A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair
by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
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Title: "A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair" Author: Daniel Jonah Goldhagen Publisher: Knopf
By GEOFFREY WHEATCROFT
Six years ago, a sharp controversy erupted around Hitler's Willing Executioners, by the young Harvard scholar Daniel Jonah Goldhagen. His book argued that the Germans who carried out the great murder of the European Jews were not handpicked or hardened soldiers, but ordinary men, typical of a German population that had a much clearer idea of the fate of the Jews than it was willing to acknowledge in the postwar years. This wasn't a novel claim: Ordinary Men was indeed the title of a book on the same subject by the historian Christopher Browning, one that Goldhagen drew on (although he also tended to disparage it).
Goldhagen maintained that the Germans had been conditioned by a long national tradition of ''eliminationist'' anti-Semitism. At some level of consciousness, many Germans did not merely dislike and despise Jews, as all too many people in all too many countries did, but thought them subhuman or evil and thus worthy of extermination. Only in Germany did a rabidly anti-Semitic regime come to power, as he put it, ''bent upon turning anti-Semitic fantasy into state-organized genocidal slaughter.''
In A Moral Reckoning, Goldhagen now turns from nation to religion, and indicts the Roman Catholic Church in comparable terms. Both as an international institution under the leadership of Pope Pius XII, and at national levels in many European countries, the church was deeply implicated in the appalling genocide. Nor was it merely a question of complicity. Just as Germans had been carefully taught to hate the Jews, to the point that they could readily torment and kill them, so had Catholics, Goldhagen believes. He does not accept the idea that National Socialism was more pagan than Christian in its inspiration; he sees a deep vein of Jew-hatred ingrained within Catholic tradition; and he does not think that there was any difference of kind between that old religious Jew-hatred and the murderous racial anti-Semitism of the 20th century.
As in his previous book, Goldhagen has assembled an impressive body of evidence, not all of it new: some was adduced recently in Hitler's Pope, by John Cornwell, which is especially eloquent as the work of a Catholic who had hoped to exonerate Pius XII. And once more, Goldhagen makes his case more as prosecutor than historian, with an insistent adversarial tone. Even sympathetic critics of Hitler's Willing Executioners noted that he played up evidence that suited him and skirted evidence that didn't, as an advocate is entitled and even expected to do, but for which an historian might be reprehended.
In A Moral Reckoning that strident tone seems all the more emphatic because the book is so remarkably repetitious. The same points are made, the same arguments are advanced, more or less the same sentences are reiterated, over and over again. Or even the same phrases: within the space of two quite short paragraphs Goldhagen describes Civilta Cattolica as ''this authoritative Vatican journal ... this authoritative Vatican journal ... this authoritative journal of the Vatican .. the Vatican's journal,'' by which point the attentive reader may have gathered that Civilta Cattolica was an authoritative Vatican journal. Nor is this merely a stylistic flaw from which editing could have saved Goldhagen: the repetitiveness matches the general manner of the book. He doesn't construct a true argument, or even give a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, so much as follow the old debater's maxim of: tell 'em what you're going to say, say it, tell 'em what you've said.
All of which is a pity, since the subject is profoundly important, Goldhagen is a diligent researcher and much of what he says needs saying. In that blackest night of human history, not too many people behaved heroically or even decently. And yet by any standards the behavior of the Catholic Church was deeply dismaying.
The pope's record was bad enough; he pointedly refused to condemn the murder of the Jews, about which he was well informed, until he tried to cover his tracks when Germany had plainly lost the war. Worse was the conduct of Catholic priests and prelates in many countries where the Catholic Church -- or very many of its clergy and laity -- warmly embraced the New Order. In Croatia, massacres of Serbs and Jews were led by Franciscans (of all gentle names), and Jews were sent to their deaths in Slovakia by a Nazi client state ruled by a Roman Catholic prelate, Monsignor Josef Tiso, subsequently executed as a war criminal.
It would be hard to argue with Goldhagen if he had simply recounted this history, or even if he had stopped after claiming that moral restitution by the Catholic Church is still needed. But he goes on, and in the process makes what a lawyer would call a number of bad points.
Certainly there is much evidence of Christian racial -- as opposed to religious -- Jew-hatred over many centuries. But there is also contrary evidence. The church accepted Jewish converts, even as priests and nuns, and some of them were killed in the Shoah. In 19th-century Italy there were scandalous episodes like the Edgardo Mortara affair, in which a Jewish boy was secretly baptized and kidnapped by the clergy. But Catholic Italy was not the Third Reich: Hitler didn't baptize Jewish children, he murdered them.
Then, Goldhagen complains about what he quaintly calls ''the church's anti-Jewish supersessionist creed'': the Catholic belief that ''the Jews are fundamentally in error.'' But that is what Christianity means: mankind was vicariously redeemed by the life and death of Jesus, this message of redemption is available to all and those who reject it are by definition wrong. That claim may or may not be true, but it's perfectly easy to understand by Catholic or Jew, or Buddhist or atheist for that matter. Goldhagen is entitled to condemn Christianity root and branch, or denounce the Vatican and all its works. But it is not easy to see how he can in good faith plead with the church to abandon the very doctrines that define it.
Digging a deeper hole for himself, he then introduces the question of Zionism. He says in passing that ''we do not call someone anti-Semitic just because he criticizes some aspect of Judaism, Jewish institutions or Israel.'' But he writes that ''anyone who would deny'' Jews the right to form a nation-state ''without similarly denying it to all other peoples -- which is the typical prejudiced view of those who hide behind the smoke screen of anti-Zionism -- is an anti-Semite.''
In that case, the anti-Semites must include very many Jews in the earlier years of the last century, who did just that. The whole Jewish debate about Zionism in the decades after Theodor Herzl published The Jewish State in 1896 turned on this point. A deeply proud and devout Jew like Claude Montefiore -- to take only one example -- could deplore the entire Zionist scheme because it ''assumes that the Jewish race constitutes a 'nation,' or might profitably become a nation, both of which propositions I deny.'' And yet Goldhagen still adduces Catholic opposition to the Jewish state as a mark of anti-Semitism.
When Herzl visited the pope to ask for the support of the Catholic Church, he received a brushoff; the Vatican remained icily hostile even when a Jewish state was established, and for years after. But if the guardians of Catholic orthodoxy abhorred Zionism, then that was at least one thing they had in common with the guardians of Jewish orthodoxy. In Herzl's day and long after (as Goldhagen must surely know), rabbis implacably rejected Zionism on theological grounds at least as coherent and comprehensible as those of the Vatican. Pious Jews held that the Lord would indeed restore his people to the Land of Israel, but only in his own time, after the redemptive coming of the Messiah, which no human endeavor could retard or impel. This belief may be true or false, but it is again perfectly easy to understand. Christians hold that Messianic redemption has already taken place, Jews still await it. In both cases, that makes them what they are.
Nothing will ever eradicate the horrible stain left on Europe in the middle years of the last century, and Christian churches, together with what passed for Christian tradition, have much to answer for. But an understanding of, or even atoning for, that time is not encouraged by misinterpreting the record, or by invoking it for any polemical or political end.
Geoffrey Wheatcroft's most recent book is The Controversy of Zion.
By MARK LANDLER
FRANKFURT, Nov. 13 — Six years after his first book on the Holocaust stirred intense debate and introspection in Germany, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen is again provoking outrage with a new book that accuses the Roman Catholic Church of being morally delinquent during the Nazi killing of Jews.
The archdiocese of Munich has sued the German publisher of Mr. Goldhagen's book, "A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair," for a photo caption that misidentifies a figure as a German cardinal marching in a Nazi rally in Munich.
The man, clad in a cloak and carrying a hat with flowers, is not Cardinal Michael Faulhaber, as the caption claims, but a papal nuncio, or diplomatic representative of the pope, to Germany, according to the church and independent scholars. And the rally was in Berlin, not Munich.
The church obtained an injunction last month from a district court in Munich, requiring Mr. Goldhagen's Berlin-based publisher, Siedler Verlag, to withdraw or correct copies of the book with the offending caption. If the publisher, a sister company of Random House, which is owned by Bertelsmann, fails to comply, it could face a fine of close to $250,000.
"The implication is that Cardinal Faulhaber was an associate of the Nazis," said a spokesman for the archdiocese, Winfried Röhmel. "When one writes about these things, one should be more precise about the truth."
Mr. Goldhagen acknowledged that the photo, which was supplied to him by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, was wrongly labeled. The papal nuncio in the photograph is Cesare Orsenigo. Mr. Goldhagen said the error would be corrected in future editions, here and in the United States, where Alfred A. Knopf is the publisher.
But Mr. Goldhagen, an American who has been engaged in academic warfare with his critics since his first book, "Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust," asserts that the lawsuit is a crude attempt to discredit a book that puts the church under an unsparing microscope.
"The church desperately doesn't want the truth to be known, and especially for the moral issues to be put on the table," said Mr. Goldhagen, a former professor of political science at Harvard.
In Mr. Goldhagen's view, Cardinal Faulhaber was an associate of the Nazi regime, whether or not he is the man striding past a Nazi honor guard in the grainy picture. Mr. Goldhagen said all church leaders, starting with Pope Pius XII, bore responsibility for not protesting the mass killing of Jews.
