Leggete alcune testimonianze in proposito...
«L’elezione del cardinale Pacelli non è accettata con favore dalla Germania perché egli si è sempre opposto al nazismo»
Berliner Morgenpost(organo del movimento nazista), 3 marzo 1939.
«In una maniera mai conosciuta prima il papa ha ripudiato il Nuovo Ordine Europeo Nazionalsocialista. È vero che il papa non ha mai fatto riferimento al Nazionalsocialismo germanico per nome, ma il suo discorso è un lungo attacco ad ogni cosa che noi sosteniamo ed in cui crediamo ... Inoltre egli ha parlato chiaramente in favore degli ebrei»
Rapporto della Gestapo riportato nel servizio "Judging Pope Pius XII", Inside the Vatican, giugno 1997, p. 12.
un amante della libertà, quando avvenne la rivoluzione in Germania, guardai con
fiducia alle università sapendo che queste si erano sempre vantate della loro
devozione alla causa della verità. Ma le università vennero zittite. Allora
guardai ai grandi editori dei quotidiani che in ardenti editoriali proclamavano
il loro amore per la libertà. Ma anche loro, come le università vennero
ridotti al silenzio, soffocati nell’arco di poche settimane.
Solo la Chiesa rimase ferma in piedi a sbarrare la strada alle campagne di Hitler per sopprimere la verità.
Io non ho mai provato nessun interesse particolare per la Chiesa prima, ma ora provo nei suoi confronti grande affetto e ammirazione, perché la Chiesa da sola ha avuto il coraggio e l’ostinazione per sostenere la verità intellettuale e la libertà morale. Devo confessare che ciò che io una volta disprezzavo, ora lodo incondizionatamente».
Dichiarazione di Albert Einstein pubblicata da Time magazine, 23 dicembre 1940, p.40.
«Il Congresso dei delegati delle comunità israelitiche italiane, tenutosi a Roma per la prima volta dopo la liberazione, sente imperioso il dovere di rivolgere reverente omaggio alla Santità Vostra, ed esprimere il più profondo senso di gratitudine che anima gli ebrei tutti, per le prove di umana fratellanza loro fornite dalla Chiesa durante gli anni delle persecuzioni e quando la loro vita fu posta in pericolo dalla barbarie nazifascista».
Attestato delle Comunità israelitiche italiane che si trova al Museo della Liberazione in Via Tasso a Roma.
«Il clero italiano aiutò numerosi israeliti e li nascose nei monasteri e il Papa intervenne personalmente a favore di quelli arrestati dai nazisti».
Gideon Hausner procuratore Generale israeliano nel processo contro Eichmann, il 18 ottobre 1961.
«I ripetuti interventi dei Santo Padre in favore delle comunità ebraiche in Europa evocano un profondo sentimento di apprezzamento e gratitudine da parte degli ebrei di tutto il mondo".
Rabbino Maurice Perizweig, direttore del World Jewish Congress
«Quando il terribile martirio si abbattè sul nostro popolo, la voce dei Papa si elevò per le sue vittime. La vita dei nostro tempo fu arricchita da una voce che chiaramente parlò circa le grandi verità morali. ( ... ) Piangiamo un grande servitore della pace».
Golda Meir, 8 ottobre 1958
«Il mio parere è che il pensare che Pio XII potesse esercitare un influsso su un minorato psichico qual era Hitler poggi sulla base di un malinteso. Se il Papa avesse solo aperto bocca, probabilmente Hitler avrebbe trucidato molti di più dei sei milioni di ebrei che eliminò, e forse avrebbe assassinato centinaia di milioni di cattolici, solo se si fosse convinto di aver bisogno di un tale numero di vittime. Siamo prossimi al 9 novembre, giorno in cui ricorre il venticinquesimo anniversario della Notte dei Cristalli; in tal giorno noi ricorderemo la protesta fiammeggiante che Pio XII elevò a suo tempo. Egli divenne intercessore contro gli orrori che a quel tempo commossero il mondo intero»
Dichiarazione del gran Rabbino di Danimarca, dott. Marcus Melchior, riportata da KNA (agenzia di stampa danese), dispaccio n. 214, 5 novembre 1963
Rabbino di New York chiede che Pio XII venga riconosciuto come “Giusto”
Talmud è scritto: “chi salva una vita salva il mondo intero” ebbene più
che ogni altro nel Ventesimo secolo Pio XII ha rispettato questa indicazione.
