Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Another "discovery" ... another Pius XII story ...

I have been spurred to action after reading the posts related to the latest “latest discovery on Pius XII” news.

One of the reasons you don’t find too many historians engaged in comment on these “news breaking events” is because it takes time to verify the claims, sort through the distortions, get timelines right and then go looking for the evidence.

I’ll work my way through this latest story. My comments appear in red.

Allies pressed pope to be silent on Nazis


May. 20, 2011


By Simon Caldwell, Catholic News Service

Simon Caldwell is well known in Pius XII circles. He has published a number of article on Pius related matters. I have had to cause to comment on Mr Caldwell’s journalism before.  In three posts in 2011 I criticised Caldwell for some pretty sloppy journalism. Facts did not seem to matter too much when reporting on Pope Pius XII. And some of the things that were published were simply wrong. Caldwell does not do his homework. In particular his reporting on the sensationalist piece of “faction” that Pius XII probably saved about 200,000 converted Jews was risible.
MANCHESTER, England -- U.S. and British diplomats discussed exerting pressure on Pope Pius XII to be silent about the Nazi deportations of Hungarian Jews, according to newly discovered documentation.

This phrase should set the alarm bells ringing. It has to be one of the most over-used clich├ęs in journalism. Curiously we are never given the details of the archival repository or any indication of where this document can be accessed by historians.


The British feared that the wartime pope might make a "radio appeal on behalf of the Jews in Hungary" and that in the course of his broadcast would "also criticize what the Russians are doing in occupied territory."


Sir Francis D'Arcy Osborne, the British ambassador to the Vatican, told an American diplomat that "something should be done to prevail upon the pope not to do this as it will have very serious political repercussions."


Osborne's comments were made to Franklin C. Gowen, an assistant to Myron Taylor, the U.S. special representative to the Vatican.


Gowen recorded the conversation in a letter to Taylor, saying he had promised Osborne that he would bring his concerns to the "immediate attention" of the U.S. ambassador.


"It was understood that, pending your reaction, he would not take any steps vis-a-vis the Holy See," Gowen told Taylor.


In the letter, Gowen also said that Msgr. Domenico Tardini, the Vatican assistant secretary of state, had told him 10 days earlier that Pope Pius would not "make any radio appeal because if he did so he would, in fairness, to all have to criticise the Russians," a member of the Allies.


He said he withheld this information from Osborne in the belief that it would be best for Taylor to impart it himself following a meeting with Pope Pius scheduled the day after the letter was written.


There is nothing of great note here. It was well known among the Allies that the Pope’s fear of Bolshevism was greater than his loathing for National Socialism. Pius had remained publicly neutral throughout the war, refusing to condemn particular atrocities committed by either side. He knew of the mass murder of Jews “in the East”; he had first hand description of individual “actions” from Italian military chaplains; he had letters from bishops in occupied Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic States; he knew of the deportations from Germany; he received the complaints of Vichy French government officials who decried bishops who spoke out against the deportation of French Jews at French hands and the fate that awaited them. He knew. He chose to remain publicly silent on the individual crimes, speaking in generalities on the suffering inflicted on so many innocent people. He refused to be drawn into an Allied sponsored condemnation of Nazi crimes because he would then have to condemn crimes committed by members of the Allies, in particular the Soviet slaughter of Polish officers at Katyn in 1940.

As an Allied victory seemed more certain from late-1943 onwards, Pius grew increasingly concerned at the prospect of a Soviet dominated Eastern and Central Europe. The letter seems to be strange in its fear that Pius might speak outside of his customary generalities and actually name atrocities. He had not done so before, and there was no evidence he would do so, even after the liberation of Rome in June 1944. We know now that he did not speak in condemnation in any particular form until well-after the war.


The letter was dated Nov. 7, 1944, as the Nazis were organizing mass deportations of Jews from Budapest, the Hungarian capital, to death camps in Poland, Austria and Germany.


Let’s put some history in at this point.


The deportation of the Hungarian Jews commenced on 29 April 1944 and continued through until 7 July 1944 by which time an estimated 440,400 Jews had been transported. Most died in KL Auschwitz II (Birkenau). It was the most efficient act of mass murder in human history. The surviving Jews of Budapest lived in constant fear of the tottering Hungarian government. A German led coup in October 1944 gave the green light for the resumption of persecution. About 70,000 Jews were forced into a ghetto in Budapest. It was too late to send them to Auschwitz, the gas chambers had been cold since late October on Himmler’s orders, and with the Red Army now in the east of the country the only remaining option were the death marches west. These took place in November 1944 through to January 1945. Hungary surrendered in January 1945, but the Germans and their Hungarian collaborators continued fighting until the end of the war. About 225,000 Hungarian Jews survived the war. (The pre-war population was about 825,000)


The letter mentioned above may have believed the camps in Poland were still operating, but they were not.


