The “Saint” who hated Jews

It was with a great deal of disappointment to read the news that Pope Francis is recommending that the Vatican declare sainthood for the former Primate of the Roman Catholic Church in Poland.

Augustus Cardinal Hlond had been the highest ranking member of Polish Catholicism from 1926-1948, twenty-two years of bitter hatred against the Jewish population in all of Poland

In the late 1920’s to the middle of the 1930’s prior to Poland’s invasion by Nazi Germany, Cardinal Hlond used much of his energy denigrating the Jews.  In an open letter to the Catholic clergy, to be read at a Sunday mass in each of the thousands of Catholic churches in Poland, the Cardinal wrote that the Jews are an immoral people, that Catholics should not befriend Jews, that Catholics must boycott all Jews in professions such as medicine and law. Catholics were instructed not to shop in Jewish-owned stores. And finally, in his infamous remark, he wrote: “zydzie do Palestyna”.. Jews should get out of Poland and go to live in Palestine.

It is ironically a great pity that so many Jews did not take the Cardinal’s advice. Had tens of thousands of Polish Jewry emigrated to Palestine in the early 1930’s, their lives would have been saved from the onslaught of the Holocaust.

In 1931, my wife’s grandfather, an Orthodox Jew living in Warsaw, was informed of the death of his mother in Dzialoszyce in southern Poland. He went to the railroad station and bought a train ticket in order to be at his mother’s funeral.

While waiting, he was attacked by a group of Polish thugs who cut off his long beard and payot and tore his clothing, while shouting at him “Smierc Zydom. Zydowskie psy, wynos sie z Polski”… death to the Jews; Jewish dogs, get out of Poland”.

That was the atmosphere in a fascist-like country from the time of Poland’s independence in 1918.

As a result, my wife’s grandfather was not able to attend his mother’s funeral . Perhaps, in one way, it was a blessing. Because of it, he was determined to leave Poland together with his married children and their spouses.

He sold his large textile factory in Warsaw and began preparations for emigrating.  Because Palestine at the time was controlled by the British Mandate, it was extremely difficult to obtain a certificate granting permission to the holder to immigrate to Palestine.

He needed not only one certificate, but  nine, for himself and his wife, his married children and a young grandson. Because he was well known as a philanthropist and a major supporter in the Warsaw Jewish community, he was successful after two years of applying and received the necessary documents permitting the family to enter Palestine.

In 1933 the family arrived in Palestine and settled in the Montefiore quarter of Tel-Aviv. There, my wife’s grandfather built a lovely home and garden and opened a new textile factory, one of the few in Palestine.

He is listed in the Encyclopedia of Chalutzim (pioneers) in Jewish industry in Palestine.

Only the eldest daughter and her husband and son chose not to emigrate. They remained in Warsaw, were transferred to the ghetto in 1942 and all three were exterminated in Treblinka.

Cardinal Hlond made no efforts nor appeals to Catholics to help their Jewish neighbors. On the contrary.

In 1946 a small group of Polish Jews who had survived the death camps made their way back home to the city of Kielce to locate their former homes and property. They were set upon by Poles who had taken possession of Jewish homes and property and who refused to return anything to the Jewish survivors.

The Poles murdered 42 Jews in cold blood and another 41 were badly injured. The streets of Kielce ran red with Jewish blood.

And the Catholic Primate of Poland, Augustus Cardinal Hlond, refused to condemn the pogrom and the Catholic perpetrators of the murders.

Earlier, when the Catholic Poles in Jedwabne gathered some 350 Jewish residents and locked them in a very large barn and set fire to it, massacring all the Jews inside,. then too the Church was silent.

For the Vatican to consider beatification of Cardinal Hlond as the first step to sainthood, is a disgrace unworthy of the Catholic church.

If Hlond remained silent during the pre-war, inter-war, and post-war years in which three and one half million Polish Jews were exterminated, the Vatican must not be silent. It must recognize his crimes of anti-Semitic hatred which fueled the fires for too many Poles to involve themselves in the killing of Jews.

The greatest of the Polish Catholic clergy, Karol Jozef Wojtyla , Cardinal of Krakow, had grown up among Jews and was very friendly to Jews. As a Cardinal, he took a moderate position in Vatican matters and in 1978 he was named Pope John II , called by Catholics   “Pope  John the Good Saint”.

He kept in touch with several of his former Jewish playmates and students from his youth in Wadowice. A number of them were invited to the Vatican ceremonies in which he received the crown of the papacy.

Likewise, several of his Jewish friends in Israel travelled to Poland to attend his funeral in 2005.

He was a beloved friend of Poland’s Jews.   Unlike Cardinal Hlond, the proposed candidate for papal honor , the anti-Semitic Pope who hated Jews,  Pope John II will always be remembered as the great saint who loved the Jews.

May his memory be for a blessing.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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