The Ledóchowski Family herb2 Ród Ledóchowskich










Wladimir Ledóchowski 1866 - 1941
Superior General of the Jesuits, "Black Pope"


DRAFT 14.9.19

Wladimir Ledóchowski, known as the “Black Pope”, was 26th Superior General of the Society of Jesus or “Jesuits” and is admired and respected for everything he achieved for his Order.  But his legacy is marred by allegations of collaboration with Fascism.


1866: Loosdorf

Wladimir Dionysius (Włodzimierz Dionizy) Ledóchowski was born in Loosdorf, Austria, about 80 kilometres West of Vienna, on 7th October 1866, the third child and first son of Antoni Ledóchowski and his second wife Józefina née Salis-Zizers, whose story is told in a separate article.  They instilled in all seven children a strong sense of duty to God, the Catholic Church and their father’s country, Poland.

Another Ledóchowski was also called Wladimir when born ten months earlier, on 24th December 1865.  This was the first time the name Wladimir appeared in the family, at least for many generations.  Later Ledóchowskis, for example my father Wladimir, were no doubt named after the Jesuit, but in the case of these first two Wladimirs one wonders whether the inspiration came from Grand Prince Wladimir of Kievan Ruś, who brought Christianity to the Principality of Ruthenia in 988 AD, nearly a thousand years earlier.

Wladimir had a humble air about him, spoke quietly and was exceptionally talented.  He benefited greatly from an excellent education. 


1873: St. Pölten

In 1873, when Wladimir was seven, his father lost a major investment in an Austrian bank which failed (3, p10).  He sold Loosdorf and the family moved a little closer to Vienna, to St. Pölten, where the eldest girls could go to a school run by the Loreto Sisters, or the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Wladimir could go to primary school. 


Polish patriotism

The children grew up under a portrait of their one-legged grandfather General Ignacy in the living room (6, p10), listening to their father tell stories about the General’s heroic defence of Modlin, and about their great aunt Maria Rozalia’s defence of the Catholic Church in the Russian partition, for which she was interned and eventually expelled from Russia. 

In early 1876 Wladimir accompanied his family to Vienna to meet his uncle Cardinal Mieczysław Ledóchowski , son of Maria Rozalia, and his father’s first cousin.  The Cardinal was being greeted everywhere as a great hero for his defence of both the Catholic Church and Polish culture against Bismarck’s Kulturkampf.  For this he had been imprisoned for two years, expelled from the German partition, and promoted to Cardinal.  He was now on his way back to Rome.  The Cardinal made a great impression on Wladimir and the other children, which strengthened their patiotism and encouraged them to learn Polish from their father. 

1883: Lipnica Murowana and the Imperial Medal

In 1879 the eldest child Maria Teresa accompanied her father on a trip to Poland.  The warmth of their relatives convinced Antoni that they should consider moving there.  The move to Lipnica Murowana, in the Austrian partition of Poland, took place in 1883, encouraged and partly financed by the Cardinal as described elsewhere

Wladimir, who at one point was page to Empress Elisabeth of Austria (W), was by then 17 and attending the prestigious Theresianum Imperial-Royal Academy boarding school in Vienna, where he received an excellent education in German.   He finished with outstanding results, for which he was awarded the  school’s gilded bronze Imperial Medal [X].  He excelled in foreign languages including Latin. 

In early 1885, Wladimir’s eldest sister Maria Teresa caught smallpox and eventually recovered.  However their father Anthoni caught it too, and he died during an asthma attack on 24th February 1885.


1885: Tarnów Seminary

The death of their father was a great shock for the teenage children, and the eldest three shortly left home.  Wladimir, who had entered the Jagiellonian University in Kraków to study law, changed his vocation and in October 1885 entered the seminary in Tarnów.  In November his eldest sister Maria Teresa left to become Lady-in-Waiting at the Court of Princess Alice in Salzburg, and the next year his second eldest sister Julia entered the Ursuline convent in Kraków. 

Early career

Wladimir’s career then proceeded quite quickly:

● In 1887, persuaded and supported by his uncle Cardinal Mieczysław, he went to the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, which he completed with a doctorate in 1889.  While there he decided to join the Jesuits.

● In 1889 Wladimir returned and entered the Jesuit Novitiate (training college) at Stara Wieś (“Old Village”) in the Austrian Partition of Poland, while simultaneously studying theology in Kraków. 

● On 10th June 1894, aged 28, he received the sacrament of Holy Orders, i.e. was ordained as a priest, by Cardinal Albin Dunajewski.

● Being good at writing and expressing his thoughts, he joined the editorial board of the Jesuit monthly magazine Przegląd Powszechny (“Universal Review”) run by Father Marian Morawski in Lwów, the capital of Galicia, the Austrian partition of Poland.   Using his organisational skills, he founded an association for young craftsmen, setting up its constitution and structure.

● On 3rd December 1898, aged 32, he was appointed Superior of the Jesuit house at St. Barbara’s church in Kraków.

● In 1901, aged 35, he was appointed Vice Provincial and on 21st November 1902 Provincial of the Jesuits in Galicia, the Austrian partition of Poland. 

