The Popes Against the Jews: The Vatican’s Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism by David I. Kertzer, Vintage Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2001; ISBN 0375706054, 368 pages, paperback $17.95.

Do hate-filled speech and writings have real consequences? This eye-opening description of the relentless anti-Semitic propaganda campaign by the Catholic Church from the fall of Napoleon in 1815 to World War II indicates that they do. Drawning on archives of the Vatican made publicly available in 1998, the author focuses on the role of the Popes and their Secretaries of State and directly contradicts the Church's own investigation published in 1998 which minimized and white-washed the Popes' and entire Church's involvement. Church periodicals, including those supervised by the Vatican, published attacks week after week, month after month, including blatantly false stories about Jews killing Christian children for blood for religious rites, Jews being in control of Christian countries, Jewish-Masonic conspiracies, Jews bringing on themselves pogroms and other attacks by Christians by being aragant, greedy and threatening to Christian well being, Jews as the great enemy of the Catholic Church, as the polluting factor in contemporary life now that they could mix on on an equal footing with Christians, as incapable of being loyal citizens of any country, etc. Church publications blamed them for free market capitalism, socialism and communism (all 19th-century developments that the Church disapproved of).

After reading this book the existence of popular European attitudes toward the Jews that made the holocaust possible will no longer be a mystery and it does not even address the many Protestant, Orthodox, and nationalistic anti-Semitic efforts going on at the same time. How easy it is to forget that Jews were required to live in ghettos (where they were permitted to live among Christians at all) until the French Revolution in the 1790s and the subsequent French conquest of Europe; and that they had to live in the ghetto and wear yellow stars on their clothing in Rome itself until 1870.  What a very comfortable fallacy it is to lay the blame for the holocaust on Hitler and the Nazis as aberrations from customary European and Christian attitudes, rather than having to acknowledge the opinions of the European public that allowed the holocaust to be carried out as well as the long-held European attitudes that formed Hilter's opinions (he was raised a Catholic in a Catholic country flooded with anti-Semitic Christian propaganda).  Most of the anti-Semitic charges heard from the Nazis and indeed from anti-Semites today appear in Church propaganda, particularly from 1880 onward. As a member of the Fascist Grand Council in Italy said in 1939, "We fascist Catholics consider the Jewish problem from a strictly political point of view.... But it comforts our souls to know that if, as Catholics, we became anti-Semites, we owe it to the teachings that the Church has promulgated over the past twenty centuries."  We today can well take the lesson of the consequences of dismissing the impact of those who relentlessly and venomously promote hatred and bigotry. – Sarah Belle Dougherty

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