Another matter. There were no “death camps” outside of Poland. The only non-Polish camps with gas chambers were at KL Dachau, near Munich, and Natzweiler, in Alsace. These facilities were never used. The gas chambers at Dachau were used as temporary morgues; a gruesome fact the liberating Americans were to discover in April 1945.


Rome had been liberated by the U.S. Fifth Army the previous June and, with the Vatican behind Allied lines, the pope had more freedom to speak out.


But as the head of a neutral state, he understood that he could not condemn the war crimes of one side without condemning those of the other.


However, on Nov. 19 -- less than two weeks after Gowen wrote his letter -- the Vatican joined the neutral states of Spain, Portugal, Switzerland and Sweden to appeal to the Hungarian government to end the deportations.


The British Jewish historian Sir Martin Gilbert, an internationally recognized expert on the Holocaust, said in his 2002 book, "The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust," that at that time the Catholic Church in Budapest was hiding 25,000 Jews in homes and religious institutions.


There is nothing new here. All this is well known.


Simultaneously, the Red Army of the Soviet Union was advancing westward across Europe and killing and raping many innocent people as it was driving Adolf Hitler's armies into retreat.


This is somewhat hysterical. The sweep west by the Red Army was dramatic, but until the Soviets reached the borders of the Reich in late 1944 the behavior of the Russians was not particularly brutal or savage. Yes, there were atrocities committed, but the focus of Soviet rage was reserved for Germany. Once over the borders, the restraint of the Red Army was lifted and the horrific rape, looting and pillaging of the Reich began. And while it easy for us to gasp, the fact that over 20 million Russians had died between 1941-1945, should give us pause to at least acknowledge in realistic terms that the Russians had suffered terribly. Of course this is not to justify what was a crime; but let the knowledge of that crime be tempered with context and the truth that after the initial outburst calmer heads prevailed.


Gowen's letter was made public for the first time by the New York-based Pave the Way Foundation, which is conducting research into the actions of Pope Pius, assisted by a U.S. Catholic lawyer, Ronald Rychlak; German historian Michael Hesemann; and a journalist, Dimitri Cavalli. These three men have no formal historical qualifications. Hesemann’s specialty is the study of UFOs.


Gary Krupp, president of the foundation, told Catholic News Service in a May 18 email that the Allies feared any condemnation of Josef Stalin's armies "would work against the unified war effort of the Allies."


He said the letter is significant because it showed the pressures that confronted Pope Pius, who has been criticized for his alleged silence in the face of the Holocaust.


"The simple reality, which seems to be ignored by many critics, is that the Vatican was a neutral government that used its neutrality to save thousands of lives," said Krupp, a U.S. Jew from New York.


Gowen's letter was found by Rychlak among Taylor's documents and has been posted on the Pave the Way Foundation website.


This is a very common media response by Pave The Way. Much declaration about a text, but little to no contextual analysis and no detail on the source of the document, where it was found, its provenance etc.


The other fact remains that all the detail discussed above is well known in historical circles. Yes, it is an interesting piece of material, but does it add to the body of knowledge that already exists? The answer is, I fear, no.


Another letter made public by the foundation discusses help for Jewish fugitives, with Osborne telling Harold Tittman, another of Taylor's aides, that it must be destroyed because it might endanger the life an Italian priest who was rescuing Jews if it fell into enemy hands.


This strikes me as a tad too convenient. Again, where is this document, who learned of its existence and how, and what is its context?


It was dated May 20, 1944, barely three weeks before Rome fell to the Allies and, according to the Pave the Way Foundation, shows how the work of rescuing Jews was conducted in secrecy, with most documentary evidence of such activities destroyed almost instantly.


No serious historian disputes the fact that the Vatican was engaged in rescue and hiding operations throughout Rome between 9 September 1943 (when Italy signed the armistice) and 5 June 1944. However, the role of the Pope remains unclear because the relevant documents are still under embargo.


At the end of this, the known position accepted by historians “of the middle” remains unchanged. Pius XII did do something to help the Jews of Europe, limited as it was. A survey of the Brazilian visa episode demonstrates this. He was not immune to the suffering he saw and learned of. However, the question remains whether he did all he could, based on what we know of the limited documentation. It is my opinion based on what I have studied over the last 12 years or so, that Pius was a good man who did what he believed he could, but was limited in his vision of the world and the Church to such an extent that opportunities for visible and clear leadership were often passed over. When faced with the tragedy that befell the Jews of Rome in October 1943, he failed.


Thursday, May 12, 2011

New Light on Pius XII Cause? Not from this article ...

