Eastern Poland, nor did the local Jews welcome them.” [Emphasis added.] What Reitlinger might have added was the great spiritual, intellectual, social and religious gulf between the two Jewish groups. One had been part of a world which had experienced the Reformation and Enlightenment, while the Polish Jews lived in the world of the Middle Ages. Likewise, speaking of some 1,200 deportees, Reitlinger wrote: “The local Jewish communities would do nothing to feed these Jews from the Reich and the Governor of Lublin, Zorner, tried to shift the responsibility on the Security Police, who had begun the action.” [10] The plight of the Reich Jews was a tragic one indeed, as they were rejected by the Zionists and by the Eastern Jews alike.

Father Volk points out that helping the Jews was difficult. For although churchmen were successful in halting the deportation of the Mischlinge, by doing so, without demanding more, the churchmen gave latent approval for the deportation of the “racially pure” Jews. Why, then, did church officials remain vague and general? According to Father Volk it was because general accusations were more promising than specific accusations, which required providing specific proof.

Such proof would have meant delays caused by time-consuming investigations during a situation of total war. Here lay the dilemma. The Jesuit, in this connection, speaks also of “a psychic law.” That is, the greater the monstrosity of a crime, the greater the demand for specific and actual proof. In short, the task of the Catholic leaders was not an easy one. Had charges been leveled and then disproved, the churchmen’s position would have been greatly weakened.

Volk might have augmented his argument by pointing out that the Western Allies, aided by tens of thousands of well-educated emigres, who knew the languages of Europe very well, and with a widespread underground radio network at their disposal, had a far better knowledge of what was happening in the Third Reich than even the German Catholic prelates. The Allied propagandists must have been aware that German public opinion had halted the euthanasia program. They must have known that 6,000 Christian women in Berlin had halted the deportation of tens of thousands of Mischlinge to the East. It is therefore wholly understandable that Volk makes a counterattack aimed at exonerating the German churchmen. As Father Volk writes, it remains “Ö unanswered why the Western Allies did not make the murder of the Jews the most dominant theme in their broadcasts to the Third Reich and use airborne propaganda bombardment leaflets over Germany.” Volk insists that by this omission the most powerful means of revealing the criminality of Hitler to the German people was neglected.

Volk makes much of the Bishops' Conference at Fulda in August 1943, the last such meeting of the war. There the deportation of the Jews was widely discussed at length; one could say it was a burning issue. For the churchmen there was no doubt that for practically two years tens of thousands of citizens of Jewish belief and origin (Reich Jews) had been taken by brute force from their homes and shipped to unknown destinations in the East. Thereafter, sooner or later, all connections were broken. Volk goes into considerable detail in explaining why no clear-cut protest emerged. Could it be that the Christian churchmen, knowing that they could not help the deported Jews, feared that their protests might endanger even the Mischlinge?

Three months later in 1943, Cardinal Bertram of Breslau, whose see included Auschwitz, publicly protested in writing against the living conditions in what he termed Massenlager (mass camps), and insisted that all internees should be regarded as worthy human beings. This led Father Volk to reflect that Bertram’s formulation was in radical contrast to the macabre results of the “Holocaust” as this came to light after the German collapse. Volk writes:

Despite the relative nearness of the extermination camp of Auschwitz — Breslau was the closest German see — Bertram did not dare [to be specific about the Jewish emigration.] The breakthrough of the truth regarding the final solution first came — and even then with some conditions — in the last general protest from the see of Breslau on January 29,1944, in which Bertram condemned the separation of the Mischlinge because “they are threatened with Ausmerzung.

To be sure, Ausmerzung can mean extermination, but not necessarily. It can also mean blotting out, culling or separating. Accordingly, bearing in mind the terrible health conditions in the overcrowded camps, the immense German manpower shortages, and the rumors spread by the underground, one might interpret Bertram’s terminology as follows: Is it possible to imagine so fearless a Cardinal, so close to Auschwitz, aware of gas chambers exterminating hundreds of thousands of human beings, using a word like Ausmerzung in a message devoted only to the fate of half-Jews married to German women? Is there any evidence whatsover that this Catholic prelate knew anything of “extermination"?

