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An Open Book on the Holocaust

Binyamin Rose

The role that the Catholic Church and its Pope leader played in the Holocaust is a subject of ongoing historical scrutiny, especially as the current pope hints broadly that he will name Pius to the Catholic sainthood. Dr. David Cymet, born in Mexico and the first Latin-American bochur to attend Yeshivas Torah Vodaath in 1944, is one of the most recent scholars to examine this controversial and troubling era. He hopes his newest book will both bear witness to the Holocaust and force us to remain vigilant.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

“I always felt that even though I was not in the Holocaust, the Holocaust was somewhere in me,” says Dr. David Cymet, as he sets down a tray of refreshments for his guests on his dining room table.

While Dr. Cymet’s hospitality, especially the ice-cold seltzer served in a tall, glass pitcher, is deeply appreciated on this blazing hot summer day, his kindness is equally matched by his earnestness and passion for the topic that has consumed the last seven years of his life, at an age long after most men would have retired.

There is a wide range of historical views regarding the role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust era, but, more or less, there is a consensus that Hitler, yemach shemo v’zichro, was certain that no nation had the spine to stop his diabolical plans. He was, however, fully cognizant of the worldwide power of the Catholic Church. He felt it was the only organized body that had both the global political clout and a moral bully pulpit from which to condemn him and call attention to his evil ways. As a result, Hitler made it a major priority of his first 100 days in office to win the church over to his side. A concordat — an official treaty between Nazi Germany and the Catholic Church — was indeed signed a few short months after Hitler assumed power in Germany in the winter of 1933. The concordat was signed by Vatican Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli, who took on the name Pius XII when he was elected pope six years later.

Pacelli was no stranger to Germany and its culture. He had served as head of the Vatican’s diplomatic mission in Munich from 1917 to 1925 and then in Berlin from 1925 to 1929 when he returned to Rome to become secretary of state.

The impact of the concordat was best described by Cardinal Michael Faulhaber of Munich four years later. Dr. Cymet quotes Faulhaber in his book, as follows: “At a time when the heads of the major nations in the world faced the new Germany with cool reserve and considerable suspicion, the Catholic Church, the greatest moral power on earth, expressed its confidence in the new German government. This was a deed of immeasurable significance for the reputation of the government abroad.”

In his book, Dr. Cymet draws on a variety of historical sources to show that from the moment that Hitler rose to power and established official contact with the Catholic Church and signed the concordat, it was decided the church would not interfere with whatever the Germans would do to the Jews. “I would say that one of the major chiddushim of my book is that the silence of the church is not something that happened accidentally,” says Dr. Cymet. “It was not an act of omission, but the very essence of the concordat, as can be clearly proven from Hitler’s declaration to his ministerial cabinet on July 14, 1933 — excerpts of which were published for the first time in 1957.”

“The concordat,” said Hitler to them, “created an area of trust that was particularly significant in the developing struggle against international Jewry.”


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