I just found out about a book I am very excited to read! Please expect reviews of “From Enemy to Brother: the Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933–1965” to appear shortly on this blog.
In the meantime, here is an article by the author to whet your appetite:
When we look at those who carried forth this revolution in Catholic teaching, we see few if any high clerics, few men “in red capes.” But we do see a rather remarkable coincidence: virtually every one of the thinkers and activists involved in bettering Catholic-Jewish relations was a convert, either from Judaism or Protestantism. In the 1930s, Oesterreicher, Thieme, and Dietrich von Hildebrand had taken inspiration for their polemics against Nazi racism from Christian intellectuals Erik Peterson, Annie Kraus, Alfred Fuchs, Rudolf Lämmel, Walter Berger, and Theodor Haecker—all converts. In October 1964, the two priests who joined Oesterreicher to write what would become the final draft of the decree on the Jews—Gregory Baum and Bruno Hussar—were also of Jewish heritage. And several years earlier, just before the council, when an international symposium took place in the Netherlands to draft theses that would guide De Judaeis, most of the participants—Thieme and Oesterreicher, along with Paul Démann, Gertrud Luckner, Jean-Roger Hené, and Irene Marinoff—were converts. Démann, a converted Hungarian Jew, had been publishing the review Cahiers Sioniens from Paris since 1947, and, with the help of fellow converts Geza Vermes and Renée Bloch, he refuted the anti-Judaism in French Catholic school catechisms. In Germany Thieme and Luckner printed the Freiburger Rundbrief, which exposed Central European audiences to the emerging Christian understanding of the Jews based in St. Paul.
That converts to Catholicism would oppose racism and anti-Semitism makes sense. After all, they had personal reasons to hold the church to its claims. Still, the efforts of converts like Oesterreicher and his contemporaries bring into sharp relief the nearly negligible numbers of “cradle Catholics” who gave themselves to this struggle for the church’s soul. Why this was so remains an important question. What seems certain is that without converts to Catholicism, the church in Europe would never have “thought its way” out of the challenges of racist anti-Judaism. If Providence remains visibly active for the Catholic Church in history, it can surely be seen in how the church has absorbed light from outsiders—persons originally beyond its visible membership, who devoted their lives to a religion based on love of neighbor, and in doing so reminded us that the church is, as Jacques Maritain’s friend Charles Journet wrote in 1951, at once “purer and vaster than we know.”