Yehuda Bauer, "Christian Behavior During the Holocaust," Jewish Spectator 43:3 (1978) 17-21

Abstract by Jerry Darring


Bauer's article summarizes the way Christians behaved during the Holocaust in these countries: Italy, Denmark, Belgium, Holland, France, and Germany. Italians were not very antisemitic, and many Italians actively helped Jews. The Danes rescued most of the Danish Jews not out of love for Jews but because the Danes saw their national identity being threatened. About half of the Jewish population in Belgium survived with the help of the Belgian underground, church dignitaries and institutions, and the royal family. What made the difference was "hatred of the German occupant, coupled with a democratic background and a humanitarian interpretation of religious and secular political dogmas" (p. 18). The Dutch managed to save 16,000 of its 140,000 Jews, mainly because of widespread opposition to Nazi policies, including those against the Jews. France was a more complex case. In both the occupied northern half and in the Vichy southern half, antisemitism was strong and Jews were mistreated and deported. There were, however, two parallel French entities, one supporting the Vichy regime and the other opposing it, and the opponents were successful in hiding many Jews.

It is clear, then, that "there can be no talk of the behavior of the Catholic church, though one can legitimately talk of the Vatican's policy" (p. 19). The Vatican did some "circumspect and secret" intervening, but it could have saved the Jews of Rome. Among Christians there was "the most amazing variety of reponses" (p. 20). Their attitude was determined by "family background, personal convictions, and what one may call moral fiber" (p. 20). Germany is the most difficult country to analyze, but Bauer concludes that "the German population was characterized more by apathy, indifference, discomfort at the thought of what was happening to the Jews, and fear of the Nazi authorities, than by active agreement with Nazi policies" (p. 20).

Bauer concludes that the Jews were powerless except where they encountered people endowed with mercy, compassion, and loving kindness. In most places the people they met did not possess these qualities.