The Dutch Bishop who Defied the Nazis

The Roman Catholic church, especially the Vatican, still has many questions to answer about the Holocaust. However, some Catholic clergymen, even a few high-placed ones, did not keep their mouths shut and defied the Nazis.

Cardinal Johannes de Jong was one of those men. He was ordained to the priesthood on 15 August 1908 and studied further at the Pontifical Gregorian University and the Angelicum in Rome, obtaining his doctorate in philosophy and theology.

On 3 August 1935, de Jong was appointed Coadjutor Archbishop of Utrecht and Titular Archbishop of Rhusium. He said he did not want to be another Theodor Innitzer (his colleague in Vienna with fascist sympathies). In April 1938, in honour of Hitler’s birthday, Cardinal Innitzer ordered that all Austrian churches fly the swastika flag, ring bells, and pray for Hitler.

De Jong ordered his priests to refuse the sacraments to Nazi Dutchmen. During the Second World War, he was a major leader against the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. On 26 July 1942, Dutch bishops, including Archbishop Johannes de Jong, issued a decree that openly condemned Nazi deportations of Dutch workers and Jews. The Nazis retaliated by seizing 245 Catholics of Jewish descent, including Edith Stein, a German nun. The Vatican used the Netherlands’ experience to explain its silence during the years of the Holocaust. After the German retaliation, Sister Pasqualina Lehnert, Pius XII’s housekeeper and confidante, said, the Pope was convinced that while the bishop’s protest cost more than two hundred lives, a protest led by him would mean at least two hundred thousand innocent lives would be lost and that he was not ready to sacrifice. While politicians, generals, and dictators might gamble with lives, a Pope could not. (Personally, I don’t buy that argument. The pope was the spiritual leader of about a billion Catholics globally, and his words would have had an impact.) Bishop Johannes de Jong did not keep silent.

“It is impossible to talk to this man,” said a high-ranking German officer during the war years about the Bishop.

On Sunday, 3 August 1941, two Gestapo men called the archbishop’s palace in Maliebaan in Utrecht to persuade De Jong to withdraw a pastoral letter in which he urged his co-religionists to passively resist the Nazification of Dutch society. He had received the men in the most magnificent room of his official residence. There, after an uneasy silence, he received the order of the Reichskommissar. He then informed his guests, with a single word, that he had understood and then instructed all the bishops to read the pastoral letter as scheduled this Sunday. Along with 245 people arrested, the bishop had to pay a 500 guilders fine, which should have been a sign for the Pope. The bishop, however, was not arrested, despite defying the Nazis. The Nazis clearly knew that it would have caused problems for them.

One could argue that if that letter had not been read then 245 would not have been subjected to arrest. Perhaps Edith Stein would have survived? However, they would have been arrested and sent to the camps at some stage. Edith Stein perished on 9 August 1942 in Auschwitz.

After the liberation in 1945 and the return of the Dutch government, Pius XII named him cardinal as a result of his share in the resistance against the occupation of his homeland and his unwavering stance as a church leader. In addition, he was knighted with the highest accolades, the decorations of which are still on display in the cultural-historic museum Sorgdrager in Hollum. On 8 September 1955, Cardinal de Jong died in Amersfoort.

On Tuesday, 1 February 2022, it was announced that Cardinal Jan de Jong was honoured with the Yad Vashem Medal of the Righteous posthumously, for his resistance against the Nazis and—more in particular—for his ban on Roman Catholics from participating in the deportation of Jews.



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