Since that time, I have not abandoned the occasion to suggest, politely, to their Excellencies the Bishops, the opportunity for a bishops’ conference. There were many issues of common interest to examine and, confined to the racist question, the earlier antisemitic laws had raised many problems of a religious order that required necessary study and resolve by mutual agreement.
Appeals and isolated protests to the Government made by diocesan curia remained without effect; joint action of the bishops would have greater chance of success. Unfortunately, if took several months for their excellencies to find the time to meet.
Finally, when I was confidentially informed on 3 September that the publication of the new laws against the Jews was only a matter of days away, and that the provisions relating to marriage were very serious and would have retrospective effect (they were later changed at the last moment), I went to Nitra to suggest at once, the prompt convening of a meeting of the bishops; moreover, I had heard that the Minister of the Interior, who was working on the Jewish Code, had expressed surprise that the bishops remained silent, and did not know the point of view of the Ministry, at least in matters that directly affect the interests of the Church.
In Nitra I was told that it was not so serious and urgent, and that the news received the news from the President of the Republic was reassuring. In view of this, I did not dare insist. A few days later on 8 September, Bishop [Andrea] Škrábik, [1882-1950] coadjutor of Bánská Bystrica wrote to me as follows:
[Original text in Latin] Reflecting on your visit to Nitra last week, I had an opportunity to have an interview with the President, who said to me: a) the published laws do not effect Jews who have already contracted ecclesiastical marriages; for future such marriages which do not present the matrimonial impediment but only hide it (such marriages are forbidden), will have no penal sanction for those who officially preside at such marriages, but the contracting parties will be subject to the penalties according to the laws regarding civil marriage. b) Aspects that go beyond the Nuremberg Laws. These laws, in relation to the Slovakian Jewish code will be tiresome for a few, mild for others. Under the new law the President will have the right to grant exemptions if the person concerned proves themselves worthy and their behaviour warrants the exemption. The President asks that we have confidence in him”.
Nevertheless, I thought it appropriate to ask, privately, for an audience with the President of the Republic, to see if he really was able to give a clear and authoritative word, which was strong enough to allay apprehensions about the extent of the antisemitic laws in preparation. Until that time no one imagined that the announcement of the Jewish Code would be made in such a surprising way by a simple Government decree. It was believed that there would be, at least a pro forma participation of the Chamber.
I was granted an audience on 10 September, the same morning the newspapers promulgated the Jewish Code. I had no choice, in my discussion with Dr Tiso, to complain about the laws, and to express my regret that in some points of the Code the rights of the Church and of Catholics were misunderstood and to vow the President of the Republic would take the appropriate measures to repair or mitigate the licensed injustices.
Bishop Škrábik immediately expressed his disappointment with a letter, which I include in part: (in Latin):
The feelings which have driven the government orders on the Jews, are scarcely in harmony with what was told me by the President and which I wrote to your reverence on 8 September. We seek the statements made by the Holy See and Italian and German bishops on this matter, that they may be studied in the conference which the Bishop of Nitra [Charles Kmetko 1875-1948] will probably convene in Bratislava on 7 October.
I replied to Bishop Škrábik, expressing the fear that some of the measures in the Jewish Code would be put into effect before the Bishops’ conference. For example the obligation to wear the Hebrew Badge (Star of David), would affect many Catholics (more than three thousand); that regardless of what is discussed and decided upon at the conference, it would be good to go immediately to the office of the President of the Republic, exercising their right under Paragraph 255 of the Code which exempts “Hebrew Catholics” from wearing the Badge. Bishop Škrábik wrote at once in this vein to the President.
The decree on the marking of the Jews was issued today (18 September) by the Ministry of the Interior. In paragraph 2 e) it said that the only exemptions from wearing the Jewish Badge were granted to Jews who belonged to one of the Christian Churches recognised by the State, provided they were baptised before the 10 September 1941.
The next bishops’ conference will also certainly have to deal with other problems associated with the promulgation of the “Jewish Code”, especially issues related to marriage and schools. I will not fail to inform your eminence.
Notes of Mgr Tardini
Monsignor Burzio protests with the note written.
Prepare a note for the Legation here. (ADSS 8.199 – Maglione’s protest to Slovakian minister Karel Sidor)
(Cf also ADSS 8.173 – Slovakian Bishops letter to Tiso.