June 11, 2008
HITLER’S PRIESTS: CATHOLIC CLERGY AND NATIONAL SOCIALISM BY FATHER KEVIN SPICER PROVIDES FIRST EXAMINATION OF CATHOLIC PRIESTS WHO PUBLICLY SUPPORTED NAZISM
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Hitler’s Priests: Catholic Clergy and National Socialism by Kevin P. Spicer, C.S.C. (Northern Illinois University Press in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2008) is the first book exclusively to examine those Catholic priests in Hitler’s Germany who actively supported National Socialism. Dr. Spicer exposes the priests who served as Nazi propagandists, examines their motives, the Catholic Church’s reaction to their party involvement, and the consequences of their political activism including, for some, convictions in post-war trials.
While the Catholic Church officially forbade the involvement of priests in Nazi Party activities through March 1933 and discouraged them from participating in such activities thereafter, a relatively small number of priests—at least 138, who were dubbed “brown priests,”—alluding to the brown shirts worn by the Nazi SA (storm troopers)—publicly backed the Party, and a third of those eventually joined it. There were approximately 24,000 priests in Germany at the time. Dr. Spicer shows how each “brown priest” justified his support for the Nazis. Some harbored nationalistic desires to restore Germany’s greatness after defeat in World War I; others sympathized with the party’s vehement antisemitism. But, whatever their reason, Dr. Spicer explores how all of them were able internally to reconcile Catholic teachings with Nazi doctrine.
“Hitler’s Priests provides a needed, evenhanded treatment of one of the many sensitive aspects of Holocaust studies—the way in which religious leaders, in this case a group of Catholic priests, rationalized their support for the Nazi Party,” says Paul Shapiro, Director of the Museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies. “The Museum works to facilitate responsible and innovative Holocaust scholarship, and Dr. Spicer’s work is an important contribution to the field.”
Hitler’s Priests draws extensively on new source material from government and Church archives and includes a master list—the first of its kind—of the “brown priests.” Those profiled include Bernhard Stempfle, who helped edit Mein Kampf, and Dr. Philipp Haeuser, a Biblical scholar who publicized his antisemitic beliefs more than any other brown priest and glorified Adolf Hitler.
Dr. Spicer serves on the Museum’s Committee on Church Relations and the Holocaust, which works to promote scholarship and examination of the history of the churches during the Holocaust and its ethical legacy. In the 2005-2006 academic year, Dr. Spicer was a Fellow at the Museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, during which time he wrote much of Hitler’s Priests after years of researching the topic.
Dr. Spicer is a visiting professor at the University of Notre Dame and an associate professor of history at Stonehill College where he chairs the college’s Catholic-Jewish Dialogue Committee. He is the author or editor of several scholarly publications including Resisting the Third Reich: The Catholic Clergy in Hitler’s Berlin (Northern Illinois University Press, 2004) and Antisemitism, Christian Ambivalence, and the Holocaust (Indiana University Press in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2007).
A living memorial to the Holocaust, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum strives to inspire leaders and citizens to confront hatred, prevent genocide, promote human dignity and strengthen democracy. Federal support guarantees the Museum’s permanence, and donors nationwide make possible its educational activities and global outreach. For more information, visit www.ushmm.org.