Nessun altro Papa è stato così magnanimo con gli ebrei. L’intera generazione
dei sopravvissuti all’Olocausto, testimonia che Pio XII fu autenticamente e
profondamente un “giusto”». Con queste parole si conclude un lungo articolo
scritto dal Rabbino David Dalin sulla rivista statunitense «The Weekly Standard».
David Dalin è un personalità di spicco del mondo ebraico statunitense, uno dei
suoi libri «Religion and State in the American Jewish Experience» è stato
indicato come uno dei migliori lavori accademici del 1998. Rabbino a New York
Dalin ha tenuto diverse conferenze sui rapporti ebraico cristiani nelle
Università di Hartford Trinity College, George Washington e Queens College di
New York. La rivista «The Weekly Standard» è espressione dell’élite
neoconservatrice americana. Dalin sostiene che molti dei libri pubblicati
recentemente rivelano una scarsa comprensione di come Pio XII fosse un
oppositore del nazismo e di quanto fece per salvare gli ebrei dall’olocausto.
A questo proposito il rabbino di New York cita una grande numero di fatti,
documenti, dichiarazioni e libri.
«Pio XII fu uno dei personaggi più critici del nazismo - ha scritto Dalin- Su 44 discorsi che Pacelli pronunciò in Germania tra il 1917 ed il 1929, quaranta denunciano i pericoli dell’emergente ideologia nazista. Nel marzo del 1935 scrisse una lettera aperta al Vescovo di Colonia chiamando i nazisti “falsi profeti con la superbia di Lucifero”. Nello stesso anno denunciò in un discorso a Lourdes le ideologie “possedute dalla superstizione della razza e sangue”. La sua prima enciclica “Summi Pontificatus” del 1939 fu così chiaramente anti razzista che aerei alleati ne lanciarono migliaia di copie sulla Germania nel tentativo di istigare un sentimento anti nazista». In merito a coloro che si sono lamentati chiedendo che Pio XII avrebbe dovuto parlare più forte contro il nazismo, Dalin riporta le parole di Marcus Melchior il rabbino capo di Danimarca, sopravvissuto alla Shoah, il quale ha detto: «Se il papa avesse parlato Hitler avrebbe massacrato molti di più dei sei milioni di ebrei e forse 10 milioni di cattolici» E Kempner, pubblica accusa per gli Stati Uniti al Processo di Norimberga ha aggiunto: «Ogni azione di propaganda ispirata dalla Chiesa cattolica contro Hitler sarebbe stata un suicidio e avrebbe portato all’esecuzione di molti più ebrei e cristiani». Circa l’opera di assistenza agli ebrei il rabbino Dalin ha ricordato che: «Nei mesi in cui Roma fu occupata dai nazisti Pio XII istruì il clero a salvare gli ebrei con tutti i mezzi. Il cardinale Boetto di Genova da solo ne salvò almeno 800 Il Vescovo di Assisi trecento. Quando al cardinale Palazzini fu consegnata la medaglia dei Giusti per aver salvato gli ebrei nel Seminario Romano, egli affermò: “Il merito è interamente di Pio XII che ordinò di fare ogni cosa nelle nostre possibilità per salvare gli ebrei dalla persecuzione”. L’opera di assistenza di Papa Pacelli era così nota che nel 1955 quando l’Italia celebrò il decimo anniversario della Liberazione, l’Unione delle Comunità Israelitiche proclamò il 17 aprile «Giorno della gratitudine” per l’assistenza fornita dal Papa durante il periodo della guerra. Dalin conclude il suo articolo affermando che «contrariamente a quanto scritto da John Cornwell secondo cui Pio XII fu il papa di Hitler, io credo che papa Pacelli fu il più grande sostenitore degli ebrei».
Sintesi da: David G. Dalin, «Pius XII and the Jews», The Weekly Standard, 23 (26/2/2001 vol. 6).
