The Church as Sinner
(Top Posts - History
Sword : The Church
and the Jews: A History
Book Review, January 8, 2001
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"Here's a historical puzzle, for those with the stomach
for it. How is it that the Jews survived the first Christian
The church, from the moment of its embrace by the
Roman Emperor Constantine in the 4th century, enjoyed
immense power and employed it with ruthless efficiency
to eliminate dozens of heresies and pagan creeds.
Its relationship with Judaism, its spiritual predecessor
and the first challenger to its claims for Christ, was
Why, then, were the Jews permitted to live--and be
The answer ... is St. Augustine.
In the year 425, shortly after Christians slaughtered the
Jews of Alexandria in the first recorded pogrom, the
influential church father cautioned, 'Do not slay them.'
He preferred that the Jews be preserved, close at hand,
as unwilling witnesses to Old Testament prophecies
Augustine's followers elaborated on the idea, writes
Carroll: Jews 'must be allowed to survive, but never to
thrive,' so their misery would be 'proper punishments
for their refusal to recognize the truth of the Church's
The 18th century Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelsohn
noted that were it not for Augustine's 'lovely brainwave,
we would have been exterminated long ago.' But it was
a warped, creepy kind of sufferance, a little like keeping
someone chained to the radiator instead of doing him in.
And it set the stage for countless persecutions as the
Christian-Jewish saga rolled on. ...
Anti-Judaism, he writes, has been at the very center of
Catholic theology at least since the Gospel of John, and
the church has allowed, encouraged and--in the case of
the Inquisition--chartered the foulest of abuses. ...
Carroll portrays Hitler as the heir to such church-sanc-
tioned haters as St. John Chrysostom and Torquemada.
'By tapping into a deep, ever-fresh reservoir of Christian
hatred of Jews,' he writes, the German dictator made the
Catholic Church 'an accomplice in history's worst crime.' ...
Jesus' first mourners, who considered themselves Jewish,
engaged in earnest critiques of their faith; but the authors
of the Gospels, by then feuding with the Jews, calcified
those critiques as slanders.
Constantine's use of Christianity to unify his far-flung
empire effectively declared open season on all nonbe-
Church fathers (by now influential Romans themselves)
assigned the villain's role in the Crucifixion to the Jews
rather than to Rome.
As Europe was unified under the Cross, the Jews, pre-
served yet ghettoized per Augustine's instructions, became
the Continent's captive 'other,' slaughtered as a warm-up
for Muslims in the First Crusade and as scapegoats during
the Black Death.
Whereas church historians--and philosopher Hannah Arendt
in the 1950s--distinguished between Catholic anti-Judaism
and the racial anti-Semitism of the 20th century, Carroll
maintains that the demarcation first collapsed far earlier,
when the Spanish Inquisition targeted Jewish converts to
Christianity strictly on the basis of their 'impure' blood. ...
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Constantine's Sword : The Church
and the Jews: A History (January 10, 2001)
by James Carroll
Book Description Excerpt: "... maps the profoundly
troubling two-thousand-year course of the battle
against Judaism and faces the crisis of faith it has
provoked in his own life as a Catholic.
More than a chronicle of religion, this dark history
is the central tragedy of Western civilization, its
fault lines reaching deep into our culture.
The Church's failure to protest the Holocaust -- the
infamous 'silence' of Pius XII -- is only part of the
story: the death camps, Carroll shows, are the culmin-
ation of a long, entrenched tradition of anti-Judaism.
From Gospel accounts of the death of Jesus on the
cross, to Constantine's transformation of the cross
into a sword, to the rise of blood libels, scapegoating,
and modern anti-Semitism, Carroll reconstructs the
dramatic story of the Church's conflict not only with
Jews but with itself. ..."
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Further references, from the Encyclopedia Britannica:
Excerpt: "Hostility toward or discrimination against
Jews as a religious or racial group. The term 'anti-
Semitism' was coined in 1879 by the German agitator
Wilhelm Marr to designate the anti-Jewish campaigns
underway in central Europe at that time. ...
