1942: Two Crosses Raised against Each Other

In the House of Commons, Earl Winterton remarked that Muslims did not like the Allies calling the war a “Christian Crusade,” as both terms were odious to them. This was a sensitive matter, since, while there was no significant Islamic population in Great Britain or the United States, they made up a third of the population in the Soviet Union, and many were elite troops in the Red Army.

Italian Fascists observed the 20th anniversary of their movement, with Milan as its stronghold and Genoa a center of some resistance. A royal decree at the behest of the Germans had ordered that church bells be requisitioned and melted down for armaments, and the Regime Fascista denounced a parish priest in Bergamo who preached against turning the bells into “instruments of death” and added, “It is all the more sad because this measure is not so much desired by our government, but is imposed upon them by the Government of Luther’s country. Today there are two crosses raised against each other: the Cross of Christ the King, and the crooked cross.” The cardinal-archbishop of Milan ordered that it would be better to have silence than to simulate the sound of the missing bells with records and loudspeakers. In Rome, the president of the Pontifical Commission for the Interpretation of Canon Law mounted the pulpit of the Church of Sant’Andrea and preached with such animation against Fascist policies that the Italian ambassador to the Holy See sent a formal protest to the pope.


Arthur Cardinal Hinsley dedicated All Saints Day as a time of special prayer for the people of Czechoslovakia, where many priests continued to be killed in revenge for the death of Reinhard Heydrich. A principle target of the Nazis was the Premonstratensian monastery of Neureisch. Another priest, Adolf Tesar, was sentenced to death for providing Jews with forged baptismal certificates. In the Pacific Islands, the Japanese were executing missionary priests and nuns. The vicar apostolic of New Guinea, Bishop Arnoldus Aerts, age 70, and a group of his missionaries were massacred at Langpoer. Other missionaries, including the American Rev. Arthur Duhamel, were bayoneted on Guadalcanal.

Following the apparently effective abolition of the Czech Orthodox Church, the Nazis turned their attention to Poland and confiscated the property of the Archdioceses of Poznan and Gniezno. The plan was to replace the Church in those districts with “religious associations” subject to police control, leasing churches from the German State. Nearly 655,000 Polish civilian workers sent to the Reich were allowed religious service only on the first Sunday of each month, but both the Polish language and the solemnization of marriage were forbidden.

At the end of October, Cardinals Pierre-Marie Gerlier of Lyons and Emmanuel Suhard of Paris appeared with Philippe Pétain at a ceremonial military review in Vichy along with the papal nuncio, who then immediately left for Rome. Cardinal Gerlier was particularly vexatious to the Vichy government, since he was, by virtue of being archbishop of Lyons, the primate of France. Collaborationists said a more accurate title for the primate of the Gauls would be “Primate of the Gaullistes.” Having left Pétain, Cardinal Gerlier made a public visit to the editorial offices of the anti-Fascist paper La Croix, which received most of its news directly from the Vatican, and praised it in words understood as an attack on the Vichy press. The Rev. Leon Merklen, editor of La Croix, warned against “those fanatics who set up new destructive ideas in the place of spiritual renaissance.”

L’Osservatore Romano praised La Croix and reproached the collaborationist L’Effort. The Vatican newspaper also printed a speech of Jozef-Ernest Cardinal van Roey to the Belgian Young Christian Workers decrying the destruction of the Church in Luxembourg and the expulsion of nuns from the Duchy, but his principle case was against the use by the Nazis of the term “political Catholicism” to describe the Church’s defense of her rights against the state. L’Osservatore reported that Rev. Maximillian Kolbe, O.F.M., publisher of Maly Dziennik and other journals, had died in Dachau. German authorities had sent his habit to the monastery at Niepokalanow with a note that he had died in 1941 on August 14, without giving a cause, and that his remains had been cremated.

In November, the Swiss National Zeitung published the text of a telegram sent jointly by the Catholic hierarchy and Protestant leaders of Holland to their Reichskommissar, saying they were “deeply shocked by the measures against the Jews in the Netherlands,” which cause a suffering that “goes against the deepest moral consciousness of the Dutch people.” The Nazi Deutsch Zeitung in den Niederlanden reported that, in consequence of a pastoral letter of the bishops reiterating the substance of the telegram, German authorities “were bound to consider Roman Catholic Jews as their worst enemies, and had immediately sent them to the East.” The cemeteries of Heerlen and Heerlerheide were closed on All Souls’ Day to prevent prayers for the war dead.