● On 14th September 1906 the 25th Superior General of the Jesuits, Franz Xaver Wernz, appointed Wladimir, now aged 40, Administrative Assistant for all the Jesuit provinces in Austro-Hungary, Germany, Holland and Belgium.  His excellent native German learnt at the presitigious Theresianum high school in Vienna was no doubt an essential qualification for this position.

● Wladimir gained a reputation for skilful mediation and diplomacy when he resolved misunderstandings between Pope Pius X and the Jesuit Superior General Wernz. 


1915:  Superior General of the Jesuits

On 11th February 1915, after the death of Wernz (and Pope Pius X) the previous year, the 48 year old Wladimir Ledóchowski was elected Superior General at the second vote of a congregation of Jesuits in Rome, and continued at this post until his death 28 years later.  He earned the nickname „Black Pope”, perhaps because of his black robe, in contrast to the Pope’s white, or because of his organisational skills leading a very successful period for the order, or because of his humble and quiet way of talking, which compelled people to listen to him carefully, or because the Jesuits were and are the largest religious order in the Catholic Church, or simply because of his great influence on successive Popes.

On 23rd May 1915, three months after Wladimir became Superior General of the Jesuits, Italy joined the Allies and declared war against Germany and Austro-Hungary.  As an Austrian and therefore enemy citizen Wladimir had to leave Italy.  The Society’s headquarters or “General Curia” moved to Switzerland and for a time was based at the castle at Zizers owned by the family of Wladimir’s mother, Józefina Salis-Zizers.  He returned to Rome only in December 1918.


Jesuit achievements under Wladimir Ledóchowski

Mieczysław (1)and other sources (Z) describe the achievements of the Jesuit order and Wladimir during his period as Superior General in great detail.  For example:

● He reformed and published new versions of the Jesuits’ constitution, education methods and subjects taught at Jesuit schools.

● A large new General Curia (headquarters building) was built in Rome.

● It included a special new secretariat Nuntii de missionibus for overseas missions and a new Historical Institute Institutum Historicum Societatis Iesu to archive, research and record the history of the Society. 

● New missions were established in China, Japan, India, Moslem countries and Africa, and new Novitiates (training colleges) founded for trainee Jesuits from those areas.

● The order grew from 17,000 Jesuits in 27 provinces to 26,000 Jesuits in 50 provinces.

● The number of Jesuits beatified or canonised grew from 91 to 141.

● Vigorously fought Communists and later Fascists.

● Considered an enemy by Nazi Germany, as described later.


Support for Poland

Whereas Wladimir was born, bred and educated in the best German in Austria during the first 18 years of his life, for the next 20 years he was based in Poland, strengthening his feelings for that country.  These feelings continued after he took up his post in Rome.

● On 26th October 2018 he wrote to Jesuit leaders in Kraków joyfully welcoming the independence of Poland and changing the name of the Jesuit province from Galicia to Poland.  In this letter he mentions Our Lady „Virgin Mary Queen of Poland” and the great Polish Jesuits Piotr Skarga, Stanisław Kostka and Andrzej Bobola.

● On 11th June 1920 he wrote “as a son of the Polish Jesuit province” to the head of the  province celebrating its 100th anniversary.

● The Jesuits persuaded Pope Pius XI to recognise miracles by the Polish Jesuit St. Andrzej Bobola and he was canonised on 17th April 1938.


1942: Death in Rome

Wladimir Ledóchowski, Superior General of the Jesuits, died aged 76 in Rome in the middle of the Second World War, on 13th December 1942, when the Nazi Axis Alliance of Germany, Austria, Japan and Italy was at its peak.


Comments by Mieczysław Ledóchowski

Mieczysław quotes family members and numerous others who knew Wladimir General of the Jesuits, speaking about him in hushed tones of great respect, rather than great emotion (1).  In Mieczysław's opinion, Wladimir was the most outstanding of the three elder siblings (Maria Teresa, Urszula and Wladimir) and achieved the most, even though he was distant and not especially liked.

In my view, the three can’t be compared.  Wladimir worked his way to the top of a huge existing organisation, the biggest Catholic order.  It is male and has an intellectual tradition for which he was well suited.  Maria Teresa and Urszula established completely new organisations.  They are far smaller than the Jesuits but their establishment and development took a lot of initiative and skill.   They are models of female virtue: they are gentle, loving, and caring, which is why their founders were nicknamed “Mother of Africa” and “Mother”.


The Controversy

Accusations of Anti-Semitism

When I asked Mieczysław about the accusations against Wladimir, he dismissed them as “rubbish”.  However it seems to me that the family record I have prepared has to mention them, extremely painful for us as they may be, at the least to recognise the fact that there are such accusations, and to inform readers who might otherwise find themselves quite unprepared to discuss them.  Here is information I have pieced together from various sources, followed by my views on anti-Semitism:


1920s:  Communism and Fascism

In the 1920s the prime enemy of the Church and perhaps we could say the “civilised world” generally was Communism.  Karl Marx had called religion the “opium of the people” and atheism was an inseparable part of his beliefs. 