As Christianity spread, most Jews continued to reject
that religion. As a consequence, by the 4th century AD,
Christians tended to regard Jews as the crucifiers of
Christ and as an alien people who, because of their
repudiation of Christ and his church, had lost their
homeland and were condemned to perpetual migra-
When the Christian church became dominant in the
Roman Empire, its leaders inspired many laws by
Roman emperors designed to segregate Jews from
Christian believers and to curtail Jews' religious
rights when they appeared to threaten Christian
In much of Europe during the Middle Ages, Jews
were denied citizenship and its rights, barred from
holding posts in government and the military, and
excluded from membership in guilds and the pro-
The ritual-murder canard, or blood libel--i.e., Jews'
alleged sacrifice of Christian children at Passover
in order to obtain blood for unleavened bread--
was first made in the 12th century. The legend was
revived sporadically in eastern Europe and Poland
and, in the 1930s, became part of Nazi anti-Semitic
Another instrument of 12th-century anti-Semitism,
the compulsory yellow badge that identified the
wearer as a Jew, was also adopted by the Nazis.
The practice of segregating the Jewish populations
of towns and cities into ghettos dates from the
Middle Ages and lasted until the 19th and early
20th centuries in much of Europe. ...
As European commerce grew in the late Middle
Ages, some Jews became prominent in trade,
banking, and moneylending, and the Jews' econo-
mic and cultural successes tended to arouse the
envy of the populace.
This economic resentment, allied with traditional
religious prejudice, prompted the forced expul-
sion of Jews from several countries or regions,
including England (1290), France (14th century),
Germany (1350s), Portugal (1496), Provence
(1512), and the Papal States (1569).
Intensifying persecutions by the Inquisition in
Spain culminated in 1492 in the forced expulsion
of that country's large and old-established Jewish
population. Only Jews who had converted to
Christianity were allowed to remain. The result
of these mass expulsions was that the centres
of Jewish life shifted from western Europe and
Germany to Turkey and then to Poland and
The end of the Middle Ages brought no major
changes in Jews' position in Europe, and the
Counter-Reformation renewed anti-Jewish
legislation and reinforced the system of ghetto
segregation in Roman Catholic countries.
Jews remained subject to occasional massacres,
such as those that occurred during wars between
Eastern Orthodox Ukrainians and Roman Catholic
Poles in the mid-17th century, which rivaled the
worst massacres of Jews by Crusaders in the
Periodic persecutions of Jews continued until
the late 18th century, when the Enlightenment
and the French Revolution brought Europe
a new religious freedom. ...
In Germany and Austria in the late 19th century,
anti-Semitism became an organized movement
with its own political parties. ...
The storm of anti-Semitic violence that was let
loose by Nazi Germany under the leadership of
Adolf Hitler in 1933-45 not only reached a ter-
rifying degree in Germany itself but also inspired
anti-Jewish movements elsewhere. ...
In Germany anti-Semitism became official govern-
ment policy--taught in the schools and elaborated
in 'scientific' journals, research institutes, and by
a huge, highly effective organization for inter-
In 1941 the liquidation of European Jewry became
official party policy. An estimated 5,700,000 Jews
were exterminated in such death camps as Auschwitz,
Chelmno, Belzec, Majdanek, and Treblinka during
World War II. ...
For many centuries, Islamic societies had tolerated
Jews but had made them pay special taxes, wear
identifying clothing, and live in specified areas.
Jews were thus treated much as other nonbelievers
were in Muslim societies.
But the emigration of large numbers of Jews to
Palestine in the 20th century and the creation of
the state of Israel (1948) aroused new currents
of hostility within the Arab world. Because the
Arabs are Semitic, their hostility to the state of
Israel has been primarily political (or anti-Zionist)
and religious rather than racial. ..."
Excerpt: "... Elements of the Church spoke out
during the 1930s against the Nazi persecution of
the Jews, but the majority of Christian religious
figures in Europe remained silent, even during the
Holocaust (near extermination of European Jews).
In response to the Holocaust, however, the World
Council of Churches denounced anti-Semitism in
1946, and in 1965 the Roman Catholic Church's
Schema on the Jews and other non-Christian reli-
gions, adopted by the Second Vatican Council,
revised its traditional attitude toward the Jews as
the killers of Christ.
