Friday, April 27, 2012

First Madigan, now Kertzer. Open season on historians.

This post will probably put the fox into the hen house, but it is time the battle was taken to those who have for some time now enjoyed engaging in a largely unchallenged polemic against historians who do as their craft demands, namely seek the truth.  For several years now apologists, that is, a group of neo-conservative writers and journalists, some with academic qualification, many with none, have taken it upon themselves to "set the record straight" on Pius XII, the Catholic Church and everything related to it.  In their, extremely limited understanding of Catholic theology and history, they believe they have the right to impose their version of  a "fatwa" on those with whom they disagree.  In email correspondence with colleagues in more than a few places around the world there is a growing anger that these "snake oil" merchants and bullies have gone too far. I have taken deep offence at their unbridled attacks on historians.  I have also taken deep offence at their appalling lack of customary good manners and basic decency.

In February William Doino took aim at Harvard's Professor Kevin Madigan in First Things, penning a particularly nasty and grossly inaccurate piece of historical revisionism and apologia.  Why?  Because Madigan had the nerve to pen a review of two books he found to add substance to the ongoing historical discussion about the Catholic Church and its role/s during the Holocaust.  Doino believed Madigan’s positive assessment of both works - David Cymet History vs Apologetics and Gerald Steinacher Nazis on the Run - was, historically distorted and flawed to the point that suggested Madigan was operating from a more insidious agenda, namely supporting the white-anting of the Catholic Church through “pope bashing”.

Curiously, while dismissing Steinacher’s work as “a pseudo-scholarly mess” with no examination of how he reached this conclusion, Doino spends most of his time creating so much smoke that the lay reader might be forgiven there is something in his vigorous defence of Pius XII.  Even this writer was not spared.  I was quoted by a responder to the First Things article.  It appears that speaking in defence of those who have been unfairly treated by those whose own writing demonstrates an appalling lack of familiarity with the material is simply not acceptable.  Doino replied by rounding on the responder who had referenced “an author who similarly fails to acknowledge the major errors and omissions of Madigan, Steinacher and Cymet, but nonetheless takes strong exception to my work.  Since the same author once wrote a review praising John Cornwell’s  Hitler’s Pope as “particular satisfying in most respects” (see Patterns of Prejudice, volume 34, no. 4, 2000, p.68), that is hardly surprising”.  And I am guilty as charged.  I have changed my opinion on Cornwall; but then recognising one’s mistakes and engaging in serious research in order to come to a more balanced and historically satisfying conclusion is part of the process of ongoing education. (I have little doubt that this will be used against me - the idea that one can change and grow does not seem to be part of the apologist's world-view.)

Finally, Kevin Madigan wrote a review, not a manifesto.  Doino’s determination to pillory Madigan is fruitless; he has not pointed out one single historical error in his column, and he won’t, because they are not there.  That being said, the maxim “don’t kick a man when he is down” seems not to apply to the apologists.  Shortly after Doino’s column was published, the doyen of the papal revisionists, Ronald Rychlak joined the fray with an even more vehemently anti-Madigan article.  It is another tiresome, twisted attempt to silence historians from doing their job.  I am not surprised there are some in the Vatican who appreciate what the apologists do, write and say.

If Kevin Madigan was pursued by the equivalent of a bar room brawler spoiling for a fight, the Provost of Brown University, RI,  David Kertzer is being targeted by an academic version of Terminator.

Justus George Lawler’s Were the Popes Against the Jews arrived on my desk just before Easter.  I started reading it a couple of days ago.  My first impressions can be summarised thus:

1.  What on earth did David Kertzer do to warrant such vitriol and venom in this book?  What ever happened to academic courtesy and plain old-fashioned good manners?
2.  Where does the anger that fuels Lawler’s writing originate?  It can’t be in the history, it must come from somewhere else.  It has the vehemence of someone spurned.
3.  History – where is it?  There is polemic by the bucket load, but where is the research, reference to archives visited, material read and analysed?  Most of this book is compiled from secondary sources.  Much of what is found in the text has to be dug out from the purple prose that litters so much of this book.
4.  Language:  this is a very difficult book to read; the prose is turgid and stilted.  Why Lawler has chosen to write this way is beyond me.  It simply makes reading the book incredibly burdensome.
5.  A more honest title of the book would be Against David Kertzer and his ilk.

I am familiar with Kertzer’s work and have found it sound, well researched with evidence drawn from archival sources and reliable secondary sources.

Several things in Lawler’s book cause concern, not least of which are repeated unfounded inaccuracies. 

