The Holocaust, the Church, and the Law of Unintended Consequences: How Christian
Anti-Judaism Spawned Nazi Anti-Semitism, a Judge’s Verdict
Anthony J. Sciolino
Five Stars (out of Five)
In a haunting yet readable history, Sciolino shows how Christian anti-Semitism contributed to the church’s silent complicity.
Judge and deacon Anthony Sciolino’s debut history is a nuanced and multifaceted exploration of centuries of Christian doctrines concerning Judaism, as well as of the consequences of their cultural embeddedness. The Holocaust, the Church, and the Law of Unintended Consequences poses tough moral questions while also proving to be a haunting,
compulsively readable project.
Sciolino began research for his book hoping to discover that the Catholic Church, and Holocaust-era Pope Pius XII, could be exonerated from complicity in one of the worst most staggering attempts at genocide in human history. He discovered, instead, that Christianity’s foundational anti-Judaism enabled widespread silence and inaction from Europe’s religious
communities, and that the language of church fathers was even used in systemic campaigns against Jews and other “enemies” of the Third Reich.
In an effort to highlight this connection, Sciolino traces anti-Judaism back to the time of Christ. Proving thoroughly conversant with biblical scholarship and church history, he shows how the politically motivated anti-Judaism in New Testament works and, in the writings of church fathers, became entrenched as theologically valid. In turn, he details historical movements against Jewish communities from the Crusades to the Inquisition, from pogroms based on the myth of blood libel to church campaigns of murder and conversion.
The resultant picture of Christian history is veracious, if not flattering. The author delivers readers to the feet of twentieth-century atrocities with the sense that their deadly, Christian-led anti-Semitism was both indefensible, in light of Christian doctrines of love, and entirely predictable, given Christian teachings regarding Jews.
As chapters move through descriptions of inaction, and even of church alliances with the Nazi state, Sciolino paints a picture of a church torn between duty and tradition. The author gives voice both to critics who name Pius XII’s general inaction as complicity, and to apologists who view the lives he did preserve as proof of an impressive break with anti-Jewish tradition. Sciolino relates his references thoroughly and judiciously. The notion of unintended consequences runs throughout, rendering the church’s complicity not always malicious or intentional.
Sciolino’s balancing act is unwieldy yet credible. The worst offenders among Christian clergy are named, including two priests executed for war crimes, and their sins are unflinchingly detailed; but also named are the many Christians honored for saving Jews. Sciolino lists Pius XII’s failings, but also his historically unprecedented moves to save some Jewish lives,
affording even his inaction a level of depth. There are few easy villains in this work.
While meditations on church history don’t always yield immediate rewards, Sciolino’s book does prove a good primer on interactions between church and state, down through modernity. Reflections on the postwar censuring of liberal theologians prove particularly interesting, and invite reflection on how the church might stumble in the future.
Both an indictment for past misdeeds and a call to a more responsible future, The Holocaust, the Church, and the Law of Unintended Consequences is poised to add new depth to discussions of Christianity’s involvement in widespread anti-Jewish sentiment and action.
Michelle Anne Schingler
“Judge Sciolino demonstrates that Nazism’s racial anti-Semitism was rooted in Christian anti-Judaism. From at least the third century, Christianity’s “teaching of contempt” concerning Jews set the encounter between Jews and Christians on a tragic course. These were two related religions that shared many sacred texts and ideas. Christianity emerged out of Judaism originally as a Jewish sect. It laid claim to the Hebrew Bible and to the covenant with God. But the fact that the majority of Jews did not become Christians was a source of concern and hostility to early Christian leaders and a theological threat to the very legitimacy of Christianity.”
Michael N. Dobkowski, Professor, Department of Religious Studies, Hobart and William Smith Colleges
“(Sciolino is) a master of detail and an expert judge of where the detail fits into the overall structure…neither tendentious nor shrill. (He) points to those figures, popes and others, who strove against the anti-Semitic trends of their times. The result is that we get a nuanced picture of Christian complicity. And with that comes the encouragement we need to struggle mightily for reform.”
George Dardess, permanent Catholic deacon and author of several books on the Muslim-Christian dialogue
“This is an impressive, scholarly, provocative and well-written book, that stimulates thinking and discussions, which can be unsettling for a traditional Christian reader. The author provides facts, references and history to prove that the Catholic Church has contributed both to anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism, not only in its actions, but also when it failed to act. Papal authorities, and especially Pope Pius XII is identified as someone who could have, but did not, (maybe for good, but also, maybe for political reasons) done more to prevent Nazism’s atrocities. Many other books on this subject have been written, but this author’s background, legal training, and religious education and ministry provides an honest and courageous perspective.”