A growing sense of ecumenism (of fellowship
and common concerns) has been shared by Jews
and Christians alike. Although there remain many
difficulties related to the question of the place that
Zionism and the State of Israel hold within Judaism,
the older forms of official church anti-Semitism
have radically lessened. ..."
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The Relation of the Early
Church to Late Judaism
Excerpt: "Christianity began as a movement within
Judaism at a period when the Jews had long been
under foreign influence and rule and had found in
their religion (rather than in their politics or cultural
achievements) the linchpin of their community.
From Amos (8th century BC) onward the religion
of Israel was marked by tension between the
concept of monotheism, with its universal ideal
of salvation (for all nations), and the notion of
God's special choice of Israel.
In the age after Alexander the Great (i.e., the Hel-
lenistic period, 3rd century BC-3rd century AD),
the dispersion of the Jews throughout the Hellen-
istic kingdoms and the Roman Empire gave some
impetus to the universalistic tendency. ..."
- - -
Excerpt: "Hebrew Sho'ah, Yiddish and Hebrew Hurban
('Destruction') the systematic state-sponsored killing of
six million Jewish men, women, and children and millions
of others by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during
World War II.
The Germans called this 'the final solution to the Jewish
question.' The word Holocaust is derived from the Greek
holokauston, a translation of the Hebrew word 'olah, mean-
ing a burnt sacrifice offered whole to God. This word was
chosen because in the ultimate manifestation of the Nazi
killing program-the extermination camps-the bodies of
the victims were consumed whole in crematoria and open
Nazi anti-Semitism and the origins of the Holocaust
Except: "... Nazi anti-Semitism was rooted in religious anti-
Semitism and enhanced by political anti-Semitism. To this
the Nazis added a further dimension: racial anti-Semitism.
Nazi racial ideology characterized the Jews as Untermen-
schen (German: "subhumans"). The Nazis portrayed Jews
as a race and not a religious group. Religious anti-Semitism
could be resolved by conversion, political anti-Semitism by
expulsion. Ultimately, the logic of Nazi racial anti-Semitism
led to annihilation.
When Hitler came to power legally on January 30, 1933, as
the head of a coalition government, his first objective was to
consolidate power and to eliminate political opposition. The
assault against the Jews began on April 1 with a boycott of
A week later the Nazis dismissed Jews from the civil service,
and by the end of the month, the participation of Jews in Ger-
man schools was restricted by a quota. On May 10, thousands
of Nazi students, together with many professors, stormed uni-
versity libraries and bookstores in 30 cities throughout Ger-
many to remove tens of thousands of books written by non-
Aryans and those opposed to Nazi ideology.
The books were tossed into bonfires in an effort to cleanse
German culture of 'un-Germanic' writings. A century earlier,
Heinrich Heine-a German poet of Jewish origin-had said,
'Where one burns books, one will, in the end, burn people.'
In Nazi Germany, the time between the burning of Jewish
books and the burning of Jews was eight years. ...
On the evening of November 9, 1938, carefully orchestrated
anti-Jewish violence 'erupted' throughout the Reich, which
since March had included Austria. Over the next 48 hours
rioters burned or damaged more than 1,000 synagogues and
ransacked and broke the windows of more than 7,500 busi-
The Nazis arrested some 30,000 Jewish men between the
ages of 16 and 60 and sent them to concentration camps.
Police stood by as the violence-often the action of neigh-
bours, not strangers-occurred. Firemen were present not
to protect the synagogues but to ensure that the flames did
not spread to adjacent 'Aryan' property. The pogrom was
given a quaint name: Kristallnacht ('Crystal Night,' or 'Night
of Broken Glass'). In its aftermath, Jews lost the illusion that
they had a future in Germany. ..."
Non-Jewish victims of Nazism
Excerpt: "While Jews were the primary victims of Nazism
as it evolved and were central to Nazi racial ideology, other
groups were victimized as well-some for what they did,
some for what they refused to do, and some for what they
Political dissidents, trade unionists, and Social Democrats
were among the first to be arrested and incarcerated in con-
centration camps. Under the Weimar government, centuries-
old prohibitions against homosexuality had been overlooked,
but this tolerance ended violently when the SA (Storm Troop-
ers) began raiding gay bars in 1933.