A simple example is the assertion that appears to form the principle thesis, namely that Kerzter asserts there was some secret Antisemitic conspiracy promoted and led by popes and their secretaries of state.  This theme chimes like a chorus throughout the book.  It reaches a high-point in chapter four, where Lawler says that Kertzer “invented a papal conspiracy”.  This is arrant nonsense.  Not only does Kertzer not speak of plots and conspiracies, his writing points to an accepted culture of contempt, a political-cultural milieu where Jews were perceived as negative influences on Christian society.  And the popes were not alone in thinking along those lines; it was nearly de rigueur in 19th century Europe.

Lawler’s obsession about Pius IX’s reference to Jews as “dogs” caught my attention (Chapter 4).  I was curious enough to write to Professor Kertzer and ask him directly what it was all about.  From my own reading of the literature of the time, especially from the papal-endorsed Civilta Cattolica, the language did not strike me as all that surprising.  This is an extract from the email correspondence I had with David Kertzer:

Lawler’s fixation with my quote from Pius IX on Jews as dogs, which I only mention in one paragraph in the book, is another genre of misrepresentation and bad faith. He accuses me of “a misquote” and concealing the real quote, yet when he ultimately, after repeating the charge many times, reproduces the full quote, he fails to show any misquote at all. He also, beginning in his introduction, with a long accusation, and then repeated later in the book, voices great suspicion that if I had the quote why I did not “pull it out” during my debate with the Monsignor when I mentioned it. The whole dog incident took place as follows: I was asked to debate the bishop who was I think secretary of the Vatican office in charge of making saints, on a live nationally broadcast well known radio program in Italy on September 1, 2000, two days before the beatification of Pius IX. As the program was at 9 a.m. Italian time, and while the monsignor and the host were in the Rome studio, I was sitting in the dark in my Providence kitchen … where it was 3 a.m.. When the bishop for the umpteenth time said how kindly a view of the Jews Pius IX had, I, among other things, mentioned his reference to Jews as dogs running through the streets of Rome. This he denied the pope had ever said. A day or two later I got an email from John Allen, noted Vaticanologist and journalist, asking for the source of the dog quote, given that the bishop had denied it existed. I gave him the volume and page from the Vatican publication of the pope's speeches. He checked and then got back to me letting me know he had found it and that what I had said was accurate. But now Lawler casts nasty insinuations about my motives in not producing the document when the monsignor questioned it during the debate….

Somehow I find Kertzer’s explanation far more convincing that Lawler’s conspiracy theories.

The 1913 ritual murder trial of Menahem Beilis in Kiev is another fixation Lawler has (Chapter 6). The details of the trial are readily available.  I was left wondering if there was a second edition of Kertzer’s book, because the distortion of facts engineered by Lawler bore little relation to the account I had read in Popes against the Jews.  Lawler asserts that Kertzer supports the idea that the antisemitic Cardinal Merry del Val actually delayed in sending a crucial piece of supportive evidence to Russia that would help get Beilis acquitted (132-133) My reading of Kertzer has him acknowledging Merry del Val as quite likely instrumental in the eventual acquittal.  Lawler’s harping on supposed mistranslations and manipulations of text grinds on and on, to the detriment of any positive critique he could make.

Lawler’s treatment of the Jesuit journal Civilta Cattolica is simply absurd.  To even suggest that the pope did not have complete or significant editorial control is risible (27).  It was well known that the pope or secretary of state met with the editors of Civilta to review the next edition.  The pope knew the content of the journal and approved it.  Lawler is the one engaging in conspiracy theories if he would have us believe that some underling crept in and changed articles after the next edition had received the papal placet.

His whole apologia claiming that the Civilta had no impact on the spread of Antisemitism, that it was simply repeating what others were saying, is beyond belief.  Further, his attempt to deny that the local Catholic press looked to Civilta for a signal of what the Vatican thought about issues of the day would not be taken seriously by any credible historian.

Even Howard Heinz Wisla “gets a guernsey” in this narrative.  Lawler demonstrates neither historical common sense in checking his sources, depending on the account written by William Doino, (356) and repeating Doino’s errors nor going and reading the very texts he cites to verify accuracy!  It looked to be a case of the pot (Lawler) calling the kettle (Kertzer) “black”.

