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08 July 2011

The Left's Blood Libel: Pope Pius XII Was Not "Hitler's Pope"

From the end of World War II until at least five years after his death, Pope Pius enjoyed an enviable reputation amongst Christians and Jews alike.  At the end of the war, Pius XII was hailed as "the inspired moral prophet of victory," and "enjoyed near-universal acclaim for aiding European Jews." 

Numerous Jewish leaders, including Albert Einstein, Israeli Prime Ministers Golda Meir and Moshe Sharett, and Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog, expressed their public gratitude to Pius XII, praising him as a "righteous gentile," who had saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust.  In his meticulously researched and comprehensive 1967 book, "Three Popes and the Jews," the Israeli historian and diplomat Pinchas Lapide, who had served as the Israeli Counsel General in Milan, and had spoken with many Italian Jewish Holocaust survivors who owed their life to Pius, provided the empirical basis for their gratitude, concluding that Pius XII "was instrumental in saving at least 700,000, but probably as many as 860,000 Jews from certain death at Nazi hands."  To this day, the Lapide volume remains the definitive work, by a Jewish scholar, on the subject.

The campaign of vilification against Pope Pius can be traced to the debut in Berlin in February 1963 of a play by a young, Protestant, left-wing West German writer and playwright, Rolf Hochhuth.  The Deputy, in which Hochhuth depicts Pacelli as a Nazi collaborator, guilty of moral cowardice and "silence" in the face of the Nazi onslaught, is a scathing indictment of Pope Pius XII's alleged indifferences to the plight of European Jewry during the Holocaust. 

"Being a lover of freedom, when the Nazi revolution came in Germany, I looked to the universities to defend it, knowing that they had always boasted of their devotion to the cause of truth; but, no, the universities immediately were silenced.  Then I looked to the great editors of the newspapers, whose flaming editorials in days gone by had proclaimed their love of freedom: but they, like the universities, were silenced in a few short weeks.  Only the Catholic Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler's 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.” -  Albert Einstein

In 1943, Chaim Weizmann, who would become Israel's first president, wrote:

"...the Holy See is lending its powerful help wherever it can, to mitigate the fate of my persecuted co-religionists."

Moshe Sharett, who would become Israel's first Foreign Minister and second Prime Minister, reinforced these feelings of gratitude when he met with Pius in the closing days of World War II:

"I told him [the Pope] 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…We are deeply grateful to the Catholic Church."

In 1945, Rabbi Isaac Herzog, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, sent a message to Msgr. Angelo Roncalli (the future Pope John XXIII), expressing his gratitude for the actions taken by Pope Pius XII on behalf of the Jewish people:  "The people of Israel will never forget what His Holiness and his illustrious delegates, inspired by the eternal principles of religion, which form the 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, Dr. Leon Kubowitzky, the Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress, personally thanked the Pope in Rome for his interventions on behalf of Jews, and the World Jewish Congress donated 20,000 dollars to Vatican charities "in recognition of the work of the Holy See in rescuing Jews from Fascist and Nazi persecutions." 

Dr. Raffael Cantoni, head of the Italian Jewish community's wartime Jewish Assistance Committee, who would subsequently become the President of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, similarly expressed his gratitude to the Vatican, stating that "six million of my co-religionists have been murdered by the Nazis, but there could have been many more victims had it not been for the efficacious intervention of Pius XII."  On 5 April 1946, his Union of Italian Jewish Communities, meeting for the first time after the War, sent an official message of thanks to Pope Pius XII:

"The delegates of the Congress of the Italian Jewish Communities, held in Rome for the first time after the Liberation, feel that it is imperative to extend reverent homage to Your Holiness, and to express the most profound gratitude that animates all Jews for your fraternal humanity toward them during the years of persecution when their lives were endangered by Nazi-Fascist barbarism.  Many times priests suffered imprisonment and were sent to concentration camps, and offered their lives to assist Jews in every way.  This demonstration of goodness and charity that still animates the just, has served to lessen the shame and torture and sadness that afflicted millions of human beings."

 In 1955, when Italy celebrated the tenth anniversary of its liberation, the Union of Italian Jewish Communities proclaimed April 17 as a "Day of Gratitude" for the Pope's wartime assistance in defying the Nazis.  Dozens of Italian Catholics, including several priests and nuns, were awarded gold medals "for their outstanding rescue work during the Nazi terror."  

A few weeks later, on 26 May 1955, the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra flew to Rome to give a special performance of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, at the Vatican's Consistory Hall, to express the State of Israel's enduring gratitude for the help that the Pope and the Catholic Church had given to the Jewish people persecuted by the Nazis during the Holocaust.  That the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra so joined the rest of the Jewish world in warmly honoring the achievements and legacy of Pope Pius XII is of more than passing significance.   

