In 1999 Hitler’s Pope by John Cornwell attacked the Vatican’s role in World War II, especially the inaction of Pope Pius XII. Within eighteen months of the hardcover publication of Hitler’s Pope Papal Sin by Garry Wills, Under His VeryWindowsby Susan Zuccotti and Constantine’s Sword by James Caroll entered the fray to discredit Pius XII.
None of them were in time for John Cornwell’s retraction quoted December 9, 2004 issue of the Economist.
“Devil’s advocates were supposed to be fair-minded, and in the past Mr Cornwell, a prolific writer on Catholic matters, has at times been anything but. As he admits, Hitler’s Pope (1999), his biography of Pope Pius XII, lacked balance. ‘I would now argue,’ he says, ‘in the light of the debates and evidence following Hitler’s Pope, that Pius XII had so little scope of action that it is impossible to judge the motives for his silence during the war, while Rome was under the heel of Mussolini and later occupied by the Germans.’”
Like Cornewll, the three authors who followed him are by lapsed Catholics or dissenting ones. To them Pius XII was either a moral coward or assented to Hitler’s policies, but more that that, they see a parallel with the unbending defense of dogma made by Pius’ successors. Dogma covers a gamut of postmodern concerns for the kinds of Catholics who are variously described as conciliators, modernists or progressives. The usual suspects for them are an all male priesthood, viewing Satan as being not as a symbol, and refusal to bend on calling abortion a mortal sin.
Ironically, knowledgeable Jews of a generation ago, especially survivors of the Holocaust, would have metaphorically tarred and feathered Goldhagen.
Dr. Panchas. E. Lapide was an Israeli diplomat who became an Orthodox rabbi and one of the more reknown historians of the Holocaust. His book, Three Popes and the Jews, published in 1967, describes the Pope’s state of mind when he was merely Cardinal Eugeno Pacelli, the Vatican’s envoy in Germany.
“Of the forty-four speeches which the Nuncio Pacelli had made on German soil between 1917 and 1929, at least forty contained attacks on Nazism or condemnations of Hitler’s doctrines. . . . Pacelli, who never met the Führer, called (National Socialism) ‘neo-Paganism.’”
Pacelli’s anti-Nazi stance was based in part on the theological understanding that Christians, claiming to be spiritual children of Abraham, are therefore spiritual Semites. Pacelli’s stance was the primary reason Pius XI elevated him to office of Vatican Secretary of State.
Dr. Joseph Lichten, a Jewish academician and former Polish refugee from the Nazis, wrote a lengthy 1963 essay called A Question of Judgment: Pius XII and the Jews. Dr. Lichten documented the assistance Pacelli provided Jews both before and after he became Pope. Assistance included a rescue mission in 1936 in reaction to the Nuremberg Laws stripping besieged German Jews of any remaining rights. German bishops requested that Cardinal Pacelli urge the Vatican to start an emigrant organization, to which Pius XI readily agreed and on behalf of which his Secretary of State wrote to all American bishops asking for their support. From those beginnings sprang more intensive rescue efforts once World War II began.
Shortly before Pacelli became head of the Roman Catholic Church world wide, he appealed to the world’s governments to throw open their borders to persecuted Jews. Switzerland not only closed her borders but also deported those who managed to cross. The United States and Great Britain continued policies of turning refugees away.
Nevertheless, Pius XII’s first encyclical after war broke out–a plea for peace–was used as a propaganda weapon by the Allies. More than 80,000 copies were dropped by the Royal and French air forces over Germany. The New York Times greeted the encyclical with a front-page headline on October 28, 1939: “Pope Condemns Dictators, Treaty Violators, Racism.”
Hitler attempted to prevent the new Pope from maintaining his anti-Nazi stance. According to Dr. Lichten, Von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s foreign minister, was granted a papal audience on March 11, 1940. After a harangue about the inevitability of a Nazi victory and the futility of papal alignment with the enemies of the Third Reich, “Pius XII opened an enormous ledger on his desk and, in his perfect German, began to recite a catalogue of the persecutions inflicted by the Third Reich in Poland, listing…precise details of each crime. The audience was terminated; the Pope’s position was clearly unshakable.”
After the war Von Ribbonthorpe testified at Nuremberg that he had desk full of the Pontiff’s complaints on behalf of Jews. During the war Adolph Eichman wrote in his diary that efforts to exterminate Jews were being thwarted by the Pope, and he wished he could prove Vatican involvement.
The proof wanted was hard evidence that the Pope was inciting subordinates in Occupied Europe to thwart the round up and deportation of undesirables; was behind the procurement of valid and forged passports, of medical clearances and post-dated Baptismal certificates; and used the Vatican treasury to finance much of the enormous cost of these endeavors, including bribes to officials and payoffs to extortionists. Documentation of the fraud would release the Axis from lip service to the Vatican’s status as a neutral state. Mussolini’s foreign minister complained that Pius was “ready to let himself be deported to a concentration camp, rather than do anything against his conscience.” Hitler wanted to enter the Vatican to “pack up that whole whoring rabble.” Several plans were considered for kidnapping the Pope; others, for assassinating him. Looting art treasures would be an added bonus to the Reich.
