The Nazis knew Pius XII well which is why they feared him
Bernard-Henri Levy's article
Written after Benedict XVI's visit to the Jewish community of Rome and
in which he juxtaposes as scapegoats the figures of Pope Ratzinger and
has fuelled a debate. Published in "Corriere della Sera" on 20 January
and launched anew that same day by "L'Osservatore Romano" and in
Spain on 24 January by "El Pais", the piece by the French intellectual
has been extensively commented upon. The following article that responds
further to the accusations levelled at Pius XII appeared on 22 January
in the weekly supplement of the Israeli daily,"Haaretz".
Some things never go away. The
controversy over Pope Pius XII's actions during World War II was
recently reignited when Pope Benedict XVI signed a Decree affirming that
his Predecessor displayed "heroic virtues" during his lifetime. When the
Pope visited the Great Synagogue of Rome on Sunday, Riccardo Pacifici,
president of Rome's Jewish community, told him: "The silence of Pius
before the Shoah still hurts because something should have been done".
This was not the first time the wartime
Pope, who is now a step closer to beatification, has been accused of
keeping silent during the Holocaust, of doing little or nothing to help
the Jews, and even of collaborating with the Nazis. To what extent, if
any, does the evidence back up these allegations, which have been
repeated since the early 1960s?
On April 4, 1933, Eugenio Cardinal
Pacelli, the Vatican Secretary of State, instructed the Papal Nuncio in
Germany to see what he could do to oppose the Nazis' anti-Semitic
policies. On behalf of Pope Pius XI, Cardinal Pacelli drafted an
Encyclical, entitled Mit brennender Sorge (With Burning Anxiety),
that condemned Nazi doctrines and persecution of the Catholic Church.
The Encyclical was smuggled into Germany and read from Catholic pulpits
on March 21, 1937.
Although many Vatican critics today
dismiss the Encyclical as a light slap on the wrist, the Germans saw it
as a security threat. For example, on March 26, 1937, Hans Dieckhoff, an
official in the German Foreign Ministry, wrote that the "Encyclical
contains attacks of the severest nature upon the German Government,
calls upon Catholic citizens to rebel against the authority of the
State, and therefore signifies an attempt to endanger internal peace".
Both Great Britain and France should
have interpreted the document as a warning that they should not trust
Adolf Hitler or try to appease him.
After the death of Pius XI, Cardinal
Pacelli was elected Pope, on March 2, 1939. The Nazis were displeased
with the new Pontiff, who took the name Pius XII. On March 4, Joseph
Goebbels, the German propaganda minister, wrote in his diary: "Midday
with the Führer.
He is considering whether we should abrogate the concordat with Rome in
light of Pacelli's election as Pope".
During the war, the Pope was far from
silent: In numerous speeches and Encyclicals, he championed human rights
for all people and called on the belligerent nations to respect the
rights of all civilians and prisoners of war. Unlike many of the Pope's
latter-day detractors, the Nazis understood him very well. After
studying Pius XII's 1942 Christmas message, the Reich Central Security
Office concluded: "In a manner never known before, the Pope has
repudiated the National Socialist New European Order.... Here he is
virtually accusing the German people of injustice toward the Jews and
makes himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals." (Pick up any
book that criticizes Pius XII, and you won't find any mention of this
In early 1940, the Pope acted as an
intermediary between a group of German generals who wanted to overthrow
Hitler and the British Government. Although the conspiracy never went
forward, Pius XII kept in close contact with the German resistance and
heard about two other plots against Hitler. In the fall of 1941, through
diplomatic channels, the Pope agreed with Franklin Delano Roosevelt that
America's Catholics could support the President's plans to extend
military aid to the Soviet Union after it was invaded by the Nazis. On
behalf of the Vatican, John T. McNicholas, the Archbishop of Cincinnati,
Ohio, delivered a well-publicized address that explained that the
extension of assistance to the Soviets could be morally justified
because it helped the Russian people, who were the innocent victims of
Throughout the war, the Pope's deputies
frequently ordered the Vatican's diplomatic representatives in many
Nazi-occupied and Axis countries to intervene on behalf of endangered
Jews. Up until Pius XII's death in 1958, many Jewish organizations,
newspapers and leaders lauded his efforts. To cite one of many examples,
in his April 7, 1944, letter to the Papal Nuncio in Romania, Alexander
Shafran, Chief Rabbi of Bucharest, wrote: "It is not easy for us to find
the right words to express the warmth and consolation we experienced
because of the concern of the Supreme Pontiff, who offered a large sum
to relieve the sufferings of deported Jews.... The Jews of Romania will
never forget these facts of historic importance".
The campaign against Pope Pius is doomed
to failure because his detractors cannot sustain their main charges
that he was silent, pro-Nazi, and did little or nothing to help the Jews
with evidence. Perhaps only in a backward world such as ours would the
one man who did more than any other wartime leader to help Jews and
other Nazi victims, receive the greatest condemnation.