Carl Maria Splett

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Plaque at Oliwa Cathedral

Carl Maria Splett (17 January 1898 – 5 March 1964) was a German Roman Catholic priest and Bishop of Danzig, after World War II he was imprisoned in Poland and exiled in West Germany.

Early life[edit]

Splett was born in Zoppot (Sopot) to the teacher and later Vice-president of the Free City of Danzig's Parliament (Volkstag), Franz Splett.[1] He visited school in Konitz (Chojnice), Neustadt (Wejherowo) and Danzig (Gdańsk), where he passed his Abitur in 1917. Splett studied Theology and Philosophy at the Seminary of the Diocese of Kulm in Pelplin, where he also learned Polish.[2] He was ordained on 10 July 1921 and after graduating at Pelplin, he was sent to Rome for further studies, especially in Canon law, and practiced at the Sacra Rota Romana.[1]

Splett returned to Danzig in 1924 and became a vicar at several congregations within the then Apostolic Administration of Danzig (elevated to diocese in 1925), he further promoted to cathedral capitular of Oliva in 1935.[2] According to Czesław Madajczyk Splett held close relations to Nazi Albert Forster, and pursued plans to replace Polish clergy with German one.[3] Bolesław Kumor claims he provided Forster with housing when the Nazi official first arrived in the city, and Forster in return supported Splett politically; as a result Splett enjoyed full support of Nazi party.[4] Forster praised Splett's work for Nazis saying "This is my man, I can fully rely on his work"[5]

Splett succeeded Edward O'Rourke as the head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Danzig in 1938. While the Nazis, who ruled the Free State of Danzig since 1933, tried to install their own candidate, Paul Schütz, as successor of Bishop O'Rourke, Splett was appointed as Bishop by the Pope. Splett also refused to appoint Schütz as vicar general as demanded by the local Nazis.[6] Zofia Waszkiewicz claims he was supported by Nazi Forster who became his protector.[7][8]

World War II[edit]

Splett held the position as Bishop of Danzig also after the German annexation of the Free City during World War II. On 4 September, Splett issued a letter to churches where he praised German invasion of Poland, Nazi annexation of the city, and recommended his flock to pray for God's blessing for Adolf Hitler.[9] Splett was appointed the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Culm by Pope Pius XII on 6 December 1939. Splett had close relations to Nazi Albert Forster who praised Splett's work for Germany.[3] Splett replaced Polish clergy with German one fait, introducing 200 German priests into Chełmno diocese where he took office from December 1939. After the Invasion of Poland seven out of twelve Polish and four German Priests of his diocese were murdered,.[1] Under his reign Polish priesthood was oppressed and prayers and masses under his direction praised Hitler.[3] He also issued a ban against use of Polish language in churches. When he banned confessions in Polish in May 1940 Vatican intervened and ordered that the ban be lifted.[3] Not only did Splett defend his ban, he argued it was to "protect" people making the confessions.[3] After this argument he tried to claim that confessions in Polish are used for "nationalistic means".[3] Eventually Vatican accepted his explanation.[3] Besides banning Polish language, Splett ordered removal of Polish signs and names in graveyards from monuments and graves and in all churches under his jurisdiction.[3] When a family asked him to save three imprisoned Polish priests in Stuthoff camp he told them that "Polish priests are no apostles but traitors"[10][11][12]

Bohdan Pietka states that Splett through his obedient and servile attitude towards Nazis not only led to destruction of Polish religious life in the city but also by his indifferent attitude contributed to brutal extermination of Polish clergy and plunder of Polish churches[13]

According to Samerski several parishes were dis-seized and after Splett initially refused to prohibit the usage of Polish in his diocese[6] another six Priests were arrested by the Gestapo,[6] which forced him to ban the usage of Polish in his Diocese in April/May 1940.[1]".

According to Dieter Schenk on 5 September 1939 Splett protested against the arrest of Catholic priests and in February 1940 Splett sent a list of Catholic priests who were victims of persecution after the German invasion of Poland to the Reichskanzlei, the German Red Cross, the Wehrmacht High Command, the Reichssicherheitshauptamt and the Gauleitung.[14] Peter Raina points out that the priests Splett sought to protect were mostly of German ethnicity and not Polish ones.[15] Schenk stresses that Splett did not collaborate but bowed to the murderous pressure of the Nazis while Peter Raina disputes that he was under any pressure or danger, and states that Spletts actions were done in full awareness.[14][15]

Post World War II[edit]

He remained in Danzig after the Soviet Union occupied the city in March 1945 and was arrested by the Red Army on 25 March 1945, but soon released.[1] He continued administering to the remaining Danzig inhabitants, who had not escaped the Communist take-over, as well as the newly arriving Polish settlers. In the beginning of August 1945 Polish Cardinal August Hlond requested Splett to resign from his position, which Splett refused to do. On 9 August Splett was arrested by Polish officials and put on trial for collaboration and oppression of the Polish People. The trial involved 36 people out of which 22 were priests and 4 nuns[16]

Stefan Samerski reports that throughout custody Hlond pretended Pope Pius XII had disbanded Splett, which was not the case.[6] Hlond criticised Splett refusal to resign in time as Catholic Church in Poland was in conflict with communist authorities; Splett's decision gave ammunition against the Church. He was sentenced to eight years in prison on 1 February 1946 and imprisoned at Wronki Prison. After his release from prison, Splett was kept under domiciliary arrest at Stary Borek in Southern Poland and at the monastery of Dukla.

