Catholics and antisemitism in Germany and England, 1918–1945
Author: Ulrike Ehret

This book compares the worldviews and factors that promoted or, indeed, opposed anti-semitism amongst Catholics in Germany and England after the First World War. As a prequel to books on Hitler, fascism and genocide, it turns towards ideas and attitudes that preceded and shaped the ideologies of the 1920s and 1940s. Apart from the long tradition of Catholic anti-Jewish prejudices, the book discusses new and old alternatives to European modernity offered by Catholics in Germany and England. Numerous events in the interwar years provoked anti-Jewish responses among Catholics: the revolutionary end of the war and financial scandals in Germany; Palestine and the Spanish Civil War in England. At the same time, the rise of fascism and National Socialism gave Catholics the opportunity to respond to the anti-democratic and anti-semitic waves these movements created in their wake. The book is a political history of ideas that introduces Catholic views of modern society, race, nation and the ‘Jewish question’. It shows to what extent these views were able to inform political and social activity.

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Ulrike Ehret

This book compares the worldviews and factors that promoted or indeed opposed antisemitism amongst Catholics in Britain and Germany. It reviews the sources of attraction or rejection of fascism and National Socialism and the role antisemitism played in this context. It then highlights the hypernationalism in Europe that was further inflamed by the widespread fear of Russian Bolshevism and of indigenous socialist movements. Catholics moved, as well as the strength and density of a Catholic organisational infrastructure, to multiply or counter antisemitism. Furthermore, it argues that there was no universal Catholic antisemitism in Britain and Germany nor can Catholic views of Jews be reduced to a traditional religious prejudice. The Catholic and Jewish communities in Britain and Germany are then explored. The history of Jews both in Britain and in Germany is a story of economic success and social improvement.

in Church, nation and race
Ulrike Ehret

There was an ideological affinity between the Catholic Church and the fascist regimes in Europe, including Adolf Hitler's Germany. Despite Alfred Rosenberg's known opposition to the Christian churches, he had no authority to shape the Reich's church policy nor did he participate in the regime's political anticlerical measures. The insistence on Christ's Jewish origin and the historical link between Judaism and Christianity were part of the Katechismuswahrheiten and Nathanaelfrage. The Catholic defence literature was primarily meant as self-defence against an encroaching anticlerical National Socialist ideology as well as an attempt to bind Catholics to the community's traditional values and tear them away from ‘neopaganism’ and its antisemitism that undermined Christianity. The imbalance between accounts of communism and fascism was not confined to fringe organisations. ‘Latin’ fascism appeared to be the means to solve pressing social problems while still safeguarding Christian values.

in Church, nation and race
Ulrike Ehret

The Catholic right has been a stepchild of historical research into German conservatism and its relationship to National Socialism. The antisemitism of the Catholic right was certainly the most virulent form of Jew-hatred amongst Catholics in Weimar Germany. The German National People's Party (DNVP) would express its hope for an ‘unconditional denominational peace’ and stress the need for Germany's rebirth in a Christian spirit, and for a German culture and economy based on a ‘true Christian-religious worldview’. The antisemitism expressed across the network of the Catholic right was an amalgam of Christian, cultural and Darwinian anti-Jewish sentiments and reflects their Catholic faith and their discontent with the political and economic changes in Germany. The organisations of the Rechtskatholiken and Distributism worked with similar methods for the same aim: Christian national re-education. Negative images of Jews remained an unfailing part of the public discourse in both Catholic communities.

in Church, nation and race
Ulrike Ehret

This chapter describes how the ‘Jewish question’ and its ‘solution’ were defined in Catholic publications. The call to strengthen Christian values in the modern age and the call to convert the Jews were the most common solutions offered in English Catholic newspapers. The Tablet, the Catholic Times and the Catholic Herald did not change their view that the Jews brought their fate upon themselves, despite anger at the brutality of the pogrom. The Gelben Hefte did not share the self-restraint that the papers of political Catholicism tried to practise. National Socialism could tap into a stream of antisemitic stereotypes that were popular and common since the First World War. Most literature on Catholic antisemitism asserts that racial antisemitism was firmly rejected by Catholics. Generally, this discussion shows the nature of anti-Jewish prejudices and times and occasions when the intensity of antisemitic articles was specifically high.

in Church, nation and race
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Ulrike Ehret

Catholic communities have never been interchangeable nor have they been monolithic. The example of the Catholic right showed that Catholicism as such was certainly not a bulwark against antisemitism or indeed fascism. The antisemitism of the Catholic right and its antiparliamentarianism fed on each other. Nationalism was a constituent part of the right's antisemitism, both in Germany and in England. The different responses to the antisemitism of the radical right were the result of differences in Catholic organisation. It is noted in this chapter that religious and modern anti-Jewish prejudices cannot be cleanly separated from each other, and neither were religious and racial concepts of the Jews an irreconcilable paradox. The Catholic defence against Alfred Rosenberg made clear that religious teaching did not necessarily transfer respect for ancient Jewry to modern Jewry.

in Church, nation and race
Ulrike Ehret

This chapter discusses the initiatives taken by the episcopate in preparing public protests against the anticlericalism of the regime and eventually the persecution of the Jews, as well as the practical aid offered to ‘non-Aryan’ Christians by Catholic organisations. The defence against völkisch anti-Catholicism shows how an essentially theological discourse continued to harbour antisemitism. The war against Germany made it quite clear where Cardinal Arthur Hinsley's loyalties stood. Hinsley and other bishops often turned down Jewish requests for Catholic support with the explanation that the Jews had not stood up for Catholics whenever they had been persecuted. In Hinsley's eyes, the oppression of the Catholic Church and its priests in Mexico, Russia and Germany overshadowed the persecution of the Jews. The Catholic Church in England had opened itself to first ecumenical projects with other Christian groups and the Jewish community.

in Church, nation and race
Ulrike Ehret

Antisemitic images after the First World War were most likely to occur in English Catholic discussions of modern capitalism and socialism, but were not limited to the pure economic and political aspects. Anxieties of a growing Jewish influence and of a parallel decline of English (Christian) culture harboured anti-Jewish sentiments in Catholic publications and organisations. Together with economic antisemitism, the Jewish-Bolshevik stereotype was the most common anti-Jewish remark. Antisemitism had become common and ubiquitous in Bavaria, while it was still seen as a radical form of Jew-hatred in other parts of Germany. Within the spectrum of conservatism, the antisemitism within the Centre Party and Bavarian People's Party (BVP) was neither as hostile nor as coherent as that of the conservative-right, the German National People's Party (DNVP) and those Catholics who joined or sympathised with the German nationalists.

in Church, nation and race