The lack of proof that aggravated the Axis is the so-called silence that all anti-Catholic writers today use as their core argument that Pius XII was morally corrupt. In the November 25, 2008 internet edition of the The Jewish Ledger, Cindy Mindell describes efforts of Jewish leaders to re-think their biases. One convert is Rabbi Eric Silver of Temple Beth David in Cheshire, Connecticut.
Silver understands the horns of a dilemma, the very sharp, deadly horns ready to gore the Pope’s domain of 110 acres, the smallest state in the world, that could field an army of twenty-two spear chucking Swiss guards. Just one goosestep outside the walls were Mussolini’s Fascist soldiers then S.S. troops called in to prop up the dictator. Silver asks rhetorically, “People say, ‘Why didn’t the pope speak out? Dutch clergy ran up a trial balloon by speaking out, and immediately, 40,000 Dutch Jews were rounded up, including Edith Stein.”
“With no records, it’s easy to point to what he didn’t do,” Rabbi Silver is quoted. “But my question is this: Does it take a rocket scientist to figure out why there is no paper trail? Rome was occupied by the Nazis, there were German spies in the Vatican, so what would have happened if they had found physical evidence of the pope’s actions? There is not a paper trail linking the Final Solution to Hitler. If you don’t want to give credit to the pope because there was no paper trail, you can’t blame Hitler for the Final Solution, because there was no paper trail there either.”
Orthodox Rabbi Dr. David Dalin is a Professor of History and Political science at Ave Maria University in Florida. His book The Myth of Hitler’s Pope was published 2005. Although it sold 150,000 more hardcover copies than John Cornwell’s book, it hasn’t received nearly the attention. Pope-bashing got Cornwell a spot on 60 Minutes. Dennis Prager invited Dalin to be interviewed on radio. Vanity Fair published an abridged version of Hitler’s Pope, leaving it to smaller periodicals like The American Spectator and The Weekly Standard to publish contrarian articles by Rabbi Dalin. The following is from the Rabbi’s article, Pius XII and the Jews, published in the February 26, 2001 issue of the Weekly Standard:
“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 fate of Italian Jews has become a major topic of Pius’s critics, the failure of Catholicism at its home supposedly demonstrating the hypocrisy of any modern papal claim to moral authority. (Notice, for example, Zuccotti’s title: Under His Very Windows.)
“But 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 Italy’s clergy to save lives by all means. (A neglected source for Pius’s actions during this time is the 1965 memoir But for the Grace of God, by Monsignor J. Patrick Carroll-Abbing, who worked under Pius as a rescuer.) Beginning in October 1943, Pius asked churches and convents throughout Italy to shelter Jews. As a result — and despite the fact that Mussolini and the Fascists yielded to Hitler’s demand for deportations — many 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 pope’s 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 Pius’s 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.
“Cardinal Pietro Palazzini, then assistant vice rector of the Seminario Romano, hid Michael Tagliacozzo and other Italian Jews at the seminary (which was Vatican property) for several months in 1943 and 1944. In 1985, Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial, honored the cardinal as a righteous gentile — and, in accepting the honor, Palazzini stressed that ‘the merit is entirely Pius XII’s, who ordered us to do whatever we could to save the Jews from persecution.’ Some of the laity helped as well, and, in their testimony afterwards, consistently attributed their inspiration to the pope.
“Again, the most eloquent testimony is the Nazis’ own. Fascist documents published in 1998 (and summarized in Marchione’s 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 S cavalry, disguised as Italians, to seize St. Peter’s and ‘massacre Pius XII with the entire Vatican’ — and specifically names ‘the papal protest in favor of the Jews’ as the cause.”
In Three Popes and the Jews, Dr. Lapide estimated that the number of all Jews spared in Europe by Pius XII’s throwing the Church’s weight into the struggle was “at least 700,000 souls, but in all probability it is much closer to…860,000.” Lapide calculated that Pius XII and the Church he headed constituted the most successful Jewish aid organization in all of Europe during the war, dwarfing the Red Cross and all other aid societies.
But that was long ago. And just as long ago is a yellowing clipping from page 6 of The Palestine Post, now The Jerusalem Post, brought to light this year. The dateline is April 28, 1944. Wartime. Thirty-nine days before the invasion of Normandy, thirteen months before the fall of the Third Reich. Approximately twelve million people have yet to be killed on battlefields, in air raids, in camps, by disease. The Post story recounts a sunny Wednesday morning even earlier, in the autumn of 1941. The byline is simply “Refugee.” He is described as a person who arrived in Palestine aboard the refugee ship Nyassa.
….I am the last one to enter, after the German soldiers. The Pope, sitting in a throne-like armchair, dressed in magnificent vestments, resembles some wise doctor, a good friend. His eyes shine in a friendly way through gold-rimmed glasses as each petitioner kneels to kiss the ring on the thin fingers of the Father’s right hand.
