Monday, May 2, 2011

Wistrich on Pius XII

Professor Robert Wistrich's article featured in Israel's National News during the days of Holocaust remembrance.  Wistrich is Neuburger Professor of European and Jewish history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the head of the University's Vidal Sassoon International Centre for the Study of Antisemitism.  He is a distinguished historian and one of the members of the International Catholic Jewish Historical Commission formed to examine ADSS in 1999.  His best known work is The Longest Hatred (1981).

Robert Wistrich




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.

1 comment:

  1. Pius XII was not only pope of the church, but a head of state, Vatican City.
    It is said, and probably rightly, that he did not do Enough to oppose Hitler.
    However, I want to add, that in all my study in high school college, and elsewhere, until the launching of the War Effort against Nazi Germany, I know of NO world leaders who did ANYTHING AT ALL to help the Jews. Pius did not do enough. The rest did not do ANYTHING.
    The only exception I know of was First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt begged and pleaded with Franklin Delano Roosevelt to publicly come to the public defense of the European Jews being persecuted and killed by the Nazis and that he ignored her pleadings.
    Ever heard of the movie VOYAGE OF THE DAMNED? It's based on a true story. The Nazis put a large number of Jewish people on a cruise ship and set it afloat, telling them they were free to live in peace in ANY country that cared enough about Jews to take them in. NOT ONE COUNTRY IN THE WORLD where the ship tried to dock, would take these poor souls in. As I heard it, the ship returned eventually to Hamburg, and all aboard were sent to the Concentration Camps.

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