Riots, Coups and Abdications

As in the month of June 1943 the Nazi racial policies would become more diabolic, climaxing with the installation of a third crematory in Birkenau by the end of the month, there was some irony in the contagion of race riots among some engaged in the war effort against the Axis:  the so-called “Zoot Suit Riots” in Los Angeles, so named for the flamboyant clothing worn by youths enamored of “swing” music culture, especially Mexican immigrants.  Riots began on June 3 when some 60 enlisted men from the Los Angeles Naval Reserve Armory began to beat up anyone fitting the racial profile. When Eleanor Roosevelt ventured a commentary on the Los Angeles chaos, the Los Angeles Times accused her of meddling and imputed Communist sympathies to her  On June 16, two died in race riots in Beaumont, Texas, and another riot there followed on the 19th leaving, a total of 21 dead and more than 200 wounded and more than one hundred homes of black families looted.  Shipbuilding for the Navy was impeded for months.  In Detroit  on June 20, the same day that the Germans rounded up Jews in Amsterdam for extermination, 35  Americans were killed, 25 of them black, and 433 were wounded.  It was a setback for the industry,  and Japanese propaganda shipped over flyers telling black citizens to turn against their government which was engaged in a “war between two races.”

A military coup in Argentina, by General Arturo Rawon and Colonel Juan Peron — first thought to be pro-Axis as they repudiated the neutrality policy of President Ramon Castillo — proved surprising. Rawson was president for just three days but the new government was an opening for the U.S. Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles, to assuage Latin American suspicious of “dollar diplomacy,” began  expressing respect for Catholic culture in the southern hemisphere.  This followed on the heels of the establishment of the Catholic Latin-American Institute with the Bishop Edwin O’Hara of Kansas City as patron.  Father Joseph Thorning, a missionary priest from Maryland, proclaimed that “no  less than 80 per cent of the Argentinians whether city dwellers or farmers, are hoping and praying with all the fervour of their Christian faith” for an Allied victory.  These looked upon Bishop de Andrea, auxiliary for Buenos Aires, as their spokesman.  An English language weekly, the Southern Cross, which was the journal of the Irish community in Buenos Aires, maintained what an English reported called “an enthusiasm for the allied cause impermissible in their mother country.  The paper said, “There is no living Argentine so trusted and beloved as Bishop Miguel de Andrea. He is neither of the Left nor of the Right, yet both Rightists and Leftists put their confidence in him unreservedly when, as has so often happened, he has intervened unofficially and as a friend, to solve the angry questions which divide Labour from Capital.”  Argentina, with a large émigré German population and the last of the Latin American countries to support the Allies, was also home to the Catholic review Orden Cristiano, promoting the social principles of Pope Leo XIII.

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In France, a Jesuit journal Renouveaux was salvaging the integrity of French Catholicism from  the temptations, under Vichy, to become what Jacques Maritain had recently called a “decoratively Christian State.”  The journal attacked the Vichy Government’s exclusion of members of Catholic Action from civil and military posts. Rome had supported the Resistance in frowning upon the participation of clerical participation in civic ceremonies orchestrated by the Vichy government.  An unexpected response  to the Church’s stand against the occupiers was an increase in Mass attendance in French churches and pilgrimages, including an unprecedented number of  pilgrims in Lourdes.  By a stratagem cogent to those familiar with the ways of men, the reaction had its counter-reaction. The Vatican radio broadcast an account of the French government’s policy to teach schoolboys how to blaspheme: “In the evening the boys (all about 14 or 15 years old) have to report to their leader, who encourages blasphemy by every means at his disposal, including money prizes. They ‘examine their consciences,’ and if they have failed to use the latest words that they have learnt, they must find an opportunity to use them before retiring.”

During the increasing tension between Christian and anti-Christian pedagogies, the Church’s  material resources were evaporating. Seminaries were closing for lack of funds.  Many priests were on the verge of starvation, with average resources of no more than 4,000 francs a year.  In current prices, one egg was 20 francs and a chicken was 250 francs.  A packet of twenty cigarettes was 120 francs, far beyond a priest’s means, and so sometimes the faithful would place a few Gauloises cigarettes in the collection basket.  Many priests were responsible for up to six parishes, reachable only by foot or bicycle.  With all servants engaged in the army or other war efforts, the parish priest was also his own housekeeper, sexton and sacristan.  One writer reported: “I have known one priest who has lived entirely on bread and olives; another who buys his bread only once so that so that it goes stale and he eats less…. And I have before my eyes the pathetic story, at the age of 70, of a cure in the Basses-Alpes, who was found frozen to death in his lonely room in the winter. He had been in the habit of covering twenty kilometers on foot every Sunday, to visit six parishes.”

