Allegations that the recently canonized St. Maximilian Kolbe was anti-Semitic have brought several scholars to the new saint’s defense.
St. Maximilian, a Polish Conventual Franciscan priest who volunteered to die in another man’s place at the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz in 1941, was formally declared a saint and a martyr by Pope John Paul II in ceremonies at the Vatican Oct. 10. In December columnist Richard Cohen, who writes for The Washington Post and other newspapers, said that in Father Kolbe’s canonization the priest’s anti-Semitism “was swept under the carpet” and the church treated it “as a negligible blemish in an otherwise admirable life.”
Cohen quoted two statements from Father Kolbe’s writings which referred to the spread of communism as port of a Masonic conspiracy by Zionists to take over the world.
In a letter to the Post, Eugene Fisher, executive secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish Relations, said the documentary record of Father Kolbe’s writings and actions belies the charge of anti-Semitism. He cited writings in which Father Kolbe repudiated anti-Semitism, and he noted that an estimated 1,500-2,000 Jewish refugees were harbored at the beginning of World War 11 in the monastery Father Kolbe founded and headed in Poland.
Fisher traced the allegations of anti-Semitism to an article last April in a leading Austrian paper, Wiener Tagebuch (Vienna Journal), but said American scholars had analyzed the article and rejected its conclusions last summer. The priest, said Fisher, “should be not a point of division but a symbol of unity among all who would oppose the evil of anti-Semitism today.” The Wiener Tagebuch article had said that Father Kolbe was associated with “rabid, racist anti-Semitism” and that he himself was anti-Semitic.
When the assertions were reported in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last June, Daniel L. Schlafly Jr., associate professor of history at St. Louis University, and Warren Green, director of the St. Louis Center for Holocaust Studies, issued a joint statement labeling the charges “false.”
“Father Kolbe’s writings do contain a few references to Jews which reflect the common anti-Semitic beliefs propagated in the ‘Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, which was a well-known forgery, as well as reflected in the popular Polish-Catholic culture in the interwar period.” They added:
“These references were only a tiny fraction of the total works (of Father Kolbe) and were more than counterbalanced by his insistence that one must always act in a spirit of missionary zeal, charity and prudence,” Green and Schlafly said.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.