The Complicated Story of Jesuits and the Holocaust

December 7, 2020 | Rich Tenorio
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Since its founding by Ignatius Loyola in 1534, the Society of Jesus has been one of the most influential Catholic orders. In a new book, James Bernauer, himself a Jesuit priest, describes the deafening silence—and worse—that characterized many of his fellow Jesuits reaction to Nazi persecution of the Jews, as well as the heroic actions of a select few. Rich Tenorio writes:

When the Nazis launched the Kristallnacht pogrom against Jews during November 9-10, 1938, the reaction from many religious leaders was muted. Most Catholic leaders in Germany did not criticize the destructive pogrom and across the Atlantic, there was similar silence from the flagship Jesuit journal America.

But a new book portrays how not all Jesuits . . . kept silent about the Nazis. The daringly titled Jesuit Kaddish: Jesuits, Jews, and Holocaust Remembrance depicts how some priests joined the resistance, some gave their lives to it, and fifteen even became recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.

Yet it’s those who did not speak out—or who even joined the Wehrmacht as chaplains—who remain a primary source of concern for [the] author. . . . The book discusses individual Jesuits’ hostility to Jews and Judaism through World War II, expressed not only through anti-Semitism but also what Bernauer calls “asemitism”—a belief in a world without Jews.

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