Moreover, he said, the church as an institution helped nurture the seeds of anti-Semitism across Europe that bore poisonous fruit in Hitler's "final solution." For that, it must make moral restitution, he said.
"I would much prefer to have a serious discussion with the cardinal in Munich about the church's past and present than to have these diversionary discussions about a photo caption," Mr. Goldhagen said.
Mr. Röhmel denied that the archdiocese was seeking to deflect the debate, saying it had even opened its archives to scholars this year. "Our involvement is not designed to block research," he said.
Historians generally agree that a single mislabeled photo in a 346-page book is a minor error. But some critics say the book, which grew out of a long essay in the New Republic in January, breaks little new historical ground on the Catholic Church's often compliant relationship with the Nazi regime and is less a scholarly work than a polemic.
"He is so extreme in his criticism of Pius that the extreme critics have no place to go anymore," said Jose M. Sanchez, a historian at St. Louis University and an expert on the history of the church during World War II.
Professor Sanchez argued that the pope and other church officials were intimidated by the Nazis, and terrified that they might turn against Catholics. They were therefore tragic, he suggested, rather than reprehensible.
Mr. Goldhagen, who rarely plants his stake in the middle ground, dismisses that interpretation as a rationalization. He traveled to several German cities last month to promote his view, appearing on panels where he debated church leaders like Bishop Hans-Jochen Jaschke of Hamburg.
Since his first book, in which he placed the blame for the Holocaust at the feet of ordinary Germans, Mr. Goldhagen has been a literary celebrity here. That book was a runaway best seller and is widely credited for stimulating a national debate on the roots of the Holocaust.
But his new work, which argues that the Catholic Church needs to make political, moral and financial restitution to the families of Jews persecuted by the Nazis, has not touched the same nerve. Only a third of Germans are Catholic, and many of those hold secular views.
At Hugendubel, a bustling Frankfurt bookstore, the book was doing good business but was not a best seller. The store returned about 15 copies of the first edition, with the incorrect caption, at the publisher's request. A British edition, also with the erroneous caption, lurked on a shelf in the back.
Aware that its legal tactics may have given the book an extra dollop of publicity, Mr. Röhmel of the Munich archdiocese played down the affair as a simple effort to correct the historical record. "People have told us that we are a very good advertisement for Mr. Goldhagen," he said.
Chilling study blames Catholic Church for
Reviewed by Brian Richard Boylan
Sunday, December 1, 2002
©2002 San Francisco Chronicle.
A Moral Reckoning:The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair, by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
The subtitle of Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's new book, "A Moral Reckoning," comes directly to the point: "The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair." The Roman Catholic Church played an active role in centuries of anti-Semitism and knew from the start that the Jews were being persecuted then exterminated. The church, under the leadership of Pope Pius XII, did nothing to stop that Germanic frenzy of mass murder and genocide. If anything, according to Goldhagen's overwhelming study, the church encouraged participation in the Holocaust.
Strong words for a church whose foundations have been rocked in recent years by the desire of women to be ordained priests, single-issue concerns such as abortion, birth control and gay rights, and the horror of its members at the willful and widespread misconduct of priests who sexually abuse altar boys. Now it is being blamed for the Holocaust.
Goldhagen's book is the logical continuation of his earlier "Hitler's Willing Executioners," and it draws on such predecessors as "The Sword of Constantine" and "The Popes Against the Jews." Like these books, Goldhagen's draws a line in the blood and says that the church willingly crossed that line many times in previous centuries and during the Holocaust. These books are not argumentive so much as declamatory. They don't debate the question of the church's responsibility for the Shoah; this simply is a given. If you accept such a premise, you are in for a devastating reading experience. Be assured that this is a painfully thorough investigation; like any ghastly crime, its perpetrators stand bathed in the blood of innocents.
Written with restrained fury, this book carefully sketches the long history of anti-Semitism in the church, based on the false premise that the Jews killed Jesus -- himself a Jew. It runs through the centuries of numerous pogroms, persecutions, enforced exiles, down to the systematic attempt to wipe out the Jewish "race" as part of Hitler's Final Solution. Although the pope had to know the details of the Jewish massacres in Poland, Eastern Europe and Russia -- from the very start -- he failed to speak out to Catholics who were busily exterminating the Jews, Goldhagen maintains.
"What must a religion of love and goodness do to confront its history of hatred and harm?" Goldhagen asks. Pope Pius XII was so partial to the unholy German cause as to vigorously suppress an encyclical, Humanis Generis Unitas, which had been authorized by his predecessor, the equally anti-Semitic Pius XI.
The encyclical would have spoken out against the persecution of any minority, without singling out the Jews. It would have been a watered-down protest but would have carried the weight of the Catholic Church behind it.
But Pius, in his pre-papal role as Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, was responsible for the concordat the Vatican struck with Hitler in 1933, shortly after the dictator came to power. Throughout the Holocaust, Goldhagen writes, the only time that church officials spoke out was to protest the persecution of Jews who had converted to Catholicism. Otherwise, they cheerfully released to the Nazis genealogical information regarding who had been a Jew in the past, which the Gestapo used with murderous efficiency.
Goldhagen attacks academics who ignore that "the Germans killed willingly, freely, and with no force behind their murderous actions." At the end of the war, "a few superhuman monsters -- Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, Adolf Eichmann -- were left in focus. They garnered almost all the attention, diverting our gaze from the tens of millions of Germans who, in some way, willingly supported and embraced Nazis, Hitler, and the country's other leaders."
These ordinary Germans, who made this regime and its crimes possible were, after the war, "miraculously transubstantiated overnight into beings who had been terrorized and coerced, and were unknowing. . . . Germans were divested of moral responsibility, pre-emptively exculpated because little or nothing was left to investigate morally."
These and "other political and intellectual distortions" left the study of the Holocaust containing "virtually nothing about the central actors, the perpetrators of the mass murders." The only ones to investigate them extensively were "the German judges who, after the war, sat in judgment" of them. Again and again, the courts judged the perpetrators "guilty for having killed Jews. They judged the perpetrators guilty, according to the most stringent rules of evidence, for having killed because of their 'base motive' of 'race hatred.' "
The message of this book is chillingly simple. The overwhelming majority of Germans hated the Jews, just as their parents had hated the Jews, because these were the people who put Christ to death. They had been told so by their church, by their spiritual leaders and teachers for thousands of years. The chill is hardened by the fact that Goldhagen claims no German ever suffered for refusing to kill or to harm a Jew. Numerous individuals rebelled, as did a few German churchmen, and none was harmed.
By contrast, the Danish people and the Danish Lutheran Church actively spoke out against anti-Semitism, and the citizens went out of their way to hide and to safeguard Danish Jews from the German occupying troops -- without ever suffering reprisals, air raids or slaughters. Jews were saved by clergy and citizenry; they were hidden, disguised as altar boys and smuggled into neutral Sweden. In this, the Danes were joined by some priests in Italy and a few other European countries. In Slovakia and Croatia, however, Catholic priests and church leaders openly sided with the Nazis and even participated in the mass murders. German priests accompanied the killer SS Einsatzgruppen into Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Russia, hearing confessions and dispensing the sacraments to the Catholic killers.
"A Moral Reckoning" is not just the story of how a church betrayed its members by encouraging them to the ultimate in savagery. It is an indictment of the church, its leaders and its pope for supporting a Holocaust that it had long provoked. Yet today the Roman Catholic Church is on the threshold of declaring Pope Pius XII to be a saint. This book will not make that sainthood easier to digest for believer and non-Christian alike.
Goldhagen's restraint is eloquent, even when he portrays that great Catholic order of priests, the Society of Jesus, a.k.a. the Jesuits, as more anti-Semitic than the Nazis, requiring that candidates for the order be free from any Jewish blood for at least five generations. However, "in 1923 the Jesuits further 'moderated' their racism by reducing the blood purity requirement to four generations." Thus, to become a member of the Society of Jesus, one could not be related to Christ or any of his apostles or early followers.
This is not a book for the ambivalent or the casually curious. It is a thundering indictment that makes no apologies and takes no prisoners.
Brian Richard Boylan, the author of 14 books, has interviewed numerous Nazi fugitives, ranging from Eduard Roschmann to Josef Mengele.
The Usefulness of Daniel Goldhagen
His new book attacking Pope Pius XII is filled with factual errors, providing an opportunity for other anti-Catholic writers to claim the middle ground.
by J. Bottum
10/23/2002 12:00:00 AM
IF YOU HAVEN'T been able to read all the writing about Pius XII, the Catholic Church, and the Holocaust, you needn't feel too bad. Not even scholars in the field have been able to keep up. By my count, there have been at least fourteen books on the subject in the last three years, with the threat of more to come.
Some of these run contrary to type. The very liberal Catholic Justus George Lawler, for instance, constructs a witty and learned defense against Pius's attackers in his recent "Popes and Politics." But mostly the books keep to their origins. John Cornwell detests John Paul II and contemporary Catholicism, so his book "Hitler's Pope" is an unrelenting bash at Pius and the Church during World War II. Ralph McInerny is a conservative Catholic philosopher and mystery writer, so his "The Defamation of Pius XII" is a ceaseless defense. Garry Wills wants major reform in the Church today, so his "Papal Sin" extends the attack to include the entire history of Catholicism. James Carroll has extolled fashionable leftist causes since back in the days when he embarrassed his Air Force general father by preaching against the Vietnam War to a congregation of military officers, and guess which side Carroll's book "Constantine's Sword" comes down on?