The National Catholic Register, not to be confused with the National Catholic Reporter, is a conservative Catholic media formerly owned by the Legion of Christ, but now operated by the Eternal Word Television Network founded by the famous, cloistered, Franciscan nun, Mother Angelica.  It enjoys considerable popular support among more traditionalist Catholics.  Its style is unapologetically "pro-Pope Benedict XVI" and a more defensive approach to Catholicism under the guise of apologetics. 

This article by news editor, John Burger, is interesting.  The title suggests that there is new evidence about Pius XII and the advancement of his cause for canonisation as a saint of the Catholic Church. What piqued my interest was the reference to Enrico Galeazzi about whom I in October 2010.   Reading Burger's article I ws surprised that there is nothing new, which is why, I suppose, he put a question mark in the heading. 

Overall, it is an interview which really adds nothing to what is already known, except for what I think is a bit of "spin" from  Agostino Corbanese from the Vatican Secretariat of State.  As far as I could tell from the entries for the Diocese of Rome, Corbanese is not involved in archival work.  If he is, it would be useful to know which one, and what his qualifications are.  Corbanese mentions opened archives.  It would be helpful to know exactly which archives he is referring to.  Certainly they are not the archives for Pius XII. 

I found his references to Jewish opposition to the proposed canonisation process of Pius XII to be irksome.  He conveniently ignores the considerable Catholic opposition to the process.

This article is, sadly, typical of the unreflective and ahistorical approach of a small segment of Catholic apologists who argue for Pius XII without solid historical and contextual approaches.  The Galeazzi aspect is interesting, but as I observed last October, it was ultimately fruitless.  It did raise the vexing "what if" question, that if Pius could send a layman to Washington to appeal for Rome, could he have not done so for the Jews of his own city?



Pius XII and Enrico Galeazzi, Rome, post-1945


This is Burger's article:

I will be posting an interview this weekend with the archeologist at St. Peter’s Basilica necropolis, Pietro Zander. He was at the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven, Conn., last week for the opening of an exhibit of Marian images from the Vatican.


Zander graciously gave me a personal tour through the exhibit and explained the significance of some of the paintings. He also talked a bit about his role in the beatification ceremonies for Blessed John Paul II a few days earlier.

Translating for us was Count Enrico Demajo, who heads the Knights of Columbus office in Rome. Count Demajo’s uncle was Count Enrico Galeazzi, an architect who was both the Knights’ representative in Rome and acting governor of Vatican City during World War II. Galeazzi was a friend of Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who became Pope Pius XII and whose cause for canonization has been hampered by continuing controversy over his alleged inaction in protecting European Jews during the Nazi Holocaust.

Accompanying Zander and Demajo to New Haven was Salesian Father Agostino Corbanese, who oversees an archive of the Vatican Secretariat of State. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Holy See’s Secretary of State, asked Father Corbanese to inspect the Knights’ New Haven archives of Count Galeazzi’s papers.

I sat down for a few minutes with Father Corbanese, and we discussed what the Galeazzi papers might reveal about Pius XII and the controversy over his cause.

What brings you to New Haven?

The superiors in the Secretariat of State, Cardinal Bertone and the sostituto [assistant Secretary of State] … asked me to come and see, especially from the point of view if, due to the closeness of Count Galeazzi with, at the time, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who later became Pope Pius XII, and they had close links of friendship, just to see whether there were documents, hand-written documents, or documents of any kind, coming from the desk of Cardinal Pacelli, or Pope Pius XII. And I went through all this material.

What did you find?

I found, interestingly enough, due to the difficulties of the time…Count Galeazzi was asked to bring with him a letter signed by Pope Pius XII addressed to President [Franklin D.] Roosevelt. We were more or less at the end of the war, and diplomatic channels were difficult to follow, and so on. And since Count Galeazzi was a man to whom Pope Pius XII gave much relevance and attention, he was asked to do that. ...

[The letter, which asked for a halt to the Allied bombing of Rome, was not delivered because the Italian government signed an agreement with the Allies while Galeazzi was on his way to Washington.]

Count Galeazzi died [in 1986], and the heirs — Enrico Demajo and, I suppose, the family — gave all this material to the Knights of Columbus, and they went through a tremendous amount of work in ordering all this material. Let’s say that 90%, 80% of the material there are plans, reports on what Count Galeazzi did. He was the engineer, he was the man responsible for building and restoration of the papal palace. He was in charge of a special commission created by the newly-elected Pope Pius XII to look after the maintenance and restoration of the buildings. The buildings are so old that they need continuous care. So, many of his papers are requests for restoration, how restoration was carried on, what the expenses were, what colleagues were involved in these works of the restoration, and this has nothing to do with the life of the Pope himself.