When Communist “Bolshevik” Russian armies invaded Poland and tried to besiege Warsaw in 1920, the Papal Nuncio (Ambassador), Achille Ratti, witnessed the terror of the Poles faced by this invasion, but bravely refused to leave.  Wladimir Ledochowski would have been fully aware that his brother General Ignacy fought for Poland in that war, for which he was highly decorated.  Jews fought bravely on the Polish side in Lwów and elsewhere.  But because Marx, Trotsky and many other Jews were leading Communists, many anti-Semites claimed Communism was a Jewish conspiracy (just as others claimed Capitalism was a Jewish conspiracy). 

The war ended with Polish independence and victory for the “West”, but left the Nuncio “with a lasting conviction that Communism was the worst enemy Christian Europe had ever faced” .  On 22nd January 1922 the Nuncio was elected Pope Pius XI.  He and Wladimir sent Jesuits to Russia to support the Papal Relief Expedition and a French Jesuit Bishop Michel d’Herbigny with the power to consecrate more bishops in Russia as he saw fit.  However the priests and bishops were found and arrested or sent to labour camps and d’Herbigny was withdrawn (Z).

On 1st December 1924 Plutarco Calles was elected President of Mexico on a left-wing Communist-sounding platform of more equality and land redistribution.  In 1926 he introduced state atheism and started closing churches, confiscating land and violently persecuting the clergy.  Priests were now criminals and went into hiding.  In 1927 a Jesuit Michel Agustin Pro was found and just managed to shout Viva Cristo Rey (Long live Christ the King) before he was shot in a public execution in front of the press.  A civil war developed in which 100,000 people died.  By 1935, 4,000 priests had been executed and expelled, and in many areas there were no priests left at all (Z).

In Italy, on the other hand, we had the opposite of Communism.  Benito Mussolini had led Fascist troops in a mass demonstration known as the “March on Rome” and on 29th October 1922 King Victor Emmanuel III appointed him Prime Minister, in what was effectively a coup d’etat.  Known informally as Il Duce (“The Leader”), he started the “Pacification of Libya”, bombed Corfu, outlawed strikes, and used his secret police to establish a totalitarian state.  But it was not as violent as the later Nazism in Germany and people joked that chaotic Italians needed discipline and Mussolini had made the trains run on time.  The Italian regime was considered relatively civilised and the Polish government continued having good relations with it, as did many of our family.  Indeed, much later, in early 1040, my mother Maria Morawska and her brother were given false Italian passports by the Italian Ambassador in Warsaw so they could escape the German occupation.

From the Catholic Church’s point of view, the Mussolini regime had at this time some redeeming features.  It was an enemy of Communism, it was not shooting priests, and it was open to negotiate the return of church property confiscated by earlier Italian governments.  So Pope Pius XI, as well as negotiating Concordats with countries such as Poland, signed a Concordat with Mussolini: the so-called Lateran Pacts signed on 11th February 1929.  The Church received financial compensation for earlier confiscations, and the tiny Vatican City was recognised as an independent state, surrounded by, and therefore forever dependent on the goodwill of, Italy.  The Pope pledged to maintain perpetual neutrality in international relations, which would haunt the Vatican later.  He did however agree to support the anti-Communist side in Spain.  Mussolini started building the grand Via della Conziliazione (“Reconciliation Avenue”) leading to St Peter’s Square.

In the meanwhile Adolf Hitler, in prison in Germany, was writing his book Mein Kampf (“My Fight”), in which he vowed to end the twin evils he saw in the world:  Marxism and Jewry.


1930s:  Communism and Fascism

In 1930 the Communist threat to the Church grew.  Republican parties won a landslide victory in Spain and vowed to reform the land tenure system, improve education and “curb the clergy’s influence in society”.  King Alfonso XIII fled and took refuge in Mussolini’s Italy.   In 1931 religious buildings in Madrid were burnt down.  The Jesuits lost their houses, churches and colleges in Madrid, Seville, and other major cities.  In 1932 the Republican government ordered the Society dissolved and expelled Jesuits from the country.  But many Jesuits and other priests remained, disguised as normal workers, to serve Catholics in secret.  In 1934 two Jesuits were arrested for looking like priests and shot in an old mine after they embraced each other and, like in Mexico, shouted Viva Cristo Rey (“Long live Christ the King”).  In 1936 the army rebelled against the Republican government, starting the Spanish Civil War.  For a priest, discovery meant death.  That year 48 Jesuits were killed (Z).

Fascists were initially at least tolerated as the declared enemies of the Church’s enemies, the Communists, on the principle (adopted by Churchill and Roosevelt when dealing with Stalin) that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend", but Mussolini’s regime was steadily becoming more extreme.  The Church was slow to react and the fact that it had just negotiated independent statehood and compensation for the Vatican, which was at Mussolini’s mercy in the middle of Rome, must have affected its thinking.