Even before Pius XII died in 1958, the charge that his papacy had been friendly to the Nazis was circulating in Europe, a piece of standard Communist agitprop against the West. It sank for a few years under the flood of tributes, from Jews and gentiles alike, that followed the pope's death, only to bubble up again with the 1963 debut of The Deputy, a play by a left-wing German writer (and former member of the Hitler Youth) named Rolf Hochhuth.
The Deputy was fictional and highly polemical, claiming that Pius XII's concern for Vatican finances left him indifferent to the destruction of European Jewry. But Hochhuth's seven-hour play nonetheless received considerable notice, sparking a controversy that lasted through the 1960s. And now, more than thirty years later, that controversy has suddenly broken out again, for reasons not immediately clear.
Indeed, "broken out" doesn't describe the current torrent. In the last eighteen months, nine books that treat Pius XII have appeared: John Cornwell's Hitler's Pope, Pierre Blet's Pius XII and the Second World War, Garry Wills's Papal Sin, Margherita Marchione's Pope Pius XII, Ronald J. Rychlak's Hitler, the War and the Pope, Michael Phayer's The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, 1930-1965, Susan Zuccotti's Under His Very Windows, Ralph McInerny's The Defamation of Pius XII, and, most recently, James Carroll's Constantine's Sword.
Since four of these—the ones by Blet, Marchione, Rychlak, and McInerny—are defenses of the pope (and two, the books by Wills and Carroll, take up Pius only as part of a broad attack against Catholicism), the picture may look balanced. In fact, to read all nine is to conclude that Pius's defenders have the stronger case—with Rychlak's Hitler, the War and the Pope the best and most careful of the recent works, an elegant tome of serious, critical scholarship.
Still, it is the books vilifying the pope that have received most of the attention, particularly Hitler's Pope, a widely reviewed volume marketed with the announcement that Pius XII was "the most dangerous churchman in modern history," without whom "Hitler might never have . . . been able to press forward." The "silence" of the pope is becoming more and more firmly established as settled opinion in the American media: "Pius XII's elevation of Catholic self-interest over Catholic conscience was the lowest point in modern Catholic history," the New York Times remarked, almost in passing, in a review last month of Carroll's Constantine's Sword.
Curiously, nearly everyone pressing this line today—from the ex-seminarians John Cornwell and Garry Wills to the ex-priest James Carroll—is a lapsed or angry Catholic. For Jewish leaders of a previous generation, the campaign against Pius XII would have been a source of shock. During and after the war, many well-known Jews—Albert Einstein, Golda Meir, Moshe Sharett, Rabbi Isaac Herzog, and innumerable others—publicly expressed their gratitude to Pius. In his 1967 book Three Popes and the Jews, the diplomat Pinchas Lapide (who served as Israeli consul in Milan and interviewed Italian Holocaust survivors) declared Pius XII "was instrumental in saving at least 700,000, but probably as many as 860,000 Jews from certain death at Nazi hands."
This is not to say that Eugenio Pacelli — the powerful churchman who served as nuncio in Bavaria and Germany from 1917 to 1929, then as Vatican secretary of state from 1930 to 1939, before becoming Pope Pius XII six months before World War II began — was as much a friend to the Jews as John Paul II has been. Nor is it to say that Pius was ultimately successful as a defender of Jews. Despite his desperate efforts to maintain peace, the war came, and, despite his protests against German atrocities, the slaughter of the Holocaust occurred. Even without benefit of hindsight, a careful study reveals that the Catholic Church missed opportunities to influence events, failed to credit fully the Nazis' intentions, and was infected in some of its members with a casual anti-Semitism that would countenance—and, in a few horrifying instances, affirm—the Nazi ideology.