At this time, an English translation of an historical novel was published, written by Franz Werfel, who had been born in Prague when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and had married the widow of Gustav Mahler after she divorced Walter Gropius. A Jew, Werfel had fled the Anschluss and sought refuge at the shrine in Lourdes. Solaced by various religious orders there, he completed his work called The Song of Bernadette.

Lord William Birdwood, commander of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), commented on the fighting in Tunisia and Britain’s approaching engagement of its Eighth Army at the naval base of Bizerta. He invoked ancient parallels with Crécy and Poitiers and, in the case of the ongoing siege of Stalingrad, he recalled the effect of weather on the Dutch fleet in 1795, when it was frozen and seized by the French in the only instance of cavalry capturing an entire Navy. But he did not have to reach far back for the First World War, in which he had been a general (and which was only half as far removed from the North African campaign as we now are from the Vietnam War). Having commanded the Australian and New Zealand armies at Gallipoli, his memory was fraught with the unspeakable losses of the “Great War,” and such experience was what had made another war such a forbidden contemplation in the 1930s. The field marshal marveled that Eugene Rommel had started in October with no more than 100,000 troops, which was a size smaller than any similar campaign in the last 2oo years. Compared with losses in the First World War, the 75,000 of Rommel’s men killed, wounded, or captured seemed surprisingly small. As a soldier, the Baron Birdwood had gone to Australia to dedicate the Arch of Victory in Ballarat, and, as a scholar, he was Master of Peterhouse in Cambridge. Born in Khadki, India, he died in Kensington Palace; his field marshal’s baton is in the Australian Military Museum, a memento of a most storied symbol of the British Empire.

The first of October edition of Volk en Staat, the newspaper of the Flemish Nazi organization, raged against Catholic priests. As for nuns, “When we come to power, their activities will belong to the past. The nuns must conform to the regulations of national and Nationalist-Socialist education, or they will be granted permission to go and plant potatoes.”

The University of Oxford announced that it would confer the degree Doctor of Civil Law, honoris causa, on Cardinal Hinsley on December 12. Although there was a RAF airbase at nearby Abingdon, German planes always avoided the university on their bombing runs to Coventry and other industrial areas. It was said that Hitler expected Oxford to make him a Doctor of Civil Law after he had won the war.

Fr. George W. Rutler

By

Fr. George W. Rutler is pastor of St. Michael's church in New York City. He is the author of many books including Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943 (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press) and Hints of Heaven (Sophia Institute Press). His latest books are He Spoke To Us (Ignatius, 2016) and The Stories of Hymns (EWTN Publishing, 2017).

  • Bob G

    Fascinating. Bravo

    Two minor comments. So Gropius

  • Michael

    The comedic genius, Tom Lehrer, once wrote a ballad celebrating the love life of Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel. Apparently she was quite a woman.

    http://tinyurl.com/yhzko5k

  • Ryan Haber

    Fr. Rutler,

    I’ve enjoyed this 1942 series immensely. If you ever run out of material on 1942, I dearly hope you will continue with 1943!

    I notice that you recount the place of St. Maximilian Kolbe’s death as Dachau. Perhaps you meant Auschwitz?

  • George

    Another great survey of the World War. History is so important. Have you written a book Father Rutler? I am hoping you read these comments.

    I wish I could provide documented proof, but it is common knowledge among the Armenian Benedictines at the Meckharistan monastery in Vienna that Franz Werfel did convert to Catholicism. How could he not have, after having written The Song of Bernadette? I know an 85 year-old Armenian who studied in the seminary there in Vienna as a young man. He kept in touch with the Abbot, Archbishop Mesrob Habosian. He told my friend of Werfel’s conversion and baptism. Other monks there also affirmed it. Of course, the connection of Werfel with the Armenians is due to his book “Forty Days of Musa Dagh” which tells the story of the fight to the death of 5000 Armenians who fell in 1915 to the far more numerous Turks on Musa Dagh (Moses’ Mountain) in Armenia. The plight of the Armenians, against the Moslems Turks, was unknown in the West until Werfel’s book was published.

    I wish I had the details. Werfel died in Beverly Hills after a very long life. I don’t know if it was an eleventh hour baptism or what. y friend seems to think that the author asked for baptism after recovering from a serious illness, promising Our Lady that if she cured him, he’d get baptized.

    If my friend finds out more details, I will post them. He will be contacting a Catholic Armenian pastor in Boston.

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