Rorate Caeli

80th Anniversary of the
Pastoral Letter of the Bishops of the Netherlands
on the deportation of the Jewish population


Pastoral letter of the Dutch Bishops
July 20, 1942

We live in a time of great affliction, both spiritual and material. In recent times two specific afflictions have come to the fore: the persecution of the Jews and the unfortunate lot of those who are sent to work in foreign countries.

All of us must become fully aware of these troubles, and for this reason, they are now brought to our attention as a community.

These afflictions must also be brought to the attention of those who are responsible for them. To this end, the venerable Dutch Episcopate, in communion with nearly all the churches in the Netherlands, approached the authorities of the occupying forces concerning, among other things, the Jews, in a recent telegram of Saturday, July 11. The telegram stated the following:

"The undersigned Dutch churches, already deeply shocked by the actions taken against the Jews in the Netherlands that have excluded them from participating in the normal life of society, have learned with horror of the new measures by which men, women, children, and whole families will be deported to the German territory and its dependencies.

"The suffering that this measure will bring upon tens of thousands of people, the knowledge that these measures are contrary to the deepest moral sense of the Dutch people, and, above all, the hostility of these measures against the divine norms of justice and mercy urge the churches to direct to you the urgent petition not to execute these measures.

"Our urgent petition to you is also motivated by the consideration that, for the Christian Jews, these measures would make it impossible for them to participate in the life of the Church."

As a result of this telegram, one of the General Commissioners, in the name of the Reich's Commissioner [Reichskommissar], promised that Christian Jews will not be deported if they belonged to one of the Christian churches before January 1941.

Beloved faithful, when we consider the immense spiritual and physical misery that, for three years already, has threatened the entire world with destruction, then we think naturally of the situation that the Gospel of today [9th Sunday after Pentecost] paints for us:

"And when he drew near, seeing the city, he wept over it, saying: If thou also hadst known, and that in this thy day, the things that are to thy peace; but now they are hidden from thy eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, and thy enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and straiten thee on every side, and beat thee flat to the ground, and thy children who are in thee: and they shall not leave in thee a stone upon a stone: because thou hast not known the time of thy visitation." [St. Luke 19, 41-44]

Jesus's prediction was literally fulfilled: forty years later, God's judgment over the city of Jerusalem was accomplished. They had not, unfortunately, recognized the time of grace.

Now, too, everything around us points to a punishment from God. But, thanks be to God, it is not yet too late for us. We can still avert it if we recognize the time of grace, if we recognize what will bring us peace. And that is only the return to God, from whom for many years already a great portion of the world has turned away. All human means have failed; only God can still bring a solution.

Beloved faithful, let us first examine ourselves with a deep sense of repentance and humility. Are we not, after all, partly responsible for the disasters that affect us? Have we always fulfilled the duties of justice and charity toward our neighbor? Have we not sometimes entertained feelings of unholy hatred and bitterness? Have we always sought our refuge in God, our Heavenly Father?

When we turn to ourselves, we will have to confess that we have all failed. Peccavimus ante Dominum Deum nostrum: We have sinned before the Lord our God. [Baruch 1,17]

We also know, though, that God will not despise a contrite and humbled heart. [Psalm 50, 19] Cor contritum et humiliatum non despicies. We therefore turn to him and beg him with childlike confidence for his mercy. He himself tells us, "Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you." (Luke 11,9)

In the Introit of today’s Holy Mass [9th Sunday after Pentecost], the Church calls to us with the words of the Psalmist: "For behold God is my helper: and the Lord is the protector of my soul." [Psalm 53,6] And the Epistle repeats the very comforting words of the Apostle: "Let no temptation take hold on you, but such as is human. And God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able: but will make also with temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it." [1 Cor. 10, 13]

Therefore, beloved faithful, let us implore God, through the intercession of the Mother of Mercy, that He will soon grant the world a just peace.

May He sustain the people of Israel, who are being so bitterly tested in these days, and may He bring them to true redemption in Jesus Christ.

May He protect those whose lot it is to work in foreign lands and to be separated from their loved ones. May He protect them in soul and body, protect them from becoming bitter and discouraged, keep them faithful to the Christian faith, and may God also strengthen those they left behind.

Let us implore Him for a solution for all those who are tested and oppressed, for prisoners and hostages, for so many who are threatened by death.

Pateant aures misericordiae tuae, Domine, precibus supplicantium: that the ears of your mercy, Lord, may be open to the prayers of those who cry to you.

This, our joint pastoral letter, shall be read in the usual manner next Sunday, July 26, during all scheduled Holy Masses in all the churches and chapels in our Church Province that have an appointed rector.

Given in Utrecht, the 20th day of July of the Year of Our Lord 1942.

We are very glad to provide the first online English translation (to our knowledge) of one of the most impressive Catholic documents of the 20th century: the Pastoral Letter of the Dutch Episcopate of July 20, 1942, written by and under the authority of the Archbishop of Utrecht, J. de Jong. It is a very short document, but it is filled with mercy and concern for those who were suffering most harshly under the German occupation of the Netherlands.

The letter would be read from the pulpit of Dutch churches on June 26, 9th Sunday after Pentecost - the same day, it is thought, on which Blessed Titus Brandsma, a main advisor to Archbishop (future Cardinal) de Jong himself and former rector of the Catholic University in Nijmegen, and who had been interned in Dachau, was killed.

The letter, and its public reading, would have grim consequences: even those ethnic Jews who were Catholic and had been protected from deportation, as well as an unknown number of other Dutchmen and refugees in the Netherlands, would be caught in a frightful new wave of persecution by the German forces of occupation, aided by local National Socialist collaborators.

One of the victims, a Silesian-born scholar turned Carmelite nun, Sr. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, would be removed from the Carmel of Echt, near the German border, in the days following the public reading of the letter, and would be killed in Auschwitz shortly afterwards.

As Fr. Peter Gumpel, S.J., wrote for The Tablet in 1999, the letter had universal repercussions:

Originally the leaders of all the Christian Churches in Holland had agreed to make such a public protest, but when the Gestapo were informed, they immediately threatened to deport Jews who had been baptised as Christians, which hitherto had not occurred. The Roman Catholic bishops alone did not give in to this blackmail. The consequences were disastrous: Jews who had joined the Lutheran, the Calvinist, or other Christian Churches were not deported in August 1942, whereas those who had become Catholics were. The Gestapo forced the Dutch newspapers to publish a statement affirming that because of the public protest of the Catholic clergy, Jews who had become Catholics would henceforth be considered our worst enemies and be deported at the earliest opportunity.
The action of the Dutch bishops had important repercussions. Pius XII had already prepared the text of a public protest against the persecution of the Jews. Shortly before this text was sent to L'Osservatore Romano, news reached him of the disastrous consequences of the Dutch bishops' initiative. He concluded that public protests, far from alleviating the fate of the Jews, aggravated their persecution and he decided that he could not take the responsibility of his own intervention having similar and probably even much more serious consequences. Therefore he burnt the text he had prepared. The International Red Cross, the nascent World Council of Churches and other Christian Churches were fully aware of such consequences of vehement public protests and, like Pius XII, they wisely avoided them.

Translation: Rorate caeli/IM - Creative Commons License for this new translation of the document - Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License
[The first image is of a meeting of the Dutch Episcopate during the war but not necessarily related to this letter, and it is posted here for illustrative purposes.]