But to make Pius XII a target of our moral outrage against the Nazis, and to count Catholicism among the institutions delegitimized by the horror of
the Holocaust, reveals a failure of historical understanding. Almost none of the recent
books about Pius XII and the Holocaust is actually about Pius XII and the Holocaust. Their
real topic proves to be an intra-Catholic argument about the direction of the Church today,
with the Holocaust simply the biggest club available for liberal Catholics to use against
traditionalists. A theological debate about the future of the papacy is obviously
something in which non-Catholics should not involve themselves too deeply. But Jews,
whatever their feelings about the Catholic Church, have a duty to reject any attempt to
usurp the Holocaust and use it for partisan purposes in such a debate—particularly when the
attempt disparages the testimony of Holocaust survivors and spreads to inappropriate
figures the condemnation that belongs to Hitler and the Nazis.
The technique for recent attacks on Pius XII is simple. It
requires only that favorable evidence be read in the worst light and treated to the strictest
test, while unfavorable evidence is read in the best light and treated to no test.
So, for instance, when Cornwell sets out in Hitler's Pope to
prove Pius an anti-Semite (an accusation even the pontiff's bitterest opponents have rarely
leveled), he makes much of Pacelli's reference in a 1917 letter to the "Jewish cult"—as
though for an Italian Catholic prelate born in 1876 the word "cult" had the same resonances it
has in English today, and as though Cornwell himself does not casually refer to the Catholic
cult of the Assumption and the cult of the Virgin Mary. (The most immediately helpful part
of Hitler, the War and the Pope may be the thirty-page epilogue Rychlak devotes to
demolishing this kind of argument in Hitler's Pope.)
The same pattern is played out in Susan Zuccotti's Under His Very
Windows. For example: There exists testimony from a Good Samaritan priest that Bishop
Giuseppe Nicolini of Assisi, holding a letter in his hand, declared that the pope had
written to request help for Jews during the German roundup of Italian Jews in 1943. But
because the priest did not actually read the letter, Zuccotti speculates that the bishop may
have been deceiving him—and thus that this testimony should be rejected.
Compare this skeptical approach to evidence with her treatment,
for example, of a 1967 interview in which the German diplomat Eitel F. Mollhausen said
he had sent information to the Nazis' ambassador to the Vatican, Ernst von Weizsäcker, and
"assumed" that Weizsäcker passed it on to Church "officials." Zuccotti takes this as
unquestionable proof that the pope had direct foreknowledge of the German roundup. (A fair reading
suggests Pius had heard rumors and raised them with the Nazi occupiers. Princess Enza
Pignatelli Aragona reported that when she broke in on the pope with the news of the roundup
early on the morning of October 16, 1943, his first words were: "But the Germans had
promised not to touch the Jews!")
With this dual standard, recent writers have little trouble
arriving at two pre-ordained conclusions. The first is that the Catholic Church must shoulder
the blame for the Holocaust: "Pius XII was the most guilty," as Zuccotti puts it. And the
second is that Catholicism's guilt is due to aspects of the Church that John Paul II now represents.
Indeed, in the concluding chapter of Hitler's Pope and throughout
Papal Sin and Constantine's Sword, the parallel comes clear: John Paul's
traditionalism is of a piece with Pius's alleged anti-Semitism; the Vatican's current stand on
papal authority is in a direct line with complicity in the Nazis' extermination of the Jews. Faced
with such monstrous moral equivalence and misuse of the Holocaust, how can we not object?
It is true that during the controversy over The Deputy and again
during the Vatican's slow hearing of the case for his canonization (ongoing since 1965),
Pius had Jewish detractors. In 1964, for example, Guenter Lewy produced The Catholic Church and
Nazi Germany, and, in 1966, Saul Friedländer added Pius XII and the Third Reich. Both
volumes claimed that Pius's anti-communism led him to support Hitler as a bulwark against the
As accurate information on Soviet atrocities has mounted since
1989, an obsession with Stalinism seems less foolish than it may have in the mid-1960s.
But, in fact, the evidence has mounted as well that Pius accurately ranked the threats. In 1942,
for example, he told a visitor, "The Communist danger does exist, but at this time the
Nazi danger is more serious." He intervened with the American bishops to support lend-lease for
the Soviets, and he explicitly refused to bless the Nazi invasion of Russia. (The
charge of overheated anti-communism is nonetheless still alive: In Constantine's
Sword, James Carroll attacks the 1933 concordat Hitler signed for Germany by asking, "Is it
conceivable that Pacelli would have negotiated any such agreement with the Bolsheviks in
Moscow?”—apparently not realizing that in the mid-1920s, Pacelli tried exactly that.)
