The righteous Pope
A thorough documentation in defense of Pope Pius XII. Refuting those who still claim he was anti-Semitic and soft on Nazism. Fifty years of appreciation from Jews all over the world
BY DAVID G. DALIN
A rabbi in New York, David Dalin, is one of the leading figures in the American Jewish world. His book, Religion and State in the American Jewish Experience, was named one of the best academic works of 1998. He has lectured on Jewish-Christian relations at the University of Hartford, Trinity College, George Washington University, and Queens College of New York. In an article published in the February 26, 2001, issue of The Weekly Standard (published in the United States), Rabbi David Dalin called for Pius XII to be recognized as righteous, because of his efforts to save Jews from the Holocaust. We publish here excerpts from the article.
Even before Pius XII died in 1958, the charge that his papacy had been friendly to the Nazis was circulating in Europe, a piece of standard Communist agitprop against the West. It sank for a few years under the flood of tributes, from Jews and gentiles alike, that followed the Popes death, only to bubble up again with the 1963 debut of The Deputy, a play by a left-wing German writer (and former member of the Hitler Youth) named Rolf Hochhuth.
The Deputy was fictional and highly polemical, claiming that Pius XIIs concern for Vatican finances left him indifferent to the destruction of European Jewry. But Hochhuths seven-hour play nonetheless received considerable notice, parking a controversy that lasted through the 1960s. And now, more than thirty years later, that controversy has suddenly broken out again, for reasons not immediately clear.
Indeed, broken out doesnt describe the current torrent. In the last eighteen months, nine books that treat Pius XII have appeared: John Cornwells Hitlers Pope, Pierre Blets Pius XII and the Second World War, Garry Willss Papal Sin, Margherita Marchiones Pope Pius XII, Ronald J. Rychlaks Hitler, the War and the Pope, Michael Phayers The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, 1930-1965, Susan Zuccottis Under His Very Windows, Ralph McInernys The Defamation of Pius XII, and, most recently, James Carrolls Constantines Sword.
Since four of thesethe ones by Blet, Marchione, Rychlak, and McInernyare defenses of the Pope (and two, the books by Wills and Carroll, take up Pius only as part of a broad attack against Catholicism), the picture may look balanced. In fact, to read all nine is to conclude that Piuss defenders have the stronger casewith Rychlaks Hitler, the War and the Pope the best and most careful of the recent works, an elegant tome of serious, critical scholarship.
Still, it is the books vilifying the Pope that have received most of the attention. ...
Einstein, Golda Meir, Herzog
Curiously, nearly everyone pressing this line todayfrom the ex-seminarians John Cornwell and Garry Wills to the ex-priest James Carrollis a lapsed or angry Catholic. For Jewish leaders of a previous generation, the campaign against Pius XII would have been a source of shock. During and after the war, many well-known JewsAlbert Einstein, Golda Meir, Moshe Sharett, Rabbi Isaac Herzog, and innumerable otherspublicly expressed their gratitude to Pius. In his 1967 book Three Popes and the Jews, the diplomat Pinchas Lapide (who served as Israeli consul in Milan and interviewed Italian Holocaust survivors) declared Pius XII was instrumental in saving at least 700,000, but probably as many as 860,000 Jews from certain death at Nazi hands....
Still, Lapides 1967 book remains the most influential work by a Jew on the topic, and in the thirty-four years since he wrote, much material has become available in the Vaticans archives and elsewhere. New oral-history centers have gathered an impressive body of interviews with Holocaust survivors, military chaplains, and Catholic civilians. Given the recent attacks, the time has come for a new defense of Pius XII. ...
In January 1940, for instance, the Pope issued instructions for Vatican Radio to reveal the dreadful cruelties of uncivilized tyranny the Nazis were inflicting on Jewish and Catholic Poles. Reporting the broadcast the following week, the Jewish Advocate of Boston praised it for what it was: an outspoken denunciation of German atrocities in Nazi Poland, declaring they affronted the moral conscience of mankind. The New York Times editorialized: Now the Vatican has spoken, with authority that cannot be questioned, and has confirmed the worst intimations of terror which have come out of the Polish darkness. In England, the Manchester Guardian hailed Vatican Radio as tortured Polands most powerful advocate.
Any fair and thorough reading of the evidence demonstrates that Pius XII was a persistent critic of Nazism. Consider just a few highlights of his opposition before the war: of the forty-four speeches Pacelli gave in Germany as Papal Nuncio between 1917 and 1929, forty denounced some aspect of the emerging Nazi ideology.
