The Roman Catholic church , especially the Vatican, still has a lot of questions to answer when it comes to the Holocaust. However there were some Catholic clergymen, even some high placed ones, who did not keep their mouth shut and defied the Nazis.
Cardinal Johannes de Jong was one of those men. He was ordained to the priesthood on August 15, 1908, and further studied at the Pontifical Gregorian University and the Angelicum in Rome, obtaining his doctorates in philosophy and theology.
On August 3, 1935, de Jong was appointed Coadjutor Archbishop of Utrecht and Titular Archbishop of Rhusium.
He said he didn’t want to be another Theodor Innitzer, his colleague in Vienna with fascist sympathies. In April 1938, in honour of Hitler’s birthday, Cardinal Innitzer had 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 one of the major leaders against the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. On July 26, 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. 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 by him would mean at least two hundred thousand innocent lives that he was not ready to sacrifice. While politicians, generals, and dictators might gamble with the lives of people, a Pope could not. -Personally I don’t buy that argument. The pope was the spiritual leader of about a billion Catholics globally, 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 official during the war years about the Bishop.
On Sunday, August 3, 1941, two Gestapo men called the archbishop’s palace on 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 informed his guests “with a single word” that he had understood them, but then instructed all bishops to read the pastoral letter as scheduled this Sunday. Aside from the 245 people arrested, the Bishop was fined 500 Guilders, this should be a sign for the Pope too. The Bishop was not arrested, despite defying the Nazis, the Nazis clearly knew that it would have caused problems for them.
One could argue that if the letter had not been read, the 245 would not have been arrested and perhaps Edith Stein, would have survived, but they would have been arrested and send to the camps at some stage anyway. Edith Stein was murdered on August 7,1942 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 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 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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