Into this flood of (mostly Catholic) works for and against Pius XII, there will shortly splash Daniel Goldhagen's new book, "A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair." David Dalin--who wrote a major essay on the Pius books in the February 26, 2001, issue of The Weekly Standard--will soon review the book in our pages, but it's worth pointing out beforehand just how useful Goldhagen's book will be to Pius's detractors.
That's not because the book is right, of course. It is filled with so many simple errors of fact that it's positively embarrassing to read. These errors of fact combine to create a set of historical theses about the Nazis and the Catholic Church so tendentious that not even Pius XII's most determined belittlers have dared to assert them. And, in Goldhagen's final chapters, the bad historical theses unite to form a complete anti-Catholicism the likes of which we haven't seen since the elderly H.G. Wells decided Catholicism was the root of all evil and wrote a book whose marvelous title shows the true flavor of curmudgeonly nuttiness: "Crux Ansata: An Indictment of the Roman Catholic Church (An Author's Frank Convictions about the Meddling Policies of the Church from its First Tie-up with the Emperor Constantine to its Present Alliance with the Nazi-Fascist-Shinto Axis)."
But Goldhagen's "Frank Convictions about the Meddling Policies"--I'm sorry; I mean Goldhagen's "A Moral Reckoning"--will nonetheless prove a useful book, not despite its errors, but because of them. This is a great opportunity for those who've written previous books against Pius XII. The reviews of Susan Zuccotti's "Under His Very Windows," for instance, were quite negative, accusing her of slanting the evidence to support her prejudged anti-Pius thesis. But now Goldhagen offers her a chance to claim middle-of-the-road credentials. "How can you say I'm an extremely prejudiced opponent of Pius?" Zuccotti can ask. "Daniel Goldhagen is the prejudiced extreme; I'm a moderate." For Garry Wills, James Carroll, and John Cornwell--all under considerable attack for their anti-Catholic Catholicism--no gift could be more timely. A prediction for the coming weeks: All these authors will review Goldhagen's book, and all of them will trash it--while using it along precisely the lines I suggest. Poor Danny Goldhagen. He's going to be beat up one side and down the other; his natural opponents attacking him and his natural allies joining in.
STILL, you can't say he doesn't deserve it. For reviewers looking for obvious errors with which to get their negative reviews ginned up, I offer the following, just a small sampling of mistakes found in a first skimming of the book.
(1) Thanks to a court case in Germany, which ordered Goldhagen's publisher to recall the book, the most notorious error is the caption on page 178, which identifies a photo as "Cardinal Michael Faulhaber marches between rows of SA men at a Nazi rally in Munich." Leave aside the fact that the man in the picture isn't the Bavarian bishop Faulhaber but the papal nuncio Cesare Orsenigo--also the fact that the city isn't Munich, but Berlin; and the fact that it isn't a Nazi rally but a May Day parade for labor; and the fact that the nuncio, as ex-officio dean of the diplomatic corps, was required to attend dozens of such functions a month; and the fact that the year was 1934, which was somewhat early for Goldhagen's point. Leaving all that aside, it's the slander of Faulhaber that is particularly obscene. The Nazis hated Faulhaber, as he hated them (1934 was one of the years, for instance, in which they tried to have him assassinated). Even the Encyclopedia Britannica describes the man as a hero of resistance to Hitler. Couldn't Goldhagen look anything up?
(2) Goldhagen's apparent lack of scholarly languages consistently leads him awry. I figure he must know German, but does he have the Italian, French, and Latin necessary to undertake this work? His complete reliance on English-language secondary sources suggests that he doesn't. The Italian "stirpe," "I primi," "schiera," and "gruppo," are all given peculiar spins, and there isn't a Latin phrase in the book that doesn't have an odd translation.
(3) Goldhagen writes, "The most notorious camp [in Fascist Croatia] was Jasenovac, where the Croats killed 200,000 Jews, Serbs, and Gypsies. Forty thousand of them perished under the unusually cruel reign of 'Brother Satan,' the Franciscan friar Miroslav Filipovic-Majstorovic. Pius XII neither reproached nor punished him or the other priest-executioners during or after the war." Oops. Since Filipovic-Majstorovic was executed by the Communists in 1945, it would have been somewhat difficult for Pius to have reproached him after the war. And since he was expelled from the Franciscan order and defrocked before he went to Jasenovac (becoming a loudly self-proclaimed nonbeliever along the way), it would have been equally difficult for Pius to punish him during the war.
(4) Goldhagen calls the American bishops' pastoral letter on the war in November 1942 an "all but explicit rebuke of the Vatican." Poor Goldhagen. This is how the strip-quotes in secondary sources lead would-be scholars astray. The actual letter reads: "We recall the words of Pope Pius XII"; "We urge the serious study of peace plans of Pope Pius XII"; "In response to the many appeals of our Holy Father," etc.
(5) The Jewish ghetto in Rome was erected in 1556, not 1555. The Venice ghetto in 1517, not 1516. Frankfurt in 1462, not 1460. And Vienna in 1626, not 1570. (Four errors in one sentence is a record, even for "A Moral Reckoning.")
ENOUGH. Goldhagen took a first swipe at this material in an unbearably long essay in the New Republic earlier this year, and Ronald Rychlak (author of "Hitler, the War and the Pope") wrote an almost equally long indictment of Goldhagen's allegations in the June/July issue of First Things. As near as I can tell, the only one of the errors Rychlak pointed out that Goldhagen has corrected is his identification of the Danish king as Christian II instead of Christian X.
As I say, no one is going to have trouble finding Goldhagen's mistakes. And that's exactly the problem. By writing such an error-filled, anti-Catholic diatribe as "A Moral Reckoning," Goldhagen makes what used to be the extreme of public discourse look like middle ground--the middle ground that, on any historical question, most of diffident, well-mannered America wants to inhabit.
J. Bottum is Books & Arts editor of The Weekly Standard.
Calling to account
In his contentious A Moral Reckoning, Daniel Goldhagen demands retribution from the Catholic Church
By Jonathan Dorfman, 11/24/2002
A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair
By Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
Knopf, 362 pp., $25
The point of this book is stark and unbending: that the Catholic Church provided a ''motive for murder'' to the Nazis and should be held to a moral reckoning for its sinful behavior. Writes Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, author of ''Hitler's Willing Executioners'': ''What must a religion of love and goodness do to confront its history of hatred and harm, and to perform restitution?''
His analysis of the Christian roots of anti-Semitism sounds familiar to readers of books by James Carroll, David Kertzer, and Garry Wills. The Jew-hatred in the New Testament is an old story. So, too, is the rant of Martin Luther, who called Jews ''deceitful snakes ... Devil's children.'' It took Vatican II to repudiate the falsehood that the Jews are Christ-killers, a charge that helped to drive nearly 19 centuries of Christian bigotry. And up to the 20th century, the Vatican publications ''L'Osservatore romano'' and ''Civilta cattolica,'' which reflected papal thinking, propounded not merely anti-Judaism, or disputes stemming from the Jews' refusal to accept Christ, but the modern ideology of anti-Semitism, the very racial doctrines espoused by Hitler.
Yet ''Moral Reckoning'' is creating a literary and theological slugfest because of something different: the moral framework, including ''The Catechism of the Catholic Church,'' by which Goldhagen judges Catholics. Did the church falsely accuse the Jews of killing Christ? Then, taking what the ''Catechism'' says about the imperative to correct falsehoods, it must renounce the lie, even if it means cutting the offensive material out of the New Testament.
Did the popes endorse racial anti-Semitism, which led to the deaths of innocent Jews? Then, according to the ''Catechism,'' the church must perform restitution - both moral and financial. Above all, writes Goldhagen, the Vatican must tell the truth about its past, and open its archives to historians who can examine its actions.
His argument was first set forth last January in a lengthy essay in The New Republic, ''What Would Jesus Have Done?'' But unlike the article, a work of polemical firepower, Goldhagen's book is repetitious and poorly organized. His writing is often soggy, as in this sentence: ''A great deal of attention has been given to the methods and procedures underlying description and, with the social sciences, to those underlying explanation.'' Still, enough of the essay's bristle survives to ensure that the book will bring a new swirl of controversy.
The reaction to the magazine article was blistering. Michael Novak, in The National Review, called it a ''taunt,'' and said The New Republic ''has sunk into the swamp of bigotry as low as it could go.'' Andrew Sullivan, responding in The New Republic, wrote that Goldhagen's views are ''offensive'' and ''deeply dangerous.'' In ''First Things,'' Ronald Rychlak took 16 pages to defend the church's actions during the Holocaust.
Yet what is striking about these critics is that they agree with much of Goldhagen's historical analysis. Novak writes: '' Many evils, sufferings, and humiliations were inflicted upon Jews by Catholics down the centuries, for which tears, repentances, and askings of pardon are in order.'' Sullivan ''fervently endorse[s]'' much of his account of Christian anti-Semitism, and adds that the proposal to canonize Pius XII is ''obscene.'' Rychlak sidesteps the larger point of Goldhagen's thesis: that Hitler merely had to adapt to his own perverted ends the Jew-hatred so powerfully engrained in the European psyche by two millennia of theological hatred.