The Pope speaks to everybody–asking the soldiers in fluent German from which part of the Reich they come and whether they have a special wish. And he speaks so naturally and so simply that one cannot but feel his benevolent influence. Afterwards the Holy Father gives his benediction and hands over the petitions to his retinue: cardinals, bishops and other high dignitaries of Mother Church, officials of the Vatican Government, secretaries and diplomats. They stand respectfully in the background behind the audience chair, dressed in richly colored garments of mediaeval style.
At last it is my turn. I step forward, feeling very uneasy and shy. Then I kneel down on a velvet cushion, bow over the Papal hand, and breathe a kiss on the ring.
Then I look up and address him, stammering some Italian phrases.
But the Pope interrupts me. “My son, you can speak your own language with me; you are German, too, aren’t you?”
“No, your Holiness, I was only born in Germany. But I am not a German any longer. I am a Jew.”
“So you are a Jew, what can I do for you? Tell me, my son!”
. . .I report about the shipwrecked Jewish refugees, saved by Italian warships in the Aegean Sea and now starving in a prisoner of war camp on one of the islands. The Pope listens carefully to my explanations of how to help these poor people either by taking them to Palestine or by bringing them back to Italy to avoid epidemics and further starvation. Then Pius XII says:
“You have done well to come to me and tell me this. I have heard about it before. Come back tomorrow with a written report and give it to the Secretary of State who is dealing with the question. But now for you, my son. You are a young Jew. I know what that means and I hope you will always be proud to be a Jew!” And the Pope raises his voice that everybody in the hall can here it clearly, “My son, whether you are worthier than others only the Lord knows, but believe me, you are at least as worthy as every other human being that lives on our earth!
And now, my Jewish friend, go with the protection of the Lord, and never forget, you must always be proud to be a Jew!
After Pius XII died on October 9, 1958, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations asked for silence to mark his passing, then Golda Meir said: “We share the grief of the world over the death of His Holiness Pius XII…. During the ten years of Nazi terror, when our people passed through the horrors of martyrdom, the Pope raised his voice to condemn the persecutors and to commiserate with their victims.”
Similar testimonials were so numerous The New York Times stopped printing them and gave only names for three days. Synagogue throughout the Western world conducted memorial services, echoing the sentiments of Nahum Goldmann, President of the World Jewish Congress: ”With special gratitude we remember all he has done for the persecuted Jews during one of the darkest periods in their entire history.”
Remembrance, though, seems to have become a faded virtue. In the July/August 2006 issue of The American Spectator, Sir Martin Gilbert, another Jewish historian, Winston Chruchill’s official biographer and author of ten books on the Holocaust, kicks off a favorable review of Rabbi Dalin’s book with these words:
“…I frequently receive requests from Jewish educators, seeking support for grant applications for their Holocaust programs. Almost all these applications include a sentence about how the new program will inform students that the Pope, and the Vatican, ‘did nothing’ during the Holocaust to help Jews.”
Sir Gilbert goes on to say that this is a false portrayal. It is soundly debunked in Rabbi Dalin’s book which also gives the genesis of the distortion, an eight-hour German stage play called The Deputy.
I was a junior in high school when the New York Times, TIME magazine and others gushed praise over the 1964 debut of the shorter English language version. Rolf Hochhuth, the playwright, has said since then that he thought the Pope was timid for not speaking out, but he does not doubt the Pius’ actions materially helped the rescue of Jews. And oh yes, his play is merely fiction.
What the playwright doesn’t say is that his work was conceived in the Kremlin, and require the theft and editing of Vatican documents to create the impression that Pius was a vicious anti-Semite.
Nikita Khrushchev approved the deception, code name Seat 12, and the KGB whose motto was, “Dead men can’t defend themselves,” carried it out. Why hard-headed dialectal materialists would want to smear a man who believed the kingdom of God is not of this world is probably similar to the the reason liberal-minded Western secularists need to believe the lie.
Attributed to Goebbles and others in the Third Reich are versions of the statement, “If you repeat a big lie often enough, people will believe it.” Even earlier is Lenin’s version: “A lie told often enough becomes truth.”
That is what we must never forget.
Last year I read the above with some modifications to a group of people who meet to deliver papers on religion, politics and history, and from time to time whatever else rings their chimes. After I read my paper, I was questioned about the concordat that Cardinal Eugeno Pacelli negotiated with the Third Reich in 1933. Critics characterize the future Pope’s involvement as a greedy and self-serving way to preserve Church hierarchy in Germany at the expense of denying the legitimacy of any group, Catholic or non-Catholic, that opposed Hitler. A few go so far as to say the concordant thrust Hitler into power. Cornwell in Hitler’s Pope foams with the assertion that Pacelli’s Faustian impulses were honed by his work on the Vatican’s concordat with Serbia when he was a young diplomat. Thus he personally and decisively helped touch of World Wart I. Exposing Hitler’s Pope and Its Author by William Doino, Jr. is a lengthy but intriguing analysis of the these and other matters. Shorter and more to the point of the question is Moral Accords? by Professor Jose M. Sanchez of Saint Louis University, edited by Frank J. Coppa. These are good Catholic boys, but if you want to read bull, it’s all over the internet.
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