The Good Samaritan: Jewish Praise For Pope Pius XII

Author: Dimitri Cavalli


Dimitri Cavalli

Inside the Vatican has given considerable space in its pages to coverage of the fierce debate over the wartime role of Pope Pius XII and his alleged "silence" in the face of the Nazi persecution of the Jews (see particularly our June 1997 and our October 1999 issues). We will continue to do so as long as the debate rages. The article we print here brings together a considerable amount of previously scattered evidence for how Jews during Pius's lifetime viewed Pius's conduct. Reading Cavalli's piece, it is striking to see how different the general Jewish opinion of Pius XII was in the years during and immediately following the war from what it is today. This prompts a fundamental question: Were the Jews who praised and thanked Pius after the war all mistaken or insincere, or are the attacks on Pius today unfair?The Editor

During World War II, many Jews around the world had the chance to observe Pope Pius XII's conduct. They listened to his every word, and scrutinized his every action. Instead of seeing "Hitler's Pope," most Jews concluded that Pius XII's public statements were directed against the Nazis, and that he and his subordinates in many Nazi-occupied and Axis countries were trying to save Jewish lives. The many extraordinary and eloquent tributes that the Pope once received from Jews show that the allegations that he was a Nazi collaborator and indifferent toward the extermination of Jews would have seem completely unjustified and unjust to those who closely following his career.

Allegations that Pope Pius XII was pro-Nazi are often supported by his time in Germany from 1917 to 1929 as the papal nuncio and his direct role, as Secretary of State, in negotiating the Vatican's concordat with Germany in 1933. These facts were universally known when Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli was elected Pope on March 2, 1939. How did Jews around the world react to his election? Were they concerned by his former ties to Germany?

In a March 6, 1939 editorial, "Leadership for Peace," the Palestine Post in Jerusalem said: "Pius XII has clearly shown that he intends to carry on the late Pope's [Pius XI] work for freedom and peace... we remember that he must have had a large part to play in the recent Papal opposition to pernicious race theories and certain aspects of totalitarianism..."

In praising Cardinal Pacelli's election, the Jewish Chronicle in London on March 10, quoted an anti-Nazi speech he delivered in Lourdes in April 1935 and the hostile statements expressed about him in the Nazi press. "It is interesting to recall... on January 22 [1939], the Voelkischer Beobachter published pictures of Cardinal Pacelli and other Church dignitaries beneath a collective heading of 'Agitators in the Vatican against Fascism and National Socialism,"' the Jewish Chronicle noted.

Also on March 10, the Canadian Jewish Chronicle commended the College of Cardinals for resisting Nazi attempts to influence the election and prevent Cardinal Pacelli from becoming Pope. "The plot to pilfer the Ring of Fisherman has gone up in white smoke," the editorial quipped.

Many Jewish organizations also expressed their enthusiasm for the new Pope. According to the Jewish Chronicle in London (March 10), the Vatican received congratulatory messages from "the Anglo-Jewish Community, the Synagogue Council of America, the Canadian Jewish Congress, and the Polish Rabbinical Council."

Pius XII's decision to appoint Luigi Cardinal Maglione as the Vatican's new Secretary of State also brought favorable reactions. The March 16, 1939 Zionist Review in London said that the Cardinal's appointment "confirms the view that the new Pope means to conduct an anti-Nazi and anti-Fascist policy."

Certainly, such statements made by Jewish newspapers and organizations show they considered the newly elected Pope Pius XII a friend of democracy and peace, and an enemy of racism and totalitarianism. Cardinal Pacelli's role in negotiating the concordat with the Nazis did not cause any concern. Instead, many Jews cited his anti-Nazi speeches, and his role as Vatican Secretary of State, which helped produce the 1937 anti-Nazi encyclical, Mit brennender Sorge, and numerous protests against the persecution of the Catholic Church in Germany.

Less than two months after World War II broke out, on October 27, Pius XII issued his first encyclical, Summi Pontificatus. On the same day, the New York-based Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the equivalent of the Associated Press, reported that, "the unqualified condemnation which Pope Pius XII heaped on totalitarian, racist and materialistic theories of government in his encyclical Summi Pontificatus caused a profound stir... Although it had been expected that the Pope would attack ideologies hostile to the Catholic Church, few observers had expected so outspoken a document..."