To Goldhagen, the Jewish refusal to accept Christ is the primeval source of this hatred, a hatred based on the Catholic doctrine that there is one truth - the belief that Jesus is the Son of God. Thus, in a statement many Catholics will find offensive, he calls upon the church to undergo a ''self-transformation'' in its fundamental doctrine on the universality of Christ. But Goldhagen discounts two explosive developments that have reduced the anti-Semitic dangers of this doctrine.
The first is the discovery from 20th-century biblical criticism of the Jewish roots of Jesus, which, along with the Dead Sea Scrolls, calls into question the historical inevitability of Christianity. The second is Vatican II. Today, 37 years after ''Nostra Aetate,'' the centerpiece of the church's new doctrine toward the Jews, the legitimacy of the Jewish Covenant is no longer questioned: On Good Friday, for instance, Catholics pray no more for the conversion of the ''perfidious Jew.'' To Goldhagen, enraged by provocations such as the attempt to canonize Pius XII, it is not enough.
Even if doctrinaire Catholics still want to convert Jews, the threat to Jewish interests is minimal - not only because of Vatican II, but also the State of Israel, whose borders can prevent another Auschwitz. Two years ago, John Paul II made this very point. In a visit to Jerusalem, the pope slipped these words into the cracks of the Western Wall, the cradle of the Jewish people: ''We are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant.'' Tellingly, Goldhagen makes no mention of Karol Wojtyla's prayer at the wall.
''Moral Reckoning'' is marred by a shrill tone that calls into question the author's judgment. The matter comes to this: To recount the Christian roots of anti-Semitism is one thing; to mount what can be legitimately viewed as a diatribe against post-Vatican II Catholics is quite another. Still, ''Moral Reckoning'' is a passionate, if flawed, response to the legacy of Christian anti-Semitism, and can be read profitably as the uneasy blend of a scholar's learning and a Jew's rage at the horrors of the Holocaust.
Jonathan Dorfman writes frequently about religion and politics.
November 3, 2002
What the church owes Jews, and itself
A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Alfred A. Knopf: 346 pp., $25
By John K. Roth, John K. Roth, professor of philosophy at Claremont McKenna College, is the co-editor of "Good News After Auschwitz? Christian Faith Within a Post-Holocaust World" as well as "Pope Pius XII and the Hol
When Daniel Goldhagen's first book, "Hitler's Willing Executioners," was published in 1996, it ignited controversy for arguing that ordinary Germans, not just the SS and Nazi party members, chose to implement the Final Solution. Goldhagen was widely criticized for views that seemed oversimplified, empirically questionable and arrogantly argued, but as time passed -- and especially owing to the book's favorable reception in Germany -- his work withstood much of the criticism.
Such a reaction undoubtedly awaits " A Moral Reckoning," a book that vigorously challenges the Roman Catholic Church to take responsibility for its role in the Holocaust. According to Goldhagen, Pope Pius XII was an anti-Semite and the church was "more a collaborator than a victim of Nazism." He argues that the New Testament's "libelous and hate-inducing passages about Jews" must go, and he calls for a radical reformation to remove from Christianity the anti-Semitism that implicated it in the Holocaust and still leaves that tradition immorally mired in deception and hypocrisy.
"Unpretentious," "indecisive," "moderate" and "patient" are not words that come to mind when reading Goldhagen. Insisting that it is high time to "call a spade a spade," he has written a post-Holocaust moral reckoning: with Christianity, and the Roman Catholic Church in particular, that pulls few punches and guarantees a hard-hitting bout over history, ethics and theology. Goldhagen's book is unlikely to leave its readers indifferent. Its significance, however, depends less on immediate reactions and more on what happens 10, 20 or even 100 years after its appearance. Goldhagen may be helping to create a new Christianity. It will take time to tell.
Goldhagen's reckoning begins in two places. First, he believes that the Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican and the wartime popes, Pius XI and especially Pius XII, should be judged no differently than any other institutions or persons -- with one qualification: The church, its members and particularly its leaders should be held accountable to the highest ethical standards of justice and love that they profess as Christians. Second, Goldhagen places anti-Semitism at the heart of his indictment. Deeply rooted in falsehoods about Jews -- none worse than the New Testament's allegation that the Jews are Christ-killers or even the offspring of Satan -- anti-Semitism's many varieties reflect and inflame hostility against Jews "simply because they are Jews."
Goldhagen acknowledges that the post-Holocaust church has gradually repudiated the allegations of Jewish responsibility for the killing of Jesus. It has also rejected collective Jewish guilt and punishment for that crime. Before and during the Holocaust, however, such repudiations by Christians -- Protestants as well as Catholics -- were few and far between. To the contrary, Goldhagen documents that the church’s anti-Semitism was institutional. As the church’s anti-Jewish teachings were transmitted from one generation to another, Western civilization became increasingly drenched in anti-Semitism's poison.
The anti-Semitism that Christianity embodied, inspired and inflamed was "eliminationist." Clarifying a point central to controversy that swirled when "Hitler's Willing Executioners" appeared, Goldhagen underscores that eliminationist anti-Semitism "does not necessarily mean killing" Jews and that "the Catholic Church was doctrinally opposed to, and itself did not advocate, killing Jews." That said, Goldhagen adds that the lack of persistent and public church protest against the Third Reich's slaughter of European Jewry scarcely inspires confidence that the church was completely opposed to the mass annihilation.
Goldhagen rejects the apologetics that excuse the lack of public protest against the persecution and murder of Jews. He utterly rejects any reasoning that tries to excuse Pope Pius XII in particular on the grounds that if he had spoken out more forthrightly in their favor, then the Jews would have suffered even more under Hitler. Cutting in the opposite direction, his analysis of the evidence points to a devastating conclusion: The church found that "letting Jews die was preferable to intervening on their behalf." Goldhagen's analysis leaves a nagging suspicion. Despite deplorably bloody tactics in which the church would not involve itself directly, did its leaders feel, without ever saying so, that it would be beneficial to be rid of the Jews, one way or another?
In a fundamental disagreement with "We Remember," the Roman Catholic Church’s official statement on the Holocaust in 1998, Goldhagen finds the church speaking nonsense when it asserts that the Nazis' racial anti-Semitism "had its roots outside of Christianity." He argues persuasively that "the church’s accusations against Jews were often virtually indistinguishable from those of the racist antisemites."
At the time of the Holocaust, for example, Nazi and Catholic anti-Semitism agreed that the Jews were increasingly linked to communism, an ideology that Pope Pius XII and many other Catholic leaders loathed. Goldhagen shows that "examples of the Church’s incitement to radical anti-Jewish action are legion." Absent the seedbed and support provided by Christian anti-Semitism, the Nazis' racist anti-Semitism could not have been so powerfully credible to the Germans and their allies, who eventually attempted the total elimination of the Jews in the Holocaust.
Other critics have made similar points long before Goldhagen, but he goes further than most in holding the church accountable. Accountability requires truth telling and restitution. The church, Goldhagen appropriately contends, has not told the whole truth about its anti-Semitism and its failure during the Holocaust. A Moral Reckoning requires it to do so, but that step would not be sufficient. The church, Goldhagen adds, must make amends to Jews and reform itself.
Goldhagen uses the word "must" frequently and unabashedly. His list of "musts" for the church is as challenging as it is long. Especially after the Holocaust, three types of restitution are crucial: material, political and moral. Wherever the church was implicated in exploiting Jews or in expropriating their property, it must work to set every account straight. Goldhagen notes that the German Catholic Church has taken steps in that direction, and he gives credit where it is due. Political restitution is more complicated, because Goldhagen links it to the state of Israel. At the very least, he insists, the church will fail in its moral responsibility toward Jews if it acts to "weaken the foundation of Israel" or takes measures that "might imperil its existence or the lives of many of its citizens." If those arguably vague criteria create a minefield, moral restitution does so even more.
The most basic task of morall restitution -- eradicate anti-Semitism from Christianity -- sounds simple, but it is not. The changes must go deep down because anti-Semitism lies at the very roots of Christianity. What, then, should the church do, and how must it change? For starters, the church should halt immediately the canonization of any person -- read Pius XII specifically -- who aided and abetted the persecution of Jews.
In addition, the church must recognize that anti-Semitism has been inseparable from its authoritarian and imperialistic pretensions and must abandon papal infallibility, dissolve the Vatican as a political state, embrace religious pluralism to make clear that salvation does not come through the church alone and revise its official catechism to make unmistakable that any teaching smacking of anti-Semitism is "wrong, null and void."
The biggest issue, however, is the church’s "Bible problem." Goldhagen's reading of the New Testament leaves him with two striking impressions: First, Christianity is "a religion of love that teaches its members the highest moral principles for acting well. Love your neighbor. Seek peace. Help those in need. Sympathize with and raise up the oppressed. Do to others as you would have them do to you." Second, the New Testament's "relentless and withering assault on Jews and Judaism" is not incidental because it portrays the Jews as "the ontological enemy" of Jesus, goodness and God.
The "Bible problem," moreover, is not just that two apparently contradictory perspectives collide but that the collision takes place in texts that are regarded as sacred and divinely inspired. The need, Goldhagen contends, is for Christians to rewrite the New Testament, to expunge anti-Semitism from it, but he recognizes how difficult, perhaps insurmountable, that task may be. Nevertheless, Goldhagen does not despair. He thinks that the Christian tradition can be self-corrective, resilient and revitalized if Christians find the will to be true to their tradition's best teachings about love and justice.