As a matter of state policy, the Israeli Philharmonic has never played the music of the nineteenth century composer Richard Wagner because of Wagner's well-known reputation as an anti-Semite and as Hitler's "favorite composer," and as one of the cultural patron saints of the Third Reich, whose music was played at Nazi party functions and ceremonies.   Despite requests from music lovers and specialists, the official state ban on the Israeli Philharmonic's playing Wagner's music has never been lifted.   During the 1950's and 1960's, especially, a significant sector of the Israeli public, hundreds of thousands of whom were survivors of the Nazi concentration and death camps, still viewed his music, and even his name, as a symbol of the Hitler regime.  That being the case, it is inconceivable that the Israeli government would have paid the travel expenses for the entire Philharmonic to travel to Rome for a special concert to pay tribute to a church leader who was considered to have been "Hitler's Pope."   

On the contrary: The Israeli Philharmonic's historic and unprecedented visit to Rome to perform for Pius XII at the Vatican was a unique Jewish communal gesture of collective recognition and gratitude to a great world leader and friend of the Jewish people for his instrumental role in saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of Jews. 

On the day of Pius XII's death in 1958, Golda Meir, Israel's Foreign Minister, cabled the following message of condolence to the Vatican: "We share in the grief of humanity…When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the Pope was raised for the victims.  The life of our times was enriched by a voice speaking out on the great moral truths above the tumult of daily conflict.  We mourn a great servant of peace."

Before beginning a concert of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Leonard Bernstein called for a minute of silence "for the passing of a very great man, Pope Pius XII."

Similar sentiments were expressed in the many tributes and eulogies for Pius by numerous rabbis and Jewish communal leaders, as well as by most of the Israeli press, several of whose readers suggested in open letters that a "Pope Pius XII Forest" be planted in the hills of Judea "in order to perpetuate fittingly the humane services rendered by the late pontiff to European Jewry."   

Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, wrote to the German Ambassador to the Holy See:

“[T]here are signs that the Vatican is likely to renounce its traditional neutral attitude and take up a political position against Germany . You are to inform him (the Pope) that in that event Germany does not lack physical means of retaliation.”

The German Ambassador reported back to Ribbentrop:

“[H]e did not care what happened to himself, but that a struggle between Church and State could have only one outcome – the defeat of the State. I replied that I was of the contrary opinion….. an open battle could bring some very unpleasant surprises for the Church. … Pacelli (Pius XII) is no more sensible to threats than we are. In event of an open breach with us, he now calculates that some German Catholics will leave the Church but he is convinced that the majority will remain true to their Faith. And that the German Catholic clergy will screw up its courage, prepared for the greatest sacrifices.”

One Israeli Consul in Italy wrote at the end of the war:

"[T]he Catholic Church saved more Jewish lives during the war than all the other Churches, religious institutions and rescue organizations put together. Its record stands in startling contrast to the achievements of the International red Cross and the Western democracies… the Holy See, the Nuncios and the entire Catholic Church saved some 400,000 Jews from certain death.”

That the leading Jewish organisations knew the extent of Vatican protection afforded them is demonstrated in the letter of thanks from the Chief Rabbi Herzog to the Nuncio in Turkey and Greece (Mgr Roncalli, later Pope John XXIII), and from the American Jewish Welfare Board in July 1944 to the Pope. In a dramatic response the Chief Rabbi of Rome himself converted to Catholicism at the end of the war, taking the baptismal name “Eugenio” as a personal tribute.

In July 1943 the encyclical Mystici Corporis, Pius XII condemned the “legalised murder“ of the handicapped, insane and incurable.

In 1944 he intervened on behalf of Jewish victims directly with the Regent of Hungary, Horthy, having received direct information about the death camps from two.

Approximately half of the Jews in Rome were already being sheltered in ecclesiastical buildings, while many others escaped with Vatican papers (over three thousand Jews were hidden successfully, while one thousand deported and killed). 
On 19 January1940, at the Pope's instruction, Vatican radio and L'Osservatore Romano revealed to the world "the dreadful cruelties of uncivilised tyranny" that the Nazis were inflicting on Jewish and Catholic Poles.

The following week, the Jewish Advocate of Boston reported the Vatican radio broadcast, praising its "outspoken denunciation of German atrocities in Nazi [occupied] Poland, declaring they affronted the moral conscience of mankind."

In his 1940 Easter homily, Pius XII condemned the Nazi bombardment of defenseless citizens, aged and sick people, and innocent children.

On 11 May 1940, he publicly condemned the Nazi invasions of Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg and lamented "a world poisoned by lies and disloyalty and wounded by excesses of violence."

In June 1942, Pius spoke out against the mass deportation of Jews from Nazi-occupied France, further instructing his Papal Nuncio in Paris to protest to Marshal Henri Petain, Vichy France's Chief of State, against "the inhuman arrests and deportations of Jews from the French occupied zone to Silesia and parts of Russia."

