Pius XII and the Jews
THE MYTH OF HITLER’S POPE
By Rabbi David G. Dalin
(Regnery Publishing, HB 209pp. ISBN 0-98526-034-4. Price: $55.00. Available from Freedom Books.)
The murder of some six million Jews during the dark days of World War II stands as one of the most wicked events of the 20th century: a century which saw the genocide of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey, the Ukrainian peasantry in the 1930s, the Chinese during Mao’s Great Leap Forward of the 1950s, and Cambodians during the murderous reign of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s.
What made the Jewish holocaust different from the others was not numbers: arguably, more were killed in Ukraine and China. Rather, it was that a well-documented plan to destroy the Jewish people, foreshadowed by Hitler and the Nazis in the 1920s, was implemented with brutal savagery across occupied Europe during the 1940s, by a supposedly Christian people.
What was most appalling about these events was that few voices were raised against the Nazis. Those who did, like Bishop von Gelen of Munster, and the bishops of Holland, suffered barbaric reprisals.
Nonetheless, at the end of World War II, Pope Pius XII was regarded as a hero who had protected both Catholics and Jews from the savagery of the Nazis during World War II. The Chief Rabbi of Rome became Catholic shortly after the war, taking the Christian name Eugenio, the Pope’s own name, as a gesture of respect.
Nearly 20 years later, a left-wing German playwright, Rolf Hochhuth, wrote a play, The Deputy, which alleged that the pope was a Nazi collaborator who had remained silent during the Nazi holocaust, and was largely responsible for it. Ironically, Hochhuth was himself a former member of the Hitler Youth during World War II.
Others, including ex-Catholics like John Cornwall, joined the chorus with his book, Hitler’s Pope: the Secret History of Pius XII.
For many years, the Vatican refused to open its archives to independent scholarship, unwittingly giving credence to these attacks, and in parts of Eastern Europe, including Hungary and Croatia, some Catholic clergy collaborated in the persecution of Jews.
The allegations against Pius XII were widely reported on the media, and have informed much of the public perception of the Catholic Church’s role in World War II.
One problem in interpreting the documents of the period is that papal pronouncements were usually worded in diplomatic language, and were clearly influenced by a desire not to expose the extremely vulnerable Catholic church to the fury of the Nazis.
The Myth of Hitler’s Pope was written by a Jewish rabbi, to give a contemporary Jewish response to this controversy, and specifically, to examine Pope Pius’ response to the rise of the Nazis, and how he responded to the unfolding disaster during World War II, particularly in Italy.
Rabbi Dalin documents how the Pope, from the time of his accession in 1939, to the collapse of Nazi Germany in 1945, criticised every aspect of the Nazi war: from the unprovoked invasion of Poland in 1939, to the unrestrained bombing of civilians, to the Nazi eugenics program, to its racist attacks on the Jews.
Despite his diplomatic language, the Pope’s position was perfectly well understood in Berlin, as well as London and Washington. The German Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, was given a dressing down by the Pope, when the German official visited in 1940.
Rabbi Dalin writes, “Throughout World War II, Pius XII spoke out on behalf of Europe’s Jews.” His role in rescuing Rome’s Jews, after the German occupation of northern Italy in September 1943.
After the first Nazi round-up of some 1,200 Roman Jews in October 1943, Dalin writes, the Pope sent verbal instructions to churches, monasteries and convents in Rome and throughout Italy to provide shelter for Jews. As a result, around 85 per cent of Italy’s Jews were saved from the gas chambers.
Many, many thousands were saved in other countries as well. This is an important book which fully justifies its sub-title: How Pope Pius XII rescued Jews from the Nazis.”