Goldhagen does not presume to rewrite the New Testament. Nor does he venture to define everything that a truly post-Holocaust church should be. His book contains touches of modesty after all. Meanwhile, if the Roman Catholic Church, and by implication all churches, moved in his direction, it would not be the first time that a Jewish teacher has shown Christians the way. Goldhagen seems to be betting that Christianity can gain new life by letting its old one die. How many Christians will welcome such prospects remains unknown, but such hope should be familiar to them. It would be good for post-Holocaust followers of Jesus to embrace it.
Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair.
(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002)
ISBN 0375414347 hdbk 352 pp. $25.00
by Donald Dietrich
Donald Dietrich is Professor of Theology at Boston College, specializing in Holocaust Studies and the Catholic Human Rights conversation. He is the author of God and Humanity in Auschwitz: Jewish-Christian Relations and Sanctioned Murder. New Brunswick, NJ, Transaction Books, Rutgers University, 1994.
Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s 1996 book , Hitler’s Willing Executioners, Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, elicited a great deal of contentious debate, and it is likely that this most recent book will continue that tradition. In this polemical study, Goldhagen asks the Catholic Church a question: "What must a religion of love and goodness do to confront its history of hatred and harm, to make amends with its victims, and to right itself so that it is no longer the source of hatred and harm that, whatever its past, it would no longer endorse?" (p. 3) He has attempted to analyze the moral culpability of Catholics and their leaders, to judge the actors, and to discern how today’s Catholics can make material, political and moral restitution.
Goldhagen does not utilize primary source materials to any great extent, but rather has provided readers with a comprehensive review of the literature that has surfaced around the issue of the Catholic Church’s pre-Vatican II culture of antisemitism and the role that this played in the Holocaust. His review of the literature and his selective use of data provide the underpinnings for his critical, moral treatise. The careful reader must closely read the footnotes since in many cases he contextually and theologically nuances his book’s claims only there.
Additionally, on p. 297, Goldhagen tells his readers that while he uses the evidence that other scholars have painstakingly uncovered, he does not always agree with their interpretations. He does not give, of course, the authors that he cites a chance to respond to his alternative interpretations of their data. He uses this "proof-text" methodology selectively to support the thematic issues that he wishes to develop and not necessarily to illuminate the historical realities, e.g., the ambivalent role that Pius XII plays in the drama – a significant concern to scholars in the field.
Goldhagen divides his book into three parts, each corresponding to what he labels "moral reckoning": moral investigation, moral judgement and moral repair. Part One reiterates the scholarship already published on the Popes’ and the Church’s actions during the Nazi period and reminds us of the Scriptural roots of Christian antisemitism. Part Two deals with moral culpability, not from an existential or universal perspective, but rather as it is tied to a person’s or institution’s stance toward a specific act(p. 28). Here Goldhagen contrasts the perspectives as well as the actions of the leaders of the Catholic Church with similar stances prominent in the Protestant churches in Denmark and Norway. Not surprisingly, the Catholic Church fails the comparative test. Part Three, rooted in the factual bases and moral culpability model of Parts One and Two questions how the Church is to make amends.
Following an introduction that sets the tone of the book, Goldhagen launches Part One by explicating a fairly standard theme. Christian churches helped develop an antisemitic bias that was dedicated to the conversion of the Jews, while simultaneously trying to "eliminate" Jews from their so-called influential roles in civic society and culture. The churches did not support the extermination of the Jewish people. Goldhagen and other scholars generally have pointed, however, to the fact that religious, cultural and political antisemitism softened the consciences of Christians and so allowed the virulent, exterminationist antisemitism of Hitler and his minions to spiral out of control into the brutalizing death camps. Like a growing list of other scholars, e.g., David Kertzer, Goldhagen understands Pius XII to be a key actor, but, as Goldhagen reminds us, he is not the whole story.
Throughout his book, Goldhagen peppers his analysis with the moral precepts articulated by the Catholic Catechism to judge the activities of Catholics and their Church during this dark period, and he is right to do so, except that this complex story, about which volumes of commentaries have been written, cannot be tied merely to non-nuanced moral axioms. Morality is more complicated than simple axioms might suggest. To comprehend their meaning properly, one must understand these stark moral axioms within their evolving contexts in secular and theological history
Throughout this book, Goldhagen’s analysis tends to be reductionistic because his "proof-texting" methodology ignores the complexities of real life. What particularly seems to disturb him is the fact that the Catholic Church during this period was acting as a political institution as well as a moral institution and not exclusively as one or the other (p. 96). Since the inception of Christianity, and especially after Constantine, however, the Church has had to function as an institution that lives in the world and yet has a spiritual mission. What this has meant in practice is that Church Councils, Popes, and documents have articulated theological and moral principles, but have done so only while engaging the culture. Hence, moral principles have tried to exert guidance in the real world of marching soldiers and have at times failed. Such failures as the Church’s antisemitism and its compromising responses to the Third Reich certainly sapped institutional vitality and constricted the possibilities of vital moral leadership, and that is a lesson that has been painfully learned. Goldhagen seems to find it difficult to accept that human activity by its very nature is political and moral, which means that each of us has to live in a dynamic tension of balancing "real world" survival and the ethical principles that we use as guiding principles. The fact that bishops, theologians, and lay Catholics were antisemitic should not be as surprising as Goldhagen suggests, since the bias has been carefully learned over the centuries and this systematic evil (sin) is part of our learned culture. Adolf Cardinal Bertram and Karl Adam, a leading Catholic theologian, for example, feared the influence that Jews had within German culture. Their statements appall Goldhagen and, indeed, most of us. But, on the other hand, he fails to give praiseworthy statements their due. Without listing the sources and understanding the circumstances, for example, Goldhagen doubts whether Pius XI’s statement (p. 110) that "Spiritually, we are all Semites" can be believed, since it was announced through Belgian sources and not through the Vatican media. He engages in this type of selective scholarship too frequently.
Goldhagen tends to be repetitious and combative, and frequently misunderstands the theological issues involved in such recent declarations as Dominus Jesus, which he cites as an example of the ongoing hostility of the Church toward "the other." He seems not to understand the fact that a document from the Vatican has varying degrees of authority that depend on the ecclesial source, on the intended audience, and on the issues that are being addressed. Read in isolation from its context, Dominus Jesus, for example, is a very distressing document. Only the context allows the declaration to be understood as having a disciplinary intent, with which we may not agree, but at least can accept as the agenda that is being addressed. The fact that so much ink has been spilled over this particular declaration, of course, suggests that the Catholic faithful have found its message difficult to accept, a positive sign for many. Most of those interested in Jewish-Christian relations would agree that the Church has been moving forward ecumenically since Nostra Aetate and is conscious of its horrendous past errors. Johannes Metz sums up the post-Vatican II approach that can best be applied, when he insists that theology has to be done in the light of events. In other words, if an event or historical act embodies evil, then theology and the Church’s articulation of its own life and moral reasoning has to be scrutinized.
By p. 200, Goldhagen tentatively admits that the Church has been making progress dealing with its supportive role in nourishing antisemitism, but also insists that there has been no genuine "mea culpa." Goldhagen acknowledges that the Church views antisemitism as a sin, has a Vatican Commission dealing with Jewish-Christian Relations led by Walter Cardinal Kasper, and has encouraged the laity as well as the clergy to give time, energy, and money to the causes of understanding the theological/historical bases of antisemitism and of finding ways to mend relations. But he sees this reality as insufficient. Naturally, more progress has to be made, since two millennia devoted to the marginalization of the Jewish people lays on Catholics a responsibility that cannot easily be lightened.
Even if theological scholars and church historians do not appreciate Goldhagen’s reductionist assaults on past behavior within the Church and cannot accept his bias when he deals with the complexity embodied in an institution that is rooted in political reality while envisioning a moral leadership role, they can empathize with and support some of Goldhagen’s agenda. In Part Three, Goldhagen’s primary concern revolves around moral restitution. Here, he goes beyond the position of even James Carroll who wants to retain Scriptural antisemitic statements in order to demonstrate how its own beliefs can corrupt an institution. In contrast, Goldhagen urges the Church to call for a public convocation of all the Christian churches to address the antisemitism contained in the Christian Scriptures. He also appropriately envisions Jews having a voice in the conversation, but not having a vote. Goldhagen insists that the result of such a convocation should be the excision of antisemitism from the Christian scriptural texts.
Goldhagen’s conclusion that antisemitic references must be deleted from the texts should not come as a surprise, but may be impossible to accomplish, since the texts grew out of the Christian community’s early identity-formation experiences, enabling Christians to distinguish themselves from Jews and pagans. These sacred texts are part of the living tradition in the Catholic community, but should probably be primarily used to discern the positive as well as the negative dynamics involved in forming a communal identity. After all, even in most of our own personal lives, such dynamics undergird our behavior. A convocation, however, could address the issues that concern scholars and ecclesial leaders, could point to the insidiously dangerous texts, and could utilize the available historical – critical methods so that the churches themselves could help make transparent Christianity’s role in nurturing antisemitism through the ages. Finally, such a convocation could help illuminate the process that enables a religious tradition to corrupt an institution’s decision-making responsibilities. There is, however, a caveat to be kept in mind. Later historical events can not challenge the foundational religious event and texts, but can only call into question the authoritative responses to the events/texts. As we discern the historical conditions, within which the Christian antisemitic tradition grew, we might also discover other "lost" aspects of the Church’s tradition that could now be reappropriated and that could lead to a more resounding "mea culpa" that could satisfy even Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, who at the end of the day does ask many of the proper seminal questions.