Homosexual intent became just cause for prosecution. The
Nazis arrested German and Austrian male homosexuals-there
was no systematic persecution of lesbians-and interned them
in concentration camps, where they were forced to wear special
yellow armbands and later pink triangles.
Jehovah's Witnesses were a problem for the Nazis because
they refused to swear allegiance to the state, register for the
draft, or utter the words "Heil Hitler." As a result the Nazis
imprisoned many of the roughly 20,000 Witnesses in Germany.
The Nazis also singled out the Roma (Gypsies). They were
the only other group that the Nazis systematically killed in gas
chambers alongside the Jews.
In 1939 the Germans initiated the T4 Program-framed euphe-
mistically as a 'euthanasia' program-for the murder of mentally
retarded, physically disabled, and emotionally disturbed Ger-
mans who departed from the Nazi ideal of Aryan supremacy.
The Nazis pioneered the use of gas chambers and mass crema-
toria under this program.
Following the invasion of Poland, German occupation policy
especially targeted the Jews but also brutalized non-Jewish
Poles. In pursuit of Lebensraum ('living space'), Germany
sought systematically to destroy Polish society and nation-
hood. The Nazis killed Polish priests and politicians, deci-
mated the Polish leadership, and kidnapped the children of
the Polish elite, who were raised as 'voluntary Aryans' by their
new German 'parents.' Many Poles were also forced to per-
form hard labour on survival diets, deprived of property and
uprooted, and interned in concentration camps. ...
When Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, the
'Jewish question" became urgent. When the division of Poland
between Germany and the Soviet Union was complete, more
than two million more Jews had come under German control.
For a time, the Nazis considered shipping the Jews to the island
of Madagascar, off the southeast coast of Africa. But as the
seas became a war zone and the resources required for such
a massive deportation scarce, they discarded the plan as im-
On September 21, 1939, Reinhard Heydrich ordered the esta-
blishment of the Judenräte ('Jewish Councils'), comprising up
to 24 men-rabbis and Jewish leaders. Heydrich's order made
these councils personally responsible in 'the literal sense of the
term' for carrying out German orders.
When the Nazis sealed the Warsaw Ghetto, the largest of
German-occupied Poland's 400 ghettos, in the fall of 1940,
the Jews-then 30 percent of Warsaw's population-were
forced into 2.4 percent of the city's area. The ghetto's popu-
lation reached a density of over 200,000 persons per square
mile (77,000 per square km) and 9.2 per room. Disease, mal-
nutrition, hunger, and poverty took their toll even before the
first bullet was fired.
For the German rulers, the ghetto was a temporary measure,
a holding pen for the Jewish population until a policy on its
fate could be established and implemented. For the Jews,
ghetto life was the situation under which they thought they
would be forced to live until the end of the war. They aimed
to make life bearable, even under the most trying circum-
When the Nazis prohibited schools, they opened clandestine
schools. When the Nazis banned religious life, it persisted in
hiding. The Jews used humour as a means of defiance, so too
song. They resorted to arms only late in the Nazi assault.
Historians differ on the date of the decision to murder Jews
systematically, the so-called 'final solution to the Jewish ques-
tion.' There is debate about whether there was one central
decision or a series of regional decisions in response to local
conditions; but in either case, when Germany attacked the
Soviet Union, its former ally, in June of 1941, the Nazis be-
gan the systematic killing of Jews."
Excerpt: "Entering conquered Soviet territories alongside the
Wehrmacht (the German armed forces) were 3,000 men of
the Einsatzgruppen ('deployment groups'), special mobile
killing units. Their task was to murder Jews, Soviet commis-
sars, and Roma in the areas conquered by the army. Alone
or with the help of local police, native anti-Semitic popula-
tions, and accompanying Axis troops, the Einsatzgruppen
would enter a town, round up their victims, herd them to the
outskirts of the town, and shoot them.
