.- Along side of the millions of Jews, horrifically murdered in the Nazi concentration camps of World War II, were an often overlooked segment of victims--Catholic priests. This is the backdrop for a new film by German director, Volker Schlödorff, called ‘The Ninth Day,’ a special viewing of which was held in Denver last evening.
The Chez Artiste theater on Denver’s south side was filled with supporters of Annunciation radio, who sponsored the premiere viewing. Also on hand for the event were Colorado Springs Bishop Michael Sheridan, concentration camp survivor Jack Goldman, one of the camp’s U.S. liberators, Dick Bayless, and religious history expert Dr. Seth Ward.
The film, based on a true story and one of the latest from award-winning Schlödorff, depicts the struggle of one Catholic priest against the Nazi regime and conflicting suggestions of how best to protect the Church--and his own life.
Following his release from the death camp of Dachau, German priest Henri Kremer learns that the Nazis are giving him nine days to convince his staunch Bishop to cooperate with their plans--and muster support from the Vatican, or else be returned to Dachau.
The film also addresses the role of Pope Pius XII in World War II.
Dr. Ward, professor of religious history at the University of Wyoming, noted that the central question, which was touched upon in the film, was whether Pope Pius should have been more vocal, or did he literally save millions of lives by keeping relatively silent?
The film puts the question in even starker light, noting a bishop in the Netherlands who caused 40,000 to be sent to death camps because of a pastoral letter decrying Nazism.
At its heart, he added, “the movie was about struggles between choosing different goods; saving self, family, the Church….”
Ward, a Jew himself, praised the Catholic Church for it’s work following the war.
He noted then Cardinal Ratzinger, who, in a homily just before becoming Pope Benedict XVI, “talked about the evils of totalitarianism and relativism.”
“It was a very strong statement,” he said, “about just this sort of thing.”
He paralleled situations today with that of Europe in the 1930’s and 40’s, saying that “human totalitarian groups don’t have the fear of God referred to in scripture…totalitarians don’t fear God and imprison everybody.”
Dachau survivor Goldman added that we must learn from our past, specifically referring to regions like Darfur, where “people are dying seemingly wantonly.” He also noted the many atrocities he witnessed toward Catholics in addition to his fellow Jews in the camp, even noting “an entire French monastery who were brought in.”
Mr. Bayless, one of the liberators of Dachau, noted that “more Catholic priests were put [there] than in any other camp…They didn’t have to kill too many people in Dachau because they died too fast, [due to the horrific conditions].”
After the showing, Bishop Sheridan told CNA that he “enjoyed the film…if that’s even an appropriate word.”
“I thought it was a wonderful film”, he said, “and appreciated its portrayal of human struggle.”