Breaking the silence

McCaffrey, Kathleen

BREAKING THE SILENCE kathleen McCaffrey KLAUS BARBIE & CHURCH DIPLOMACY Lyon, France Once again the role of the Catholic church in World War II has emerged as a subject of controversy, this...

...Some days earlier, the cardinal had evoked the memory of the children of Izieu...
...Early in the morning of April 6, 1944, the children were surprised at the breakfast table by German soldiers who ordered them into trucks just outside...
...Pierre Truche, the general prosecutor, rose...
...The bishops of Grenoble and Chambe'ry, some priests, in particular in Bordeaux and Toulouse, and of course the high Catholic officials in the Vichy government publicly approved the measures taken against Jews...
...One would prefer to believe that the official church, in Rome and in France, worked to its greatest capacity to protect human lives and dignity, even in the most difficult and dangerous of circumstances...
...Overall, however, signals from the Vatican were perceived as mixed...
...In the shadow of the basilica, considered the symbol of Catholic France, the question arose: In the period when Klaus Barbie was torturing even children in the cellars of his prisons and at Gestapo headquartes and deporting thousands to the death camps, what action was the church taking to prevent a human tragedy of unspeakable dimensions...
...With this, the audience froze...
...On the Catholic side, confusion was such that many people allowed themselves to be persuaded that responsibility for the disaster befalling the Jews belonged to the Jews themselves," notes Francois Delpech, a French Catholic historian...
...Church action might have proved particularly effective in Lyon, the center of the French Resistance, one of the most important strategic areas in Western Europe as the war progressed, and the center of Catholicism in France...
...The monsignor replied that he would consider the proposal...
...said the priest to Dr...
...of the separation of children and parents at the selection...
...Sabina Zlatin, now eighty-four, a nurse dismissed from her job under the anti-Jewish laws, had devoted herself to saving children, often taking them from their mothers' arms in the internment camps...
...On July 4 he was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment...
...But these efforts were isolated and few...
...But from a variety of sources research, court testimony, conversations with historians and citizens of Lyon, as well as current French press reports around the trial a clearly disappointing picture emerges of church failure to speak and act forcefully and publicly at crucial moments when its opposition might have made a difference...
...In France, where tens of thousands of Jewish refugees had fled during the 1930s to escape the mounting danger in the East, a sensitivity to anti-Semitism and its alarming proportions sharpened...
...Later, from 1950, when Msgr...
...In the recurring silence of the courtroom, the voice of the witness breaking with emotion, the omni-presence of Catholic Lyon was palpable in the tolling bells of the nearby Cathedral of St...
...All told without Barbie, and when he entered a shiver ran through the hall...
...sexual torture of young girls: all the anguish of interrogation in specially equipped rooms by laughing, often drunken SS...
...of the lines leading to the gas chambers, the constantly smoking crematoria, the smell of burnt flesh everywhere...
...He replied that in the dangerous circumstances this was perhaps not of the greatest importance...
...Later he sheltered the Grand Rabbi of France from the Gestapo, and prevented the arrest and deportation of some fifty Jewish children...
...On the morning of June 2, Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, who testified later in the day at the trial as a survivor of Auschwitz where he, too, had been deported as a boy in the spring of 1944 with his family, met privately with Cardinal Decourtray...
...Working tirelessly, she found safety for many in private homes or in convents...
...of newborns drowned or thrown alive into the fire...
...torture by near drowning in ice water...
...Msgr...
...In his actions and omissions, Pierre Gerlier, cardinal of Lyon during the war, represented the ambiguity of the church...
...At the same time, individual priests were speaking publicly against the increased repression of Jews and taking action...
...Duquaire sought the rehabilitation of Paul Touvier...
...Nichts zu sagen.'' Nothing to say, replied Barbie...
...That went right to my heart," said Madame Zlatin...