In a November 9, 1939 editorial, "Endowed with Reason," the American Israelite in Cincinnati also discussed the encyclical. "In decrying totalitarianism, Pope Pius XII called the individual the end and the state the means of bringing out the fundamental equality of men because men are endowed with reason," the editorial said. "This concept of democracy is reiterated in the Pope's Encyclical, stressing again the inviolability of the human person as a sacred being..."

In January 1940, the United Jewish Appeal for Refugees and Overseas Needs donated $125,000 to the Vatican in order to assist its efforts on behalf of all victims of racial persecution. On January 19, the Jewish Ledger in Hartford, Connecticut described the United Jewish Appeal's gift as an "eloquent gesture," which "should prove an important step in the direction of cementing the bonds of sympathy and understanding" between Catholics and Jews. An account of how the money was spent is in the Vatican's official wartime documents, Actes et documents du Saint Siege relatifs a la Seconde Guerre Mondiale, (Vol. VI, pp. 282-283.)

On January 26, 1940, the Jewish Advocate in Boston reported, "The Vatican radio this week broadcast an outspoken denunciation of German atrocities in Nazi [occupied] Poland, declaring they affronted the moral conscience of mankind." Exiled Polish Cardinal August Hlond of Gnezo and Poznan had given the Vatican detailed reports about the Nazi persecution of the Church in Poland. On the Pope's orders, Vatican Radio broadcast the cardinal's reports. The front-page story quoted one Vatican Radio broadcast as saying, "Jews and Poles are being herded into separate ghettos, hermetically sealed and pitifully inadequate for the economic subsistence of the millions designed to live there." This broadcast was also important because it gave independent confirmation of media reports about Nazi atrocities, which were previously dismissed as Allied propaganda.

Also, on January 26, the Canadian Jewish Chronicle published a brief item about Jacob Freedman, a Boston tailor. Mr. Freedman was concerned about the fate of his sister and nephews in German-occupied Poland. He wrote the State Department and the Red Cross, but they were unable to provide any information. Mr. Freedman then sought Pope Pius XII's assistance.

Several months later, Cardinal Maglione informed Mr. Freedman that his family were alive and well in Warsaw. "I don't know the words to express what I feel, that they should take an interest in us with all the other things in the world to worry them, " said Mr. Freedman. "I think it's the finest, most wonderful thing." According to Pinchas Lapide's 1967 book, Three Popes and the Jews, the Vatican Information Office helped tens of thousands of Jews locate missing relatives in Europe.

On March 14, 1940, the Jewish Chronicle in London commented on Pope Pius XII's conditions for a "just and honorable peace," which he articulated in his 1939 Christmas message. The Chronicle said that the Pope's conditions, especially the protection of racial minorities, were a "welcome feature," and praised him for standing up for "rights of the common man."

Also, in March, Italy's anti-Semitic laws went into effect, and many Jews were dismissed from the government, universities, and other professions. In response, Pius XII appointed several displaced Jewish scholars, including geographer Prof. Roberto Almagia, to posts in the Vatican Library. The March 29 Kansas City Jewish Chronicle said that the Pope's actions showed "his disapproval of the dastardly anti-Semitic decrees."

On April 29, 1941, a group of Jewish refugees interned at an Italian concentration camp thanked Pius XII after being visited by Bishop Francesco Borgognini-Duca, the papal nuncio in Italy. The prisoners wrote that the nuncio's visit gave them "new courage to go on living," and they described the Pope as a "revered personality who has stood up for the rights of all afflicted and powerless people." (Actes, VIII, pp. 178-179).

On January 2, 1942, the front page of the California Jewish Voice published a report on the Pope's 1941 Christmas address. "Religious persecution and oppression of minorities must have no place in the world of the future, declared Pope Pius XII in his annual Christmas Eve message," the article said.