Finally, the disdain and contempt shown towards the historians who signed the Letter to Pope Benedict XVI in February 2010, is simply nasty.  The reader can make up their own mind. (See 245-254)

I finished reading the book – having skimmed large sections because they are all but unreadable – felling quite angry that Justus George Lawler should squander his talent on such nasty and mean-spirited attacks;  angry I had wasted the money buying it;  angry that an historian of the calibre of Michael Burleigh had lent his considerable reputation to support it; angry that reputable and credible historians such as David Kertzer, Kevin Madigan, and many others, are lambasted and ridiculed; and angry that historians are forced to defend themselves personally and professionally from ideologues and apologists who claim for themselves the moral high ground from which to pontificate to the rest of us.  It is time for this nonsense to stop.


David Kertzer

(I am more than happy to engage in serious dialogue with readers.  I will not engage in debate with polemicists or publish comments that are offensive.)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Cross Too Heavy Panel Discussion Melbourne


This should be a great afternoon of serious history and inter-faith dialogue.  I will be speaking on Pius XII based on the latest research from archival resources alongside the readily available material as well as making some observations about the so-called "Pius Wars" and the problem of denialism among some of those people determined to see Pius canonised at any cost.  If you are in Melbourne I hope you will come and join me for what will be a stimulating afternoon.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

ADSS 8.438 Nuncio Orsenigo to Montini - the deportees

I have posted several documents on the circumstances surrounding the deportation of the Slovak Jews.  At the same time, deportation of Jews from across the rest of German-occupied Europe had also begun.  From Berlin, the nuncio, Cesare Orsenigo, wrote to Giovanni Batista Montini, in the Secretariat of State, answering questions that had been put to him by Cardinal Maglione earlier in July 1942.  The first document is not published in ADSS, but from what we can construe from Orsenigo's report here, is Maglione's request for news on what was happening to the Non-Aryans who were deported.  Orsenigo says it is impossible to get news of the fate of the deported and with a touch of quite graphic menace, says it is not a good idea to ask a Non-Aryan anywhere where one could be seen - it is too dangerous.


In this case, the news Rome had was probably more accurate than the information Orsenigo came by.  The nuncio's mention of the protest by the Dutch Protestants and the Catholic bishops was incorrect.  The Germans had promised not to take baptised Jews if the church leaders made no outcry when the non-baptised Jews were taken away.  The Dutch church leaders refused and published pastoral letters condemning deportations in April 1942.  In retaliation, the Germans seized all Jews - baptised or not, and sent most of them to their deaths in Auschwitz, including Edith and Rose Stein.


This document helps us establish not only what was known, but also what was not.  Orsenigo's report demonstrates the difficulty the Vatican had in trying to piece together all the information it received in order to come to an understanding of what was happening "beyond the Alps".




Volume and Document Number: 8.438 

Reference: Report number 2091/48379 (AES 7256/42)

Location and date: Berlin 28.07.1942

Summary statement:  We can no longer obtain information on deported Non-Aryans.  The situation for the Jews grows worse.  There is talk of massacres.  The protest by Dutch Catholic and Protestant churches seems to have stopped the deportation of non-Aryan converts.

Language: Italian

Text:  In response to Your Excellency’s dispatch, number 00186562 of 04.07.1942 (1) , referring to the significant amount of research undertaken by German and Austrian refugees about their non-Aryan relatives who are no longer in the territory of the Reich and have probably been deported to Poland, I must reluctantly admit that unfortunately, no one here has been able to obtain reliable information concerning non-Aryans, indeed it is not advisable to show interest because here it seems that with deportations we are required to lose all traces of the deportees; here it is dangerous to stop on the way and speak to a Non-Aryan wearing the distinctive star.

The situation has grown worse in recent times as perhaps Your Excellency has learned from my last correspondence 2080 of 20.07.1942 (2), to His Eminence the Cardinal Secretary of State: now it is impossible to express even a simple request on behalf of Non-Aryans.  In Vienna as well, as I reported, Father [Ludger] Born SJ, (3) who is charged with responsibility for the Jewish Question in the Archbishop’s office, has also noted an increasing inability to prevent deportations, particularly cases of immediate emigrations and there is way of getting news of the deported.

As is easy to understand, this suppression of news gives rise to the most gruesome speculation about the fate of the Non-Aryans.  At the same time, disagreeable rumours, which are difficult to control, of disastrous journeys and even the mass killing of Jews.  All interventions in favour of Non-Aryan Catholics has been rejected with the usual response that the waters of baptism do not change the blood of the Jew and the German Reich will defend itself against the Non-Aryan race, not by the religious confession of baptised Jews.