In any case, Pius had his Jewish defenders as well. In addition
to Lapide's Three Popes and the Jews, one might list A Question of Judgment, the 1963
pamphlet from the Anti-Defamation League's Joseph Lichten, and the excoriating
reviews of Friedländer by Livia Rotkirchen, the historian of Slovakian Jewry at Yad Vashem. Jeno
Levai, the great Hungarian historian, was so angered by accusations of papal silence that he
wrote Pius XII Was Not Silent (published in English in 1968), with a powerful
introduction by Robert M.W. Kempner, deputy chief U.S. prosecutor at Nuremberg.
In response to the new attacks on Pius, several Jewish scholars
have spoken out over the last year. Sir Martin Gilbert told an interviewer that Pius deserves
not blame but thanks. Michael Tagliacozzo, the leading authority on Roman Jews during the
Holocaust, added, "I have a folder on my table in Israel entitled ‘Calumnies Against Pius
XII.' . . . Without him, many of our own would not be alive." Richard Breitman (the only historian
authorized to study U.S. espionage files from World War II) noted that secret documents
prove the extent to which "Hitler distrusted the Holy See because it hid Jews."
Still, Lapide's 1967 book remains the most influential work by a
Jew on the topic, and in the thirty-four years since he wrote, much material has become
available in the Vatican's archives and elsewhere. New oral-history centers have gathered an
impressive body of interviews with Holocaust survivors, military chaplains, and Catholic civilians.
Given the recent attacks, the time has come for a new defense of Pius—because, despite
allegations to the contrary, the best historical evidence now confirms both that Pius XII was not
silent and that almost no one at the time thought him so.
In January 1940, for instance, the pope issued instructions for
Vatican Radio to reveal "the dreadful cruelties of uncivilized tyranny" the Nazis were
inflicting on Jewish and Catholic Poles. Reporting the broadcast the following week, the Jewish
Advocate of Boston praised it for what it was: an "outspoken denunciation of German atrocities
in Nazi Poland, declaring they affronted the moral conscience of mankind." The New York
Times editorialized: "Now the Vatican has spoken, with authority that cannot be questioned,
and has confirmed the worst intimations of terror which have come out of the Polish
darkness." In England, the Manchester Guardian hailed Vatican Radio as "tortured Poland's
most powerful advocate."
Any fair and thorough reading of the evidence demonstrates that
Pius XII was a persistent critic of Nazism. Consider just a few highlights of his
opposition before the war:
Of the forty-four speeches Pacelli gave in Germany as papal
nuncio between 1917 and 1929, forty denounced some aspect of the emerging Nazi
In March 1935, he wrote an open letter to the bishop of
Cologne calling the Nazis "false prophets with the pride of Lucifer."
That same year, he assailed ideologies "possessed by the
superstition of race and blood" to an enormous crowd of pilgrims at Lourdes. At
Notre Dame in Paris two years later, he named Germany "that noble and powerful
nation whom bad shepherds would lead astray into an ideology of race."
The Nazis were "diabolical," he told friends privately.
Hitler "is completely obsessed," he said to his long-time secretary, Sister
Pascalina. "All that is not of use to him, he destroys; . . . this man is capable of trampling
on corpses." Meeting in 1935 with the heroic anti-Nazi Dietrich von Hildebrand, he
declared, "There can be no possible reconciliation" between Christianity and Nazi
racism; they were like "fire and water."
The year after Pacelli became secretary of state in 1930,
Vatican Radio was established, essentially under his control. The Vatican
newspaper L'Osservatore Romano had an uneven record, though it would improve as
Pacelli gradually took charge (extensively reporting Kristallnacht in 1938, for
example). But the radio station was always good—making such controversial
broadcasts as the request that listeners pray for the persecuted Jews in Germany after the
1935 Nuremberg Legislation.
It was while Pacelli was his predecessor's chief adviser
that Pius XI made the famous statement to a group of Belgian pilgrims in 1938 that
"anti-Semitism is inadmissible; spiritually we are all Semites." And it was Pacelli who
drafted Pius XI's encyclical Mit brennender Sorge, "With Burning Concern," a
condemnation of Germany among the harshest ever issued by the Holy See. Indeed,
throughout the 1930s, Pacelli was widely lampooned in the Nazi press as Pius XI's
"Jew-loving" cardinal, because of the more than fifty-five protests he sent the
Germans as the Vatican secretary of state.
