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Inside the Church during WWII
December 12, 2011
A Catholic Experience? The Church and the War
By Harry Schnitker, Ph.D.

When I began to write this particular series, I had little idea where it would take me. This is unusual, as normally there is a carefully planned structure which is executed to the letter, however, that is not the case this time. In part, this was because there is no existing template: to my knowledge there is, as yet, no survey of the Catholic Church during the Second World War. As such, this series was a journey, which, occasionally threw up unpleasant surprises, but which also...

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December 05, 2011
Non-European Catholics and World War Two
By Harry Schnitker, Ph.D.

For many, the Second World War was first and foremost a European conflict. However, from a US perspective, the war had a distinctly non-European element, much more so than the First World War. Pearl Harbor, and the reach of Britain’s and Holland’s Asian Empire ensured that this was a truly global conflict. Troops from the Dominions, but also from India, the Caribbean and Africa served on all fronts under the Union Jack.

France was deeply involved in Vietnam and North Africa, the Dutch...

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November 28, 2011
The Dutch Catholic Experience in the Second World War
By Harry Schnitker, Ph.D.

If the story of Belgium brought some relief in what has often been a quite dark story of the Catholic Church in the Second World War: here, at least, one can discover a Catholic Church that unhesitatingly denounced the darkness of Nazism and Fascism. This story was mirrored north of the border in Holland, and there will have been few countries where the Catholic Church was in a stronger position to resist the neo-paganism of the Nazis than there. Nowadays, this is a startling idea: the...

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November 21, 2011
The Belgian Catholic Church: Resistance to the Nazis
By Harry Schnitker, Ph.D.

After the ambiguities of France and the outright collaboration of priests and bishops in countries such as Croatia and Slovakia, the story of Belgium’s Catholic Church during the Second World War will come as some relief. For once, there are few ambiguities in the story. Strangely, in a nation riven internally along ethnic lines and where there were large numbers of volunteers for the SS and the German army, the Church stands out as a beacon of hope.

There were precedents. During the...

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November 14, 2011
The French Catholic Church from 1940 to 1945
By Harry Schnitker, Ph.D.

As seen in last week’s article, the Church in France was particularly badly placed to provide a unified response to the challenges posed by the Nazi occupation of their country. Liberal and conservative groups within the Church had amalgamated with political factions within France’s body politic, making the notion of a ‘Catholic experience’ in war-time France almost nonsensical. In addition, there were, for most of the war, two ‘Frances’: the north and west which was occupied by...

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November 07, 2011
France: Church and State in the Pre-War Era
By Harry Schnitker, Ph.D.

In this series so far, it has become quite clear just how diversified and extreme the different experiences of the Catholic Church were during the Second World War. Based on the evidence here, there was no such thing as a ‘Catholic Experience’ of the war. Indeed, almost the only unifying factor was the constancy of Catholic teaching promulgated by the Vatican: all people were created equal, and war is immoral. Even that teaching was not always followed, and one can find a considerable...

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October 31, 2011
Croatia
By Harry Schnitker, Ph.D.

Apart from Slovakia, there was nowhere in Europe did the Catholic Church identify itself so closely with a Nazi regime as in Croatia. This is the common conclusion of almost all historians on the situation in the Balkan nation between 1941 and 1944. Perhaps this conclusion is unsurprising: Catholic priests, including an archbishop, were closely involved with the political and racial aims of the Croatian State during this period, and the Vatican appears on first sight to have fully endorsed...

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This article will examine the Catholics on the south-eastern end of the Church’s traditional reach, those of the Czech lands, Slovakia and Hungary. The three Churches here had vastly different experiences during the war years. For the Czechs, the war had come early, in the wake of the Munich agreement of 1938. No other country suffered such a prolonged occupation, and few had such a surreal experience. Shorn of most of its majority German-speaking land in the Sudeten, the Czechs would have...

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October 17, 2011
Poland: the Persecuted Church
By Harry Schnitker, Ph.D.

In his biography of Bl. Pope John Paul II, George Weigel noted that there was wide-spread collaboration between the Communist regime and members of the clergy in Poland. During the Second World War, the Polish Church was not given that particular ‘luxury’. Nazi racial ideology branded Poles an inferior race, sub-humans who had to make way for German expansion. We know all this is based on two lies: one, the lie of races within one human race, and another, that Germany lacked space for...

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October 10, 2011
The Polish Church, the Nazis, and the Bolsheviks
By Harry Schnitker, Ph.D.

In this series there have been several references to Poland already. No other country suffered from the war to quite the same degree as Poland. It was occupied for longer than any other, except the Czech lands, its people were treated with more brutality than any except perhaps the Russians, and on its soil stood the emblems of the atheist Nazi regime, the death camps. This was apt. Besides the six million Jews that were killed by the Nazis, they also murdered around two to three million...

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September 14, 2014

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