Sunday, May 26, 2013

Some closing thoughts on ADSS 3.

Over the last month or so I have been working my way through references to Jews in the 605 documents of  ADSS Volume 3.  This volume, covering Poland, the Baltic States and Ukraine, is divided into two parts - 1939-1941 and 1942-1945.  There are a couple of overarching themes that I believe helps us understand why there is so little direct reference to the persecution of the Jews of Eastern Europe - 16 documents in total. 

On a first reading this seems strange.  The vast majority of Jews were murdered "in the East" either through the ghettos and forced labour camps, or in the slaughter led by the Einsatzgruppen and then in the extermination camps.  However, this part of the world have already become a source of significant organised death under Stalin in the mid to late 1930s before the German invasion in 1941.  Nonetheless, in the period 1933-1945 Timothy Snyder convincingly argues for a death toll in the region of 14 million.  Snyder's name for this extraordinarily bleak episode in European history is the very apt - Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin.  It is a book well worth reading in order to get a more comprehensive perspective on the scope and scale of the killing programs of both Hitler and Stalin's regimes.  

One of the first victims of Stalin's ruthless programs conducted in the Ukraine were the Christian churches.  The Ukrainian Greek Catholic church was singled out for particular persecution.  So fierce was the attack by the Soviet Union on the Ukrainian Catholics that the German invaders were greeted as liberators and ensured, at least for a time, that Ukrainian Catholics would be inclined to support the New Order.

Under German rule Poland was decimated through a systematic attempt to destroy the infrastructure of Polish culture and religion.  In no other country was the Catholic church subjected to such intense persecution.  It is an historical fact that the majority of Poland's clergy - higher and lower - remained faithful to their ministry and attempted to continue the life of the church as best they could.

Life in the Baltic States was a little less severe.  Given that the Germans regarded many of the Baltic peoples as "racial allied" the church was tolerated as long as it did not step outside of very carefully defined parameters.  Prior to the German invasion in the summer of 1941, the Soviet occupation had been marked with a major anti-Christian campaign that saw hundreds of believers and many clergy deported to Siberia.  Consequently, the German invasion was welcomed by many in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in the same manner as the Ukraine.  

So, were are the Jews?  ADSS 3 contains much material that gives us a valuable insight into the conditions that governed life for the church in Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic States.  Life was tough, of that there was no dispute.  The degree of "toughness" varied from place to place.  For the first part of the German occupation of Poland the main direction of persecution was directed at the annihilation of Polish national life and culture.  Jews were a secondary concern in that process.  Most Jews caught up in the first stage of German anti-Polish action were members of the intelligentsia or the professions.  Other Jews were among those expelled from the newly annexed areas of Wartheland and the expanded Gau East Prussia and Danzig. The establishment of the ghettos across Poland throughout 1940 heralded a new stage in Nazi persecution, but was not of itself an indicator of intent to destroy.  

As conditions worsened in Poland the primary concern of the Catholic church was survival.  There was simply far too little energy or resources to dedicate to an organised plan of assistance for Polish Jews.  And this was, I argue, the best case scenario.  The horrible reality for the Jews of Poland was the awakening realisation that there were isolated from the rest of the Poland, indeed there were isolated from the rest of the world.  The scale of German terror was such that resistance was minimal until at least 1943 when the prospect of a German defeat began to take shape.  However, there were some Catholics who did go to the aid of their Jewish neighbours.

References to Jews in ADSS 3 are limited to peripheral mentions.  If the documents of ADSS are an authentic selection of the complete archive, it is clear that for the authors of these documents, the position of the Jews was not a significant priority.  Most of the information of the persecution of Jews "in the East" comes from other volumes.  It is also important to remember that Rome had no official representation in Eastern Europe after 1939-1941.  The German nuncio, Cesare Orsenigo, was technically responsible for Poland and the Baltic States, but was consistently refused permission to travel through the occupied East to meet with bishops.  

The paucity of details about the Jews of Eastern Europe in ADSS 3 does not suggest that all the bishops, apostolic administrators, vicars general etc were antisemitic or did not care.  I suggest that the concerns of maintaining some form of Catholic life demanded all their energy and resources.

One other fact also needs to be kept in mind.  The volume of material found in ADSS 3 is proportionally less than the material found in the other volumes.  From 1943 onwards as the Red Army began its march westwards the amount of material from Eastern Europe begins to diminish.  By 1945 the Vatican had little to no accurate information from Poland, Ukraine or the Baltic States.

These are general comments that reflect some of the things I have been thinking about as I finished my study of this very important volume.

And I recommend reading Snyder's book.






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