Holocaust Survivors and Remembrance Network
Facing the Burden of German History:
Report Details Catholic Role in Nazi Abuses

Cardinal Karl Lehmann said that
the Church would continue facing the burden of history.

April 9, 2008


BERLIN (Reuters) -- The Roman Catholic Church in Germany exploited nearly 6,000 forced laborers during the Nazi era, the church said in a report released Tuesday.

In 2000, the church acknowledged its use of forced labor under Hitler; it has paid about $2.35 million in compensation to foreign workers. The report, "Forced Labor and the Catholic Church 1939-1945," is the most thorough look at the issue.

It documents the fate of 1,075 prisoners of war and 4,829 civilians who were forced to work for the Nazis in nearly 800 Catholic institutions &emdash; including hospitals and monastery gardens &emdash; to help the war effort.

The church, which has financed more than 200 "reconciliation" projects, said final numbers would never be known.

"It should not be concealed that the Catholic Church was blind for too long to the fate and suffering of men, women and children from the whole of Europe who were carted off to Germany as forced laborers," Cardinal Karl Lehmann said at the presentation of the report.

Catholics and Protestants were subject to oppression under the Nazis, but aside from some notable voices of opposition from each church, they generally went along with the regime.

The SS expropriated more than 300 monasteries and Catholic institutions from 1940 to 1942, and thousands of Catholics were sent to concentration camps, said Karl-Joseph Hummel, a historian and a co-author of the report.

At a televised news conference in Mainz, Mr. Hummel said the term "cooperative antagonism" summed up the church's strategy at the time. The report said a large proportion of the workers &emdash; mostly from Poland, Ukraine and the Soviet Union &emdash; were forced to help the Nazi war effort in military hospitals that would not have been able to keep operating without them.

The Nazis shipped millions of people from conquered territories, especially in Eastern Europe, to work for the war economy in poor conditions.

Mr. Hummel said the conditions for those in forced labor for the church were not as bad as at some other organizations.