By early 1942, the Nazis began to implement their plans to exterminate the Jews. The Vatican had no practical way of bringing these plans to a halt, but sought to assist endangered Jews and other victims on a case-by-case basis. This assistance ranged from actively opposing the deportations to meeting the material and spiritual needs of refugees. For example, on April 14, 1942, Rabbi Naftali Adler and Dr. Max Pereles, the representatives of thousands of Jewish refugees interned at the Ferramonti concentration camp in southern Italy, sent a letter of thanks to the Pope, who sent "an abundant supply of clothing and linen" to the children at the camp, and took care of the prisoners' other needs. "This noble and generous gift proves anew what the whole world knows and admires that Your Holiness is... also the paternal guardian and promoter of the ideal of humanity for all mankind," they wrote. (Actes, VIII, pp. 505-507).

In 1942, Croatia's Jews were being brutally persecuted by the Nazi-installed dictatorship. On August 4, Chief Rabbi Miroslav Freiberger of Zagreb, Croatia's capital, sought more assistance from Pius XII. Already, the Vatican's unofficial diplomatic representative in Croatia, Msgr. Joseph Marcone, who was acting on Cardinal Maglione's instructions, and Archbishop Alois Stepinac opposed the anti-Jewish persecutions. In his letter, Chief Rabbi Freiberger appreciated "the limitless goodness that the representatives of the Holy See and the leaders of the Church showed to our poor brothers." (Actes, VIII, p. 611). Throughout the war, the Chief Rabbi continued to express his gratitude to the Vatican for helping Croatian Jews.

The deportations of French Jews also began in late July 1942. Msgr. Valerio Valeri, the papal nuncio in France, protested the deportations with Marshall Henri Philippe Petain and Prime Minister Pierre Laval in August. The nuncio's intervention became publicly known by the end of the month. On August 28, the California Jewish Voice said, "Pope Pius XII has asked the Papal Nuncio at Vichy to protest to the Laval Government against 'the inhuman arrests and deportations' of Jews in France... Previously, reports from Geneva had indicated that the Pope had tried, though vainly, to use his good offices in Slovakia to prevent deportations and other cruelties."

The Voice’s account is confirmed by the Actes. On October 31, 1941, Cardinal Maglione had given Msgr. Valeri and Pierre Cardinal Gerlier of Lyon a blank check to "tone down" the practical application of the anti-Semitic laws, which would include any deportations. In April 1942, the Vatican protested the deportations of Slovak Jews with a note to the Slovak Government.

Although Msgr. Valeri actually made the protest, the Jewish press understood that he was acting on behalf of Pius XII. In a September II editorial, the Jewish Chronicle in London said, "The Pope's action is also a striking affirmation of the dictum of one of the Pope's predecessors that no true Christian can be an anti-Semite..."

In his 1942 Christmas message, the Pope condemned the treatment of "hundreds of thousands who, without any fault on their own, sometimes only by reason of their nationality or race, are marked down for death or a progressive extinction." The Pope's defenders argue that this was a clear reference to the Holocaust. The Pope's detractors insist that he didn't go far enough, and should have condemned the Nazis by name. But the Nazis understood the Pope very clearly. "In a manner never known before the Pope has repudiated the National Socialist New European Order," complained a January 22, 1943 report by the Reich Central Security Office. "Here he is virtually accusing the German people of injustice towards the Jews, and makes himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals." (Anthony Rhodes, The Vatican in the Age of Dictators (1973), pp. 272-273). I was unable to find any references to the Pope's address in the many Jewish newspapers that I examined. However, in a January 20, 1943 letter to Msgr. Arthur Hughes, the apostolic delegate in Egypt, Chaim Barlas, the Jewish Agency's Turkish Representative, wrote, "The highly humanitarian attitude of His Saintety [meaning, Holiness] expressing His indignation against racial persecutions, was a source of comfort for our brethren." (Actes, IX, p. 90). If Pius XII was "silent" in the literal sense of the word, then the Reich Central Security Office and Chaim Barlas could not have made these conclusions.

In late 1942, Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog of Jerusalem sought the Pope's intervention to rescue Jews from the Nazis. On February 12, 1943, the Vatican's reply to Chief Rabbi Herzog was noted on the front page of the California Jewish Voice. "The Vatican this week cabled Chief Rabbi Herzog, assuring him that it is doing everything possible for all the victims of Nazi persecution, including the Jews," the article said. The Jewish Chronicle in London and the Australian Jewish News also reported the Vatican's assurance to the Chief Rabbi.

