1943: Lamentations

On the first day of the new year, in anticipation of his declaration of “Total War” twelve days later, Adolf Hitler had decided to make better use of manpower, weapons, and armor-plating by scrapping the High Seas Fleet. On January 3, Canadian troops landed in North Africa, one week before the Soviet Red Army entered Stalingrad. On January 14, the day after U.S. troops captured Galloping Horse Ridge on Guadalcanal, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt began their eleven-day-long meeting at Casablanca. While attention was directed at the Soviet success in breaking the German siege of Leningrad on January 18, the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto rose up in resistance.

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The ghetto had been designated such on October 16, 1940, by the German Governor-General Hans Frank, isolated with barbed wire, and contained about 30 percent of the population of Warsaw, or about 400,000 Jews. On January 18, the people of the ghetto were ordered to assemble for documentation. According to plans of Heinrich Himmler, who had visited Warsaw on January 9, 8,000 were to be deported to the Treblinka concentration camp. Between July 23 and September 21 (Yom Kippur) in 1942, after more the 100,000 had died of starvation and disease, more than 254,000 had been sent to die at Treblinka. This time they hid rather than comply. Among the thousand or so who were captured, some of the group who were armed with pistols, led by Mordechai Anielewicz, engaged the German guards in hand-to-hand fighting. The German troops withdrew after four days, having met only about 10 percent of their quota for Treblinka.

“Judah has gone into exile because of affliction and hard servitude; she dwells now among the nations, but finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress” (Lam 1:3). Several thousand German troops would enter the ghetto under the command of Jurgen Stroop on the eve of Passover, April 19, leveling the whole area and killing or deporting 56,065 Jews and, on May 16, blowing up the Great Synagogue of Warsaw. Stroop later remembered: “What a wonderful sight! I called out, Heil Hitler! and pressed the button. A terrific explosion brought flames right up to the clouds. The colors were unbelievable. An unforgettable allegory of the triumph over Jewry.” Gruppenführer Stropp was executed on March 6, 1952.


As the Axis increasingly fought a defensive battle, possibly hoping at best for a stalemate, large segments of the Italian populace became restless about their prospects, while German propaganda assured them that they would get their share of the Lebensraum. The editor of the Giornale degli Economisti, Giovanni de Maria, wrote: “It is improbable that any people would accept such open vassaldom, which infringes not only the principle of human freedom, but also the desire of every people to develop according to its own capacities, without foreign guidance.”

When Paul Claudel’s 13th grandchild was named Marie-Victoire, as she had been born on November 9, the day of the Allied landings in North Africa, the romantic monarchists of Action Française objected: “What! You choose the name of Victory for a girl born on the day on which we lose our African territories.” Such were the priorities of this integralist counterrevolutionary movement of Maurice Pujo and Charles Maurras, eager to blame calamity on Jews and Freemasons. Pope Pius XI condemned Action Française in 1926, but Pope Pius XII lifted the penalties in 1939. Marcel Déat, a Vichy collaborationist and conflicted “rightwing neo-socialist,” turned on Maurras and the Action Française as being insufficiently anti-democratic. Maurras had actually criticized the Vichy government’s Statute on Jews in 1940, which denied French Jews full citizenship, as too moderate; but this was not strong enough for Déat, who mocked Maurras as a monarchist, responsible for scuttling the French fleet at Toulon.

As an invention constantly reinvented by French public intellectuals, Action Française has a history fraught with layers of inconsistent theories shingled one upon another. While Maurras supported Philippe Pétain’s racism, he objected at least in theory to Vichy’s German alliance. Some Action Française members — including Henri d’Astier de la Vigerie, Honoré d’Estienne d’Orves, and Pierre Guillain de Bénouville — joined the Resistance at home or fled and joined the Free French Forces. After the Liberation, Maurras and Déat were convicted for collaboration with the enemy. Maurras’s life sentence was lifted when he became gravely ill, and he died in Tours in 1952, returning to his early Catholic Faith after his agnostic years. Sentenced to death in absentia, Déat had fled to Germany after the Normandy invasion, where he was received by Hitler, and eventually died in the shelter of a monastery outside Turin under an assumed name in 1955.