Frank C., Victor, NY
“Mr. Sciolino brings a wealth of academic training, experience and discipline to this work. He is a lawyer and a retired Family Court Judge, as well as an ordained Catholic Deacon with an advanced degree in Theology. His ministerial experience includes a successful suburban parish, a mission parish in rural Kentucky, and Jail ministry in his home town of Rochester, NY.
In a well researched book, with a wealth of footnotes, he examines, as I expect he did as a judge, the very often painful history of Christianity and its relationship with Judaism.
As any good judge tries to do, he strives to present the facts and leaves you and I, the jury, to decide culpability. The body of this book sticks with the 2,000 year historical case of Christians and Jews. But, toward the end of the book, Mr. Sciolino lists a few of the cases that the Catholic Church has brought against some of its own clergy and laypeople, who have spoken and/or written their prophetic views on justice and equality and its relationship to the Gospel. These views, when not in direct alignment with Church authorities, have often been met with harsh treatment, and little or no opportunity for explanation or representation. Historically and presently, little seems out of bounds when The Church sees a possible threat to its authority and self preservation, whether from without or within.
The redeeming fact we all must keep in mind is that at Vatican II it was proclaimed that The People of God are the Church, not simply the institutional Church.”
Jerry Norton, Webster, NY
Well researched and well written. Almost as though the author actually lived it. I would recommend it to any history or religion buff.
Double “Bassman,” Victor, NY
“Anthony Sciolino’s book on the Holocaust is insightful. If more people had the courage to speak the truth and the bravery to take action, this could diminish some of the injustices in the world.”
Camille Perlo-Rochester, New York
This book is a cogent summarization of an enormous amount of scholarship all in service of proving the central thesis of the book as stated in the title. Utilizing the form of a legal brief, Judge Sciolino, in readable prose free of all jargon, makes a compelling case for his thesis which should convince all but the most partisan readers. This is an excellent work appropriate for all readers from high school and college students to all adults interested in one of the great issues of historical thought-What caused the Holocaust.
Ruth M. Yang
A must read
Judge Sciolino has carefully researched his subject and presents us with irrefutable information we are
uncomfortable in knowing. However, no positive change occurs without acknowledgment of past mistakes and this book is a good step towards those needed changes.
Judge Sciolino has produced a scholarly (but quite readable) book. His honest approach to the connection between the Holocaust and Christian history will serve as a catharsis for many Catholics and Jews. His work will unquestionably improve the bond between our faiths. I can highly recommend it to everyone with a desire for a better understanding of the events of the twentieth century and the two millennia preceding it.
Ira “Bob” Born
Past Chair of the Anti-Defamation League Interfaith Committee
I found Judge Sciolino’s book to be both fascinating and scary at the same time. I was raised in a Jewish home and as a child remember hearing how many Christians felt that Jews had killed Christ and that we were not to be trusted because of our different beliefs I never quite understood how this happened. Now, reading this very well documented book that cites church teachings that go back over 2000 years, it’s easy to understand how these ideas developed. Anti-Judaism became part of the Catholic church’s doctrine, supported
by many of the popes through history. Judge Sciolino then fast forwards to the rise of Nazi Germany in the early 1930’s where Hitler himself was able to reference some of these same teachings, and in fact uses some of the same demonizing language in his own writings. Add to that the fact that Pope Pius XII and the Church did nothing to denounce Hitler and the Holocaust while it was happening, Judge Sciolino builds a strong case for rendering his decision that the Catholic Church, by its unwillingness to speak out against Hitler, helped to support his goal. I learned so much from reading it.
Sciolino’s exposure of the Catholic Church and its role in failing to stop the Holocaust is very well done.
He opens with a brief, personal, subjective view. Thereafter, he objectively and methodically unfolds two thousand years of history with thorough research and interpretation. He shows astute balance when he skillfully weaves the forces of good into his research which include the acts of those who followed their conscience in an attempt to stop the injustices and genocide. The concluding chapter includes more current research (as recent as 2012) which refers to present and future issues. It leaves the reader with much to ponder.
I would recommend that this book be placed on High School, College and University book lists. I have been sharing it with others and will keep a copy on my bookshelf as one of my favorite reads and valuable historical resources.
Book extremely well researched and footnoted to back up all statements in the book. Thus one is able research all stated facts.