The London Times of 1 October 1942, explicitly praises him for his condemnation of Nazism and his public support for the Jewish victims of Nazi terror. "A study of the words which Pope Pius XII has addressed since his accession," noted the Times, "leaves no room for doubt. He condemns the worship of force and its concrete manifestations in the suppression of national liberties and in the persecution of the Jewish race."

Pius XII's Christmas addresses of 1941 and 1942, broadcast over Vatican radio to millions throughout the world, also help to refute the fallacious claim that Pope Pius was "silent."

The Pope's Christmas message of 1941, as reported by The New York Times and other newspapers, was understood at the time to be a clear condemnation of Nazi attacks on Europe's Jews.

So, too, was the Pope's Christmas message of the following year.

Pope Pius XII's widely-discussed Christmas message of 24 December 1942, in which he expressed his passionate concern "for those hundreds of thousands who, without any fault of their own, sometimes only by reason of their nationality or race, are marked down for death or progressive extinction," was widely understood to be a very public denunciation of the Nazi extermination of the Jews.

Indeed, the Nazis themselves interpreted the Pope's famous speech of Christmas 1942 as a clear condemnation of Nazism, and as a plea on behalf of Europe's Jews:

"His [the Pope's] speech is one long attack on everything we stand for…he is clearly speaking on behalf of the Jews…he is virtually accusing the German people of injustice toward the Jews, and makes himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals."

In his recent history of the modern papacy, Professor Eamon Duffy of Magdalen College, Oxford University, substantiates the fact, ignored by Pius' critics, that the Nazi leadership viewed the Pope's 1942 Christmas message as an attack on Nazi Germany and as a defense of the Jews. "Both Mussolini and Ambassador Ribbentrop were angered by this [the Pope's 24 December 1942] speech," notes Duffy, "and Germany considered that the Pope had abandoned any pretence of neutrality. They felt that Pius had unequivocally condemned Nazi action against the Jews."

During and for close to two decades after World War II, Jewish praise and gratitude for Pius XII's efforts on behalf of European Jewry were virtually unanimous.  Indeed, as Pinchas Lapide has so aptly stated: "No Pope in history has been thanked more heartily by Jews."   

Because of Pius XII's exemplary humanity toward European Jewry, no other Pope has earned such gratitude from the Jewish people.  

 In recent decades, new oral history centers have been established, to record and preserve the oral histories and personal testimonies of Jewish Holocaust survivors and their Catholic rescuers.  As a result, an impressive body of new oral history interviews, with Jewish Holocaust survivors and military chaplains, Catholic clergy and laity, in Italy and other countries of Nazi occupied Europe, have been conducted and transcribed.  These provide a new basis for understanding Pius XII's role in the Holocaust, and his relationship to Italy's Jews.  An invaluable archival resource, these provide the basis for the new Jewish understanding of Pius XII and the Holocaust that cries out to be written.  

The new and existing oral history testimony of Jewish leaders in Israel, Europe, and America, as well as that of Jewish chaplains and of numerous Jewish Holocaust survivors, bear elegant witness to the heroic and often forgotten role played by Pope Pius XII in sheltering and rescuing hundreds of thousands of Jews.  It is hard to imagine that so many of the world's greatest Jewish leaders, on several continents, were all misguided or mistaken in praising the Pope's wartime conduct.  Their enduring gratitude, as well as that of a generation of Holocaust survivors, to Pius XII was genuine and profound, and bespoke their sincere belief that he was one of the world's truly "righteous gentiles."  

The Talmud, the great sixth century compendium of Jewish religious law and ethics, teaches Jews that "whosoever preserves one life, it is accounted to him by Scripture as if he had preserved a whole world."  More so than most other twentieth century leaders, Pius XII effectively fulfilled this Talmudic dictum when the fate of European Jewry was at stake.  Pope Pius XII's legacy as a "righteous gentile," who rescued so many Jews from Hitler's death camps cannot and should not be forgotten.  Nor should the fact that the Jewish community, and so many of its leaders, praised the Pope's efforts during and after the Holocaust, and promised never to forget.  

These points are especially significant in evaluating Pope Pius XII's enduring legacy for twentieth, and twenty-first, century Jews.  It needs to be remembered, as noted earlier, that no other Pope in history has been so universally praised by Jews.  So, too, the compelling reason for this unprecedented Jewish praise for, and gratitude to, a Pope needs to be better remembered than it has been in recent years: Today, more than fifty years after the Holocaust, it needs to be more widely recognized and appreciated that Pius XII was indeed a very "righteous gentile," a true friend of the Jewish people, who saved more Jewish lives than any other person, including Raoul Wallenberg and Oskar Schindler.  

 A new authentically Jewish history of Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust, emphasising his historic role and accomplishments as a "righteous gentile," may help to bring some long-overdue recognition to his too little known and appreciated legacy as one of the century's great friends of the Jewish people.

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07 July 2011

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