A Moral Reckoning : The Role of the Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair
From the internationally renowned author of the best-selling Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust comes this penetrating moral inquiry into the Catholic Church's role in the Holocaust that goes beyond anything previously written on the subject.
Daniel Jonah Goldhagen cuts through the historical and moral fog to lay out the full extent of the Catholic Church's involvement in the Holocaust, transforming a narrow discussion fixated on Pope Pius XII into the long-overdue investigation of the Church throughout Europe. He shows that the Church's and the Pope's complicity in the persecution of the Jews goes much deeper than has been previously understood. The Church's leaders were fully aware of the persecution. They did not speak out and urge resistance. Instead, they supported many aspects of it. Some clergy even took part in the mass murder.
But Goldhagen goes further. He develops a precise way to assess the Church and its clergy's culpability, which was more extensive and varied than has been supposed. He then devotes the largest part of the book to proposing a new and fuller understanding of restitution, including moral restitution, and shows that the Church has, even according to its own doctrine, an unacknowledged duty of repair. He explores this duty, analyzes the Church's tactics of evasion, and delineates all that the Church must do to redress the harm it inflicted on Jews and to heal itself.
Brilliantly researched and reasoned, A Moral Reckoning is a pathbreaking book of profound, and far-reaching, importance.
Harvard scholar Goldhagen, author of the bestselling and controversial Hitler's Willing Executioners, turns to a question left unanswered in his earlier work: to what extent are Catholics and the Catholic Church morally culpable for the Holocaust? As in his earlier book, Goldhagen pulls no punches. In the second paragraph he writes, "Christianity is a religion that consecrated... a megatherian hatred of one group of people: the Jews." The story of this hatred, which Goldhagen views as a betrayal of Christianity's own moral principles, has been told many times and, most recently, in the works of Susan Zuccotti and Michael Phayer. In contrast to these accounts, Goldhagen offers not an objective history of the Church's role in the Holocaust but, as the title promises, a moral examination. Goldhagen makes no apology for engaging in a sustained ethical inquiry and rendering judgment. (In fact, much of the book is either a direct or indirect defense of his much-criticized first work.) Goldhagen demands material, political and moral restitution but ends questioning whether the Catholic Church can "muster the will" to undertake these actions. There is little new information here; a definitive history of this dark chapter must await the opening of the Vatican archives. Readers should not skip the extensive and detailed endnotes, which contain a wealth of fascinating material. 25 b&w photos.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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December 29, 2003
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Excerpt from A Moral Reckoning by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
Christianity is a religion of love that teaches its members the highest moral principles for acting well. Love your neighbor. Seek peace. Help those in need. Sympathize with and raise up the oppressed. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Christianity is a religion that consecrated at its core and historically, spread throughout its domain a megatherian hatred of one group of people: the Jews. It libelously deemed them, sometimes in its sacred texts and doctrine, to be Christ-killers, children of the devil, desecrators and defilers of all goodness, responsible for an enormous range of human calamities and suffering. This hatred-Christianity's betrayal of its own essential and good moral principles-led Christians, over the course of almost two millennia, to commit many grave crimes and other injuries against Jews, including mass murder. The best-known and largest of these mass murders is the Holocaust.
The question for Christians, especially for the Catholic Church, is, What must a religion of love and goodness do to confront its history of hatred and harm, to make amends with its victims, and to right itself so that it is no longer the source of a hatred and harm that, whatever its past, it would no longer endorse? This is the question also of this book.
Who did what? Why did they do it? In what ways are they culpable? These are the three big questions of the Holocaust. In Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, I tackled the first two questions, focusing on the ordinary Germans who were the principal perpetrators of the Holocaust and showing that they slaughtered Jews because, moved by antisemitism, they believed that killing them was just, right, and necessary. This was also generally true of those Lithuanians, Poles, Ukrainians, and others who participated in the mass murder. Because the book's purpose was to explain the perpetration of the Holocaust, not to judge the perpetrators, in it I stated openly that it "is a work of historical explanation, not of moral evaluation."For this reason the book left untouched the third, equally explosive subject of moral culpability. It also did not take up the principal post-Holocaust questions: Who is responsible for making amends with the victims, and what must they do?
In Hitler's Willing Executioners I presented no explicit moral judgments about culpability and no program of repair. It was, of course, obvious that I condemn the Germans' and their helpers' eliminationist persecution and mass murder of the Jews and their persecution and slaughter of other victim groups, including the mentally ill, Roma and Sinti (commonly called Gypsies), homosexuals, Poles, Russians. When the book appeared at the end of March 1996, those, especially in Germany, who abhorred the airing of the obscured facts and unwelcome truths that it contained attacked the book and me personally, including by leveling the fictitious charge that I was explicitly passing the moral judgment of collective guilt.These attacks, many manifestly disreputable, did, however, indicate something fundamental that lay behind the large furor around the book, something that deserves our attention.
Hitler's Willing Executioners unwittingly provoked a moral uproar, and a moral subtext continually enveloped-and partly derailed-the extensive written and verbal discussion around the book. The book sought to restore to Germans their humanity, which had heretofore generally been denied them by the standard dehumanizing characterization of them as thoughtless, automatonlike cogs in a machine. It therefore challenged the existing conventional view, and pointedly insisted that Germans be seen and treated for what they were: individual moral agents. It investigated their views of Jews, and of the justness of the eliminationist persecution, including physical annihilation. It brought forth and emphasized critical information that had for long been denied, obscured, and covered up-even though some of the information had for decades been available-that so many of the perpetrators knew that they could avoid killing but chose to torture and to kill their victims, and were often demonstrably gleeful about it. It showed that the conventional notion that the German people in general were terrorized is a myth and that, exceptions notwithstanding, Germans essentially assented to the violent eliminationist persecution of the Jews. All of this, however implicitly, forcefully made unavoidable the previously widely avoided moral question: Who is culpable, in what way, and for what?
Germans and people in other countries were suddenly grappling with the problems of moral judgment in a way that many of them never had; human beings had replaced abstract structures and impersonal forces as actors, and they, Germans and others, were shown to have been animated by views that most people today abhor, and, in substantial numbers, to have willfully done terrible, criminal things. The facile moral excuses and rationalizations-that Germans had been terrorized, had not known about the crimes, and so on-that had exculpated so many people and comforted so many more were, however implicitly, exposed as hollow. Moral charges were in the morally charged air.