One letter carried the signature of Pope Pius XII, and it was a permit, an invitation to authorities of one country in Europe, to let Count Galeazzi go through, deliver what he had to deliver, and come back with something he was supposed to collect and bring it to Rome. So, it was a visa — let’s call it that.

What was it that he had to deliver?


The little card, bearing the autographed signature of Pope Pius XII, the size of an ordinary postcard, carried no indication whatsoever about the identification of what the envoy was supposed to carry with him through the boundaries of the neighbouring country, in the terrible and frightening wartime in Europe.

Was there anything that you discovered here that might have some bearing on the cause of beatification of Pope Pius XII?

Yes. I know that the archives have been opened and will continue to be opened. The material may be of this kind: reports sent to Count Galeazzi from various people — articles, commentaries — not many — picking up criticisms, explaining situations, backgrounds, problems. They may be useful. There are a few hints to what the Pope did to help the Jews in Rome and in Europe, but, as I said, the purpose of the archives and the purpose of the collection of these papers by Count Galeazzi was not to make a study of that particular…he received letters to bring them to the attention of the Secretariat of State, and some of these letters had this kind of content. A number of these letters were typed — as they used to do in those times — in two or three different copies, carbon copies. Of course the original is not here because the original was meant to go to the pope’s office or the cardinal’s office, wherever. But they kept the copy. And they may be of some interest.

You have here in the States Sister Margherita Marchione, and she came, I was told by the archivist. The archivist told me unfortunately she remained only one day. ... And some of these materials were, can be, or will be, useful to her, because she continues to study and to present, to understand where these criticisms against Pius XII originated: where they came from, why, who picked them up for granted. That is her particular idea. That is her enterprise, and she wrote piles of books, collecting material, demonstrating that what was brought about like a flag — Pius XII didn’t do enough, he did too little, he kept silent, things like that — they’re not true because she goes on discovering witnesses and testimonies. So this material can be related to this kind of study she continues to carry on.

What is holding up the cause? Is there any movement on it?

I think that while the cause is going on, Pope Pius XII has already been proclaimed a venerable — meaning that his life, what he did, his attitudes, are ones of a real strong Christian — the virtues as they say have been studied and approved….There are some miracles being studied at the moment.

One of the major difficulties is the opposition against Pius XII from a number of Jewish groups, individual people, associations, who are still imbued with that kind of criticism: Pope Pius XII didn’t do enough, he kept silent, he didn’t defend the Jews. When Pope John Paul II approved the venerability of Pius XII there was a turmoil among the Jews. I personally think that that is not the case. You can do things at home, in your house. You cannot put your nose in what other people do. I cannot come and study and pass judgment on what you do.


So Jews, with all due respect the Catholic Church has towards them, have no right to stand up and say You must not proclaim Pius XII a blessed. What is the point? You’re not within your compound, you’re not within your house. You’re not at home.

Besides this, as I mentioned, is the fact of concretely, deeply, with serenity, with capacity, historical understanding, study the material, and of course the material dealing with the Second World War is as immense as the world is.

So I think any time, for any reason around the world, there is a discussion you have to take the points and calmly, nicely, with strength you have to analyze them, you have to come to a conclusion. You cannot say yes or no from the very beginning.

Especially since this seems to have stemmed from this play by Rolf Hochhuth, and who knows that that was not a smear campaign begun by the communists.

It would be extremely useful to go back to one of the latest books by Sister Margarita…. She maintains that, let’s call it, the “enemy” of Pius XII was the communist regime. Some people used to say that it was the Germans. She maintains it was not the Germans who put their loud voices and criticisms; it was the communists, it was Moscow — Moscow which tried to demolish the figure and authority of Pius XII, which was taken up by plays, by writers, media agencies and so on, for granted. Now Sister Margarita has clearly indicated that historical line of the Russians being behind the scenes because they saw in Pius XII the great enemy of the expansion of their power all over the world.

And, according to George Weigel, they tried to do the same with Pope John Paul II.

Exactly. Things keep repeating.






Thursday, May 5, 2011

Reggie's Review of Michael Burleigh's Sacred Causes (2006)

I have long been a Burleigh reader and was honoured when he agreed to be one of my PhD examiners (he passed me!)  Reggie has written a very insightful review of Burleigh's Sacred Causes.  It is in two parts and is a very good recount of the principal features of Burleigh's narrative.  Of interest to me in particular, are his comments on Pius XII which begin the second part of the review.  Burleigh's treatment of Pius follows what I believe is an authentic historians response - he basis his judgement on the available data, and avoids the polemic that has so often clouded any rational debate on Pius XII.  It is long article, so rather than reproduce the review here, I encourage the reader to indulge and go to Reggie's blog and enjoy the experience.

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.

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