ADSS 3.2.444 Hilary Breitinger to Pope Pius XII: situation in the Warthegau and papal silence

3.2.444 Hilary Breitinger to Pope Pius XII (1)

Reference: AES 263/43

Location and date: Poznań, 23.11.1942

Summary statement: Pessimistic report on the religious situation in the Warthegau:  confiscation of churches, obstacles to the apostolate; pressures placed on German immigrants; threats of economic reprisal; anti-religious propaganda.  The Gov’t is trying to separate German Catholics in Warthegau into a church independent of Rome.  Protests do not have any effect.  Breitinger appeals for direct intervention by the Pope.  Catholics are astonished at the silence of the Pope; even the functionaries of the regime wait for a word from the Pope.  Breitinger proposes to unit the territory of the Warthegau with a German ecclesiastical province in order to safeguard Catholic unity.

Language: German


Your Holiness, having the greater good of the Church at heart, and in order to facilitate relationships for German Catholics of the Wartheland and for the salvation of our souls, has appointed me Apostolic Administrator and placed your confidence in me to solve the difficult tasks that confront us here.  In obedience to Your Holiness and trusting in the help of God, I have taken on these tasks.

Unfortunately I have to report that all my efforts have not achieved the desired results.  There are still thousands, even tens of thousands of German Catholics who have no opportunity to attend Church services, and which, despite all efforts I am not able to provide the means of grace of our holy religion, because we priests are prevented by government regulations from working in ten counties and in numerous other districts our work is very limited.

Most churches where there had been regular worship are now used for other purposes, such as the cathedral in Gniezno, which is currently being rebuilt and will be a National Socialist holy place.  On the conscience of the faithful, pressure is applied unlike at any other time in history (2).  Thus, all Catholics from the Old Reich, who are profiting from the opening up of the Wartheland, are no longer considered as Catholics and the Catholic Church has no voice here.

All officials and employees of public enterprises are notified in writing that any association with the church will be reported to a superior authority, and all who receive such letters are frightened because such a notice to state agencies comes with professional, economic and financial disadvantages.  Ethnic Germans are issued with provisional identity cards showing their affiliations with the German people, and they are always in fear of loosing these cards because of “religious affiliations”.  In numerous lectures and training course, Catholics are subjected to claims that the Catholic Church is out-dated, foolish and untrue, so that no German could allegedly belong to such an institution.

Concerning the constitutional relationship of the Catholic Church to the state, I have used the office for the ecclesiastical affairs of the Reich Governor according to the decree of 13 September 1941, by which the legal entity of private right with the name “The Roman Catholic Church of German Nationality in the Reichsgau Wartheland” was created by the Reich Governor, and which is guided by a series of negotiations.  These negotiations have led me to the conviction that the state and party officials in charge of the regulation of ecclesiastical affairs wish to enforce a separation of Catholics from the German Reich from Warthegau Catholics.

All talk of preparation for the separation of the Roman Catholic Church in the Wartheland from the rest of the Church is denied by the Reich Governor, but several conversations with other officials have clearly shown that there is an intention from the decree of 13 September 1941 to create a “Rome Free” church.  They are only waiting for the moment to make the break with Rome.

Catholics in the Wartheland have always opposed these moves and repeatedly emphasised to the relevant government agencies over and over, that for reasons of clarity and truthfulness, the name “Rome Catholic Church of German nationality in the Reichsgau Wartheland” created by the Reich governor as a corporate body is shocking since this corporate body could not be described as a “church”.  Furthermore, we have always stressed emphatically that we will always remain members of the church founded by Christ, and that in all ecclesiastical matters the decision of the Pope is authoritative for us.

This state and party battle against the unity of the Church is deliberate and purposeful.  If it is not handled frankly we believe that the above objections will not be sufficient to achieve a reasonable legal basis for us against the state, and make us less able to provide adequate religious support for all Catholics.  The responsibility for the pastoral care of so many believers, which cannot receive sufficient assistance, was my predecessor, the Most Reverend Canon Dr Paech, who is so depressed that he will not recover physically (3).

The responsibility that rests so heavily on me has brought me to my wits end.  Therefore, it seems necessary that our efforts be supported by the Apostolic Nuncio as the representative of Your Holiness and by the entire German episcopate so that the official bodies of state and party are made aware of the situation.  Therefore, I consider it my duty, Holiness, to put forward the following.  I offer no judgement or consideration on the possibilities and practicalities of Your Holiness’ decisions and course of action.  I submit myself to your Holiness’s decision in obedience and reverence.  For I do not pretend to be aware of the reason for the public silence of Your Holiness and the German bishops in relations to all the questions concerning the Catholic Church in the Wartheland about which you have been informed.