Perhaps this book will stimulate Christians to bore more assiduously and critically into Christian history and into the ecclesial as well as into the theological pronouncements that have emerged from that nexus of politics and morality that makes Christianity itself a fascinating, spiritual story. Goldhagen’s book will stir up controversy, but the tensions that arise will help contribute to the dynamic development of the Catholic Church itself. Whether an individual reader will profit from plowing through the book depends on their prior knowledge. This will determine how well the reader will discern where Goldhagen engages in polemicizing, proof-texting, selectivity and reductionism, and where he raises good questions.
A Moral Reckoning: The Role of
the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair
Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
Little Brown, £16.99, 362 pp
Two thousand years of blame
Richard Overy reviews A Moral Reckoning by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
"What would Jesus have done?" asks Daniel Goldhagen at one point in this sustained diatribe against Catholic complicity in the genocide of the Jews. His own answer is clear: Jesus preached a faith of goodness and tolerance, and would have openly condemned the persecution of the Jews. The whole thrust of the argument of this book is to expose Christianity as a humbug. On the one hand a religion of love and brotherhood, on the other a political institution willing to turn a blind eye to mass murder when it suited it.
Goldhagen swept to prominence eight years ago with his book on Germans and the Holocaust in which he argued that German popular culture contained a powerful "eliminationist" anti-Semitism that explained the Germans' willing destruction of the Jews. Now he has turned the spotlight on the Catholic Church in Europe (he is surprisingly silent about Catholicism in America and Britain).
He has discovered - not that it was ever a secret - that for almost two millennia the Catholic Church has been hostile to Judaism and the Jews, that Catholicism includes hostility to the Jews in its theology, and that during the German reign of anti-Jewish terror the Catholic Church, Papacy, bishops and much of the clergy either ignored, applauded or in some cases abetted the Nazis.
There is nothing new about this as history, which has been known for years. Goldhagen's originality lies in his attempt to tie this issue to a more general moral inquiry about the nature of complicity in history's great crimes. He talks about the need for "moral reckonings", and suggests that his study of the Catholic Church is simply an example. He believes there are plenty of other institutions, regimes or individuals who ought to make a true moral reckoning with the past.
If the book had simply been a candid history of Catholic complicity with genocide it would have served a useful purpose in alerting the wider public to a large dereliction of Church duty under Pope Pius XII, which - and here he is right - has not been ventilated as fully as it ought, despite the success of John Cornwell's Hitler's Pope. Instead he overloads the book with a tendentious and confused moral philosophy, in the course of which he acts simultaneously as prosecutor, jury and judge of Catholic culpability.
To take some of the more contradictory propositions. He argues that we all have "a right and obligation" to pass moral judgment on the past. Such judgments must be rooted in clear criteria. Goldhagen claims that these are derived from popular moral perception, and amount in essence to the injunction "to act well". Yet "to act well" is clearly a relative, not an absolute, concept. A popular sense of justice means many different, often antagonistic things.
Many perpetrators in the Third Reich thought they were "acting well", indeed it was the perceived rightness of their cause that allowed some of them to order the atrocities in the first place. Goldhagen means something specific when he wants us "to act well". He wants us to judge as liberal Western rationalists, yet those he writes about act out of faith, or ideological conviction or irrational prejudice - moral positions for which he has no sympathy and little under standing.
A second proposition is that the moral reckoning with the Catholic Church and its centuries of anti-Semitism should pave the way for all the other moral reckonings with the past that need to be acknowledged. There is much confusion here too. He is remorselessly insistent that he is talking only about individual agents and individual responsibility, but throughout the book he writes about the "Catholic Church" as a collectivity, and expects the institutional descendants, who bear no individual responsibility, to atone for the errors of the past.
How can this be possible beyond historical crimes recent enough for the individuals personally involved to be called to book? The contention that moral reckonings should be made with more distant events provokes real moral confusion, even the absurd. Should the Catholic Church compensate itself by charging the Danes and Norwegians for a score of abbeys burned down by the Vikings? Should Christian America and Britain apologise for bombing German cities inhabited by Germans who failed to prevent the genocide?
Rather than embark on the confused pursuit of historical "blame" - something historians are rightly unwilling to do - explanation would serve mankind better. Goldhagen has wasted the opportunity to say some serious and troubling things about the Catholic past in a way that will enable the reader to make up his own mind.
Instead A Moral Reckoning is persistently adversarial, leaving the reader in no doubt where he should stand. Of course, much of the behaviour which Goldhagen writes about is inexcusable, both then and now. But his real target is 2,000 years of Church teaching, not just the failings of Pius XII and senior Catholic clergy. He should not be surprised if his provocative assault on Catholicism obscures, as much as it clarifies, the issues at hand.
Richard Overy's 'Interrogations: Inside the Minds of the Nazi Elite' comes out in paperback next month.
Richard Bernstein The New York Times
Tuesday, December 17, 2002
A MORAL RECKONING The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair
By Daniel Jonah Goldhagen. Illustrated. 365 pages. $25. Alfred A. Knopf.
A bit past the
halfway point in his new book, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen lists a series of
questions about the behavior of the Roman Catholic Church during the Holocaust,
and they are not only good questions, but also questions that acquire a kind of
cumulative force, placed one next to the other, as Goldhagen has them.
Why, he asks, did the church, immediately after the war, create the fiction that the wartime Pope Pius XII had consistently condemned the Nazi persecution of the Jews, when, in fact, he said little or nothing when that persecution was taking place? Why did the church aid and abet "the mass murderers of Jews" as they attempted to escape Allied justice (a reference to the role of high churchmen in helping Nazis escape to South America)?
To Goldhagen the answers to these questions are obvious. His book, similar in tone and spirit to his controversial previous work, "Hitler's Willing Executioners," promotes the thesis that the church's sad record of silence and complicity in the Holocaust was the all too logical culmination of its own centuries-long history of anti-Semitism.
In his earlier book Goldhagen asserted that totalitarian terror was not what brought about the complicity of ordinary Germans in the mass murder of the Jews; rather their long history of hatred of Jews led them willingly to assent to "eliminationist anti-Semitism." In this new book he asserts that deep traditions of anti-Jewish thought and action in the church led it to a morally afflicted choice during World War II, namely "that allowing or abetting the Germans' and their helpers' persecution of the Jews and even letting the Jews die was preferable to intervening on their behalf."
This book is based in good part on the work others have done in laying out the church's moral failings with regard to the Jews, not just during the Holocaust but in earlier centuries as well. Those books include such well-documented studies as "The Popes Against the Jews" by David Kertzer, "Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews" by James Carroll and "Under His Very Windows" by Susan Zuccotti.
What Goldhagen adds to the argument is, first, a good deal of polemical intensity and, second, an argument, developed in the third part of "A Moral Reckoning," that the church should make both material and moral restitution to the Jews. In this sense what Goldhagen adds is both his new book's strength and its weakness.
On the side of weakness there is, as with "Hitler's Willing Executioners," the sense of an author motivated by a personal need for moral vengeance for the crimes committed against the Jews. There is a school of thought that has gained strength in recent years in which the imputation of culpability has slowly spread from the Nazis themselves, where it chiefly and unmistakably belongs, to many other parts of global humanity, from the church to the Allies: for declining to accept Jewish refugees during the war, for refusing to bomb the railroad lines leading to the death camps and for recruiting Nazis for the looming anti-Soviet struggle.
Goldhagen and the other writers are certainly right that the church was the source of a great deal of hatred of Jews over the centuries. What is excessive is both the wholesale quality of the condemnations and the impulse to judge the actors of the times by the standards and perspectives of today.
The church did not have armies, did not build gas chambers or organize special units to murder Jews. Organized humankind in general has never been very good at stopping evil: Witness the global moral paralysis in the face of the genocidal slaughters that took place in Cambodia, Bosnia and Rwanda, even while the phrase "never again" echoed loudly in the halls of public life.
This is not to exonerate the church or to dismiss Goldhagen's impressive and disturbing bill of indictment against it. But moral judgment needs both passion and dispassion if it is to serve the cause of the collective conscience. In turning history into a club, he shows a good deal more of the former than the latter.
The strength of Goldhagen's argument is that it makes strikingly clear the ways in which the Inquisition, the pogroms and the Holocaust are links in the same historical chain. He has shown that exceptional as it was in its evil, the genocide against the Jews did not arise out of nothing; it was related to the Christian culture of Europe. In this sense, among Goldhagen's most cogent passages is his call for the church to engage in its own dispassionate examination of its past, both recent and more distant.
A Moral Reckoning
The role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and its unfulfilled duty of repair
Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
362pp. Little, Brown. £16.99.
0 316 72446 7
The argument of this strange book is easily summarized. The Catholic Church has been the author and chief sponsor of anti-Semitism throughout world history. Anti-Semitism produced the Holocaust. Ergo: the Catholic Church carries an important share of responsibility for the Holocaust. Ergo: the Church must acknowledge its responsibility in the fullest possible way and make restitution to the Jews.
