In December 1946 in the so-called Doctors’ Trial opened the eyes of the World to the way in which medics and scientists had committed appalling and vile crimes against humanity: and which helped to pave the way to the horrors committed at Auschwitz.
Between 1933 and 1945 they had been legitimised by a State that had carried out a campaign to “cleanse” German society of individuals viewed as biological threats to the nation’s health.
The Nazis enlisted the help of physicians and medically trained geneticists, psychiatrists, and anthropologists to develop racial health policies.
These policies began with mass sterilization, elimination of the disabled, and culminated in the near annihilation of European Jewry.
Earlier this week, one of the few remaining survivors reminded us that “never again has a habit of happening all over again.”
In our generation, we must leave no stone unturned in trying to prevent a repetition and to challenge new threats to humanity.
Although, in the 1930s, too many were silent about the rise of Nazism never forget the example of those who did speak out – including some and those who lost their lives for doing so – In 1929 Bishop Johannes Gfollner of Linz had warned against “the false prophets” of Nazism and told Catholics: “Close your ears and do not join their associations, close your doors and do not let their newspapers into your homes, close your hands and do not support their endeavours in elections.”
In 1930 the Bishop of Mainz declared Nazism and Catholicism to be irreconcilable; in 1933 the bishops of Cologne, Upper Rhine and Paderborn said they would deny the sacraments to anyone involved in parties hostile to Christianity; and the bishops of Bavaria condemned Nazi racism and their eugenic ideology with its scorn for the sanctity of life of the unborn and its belief in euthanasia.
Even before the Second World War began the Reich had compulsorily sterilised 350,000 people and begun the elimination of what it called “useless eaters”, people possessing “life unworthy of life” – which the Vatican condemned in 1933 as government degenerating into cattle breeding laboratories and in 1940 as “contrary to both the natural and the divine positive law.”
In 1937 Pope Pius XI condemned events in Germany stating: “Seldom has there been a persecution so heavy, so terrifying, so grievous and lamentable in its far-reaching effects. It is a persecution that spares neither force, nor oppression, nor threats, nor even subterfuge of intrigue and the fabrication of false facts.” In 1938 he said that no Christian could be Anti-Semitic because “spiritually, we are all Semites.”
Above all others, the story of Bishop von Galen – the Lion of Munster – is one of immense courage and bravery – with Martin Bormann demanding his execution; .
Bishop von Galen described the National Socialists as “the hammer” and “we are the anvil” and “the anvil is harder than the hammer.” He resolutely lived up to his family motto: Nec laudibus nec timore (Neither men’s praise nor fear of men shall move me).
We must rekindle the spirit of those who gave their lives speaking for truth.
Recall the stories of Erich Klausner, the General Secretary of Germany’s Catholic Action, who was shot dead; Adelbert Prost, Director of the Catholic Youth Sports Association, also murdered; Fritz Gerlich, a Catholic journalist murdered at Dachau (known as “the priest’s camp” because 2,670 priests from around 20 countries were held there: 600 died at Dachau and another 325 died during “transport of invalids”.
Recall the arrest of Catholic politicians, the suppression of Catholic political activity, the confiscation of church property and the suppression of over 200 Catholic publications.
Some stories – those of Blessed Titus Brandsma, St. Maximilian Kolbe (executed at Auscwitz), and St.Edith Stein are quite well known. Others, such as Fr.Jacques Bunel, Blessed Marcel Callo, Fr.Alfred Delp S.J., Blessed Nikolaus Gross (a miner and Catholic trades unionist), Blessed Franz Jagerstatter, the Austrian farmer beheaded by the Nazis, Blessed Restituta Kafka, guillotined on Bormann’s orders, Blessed Karl Leisner, Blessed Bernhard Lichtenberg (declared “Righteous Among The Nations” at Yad Vashem), Blessed Rupert Mayer S.J., Fr.Max Metzger, Fr.Franz Reinisch, are less well known.
In 1931 there were around 21,000 Catholic priests in Germany and over 8,000 of them, one third, clashed with the Reich and several hundred were eliminated by the Reich (see https://www.davidalton.net/2016/07/29/pope-francis-at-auschwitz-and-why-bbc-reports-of-silence-during-the-holocaust-are-wrong/)_
Yet others collaborated and too many remained silent. The 75th anniversary of Auschwitz challenges us to speak out and to act against ideologies that demonise, belittle, scapegoat or stir the embers of hate.