The United States and the Catholic church have both been criticized for their cautious responses to the early years of the holocaust. Focusing on the ultimate shortcomings, however, paints an incomplete picture. Historical documentation recently emerged of a full-throated opposition to Hitler existing in the U.S. Catholic church.
A recording of a radio broadcast from November 16, 1938—a week after Kristallnacht—was discovered in the Catholic University of America archives. In the broadcast, several prominent U.S. clergy, along with former New York governor and presidential candidate Al Smith, condemned the Nazis’ actions and expressed support for Germany’s Jews. The university’s magazine describes how the broadcast featured the archbishop of San Francisco declaring unequivocal solidarity with the Jewish people—a rare interfaith gesture in the world of the church prior to the Vatican II reforms of the 1960s. A transcript and audio clip of the broadcast are available on CUA’s website.
Obviously, this sort of documentary evidence doesn’t overturn the overall historical verdict—the church could have done more. It does, however, shed light on the complexity of a tense and tragic period of history.