Robert F. Drinan, "The Christian Response to the Holocaust," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 450 (1980) 179-189

Abstract by Jerry Darring


The reaction of the Christian community to the Holocaust can generally be described as mild, vague, and belated.

Antisemitism and the Christian tradition. Christian churches have begun to reappraise their teachings and to acknowledge their past complicity in antisemitism.

The German Churches. The silence of the German churches was based on "prudence, fear of the consequences..., and reluctance to alienate public opinion by undermining what were perceived to be national interest and national unity" (p. 182). The German churches were much more passive than those in France, Belgium, and Holland. Since the war German churches have begun to address these issues.

The Holy See. The pontificate of Pope Pius XII is controversial, and a clear judgment may never be possible. It could be that "Christian response to antisemitic measures by the Nazis was determined less by the policy of the Holy See or other religious authorities than by national feeling and popular attitudes in each country" (p. 183).

Other countries. The churches' efforts in occupied countries had little effect, except in Denmark. In the satellite nations (Slovakia, Rumania, Bulgaria, Hungary) the churches were sometimes able to mitigate the suffering of the Jews. Church protests came too late, except in Denmark and Holland, and in Norway they were unable to prevent the deportations. In France there were protests, but they were largely ignored, nor did the protests in Greece and Hungary have any effect. The Belgian churches moved from moderate cooperation with the Occupation to opposition. The church in Britain publicly expressed "horror at the persecution of the Jews."

United States. Public condemnations were balanced by popular sentiments of antisemitism. In general, "sustained public pressure by the Christian community in America as in Europe was largely inadequate and ineffective" (p. 187).

Drinan concludes with a call for dialogue; for increased concern for human rights, for the ethical character of modern education, and for Holocaust history; and for Holocaust remembrance among Christians.