In amidst the sinister rumours we have not missed some less gloomy news:  for example it is rumoured that in Holland, where deportation of Non-Aryans has begun, a frank protest by Evangelicals, as well as the Catholic Bishops, have managed to exclude baptised Non-Aryans from deportation.(4)  Similarly, it was reported that in the notorious ghetto of Litzmannstadt, in Reichsgau Wartheland, a Polish priest, who in a spirit of apostolic heroism, was given permission to enter and remain in the ghetto for the care of Non-Aryan Catholic souls.(5)


Cross references: 

(1) Not published.  See ADSS 8.329
(2) See ADSS 8.433
(3) See ADSS 8.14, note 4.  Ludger Born (1897-1980), Jesuit, 1940-1945 Head of the Archdiocese of Vienna Office for Assistance to Jewish Catholics.
(4) This information was incorrect.  See ADSS 8.506.  The Dutch Catholic bishops issued their pastoral letter condemning deportation on 19.04.1942.
(5) This priest was not identified.  The Chronicle of the Lodz Ghetto, Volume 1, 26-28.12.1941, p 339 says that there were two Catholic priests who arrived on a transport from Germany.



Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A journey's end! ADSS - complete

Last night, Sydney time, around 18.00 hrs, I closed the last volume of ADSS.  I have finished a project that I started over three years ago to read through the entire eleven volumes of Actes et documents du Saint-Seige relatifs a la seconde guerre mondiale. And what an adventure it has been.  One online correspondent described ADSS as a resource that was "always referred to but hardly ever read" in the study of the Catholic Church and the 1939-1945 war.


I had "cherry picked" from ADSS over the years but came to the conclusion that the only way to come to understand the patterns within the documents and the relationships between authors, recipients and subjects and, above all, to try and capture something of the people who gave instructions and orders, was to read the entire collection.


Making my way through the volumes has been one of the most satisfying exercises in my academic life.  Reading through the thousands of documents, checking footnotes and following up tangential references and hunches, cross-referencing with material made available since the last volume was published in 1981, has been exhilarating and exciting.  I stand in awe at the skill of the original editors - Pierre Blet, Robert Graham, Angelo Martini and Burkhart Schneider - Jesuits, priests and historians, now all deceased, and I salute them for their expertise in fulfilling the task given them by Paul VI.  I have stood on the shoulders of giants and I have seen wondrous things.


ADSS does not give us "all the answers"; in fact it creates more questions.  But what ADSS does give us is a window into the operation of the Secretariat of State of Pope Pius XII and the daily workings of the Secretariat and its associated departments, especially the Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs that dealt with the relations between the Holy See and foreign powers and governments.  I have absolutely no doubt that Pius XII acted from noble intentions and sincerely believed he was doing all he could to help the victims of the war, especially the hunted Jews of Europe.  His principal aides, Cardinal Luigi Maglione, Secretary of State, Monsignors Giovanni Battista Montini and Domenico Tardini in the Congregation of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs as well as the nuncios, apostolic delegates, apostolic visitors and seconded representatives, also acted with noble intent.  The question raised by this and which cannot be answered from documents alone, is "did they do all they could with the information they had?"  And for that I have some ideas and sketches of responses but nothing conclusive, except that there are more than a few areas, in particular Rome in September-October 1943, where the answer leans heavily towards the negative.


Has my position on Pius XII changed?  In the "big picture" - no; in the details that emerge from ADSS - yes.  Based on the evidence supplied in ADSS, did Pius do all he could to save the Jews of Europe?  Again, in the "big picture" - it is a qualified "no"; in the details that emerge from ADSS - it is a qualified "yes".  When the archives for Pius are opened, possibly in 2014, we may have more detail to help answer the question.  However, my reading of ADSS suggests there was no plot to leave out unpleasant details or anything that would suggest Pius XII acted inappropriately.


As I start to collate the data I have accumulated - at this stage I have eleven documents of at least 50 pages each that compromise the document summaries, a 40 page summary document of the principal figures mentioned in ADSS (excluding the German bishops for whom I have another document) and the individual texts I have translated (some of which are published on the blog) - I will post observations and critiques.


The next stage is to correlate the material with a chronology of the 1939-1945 war and the Holocaust, as well as establish links to other archival resources.


I extend my sincere thanks to colleagues and friends who have sent messages of congratulations.  That of itself is a wonderful reminder that historians do not work in a vacuum, we are a community of learners and teachers.


And now, on to the next part of the project!