In Germany, the Nazis became the second largest political party after the 1930 elections.  Hitler was appointed Chancellor on 30th January 1933, opened the first concentration camp outside Berlin on 12th March, started a nationwide boycott of Jewish shops on 1st April, opened a second concentration camp at Dachau in June, declared the Nazis the only political party in July, and quit the League of Nations on 14th October.  The SS shot the revered war veteran and previous Chancellor, General Schleicher, in July 1934, a fate shared by other leading politicians if they did not cooperate or die in concentration camps.  Hitler was formally declared Führer (“Leader”) in August 1934.  Nazi stormtroopers (whom Hitler officially disowned) initially focussed on their first enemy, the Communists, who were beaten up or shot in riots throughout the country.  Then they increasingly focussed on their second enemy: the Jews.

The Church had in the meanwhile, like in Italy, also been conducting lengthy negotiations with Germany resulting in a Concordat treaty in June 1933.  This was almost immediately broken when in July the Nazis announced their sterilization law, began to dissolve the Catholic Youth League and continued the harassment and arrests of clergy, nuns and lay activists on trumped up charges.

As the 1930s progressed, the Church increasingly came into conflict with the milder Fascist regime in Italy.  The Fascists became more atheist and tried to absorb the Church’s youth groups.  Pope Pius XI issued the encyclical Non abbiamo bisogno (“We have no need”) in 1931 denouncing “pagan worship of the state” and persecution of the Church.  The Pope urged Mussolini to ask Hitler to restrain his anti-Semitic actions but in the end Mussolini began to work with Hitler, adopting his anti-Semitic and race theories himself (W).  In October 1936 Italy signed its historic treaty with Germany, known as the “Axis” after Mussolini said that the rest of Europe would rotate around the Rome-Berlin axis.

On 14th March 1937, Palm Sunday, as anti-Semitic policies in Germany and Italy were becoming ever clearer, the encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge (“With Burning Anxiety”) was read in every Catholic Church in Germany.  In it Pius XI denounced “the idolatrous cult which replaced belief in the true God with a national religion and the myth of race and blood”“This perverted ideology” contrasted with the teaching of the Church “in which there was a home for all peoples and nations”.  This encyclical, which had worldwide impact, had been smuggled into Germany and had contributions from a German cardinal, Faulhaber, and Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII (Z). 

In Italy, after the Government published the Manifesto of Race on 14th July 1938 stripping Jews of Italian citizenship and other rights, the Pope announced to Belgian pilgrims:  “Mark well that…Abraham is our Patriarch and forefather.   Anti-Semitism is incompatible…it is a movement with which we Christians can have nothing to do…it is impossible for a Christian to take part in anti-Semitism…it is inadmissible…Spiritually we [Christians] are all Semites…”.  This was not broadcast in Italy, but was published by the press in Belgium and France after pilgrims who heard it returned there (W).

On 12th March 1938 Germany sent troops into Austria unopposed and announced the Anschluss (“Union”) with Germany.  Himmler promptly established a fifth concentration camp, Mauthausen, this time in Austria.

In July 1938 Pope Pius XI publicly condemned the Italian government for its “disgraceful imitation” of Germany’s racist laws.  According to Conor Cruise O’Brien this “no doubt saved most of Italy’s Jews” (T).

On 14th August 1938 the Jesuits in Berlin received a letter from the German authorities “…the school conducted by you cannot be recognised any more….you will no longer receive new students”.  This was followed by another letter to the Jesuits in October announcing that “all confessional schools must close by March 1940”.  So German youth would no longer be influenced by the Jesuits or other religious groups (Z).

On 28th October 1938 the Nazi German authorites delivered deportation papers to 18,000 Polish Jews.  They were taken to the Polish border.  Poland, shamefully, would not let them in, and many ended up as refugees camping in no-man’s land between Germany and Poland until a deal between the two countries was agreed several months later.

On 7th November 1938 a Polish Jew, Herschel Grynszpan, enraged by Germany’s deportation of Polish Jews, including his parents, shot Ernst vom Rath, an official at the German Embassy in Paris.

On 9th November 1938, hours after vom Rath died of his wounds, Hitler used this as a pretext to unleash the Kristallnacht (“Night of broken glass”) progrom throughout Germany.  The SS leader Reinhard Heydrich proudly reported 7,500 Jewish businesses destroyed, 267 synagogues burned and 91 Jews killed (Z).  30,000 Jewish men were arrested and put in concentration camps (W).  The carnage was reported by foreign journalists on the spot and sent shockwaves round the world.

Pius XI, backed by several Cardinals and other Church leaders, joined Western governments in condemning the pogrom.  In response, the Nazis organised mass demonstrations against Catholics and Jews, and the Bavarian governor declared: "Every utterance the Pope makes in Rome is an incitement of the Jews throughout the world to agitate against Germany".  On 21 November, in an address to the world's Catholics, the Pope rejected the Nazi claim of racial superiority, and insisted instead that there was only a single human race.  The Nazi Minister of Labour declared: "No compassion will be tolerated for the Jews. We deny the Pope's statement that there is but one human race. The Jews are parasites."  (W)


1939: The Unpublished Encyclical and Pope Pius XI's death

In summer 1938, by then 80 years old, Pope Pius XI tried to prepare another Encyclical denouncing racism, anti-Semitism, and violent German nationalism, Humani Generis Unitas (“The Unity of the Human Race”).   This was drafted by John LaFarge and two other Jesuits and was delivered to their Superior General, Wladimir Ledochowski.  He in turn delivered it to the Pope on 21st January 1939 but advised caution as he considered some of the language excessive.  Although it was supposed to counter anti-Semitism it included derogatory remarks, e.g. that Jews were “blinded by a vision of material domination and gain” and responsible for Christ’s death - “destroyers of their own nation”  (W).  The Pope wanted to present it to a meeting of bishops on 11th February and then publish it, but he died the day before the meeting, on 10th February, with the draft encyclical allegedly still on his desk.  There was an unproven theory that, because his doctor was the father of Mussolini’s mistress, Pope Pius XI was actually murdered.