...The children arrived at the extermination camp of Auschwitz in mid-April and were sent immediately to the gas chamber...
...Since May 11, Klaus Barbie, Gestapo chief here from November 1942 to August 1944, was on trial for crimes against humanity...
...Duquaire became Cardinal Gerlier's private secretary, through a period in Rome from 1967 to 1979, when he acted as private secretary to Gerlier's successor, Cardinal Villot, named secretary of state at the Vatican, Msgr...
...Without hesitation, they accepted...
...we are all spiritually Semites...
...Costa de Beauregard for assistance...
...During the Barbie trial, Gerlier's official statement of November 18, 1940, "Pe'tain is France, and France is Pe'tain," was repeated often outside the courtroom, as well as in the French press...
...What happened between 1933 and 1937, when he had become deeply impressed by the wave of national socialism...
...It proclaimed itself "detached from all party politics despite any appeal that may be addressed to us...
...Equally compromising was the case of Cardinal Gerlier's private secretary, Msgr...
...Toward the end of the same year, he sent a letter to all the churches in his region, explaining the danger facing Jews and urging that protection be extended...
...And after a long search, she settled on the house in Izieu as a refuge for others...
...Pope Pius XII was elected in March 1939 and thereafter adopted a course of quiet diplomacy, which amounted to his now much-discussed policy of silence...
...The assassinations had been ordered by the Gestapo...
...The meeting was reportedly requested by Mr...
...They ranged in age from three to seventeen...
...BREAKING THE SILENCE kathleen McCaffrey KLAUS BARBIE & CHURCH DIPLOMACY Lyon, France Once again the role of the Catholic church in World War II has emerged as a subject of controversy, this time in Lyon...
...The witnesses accused him of tortures...
...Jean, the seat of the archbishop of Lyon...
...Two of the older boys were deported to Lithuania where they were shot...
...The murder and the memory of the children of Izieu is of deep concern to the current successor of Cardinal Gerlier, the archbishop of Lyon, Albert Cardinal Decourtray, vice419 president of the French episcopate (and rumored to be its next president...
...Duquaire worked for years to protect one of France's most vicious collaborators, Paul Touvier, head of intelligence for the French Milice (the French equivalent of the Gestapo) in Lyon, condemned to death in 1946 and in 1947 for treason, and again sought in the 1980s under an international arrest warrant for crimes against humanity...
...Reifmann received a card with a definitive "no...
...Wiesel, who had been struck by several of the cardinal's statements...
...Religion itself was not a theme at the Barbie trial...
...I would like," he began, "to speak of another Barbie, the Barbie of 1933, a young man of twenty years of age, who spoke movingly of the death of his father, and who as a young Catholic had even devoted himself to others, visiting prisons, full of respect then, it seems, for human dignity...
...In contrast to the Duquaire case, Cardinal Gerlier is credited with certain steps, some highly courageous, that took place after his pro-Pe'tain statement of 1940...
...His desire, at one time, to become a priest . . . ? Barbie declined to reply...
...KATHLEEN McCAFFREY is a free-lance writer based in New York City...
...And testimony at the trial revealed that other members of the clergy behaved similarly...
...The cracking of bones in repeated beatings...
...In 1928, Pope Pius XI, in a decree of the Holy Office, condemned racism and anti-Semitism...
...Speaking of the contemporary necessity to struggle against despair without hiding from reality, he had said: "I do not believe that an adult can achieve the state of true theological hope if he refuses to contemplate the forty-four children of Izieu, deported and burned as were about a million others in the Nazi death camps...
...In July 1941, after a section of the Interior Ministry for "Jewish Questions" had been put under the direction of Xavier Vallat, a conservative Catholic and outspoken anti-Semite, which in turn brought about the even harsher second Jewish statute, followed by a police section for "Jewish Problems," the ecclesiastical assembly again met and declared its purely religious nature...
...But how do you expect us to mix Jewish children with non-Jewish children...
...Three days later, Dr...
...It is from such a fate that Cardinal Gerlier saved his fifty children...