Norman J. Lederman DDS
This book is a masterful summarization of the key ideas in the cultural/intellectual history of the Roman Catholic Church and Western Europe underpinning the anti-Judaism which ultimately lead to the Holocaust. It resembles Jared Diamond’s Guns,Germs and Steel in that like Professor Diamond, Judge Sciolino imbues what is essentially a description of complex ideas with a narrative force that makes the book a real page-turner. The book is ideal for general readers of all ages and would make an excellent text for any course in Western civilization at the high school or college level. All in all an outstanding work.
Excellent Read for Honest Catholics
This book is well-researched. It is thoughtful and insightful. Mr. Sciolino is fair and honest and recognizes the courage of some Christians and the miserable failure of others, most notably high-ranking church officials. He comes across as someone who loves the Catholic faith, but is capable of acknowledging the many historical mistakes of the institutional Church which is very human. Anyone interested in history, particularly the Second World War, or anyone who has ever asked how the Holocaust could have happened, should read Mr. Sciolino’s extremely well-written book.
“This is one of the most informative books focused on the Shoah that I have read in a long time and I have read much on the subject. It is extremely well-researched and well-written. It held my interest and it’s 2,000 year view of Christian behavior toward Jews was eye-opening to say the least. If you are a student of the Shoah, this book is a must-read.”
“Anthony Sciolino, a scholar and deacon of his church has reviewed the history of the Church to uncover the pattern of anti-Semitism and anti-Jewsh traditions and has acknowledged the thread running through the Crusades, the Inquisition and the stunning refusal to oppose the Nazi holocaust. Even after the war, when the Pope and the church was safe, Pope Pius did nothing to condemn the atrocities or ex-communicate the Nazi perpetrators.
Mr. Sciolino’s courage is that he does not shy away from the backlash that his book will bring from his own cherished community. In a church that is hierarchical and authoritarian, it takes great courage to find fault with the church and its leaders. But the only way to move forward and to correct the wrongs of the past is to acknowledge the failings of the church and to try to correct it. This book exposes the underlying failures of the church and its history of anti-Jewish practices which helped create the holocaust.
“Five stars because of the thorough research and documented coverage of a delicate subject. Recommended for anyone who wants an unbiased history of the factors that led to the holocaust and the people and institutions responsible.”
“I have just finished reading your book and want you to know how much I enjoyed it. I admire your thorough research and scholarship. Although I had a passing familiarity with most of the historical events, I learned so much about the attitudes and interaction of the various popes. Your analysis presented opposing points of view and added a great perspective to the course of history. It compels any reader to think about the oppression of any minority now and in the future.”
Richard D. Rosenbloom
This book is an incredibly thorough analysis of the Church’s role in the holocaust; but it is more than that; it thoroughly explains the history behind the lack of response by the Church.
Jessie Marvin Lazeroff
Anthony J. Sciolino provides a sober, serious and judicious examination of the role Roman Catholic anti-Judaism played in Hitler’s campaign to destroy the Jewish people. Sciolino combines the skills of a lawyer and former judge with the conscientious dedication to the Gospel of Love as a deacon to provide the reader with a lucid , balanced and scrupulously fair analysis of the Church’s pervasive view of the Jewish refusal to convert as a threat to the legitimacy of Christianity as the “New Israel” superseding Judaism. He lucidly documents both the Church’s hostility toward and lack of concern for the Jewish people most especially during the Holocaust. Although there were a few righteous Christians protecting Jews, Christians overwhelming viewed the Jews as Christ- killers who were largely incapable of accepting the Gospel, wandering the earth spreading misery and corruption. Sciolino documents how the Church engaged in much evil out of religious conviction- blood libel against the “ignominious” Jews, the establishment of Jewish ghettos,inquisitions, synagogue burnings, copies of the Talmud burned, forced baptisms etc. All of this made Jews easy prey, according to Sciolino, during the Nazi period. As judge and deacon Sciolino makes his case that Christians generally and Catholics specifically have historically failed to exercise a well-formed conscience based on the Gospel of Love in their treatment of Jews setting the stage to treat the Jews as “the Other” leading putative Christians to participate actively or as bystanders in the Nazi genocide. What is most powerful and savagely honest in Sciolino’s courageous book is the need for the Church to face its history in humility, recognizing that it is not a “perfect society” on earth and consequently must constantly rededicate itself to the Gospel of Love in its concern for the socially and religiously marginalized.
Dr. Kenneth L. Deutsch, Professor of Political Science, SUNY at Geneseo