In the first months following his retirement from the Monroe County Family Court bench in December 2006, Judge Anthony Sciolino was asked to participate in an interfaith adult education course titled “The 2000 Year Road to the Holocaust.” He was delighted to take part, having a life-long interest in deciphering how human beings permitted what he refers to as history’s greatest tragedy.
Judge Sciolino was one of 18 presenters for the 15-session course, which was offered at Temple B’rith Kodesh from 2007-2010. His research for the curriculum generated the opportunity to present a scholarly paper on the Holocaust at the 42nd Annual Scholar’s Conference on the Holocaust, held at Monroe Community College in May 2012.
That research was then massaged into a published book, “The Holocaust, the Church and the Law of Unintended Consequences: How Christian Anti-Judaism spawned Nazi Anti-Semitism,” now available at Barnes and Noble.com, Amazon.com and other online booksellers. If the book’s title doesn’t get your attention, perhaps the cover picturing several Catholic priests saluting Hitler will make you look twice.
The book is 270 pages long and available both in hardcover and soft; plans are in the works for an e-book version later this year.
A life of learning
Judge Sciolino is a Rochester native, the youngest of five children born to Italian immigrant parents. From Franklin High School, he attended Columbia University on an academic scholarship. He served as an editor on the Cornell Law Forum while earning his law degree at Cornell Law School in 1970.
In the 1990s, while serving on the bench, at the prompting of his local pastor, Judge Sciolino earned his master’s in theology from St. Bernard’s School of Theology & Ministry in Pittsford. Thereafter, he was ordained a permanent deacon of the Diocese of Rochester.
“My pastor planted the seed to study for the Roman Catholic deaconate,” he said. “My wife also completed her master’s in theology degree before retiring from teaching in the city school district for 32 years. We have been members of the Church of the Transfiguration in Pittsford since 1987.”
Back in junior high school, Judge Sciolino read “The Diary of Anne Frank,” introducing him to the Holocaust through the eyes of a young girl his own age. In college, he saw “The Deputy,” a controversial play accusing Pope Pius XII of failure to take action against the Holocaust.
As a young man, Judge Sciolino assumed the play was a lie. He always hoped his research would exonerate Pope Pius XII.
The more educated he became, the more he recognized the probability that the Catholic Church’s actions and attitudes may have unintentionally fueled the anti-Semitic culture that evolved in 1930s Germany.
Judge Sciolino classifies himself as a progressive Catholic, and his views have occasionally evoked criticism from conservative bloggers and others who object to his analysis of church history and doctrines.
His studies of the Holocaust have included visits to European sites. A 1970 trip included a tour of the Anne Frank House Museum in Amsterdam and the Dachau concentration camp outside Munich. A 1980s trip to Poland included a tour of the killing camp of Majdanek near Lublin. On a trip to Rome, he toured the historic Jewish Ghetto, established by order of Pope Paul IV in the 16th century.
Did the Catholic Church’s centuries-long dehumanizing of Jews cause the Holocaust?
“Certainly not,” Judge Sciolino said. “But the church’s history of scapegoating, demonizing, persecuting and denouncing Jews surely helped prepare the political landscape of Europe, planting the seeds of hatred that Adolf Hitler brought to fruition. The Nazi war machine faced little direct resistance from either the Vatican or the Catholics of Europe. Certainly it was an unintended consequence of the church’s negative view of the Jewish people.”
The escalating evil of the Third Reich was silently accepted by millions of European Catholics throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Catholic bishops and priests were required to swear allegiance to the Third Reich, even to make the seig heil (Heil Hitler) salute. The Vatican’s policy of neutrality in World War II raises the question of how history may have been changed had the church taken a different stance.
Judge Sciolino hopes his book might be used in college courses to stimulate thought about unintended consequences.
“There are important lessons for today in the relationship between church anti-Judaism and the Holocaust,” Judge Sciolino said. “The church still tries to silence Catholic dissenters, as it did then. It sometimes seems committed to preserving the institute above all else, as it was then.”
Meanwhile, he does have plans to promote the book through his own network of contacts at Columbia and Cornell. He hopes to travel to some of the Jewish book festivals to broaden the circulation of the book.
“A top 10 in nonfiction by Charlie Rose would be very welcome,” Judge Sciolino joked, “as would a favorable review in the New York Times Book Review.”
His publisher, iUniverse, has given the book an Editor’s Choice rating and designated its author as a “rising star.” In plain English, the online self-publishing company not only indicates that this is a top notch self-published book, but it has true commercial viability.
Besides his obvious academic and religious commitments, Judge Sciolino has been active in the local and state bar associations, as well as the New York State Permanent Judicial Committee on Justice for Children. He served on Rochester City Council from 1980-1986 and has been active in Rochester Rotary Club and Columbia alumni programs. He has earned professional awards from the Center for Dispute Settlement, the Rochester City School District and St. Bernard’s.
Judge Sciolino and his wife Gloria enjoy traveling. Her post-retirement endeavors include teaching an SAT prep course to high school students in international schools worldwide through Academic Services International, which has enhanced their travel opportunities from time to time, taking them to Egypt, China and Malaysia.
This spring, she has a gig in Zurich, which has prompted Judge Sciolino to join her for an extended vacation in Spain.
The Sciolinos have one grown daughter, Kate, who earned her degree in Women’s Studies from Fordham and now lives in Boulder, Colo.