Main Menu  


Contemporary Catholic Belief and Action


AJC expresses "profound concern" 
over proposed beatification of 
Polish wartime Primate, August Hlond. 
AJC, (the American Jewish Committee) has made known its "profound concerns" over the proposed canonization of Cardinal August Hlond, Primate of Poland during and following the Second World War, in a letter to Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with Jews, from Rabbi David Rosen, AJC's International Director of Interreligious Affairs. The letter has been shared with the Vatican Secretariat of State and the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. 

On May 15, the members of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints voted in favor of his Cause and have passed it on to Pope Francis for his final approval. Francis had previously confirmed the attribution of "heroic virtues" to Cardinal August Hlond, an essential step towards canonization.  
"While realizing that the Holy See has its own criteria for the cause of canonization, such a step will be perceived within the Jewish community and beyond as an expression of approval (or at least of an absence of condemnation) of Cardinal Hlond's extremely negative approach towards the Jewish community" wrote Rabbi Rosen. 

Cardinal Hlond, a militant opponent of Nazi Germany as well as of Communist Russia, was sent to Rome in 1939 to report on the Nazi persecutions of the Catholic Church in Poland (but not on the massacre of Jews) using Vatican media. Paradoxically, his fervent support of freedom and opposition to oppression did not exclude a fanatic antisemitism on his part. 
An immediate observation might be that while the conferring of sainthood is primarily an internal Catholic matter, it also becomes a relevant issue to those, such as Jews, whose destinies have been interwoven with Church policies throughout the centuries, and who have severely suffered from the consequences of anti-Semitic preaching -- definitively decried in 1965 by The Vatican II document, "Nostra Aetate".  