They killed Jews in family units. Just outside Kiev, Ukraine,
in the valley of Baby Yar, an Einsatzgruppe killed 33,771
Jews on September 28-29, 1941. In the Rumbula Forest
outside the ghetto in Riga, Latvia, 25,000-28,000 Jews died
on November 30 and December 8-9. Beginning in the sum-
mer of 1941, Einsatzgruppen killed more than 70,000 Jews
at Ponary, outside Vilna (now Vilnius) in Lithuania. They
slaughtered 9,000 Jews, half of them children, at the Ninth
Fort adjacent to Kovno (now Kaunas), Lithuania, on Octo-
The mass shootings continued unabated, with a first wave
and then a second. When the killing ended in the face of a
Soviet counteroffensive, special units returned to dig up the
dead and burn their bodies to destroy the evidence of the
crimes. It is estimated that the Einsatzgruppen killed more
than one million people, most of whom were Jews.
Historians are divided about the motivations of the members
of Einsatzgruppen. Christopher Browning describes them as
ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances in which con-
formity, peer pressure, careerism, obedience to orders, and
group solidarity gradually overcame moral inhibitions.
Daniel Goldhagen sees them as 'willing executioners,' sharing
Hitler's vision of genocidal anti-Semitism and finding their
tasks unpleasant but necessary. Both concur that no Einsatz-
gruppe member faced punishment if he asked to be excused.
Individuals had a choice whether to participate or not. Almost
all chose to become killers.
The extermination camps
... In early 1942 the Nazis built extermination camps at Tre-
blinka, Sobibor, and Belzec in Poland. The death camps
were to be the essential instrument of the 'final solution.' The
Einsatzgruppen had traveled to kill their victims. With the
extermination camps, the process was reversed. The victims
traveled by train, often in cattle cars, to their killers. The ex-
termination camps became factories producing corpses,
effectively and efficiently, at minimal physical and psycho-
logical cost to German personnel.
Assisted by Ukrainian and Latvian collaborators and prisoners
of war, a few Germans could kill tens of thousands of pris-
oners each month. At Chelmno, the first of the extermination
camps, the Nazis used mobile gas vans. Elsewhere, they built
permanent gas chambers linked to the crematoria where bod-
ies were burned. Carbon monoxide was the gas of choice at
most camps. Zyklon-B, an especially lethal killing agent, was
employed primarily at Auschwitz and later at other camps.
Auschwitz, perhaps the most notorious and lethal of the con-
centration camps, was actually three camps in one: a prison
camp (Auschwitz I), an extermination camp (Auschwitz II-
Birkenau), and a slave-labour camp (Auschwitz III-Buna-
Upon arrival, Jewish prisoners faced what was called a Selek-
tion. A German doctor presided over the selection of pregnant
women, young children, the elderly, handicapped, sick, and
infirm for immediate death in the gas chambers. As necessary,
the Germans selected able-bodied prisoners for forced labour
in the factories adjacent to Auschwitz where one German com-
pany, IG Farben, invested 700,000 million Reichsmarks in 1942
alone to take advantage of forced labour.
Deprived of adequate food, shelter, clothing, and medical care,
these prisoners were literally worked to death. Periodically, they
would face another Selektion. The Nazis would transfer those
unable to work to the gas chambers of Birkenau.
While the death camps at Auschwitz and Majdanek used in-
mates for slave labour to support the German war effort, the
extermination camps at Belzec, Treblinka, and Sobibor had
one task alone: killing. At Treblinka, a staff of 120, of whom
only 30 were SS (the Nazi paramilitary corps), killed some
750,000 to 900,000 Jews during the camp's 17 months of
At Belzec, German records detail a staff of 104, including
about 20 SS, who killed some 600,000 Jews in less than 10
months. At Sobibor, they murdered about 250,000. These
camps began operation during the spring and summer of 1942,
when the ghettos of German-occupied Poland were filled with
Jews. Once they had completed their missions-murder by
gassing, or 'resettlement in the east,' to use the language of
the Wannsee protocols-the Nazis closed the camps.
There were six extermination camps, all in German-occupied
Poland, among the thousands of concentration and slave-
labour camps throughout German-occupied Europe.
The impact of the Holocaust varied from region to region, and
from year to year in the 21 countries that were directly affected.
