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Broadcast from Catholic University of America after Kristallnacht

Catholic University 1938
US Holocaust Memorial Museum; Photo Courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library

On the night of November 9, 1938, German citizens, encouraged by the Nazi government, attacked and terrorized Jewish people throughout the country. The event became known as Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass. On November 16, 1938, about a week after these anti-Jewish pogroms in Nazi Germany, the Catholic University of America1 in Washington, DC, issued a radio broadcast condemning violence against the Jewish community.2 

The broadcast brought together bishops, priests, and a Catholic layman from different parts of the country to publicly denounce Nazi cruelty and to affirm Catholic support for Jewish communities. This effort—one of the first coordinated responses to state-sanctioned persecution of German Jews—was rare for Catholic leaders in the United States, who had seldom defended the religious rights of non-Catholics.

In the featured excerpt of the broadcast, Archbishop John J. Mitty of San Francisco (pictured here) discussed three interrelated themes—the common dignity of all human beings, the recognition that persecution of one marginalized group could easily expand to widespread discrimination and violence, and the danger of embracing force as an answer to social or economic problems.3

Given that the broadcast was syndicated by radio networks across the country—including NBC and CBS—this transmission likely reached millions of American Catholics over the airwaves. Because the speakers were well-known figures, the full radio address was reprinted in the New York Times and was widely covered by newspapers around the country.4

The Catholic University of America is a so-called "bishops university," meaning that American bishops retain oversight of the institution. It is the only school in the US sanctioned by the Vatican.


For more details on reactions to these events, see Maria Mazzenga, American Religious Responses to Kristallnacht (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).

As key examples, Mitty cited instances of persecution suffered by Catholics in the past, including during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s and following the Mexican Revolution in the 1920s. 

See the front-page coverage in the New York Times, November 17, 1939.

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As Catholics, we have a deep and immediate sympathy with the Jewish men and women who are being lashed by the fierce persecution. They, for racial reasons, and we for our religion, are writhing in Germany under the same intolerant power. We sympathize for another reason. For more than two years, our fellow Catholics have suffered a parallel crucifiction in Spain, and our sympathy for them has largely been in silence. The facts were plain. They are vouched for by the unanimous testimony of the venerable body of Bishops of Spain. They witnessed and lived through the horrors which they related in their joint letter to the world. They told of the destruction of churches, convents, schools, hospitals, institutions of charity. They saw the flames and the smoking ruins. They saw the artistic and architectural treasures of centuries reduced to ashes by the mad fury of diabolical hatred. They saw thousands of their own priests, and innocent, helpless nuns murdered or driven naked like hounded beasts through the streets by crazed mobs, dead to decency and to the least tingle of human feeling. The government, meanwhile, connived or was incompetent, and the fury went on. We in this country read very little of this monstrous story, whose record was written month after month in human blood. Somebody muzzled the correspondence. Somebody controlled the cables. Somebody closed the columns of our press. The Mexican story of the long persecution of Catholics is a similar story of the persistent silence of our press, and of our singular indifference as a neighboring people. Thank God, at last, a careless world has waked up, and knowing what is going on across the water, denounces persecution of race or religion everywhere with one vast, united voice that rings 'round the earth. It is the voice of a better humanity, whose latent sense of justice, freedom, and fellowship, has at last been aroused by a fundamental appeal. These elements of justice, freedom, and fellowship are the best in us, but there are other elements there that belong to unregenerate human nature; and these elements at their worst, when stirred to action, are diabolical. Force is external. It may repress or restrain these diabolical elements, but force cannot cure them. Unregenerate nature needs conversion, and conversion is a function of religion. It is an act of God's mercy and persuasion. The divine founder of our Christian faith gave us no promise of immunity from suffering in this life. They have persecuted me, they will also persecute you. He dealt with persecution in his own way. He let it spend itself. He became its victim, and when to all human appearances it had conquered, it actually failed. His new life began. The life of his persecutors ended, and their hopes withered. They that take the sword shall perish by the sword. Force is not the way. By all means, let us remove the injustice and agony, or at least lessen them if we can. Let us give sympathy and help to a [unintelligible], but let us not be betrayed by revenge or tempted by any precipitate act to put our trust in any form of force. A few days since, we celebrated the recurrence of Armistice Day. Twenty years ago we laid away our instruments war, but we did little to lay away those inner things of mind and heart, by which these weapons were designed and created and sent in deadly action. And those creative powers of mind and heart have reasserted themselves again in all their evil, so that in this latest day of civilization the frontiers of every country are studded with all the mass instruments of death and the overhead sky is black with the buzzards of war waiting for carrion. Here in the United States, thank God we are at peace. But are we, when we are willing to spend billions of what we call "preparations." How long will our peace last? Peace comes out of order, order out of law, law out of justice, and justice is a virtue. It is eternal, a habit disposing the just man, constantly and regularly, to render to every other man what is his due. So we come back to the intelligence and the will, to the inner sanctuary of the soul. We need the sound development of both. We need knowledge. We need virtue. We are not beyond outbursts of violence and persecution in our own land. We have had the experience of Know-Nothingism and APAs and the Klu Klux Klan. There are large masses of our population who have come to us from foreign lands, bringing with them the ideas, and customs, and traditions, and prejudices of the countries that gave them birth. These and other large classes of our population may not impossibly be stirred up to frenzy and violence by propaganda or by the fanatic appeals of agitators. All class feeling has in it the dangerous element that sets one man against another. It may be hostile feeling against race, or religion, or economic conditions. Let us honestly search our own heart, and if we find this evil thing there, do our best in all our dealings with our fellow men, in all the relations of life, to root it out of our being. Only so, by a more even justice, only by a wider sense of fellowship, only by a fuller life of brotherhood, can we integrate all our people into a nation that shall realize the vision of our Founding Fathers, a nation resting in security and peace on the eternal principles of morality and religion. Justice exulted a nation, sin make it a nation miserable.

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Photo Courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library
Accession Number CUA Public Affairs Audio/Visual Collection, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, Catholic University, Washington, D.C.
Date Created
November 16, 1938
Duration 00:08:02
John J. Mitty
Washington, DC, USA
Sound Recording Type Radio Broadcast
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