Under His Very Windows: The Vatican and the Holocaust in Italy

Article excerpt

Under His Very Windows: The Vatican and the Holocaust in Italy. By Susan Zuccotti. (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. 2000. Pp. xii, 408. $29.95.)

Like other studies on Pope Pius Xii and the Jews in the wake of Rolf Hochhuth's play of the early 1960's, Susan Zuccotti's book is strongly revisionist. In approaching the relationship of the Vatican to the whole of Italy, she takes her title from (p. 162) what the German Ambassador to the Vatican said in a telegram during the crucial period of October, 1943, and she is more concerned about anti-Judaism, of which she accuses the Church, not to mention the Jesuits, than about anti-Semitism, which the Church condemns. An expert on the Holocaust in France and Italy, Zuccotti alleges that it is a myth to credit Pius XII with helping the Jews. Thus, her book aims to refute the late Pinchas E. Lapide (pp. 303-304), whom she regards as the myth's chief architect.

In pursuing her objective, Zuccotti employs a methodology that is characteristic of a skeptic as she constantly emphasizes the lack of any effective directive from either the Pope or the Vatican to help the Jews. Though there is widespread testimony to the contrary, as recent studies by Hans Jansen and Richard J. Rychlak demonstrate, Zuccotti downplays the value of such evidence in her evaluation of contemporary Jewish leaders, Catholic bishops, and other sources by raising certain plausible, but not convincing, arguments against them. While she is disingenuous in her use of words that undermine or downplay the value of any source unfavorable to her position, Zuccotti has crafted a stand that holds what the Pope and the Vatican did as at best "laudable" and "useful" but not "decisive.' Thus, she is not unlike David Irving, who denies that Adolf Hitler was responsible for the Holocaust because there is no document to prove it.

Yet, Zuccotti does credit those archbishops, bishops, priests, monks, and nuns in the major cities of Italy for helping the Jews during the Holocaust. Such activities, in her view, were due to their own initiatives and had "no connection" (p. 243) with the Vatican. In this respect, she had unwittingly exposed her lack of logic by conceding earlier that such Catholics realized that they were doing the "will of the pontiff" (p. 192). If that is her conviction, one wonders why Zuccotti has written this book to prove that there was no directive from the Pope when such a concession implies that writing directives is not the only way to convey instructions.

In her analysis of the evidence, one is inclined to ask: What happened to the basic criteria of the historian that eyewitnesses must be knowledgeable and truthful? If there is no objective reason to hold that prelates like Cardinal Elia Dalla Costa of Florence (p. 253) and Bishop Giuseppe Nicolini of Assisi (p. 263) were lacking the knowledge and veracity required of eyewitnesses when they claimed that they were helping the Jews at the direction of the Pope, then Zuccotti is engaging in a skepticism that will never enable readers to understand what really happened in the past. …