An interview with David Cymet "History vs Apologetics"


This article featured in the latest Jewish Week.  David Cymet's book is creating interest in historical circles.  I have just started reading it and my initial impression is that while there is a sense of creating a wholistic framework which needs to be established to place the subject matter within its appropriate historical context/s, this book is, in many ways, a literature review of the last half-century of material on Pius XII, the Holocaust and the role of the Catholic Church. A quick look at the notes and bibliography show an almost exclusive reliance on secondary sources, which does cause some worry especially given the relative ease of accessing so much archival material, including the Vatican files up to 1939.  I will not comment on the substance of the interview until I have read the book, but I am intrigued by the response made to the first question about "whitewashing" the Church's role  during the Shoah.  Having read my way through ADSS that is not an impression I gained of the Vatican leadership during the war.


Making Sense Of Pius’ Wartime Record

Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Steve Lipman, Staff Writer

The role of the Catholic Church during the Holocaust — and of Pope Pius XII, its wartime leader — has remained a subject of controversy for nearly a half century, since Rolf Hochhuth’s play, “The Deputy,” accused Pius of indifference to Jewish suffering at the hands of the Nazis. The latest voice in this discussion is Davidt Cymet, a Mexico-born educator who spent eight years researching “History vs. Apologetics” (Lexington Books), an exhaustive study of the Church and Pius XII during World War II.

Q: Libraries are full of books about the actions of Pius XII — and the Catholic Church — during the Holocaust. What new information or perspective do you bring to the discussion?

A: The large literature on the role the Church played in the Holocaust is fragmented. Authors deal with specific episodes, often with no visible connection between them. Without the knowledge of that vast literature, one cannot begin to understand and evaluate the role of the Church during that period, particularly as long as the Church continues to block free access to its archives and maintains a selective tight control over them.
The role played by defenders of the Church in the Shoah is the equivalent to that of the Holocaust deniers. Although these defenders are not necessarily interested in denying the Holocaust per se, their main agenda is to whitewash the Church and its leaders of any responsibility in the Shoah.
Much of my time was spent to acquire critical mastery of that literature. A unifying background and perspective  ... linking the particular episodes in a logical coherent and historically valid account within the framework of their contemporary general background ... has been badly missing.

Why is the Vatican’s behavior seven decades ago still relevant to the Jewish community?

After the Cain murder of European Jewry, the Church had some explaining to do ... but it took more than 50 years for the Vatican to recognize its moral obligation to examine its past. It was only after Pius XII’s 1958 death that important changes in the Catholic attitude towards the Jewish people began; the Vatican II Council produced Nostra Aetate (1965) in which the so-called “exoneration” of the Jewish people of the crime of deicide took place. Nevertheless, the first three drafts of Nostra Aetate included the Christian doctrine of the ultimate conversion of the Jewish people to the Christian faith.

Pope John Paul II ... who had personally witnessed the horror of the Holocaust in Poland ... put the question on the agenda for the first time in 1987. He delegated Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, president of the Holy See Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, to produce an official document on the question of Christian responsibility for the Shoah. “We Remember: Reflections on the Shoah” rejected any connection between millennial Church anti-Semitism and Nazi anti-Semitism and denied the formidable role played by German Catholicism in the rise of Hitler to power.

The fact that the Church failed to acknowledge the historic role it played in the Shoah ... is not to be taken lightly. It means that not having found fault with its past actions and policies, the Church may continue to consider them a valid model to follow in the future.

The pope’s critics say he turned a blind eye to Nazi atrocities against the Jews. His defenders say he quietly had the Church save untold Jewish lives. Saint or sinner — what’s your take on Pius XII?

On September 1933 ... Vatican Secretary of State Eugene Pacelli [the future Pius XII] agreed to provide a written promise not to interfere in “German internal affairs”  ... the persecution of the Jews ... in exchange for a verbal promise to exclude Jewish converts to Catholicism (non-Aryan Catholics) from these actions. The Church adhered scrupulously afterwards to its promise of not interfering with the persecution of the Jews; during the war Pius XII did not mention the Jews even once. Allegations of how much the Church did to save Jews have no factual basis. To the contrary, available evidence and testimonies ... prove the callous indifference of the Church.

Is continued Jewish interest in the Vatican’s wartime record — and Jewish opposition to Pius’ canonization — harming Jewish-Catholic relations?

Jews have no part in the polemic if Pius XII deserves or does not deserve to be canonized. That is a matter for the Church and its believers to investigate and decide by themselves. What does, however, concern Jews, is the legitimate question on the role played by the Church and its highest authorities in the attempt led by Third Reich to annihilate the Jewish people. It is a tragic error to think that the truth as such will harm Jewish-Catholic relations and assume that good relations can be built perpetuating deception and make-believe.



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