"Silence Means Consent"

By Ferrand, Pierre | Midstream, April 2001 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

"Silence Means Consent"


Ferrand, Pierre, Midstream


Back in 1935, my father published in France a collection of articles by various hands entitled, Why Is The World Silent? They dealt with the kidnapping by Nazi agents, on Swiss soil, of the courageous Jewish journalist Hans Jacob. It was part of a worldwide protest against the inaction of the Swiss authorities in the face of that blatant violation of international law. My father's preface to the book ended with the phrase, "Silence means consent."

Jacob had been an associate of Karl von Ossietzky, who was awarded the 1935 Nobel Prize for Peace while being held in a German concentration camp. Like his friend, Jacob was particularly hated by the Nazis because, in a number of articles, he had carefully documented Germany's illegal rearmament during the Weimar Republic, as well as Nazi militarism thereafter.

The Swiss, stung by the international uproar, did finally protest to the German government. The Nazis, anxious to make a success out of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, released Jacob, who was allowed to go to France. I remember him as a guest in our Paris home during my boyhood.

Nazi thugs kidnapped Jacob again in the fall of 1940, when he was a refugee in Lisbon fleeing from the Germans, and he died soon afterwards in the protective custody of the SS. In a world vaccinated against compassion by escalating violence, this incident caused no stir.

The problem of when and how to oppose crimes against humanity is not an easy one. Obviously, it was wiser and more constructive for Oskar Schindler, as a private individual, to try to help his Jewish employees to survive than to try to make speeches against Hitler and racism on the street corners of Nazi-occupied Europe. This righteous gentile, a Catholic, did what he could, and his silence did not mean consent.

As John Donne said over 300 years ago, we are "involved in mankind," and the obligations of public figures cannot be limited to private acts of decency alone. Leaders (and institutions) who have any claim to moral authority have a clear responsibility to protest and to act. The greater their claim of moral standing, the greater their duty in this respect. This applies particularly to the Papacy before and during World War II.

The point of Rolf Hochhuth's 1963 play, The Deputy, an international sensation, was that Pope Pius XII failed in moral leadership, particularly because he kept silent about the genocide of the Jews he must have known about.(1)

Hochhuth was a Protestant, but the same basic charge was made in 1999 by a practicing Catholic, John Cornwell, in his book, Hitler's Pope.(2) In addition, Cornwell endeavored to place Pope Pius XII's silence in the context of the history of the papacy since the French Revolution. In his book, Cornwell claims that decades before his reign, Pope Pius had been a leading figure in promoting the so-called "ultramontanist" doctrines and practices of papal rule -- centralized, autocratic, and monolithic. To impose this pattern on Germany's Catholics, as papal secretary of state, he negotiated the 1933 Concordat with Hitler, silencing the strong Catholic minority in the Reich which, Cornwell suggests, would have otherwise vigorously opposed Nazism. This silencing made possible the pope's silence about the Shoah. While Cornwell does not deny Pope Pius XII's private virtues, he feels that his policies were disastrous for the Church and are being revived in our day by conservative Catholics.

One does not need to endorse Cornwell's version of 19th- and 20th-century history to agree that Pope Pius XII was ultramontanist with autocratic tendencies and did not always feel uncomfortable with dictators. Pius was probably no more antisemitic than many other Catholics of his generation. Still, like St. Thomas Aquinas, he did not approve of genocide as a way to solve the "Jewish problem."(3)

One reason for the uproar is the fact that the process of declaring Pope Pius a saint of the Church is already far advanced.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

"Silence Means Consent"
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?