In 1926, Pope Pius XI had sent the Jesuit priest Rev. Joseph Ledit of the Oriental institute in Rome to investigate religious conditions in the Soviet Union. In an interview, he said that, as of the outbreak of the war, there was only one Catholic priest ministering freely there. Of the Catholic priests ordained in Russia before its revolution, about 150 were confined to Soviet gulags. Seventy Polish priests, deported in 1939, were recently released to serve in the conquered Polish forces, and eleven were given charge of millions of Polish Catholics. The Polish Field Bishop, Msgr. Jozef Gawlina, said that “their activities are of a purely private character, since they cannot hold public church ceremonies.”

By the beginning of 1943, the quisling premier of the Nazi puppet state of Croatia had created a schismatic church for the Orthodox. In Belgium, the Germans forbade Jozef-Ernest Cardinal van Roey to publish Pius XII’s silver jubilee address, and the Italian government banned from all Italian cinemas the film Pastor Angelicus, about the life of the pope.

An English translation of the last 28 sermons preached in the Berlin suburb of Dahlem by the Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller before his arrest was published under the title The Gestapo Defied. Niemöller had tentatively supported Hitler years before:

It is true that Hitler betrayed me. I had an audience with him, as a representative of the Protestant Church, shortly before he became Chancellor, in 1932. Hitler promised me on his word of honor, to protect the Church, and not to issue any anti-Church laws. He also agreed not to allow pogroms against the Jews, assuring me as follows: “There will be restrictions against the Jews, but there will be no ghettos, no pogroms, in Germany.”

Niemöller spent the years 1938 to 1945 in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps.

Hitler did not arrest the German Catholic bishops, as he did Niemöller, out of political pragmatism. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. William Temple, who would die October 26, 1944, spoke in January of 1943 in a German Lutheran Church in London in tribute to Pastor Niemöller. He also cited the protests of the bishops of Munster and other Roman Catholic bishops “against the closing of religious houses throughout Germany.” He added that the Christians of Holland and France, “at great risk to themselves and their Churches, have condemned the treatment of the Jews, but not so far as we have heard, the Christians of Germany.” He failed to cite the declarations of Michael Cardinal von Faulhaber and Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen.

On January 23, a Catholic commentator wrote in London’s Tablet on the tendency to think that more would have been accomplished by a louder protest by some prelates:

If there exists a vague atavistic memory that once Popes and Bishops spoke, and wicked Kings trembled, that salutary thing happened because the public opinion of the day had a much fuller and deeper sense of the rights and importance of spiritual authority. Modern men, who have for so long applauded the narrowing down and emptying of that authority as the emancipation of mankind from the thralldom of superstition, can hardly be surprised if, as a rule, prelates in the modern era tend in prudence to limit themselves to the field indubitably conceded to them by public opinion.


On that same January 23, U.S. forces seized control of Japan’s last two strongholds on Guadalcanal, the U.S.S. Guardfish sank the Japanese destroyer Kakaze, and the Casablanca Conference ended. So it was agreed to invade Sicily and also make an assault across the English Channel on Western Europe.

As the Anglo leaders were packing up their briefcases, the Eighth Army in Libya was advancing on Tripoli. In the 18th century, Tripoli (along with the other Barbary Coast lands of Tunis, Morocco, and Algiers) had challenged our own new Republic’s diplomacy by their piracy. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams met in London in March of 1786 with Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja, the representative of the dey of Algiers to Britain. Their question posed was why the Muslims were hostile to the new United States, which had done no harm to the Muslim people. The dey’s response, as reported to the Congress, was that Islam

was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Quran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners, and that every Musselman who should be slain in Battle was sure to go to Paradise.

Congress favored appeasement, by bribing the pirates in the form of annual tribute. Jefferson objected but Adams approved, saying: “We ought not to fight them at all unless we determine to fight them forever.” As soon as Jefferson became president, and Tripoli broke its truce, the Tripolitan War was declared. In 1943, those at Casablanca were too occupied with the moment to remember that earlier war, but today it does not seem long ago at all, and not without present application.


  • 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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