...Leon Reifmann, who was present at Izieu the morning of the roundup and escaped by jumping out of a window, had earlier in 1942 contacted a certain Msgr...
...An unwanted presence, something evil from which the entire assembly seemed to recoil together...
...Touvier was implicated notably in the assassination in January 1944 of Victor Basch, former president of the League of the Rights of Man, and his wife...
...In 1938, Cardinals Verdier of Paris and Gerlier of Lyon condemned Hitlerian racism and anti-Semitism and sent messages of solidarity to the heads of the Jewish communities in France...
...What had been told in the preceding, unbelievable weeks had been told in the intimacy of a courtroom without Barbie...
...But another witness told of church doors being closed, even to children, because they were Jewish...
...In the period before Izieu, November 1942, as she testified at the trial, she had approached two priests for help, the Abbe' Pre'vost and Father Chaillet, a distinguished Jesuit active in the Resistance...
...of babies grabbed from their mothers' arms by soldiers in black boots...
...And on September 6, 1938, the pope issued, before a group of Belgian pilgrims, the now famous and often quoted statement: "Anti-Semitism is inadmissible...
...Late in the afternoon of June 5, Klaus Barbie was brought into the courtroom to be identified by witnesses who had not done so earlier...
...You should answer me, Klaus Barbie, for you know that my question is not only the key to this trial, but also the key to your life...
...As the archbishop-cardinal of Lyon also bears the title "Primate of the Gauls," Gerlier's early sympathy for the Vichy regime was particularly resonant...
...During the trial of Klaus Barbie in Lyon, the issue of crimes against humanity crystallized around the arrest and deportation, ordered and supervised by Barbie, of forty-four Jewish children from a hiding place in the small farming village of Izieu, about forty-five minutes from Lyon...
...In August 1940, following the German occupation of the northern zone, and in knowledge of the repressive Jewish statute soon to be passed by Vichy, defining as "Jewish" persons with a specified number of Jewish grandparents and eventually dismissing Jews from jobs and professional positions, the assembly of cardinals and archbishops met and remained silent...
...But the subject matter of the trial crimes against humanity cannot be separated from the concerns of religion, and of the Catholic church...
...The Abbe Pre'vost told the superior of the convent welcoming the children that it was not necessary to make them attend Mass, as they were Jewish...
...And from the street in front of the courthouse, along the river Sadne, the image of church and state, an old story in France, could not be more aptly embodied than in the towering presence of the Basilica of Notre Dame of Fourviere, built into a precipice almost directly above the Palace of Justice, where the trial was unfolding...
...Individuals and small groups took action...
...In early 1942, he lent his name and support to help establish Amitie' Chr&ienne, an organization of Catholics and Protestants struggling to help Jews...
...How was this young man, this other Barbie, to become the hardened SS we know...
...As the internment camps established by the French collaborationist Vichy government swelled with foreign Jews by late 1940 including women and children kept there in the most abominable circumstances and as the intentions of the Nazis toward all Jews, foreign as well as French, were made clear, the response of the French church was mainly one of 418 indifference and embarrassment...
...The endless voyage in sealed cattle cars and the nightmare of the death camps: of nakedness and frostbite in winter, disease, filth, slow starvation...
...Alexandre Angeli, the prefect of Lyon and a Nazi collaborator, threatened Gerlier with arrest unless he handed over the children...
...By now his presence there was unimportant even unwanted...
...Would he recall his Catholic upbringing...
...He refused, and was not arrested...
...After the liberation, Touvier was hidden in various monasteries in the Lyon area...
...the pulling out of fingernails...
...In general, the French church followed the Vatican's position...
...Charles Duquaire, who died this June 9, at the age of eighty...
...Reifmann...
...Cardinal Decourtray is one of the church's foremost spokesmen on behalf of Jewish-Christian relations...

Vol. 114 • July 1987 • No. 13


 
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