When Light Pierced the Darkness: Christian Rescue of Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland

By Nechama Tec | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
Religion

Back from Sunday mass, an old pious Catholic peasant, who has been hiding a group of Jews for over a year, tells his charges of the priest's insistence that Catholics bear a sacred duty to deliver Jews to the authorities. Alarmed, the fugitives ask what he intends to do. This deeply religious man first shrugs, and then with a bemused and playful smile says: The devil finds his way even into the church. 1

Very different was the reaction of a Polish inmate in Birkenau, who had no trouble saying: You Jews have crucified Christ and that is why a curse is upon you, an eternal curse. 2

Along similar lines is this response to a request for help from a Jew who had just run away from the concentration camp Majdanek. Instead of offering help the Pole says: If God takes no pity on your people, how can you expect pity from a human being?3

Even more telling is the story of a survivor who asks his neighbor after the war why she brought the Gestapo to his mother's hiding place. The woman unhesitatingly answers: It was not Hitler who killed the Jews. It was God's will and Hitler was his tool. How could I stand by and be against the will of God?4

Faced with Nazi extermination of Jews, devout Catholics had many choices. They could, like the old peasant, defy the urgings of a priest and save Jews. Or they could try to ignore what was happening to the Jews, rationalizing their decision by saying that it was a political rather than a church matter and that the church taught obedience to temporal authority in political matters. If approached by Jewish fugitives, they could refuse aid and ease their conscience by believing that whatever happened to the Jews was a just and deserved punishment, an expression of God's win. Employing this rationale, they could urge others to denounce Jews and, if the opportunity presented itself, to denounce Jews themselves, again using their religious obligations as justification for their actions.

What made these reactions possible? How could Christians save Jews,

-137-

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