I teach at a Catholic university and last semester co-taught (with a theologian) a class titled The Holocaust and its Legacies. Once my students...

I teach at a Catholic university and last semester co-taught (with a theologian) a class titled The Holocaust and its Legacies. Once my students became comfortable with me, they began to pepper me with questions about the role of the Catholic church during the Holocaust. Some of these questions–about the church and antisemitism, about the role of the Pope–I was able to answer effectively. But when they started asking me about the behaviors and beliefs of the bishops and priests-the people in the church who interacted with ordinary people on an everyday basis–I was at a loss.

Thanks to Lauren Faulkner Rossi’s new book Wehrmacht Priests: Catholicism and the Nazi War of Annihilation (Harvard University Press, 2015), I can now give a much more informed and thoughtful answer to these questions. While Rossi spends some time looking at the macro level, she devotes most of her book to ‘ordinary’ priests who served in the German army. Some of these men were chaplains specifically entrusted with the pastoral care of the men in their units. Many others were priests who served in the army in other roles, who were specifically prohibited from offering such care to their fellow soldiers.

Her book offers a nuanced, well-researched and convincing portrait of ordinary people trying to integrate their religious faith and their positions in the church with their service in a nazified army. It’s a compelling story, one that Rossi tells well. I will be recommending it to my students for a long time to come.

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