On April 16, 1943, the Australian Jewish News published a brief article about Cardinal Gerlier, who had strongly opposed the deportations of French Jews, and was sheltering Jewish children. The article quoted the cardinal as saying that he was obeying Pius XII's instructions by continuing to oppose France's anti-Semitic measures.

In his June 2 address to the College of Cardinals, Pope Pius XII spoke up again. He referred to persons "tormented as they are, because of their nationality or their race... delivered, without any fault on their part, to measures of extermination." The July 16, 1943 Jewish Chronicle in London published a slightly different version of these words on its front page under the title, "The Pope's Solicitude."

On September 24, Alex Easterman, the British representative of the World Jewish Congress, contacted Msgr. William Godfrey, the apostolic delegate in London. Easterman informed him that about 4,000 Jewish refugees from Croatia were safely evacuated to an island in the Adriatic Sea. "I feel sure that efforts of your Grace and of the Holy See have brought about this fortunate result," Easterman wrote. (Actes, IX, pp. 488-489).

After Benito Mussolini's fall from power, the new Italian government surrendered to the Allies in September 1943. German troops occupied Italy, including Rome, in order to stop the Allied offensive. During the occupation of Rome, the Nazis threatened to arrest Roman Jews unless their leaders paid them 50 kilograms of gold. When the Roman Jews were able to raise only 42 kilograms of gold, they turned to the Pope, who agreed to provide the balance. Meanwhile, the Jews raised the balance from ordinary Catholics and informed the Vatican that the Pope's contribution was not needed. On October 28, 1943, however, the Palestine Post in Jerusalem noted Pius XII's offer on the front page under the headline, "The Pope's Gift to the Jews."

On October 16, the Nazis also seized about 1,000 Jews and deported them to Auschwitz. On October 29 Jewish Chronicle in London reported the Vatican's response to the arrests: "The Vatican has made strong representations to the German Government and the German High Command in Italy against the persecution of Jews in Nazi-occupied Italy..."

This account of the Vatican's actions was exactly correct. On Pius XII's orders, Cardinal Maglione made an immediate protest with Germany's Ambassador. Bishop Alois Hudal, the Rector of the German Catholic Church in Rome, protested the arrests of Jews with the German Military Governor of Rome. Along with the Vatican's protests, 4,700 Jews disappeared into Rome's convents, monasteries and the Vatican itself. The remaining 2,300 Jews were able to find shelter elsewhere because Vatican protests brought the round-ups to an end.

By 1943, the Vatican's many rescue efforts on behalf of Jews were being universally acknowledged. In the fall of 1943, the Jewish communities of Chile, Uruguay, and Bolivia sent letters to Pope Pius XII, and thanked him for assisting Jews (Actes, IX, pp. 498, 501-502, and 567).

The 1943-1944 American Jewish Yearbook said that Pius XII "took an unequivocal stand against the oppression of Jews throughout Europe." In his February 18, 1944 letter to Msgr. Amleto Cicognani, the apostolic delegate in Washington, D.C., Rabbi Maurice Perlzweig, the political director of the World Jewish Congress, wrote that "the repeated interventions of the Holy Father on behalf of Jewish Communities in Europe has evoked the profoundest sentiments of appreciation and gratitude from Jews throughout the world." (Actes, X, p. 140).

Two important Jewish leaders who worked with the Vatican to save Jews also expressed similar sentiments. "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 foundations of true civilization, are doing for our unfortunate brothers and sisters in this most tragic hour of history, which is living proof of divine Providence in this world," Chief Rabbi Herzog declared on February 28. (Actes, X, p. 292). In his April 7 letter to the papal nuncio in Romania, Chief Rabbi Alexander Shafran 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 relive the sufferings of deported Jews... The Jews of Romania will never forget these facts of historic importance..." (Actes, X, pp. 291-292).

In June 1944, two separate events helped establish the Pope's reputation as a rescuer of Jews, at least temporarily. When the Allies liberated Rome, thousands of Jews came out of their hiding places, and told the world of their salvation by the Vatican. On June 25, the Pope openly protested the deportations of Hungarian Jews.