Mussolini laughed and said “At last, that stubborn old man is dead”.  A French Communist newspaper reported "..the Pope, of all people, had become the champion of freedom” and a British paper “Pius…became one of the outstanding figures of the world….he died at his post”.(Z)



In September 1938, in Munich, UK Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain agreed with the leaders of Germany, Italy and France to Germany occupying the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia, which had been essential to any Czech defence against Germany.  He famously announced outside Downing Street "I believe it is peace for our time".  
On 15th March 1939 the Nazis invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia and soon there were 437 Catholic priests among the thousands sent to concentration camps (Z).

On 1st September 1939 the Nazis invaded the Western half of Poland.  The day after Warsaw was taken 330 priests were arrested and the clergy were persecuted violently.  They were entirely at the mercy of the Gestapo.  “Many Jesuits would remain silent, but several would denounce Nazi atrocities from the pulpits, risking deportation and death.  Many Jesuits would remain passive, but several would be sheltering and saving Jews from extermination.”  Over a dozen Jesuits were killed and two, Tadeusz Podbienski and Franciszek Wawrzyniak, died in prison in 1939 alone. (Z)

Italy entered the War on the Nazi side in June 1940.  With the prospect of a breakdown of international communications, Wladimir, who by now was 75 years old, sent Regional Assistants to the various parts of the world where Jesuits were working, with close to full powers to make decisions locally.  He remained in Rome where some Jews were hidden, disguised as students at the Jesuit seminary, and eventually smuggled into Switzerland. (Z).


1939: The Published Encyclical

The next Pope, Pius XII, chose not to publish his predecessor's encyclical.  Instead, on 12th October 1939 he published an Encyclical Summi Pontificatus (“On the Pontificate”) which had a similar title, On the Unity of Human Society, and used may similar arguments, while avoiding most of the negative comments about Jews in the earlier draft.  It was opposed to every form of racial hostility.  “There are no real racial differences: the human race forms a unity” because “one God made all nations to inhabit the earth” (W).


The Accusations

There is general agreement that Wladimir, as Superior General of the Jesuits, and because of his own talents and skills, was a very close adviser, nicknamed the “Black Pope”, to Pope Pius XI.  Some accusations:

● A book by David Kertzer The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI claims that Pius XI and Wladimir supported the rise of Fascism and Mussolini in Italy. 

● This was allegedly because they saw the Jews as enemies of the Church and of European civilisation.

● Conor Cruise O’Brien put it rather differently: “Ledochowski was a Conservative, in the sense of being a strong anti-Communist, who saw Nazi Germany primarily as a barrier against the expansion of Soviet power and influence” (S).

● Wladimir allegedly delayed giving the draft encyclical Humani Generis Unitas to Pope Pius XI because it was too critical of Nazi Germany.

● It is claimed that had he delivered it earlier Pius XI might have had time to publish it before he died and this might have averted the Holocaust.



● It is true that Pius XI and Wladimir saw Communism as the Catholic Church’s prime enemy, and in the light of Communist attacks on religion and murders of priests by Soviet Russia and in Mexico and Spain you can see why!  Wladimir’s great aunt Maria Rozalia had even been expelled from Russia for defending the Catholic Church a hundred years earlier.

● Yes Pius XI negotiated the Italian Concordat and the recognition of the Vatican as an independent state with Mussolini, and negotiated a Concordat with Germany signed in 1933 just as Hitler came to power.  Negotiating with another power – let’s say the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, or the USA’s trade negotiaions or the Church’s new Concordat negotations with China, does not mean support for that power.

● But no, I have not yet seen any evidence that Pius XI and Wladimir actively supported the acts and policies of the Fascist regimes in Italy and Germany as they became increasingly extreme and anti-Semitic in the 1930s.  Rather the contrary – see the Pope’s statements listed earlier.

● A reason for the alleged delay of the draft Encyclical in late 1938 could be because it would not have been very helpful at the very moment the Jesuits and the Church were battling the Nazi regime over the closure of all Catholic schools in Germany.

● The draft Encyclical had some very unfortunate wording about how Jews were interested in material gain and were responsible for the death of Christ, which would not have helped its purpose and would have been enthusiastically quoted by the Fascists.

● Those words were deleted from the Encyclical that was published ten months later.

● Given Hitler’s intention, announced in Mein Kampf, to annihilate the Jews and indeed, afterwards, the Catholic Church itself, given that he completely ignored Pius XI’s many other denunciations of racism, and given the next Pope Pius' Encyclical after ten months, it is highly unlikely that this delay was somehow responsible for the Holocaust which seriously got under way two years later.