To these must be added highlights of Pius XII's actions during
His first encyclical, Summi Pontificatus, rushed out in
1939 to beg for peace, was in part a declaration that the proper role of the papacy was
to plead to both warring sides rather than to blame one. But it very pointedly
quoted St. Paul—“there is neither Gentile nor Jew”—using the word "Jew" specifically
in the context of rejecting racial ideology. The New York Times greeted the
encyclical with a front-page headline on October 28, 1939: "Pope Condemns
Dictators, Treaty Violators, Racism." Allied airplanes dropped thousands of
copies on Germany in an effort to raise anti-Nazi sentiment.
In 1939 and 1940, Pius acted as a secret intermediary
between the German plotters against Hitler and the British. He would similarly risk
warning the Allies about the impending German invasions of Holland, Belgium, and France.
In March 1940, Pius granted an audience to Joachim von
Ribbentrop, the German foreign minister and the only high-ranking Nazi to bother
visiting the Vatican. The Germans' understanding of Pius's position, at least, was
clear: Ribbentrop chastised the pope for siding with the Allies. Whereupon Pius began
reading from a long list of German atrocities. "In the burning words he spoke to Herr
Ribbentrop," the New York Times reported on March 14, Pius "came to the defense
of Jews in Germany and Poland."
When French bishops issued pastoral letters in 1942
attacking deportations, Pius sent his nuncio to protest to the Vichy government against
"the inhuman arrests and deportations of Jews from the French-occupied zone to
Silesia and parts of Russia." Vatican Radio commented on the bishops' letters six days in
a row—at a time when listening to Vatican Radio was a crime in Germany and
Poland for which some were put to death. ("Pope Is Said to Plead for Jews Listed for
Removal from France," the New York Times headline read on August 6, 1942. "Vichy
Seizes Jews; Pope Pius Ignored," the Times reported three weeks later.) In
retaliation, in the fall of 1942, Goebbels's office distributed ten million copies of a
pamphlet naming Pius XII as the "pro-Jewish pope" and explicitly citing his interventions
In the summer of 1944, after the liberation of Rome but
before the war's end, Pius told a group of Roman Jews who had come to thank him for
his protection: "For centuries, Jews have been unjustly treated and despised. It
is time they were treated with justice and humanity, God wills it and the Church
wills it. St. Paul tells us that the Jews are our brothers. They should also be welcomed as
As these and hundreds of other examples are disparaged, one by
one, in recent books attacking Pius XII, the reader loses sight of the huge bulk of
them, their cumulative effect that left no one, the Nazis least of all, in doubt about the pope's
A deeper examination reveals the consistent pattern. Writers like
Cornwell and Zuccotti see the pope's 1941 Christmas address, for example, as notable
primarily for its failure to use the language we would use today. But contemporary observers thought
it quite explicit. In its editorial the following day, the New York Times declared, "The
voice of Pius XII is a lonely voice in the silence and darkness enveloping Europe this
Christmas. . . . In calling for a ‘real new order' based on ‘liberty, justice, and love,' . . . the pope
put himself squarely against Hitlerism."
So, too, the pope's Christmas message the following year—in which
he expressed his 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 public condemnation of the Nazi
extermination of the Jews. Indeed, the Germans themselves saw it as such: "His 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," an internal Nazi analysis reads.
This Nazi awareness, moreover, had potentially dire consequences.
There were ample precedents for the pope to fear an invasion: Napoleon had
besieged the Vatican in 1809, capturing Pius VII at bayonet point; Pius IX fled Rome for his
life after the assassination of his chancellor; and Leo XIII was driven into temporary exile in
the late nineteenth century.