The many tributes to Pius XII began in July. "It is gradually being revealed that Jews have been sheltered within the walls of the Vatican during the German occupation of Rome," reported the July 7 Jewish News in Detroit. A July 14 editorial in the Congress Weekly, the official journal of the American Jewish Congress, added that the Vatican also provided Jewish refugees with kosher food.

Also on July 14, American Hebrew in New York published an interview with Chief Rabbi Israel Zolli of Rome. "The Vatican has always helped the Jews and the Jews are very grateful for the charitable work of the Vatican, all done without distinction of race," Rabbi Zolli said. After the war, Rabbi Zolli converted to Catholicism, which brought him much severe criticism from some Jews. Dr. Zolli's conversion was widely attributed to his gratitude for what the Pope did for Jews. In his 1954 memoirs, Before the Dawn, however, Dr. Zolli strongly denied this assertion. Instead, he claimed to have witnessed a vision of Christ, who called him to the faith.

A week later on July 21, the Vatican received telegrams from the National Jewish Welfare Board and the World Jewish Congress. The National Jewish Welfare Board expressed its gratitude to the Pope for "the aid and protection given to so many Italian Jews by the Vatican..." (Actes, X, pp. 358-359). The World Jewish Congress also acknowledged the Vatican's "noble humanitarian work" on behalf of Hungarian Jews. (Actes, X, pp. 359).

The deportations of Hungarian Jews horrified the Allied and neutral nations. The American Jewish Committee and other Jewish groups organized a rally in Manhattan's Madison Square Park on July 31 to mobilize public opinion against the deportations. In his address, Judge Joseph Proskauer, the Committee's president, declared, "We have heard... what a great part the Holy Father has played in the salvation of the refugees in Italy, and we know from sources that must be credited that this great Pope has reached forth his mighty and sheltering hand to help the oppressed of Hungary." (Speech obtained from American Committee Library in Manhattan).

During the following months, Rabbi Stephen Wise, the president of the American Jewish Congress, Chief Rabbi Joseph Hertz of the British Empire, composer Irving Berlin, Congressman Emmanuel Cellar of Brooklyn, the Emergency Committee to Save the Jews of Europe, the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada, and the World Agudas Organization also lauded Pius XII for helping endangered Jews. At the time, Rabbi Wise also condemned Christian indifference toward the extermination of Jews.

With Rome liberated, the Pope frequently greeted Allied soldiers. During one meeting, he blessed a Jewish soldier from Palestine in Hebrew. In the Congress Weekly (October 20, 1944), Elias Gilner found great significance in this event. Gilner wrote that the Pope's blessing "becomes a memorable act, a far-flung message of good-will, an expression of the Christian spirit at its highest." Gilner added that Pius XII by this blessing also began a "new course" in Catholic-Jewish relations.

The tributes to Pope Pius XII from Jews continued after the war in Europe ended. On April 22, 1945, Moshe Sharrett, the future Foreign Minister and Prime Minister of Israel sent a report of his meeting with the Pope to the Executive of the Jewish Agency. Sharrett wrote 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, to save children, and Jews in general." (Lapide, pp. 225-226)

On October 11, the World Jewish Congress donated $20,000 to Vatican charities. According to the New York Times (October 12, 1945), the gift was "made in recognition of the work of the Holy See in rescuing Jews from Fascist and Nazi persecution." Although the current leaders of the World Jewish Congress have a much different view of the Vatican's wartime actions, they never retracted that recognition.

During a St. Louis conference on the plight of displaced Jewish refugees on March 17, 1946, William Rosenwald, the chairman of the United Jewish Appeal for Refugees, Overseas Needs and Palestine, said, "I wish to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Pope Pius for his appeal in behalf of the victims of war and oppression. He provided aid for Jews in Italy and intervened in behalf of refugees to lighten their burden." (New York Times, March 18, 1946.) The previous week, the Pope granted Mr. Rosenwald an audience. According to Mr. Rosenwald, the Pope said that Holocaust survivors and Jewish refugees should be allowed to resettle in the United States.

In an article for Commentary (November 1950), French scholar and Holocaust survivor Leon Poliakov discussed the Vatican's conduct during the war. Poliakov suggested that the Vatican during the Holocaust retreated to its "medieval tradition" of protecting Jews from state persecution. "There is no doubt that secret instructions went out from the Vatican urging the national churches to intervene in favor of the Jews by every possible means," Poliakov wrote. In fact, according to Volumes VI, VIII, IX, and X of the Actes, these instructions were sent to the Vatican's many diplomatic representatives.