A Moral Reckoning thus signals a return to Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s old stamping ground. In 1996, the publication of his first book, Hitler’s W illing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (reviewed in the TLS , June 7, 1996), triggered a controversy unprecedented in the annals of Holocaust scholarship. Written in brisk, accessible, at times highly sensationalist prose, Hitler’s Willing Executioners focused on acts of unspeakable cruelty committed by Germans against Jews during the Second World War and linked these to the virulence of an “eliminationist anti-Semitism” that had allegedly been central to German culture from the High Middle Ages onwards. Drawing on post-war trial depositions, Goldhagen argued that Holocaust perpetrators were “ordinary Germans” in the sense that they were acting on a “cultural cognitive model of Jews” that was “ingrained in German culture”. Goldhagen’s methodology and his handling of sources were fiercely criticized by scholars working in the field, but the book became a non-fiction bestseller in over half a dozen countries.
A Moral Reckoning is in some respects a different kind of enterprise. The first book presented itself as an exercise in historical analysis founded on primary research; the second is a “moral investigation”, in which the empirical material is derived entirely from the research of others. Yet there are clearly many points of contact. The text is gripped throughout by the same prosecutorial zeal. The first chapter of A Moral Reckoning devotes itself largely to mounting attacks on the critics of the first book. In a passage verging on defamation, Goldhagen describes the distinguished German scholars Hans Mommsen and Hans-Ulrich Wehler as “the Nazi historians’ faithful and most prominent students”; Wehler’s – actually rather balanced – critique of the first book is denounced as “anti-Semitic”. After a passage referring to the present-day conspiracy theories of “neo- Nazis and anti-Semites and their ideological sympathizers and de facto supporters”, the reader is directed to an end-note citing the work of Norman Finkelstein, author of The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the exploitation of Jewish suffering and one of the most trenchant critics of Hitler’s Willing Executioners . All those who have taken issue with Goldhagen, or whose views are simply uncongenial to him – from Hannah Arendt and Martin Broszat, to Christopher Browning and Raul Hilberg, to Mommsen and Wehler – are seen as acting from malevolent or morally dubious motives. I cannot recall ever encountering such venomous ranting in the pages of what purports to be a serious piece of historical writing.
At the centre of both Moral Reckoning and Willing Executioners is the concept of “eliminationist anti-Semitism” – a rubric that allows Goldhagen to assert as axiomatic the fundamental identity of all forms of anti-Jewish prejudice, regardless of whether these were articulated in racial, religious or socio-economic terms and irrespective of whether their implicit objective was to destroy Jews or to discriminate against them in other ways. It all amounts to the same thing, Goldhagen proposes, because the objective is always exclusion in one form or another. As he puts it in A Moral Reckoning : “Eliminationist measures vary in their character and severity, from restricting Jews’ economic social and political activities, to ghettoization, to forced conversion, to expulsion, to mass annihilation.”
The concept of “eliminationist anti-Semitism” essentially performs two functions for Goldhagen’s argument. It is directed, first, against the view that there might be an important distinction in kind between a “traditional” mode of anti-Semitism motivated – but also limited – by Christian religious doctrine and the ultimately exterminatory racial anti-Semitism of the later nineteenth and twentieth centuries, whose roots were anti-Christian, secular and pseudo-scientific. The capacious trans-historical rubric “eliminationist anti-Semitism” allows Goldhagen to throw the mantle of his investigation over the entirety of the Catholic Church and its members – even Jesus himself, whom he appears to regard as the first Christian eliminationist anti-Semite, makes a brief appearance in the dock. Inquiring after the balance between continuity and change in the history of Christian attitudes to the Jews and Judaism is of course a legitimate and valuable enterprise.
But for this task, the paradigm Goldhagen wields is simply far too blunt an instrument.
The eliminationist paradigm is also essential to Goldhagen’s understanding of how ideology and action connect. In Hitler’s Willing Executioners , the linkage between specific acts of cruelty and “German culture” was mediated by the argument that German culture was – and always had been – saturated with an “eliminationist anti-Semitism” whose “cognitive models”, once implanted in the minds of Germans, made them want to kill Jews. In A Moral Reckoning , the same argument is applied to the conduct of Catholics in continental Europe during the Holocaust, though in this case the “cognitive models” are derived from Catholic doctrine, which is seen as existing in “symbiosis” with Nazi anti-Semitism.
It is worth emphasizing that much of what Goldhagen has to say about the actual comportment of the Catholic hierarchy during the Holocaust is incontestable. He has assiduously combed a selection of the secondary authorities for episodes of Catholic indifference to and complicity in discrimination and murder. There are plenty of them, and they make for grim reading. Goldhagen observes that the longstanding antipathy of the Church towards the Jews, who were seen in many quarters as the vanguard of the modern liberal and anticlerical movements, made many clergymen ill-disposed to stir themselves in their defence. The ambivalence of senior churchmen, who abhorred the idea of wholesale extermination but approved of discriminatory laws, made for a tardy and half-hearted resistance to Nazi measures.
The real difficulty arises when Goldhagen tries to close the causal circuit linking exterminations and atrocities with the specifics of Catholic doctrine. First, there is the old problem that besets all ideological-reductionist explanations, namely that while the doctrines have been there for a long time, the Holocaust has not. Then there is the fact that many who were not Catholics – German Protestants, for example – also participated or collaborated in the Holocaust. Goldhagen brushes this aside by asserting that Protestantism is really just another form of Catholicism. But what about the systematic slaughter of Jews by the Orthodox military authorities of Romania – are they Catholics too? As for those Croat or Slovakian priests who were drawn – along with many of their compatriots – directly into the machinery of genocide: should this be ascribed primarily to their religious beliefs, or to their ethno-national orientation? To put the same point a different way: it is now known that hundreds of Hutu Catholic clergy in Rwanda became directly implicated in the recent genocide, but no one would suggest that the roots of this behaviour lie in a Catholic doctrinal animus against the Tutsi. Catholic Hutus presumably killed Tutsis because they were Hutus, not because they were Catholics. Particularly striking is the extent to which the entire historiography of anti-Jewish prejudice and action as a social phenomenon answering not only to doctrinal fiats, but also to social and economic pressures, has been elided from view. What we get instead is an intensely teleological narrative in which the horned beast of anti-Semitism creeps, essentially unchanging, through the centuries towards its consummation with destiny in January 1933.
The last part of the book focuses on restitution. Goldhagen unfolds an extraordinary list of proposals: the Catholics must beg for forgiveness from the Jews without expecting it to be granted (they must not, however, assert that “the Jews” wish the Catholics to bow down before them, for that would be anti-Semitic). They must bowdlerize their sacred texts, excising all passages in which the Jews are cast in a negative light; the gospels in particular will need some heavy pruning. The Vatican, too, will have to be closed down, as its political functions contaminate the moral character of the Church, transforming it into a “political institution”. Catholic theology will have to jettison the notion that Christianity was (or is) in any sense an improvement on Judaism, or that Catholicism has any kind of monopoly on religious truth. These proposals are perhaps best left in the hands of the competent religious authorities.
A Moral Reckoning is a disturbing journey back into the Goldhagen universe. This is a place in which the black hole of the Holocaust draws the past irresistibly into its darkness, while the present and future are bent back towards it, for the work of restitution and self-cleansing is all-encompassing and has only just begun. A polemical intelligence is in evidence here, and also a reckless passion that commands a certain ambivalent respect. Goldhagen’s moral reckoning machine may yet prove useful to other victim groups who seek past and present vindication. As for the Catholic Church, it has long been engaged in a process of internal dialogue on these and related issues with radical critics from within its own ranks; whether this process will be expedited by Goldhagen’s intervention is doubtful, but remains to be seen. The Church is less excitable than the liberal intelligentsia of the German Federal Republic, whose spirited wrangling over Goldhagen’s first book made him into a celebrity. It seems unlikely that we shall see a second “Goldhagen controversy” to match the first.
Christianity is a religion of love that teaches its members the highest moral principles for acting well. Love your neighbor. Seek peace. Help those in need. Sympathize with and raise up the oppressed. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Christianity is a religion that consecrated at its core and historically, spread throughout its domain a megatherian hatred of one group of people: the Jews. It libelously deemed them, sometimes in its sacred texts and doctrine, to be Christ-killers, children of the devil, desecrators and defilers of all goodness, responsible for an enormous range of human calamities and suffering. This hatred-Christianity's betrayal of its own essential and good moral principles-led Christians, over the course of almost two millennia, to commit many grave crimes and other injuries against Jews, including mass murder. The best-known and largest of these mass murders is the Holocaust.
The question for Christians, especially for the Catholic Church, is, What must a religion of love and goodness do to confront its history of hatred and harm, to make amends with its victims, and to right itself so that it is no longer the source of a hatred and harm that, whatever its past, it would no longer endorse? This is the question also of this book.
Who did what? Why did they do it? In what ways are they culpable? These are the three big questions of the Holocaust. In Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, I tackled the first two questions, focusing on the ordinary Germans who were the principal perpetrators of the Holocaust and showing that they slaughtered Jews because, moved by antisemitism, they believed that killing them was just, right, and necessary. This was also generally true of those Lithuanians, Poles, Ukrainians, and others who participated in the mass murder. Because the book's purpose was to explain the perpetration of the Holocaust, not to judge the perpetrators, in it I stated openly that it "is a work of historical explanation, not of moral evaluation."For this reason the book left untouched the third, equally explosive subject of moral culpability. It also did not take up the principal post-Holocaust questions: Who is responsible for making amends with the victims, and what must they do?