The Catholics of the Wartheland repeatedly raise the question of “why does the pope not help us?” and “why is he silent?”  In their plight they wait longingly for a religious explanation from Your Holiness.  Even if such a public word should not be possible today, the Catholics of the Wartheland believe, however, that a more emphatic protest of Hour Hominess to the German government against what amounts to the oppression and petty regulation of the life of the Church in the Wartheland by the state and, especially police authorities would be successful.

In some political training courses the leader remarked that a diplomatic step of Your Holiness would not be without effect.  Even the Secret Police (Gestapo) have often in private conversations with German Catholics, expressed their wonder that the Apostolic See has never taken a position on all the government measures that affect the local church in the area.  Even if the latter were not true, the Reich Government appears to see in Your Holiness’ non-interference an acceptance that the matter is not really important.

In addition, I submit to Your Holiness a request to annex the local area of this church administration to a Metropolitan diocese in the Old Reich (5).  I am aware that such an affiliation stands in the way of very important legal and political reasons.  But I still believe, Your Holiness, that the question of providing such a possibility has the following advantages:

1. It would be seen that an annexation would be public proof that the Catholics of the Wartheland are members of the Catholic Church and can never be separated from it;
 2. Through such an affiliation the fate of Catholics would no longer depend on me alone, but would be shared by the whole German episcopate who would jointly bear the heavy responsibility for the Catholics of the Wartheland, and thus provide away out of the present emotional distress;
3) regarding pastoral care, it seems to me that the annexation of German Catholics to a Metropolitan diocese would be advantageous.  Today many Catholics in the Wartheland come from the Old Reich and their faith slowly dissipates due to the lack of pastoral care, but with joint discussions with the German episcopate we will find ways and means for Catholics to sustain their faith and help them remain faithful to their Church (4).

Holy Father!  In all humility I felt obliged to present the above possibilities to Your Holiness for the support of the life of the Church in the Wartheland and ask for your consideration of my suggestions.

With the request of your prayers and the Apostolic Blessing, I remain, Your Holiness most obedient and affectionate son.

Cross references: 
(1) Hilary Breitinger OFM Conv (1907-1994) was a Bavarian Conventual Franciscan who was given permission by the Wartheland authorities to minister to German Catholics in Poznan.  The Polish Franciscans had been expelled after the German occupation on 01.12.1939.  Polish Catholics were prohibited from attending the Church of Our Lady of Miracles.  The Polish friars returned in February 1945.
(2) During the German occupation, one Catholic Church for the use of Poles was permitted in each of the counties of the Gau. By the end of 1941 about 450 of the 681 priests of the archdiocese of Gniezno-Poznan were still working.   Many had been expelled to the General Government or KZ Dachau.  There were 14 priests permitted to work with German Catholics and 32 for Poles.
(3) Joseph Paech (1880-1942) Vicar Capitular of the Cathedral of Poznan.  Appointed as Apostolic Administrator for the German speaking Catholics in the Warthegau by the German nuncio, Cesare Orsenigo in 1941, Paech resigned on 02.05.1942 citing physical and mental exhaustion.  Breitinger succeeded him.  Paech died later in 1942.
(4) None of the suggestions were acted upon.  Cardinal Bertram, Archbishop of Breslau and Metropolitan of the Eastern German ecclesiastical province refused to accept the newly annexed territories into his province on the grounds that they had no international recognition.  Traditionally the church did not recognise changes to borders during wartime, but waited until a formal peace treaty had been signed and acknowledged by international law.
(5) “Metropolitan” refers to a division of church territory.  The basic unit is the parish.  A cluster of parishes form a deanery, which in their turn constitutes a diocese, governed by a local bishop.  A group of diocese form an ecclesiastical province overseen by a metropolitan archbishop.  The Warthegau lay within the metropolitan archdiocese of Poznan but since the archbishop, Cardinal Hlond had fled and his auxiliaries either exiled or imprisoned it relied on an Apostolic Administrator who was supposed to keep the diocese operational.  The nearest metropolitan archbishop was Cardinal Betram of Breslau who refused to consider accepting the Warthegau into his ecclesiastical province for the reasons mentioned above.

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