In his letter, Rabbi Rosen referred to a series of statements and events illustrating the highly problematic choice of preparing to declare Cardinal Hlond a Saint, universally interpreted as an example to be held as a religious symbol of righteousness and faithfulness to Catholic moral teachings for future generations.  
A 1936 pastoral letter on Catholic moral principles by the Polish Primate states, "So long as Jews remain Jews, a Jewish problem exists and will continue to exist (...) It is a fact that Jews are waging war against the Catholic church, that they are steeped in free-thinking, and constitute the vanguard of atheism, the Bolshevik movement, and revolutionary activity. It is a fact that Jews have a corruptive influence on morals and that their publishing houses are spreading pornography. It is true that Jews are perpetrating fraud, practicing usury, and dealing in prostitution. It is true that, from a religious and ethical point of view, Jewish youth are having a negative influence on the Catholic youth in our schools." 
Rabbi Rosen comments that "While he did temper these remarks with an admission that 'not all Jews are this way' and forbade assaults on Jews or attacks on their property, he nevertheless condemned Judaism and Jewry for rejecting Jesus. Moreover he advocated a virtual boycott of Jewish establishments, declaring 'It is good to prefer your own kind when shopping, to avoid Jewish stores and Jewish stalls in the marketplace (...) One should stay away from the harmful moral influence of Jews, keep away from their anti-Christian culture, and especially boycott the Jewish press and demoralizing Jewish publications. (...) We do not honor the indescribable tragedy of that nation, which was the guardian of the idea of the Messiah and from which was born the Savior. When divine mercy enlightens a Jew to sincerely accept his and our Messiah, let us greet him into our Christian ranks with joy.' " 
The letter also cites the unsuccessful attempts of Polish Jewry to receive support from the Episcopate against antisemitism despite founded pleas for defense against incumbent danger. This episode occurred after the war, only two months before the Kielce pogrom. 
The Jewish community of Kielce in southern Poland, had numbered approximately 24,000 people in 1941. In 1945, immediately after the war, only 2 were left in the city. The rest had been murdered either within the town or after being deported to the Treblinka Concentration Camp and gassed. The July 4, 1946 pogrom, though not the worst in Polish history in terms of numbers of victims, was perhaps the most shocking, since it took place over a year after the end of World War II at the hands of fellow Poles, and after the Nazi invaders, who murdered 3 million Polish Jews mostly in the Treblinka Concentration Camp, had been defeated. Only c. 150 surviving Jews had returned, about 0.6% of the original population. After this post-war massacre, in which 42 were murdered and over 40 wounded, the remaining Jewish inhabitants of Kielce emigrated, leaving the town "Judenfrei" - as the Nazis would have described it.  
With a correct assessment and premonitions that a disaster was likely to take place, two months before the actual pogrom, the Chief Rabbi of the Polish Army, Dr. David Kahane and Professor Michael Zilberberg, General Secretary of the Jewish Communities in Poland, tried to arrange a meeting with Cardinal Hlond regarding the atmosphere of hate reigning in the country at the time, hoping the Cardinal would realize the extreme danger being faced by Poland's Jewish communities, which would lead him to take action to counter this atmosphere and prevent a spiral of violence. They had submitted a memorandum on the constant circulation of accusations of ritual murder and the consequent danger of mass pogroms. They recognized that this was a most serious situation. 
On the eve of Passover 1946, notices appeared, warning parents to watch their children, as more children were claimed to be "disappearing." Hateful, mendacious propaganda was being spread. One such notice reported as a fact the slanderous rumor that a rabbi had been caught in a synagogue wearing a bloodstained white cloak, while a little girl, stabbed to death was hanging at his side. This infamous, notoriously popular anti-Semitic blood libel that across the centuries was used to falsely accuse Jews of killing Christian children to use their blood for the baking of the traditional "matzot" or unleavened bread eaten during the 8 day observance of Passover (the Jewish 8 day holiday marking the miraculous exodus from Egypt). The Christian inhabitants of Kielce gathered in mobs to storm the homes of the few surviving Jews, the building of the Jewish Committee, as well as Jewish travellers in a train passing through the railroad station, leaving 42 dead and more than 40 wounded. 
The two Jewish leaders asked the cardinal to issue a pastoral letter to all churches, urging them to intervene on behalf of the Jews. Cardinal Hlond responded by returning the memorandum and refusing to meet with them. 
With notable exceptions, such as that of Bishop Kubina and a few others, who condemned antisemitism and the murder of Jews, the majority of the Polish Church at the time unfortunately shared these positions of antisemitsm.  
An editorial published one year ago by Giorgio Berruto ( reminds us that Hlond was not alone in the Polish Episcopate to propagate antisemitism. He states that the renowned Polish historian close to the Solidarnosc movement, Adam Michnik, wrote a pamphlet reconstructing this crime, in which he published a copy of a report by Bishop Kaczmarek written on September 1 of that year - two months after this post-war pogrom and following the systematic murder of c. 3 million Polish Jews. The text of Kaczmarek's report states, "Jews are the principle agents of the Communist regime" he writes. "Every Jew has a good position and infinite possibilities and facilitations in commerce and industry. The Ministries, positions (posts) abroad, factories, offices, the military, overflow with Jews and always in central positions. European Jews try to demonstrate that they were persecuted in some European countries in order to more easily obtain the possibility to emigrate to Palestine." Further ferocious antisemitic slander completes the report. 
On June 3rd 1946 ,one month before the Kielce pogrom, Joseph Tenenbaum, the president of the World Federation of Polish Jews and Professor Olgierd Gorka, the head of the Jewish Department in Poland's Foreign Office and a leader of the newly formed League to Combat Racism, succeeded in meeting with Cardinal Hlond. But in response to Tenenbaum's plea for some kind of response to the crescendo of anti-Semitic incidences, Cardinal Hlond's cynical reply was, "Jewish Communists are running this country. Why does world Jewry allow them to take over the government and oppress the Christian people?" 
While Tenenbaum replied that this was not the case, the Cardinal insisted that "these Jewish Communists in the Government are at the root of all evil." Furthermore, the Cardinal denied the existence of anti-Jewish violence in Poland since the end of the war and insisted that the crimes were political rather than racial. Tenenbaum and Gorka wanted the Cardinal to issue a statement condemning the murders. The latter refused, insisting that the killers "do not murder Jews as Jews. They just retaliate for the murder of the Christian population by the Jewish Communist- run Polish Government." 
In response, Tenenbaum once again pressed the matter of a pastoral letter, referring to the many Jews that were victims of post-war killings across Poland and presenting Cardinal Hlond with and invoice for burial expenses from Krakow, listing names and ages of the victims, recalling that "such murders are possible only in an anti-Semitic atmosphere. It could not happen on so large a scale, if the populace were not infected with so much poisonous propaganda, and to eliminate the poison from the population is clearly the duty of the Church." 
His pleas were to no avail. On July 4, 1946 the Kielce massacre took place with no intervention from civil or Church authorities. On July 11, 1946, Cardinal Hlond held a press conference but he did not condemn the pogrom nor urge Poles to stop murdering Jews. Rather, he pointed out that the Jews were "all communists or supporters of communism and that the pogrom was their own fault."  
Lisa Billig is AJC Representative to Italy and Liaison to the Holy See 
Quick Links... 

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.