Nowhere was the Holocaust more intense and sudden than in
Hungary. What took place over several years in Germany oc-
curred over 16 weeks in Hungary.
Entering the war as a German ally, Hungary had persecuted its
Jews but not permitted their deportation. After Germany invaded
Hungary on March 19, 1944, this situation changed dramatically.
By mid-April the Nazis had confined Jews to ghettos. On May
15, deportations began, and over the next 55 days, the Nazis
deported some 438,000 Jews from Hungary to Auschwitz on
147 trains. ..."
Excerpt: "... By the winter of 1944-45, with Allied armies
closing in, desperate SS officials tried frantically to evacuate
the camps and conceal what had taken place. They wanted
no eyewitnesses remaining.
Prisoners were moved westward, forced to march toward the
heartland of Germany. There were over 50 different marches
from Nazi concentration and extermination camps during this
final winter of Nazi domination, some covering hundreds of
miles. The prisoners were given little or no food and water,
and almost no time to rest or take care of bodily needs. Those
who paused or fell behind were shot.
In January 1945, just hours before the Red Army arrived at Ausch-
witz, the Nazis marched some 60,000 prisoners to Wodzislaw and
put them on freight trains to the camps at Bergen-Belsen, Gross-
Rosen, Buchenwald, Dachau, and Mauthausen. Nearly one in four
died en route.
In April and May of 1945, American and British forces en route
to military targets entered the concentration camps in the west
and caught a glimpse of what had occurred. Even though tens
of thousands of prisoners had perished, these camps were far
from the most deadly. Still, even for the battle-weary soldiers
who thought they had already seen the worst, the sights and
smells and the emaciated survivors they encountered left an in-
At Dachau they came upon 28 railway cars stuffed with dead
bodies. Conditions were so horrendous at Bergen-Belsen that
some 28,000 inmates died after they were freed, and the entire
camp had to be burned to prevent the spread of typhus. Allied
soldiers had to perform tasks for which they were ill-trained: to
heal the sick, comfort the bereaved, and bury the dead.
As for the victims, liberation was not a moment of exultation.
Viktor Frankl, a survivor of Auschwitz, recalled, 'Everything
was unreal. Unlikely as in a dream. Only later-and for some it
was very much later or never-was liberation actually liberating.'
The Allies, who had early and accurate information on the mur-
der of the Jews, made no special military efforts to rescue them
or to bomb the camps or the railroad tracks leading to them.
(See Sidebar: Why wasn't Auschwitz bombed?) They felt that
only after victory could something be done about the Jewish
Warnings were issued, condemnations were made, plans pro-
ceeded to try the guilty after the war, but no concrete action was
undertaken specifically to halt the genocide. An internal memo to
U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr., from his
general counsel in January 1944 characterized U.S. State Depart-
ment policy as 'acquiescence to the murder of the European
Jews.' In response Morgenthau helped spur the creation of the
War Refugee Board, which made a late and limited effort to res-
cue endangered Jews, mainly through diplomacy and subterfuge.
Although the Germans killed victims from several groups, the
Holocaust is primarily associated with the murder of the Jews.
Only the Jews were targeted for total annihilation, and their
elimination was central to Hitler's vision of the 'New Germany.'
The intensity of the Nazi campaign against the Jews continued
unabated to the very end of the war and at points even took
priority over German military efforts. ...
The defeat of Nazi Germany left a bitter legacy for the German
leadership and people. Germans had committed crimes in the
name of the German people. German culture and the German
leadership-political, intellectual, social, and religious-had
participated or been complicit in the Nazi crimes or been inef-
fective in opposing them. ..."
Excerpt: "... Conclusion - Today the Holocaust is viewed as
the emblematic manifestation of absolute evil. Its revelation of
the depths of human nature and the power of malevolent social
and governmental structures has made it an essential topic of
ethical discourse in fields as diverse as law, medicine, religion,
government, and the military.
Many survivors report they heard a final plea from those who
were killed: 'Remember! Do not let the world forget.' To this
responsibility to those they left behind, survivors have added
a plea of their own: 'Never again.' Never for the Jewish people.
Never for any people. They hope that remembrance of the
Holocaust can prevent its recurrence. ..."
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