1943: No Peace at Any Price

Germany had tried to suborn neutral countries with a dramatization of the war on the Russian front as a crusade against godless Communism. A new ambassador to Madrid was appointed with the intent of persuading Spain that the Nazis were the last defense of Catholic Europe. The former minister to Spain, Eberhard von Stohrer, had been an agent in a bizarre Nazi plot to kidnap the Duke of Windsor and persuade him to support the Axis, with the prospect of being restored to the British throne. Though doltish and morbidly self-absorbed, the duke was in fact an intelligence agent for his country, which, at the war’s end, issued a statement declaring his unwavering loyalty. This “Operation Willi” in 1940 collapsed when Winston Churchill, whose own spies had traced the plot, ordered the duke’s immediate return for assignment to the Bahamas as governor, reminding him that, as he had the rank of a major general, he would be subject to court martial if he disobeyed the orders of his brother, the new King George VI.

The new German ambassador, Adolf von Moltke, was expert in Russian affairs, having been head of the Eastern Department of the German Foreign Office. The Spanish government was well aware that von Moltke had been the criminal agent for Nazi policies in Warsaw in August of 1939. Francisco Franco received von Moltke with a stiff courtesy that did not well hide his scorn, for such a transparent attempt to enlist him. In December, Franco had intimated that he was dubious about an Axis victory and publicly alluded to a post-war Spain in which the monarchy would be restored. At their meeting in Hendaye, France, in October of 1940, Franco had made so many demands, including repossession of Gibraltar and certain oil rights, that Adolf Hitler supposedly told Benito Mussolini that he would rather have four teeth pulled than go through that again.


The German bishop of Fulda had already contrasted the Catholic political culture of Spain with German neo-paganism. The Vatican Radio began the new year with a broadcast, in German to the Germans, recalling the bishop’s sermon on the feast of Christ the King, in which the German prelate had cited Spain’s celebration of the pope’s jubilee. Nothing like that had happened in Germany: “We deeply regret that there is so much propaganda in our nation against the Christian faith and the Christian way of life.” Msgr. Johannes Schmidt asked what the German government meant by volk and the new German Weltanschauung. Did not 95 percent of the German volk identify itself with the Christian Weltanschauung in the last census? The Nazis had rejected Christ the King, unlike the people of Poland, Portugal, and Hungary. It was contrary to the social reign of Christ the King to replace spiritual community with racial categories and national interests. “Twice two makes four, whether you are a Japanese, a German or an Eskimo. There is a truth common to all mankind, and every nation is but a different incarnation of the same truth about man.” A Vatican spokesman called this “one of those magnificent sermons which we are accustomed to hear from the German bishops.”


As the old year was ending, the Germans occupied the abbey of Emmaus, or Na Slovanech, in Prague. Emperor Charles IV of Bohemia had founded it in 1347 by a decree of Pope Clement VI, staffing it with Slav Benedictine monks from Dalmatia and Croatia with the purpose of promoting the Slavonic liturgy and thereby fostering a healing of the Great Schism. The language used for preaching was the precursor of modern Czech. Jan Huss would study there, and it would become a Hussite stronghold in the 15th century. In the 17th century, it was the monastic home of the astronomer Johannes Kepler. Later, Benedictine monks from Spain rebuilt it in the baroque style, and by the end of the 19th century the Beuron monks renovated its decaying fabric in the neo-Gothic style named for them. In 1941, the Gestapo had sent the abbot and some of his 160 monks to die in Dachau. Four years later, in February, a stray fire-bomb from a U.S. aircraft aiming at the factory district would almost totally destroy the abbey. Partially rebuilt after the war, in 1950 the Communist government would occupy it, sending its prior, Marion Schaller, and some of his monks to a concentration camp. With the fall of the Communist government in 1990, another restoration began on this palimpsest of prayer and woe.

