The Catholic Church faced persecution in Nazi Germany. Hitler was anticlerical and had particular disdain for the Jesuits. According to John Pollard, the Jesuits’ “ethos represented the most intransigent opposition to the philosophy of Nazism”, and so the Nazis considered them as one of their most dangerous enemies. A Jesuit college in the city of Innsbruck served as a center for anti-Nazi resistance and was closed down by the Nazis in 1938. Jesuits were a target for Gestapo persecution, and many Jesuit priests were deported to concentration camps. Jesuits made up the largest contingent of clergy imprisoned in the Priest Barracks of Dachau Concentration Camp. Lapomarda lists some 30 Jesuits as having died at Dachau. Of the total of 152 Jesuits murdered by the Nazis across Europe, 43 died in the concentration camps and an additional 27 died from captivity or its results.
The Superior General of Jesuits at the outbreak of war was Wlodzimierz Ledochowski, a Pole. The Nazi persecution of the Catholic Church in Poland was particularly severe. Vincent Lapomarda wrote that Ledochowski helped “stiffen the general attitude of the Jesuits against the Nazis” and that he permitted Vatican Radio to carry on its campaign against the Nazis in Poland. Vatican Radio was run by the Jesuit Filippo Soccorsi and spoke out against Nazi oppression, particularly with regard to Poland and to Vichy-French anti-Semitism.
Several Jesuits were prominent in the small German Resistance. Among the central membership of the Kreisau Circle of the Resistance were the Jesuit priests Augustin Rösch, Alfred Delp, and Lothar König. The Bavarian Jesuit Provincial, Augustin Rosch, ended the war on death row for his role in the July Plot to overthrow Hitler. Another non-military German Resistance group, dubbed the “Frau Solf Tea Party” by the Gestapo, included the Jesuit priest Friedrich Erxleben. The German Jesuit Robert Leiber acted as intermediary between Pius XII and the German Resistance.
Among the Jesuit victims of the Nazis, Germany’s Rupert Mayer has been beatified. Mayer was a Bavarian Jesuit who clashed with the Nazis as early as 1923. Continuing his critique following Hitler’s rise to power, Mayer was imprisoned in 1939 and sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. As his health declined, the Nazis feared the creation of a martyr and sent him to the Abbey of Ettal in 1940. There he continued to give sermons and lectures against the evils of the Nazi régime, until his death in 1945.