Father Volk concludes, in accordance with the taboos which rule German scholarship, that in contrast to the euthanasia program, which was halted because sufficient Germans knew about it, the “extermination camps remained a secret until the end of the war. In his words: as the facade of the Third Reich collapsed, the counter-world of concentration camps, mass graves, gas chambers and crematoria was revealed. It was this Jesuit historian’s belief that Himmler had fooled even the highest German church officials.

As mentioned above, I visited this outstanding scholar, in a small Catholic convalescent home outside Munich. I went there after having studied his article, which was brought to my attention by a Catholic clergyman. For me the visit remains unforgettable.

Before seeing Father Volk, I had written a letter and made several telephone calls. The secretary of the convalescent home wanted to shield her patient, a very sick man, from unnecessary involvements and unpleasant topics. But I persisted, and a time was arranged.

It was a sunny but cool summer morning. I took the train, then the bus, and finally walked from my stop to the address. The home was pointed out to me by a mailman. After entering, I waited about fifteen minutes in a small room before the distinguished scholar entered. We shook hands and sat down. He began, in what I had to consider a cold and accusing voice, "Nun, Sie kommen, uns Deutsche zu entlasten! (You come to exonerate us Germans).” Although I did not take notes, I remember being rather shocked by his opening remark. Yet before long a much warmer and pleasant atmosphere developed.

During our conversation I was ever mindful of the Revisionist claims of such men as Robert Faurisson. Politely but persistently, I raised doubts, for, if even the highest ecclesiastical authorities in Germany had been unaware of the “extermination,” perhaps the reality was radically different than todays version. The problem of the gas chambers was definitely discussed, as well as Arthur Butz’s Hoax of the Twentieth Century.

After about an hour, the secretary came in and politely asked how we were doing. I took this as a cue and assured her that I would end the conversation shortly. Before we shook hands and departed, Father Volk said, reflectively but distinctly, "Ja, Legenden konnen ihre eigenen Beine bekommen (Yes, legends can grow their own legs).” These words, from someone still regarded as a bedeutenden (significant) historian by his fellow clergymen, have retained a deep meaning for me. What a difference a face-to-face contact can make if one asks critical questions!


  1. Stimmen der Zeit, Stimmen der Zeit Verlag, 1980, pp. 687-702.
  2. Guenter Lewy, The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany, McGraw-Hill, New York, Toronto, 1961.
  3. This is based on a letter to a fellow Revisionist in Germany.
  4. Unfortunately, it seems that this letter, which I have, has not been translated.
  5. This is based on my correspondence with Henning Fikentscher. He claims that he can document this. Fikentscher has written two booklets related to these topics. The first is Prof. dr. med. Theodor Morell 1936-45, Verlag Kurt Vowinckel, Neckar-Gemünd. (No date.) Fikentscher calls this a "Studie". The second booklet is Sechs Millionen Juden, Die Opfer, Kritik Verlag, Mohrkirch/Aarhus, Denmark, 1980. (Theodor Morell was Hitler’s doctor. Interestingly, he was never tried in Nuremberg, dying from natural causes in 1948.)
  6. Erich Kern (editor), Verheimlichte Dokumente (Concealed Documents), FZ Verlag, Munich, 1988, p. 148.
  7. Dr. Erwin Goldmann, Zwischen Zwei Völkern: Erlebnisse und Erkenntnisse, Helmut Cramer-Verlag, Königswinter, 1975, p. 130.
  8. Goldmann, p. 130.
  9. Lewy, pp. 288-9.
  10. Gerald Reitlinger, The Final Solution, A.S. Barnes, New York, 1953, pp. 44-5.

Source: Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 101-109.