● Everyone agrees that from the moment Germany attacked Poland, Wladimir’s loyalties were clearly not to his native Fascist Austria, as alleged, and instead he leapt to the defence of Poland. 

● According to Jesuit historian Vincent A. Lapomarda, there was "no doubt" about Ledóchowski's concern to thwart Nazi Germany (W).

● Wladimir was by then largely in control of Vatican Radio, which repeatedly broadcast condemnation of Nazi crimes, including broadcasts by Polish Cardinal Hlond, and spoke out against Vichy-French anti-Semitism.  The Radio was widely considered to be "biased in favour of the Allies" (v, p62). 

● Wladimir was defying repeated protests by Nazi Germany.  The next Pope Pius XII ordered that all broadcast texts be approved by the Vatican Secretary of State (Foreign Minister). 

● Eventually the Germans and Italians demanded the end of such transmissions, and in July 1941 the Pope Pius XII gave in, overruled Wladimir, and ordered that Vatican Radio not mention Germany again in future (V, p62).

● I completely agree with Conor Cruise O’Brien “Let us never be silent again”.  It is however rather irritating that the accusation of silence is levelled at people like the Pope and Wladimir who were citizens of Fascist Italy and Austria and were Mussolini’s hostages in Rome, while leaving out for example Churchill and Roosevelt, who literally did have divisions and bombers at their disposal, and when informed in detail of the Holocaust by the Polish Government-in-Exile and its courier Karski did even less about it from the relative comfort and safety of London and Washington, and kept it all secret so the British and US public only found out about the Holocaust when the survivors in death camps were "liberated" in 1945.

● Wladimir’s younger brother and my grandfather, retired General Ignacy, despite also being born and educated in Austria, joined the Polish Resistance to the Nazi occupation.  For this he was arrested and died in Dora-Mittelbau concentration camp, aged nearly 74.

● Wladimir’s nephew and namesake, my father Wladimir, was wounded and several times nearly killed fighting the Nazis from the first day of the War to the last.


Helping a Jewish refugee in Rome

Feeling very depressed by the allegations against Wladimir Superior General of the Jesuits, I was most touched when contacted by the son of a Jewish refugee from Germany who survived the War.

The Jewish refugee, Abraham, had lived in Berlin with his father and was among  the 18,000 Polish Jews who received the 28th October 1938 expulsion order, which was followed by the notorious Kristallnacht pogrom.  Abraham and his father were put on trains and taken to the Polish border and driven across the frontier, but Poland was not admitting Jews back and most of them ended  up stranded in a makeshift refugee camp in no-man’s land between the borders. 

A few months later the Polish authorities agreed to admit the Polish Jews and they were allowed to go home to collect their belongings.  The rest of the family then continued to Poland,  but they decided to try to send their son to a school in England. 

The British consulate then refused to give Abraham a visa (not unusual for a country that was also stopping Jews from escaping to Palestine and still has an aggressive attitude to refugees today, illustrated by the propaganda surrounding the Brexit referendum).   As Italy did not require visas, Abraham visited the Italian tourist office in Berlin and bought a ticket to go to there “on holiday”.  He then spent a year at school in Rome, funded by relatives in South Africa.  

In early June 1940, when it was rumoured that Italy would shortly join the War on the German side and make things even worse for Jews in Italy, which it then did, Abraham decided to go to nearby neutral Turkey, for which he needed a Polish endorsement on his ID document.  So he went to the Polish Consulate in Rome, which rudely refused to help give him.

Abraham’s flatmate was an artist restoring Wladimir Ledochowski’s office in the General Curia (Jesuit headquarters).  He offered to take Abraham to the Superior General, who was rumoured to be sympathetic, to ask for help and advice.  The General spoke to him in Polish, to which Abraham answered in German.  So the General asked him in German, what was his connection with Poland then?  Abraham replied that his father was born in a place no-one had heard of: “Krakowiec”.  The Superior General realised this must be genuine.  He knew about the town because it was the country home of his brother General Ignacy’s mother-in-law, and the future home of his nephew Wladimir, but he also knew that the town was very  little known. 

The Superior General just nodded and told his assistant to go with Abraham to the Polish Consulate.  This time the Consulate treated him “as if he himself were a prince of the Church”.  He was given a stamp, went to Turkey and survived the War.  Abraham Wasserstein became an eminent classics professor at Glasgow, Leicester and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  His son Bernard Wasserstein became an eminent professor of history at Glasgow, Leicester, Oxford and Chicago.  He now lives in the Netherlands and could tell me the tale.

Abraham was a close relative of the Laub family in Johannesburg, and as part of a friendship between our families that continues until today, met my father Wladimir when visiting the Laubs in Johannesburg many years later (U).


German Intelligence report to Reichsmarshall Göring

An internal German Intelligence report to Reichsmarshal Hermann Göring (or Goering) dated July 1941, before Japan joined the War, passed to me by my good friend Franek Rozwadowski, complained inter alia that Wladimir Ledóchowski Superior General of the Jesuits was using agents among the Japanese to smuggle correspondence between Rome, the Polish Resistance in Poland, and General Sikorski's Polish Government-in-Exile in London: 

"Ledochowski has received and transmitted several times important military information on Germany".  According to the Japanese, one report from Wilno to Ledochowski "was intercepted and dealt with under the German persecution of Catholic priests in Russia".  For full document click here (R).   

