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Polish Priests Under Nazi Occupation

Mitchell (Mieczyslaw) Moos, M.D., was annoyed with what we wrote in our New Oxford Note, “The Beauty of Strife & Struggle” (April 2004). What made him unhappy was this: “[Father, and now Saint, Maximilian] Kolbe was no appeaser; he was a fighter. When the Nazis invaded Poland, many Polish priests renounced their priesthood in search of tranquility, whereas Fr. Kolbe was definitely ‘bellicose.'”

Dr. Moos wanted to know the source for the claim that “many Polish priests renounced their priesthood,” which he considers an “astonishing statement,” adding later that “I believe you have perpetuated a falsehood.” In response, we cited Mary Craig’s book on Pope John Paul II, Man From a Far Country, pages 135-36, which says in the chapter specifically devoted to Fr. Kolbe that “With such a powerful exemplar of fidelity unto death [Fr. Kolbe] to admire, Cardinal Wojtyla [the future Pope John Paul II], who had much in common with the Franciscan [Fr. Kolbe], could have little sympathy with the priests who at the time were renouncing their ministry in droves.”

Dr. Moos replied: “There are no footnotes, no references, no explanations, no confirmatory evidence for such a serious and blanket allegation. Ms. Craig does not indicate these were Polish priests except by inference, nor does she give a time frame. Your writer dates this occurrence in ‘Nazi’ years (1939-45). But it could have been in the post-war years, i.e., after 1945. Very imprecise.”

Craig’s words “at the time” would seem to be referring to the Nazi period, especially because in that chapter she was speaking of Fr. Kolbe and the Nazi period. It is our understanding that the Nazi persecution of Polish priests was much more severe than the Soviet and Polish Communist persecution of Polish priests in the post-war years. We would imagine that the Nazi persecution would have resulted in far more priests abandoning their priesthood, so we doubt that Craig could be referring to the Soviet period. Indeed we seriously doubt that Polish priests “were renouncing their ministry in droves” during the Soviet period. Of all the countries in Eastern Europe during the Soviet era, the Polish Church was well known for putting up the stoutest resistance. (It occurred to us that Craig could be referring to priests abandoning their priesthood after the Second Vatican Council — though not of course in Poland — but that would be far-fetched.)

So Dr. Moos told us he was going to write to Pope John Paul II (in Polish), saying to us that he is “the only person I know who knows with certainty.” He received a reply from Msgr. Valentino Di Cerbo on August 24, 2004. The letter reads in full as follows:

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