In March 1935, he wrote an open letter to the Bishop of Cologne calling the Nazis false prophets with the pride of Lucifer.
That same year, he assailed ideologies possessed by the superstition of race and blood to an enormous crowd of pilgrims at Lourdes. At Notre Dame in Paris two years later, he named Germany that noble and powerful nation whom bad shepherds would lead astray into an ideology of race.
The Nazis were diabolical, he told friends privately. Hitler is completely obsessed, he said to his long-time secretary, Sister Pascalina. All that is not of use to him, he destroys; this man is capable of trampling on corpses. Meeting in 1935 with the heroic anti-Nazi Dietrich von Hildebrand, he declared, There can be no possible reconciliation between Christianity and Nazi racism; they were like fire and water....
It was while Pacelli was his predecessors chief adviser that Pius XI made the famous statement to a group of Belgian pilgrims in 1938 that anti-Semitism is inadmissible; spiritually we are all Semites. And it was Pacelli who drafted Pius XIs encyclical Mit brennender Sorge, With Burning Concern, a condemnation of Germany among the harshest ever issued by the Holy See. Indeed, throughout the 1930s, Pacelli was widely lampooned in the Nazi press as Pius XIs Jew-loving Cardinal, because of the more than fifty-five protests he sent the Germans as the Vatican Secretary of State. To these must be added highlights of Pius XIIs actions during the war.
The New York Times
His first encyclical, Summi Pontificatus, rushed out in 1939 to beg for peace, was in part a declaration that the proper role of the papacy was to plead to both warring sides rather than to blame one. But it very pointedly quoted St. Paulthere is neither Gentile nor Jewusing the word Jew specifically in the context of rejecting racial ideology. The New York Times greeted the encyclical with a front-page headline on October 28, 1939: Pope Condemns Dictators, Treaty Violators, Racism. Allied airplanes dropped thousands of copies on Germany in an effort to raise anti-Nazi sentiment.
In 1939 and 1940, Pius acted as a secret intermediary between the German plotters against Hitler and the British. He would similarly risk warning the Allies about the impending German invasions of Holland, Belgium, and France. ...
When French bishops issued pastoral letters in 1942 attacking deportations, Pius sent his nuncio to protest to the Vichy government against the inhuman arrests and deportations of Jews from the French-occupied zone to Silesia and parts of Russia. Vatican Radio commented on the bishops letters six days in a rowat a time when listening to Vatican Radio was a crime in Germany and Poland for which some were put to death. (Pope Is Said to Plead for Jews Listed for Removal from France, The New York Times headline read on August 6, 1942. Vichy Seizes Jews; Pope Pius Ignored, the Times reported three weeks later.)...
In the summer of 1944, after the liberation of Rome but before the wars end, Pius told a group of Roman Jews who had come to thank him for his protection: For centuries, Jews have been unjustly treated and despised. It is time they were treated with justice and humanity, God wills it and the Church wills it. St. Paul tells us that the Jews are our brothers. They should also be welcomed as friends.
As these and hundreds of other examples are disparaged, one by one, in recent books attacking Pius XII, the reader loses sight of the huge bulk of them, their cumulative effect that left no one, the Nazis least of all, in doubt about the Popes position. ...
In its editorial the following day, The New York Times declared, The voice of Pius XII is a lonely voice in the silence and darkness enveloping Europe this Christmas. In calling for a real new order based on liberty, justice, and love, the Pope put himself squarely against Hitlerism.
In assessing what actions Pius XII might have taken, many (I among them) wish that explicit excommunications had been announced. The Catholic-born Nazis had already incurred automatic excommunication, for everything from failure to attend Mass to unconfessed murder to public repudiation of Christianity. And, as his writings and table-talk make clear, Hitler had ceased to consider himself a Catholicindeed, considered himself an anti-Catholiclong before he came to power. ...
Holocaust survivors such as Marcus Melchior, the Chief Rabbi of Denmark, argued that if the Pope had spoken out, Hitler would probably have massacred more than six million Jews and perhaps ten times ten million Catholics, if he had the power to do so. Robert M.W. Kempner called upon his experience at the Nuremberg trials to say (in a letter to the editor after Commentary published an excerpt from Guenter Lewy in 1964), Every propaganda move of the Catholic Church against Hitlers Reich would have been not only provoking suicide, but would have hastened the execution of still more Jews and priests.