Still, Poliakov was troubled because he believed that Pius XII's public statements were too vague. But Poliakov conceded the argument that "public protests would have brought no help to the victims, and might have produced contrary effects." He cited the tragic case of Holland where the protests against the deportations of Jews by the Dutch Catholic bishops in 1942 led to the arrest of Catholic Jews, who were previously spared for deportation by the Nazis.

In 1955, the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, which was composed of Jewish refugees from many nations, toured Italy. The Orchestra performed a concert at the Vatican on May 26, 1955. According to the Jerusalem Post (May 29, 1955), "Conductor Paul Klecki had requested that the Orchestra on its first visit to Italy play for the Pope as a gesture of gratitude for the help his Church had given to all those persecuted by Nazi Fascism."

In 1957, the Pope received a delegation from the American Jewish Committee. The New York Times on June 29, 1957 reported that the Committee's representatives described the Pope as a "great friend" in the battle against racism and anti-Semitism in the United States. The Pope also praised the Committee's work, and issued a strong statement condemning anti-Semitism.

Pope Pius XII died on October 8, 1958. Many Jewish organizations and newspapers around the world mourned his passing, and recalled his wartime efforts to rescue Jews. At the United Nations, Golda Meir, Israel's Foreign Minister, said, "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." The Zionist Record (October 17) in South Africa published Meir's moving eulogy along with tributes from Jewish organizations to the late Pope.

"Adherents of all creeds and parties will recall how Pius XII faced the responsibilities of his exalted office with courage and devotion," declared the Jewish Chronicle in London on October 10. "Before, during, and after the Second World War, he constantly preached the message of peace. Confronted by the monstrous cruelties of Nazism, Fascism, and Communism, he repeatedly proclaimed the virtues of humanity and compassion."

In the Canadian Jewish Chronicle (October 17), Rabbi J. Stern recalled that Pius XII "made it possible for thousands of Jewish victims of Nazism and Fascism to be hidden away..." In the November 6 edition of the Jewish Post in Winnipeg, William Zukerman, the former American Hebrew columnist, wrote that no other leader "did more to help the Jews in their hour of greatest tragedy, during the Nazi occupation of Europe, than the late Pope."

Representatives of the World Jewish Congress, American Jewish Congress, American Jewish Committee, Synagogue Council of America, New York Board of Rabbis, the Anti-Defamation League, Massachusetts Board of Rabbis, Rabbinical Council of America, National Council of Jewish Women, and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations also gracefully eulogized Pope Pius XII. The Chief Rabbis of London, Rome, Jerusalem, France, Egypt, Argentina and many other Jewish newspapers also paid tribute to the late Pope.

How do Pius XII's detractors explain these many statements of praise from Jews? They prefer to ignore them. Any acknowledgment of these tributes immediately undermines the case against him.

Instead, critics always focus on the Pope's "silence" without discussing what he actually said during the war, and how his addresses were received by all sides; insist that the Pope did little or nothing to help Jews escape from the Nazis; exclusively cite authors who attack him while ignoring those who defend him; and assign him sinister motives by using suspicion and a selective interpretation of evidence.

Recently, in Commentary (July/August 1999), Prof. Robert Wistrich argued that it is unfair to cite these tributes from Jews because damaging evidence against the Pope was discovered after his death. But that argument ignores the fact that many post-war revelations have been very favorable toward the Pope. In 1946, the Vatican newspaper confirmed that Pius XII in 1940 had acted as an intermediary between a group of German generals who wanted to overthrow Adolf Hitler and the British government. The release of documents from the British Foreign Office years later also confirmed his role in "The Generals' Plot." The 1953 publication of The Undeclared War by William Langer and S. Everett Gleason disclosed the Pope's surprising 1941 concession to President Franklin Roosevelt that American Catholics could support the extension of the Lend-Lease program to the Soviet Union.

