Under the Wings of the Church
Christian conduct during the Holocaust continues to challenge the Christian world well into the 21st century. Confronted with the murder of the Jews, many church leaders and clergy remained silent, and some even collaborated. A few – from all Christian denominations – risked their lives to save Jews or spoke out loudly against the murder of the Jews.
Many factors played a role in influencing the behavior of church leaders and clergy when confronted with the murder of the Jews.Christian anti-Jewish traditions provided essential elements that contributed to Nazi Germany’s ability to implement the murder of the Jews. Centuries of ‘teaching of contempt’ prepared the ground for casting out the Jews. In consequence, large sections of the European populations were hostile to the Jews or remained indifferent to their plight. They did not consider the Jews to be a part of their universe of moral obligation. Even though Nazi racial anti-Semitism differed from Christian traditional anti-Judaism, it strongly built on existing prejudices which enabled the harnessing of wide circles of society to the exclusion of the Jews, which was later replaced by a genocidal program to exterminate them.
The lack of overt and unequivocal guidance by the Vatican left the decision to initiate rescue of Jews to the heads of Catholic institutions. Some superiors of convents, monasteries and other intuitions opened their doors to Jewish fugitives, sometimes with the knowledge of the Vatican. In some cases Bishops and other Catholic leaders called on their clergy and believers to help the Jews. There were religious leaders of all Christian denominations who believed it was their Christian duty to protect Jews and who took great risks to save the persecuted. Some of these Righteous Among the Nations even manifested profound respect for the faith of their protégées; they not only saved their lives, but also helped them adhere to their religious teaching – celebrating holidays, praying and following Jewish religious rules - while in hiding.