This is hardly a speculative concern. A Dutch bishops pastoral letter condemning the unmerciful and unjust treatment meted out to Jews was read in Hollands Catholic churches in July 1942. The well-intentioned letterwhich declared that it was inspired by Pius XIIbackfired. As Pinchas Lapide notes: The saddest and most thought-provoking conclusion is that whilst the Catholic clergy in Holland protested more loudly, expressly, and frequently against Jewish persecutions than the religious hierarchy of any other Nazi-occupied country, more Jewssome 110,000 or 79 percent of the totalwere deported from Holland to death camps....
One might ask, of course, what could have been worse than the mass murder of six million Jews? The answer is the slaughter of hundreds of thousands more. And it was toward saving those it could that the Vatican worked. The fact remains that while approximately 80 percent of European Jews perished during World War II, 80 percent of Italian Jews were saved.
In the months Rome was under German occupation, Pius XII instructed Italys clergy to save lives by all means. Beginning in October 1943, Pius asked churches and convents throughout Italy to shelter Jews. As a resultand despite the fact that Mussolini and the Fascists yielded to Hitlers demand for deportationsmany Italian Catholics defied the German orders.
In Rome, 155 convents and monasteries sheltered some five thousand Jews. At least three thousand found refuge at the Popes summer residence at Castel Gandolfo. Sixty Jews lived for nine months at the Gregorian University, and many were sheltered in the cellar of the Pontifical Biblical Institute. Hundreds found sanctuary within the Vatican itself. Following Piuss instructions, individual Italian priests, monks, nuns, cardinals, and bishops were instrumental in preserving thousands of Jewish lives. Cardinal Boetto of Genoa saved at least eight hundred. The Bishop of Assisi hid three hundred Jews for over two years. The Bishop of Campagna and two of his relatives saved 961 more in Fiume. ...
Again, the most eloquent testimony is the Nazis own. Fascist documents published in 1998 (and summarized in Marchiones Pope Pius XII) speak of a German plan, dubbed Rabat-Fohn, to be executed in January 1944. The plan called for the eighth division of the SS cavalry, disguised as Italians, to seize St. Peters and massacre Pius XII with the entire Vaticanand specifically names the papal protest in favor of the Jews as the cause.
A similar story can be traced across Europe. There is room to argue that more ought to have been attempted by the Catholic Churchfor the unanswerable facts remain that Hitler did come to power, World War II did occur, and six million Jews did die. But the place to begin that argument is with the truth that people of the time, Nazis and Jews alike, understood the Pope to be the worlds most prominent opponent of the Nazi ideology.
As early as December 1940, in an article in Time magazine, Albert Einstein paid tribute to Pius: Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitlers campaign for suppressing the truth. I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom. I am forced thus to confess that what I once despised, I now praise unreservedly.
In 1943, Chaim Weizmann, who would become Israels first president, wrote that the Holy See is lending its powerful help wherever it can, to mitigate the fate of my persecuted co-religionists.
Moshe Sharett, Israels second prime minister, met with Pius in the closing days of the war and told him that my first duty was to thank him, and through him the Catholic Church, on behalf of the Jewish public for all they had done in the various countries to rescue Jews.
Rabbi Isaac Herzog, Chief Rabbi of Israel, sent a message in February 1944 declaring, The people of Israel will never forget what His Holiness and his illustrious delegates, inspired by the eternal principles of religion, which form the very foundation of true civilization, are doing for our unfortunate brothers and sisters in the most tragic hour of our history, which is living proof of Divine Providence in this world.
In September 1945, Leon Kubowitzky, Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress, personally thanked the Pope for his interventions, and the World Jewish Congress donated $20,000 to Vatican charities in recognition of the work of the Holy See in rescuing Jews from Fascist and Nazi persecutions.
Goodness and magnanimity
In 1955, when Italy celebrated the tenth anniversary of its liberation, the Union of Italian Jewish Communities proclaimed April 17 a Day of Gratitude for the Popes wartime assistance. ...
To deny the legitimacy of their gratitude to Pius XII is tantamount to denying the credibility of their personal testimony and judgment about the Holocaust itself. More than all others, recalled Elio Toaff, an Italian Jew who lived through the Holocaust and later became Chief Rabbi of Rome, we had the opportunity of experiencing the great compassionate goodness and magnanimity of the Pope during the unhappy years of the persecution and terror, when it seemed that for us there was no longer an escape....
The Talmud teaches that whosoever preserves one life, it is accounted to him by Scripture as if he had preserved a whole world. More than any other twentieth-century leader, Pius fulfilled this Talmudic dictum, when the fate of European Jewry was at stake. No other pope had been so widely praised by Jewsand they were not mistaken. Their gratitude, as well as that of the entire generation of Holocaust survivors, testifies that Pius XII was, genuinely and profoundly, a righteous gentile.