Still, Pius XII was "ready to let himself be deported to a
concentration camp, rather than do anything against his conscience," Mussolini's foreign minister
railed. Hitler spoke openly of entering the Vatican to "pack up that whole whoring rabble," and
Pius knew of the various Nazi plans to kidnap him. Ernst von Weizsäcker has written that
he regularly warned Vatican officials against provoking Berlin. The Nazi ambassador to Italy,
Rudolf Rahn, similarly describes one of Hitler's kidnapping plots and the effort by
German diplomats to prevent it. General Carlo Wolff testified to having received orders from
Hitler in 1943 to "occupy as soon as possible the Vatican and Vatican City, secure the
archives and the art treasures, which have a unique value, and transfer the pope, together with
the Curia, for their protection, so that they cannot fall into the hands of the Allies
and exert a political influence." Early in December 1943, Wolff managed to talk Hitler out of the
In assessing what actions Pius XII might have taken, many (I
among them) wish that explicit excommunications had been announced. The Catholic-born Nazis had
already incurred automatic excommunication, for everything from failure to attend
Mass to unconfessed murder to public repudiation of Christianity. And, as his
writings and table-talk make clear, Hitler had ceased to consider himself a Catholic—indeed,
considered himself an anti-Catholic—long before he came to power. But a papal
declaration of excommunication might have done some good.
Then again, it might not. Don Luigi Sturzo, founder of the
Christian Democratic movement in wartime Italy, pointed out that the last times "a nominal
excommunication was pronounced against a head of state," neither Queen Elizabeth I nor Napoleon
had changed policy. And there is reason to believe provocation would, as Margherita
Marchione puts it, "have resulted in violent retaliation, the loss of many more Jewish lives,
especially those then under the protection of the Church, and an intensification of the
persecution of Catholics."
Holocaust survivors such as Marcus Melchior, the chief rabbi of
Denmark, argued that "if the pope had spoken out, Hitler would probably have massacred more
than six million Jews and perhaps ten times ten million Catholics, if he had the power to
do so." Robert M.W. Kempner called upon his experience at the Nuremberg trials to say
(in a letter to the editor after Commentary published an excerpt from Guenter Lewy in 1964),
"Every propaganda move of the Catholic Church against Hitler's Reich would have
been not only ‘provoking suicide,' . . . but would have hastened the execution of still
more Jews and priests."
This is hardly a speculative concern. A Dutch bishops' pastoral
letter condemning "the unmerciful and unjust treatment meted out to Jews" was read in
Holland's Catholic churches in July 1942. The well-intentioned letter—which declared that it
was inspired by Pius XII—backfired. As Pinchas Lapide notes: "The saddest and most
thought-provoking conclusion is that whilst the Catholic clergy in Holland
protested more loudly, expressly, and frequently against Jewish persecutions than the religious
hierarchy of any other Nazi-occupied country, more Jews—some 110,000 or 79 percent of
the total—were deported from Holland to death camps."
Bishop Jean Bernard of Luxembourg, an inmate of Dachau from 1941
to 1942, notified the Vatican that "whenever protests were made, treatment of prisoners
worsened immediately." Late in 1942, Archbishop Sapieha of Cracow and two other Polish
bishops, having experienced the Nazis' savage reprisals, begged Pius not to
publish his letters about conditions in Poland. Even Susan Zuccotti admits that in the case
of the Roman Jews the pope "might well have been influenced by a concern for Jews in
hiding and for their Catholic protectors."
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
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 instructions, 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 SS 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.
A similar story can be traced across Europe. There is room to argue that more ought to have been attempted by the Catholic Church—for the unanswerable facts remain that Hitler did come to power, World War II did occur, and six million Jews did die. But the place to begin that argument is with the truth that people of the time, Nazis and Jews alike, understood the pope to be the world's most prominent opponent of the Nazi ideology.
As early as December 1940, in an article in Time magazine, Albert Einstein paid tribute to Pius: "Only the 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."
In 1943, Chaim Weizmann, who would become Israel's first president, wrote that "the Holy See is lending its powerful help wherever it can, to mitigate the fate of my persecuted co-religionists." Moshe Sharett, Israel's second prime minister, met with Pius in the closing days of the war and "told him 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."