In Hitler's Willing Executioners I presented no explicit moral judgments about culpability and no program of repair. It was, of course, obvious that I condemn the Germans' and their helpers' eliminationist persecution and mass murder of the Jews and their persecution and slaughter of other victim groups, including the mentally ill, Roma and Sinti (commonly called Gypsies), homosexuals, Poles, Russians. When the book appeared at the end of March 1996, those, especially in Germany, who abhorred the airing of the obscured facts and unwelcome truths that it contained attacked the book and me personally, including by leveling the fictitious charge that I was explicitly passing the moral judgment of collective guilt.These attacks, many manifestly disreputable, did, however, indicate something fundamental that lay behind the large furor around the book, something that deserves our attention.
Hitler's Willing Executioners unwittingly provoked a moral uproar, and a moral subtext continually enveloped-and partly derailed-the extensive written and verbal discussion around the book. The book sought to restore to Germans their humanity, which had heretofore generally been denied them by the standard dehumanizing characterization of them as thoughtless, automatonlike cogs in a machine. It therefore challenged the existing conventional view, and pointedly insisted that Germans be seen and treated for what they were: individual moral agents. It investigated their views of Jews, and of the justness of the eliminationist persecution, including physical annihilation. It brought forth and emphasized critical information that had for long been denied, obscured, and covered up-even though some of the information had for decades been available-that so many of the perpetrators knew that they could avoid killing but chose to torture and to kill their victims, and were often demonstrably gleeful about it. It showed that the conventional notion that the German people in general were terrorized is a myth and that, exceptions notwithstanding, Germans essentially assented to the violent eliminationist persecution of the Jews. All of this, however implicitly, forcefully made unavoidable the previously widely avoided moral question: Who is culpable, in what way, and for what?
Germans and people in other countries were suddenly grappling with the problems of moral judgment in a way that many of them never had; human beings had replaced abstract structures and impersonal forces as actors, and they, Germans and others, were shown to have been animated by views that most people today abhor, and, in substantial numbers, to have willfully done terrible, criminal things. The facile moral excuses and rationalizations-that Germans had been terrorized, had not known about the crimes, and so on-that had exculpated so many people and comforted so many more were, however implicitly, exposed as hollow. Moral charges were in the morally charged air.
Because of the barrage of false views imputed to me, I wrote a foreword to the German edition of the book (since reprinted in other editions, including the English-language paperbacks) that contained the following: "Because the analysis of this book emphasizes that every individual made choices about how to treat Jews, its entire mode of analysis runs contrary to, and provides powerful argument against, any notion of collective guilt. "I clarified, if briefly, my views about "collective guilt," which I have always emphatically rejected, but the question of how we might judge the perpetrators and other involved people for their actions during this period-the moral issues-I left aside, so in the discussion about my book they remained mainly subterranean.
It is true that in answering the first two principal questions of the Holocaust-who did what, and why did they do it?-the book provided the necessary foundation for answering the third question: In what ways are they culpable? It also makes it possible to move to the next stage of investigation-the post-Holocaust stage-which is to ask: Based on the answers to these three principal questions, what social, political, and moral responses and measures should we conclude are desirable or even necessary? That Hitler's Willing Executioners implied and set the stage for such a further investigation was recognized by Jürgen Habermas. In his speech "Goldhagen and the Public Use of History" Habermas explained:
Goldhagen's investigations are tailored to address precisely those questions that have polarized our public and private discussions for the past half century. . . . The truly fundamental question at issue [is]: What does it mean to assign the responsibility for historical crimes retrospectively-if it is just this reckoning that we are now undertaking with the goal of generating an ethical-political process of public self-understanding? Goldhagen provides a new stimulus to a reflection about the proper public use of history.
With this book, I take up the moral issues and their social and political implications that remained unaddressed though immanent in the first book, exploring them in a general way while focusing empirically on the Catholic Church and the Holocaust. It is precisely my hope to further generate a general ethical-political process of public understanding and self-understanding, which in the particular instances of the Church and other relevant institutions also includes institutional self-understanding. What Hitler's Willing Executioners did for explaining the contours and causes of the Holocaust, for restoring the human beings to the center of our understanding of its perpetration, this book is intended to do for clarifying moral culpability, for judging the actors, and for thinking about how they and others might best right their wrongs.
Lift the Moral Blackout
In the vast realm between the sound bite of media talk shows and op-ed pages on the one hand and the technical discourses of philosophical and theological tracts on the other, the serious investigation of issues of morality and judgment is rarely to be found. Sustained, accessible moral argument and evaluation-especially when it is sustained moral judgment-is not in vogue. It is fine to judge maleficent or lascivious politicians in moralizing, snap, and flip ways. It is fine to judge the perpetrators of spectacular domestic and other crimes who provide the daily theater of pathology that spices up the personal and social lives of our voyeuristic societies. These are sport, big-game hunting, where the hunters risk nothing and gain satisfaction and glory.
But it seems to be decidedly not fine to discuss seriously in public how to judge the people with whom so many feel affinity, who have or may have committed grievous offenses such as ordinary Germans and the ordinary citizens of other countries during the Holocaust. Serious moral inquiry cuts close to the bone of the investigator. It leads to where our principles, once we establish them, and logic lead us. It is a journey, once embarked upon, over which we have little control, and which sometimes, often, touches down along the way, or even terminates in unpleasant places with disturbing views of others and ourselves, and disquieting conclusions about what others or we must do.
Our moral culture is degraded partly by the flipness of our public culture, partly by the abdication of many people in the academy of their obligation to engage moral issues, or engage them in a way that both meets a high standard and is accessible to those who are not professional philosophers. One does not have to be a cultural conservative-I am not-to recognize and criticize all this. Our moral culture is also degraded because in our pluralistic world-a world generally to be celebrated-the genuine difficulties of confronting value pluralism, especially the problem of people not wanting to seem to be imposing their values on others, have made many people skittish about applying serious moral discussion to the public sphere. People who are not guided by religious values often seem reluctant to enter this realm, the realm of religion par excellence. Whether out of distaste for engaging religion or out of a belief that, without a religious grounding, they are at a serious disadvantage, those who could talk the talk have left much of the turf of serious moral discussion to the religious.
It is precisely votaries of various religions who are willing, even eager, to take on the task. And as the most populous and centralized religion, Catholicism, under the aegis of the Roman Catholic Church and its various national churches, is in many parts of the world the most prominent participant in, and exemplar of, sustained moral discussion directed at the broad interested public. Through the frequent encyclicals, declarations, and letters of Popes, the pronouncements of national churches and their bishops, and the individual statements of many Church intellectuals, the Church and its clergy are active moral commentators on a wide range of matters, both public and personal. Latin American bishops in the 1970s propounded liberation theology, a moral argument grounded in theology in favor of antiestablishment politics for the poor to bring about social justice and an end to oppression. After 1979 they were silenced by the newly ascended Pope John Paul II, whose politics clashed with theirs. In the 1980s American bishops published a treatise arguing for the immorality of nuclear weapons, and another against the economic inequality produced by the American economy. John Paul II has made considered public pronouncements on a large array of moral and political issues, ranging from personal conduct to our duties to one another, to the necessity of including moral considerations in our economic systems, to issues of war and peace. National Catholic churches regularly address political issues relevant to their countries. These and other interventions in the public sphere have been morally forceful because of the Catholic Church's traditions of cultivated intellection and of intimate engagement with public life.
Although serious moral discussion of many important aspects of Western public life, particularly politics, was never much in vogue except among the rebellious, it flagged significantly in the West during the cold war. To be sure, the 1960s saw an upsurge in moral condemnation by the young of perceived injustices of their societies and especially of the Vietnam War. In Germany the generation known as sixty-eighters took their parents to task for what they did or failed to do during the Nazi period. But in general during the postwar decades the security concerns of the cold war seemed to trump many important moral concerns or at least to shunt them to a lesser status in both international and domestic affairs. If morality conflicted with reasons of state, as it so frequently does, then the acute danger seen to be posed by the Soviet Union made it for the West an unaffordable luxury, seemingly not worth seeking out in the first place. This, of course, was never the right position to take. In today's post-cold war world, it is even less justifiable. Considered moral investigation, the foundation for virtuous action, must reclaim its central place in public life.
The moral blackout has been
deep in the discussion of the Nazi period. For a long time people failed to
investigate and publicly discuss, sloganeering aside, the relevant moral issues
intensively, if at all.West Germany had to be rehabilitated. It was better not
to shine upon it the withering light of moral scrutiny. Without the cessation of
public inquiry soon after the Nuremberg trials, the Germans would have been
difficult to enlist in the struggle against communism, which at the time was
seen to override all other considerations. Investigating the widespread
criminality of large segments of the Western populace and their institutions,
especially in Germany, would have created for the Soviets a devastating
propaganda and moral bonanza. And after all, within Germany and many other
countries whose populations participated to some significant degree in the
persecution and the mass murder, such investigations would have tarnished
(further) the national self-image and led to the condemnation of many of their
citizens for having persecuted or killed members of a people, the Jews, who were
still widely demonized and hated. For this there was little appetite. Looking
forward rather than backward was the safe and chosen path.