I just finished reading a fascinating book called "Light One Candle," an autobiography by Holocaust survivor Solly Ganor. This is not a review of the book, but I highly recommend it. One aspect of the story, however, really jumped out at me. In European countries, just as World War II began, there was so much distrust and resentment toward Jewish people, the brutal Nazi invaders had no trouble recruiting local Catholics to do a lot of their dirty work. These roving bands of sadistic young men dragged entire Jewish families from their homes, and then marched them into nearby forests where they all were shot dead and tossed into mass graves.
In many cases, the blood-thirsty natives who collaborated with the Nazis justified their actions by claiming that the Jews were "Christ killers." That is, all Jews throughout history were responsible for Jesus being crucified. As I read the book, I'm not sure which made me more sick to my stomach: the stark brutality of the hate-filled murderers, or their pathetic attempt to justify their actions as a holy defense of Jesus' honor.
So, to summarize, these Catholics claimed the violent murder of innocent people was done to honor the Prince of Peace. Umm, sure.
Anti-semitism has been a persistent problem in Europe for centuries. And by the time the war broke out in 1939, there had been six or seven years of intense Nazi propaganda that blamed the Jews for all the ills of the world. A key component of this propaganda was the idea that Jews were untermensch, "sub-human." Ridding a town of Jews was thought to be no different than ridding a building of cockroaches. This mindset allowed many church-going Christians and Catholics to commit heinous atrocities with very few pangs of conscience.
By the way, labeling a group of people as "sub-human" allowed slavery to flourish in the United States for so many generations. Watch Steven Spielberg's movie "Lincoln," starring Daniel Day-Lewis, and pay close attention to the way congressmen -- even the ones from the North -- described black people. It's clear they had been brain-washed to view all people from Africa as some curious animal hybrid, that is, sub-human.
Anyway, as a Catholic, I felt a great deal of shame reading about European Catholics who willingly committed mass murder by insisting they were just giving those sub-human "Christ killers" what they deserved.
It's true the Catholic Church has a checkered history regarding Jewish people. Anti-semitism and that "Christ killer" label were used to justify all kinds of horrible things over the centuries, including the Spanish Inquisition. But the official Church has repeatedly declared -- at the Council of Trent in the 1500s, at the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1994 -- that Jewish people are not and never have been responsible for Jesus' death on the cross.
Jesus was crucified by Roman soldiers, at the insistence of certain religious leaders in Jerusalem who felt threatened by His message and His popularity. But the Lord was not "killed by the Jews." What put Jesus on the cross was the sin of mankind. He was killed by sin, our sin. To claim that Jewish people living in Europe in 1939 (or in the U.S. in 2020) were responsible for a particular execution that took place almost 2,000 years earlier is one of the stupidest ideas ever. Unfortunately, this stupid idea took hold and became one of the deadliest ideas ever.
In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul wrote, "I ask, then, has God rejected his people? Of course not! For I too am an Israelite….God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew….thus all Israel will be saved" (Romans 11:1,2,26).
Jesus Himself said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." If Jesus forgave the handful of people who, in ignorance, maneuvered to have Him executed, then we had better not place blame. If we want to blame someone for killing Jesus, we only need to look in the mirror.
And for God's sake, please don't ever classify any group of people as sub-human. That always, always, ALWAYS leads to horror.