Letter from Bishop Noll to Cardinal Stritch, April 1, 1946

Bishop John F. Noll

Bishop John F. Noll of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Image from the NCWC Lantern Slide Collection, WRLC Libraries Digital and Special Collections.

On one level, Noll’s letter shows the evolution of the Catholic Church’s decision to care for displaced persons on a large scale in the aftermath of World War II. He writes to Stritch indicating his approval for Stritch’s idea to petition the Holy See for a Catholic Commission on Displaced Persons (DPs); Noll also mentions France and the countries of South America as possible destinations for the refugees. On another level, however, Noll’s letter is an example of the anti-Semitic attitudes that were still acceptable in the United States at the time, which were prevalent among all classes of people.  In the decades leading up to World War II, an American could make anti-Semitic remarks at a polite dinner party that would horrify and anger most people today. During the 1920s Henry Ford, the famous auto manufacturer from Michigan, ran a long series of anti-Semitic articles in his newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, including paranoid theories that Jews were in charge of the world’s finances. Prominent universities, during this same period, also had racially-biased admissions quotas meant to keep Jews out. Although Jews were a tiny minority in America and in the world, a large body of literature was devoted specifically to spreading negative stereotypes about them, and they were often feared for their supposed financial cunning and allegedly cutthroat business behaviors. Many Catholics, unfortunately, were anti-Semitic for a variety of historical reasons.  During this period, many came to associate Jews with Communism, and Communists had already been known to persecute Catholics in conflicts like the Spanish Civil War. Not all Catholics were anti-Semitic, but it was an entrenched historical problem that the Church, in the years after World War II, would have to fight to overcome.

 

Letter from Bishop Noll to Cardinal Stritch

Noll talks about his opinion that Catholic and other Christian refugees are being shortchanged by the US government and international organizations in favor of Jewish DPs, who, he says, have received the most aid. Note, as well, the sentence in which Noll indicates he subscribes to a form of racial essentialism, when he refers to Jewish charitable groups aiding their “co-racists” rather than their “co-religionists”. A more reasonable explanation for the attention to Jewish refugees and DPs might have been that many people in the US and abroad were moved with pity and horror at the mass persecution of Jews, and wanted to help. Catholics themselves are partially to blame for this lopsided aid, Noll admits—if they had been as persistent as Jewish groups in their pressure on the US government, they might have gotten more results by that time. One must remember that, although Jewish groups in the US were persistent on behalf of the Jews in Europe, the United States government still missed the opportunity to save many Jews from the Holocaust by failing to re-examine its immigration quotas at an earlier time. In this letter, Noll also displays a sense of being persecuted by various Protestant and Jewish groups. Since American Catholics belonged to a religion which had not been considered “respectable” in American society until recent decades, it is understandable that Noll should have some residual fear, although he misses out on the opportunity to cooperate with a fellow religious minority.

Questions:

  • Which specific European Catholic ethnicity does Noll speak of as being persecuted by the Communists? From which  major newspaper is the article he cites regarding these events?
  • How does Noll describe the sentiments he perceives in the newspapers of other religious denominations?
  • Is Noll simply reflecting the opinions of his time in his anti-Semitic views? Do you think his beliefs would be different if he were writing today?

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