On the feast of his patron St. Eugenius, June 2, which also was the start of the German assault on Sebastopol Krim, the Pope replied to the greetings of the College of Cardinals tendered by their doyen, Cardinal Granito Pignatelli di Belmonte. He spoke of “those who, because of their nationality or their descent, are pursued by mounting misfortune and increasing suffering.  Sometimes, through no fault of their own, they are subjected to measures which threaten them with extermination.” Of the small nations, “You do not expect Us to expound in detail all that We have attempted and undertaken to alleviate their sufferings…Every single word in Our statements addressed to the competent authorities, and every one of Our public utterances, has had to be weighed and pondered by us with deep gravity, in the very interest of those who are suffering, so as not to render their position even more difficult and unbearable than before…” And then, perhaps in response to the persistence of representatives of the Polish government in exile: “We wish to direct your compassion in a special manner to the Polish people, which, surrounded by powerful nations, is subjected to the blows of fate, and to the changing tides of the gigantic tragedy of war…We beseech the Queen of Heaven that this people, so cruelly tried, and those nations which with them have had to drain the bitter cup of this war, may have reserved for them a future in keeping with their legitimate aspirations and the magnitude of their sacrifices, in a Europe renewed on Christian foundation and within a body of nations free from the errors and waywardness of past and present times.”  Nine days later, Heinrich Himmler ordered the liquidation of all Polish ghettos.

In June, the London press finally received a translation of the pastoral letter signed by the seven bishops of Slovakia for reading in all Slovak churches on March 21: “We demand that equal civil rights and State protection shall be accorded to every member of the State without distinction of origin or nationality….”  Protestant church leaders followed upon the Catholic bishops in their condemnation of forced labor: ‘There is a complete contradictions between the Gospel which is entrusted to the Church, and  conception of humanity which can be bought or seized at will, without consideration for the person, the conscience, or the most sacred feelings of the worker.”

Mgr. George von Bayern, Protonotary Apostolic and a Canon of St. Peter’s,  died in Rome on May 31 at the age of 63  in the Villa San Francesco with the Franciscan Brothers of Waldbreitbach.  He was the favorite grandson of the late Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria and, through his father, Prince Leopold, inherited the Stuart blood of the royal house of Bavaria, and also was heir  to the crown of Greece.  A champion boxer, he also  served with distinction in the First World War on both fronts, and Palestine under General Ernst von Falenhayen, receiving the Iron Cross first and second class. His marriage in Vienna in 1912 to the Archduchess Isabelle of Austria was annulled by the Rota after she deserted him on their honeymoon.  Cardinal Franz Nagi had married them in the Schonbrunn Palace in 1912.  Von Bayern died, it is said, from tuberculosis, contracted nursing patients in a Rome hospital.  Money left by him paid for the new bronze doors of St. Peter’s:  the “Door of Death” by Giacomo Manzu and the “Door of the Sacraments’ by Venanzo Crocetti.  On June 7, the Pope received in audience Mgr. von Bayern’s brother, Crown Prince Ruprecht of Bavaria.  There was some speculation that his son, Albert, 38 years old, might be a figure of significance in the reconstruction of Germany at the end of the war. Among German monarchists, Prince Rupert had long been more popular than the Hohenzollerns.  Two weeks earlier, the former Crown Prince of Saxony, Father Georg, S.J., drowned in Berlin. He had entered the Society of Jesus, relinquishing all claims to royal succession, in 1924.  In 1918 he was engaged to Duchess Marie Amelia, daughter of the heir to the throne of Wurtrtemberg. The wedding was cancelled thanks to the end of the Saxon monarchy and his desire to enter Holy Orders. Like the fiancée of Mgr. von Bayern, the Duchess never married. In Berlin, he had been a clandestine protector of Jews, and a foe of the Nazis, though his death by drowning was ruled the result of a heart attack. In his diary, found on the lakeshore, he had written: “Vado ad Patrem” – “I go to the Father.”

Having been informed that the Nazi Agricultura Front was taking control of all Catholic Agricultural Schools, the Dutch bishops instructed parents immediately to remove their children from those schools.

His Eminence Achille Cardinal Lienart, of Lille, where he was bishop for forty years beginning in 1928, continued to irritate the Nazis.  Although he had initially been a supporter of Pétain, he was an uncompromising foe of the National Socialists.  He was a particular target for the  Paris journal Au Pilor, an anti-Semitic journal funded with German money all through the war at 43 rue Monceau in the 8th arrondissement,  harboring a particular detestation of certain professions such a dermatology which had a high percentage of Jews:  “He is anti-national, and protects certain Freemasons of high rank…. He is a saboteur of French resurrection; his last sermon proves this. He is 1,000 percent (sic) Anglophile, and just as much anti-collaborationist.”  Le Pays Rél, a paper in the same vein as Au Pilori, took up its case against the nuns at Namur: who “listen tenderly to their pupils, duly trained, singing the praise of murderers and expressing the hope that the dear heroes of the R.A.F. will burn and devastate our country.”


  • 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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