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The Holocaust and Catholic Conscience
Cardinal Aloisius Muench and the Guilt Question in Germany
256 pages, 6.00 x 9.00
Paperback | 9780268021870 | February 1994
Hardcover | 9780268021863 | February 1994
eBook (Web PDF) | 9780268076221 | February 1994
eBook (EPUB) | 9780268076214 | February 1994
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American-born Cardinal Aloisius Muench (1889-1962) was a key figure in German and German-American Catholic responses to the Holocaust, Jews, and Judaism between 1946 and 1959. He was arguably the most powerful American Catholic figure and an influential Vatican representative in occupied Germany and in West Germany after the war. In this carefully researched book, which draws on Muench’s collected papers, Suzanne Brown-Fleming offers the first assessment of Muench’s legacy and provides a rare glimpse into his commentary on Nazism, the Holocaust, and surviving Jews. She argues that Muench legitimized the Catholic Church’s failure during this period to confront the nature of its own complicity in Nazism’s anti-Jewish ideology.
The archival evidence demonstrates that Muench viewed Jews as harmful in a number of very specific ways. He regarded German Jews who had immigrated to the United States as "aliens," he believed Jews to be "in control" of American policy-making in Germany, he feared Jews as "avengers" who wished to harm "victimized" Germans, and he believed Jews to be excessively involved in leftist activities. Muench’s standing and influence in the United States, Germany, and the Vatican hierarchies gave sanction to the idea that German Catholics needed no examination of conscience in regard to the Church's actions (or inactions) during the 1940s and 1950s.
This fascinating story of Muench’s role in German Catholic consideration—and ultimate rejection—of guilt and responsibility for Nazism in general and the persecution of European Jews in particular will be an important addition to scholarship on the Holocaust and to church history.
Suzanne Brown-Fleming is Senior Program Officer in the University Programs Division of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies in Washington, D.C.
"In this revealing study, Suzanne Brown-Fleming takes us back to a post–World War II Catholic world that had yet to come to terms with either Nazism or the Holocaust. One of the leading Catholic clerics in postwar Europe, Cardinal Aloisius Muench both reflected and helped promote German Catholic failures in this regard. Anchored in Cardinal Muench's private papers, this book conducts a fair-minded, but rigorous and morally animated assessment of a Catholic conscience that was later transformed by Vatican II. I recommend it highly." —Michael R. Marrus, Chancellor Rose and Ray Wolfe Professor of Holocaust Studies, University of Toronto
"This is an excellent book that will be of great interest to all historians in the fields of church history, Christian-Jewish relations, and American Catholicism." —Susannah Heschel, Dartmouth College
"Brown-Fleming argues quite effectively that attitudes such as these espoused by Muench and so many others in the Catholic hierarchy gave rise to a culture in which German Catholics could deny involvement in Nazi criminality, thus providing fertile ground for Catholic denial. Brown-Fleming has provided historians with a thoughtful reminder that leaders of the American church shared in the shaping of post-World War II German Catholic memory." —H-GERMAN Digest
"Suzanne Brown-Fleming's short study of the post-1945 career in Germany of Bishop, later Cardinal, Aloisius Muench seeks to rectify some shortcomings she finds in F. Colman Barry's biography written in the 1960s. . . In her view, Muench, as the Vatican's leading representative in Germany from 1946 to 1959, contributed to the lack of self-examination and the perpetuation of anti-Semitic prejudices among German Catholics. In this way, he was emblematic of the Catholic Church's failure in this period to confront its own complicity in Nazism's anti-Jewish ideology." —The Catholic Historical Review
"Suzanne Brown-Fleming has made a critical contribution to the growing research on the question of the Roman Catholic Church's policies and actions with regard to the Holocaust during World War II. . . Through the author's socio-historical, contextual analysis of these documents, the reader is brought into this shocking narrative of German Catholicism's post-war discourse on the issue of Germany's and the Church's own guilt and/or responsibility for the antisemitic horror inflicted on European Jews throughout the war." —Shofar
“In a concise and clearly written book that will surely arouse polarizing responses, [Brown-Flemming] argues that the American-born Aloisius Muench helped shape the Catholic Church's rejection of guilt for the persecution of Jews under the Nazis. . . . She convincingly shows that Muench worked much more rigorously on behalf of the defeated Germans than for their victims.” —Central European History
“The import of this book is not only its critical historical analysis of the legitimizing, self-preserving, and anti-Semitic 'conscience' of the Roman Catholic Church in the immediate aftermath of World War II and the increasing world-wide awareness of the Holocaust horror. Through a critical reading of the text, it also forewarns of an all too similar contemporary trend developing now on a global scale in the form of the U.S.-led neo-conservative notion of a 'clash of civilizations.'” —Shofar
“Brown-Flemming's work deepens our understanding of how Catholics coped in the postwar period, as anti-Semitism not only lingered, but also continued to shape Catholic responses to the past.” —Holocaust and Genocide Studies
“This book draws on Muench's papers and offers the first assessment of his legacy. It 'argues that Muench legitimized the Catholic Church's failure during this period to confront the nature of its own complicity in Nazism's anti-Jewish ideology.'” —Theology Digest
“Brown-Fleming paints a portrait of Cardinal Muench as a man who did not want to face the reality of Nazism. According to her account, Muench portrayed almost all Germans either as victims, both of the Nazis and of the Occupation forces, or as heroes who had resisted the Nazis. Certainly, Muench did nothing to lead Catholic self-examination of the Church’s role during the Holocaust. Rather, he defended Germans against any attribution of collective guilt.” —Human Rights and Human Welfare: An International Review of Books and Other Publications