The conclusions of the first generation of authors critical of the Pope like Rolf Hochhuth, Guenther Lewy, Saul Friedlander and Carlo Falconi were invalidated by the complete publication of the 11 volumes of the Actes. Unfortunately, these volumes, which detail the Vatican's relations with all the belligerent governments and assistance given to all the victims of the war, have been either ignored or downplayed by historians and journalists.

Many Jewish organizations had no reservations about attacking Father Charles Coughlin, the anti-Semitic radio broadcaster. If these same organizations were actually displeased with Pius XII's actions, as Father John Pawlikoski suggested in Commonweal (July 17, 1998), then why did they continue to publicly honor the Pope throughout the war and beyond? How could Jews on six continents have been so tragically mistaken about one man? Could they all have been either blissfully ignorant or extremely disingenuous?

Many Catholics have been puzzled by the fact that many of the same Jewish organizations that condemn Pius XII today once never passed up an opportunity to praise him. What could have caused the vast shift in Jewish attitudes toward the late Pope?

Some Catholic writers point to the influence of Rolf Hochhuth's 1963 play, The Deputy, which presented the Pope as a cold-blooded Nazi collaborator who did nothing as six million Jews went to their death. However, allegations that the Vatican collaborated with the Nazis did not begin with Hochhuth. While Pius XII was still alive, anti-Catholic authors like Avro Manhattan (The Vatican in World Politics, 1949) and Paul Blanshard (American Freedom and Catholic Power, 1949) condemned his actions during World War II. Although Manhattan and Blanshard found isolated audiences in some Protestant and fundamentalist Christian circles, many Jews continued to have a favorable impression of the wartime Pope.

Other cultural shifts in society ensured that Hochhuth's demonic portrait would become accepted as conventional wisdom. Shortly after Hochhuth's play made its appearance, the movement known as the New Left marched across college campuses. The New Left was more than a political movement; it was also a cultural movement whose members seized influential positions in the universities, the media and the entertainment industry. The Catholic Church strongly opposed the New Left's social agenda of legal abortion, contraception and sexual promiscuity. Activists needed a weapon to undermine the Catholic Church's moral authority and influence. "The silence of Pius XII" provided such a powerful weapon, and it was used at every possible opportunity. What right would a Church that failed to oppose the mass murder of Jews have to teach morality to anyone? A few years ago, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops criticized US Surgeon General Dr. Jocelyn Elders for her pro-abortion views. Dr. Elders responded by noting the Catholic Church's indifference toward both slavery and the Holocaust.

Unfortunately, Jewish organizations have never sufficiently explained why they changed their minds about the Pope. A clear answer may never be known unless Jewish organizations finally provide honest and convincing explanations after nearly 40 years of evasion.

Could attitudes shift again? It's possible. In the last several years, many Catholic newspapers and magazines have been zealously defending Pius XII's reputation. The Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights has also been successful in bringing the debate over the Vatican's wartime role into the mainstream media. In his new book, Never Again: A History' of the Holocaust, acclaimed Holocaust historian Sir Martin Gilbert identifies the Vatican as one of the European governments that protected Jews. Prof. William Rubinstein's book, The Myth of Rescue (1997), which received substantial attention and criticism, argues that the Allies and Vatican could not have saved more Jewish lives. Rubinstein's sobering conclusion that the, "responsibility for the Holocaust lies solely and wholly with Adolf Hitler, the SS and their accomplices, and with no one else," represents a return to reason.

It may take a generation to restore Pope Pius XII's good name. However, more and more people today are recognizing that he acted like a Good Samaritan during World War II. When the Pope failed to prevent the start of the war, he immediately devoted himself to alleviating the physical and spiritual suffering of countless numbers of innocent victims regardless of their race or faith. As the late Father Robert Graham, S.J. wrote, the many tributes the Pope received from Jews around the world are a witness to both his efforts and his character.

(Cavalli is a freelance writer based in New York, with an M.A. from Catholic University. He is grateful to the Rev. Matthew Flood, S.J. of Fordham Prep in the Bronx, New York and to Angelo Sedacca for translating a number of documents from the Actes into English. The Jewish newspapers cited are on microfilm at the New York Public Library's Jewish Division.)

Taken from:
Inside the Vatican © 2000
Urbi et Orbi Communications
October 2000, pages 72-77

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