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  • Katholizismus und Antisemitismus: Mentalitäten, Kontinuitäten, Ambivalenzen: Zur Kulturgeschichte der Schweiz, 1918–1945
  • Martin Menke
Katholizismus und Antisemitismus: Mentalitäten, Kontinuitäten, Ambivalenzen: Zur Kulturgeschichte der Schweiz, 1918–1945. By Urs Altermatt ( Frauenfeld, Switzerland: Verlag Huber. 1999. Pp. 414. sFr. 58.-.)

At first glance, Urs Altermatt's study appears to be strictly about anti-Semitism among twentieth-century Swiss Catholics, a response to Switzerland's belated confrontation with its own past, but it quickly reveals itself to be much more. Altermatt provides what may be the most judicious discussion of the relationship of Catholicism and anti-Semitism in the first half of the twentieth-century, at least in German-speaking Central Europe. Urs Altermatt (Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Fribourg) employs a social-science methodology that provides particular clarity to his analysis. After a comprehensive review of the scholarly literature, he formulates his fundamental question about the role of traditional Catholic mentalities toward Jews in the failure to assist Jews persecuted by the Nazi regime. Altermatt provides a much better explanation than John Cornwell or Daniel Jonah Goldhagen. He uses the Tridentine Good Friday liturgy, passion plays, and other practices popular in Central Europe [End Page 339] to explore the extent of deep-seated anti-Judaism. As sources, he uses texts ranging from academic monographs and standard works of theological commentary to daily newspapers and weekly Catholic family magazines. He then goes on to discuss the distinctions made by church leaders and Catholic intellectuals between permitted anti-Semitism, a mixture of traditional anti-Judaism and antimodern socioeconomic and cultural prejudice, and prohibited anti-Semitism, which was racial. Altermatt distinguishes anti-Semitism from xenophobia and anti-Zionism, both of which contributed to the failure of the Swiss to extend a greater measure of assistance than they did. It is particularly this carefully differentiated analysis that makes this volume especially valuable, for here Altermatt goes much further than, for example, Beth Griech-Polelle in her study of Klemens August Graf von Galen, Bishop of Münster, or even Uwe Mazura in his important study on the attitudes toward Jews of members of the German Center Party. One of the other strengths of this work is Altermatt's differentiation of anti-Semitism over time. After discussing what he calls "the long shadow of Catholic anti-Judaism," he carefully delineates the shift under antimodernist influences to xenophobic fears. Most interesting is the focus on Swiss Catholic opinion during the years of the Nazi regime in Germany. It develops from a position marked largely by the fear of Jewish refugees flooding Switzerland to one marked by growing concerns about Nazi violence but not a decline in anti-Semitic attitudes to increasing embarrassment at the inaction of Swiss Catholics. Finally, in 1944, Altermatt notes an outburst of outrage at the news about the deportations of Hungarian Jews. Ultimately, Altermatt places much of the blame on Catholic parish priests who failed to educate their flocks to have "respect, tolerance, or empathy for suffering and persecuted Jews" (p.299). As long as the world of Swiss Catholicism remained intact, there seemed to be little reason to question one's own attitudes, much less actively to take on the cause of the persecuted Jews. In this, Swiss Catholics did not differ from those of other countries.

Unlike some other scholars, Altermatt argues that it makes little sense to talk of collective guilt and innocence, but that collective shame (Kollektivscham) requires Catholics today to take responsibility for the past.

This work deserves translation into English, not only because of its comprehensive analysis of Swiss anti-Semitism and the parallels drawn to mentalities among German Catholics, but also because of its value as a particularly clear study of the relationship of anti-Judaism to anti-Semitism and its relation to other mentalities and influences that help explain the failure of Christians to assist Jews in their time of need. Finally, it is a model of the careful, exhaustive research that too often is lacking in works on the difficult relationship between Catholics and Jews.

Martin Menke
Rivier College


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pp. 339-340
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