From the end of the 18th century (USA  and French revolution), to the beginning of the 20th century (Russian revolutions), the long process of Jewish emancipation transformed the tradition of Christian anti-Judaism.

The end of the old regimes and the granting of civil and political rights to the Jews caused the resentment of most of the Christian Churches, which, at the same time, associated Jews with modernity.

The fascist, Nazi and authoritarian regimes of the interwar period did not hesitate to recycle Christian anti-Judaism to fuel their antisemitic propaganda.


Some Christian Churches backed the Italian and German regimes’ reactionary ideology, perceiving it as a bulwark against Communism and a tool to re-Christianize modern society. Globaly, the Churches approved the first discriminatory measures against the Jews. 

However, as the threat of war again loomed over Europe in the late 19300s, some Christians, from ecumenical Protestant movements to Pope PIus X1, grew aware of the dangers of antisemitism and sometimes denounced racism as being incompatible with Christianity. But they were mainly concerned with protecting the rights of the Churches, the Christians of Jewish origin and mixed couples. 

The plight of persecuted Jews was only a secondary issue for Christian leaders, who tended to adopt a diplomatic attitude and a cautious reserve. When the war broke out, the Churches feared that head-on protest would trigger reprisals against their own faithful.


The Churches’ support for Vichy’s National Revolution was in step with the attitude of the overwhelming majority of the French population in 1940, which seemed to have accepted the new regime. The Catholic hierarchy, which was surveyed in this subject, did not opposed its antisemitic policy.

However, this silence concealed a wide range of attitudes, which were not yet made public. Church leaders did not openly express their opposition to the French State’s anti-Jewish policy until the mass roundups in the summer of 1942.


In June 1942, Adolf Eichmann planned the deportations that marked the start of the “Final Solution” ” in Western Europe, He set a target of deporting 40,000 people from France by the end of the year.

However, the Germans ran into hurdles. They lacked the manpower to carry out the arrests and had to rely on the French State’s collaboration in order to conduct the deportations. The Germans agreed to soften some of the armistice agreement’s terms if the French police and gendarmerie made the arrests and carried out roundups across the country.

Vichy committed to deliver 10,000 people from the Unoccupied Zone, while organizing roundups in the occupied zone, the largest of which took place in Paris.


It was above all the arrests and deportations in the Unoccupied Zone that prompted the churches to react. In the Catholic Church, only a minority protested: five pastoral letters were read out between August 23 and September 20, 1942. But having been written by senior Church officials, especially Archbishops Gerlier of Lyon and Saliège in Toulouse, they had a significant impact.

Similarly, the Council of the Protestant Federation drafted a text that was read out from the pulpit on October 4. Without attacking the fundamental injustice of antisemitic legislation, the Catholic and Protestant letters denounced the deportations and deemed them contrary to Christian “conscience”, a term found in all the statements. 

Because they struck a chord in public opinion, the letters worried the Vichy regime, which did everything it could to curtail their circulation. These protestas also encouraged the faithful and religious institutions to help the persecuted.

“Silence too often seems to make men accomplices of the evil that is accomplished before them. Through your pen the Church has broken the silence and taken the defense of the innocent who are being persecuted in an unworthy manner; she has recalled, in a very timely manner, the precept of charity carried by Christ”.

Father Thomas, Religious Superior of the Marist Scholastica of Sainte-Foy-lès-Lyon, to Cardinal Gerlier, 10 September 1942.