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Thursday, February 26, 2004


I wrote yesterday’s post after a fatiguing day sawing down and piling up cedar trees on a ranch – have to earn money any way I can. In any case, the fatigue showed.

Today, I read a quote from some interview with Mel Gibson, who was, indirectly, the subject of my last post. In the interview, Gibson took issue with those people who “blame the Church for the Holocaust.” He had a name for these people: secular Jews.

Unfortunately, in the effort to be evenhanded, and in the even greater effort to be non-controversial, the American media discusses the issue of the Catholic church’s rich Anti-Jewish history with caution. To give you a taste of what “radical” Catholic opinion was like back in the day, go to this site about the Croatian Ustashi. The Ustashi was the Croatian equivalent of the Nazi party. Its roots were clerical, its intellectuals taught at Catholic Universities, and when it came time to build the concentration camps, its priests were right there, blessing the mass slaughter of the Jews and the Serbs.

Here’s a typical excerpt from the Catholic press at that time:

"Up to the birth of Christ, Jewish atavism proved its sinful inclinations toward knavery, its lack of gratitude to God, its ruthless selfishness, its disobedience toward the heads of the state, its anarchism, its love of profit-making through the accumulation of worldly goods by means of corruption, bloodthirstiness, despotism, lasciviousness and homosexuality, incorrigible stubbornness and haughtiness ... Having realized all this, we dare to conclude that the Jews have always been destructive regardless of whether they governed themselves or were governed by others. The Jews will never change, because according to the laws of psychology their national soul cannot change for the better as long as the human race continues to exist."

I didn’t see the interview with Gibson, but it would have been nice if the interviewer was educated enough to ask revealing questions. My guess is that there was no mention, in the interview, of the Jasenovac Concentration Camp. It was here that the dirty spirit of one hundred fifty years of Catholic invective against the Jews finally came to fruition. A Franciscan, Miroslav Filipovic, was put in charge of the camp. The rules were a bit different than what one would expect from a follower of St. Francis of Assisi. Filopivic later claimed, in a probable understatement, that he’d ordered the killing of about 40,000 people at the camp. If you are in the mood for it, here’s the testimony of one of the survivors of the camp. Much has been made of the fifteen minutes of whipping time in Gibson’s film. Compare it to the tender mercies of Father Devil, as he was known:

Fra Filipovic's] voice had an almost feminine quality which was in contrast with his physical stature and the coarseness of his face... I was hardly seated, and as I sank into my sad thoughts, I heard the orders "Fall in - Fall in!"
...Old Ilija, an Ustasha, appeared in the threshold of the hut, a revolver in one hand and in the other, a lash... Before us passed six men, their hands tied before their backs with chains. The Ustashi had their revolvers loaded and aimed. Fra Sotona walked over and approached our group.
"Where is our new doctor?" I knew he meant me.
"He is here," someone replied. He came a little nearer, looking at me with an insolent, ironic, bizarre manner.
"Come here, doctor," he said, "to the front row, so that you will be able to see our surgery being performed without anesthetic. All our patients are quite satisfied. No sighs, nor groans can be heard. Over there are the head and neck specialists, and we have need of no more than two instruments for our operations."
And Fra Sotona caressed his revolver with one hand and his knife with the other ... Looking at these victims who, in a few moments would be in another world, fear written on each face, no one could penetrate the depth of their moral abyss. They silently watched the gathering crowd of more pitiful people, more condemned people like themselves.
Fra Filipovic approached a group of them. Two shots rang out, two victims collapsed, who began to twitch with pain, blood surging from their heads intermingling with the brain of one or the eyes of the other.
'Finish off the rest!' cried Filipovic to the executioner as he put his revolver away. “

Secular Jews make such fusses about such things, being, well, secular, and Jews, and all. Unsightly.

Perhaps, you will say, this is just some peculiarity of Croat Catholicism. Surely the Vatican eventually responded. This is true. They responded after the war. At the highest levels, they systematically smuggled Catholic war criminals out of Europe, so they could escape imprisonment by the Allies. Many of them went to Argentina. The effect was delayed, but the years of the Dirty War showed that packing these people off on the rat lines did make a difference.

Looking elsewhere, we find another state run by a Clerical Nazi Party – the Slovak Republic. Here, a Father Tiso became head of state, supported of course directly by the Nazi party. Catholic historians, who look around for evidence that the Vatican opposed the mass killing of the Jews, often cite the letters sent from the Vatican to Tiso about the deportation of Slovak Jews to the death camps. Indeed, this happened in 1944, and there is a nice, comprehensive account at the Catholic Information Network site . The Holy See protested the deportation of Slovak Jews from a labor camp at Sered to Bergen Belsen. This protest was seconded by Father Tiso.

But before we bestow the ADL man of the year award to Father Tiso, it is necessary to see what other action was taken by his government in relation to Slovak Jews.
- in 1939, on the accession of Father Tiso’s party to power in Slovakia, Jews were forbidden from certain professions.
- In 1940, with the cooperation of Eichman, who advised the Tiso administration, Jews were singled out for the yellow star. They were also committed to labor camps. Expropriation of the wealth of the Jewish Slovak community commenced.

You will not find the Holy See intervening to protest these measures.
The truth is, the Holy See never embraced and actively opposed, most of the time, the exterminationist agenda. The pre World War II Church was, indeed, anti-Jew (a word I prefer to the milky anti-Semitic), but wanted that prejudice embodied in certain cultural and legal restrictions on Jews, not in such things as labor camps or yellow stars. Given that the church’s agenda was to hold onto this prejudice, but to fight the de-humanization and murder of Jews, the Vatican did battle, by its own lights, with the Nazis. The fascisms of Tiso and the Ustashi were of a virulence that was not mainstream. The more decorous notions of order promoted by Catholic thinkers like Eliot are probably closer to the Catholic norm, with their complaint about the modernizing, atheistical strain in society that can be laid at the feet of the Jew.
There. If I was going to place Mel Gibson on the anti-Jew meter, he isn’t even close to Father Tiso. He is, however, typical of the American form of bigotry, which is more about blackballing from clubs, and jokes about Jews with the right listeners. And of course there’s his Dad, who is further in the direction of Father Tiso. These bigots can be recognized by the bristly defensiveness that emerges when they are called about their bigotry. There isn’t, really, any mystery here.

Oh, but before I finish this post with my oh so sophisticated dismissal of Gibson’s anti-Jewism, let me link to this account of a more disgusting and dangerous variant. It isn’t as if Father Tiso’s spirit is dead.

We especially liked the response of the current Slovak charge d’affairs regarding the laws restricting Jews in the professions. This is ur-Gibsonism:

“While he acknowledges that there was anti-Semitism in Slovakia during the wartime period, he argues that some of the first laws targeting Jews, specifically the ones restricting the number of Jewish lawyers and doctors, were not altogether anti-Semitic.
"I'm saying that particular one was not solely anti-Semitic," he says. "I think that one was based on the social justice of trying to get other people into those professions over and above the one minority.’”

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