Pope Pius XII could have saved many Jews if he had publicly condemned the Nazi campaign of annihilation against the Jews during the Second World War, says Professor Robert Vistrich, who spoke to Arutz Sheva's Hebrew-language news service on Sunday, the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Professor Vistrich was the only Jew on a special committee established one decade ago to examine Pius XII's behavior during the war. The committee was given access to church files documenting the pope's actions and words and those of other senior church officials. Its work was terminated after two years, when church leaders realized committee members were preparing to condemn the pope.
Pius XII “knew, from the summer of 1942, exactly what was happening in occupied Europe, and the scale of the slaughter of the Jewish people,” Vistrich said. Catholic churches were located in nearly every city across the continent, he pointed out.
“The question is what was done with this information, and what options he had. It is a fact that he was pressured to issue a condemnation and did not do so during the entire war. He did not name the Jewish people as the victims of the massacre,” Vistrich continued.
“He gave one speech on the radio in late 1942 in which he made a single statement about unfortunate people who are persecuted due to their race alone, but even there, he did not mention that the people in question were Jewish, and did not speak of the scale of the Holocaust.”
“If he would have said things openly, and would have announced that what was being done in Europe was a terrible violation of Christian humanitarian and ethical norms, millions of Catholics would have known about it, and some would have felt the obligation to do something,” Vistrich stated. A direct, open condemnation from the Pope may have led some Nazi officers to refuse orders as well, he said.
“The Germans may have imprisoned him following such a statement, but that would have given him the status of a great spiritual and ideological leader,” he added.
The pope had two reasons to avoid condemning the Nazis, Vistrich said: his fear for the safety of Catholic leaders throughout Europe, and his desire to see communist Russia, an enemy of the church, defeated in battle.
Pope Pius XII did help save Jews by allowing them to take shelter in churches in Italy, Vistrich noted. A relatively large percentage of Italian Jews survived the war. However, after the war Pius XII refused to return Jewish children sheltered in churches and monasteries to their families and to the Jewish people, he said. In addition, the pope refused to express regret that the Catholic Church had not done more to save the Jews of Europe.
Recent popes have sought to canonize Pius XII. Vistrich said they were not motivated by anti-Semitism or by support for his inaction during the Holocaust, but rather, “They are convinced that Pius did more than enough to save the Jews, despite the fact that the facts do not support this view.” Church leaders have made efforts to grow closer to the Jewish people, he noted.