Robert Żurek, Deputy director of the Polish Center of Historical Research in Berlin,[17] regards this as a show trial and part of the anti-catholic policy of the Polish government after World War II. Its aim was to portray the papal policy as anti-polish as the Vatican had entrusted a Polish diocese to a "German chauvinist". Żurek stresses that in a statement of 16 January 1946 even the Polish Bishop of Katowice, Stanisław Adamski, emphasized Splett's merits regarding the pastoral care in occupied Poland. Adamski pointed out, that Splett acted under massive pressure of the Gestapo and that the Nazis attempted to let the bishop appear as initiator of their anti-polish policy. Despite the pressure of Polish authorities all Catholic priests interrogated as witnesses made exculpatory testimonies.[18]

Polish officials were however not actually interested in the background of Splett's actions. The real intention of the trial was to justify the termination of the Concordat of 1925 by the Polish authorities and to segregate the Polish Catholic Church and the Vatican.[18]

Historian Peter Raina states that the trial was fair and Splett was allowed to defend himself freely and without any difficulties nor obstructions and extensively.[15] For Raina it was not a show trial, and the guilt of Splett was evident, he would get the same verdict if place under trial at Nuremberg.[15] Jan Zaryn writes that although the attack on Splett were often insulting, they were not without merit due to his servile attitude toward Gestapo[19] Professor Jerzy Serczyk writes that due Splett's anti-Polish actions during the war there was hardly any disapproval in Polish society towards sentencing Splett[20]

In 1956, after protests from West Germany and by the Polish Primate Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, the new Polish government allowed his emigration to West Germany. He remained official Bishop of Danzig until his death in 1964 and was active in the pastoral care for the expelled population of Danzig.[2] He played also an active role in the improvement of the German-Polish relations throughout the Second Vatican Council.[2]

The administrative position of the bishop of Gdańsk was held by lesser church officials. He was succeed by Edmund Nowicki, his coadjutor bishop since 1956.

Splett died in Düsseldorf.


  1. ^ a b c d e
  2. ^ a b c d Stefan Samerski (1995). "Splett, Carl Maria". In Bautz, Traugott. Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL) (in German). 10. Herzberg: Bautz. cols. 1043–1046. ISBN 3-88309-062-X. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Czesław Madajczyk. Polityka III Rzeszy w okupowanej Polsce pages 177–212 volume 2 , Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, Warszawa, 1970
  4. ^ Czasy współczesne 1914-1992, Volume 8 Bolesław Kumor Redakcja Wydawnictw Katolickiego Uniwersytetu Lubelskiego, 2001
  5. ^ Wierni Bogu i ojczyźnie: duchowiénstwo katolickie w walce o niepodległość Polski w II wojnie światowej Stanisław Podlewski page 161 Novum, 1971
  6. ^ a b c d Stefan Samerski: Das Bistum Danzig in Lebensbildern
  7. ^ Polityka Watykanu wobec Polski 1939-1945 Zofia Waszkiewicz page 171 Państ. Wydaw. Naukowe, 1980
  8. ^ Czasy współczesne 1914-1992 - Volume 8 - Page 440 Bolesław Kumor - 2001 W takich okolicznościach bp Splett przy poparciu namiestnika Forstera
  9. ^ Rocznik Gdański, Volume 59, page 157 Gdańskie Towarzystwo Naukowe, 1999
  10. ^ Obchody milenijne 1966 roku: w świetle dokumentów Ministrerstaw Spraw Wewnętrznych Wanda Chudzik Oficyna Wydawnicza Rytm, 1998 "Były biskup Splett nazwał wówczas polskich księży więzionych w Stutthofie zdrajcami."
  11. ^ Więź - Volume 35, Issues 1-4 - Page 117 1992 "cytat z wypowiedzi niemieckiego biskupa gdańskiego Karla Spletta: „Księża polscy nie są apostołami, lecz zdrajcami".
  12. ^ Miejsca walk i męczeństwa w województwie bydgoskim 1939-1945 - Page 28 Zygmunt Drwęcki - 1969 Splett nie tylko nie przeciwdziałał eksterminacji księży polskich, lecz politykę tę popierał. Znana jest jego wypowiedź, że „księża polscy nie są żadnymi apostołami, lecz zdrajcami" („Polnische Prister sind keine Apostel, sondern Verräter").
  13. ^ Bohdan Piętka: Piotr Semków, "Polityka Trzeciej Rzeszy wobec ludności polskiej na terenie byłego Wolnego Miasta Gdańsk w latach 1939-1945
  14. ^ a b Schenk, Dieter. Bischof Splett beugte sich dem mörderischen Druck der Nationalsozialisten- Er war kein Kollaborateur (PDF) (in German). 
  15. ^ a b c d Zasłużył na karę” Peter Raina Tygodnik Powszechny 42/2000
  16. ^ Kościół katolicki na ziemiach polskich w latach okupacji hitlerowskiej - Page 299 Zenon Fijałkowski - 1983 W czasie procesu Spletta złożyło zeznania 36 osób, w tym 22 księży i 2 zakonnice.
  17. ^ Polish Center of Historical Research in Berlin
  18. ^ a b Żurek, Robert (2005). Zwischen Nationalismus und Versöhnung – Die Kirchen und die deutsch-polnischen Beziehungen 1945 - 1956 (in German). Böhlau. p. 249. ISBN 3-412-10805-7. 
  19. ^ Kościół a władza w Polsce (1945-1950) Jan Żaryn, Towarzystwo im. Stanisława ze Skarbimierza,page 1997 1997
  20. ^ [1]

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