Nazi Germany considered Wladimir General of the Jesuits an enemy.


Not a Saint

Mieczysław reports that Pope John Paul II once asked a later Superior General of the Jesuits why the Jesuits are not trying to get his well known predecessor Wladimir beatified, to which the Superior General replied “You can be either a saint or a good general , but not both” (1,p109) . 

It must be true that apart from Joan of Arc it is hard to lead an army, responsible for deciding which soldiers must die, and at the same time be recognised as a saint.  But there may have been other reasons.  Many Jesuits have already been recognised as saints, many of them martyrs, and Wladimir was not a martyr.  Their founder Ignatius of Loyola was recognised as a saint long ago.  The orders founded by Blessed Maria Teresa and Saint Urszula had no saints to start with.  Perhaps the Jesuits just haven’t tried to identify miracles the way the those orders did.  Perhaps they feel that two siblings having been greatly honoured in this way, a third would be too much.  Or perhaps controversy over the Church’s cooperation with Mussolini, at least in his earlier years, is another reason.

In any event, all accounts agree that Wladimir was a humble person who would not seek such great honours. 


Pope Pius XII

The next Pope, Pius XII, was also Italian and far more controversial.  He issued the October 1939 Encyclical mentioned earlier.  He instructed the Church to help Jews and other victims of Nazism where possible, but remained very vague in his public statements, perhaps partly due to the undertaking given to Mussolini under the Concordat to stay out of politics.

As mentioned earlier, he overruled Wladimir and ordered Vatican Radio to stop mentioning Germany in June 1941 (V, p62). 

My parents’ generation considered the Pope's apparent silence quite cowardly and were furious.  The controversy over Pope Pius XII’s actions or inactions during the Second World War continues.  Critics and defenders are hoping that more evidence from Vatican archives being released by the current Pope Francis will support their respective cases.  That will be outside the scope of this article.


My Views on Anti-Semitism

There is anti-Semitism everywhere in the "white" and post-colonial world. 

To my astonishment, when walking along a Cape Town beach one day, a coloured (South African for mixed-race) woman accosted me and shouted “You bloody Jew!”.  I was not even wearing a label or anything else to declare I am a Jew, which I am not.  A day or two after the 2016 Brexit referendum, someone using the pseudonym (false name) of a fan of a SS war criminal Arnold Topf wrote under the Youtube site of my film on the Polish school in Putney-Wimbledon, London: “We all know you Poles intermarried with Jews and you should all now f… off!”.  Some of the Polish grils looking at the website were in tears, while some boys were fighting back.  I changed the Youtube settings to stop further comments and reported this as a hate crime to the police here in London.  The Pole working at the police station who took my complaint was moved shortly afterwards and I never heard from them again.

When they think no Jews are present, people in England or South Africa or America can make derogatory remarks.  For example an Englishman who refuses to pay his share of the costs of our private estate in Surrey is considered despicable, but a Jew who refuses to pay his share is considered a typical Jew.  People in the UK can suddenly decide to tell a Jewish joke, which will often be about cleverness, small mindedness or greed.  In Poland you don’t get that kind of joke now, because many Jews were heroes of the fight against communism and are prominent in fields like art and culture rather than business.  They get hated by nationalists for different reasons: because they were heroes, and/or because many had communist origins before they turned against the regime.  Before the War Jewish jokes were mostly about poverty in small Jewish towns or resentment of the rich Jewish business class.  There is a famous story about how Krystyna Skarbek, the future famous British agent, did not want her aristocratic friends to meet her mother as they would then realise she was Jewish.

In pre-war Poland many (not all) Jews were determined to preserve themselves as an ethnic minority, wearing black robes, beards, sideburns and speaking a different language, Yiddish.  Many had only the most rudimentary Polish.  But Poles and Moslem Asians for example feel perfectly entitled to maintain their ethnic traditions in e.g. the UK today.   Ethnic minorities run the risk of generating resentment everywhere.  Especially if like many Jews they are driven to succeed in whichever field they choose, and/or, like in Poland, they represented 10% of the population.

When populism and nationalism were last on the rise, in the 1930s, politicians in Poland and Italy as well as Germany and elsewhere exploited envy of the Jews in order to limit (or in Germany eventually eliminate) their rights to run businesses, and to impose quotas on e.g. the numbers of university places they could get.  In Poland this policy was called numerus clausus (a fixed number).  This was easier the more obvious the ethnic differences.

It seems to me highly likely that the Austrian aristocracy attending the elite Theresianum high school in Vienna, which Wladimir and his younger brother attended, had at the very least the same attitudes to Jews as elites elsewhere.  Austria largely welcomed absorption by Germany in the Anschluss in 1938, largely collaborated in the Holocaust and it is estimated that only 7,000 of its 200,000 Jews survived the war (W).  Austrians today are known for shifting the blame on Germany and public apologies like the frequent ones by the German government are rare.

