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  • The Holocaust and Catholic Conscience. Cardinal Aloisius Muench and the Guilt Question in Germany
  • John S. Conway
The Holocaust and Catholic Conscience. Cardinal Aloisius Muench and the Guilt Question in Germany. By Suzanne Brown-Fleming. (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 2006. Pp. xiv, 240. $45.00 clothbound; $20.00 paperback.)

Suzanne Brown-Fleming's short study of the post-1945 career in Germany of Bishop, later Cardinal, Aloisius Muench seeks to rectify some shortcomings she finds in F. Colman Barry's biography written in the 1960's. In particular, she examines the Cardinal's record on the question of German guilt for the crimes of the Holocaust, and the underlying anti-Semitic attitudes shared by so many Germans. In her view, Muench, as the Vatican's leading representative in Germany from 1946 to 1959, contributed to the lack of self-examination and the perpetuation of anti-Semitic prejudices among German Catholics. In this way, he was emblematic of the Catholic Church's failure in this period to confront its own complicity in Nazism's anti-Jewish ideology.

Brown-Fleming is quite right—even though not the first—to note the peculiar mentality which prevailed among the German established classes in the post-1945 years. Many foreign observers, including this reviewer, recall very clearly the repellent mixture of self-justification and self-pity, based on a still vibrant nationalism, even racism, which concentrated on the Germans' suffering and alleged mistreatment and ignored entirely the fate of others. Only a few stalwart voices called for acknowledgment of, and repentance for, the crimes committed in Germany's name. Bishop Muench was not among them. Instead, as an American envoy, he swallowed uncritically the Germans' self-assessment and did his best to promote his philo-German and anti-guilt ideology, based on his own deeply conservative and often anti-Semitic world-view. But Brown-Fleming runs the risk of exaggerating Muench's influence. The regrettable attitudes she deplores were not his invention and indeed owed little to his advocacy.

In fact, this German mood was founded on several fundamental points. The German elite had been badly scarred by the humiliations suffered in 1919; they now expected that their second defeat would lead to a super-Versailles. All shared a deeply-entrenched dread of Russian Communism, and many believed the Western allies' policy would also be based on revenge. German Catholics sought to defend their new-found national position as exemplified in the Concordat. When the Cold War broke out, the Western allies needed to recruit the west German population to their side. They therefore accepted the self-serving apologias proffered by this group and the accompanying amnesia about their Nazi past. Muench's views nicely fitted into this political reality.

Why was Muench appointed, not only as the Vatican's representative but also as liaison adviser on Catholic affairs to the U.S. military government?He was born and brought up in the Catholic diaspora in Milwaukee, taught in the seminary, and was promoted to the small rural diocese of Fargo, North Dakota, in 1935. His contacts with Europe were limited, and he had no diplomatic [End Page 344] experience. His nomination as Apostolic Delegate in 1946 was in fact largely due to the fiasco of an earlier attempt to resurrect the Vatican's diplomatic presence in Germany. In November, 1945, the Vatican had sent an elderly Italian Archbishop, who spoke no English, but appeared with a large retinue to uphold the Papal presence. General Eisenhower was not pleased, and made it clear that only an American would do. At the same time, the Secretary for War in Washington wanted a German-speaking Catholic dignitary to act as liaison with the military government. Apparently no one else filled the bill, so Muench in fact obtained both appointments and fulfilled both for three years. He avoided any potential clash by becoming a strong advocate of the interests of his "clients," the German Catholic population. These people, in turn, assumed that Muench had substantial influence in both Rome and Washington, and when they found him to be sympathetic, increasingly sought his good...


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