Rabbi Isaac Herzog, chief rabbi of Israel, sent a message in February 1944 declaring, "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 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, Leon Kubowitzky, secretary general of the World Jewish Congress, personally thanked the pope for his interventions, and the World Jewish Congress donated $20,000 to Vatican charities "in recognition of the work of the Holy See in rescuing Jews from Fascist and Nazi persecutions."
In 1955, when Italy celebrated the tenth anniversary of its liberation, the Union of Italian Jewish Communities proclaimed April 17 a "Day of Gratitude" for the pope's wartime assistance.
On May 26, 1955, the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra flew to Rome to give in the Vatican a special performance of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony —an expression of the State of Israel's enduring gratitude to the pope for help given the Jewish people during the Holocaust.
This last example is particularly significant. As a matter of state policy, the Israeli Philharmonic has never played the music of Richard Wagner, because of his well-known reputation as "Hitler's composer," the cultural patron saint of the Third Reich. During the 1950s especially, the Israeli public, hundreds of thousands of whom were Holocaust survivors, still viewed Wagner as a symbol of the Nazi regime. It is inconceivable that the Israeli government would have paid for the entire orchestra to travel to Rome to pay tribute to "Hitler's pope." On the contrary, the Israeli Philharmonic's unprecedented concert in the Vatican was a unique communal gesture of collective recognition for a great friend of the Jewish people.
Hundreds of other memorials could be cited. In her conclusion to Under His Very Windows, Susan Zuccotti dismisses — as wrong-headed, ill-informed, or even devious — the praise Pius XII received from Jewish leaders and scholars, as well as expressions of gratitude from the Jewish chaplains and Holocaust survivors who bore personal witness to the assistance of the pope.
That she does so is disturbing. To deny the legitimacy of their gratitude to Pius XII is tantamount to denying the credibility of their personal testimony and judgment about the Holocaust itself. "More than all others," recalled Elio Toaff, an Italian Jew who lived through the Holocaust and later became chief rabbi of Rome, "we had the opportunity of experiencing the great compassionate goodness and magnanimity of the pope during the unhappy years of the persecution and terror, when it seemed that for us there was no longer an escape."
But Zuccotti is not alone. There is a disturbing element in nearly all the current work on Pius. Except for Rychlak's Hitler, the War and the Pope, none of the recent books — from Cornwell's vicious attack in Hitler's Pope to McInerny's uncritical defense in The Defamation of Pius XII — is finally about the Holocaust. All are about using the sufferings of Jews fifty years ago to force changes upon the Catholic Church today.
It is this abuse of the Holocaust that must be rejected. A true account of Pius XII would arrive, I believe, at exactly the opposite to Cornwell's conclusion: Pius XII was not Hitler's pope, but the closest Jews had come to having a papal supporter — and at the moment when it mattered most.
Writing in Yad Vashem Studies in 1983, John S. Conway — the leading authority on the Vatican's eleven-volume Acts and Documents of the Holy See During the Second World War — concluded: "A close study of the many thousands of documents published in these volumes lends little support to the thesis that ecclesiastical self-preservation was the main motive behind the attitudes of the Vatican diplomats. Rather, the picture that emerges is one of a group of intelligent and conscientious men, seeking to pursue the paths of peace and justice, at a time when these ideals were ruthlessly being rendered irrelevant in a world of ‘total war.’” These neglected volumes (which the English reader can find summarized in Pierre Blet's Pius XII and the Second World War) "will reveal ever more clearly and convincingly"—as John Paul told a group of Jewish leaders in Miami in 1987—“how deeply Pius XII felt the tragedy of the Jewish people, and how hard and effectively he worked to assist them."
The Talmud teaches that "whosoever preserves one life, it is accounted to him by Scripture as if he had preserved a whole world." More than any other twentieth-century leader, Pius fulfilled this Talmudic dictum, when the fate of European Jewry was at stake. No other pope had been so widely praised by Jews — and they were not mistaken. Their gratitude, as well as that of the entire generation of Holocaust survivors, testifies that Pius XII was, genuinely and profoundly, a righteous gentile.
By David G. Dalin.
(tratto da www.totustuus.it)