The Polish Pope John Paul II is widely admired by Jews for having achieved far more in terms of transforming relations with them than any other figure in the history of the Catholic Church.  In 1986 he said to the Jewish people “You are our dearly beloved brothers, and in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers.” and during his visit to Israel in 2000 he said “Asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant” (W).

If you the reader accept the importance of Pope John Paul’s declarations, you must also accept they must have been needed.  This was not the official position of the Catholic Church in earlier times.  Indeed many Jews remain convinced that in the past priests would rant against Jews in church, blaming them for the crucifixion of Christ.  Today we Catholics pray for our brothers the Jews but then, allegedly, we just prayed that they be forgiven for the crucifixion.  Many Jews think individual Catholics were not necessarily “evil” as they think the entire Catholic Church was quite naturally anti-Semitic.  Your point of view on these attitudes depends a lot on whether you are at the delivering end or the receiving end.

This does not mean that most people who had these attitudes perpetrated or even supported the murder of millions of Jews under the Nazi Holocaust.  Poles rightly point out that their Government fought the Nazis and the Holocaust from the beginning.  People living in the Channel Islands would completely deny anti-Semitism even though their authorities collaborated with the German occupation and supplied lists of Jews to be deported.  Most Gentiles (non-Jews) in the UK (e.g. Corbyn’s allies in the Labour Party), France, the USA (e.g. Trump supporters) or Poland would also vehemently deny that they are anti-Semitic.  What they mean is they are not and were not responsible for the Holocaust.  But many do and did display far milder anti-Semitism.

If you kill six million Jews and many millions of others, as Germany did, you apologise, as the German government frequently and rightly does.  Participation by Poles in the Holocaust, e.g. in Jedwabne, was relatively very small, and was firmly opposed by the Polish Government, and is the subject of great debate.  Yet Polish President Kwaśniewski was quite right to apologise.  If, like the Channel Islands authorities, you betray your Jews, you should apologise (anyone aware of any such apology, please let me know).  If you bump into a little old lady on the street by mistake, you apologise.  You also apologise for anything in between. 



[draft: Jan Ledóchowski, 2019]







(1)  „… aby pozostał nasz ślad”. Mieczysław Ledóchowski.  Wydawnictwo: Towarzystwo Przyjaciół Ossolineum, Wrocław 2002 r.  ISBN 83-7095-051-5, s. 104-109.
(2) Katalog wystawy Muzeum Historycznego m. st. Warszawy Ród Ledóchowskich, Ojczyźnie i Bogu wrzesień - listopad 2008. Ed. Barbara-Moszczyńska.  Wydawnictwo Duszpasterstwa Rolników, Włocławek.  ISBN 978-83-88477-83-6.
(3) Maria Teresa Ledóchowska, Dama Dworu – Matką Afryki.  Ks. Roberto Laurita, tłumaczenie Joanna Zienko.  Editions du Signe, Strasbourg, France, 2012 r.  ISBN: 978-2-7468-2693-9.
(6) Życie dla innych.  Urszula Ledóchowska.  Józefa Ledóchowska, córka Ignacego, młodszego brata  św. Urszuli.  Pallottinum, Poznań 1984 r.  ISBN 83-7014-002-5.

(X) Medal awarded to Wladimir Ledóchowski and left to my family.  Gilden bronze.  [Brąz pozłacany.] Diameter [średnica] 39mm. 
Face: Right profile of the Emperor Francis Joseph I, in relief, wearing laurel wreath.  [Awers: w reliefie prawy profil głowy cesarza Franciszka Józefa I w wieńcu laurowym.]  Signature below image:  [Poniżej wizerunku sygnatura:] J. TAUTENHAYN (Viennese medal maker and sculptor, 1837-1911) [Wiedeński medalier i rzeźbiarz, 1837-1911.] 
Reverse:  Wreath in a shallow relief.  Inscription: [w płytkim reliefie wieniec, wewnątrz napis:]  WLADIMIRO COMITI DE LEDOCHOWSKI SCHOLAE  VII LATINAE DISCIPULO 1883.  Round inscription: [wokół napis:]  CAESARIO REGIAE ACADEMIAE THERESIANAE ALUMNIS OPTIME MERENTIBUS MDCCCLXXXIII  *

(R) American translation of an internal German intelligence report stored in the National Archives in Kew, London, found and passed to me by Franek Rozwadowski.
(S) Let us never be silent again.  Conor Cruise O’Brien.  Evening Standard 18th April 1989.
(T) Could Pius XI have averted the Holocaust?  Conor Cruise O’Brien.  The Times, 10th February 1989.
(U) Bernard Wasserstein’s personal account.
(V) Pius XII and the Holocaust.  Understanding the Controversy.  José M. Sanchez.  The Catholic University of America Press.  Washington D.C. 2202.  ISBN 0-8132-1080-1.  p.62
(W) Wikipedia
(Z) Paper given to me by a Jesuit 20 years ago, in 1999.

Information on living family members will be included in this website only if submitted or approved by them. Informacja o żyjących członkach rodziny może zostać umieszczona na tych stronach jedynie w wypadku gdy dana osoba wyrazi zgodę. Jan Ledóchowski