Pius XII and the Holocaust

Until 1963 the efforts of Pius XII in behalf of the Jews during WWII were well known. The facts spoke for themselves. After the war many Jews publicly thanked Pius XII for his help. But in 1963 the world was ripe for anti-Catholicism. That year Rolf Hochuch's play "The Deputy" accused Pius XII for failing to condemn the killing of Jews. The media seized the opportunity without bothering to find the facts. Since then other defamatory works have been produced.

We cannot allow lies to poison our understanding of history.
The truth about Pope Pius XII needs to be said. 


Books and Articles Concerning Pius XII and the Holocaust

Pius XII and the Second World War: According to the Archives of the Vatican
Pierre Blet S.J., Lawrence J. Johnson (Translator)
Paulist Press
September 1999
Hardcover - 416 pages illustrate edition
Available @ $20.00 (November 1999) from The Catholic Book Club

Fr. Blet was one of the four editors who spent 17 years working on the 12-volume The Acts and Documents of the Holy See Relative to World War II. The short article, Pius XII is victim of calumny, scholar says, lays out some of Fr. Blet's views.

Personal Observations on Pius XII and the jews
Christopher McGath

Prior to reading the Newsweek article by Kenneth Woodward listed below, I too shared the belief that, while Pius XII may not have been indifferent or anti-Semitic as John Cornwell alleges in Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII, he had certainly done too little to oppose Nazism and aid its Jewish victims.  As a Catholic, I was ashamed of that.  After reading Mr. Woodward's piece, however, I did some digging and found several articles on the Internet that speak favorably about Pius's attitude toward the Jewish people and his activities during World War II.  Given how widespread the belief that Pius did not do enough is, these articles astounded me.  What struck me most is that, first, many of the defenders of Pius XII are Jews who testify to what they know about Pius's actions.and, second, that it is Nazis who make the strongest argument that Pius was anti-Nazi.  Based on what I have read, I am very skeptical about Mr. Cornwell's conclusions.

The majority of the sites supporting Pius's actions are by conservative Catholic sources.  However, the most of the evidence they present is voluminous testimony from Jewish sources.  I find it difficult to believe that so many of these people could be so wrong about Pius's actions.  A good summary of the testimony they present comes from The Last Three Popes and the Jews, by Israeli diplomat, scholar, and, finally, Orthodox Rabbi Pinchas Lapide.  He states: "No Pope in history has been thanked more heartily by Jews."  Upon his death in 1958, "Several suggested in open letters that a Pope Pius XII forest of 860,000 trees be planted on the hills of Judea in order to fittingly honor the memory of the late Pontiff", because they believed: "The Catholic Church under the pontificate of Pius XII was instrumental in saving the lives of as many as 860,000 Jews from certain death at Nazi hands."

The most critical point in this issue is Pius's "silence" in the face of the Holocaust.  During Pope John Paul II's visit to the Middle East, almost every media piece raised the point that some were disturbed that John Paul II did not apologize for the Church's failure to act against the Holocaust.  What seems to be common knowledge here too is wrong.  It is known that Pius was in fact preparing a statement in 1942 condemning the Nazi's persecution of the Jews.  However, as a result of the Nazis' reaction to the Dutch Bishops' protest against the exportation of their Jewish co-nationals, he decided against making a public protest.  In Pius XII As He Really Was [1], Dr. Peter Gumpel S.J. writes:

The action of the Dutch bishops had important repercussions.  Pius XII had already prepared the text of a public protest against the persecution of the Jews. Shortly before this text was sent to L’Osservatore Romano, news reached him of the disastrous consequences of the Dutch bishops’ initiative. He concluded that public protests, far from alleviating the fate of the Jews, aggravated their persecution and he decided that he could not take the responsibility of his own intervention having similar and probably even much more serious consequences. Therefore he burnt the text he had prepared.  The International Red Cross, the nascent World Council of Churches and other Christian Churches were fully aware of such consequences of vehement public protests and, like Pius XII, they wisely avoided them.
As for Pius's attitude toward Nazism, in an address at Lourdes in April 1935, before he was elected pope, he stated:
[The Nazis] are in reality only miserable plagiarists who dress up old errors with new tinsel.  It does not make any difference whether they flock to the banners of the social revolution, whether they are guided by a false conception of the world and of life, or whether they are possessed by the superstition of a race and blood cult.
A month after Hitler's suicide, Pope Pius XII, speaking before the College of Cardinals, called Hitler a "satanic apparition."[2]

These sources also present several statements by Nazis, both before and during the war, that indicate that they considered Pius anti-Nazi.  The day after his election, the Berlin Morgenpost reported: 'The election of cardinal Pacelli is not accepted with favor in Germany because he was always opposed to Nazism and practically determined the policies of the Vatican under his predecessor."  A few weeks after Pacelli was elected pope, the German Reich's Chief Security Service issued a report on the new Pope that stated. "Pacelli has already made himself prominent by his attacks on National Socialism during his tenure as Cardinal Secretary of State, a fact which earned him the hearty approval of the Democratic States during the papal elections."