German authorities closed the Free Brussels University for refusing to obey the restructuring orders in the name of Hitler. The academic officials of Louvain defied the Germans by welcoming the faculty and students of their university. News was increasingly sporadic from Holland, and only in January did Britain receive news from the Amsterdam Catholic press of the death in a German concentration camp of Rev. A. S. van Lierop at the age of 45. Since he had been editor of the Catholic Press Bureau Katholieke Wereldpost in Breda, the prospect of forthcoming news from the Dutch Church was dim. Britain did receive dispatches about German troops requisitioning Catholic convents and institutions in the coastal provinces. Only at the beginning of the year was it learned that the vicar general of the Diocese of Luxembourg, Msgr. Origer, had died in a German concentration camp on September 17, a few days after the Abbé Baptiste Esch, also of the Duchy. Rev. Jean Brachmond, the parish priest of Moersdorf, died around the same time in Dachau. His ashes were sent to his parishioners upon payment of 30 Reichsmarks. At the same time, the body of the leader of the Luxembourg Catholic Party, Albert Philippe, was found in the riverbed of the Petrusse.

The British press had received the full text of a speech of the Primate of Hungary, Jusztinian Cardinal Seredi, on December 15 at the Stephan Academy in Budapest in the presence of the apostolic nuncio. Repeating his condemnation of violence against hostages the previous January, he denounced reprisals imposed on all innocent people “irrespective of race, nation, birth or position, in order that we may also respect, according to the example of Christ, the freedom of our fellow-men to claim their rights as human beings.”


In London, a king’s counsel and future knight of St. Gregory, Richard O’Sullivan, analyzing the Fascist attacks on the institution of the family, beginning with mandated state education and public daycare centers, published a technical essay on the voluntary disintegration of the family in the Allied countries, principally through the revision of divorce laws. Born in 1888 in Cork, he had served in the Royal Artillery during the First World War, and later, while pursuing a successful legal practice as a member of the Middle Temple, established a reputation as a historian of the Christian sources of the Common Law of England. He founded the Thomas More Society in honor of his hero, and in 1935 translated Jacques Maritain’s Freedom in the Modern World.

O’Sullivan began his analysis by quoting the English Canonist William Lyndwood (c. 1430): “Here we might discuss what is marriage, when it derives its name, how it is contracted, where it was instituted, what are the causes of its institution, what good flows from it, and what impediments there are to it.” He traced 400 decretals on Pope Alexander III, about 180 of which were directed to England. Regulation of marriage laws involved diocesan or Consistory Courts and Courts of First Instance, with appeal to the Court of Arches in the Province of Canterbury and the Court of Chancery in the Province of York. Further appeal was to Rome, until abrogated by Henry VIII. But he took no action on this, nor did Edward VI or Elizabeth I, and indeed the introduction of a system of divorce as recommended by the Protestant Archbishop Thomas Cranmer did not really happen for another three centuries. “Until the year 1857, the law of marriage continued to be administered on pre-Reformation principles.” Before that, “It may be considered as absolutely certain that the bar of England could not have furnished a single counsel who would have set his name to the opinion that judicial indissolubility was not a legal quality of every English marriage.”

O’Sullivan’s thesis was that destruction of the institution of marriage by Nazis and utilitarian eugenicists was happening in a more subtle way in the free Christian nations, exacerbated by the economics and social chaos of the war. The very definition of marriage as an institution, uprooted from natural law, was at stake. In the estimation of Lord Russell of Killowen: “What was once a holy estate enduring for the joint lives of the spouses is steadily assuming the characteristics of a contract for a tenancy at will.”

At the beginning of the new year, the Holy See published translations of a commentary by a Vatican Radio announcer, which pointedly had been broadcast in German on December 28, reflecting on Pope Pius XII’s Christmas message to the world. He said that it was more than an address; it had the character of an encyclical. “No man of good will can say that the Pope remained silent. . . . When it is a question of the fundamental laws of God, of the Church, of human dignity, there can be no neutrality, but only a support of right.”

Then he added words that could only have been dictated by the pope himself:

We may perhaps have been struck by one fact about the address: the Holy Father issued no formal appeal to the powers for peace. He has done it in every one of his other allocutions, and he did so with special emphasis in his last one, on May 13 last. We did not hear anything of the kind this time. The Pope is a practical thinker (read denkende Persoenlichkeit), who realizes how much the parties to the war still clash against each other, and that at the present moment, an appeal for peace would hardly be listened to. Moreover, the Holy Father is not the champion of a “peace at any price.”

Fr. George W. Rutler


Fr. George W. Rutler is a contributing editor to Crisis and pastor of St. Michael's church in New York City. A four-volume anthology of his best spiritual writings, A Year with Fr. Rutler, is available now from the Sophia Institute Press.

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