An analysis of Pius's 1942 Christmas message by Reinhard Heydrich's Reich Central Security Office concluded:

In a manner never known before, the Pope has repudiated the National Socialist New European Order.  His radio allocution was a masterpiece of clerical falsification of the National Socialist Weltanschauung...the Pope does not refer to the National Socialists in Germany by name, but his speech is one long attack on everything we stand for...God, he says, regards all peoples and races as worthy of the same consideration.  Here he is clearly speaking on behalf of the Jews...That this speech is directed exclusively against the New Order in Europe as seen in National Socialism is clear in the papal statement that mankind owes a debt to 'all who during the war have lost their Fatherland and who, although personally blameless have, simply on account of their nationality and origin, been killed or reduced to utter destitution.'  Here he is virtually accusing the German people of injustice towards the Jews, and makes himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals.
Several items I have found make it impossible for me to believe Mr. Cornwell's accusation that Pius XII was anti-Semitic. In the papal encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge, whose final form Pius XI attributed to then-Cardinal Pacelli, he made the statement that Catholics must never be anti-Semitic because "we are all Semites spiritually" and ought to hold the Jewish people in high regard accordingly.  Rabbi Lapide relates that shortly after his election, Pius reaffirmed: "It is impossible for a Catholic to be an anti-Semite; spiritually all of us are Semites."  In "The Real Story of Pius XII and the Jews" in The Salisbury Review, Spring 1996, James Bogel writes:
After the war was over, Pius XII received a large delegation of Roman Jews in the Vatican and ordered that the Imperial steps be opened for them to enter by. These steps were usually reserved for crowned Heads of State...The Pope received them in the Sistine chapel and, seeing that his Jewish visitors felt uncomfortable in that place, he came down from his throne and warmly welcomed them telling them to feel completely at home, saying "I am only the Vicar of Christ but you are His very kith and kin."
I have reached the same conclusion as Dr. Joseph Lichten, a Jewish Polish lawyer who served as the Director on International Affairs Department for the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith.  In A Question of Judgment: Pius XII and the Jews, which he wrote in response to the publication of Roch Hochhuth's play, The Deputy, in 1963, Dr. Lichten called the criticism leveled at Pius XII after the play's publication "a stupefying paradox", because: "No one who reads the record of Pius XII's actions on behalf of Jews can subscribe to Hochhuth's accusation."  If I were asked to recommend one thing that someone who was considering this subject should read, I would suggest this work.  It is available at The Jewish Student Online Research Center (JSOURCE).

Please note that this page is not intended to be a plug for Pius XII's canonization (sainthood).  I know too little about the man to have an opinion about his saintliness.  My intent is to do what little I can to keep Mr. Cornwell's book from deepening the cynicism that exists concerning religion in general and organized religion in particular and from poisoning Jewish-Catholic relations.  For this reason, I think that it is vital that the truth concerning Pius's attitude toward the Jewish people and his actions during World War II be known.

I hope you find these sources as convincing as I do. (And, if my conclusion about Pius XII's attitude and actions changes, I will setup a page that presents evidence for that view.)


1/ Peter Gumpel, S.J.
Church historian who has studied Pius extensively as relator for his canonization process.
The Tablet, February 13, 1999

From article:
[A]s a German I know the history of my country and have lived under the Nazi regime in both Germany and Holland. The fact that several members of my family were killed by the Nazis and that I myself had twice to go into exile in order to avoid a similar fate, allows me to be particularly sensitive to the monstrous crime of the Holocaust and to the justified reactions of Jews to what millions of their people have suffered.

2/  Walter Sundberg in "Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil", a review of The Hitler of History, by John Lukacs in First Things, February, 1999, pp. 56-59. (I chose to note this rather than creating a link to the source because it is a single line in a long article.)


Christopher McGath
March 31, 2000

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