Hitler's Pope?

Article excerpt

Hitler's Pope? The Myth of Hitler's Pope: How Pope Pius XII Rescued Jews From the Nazis by David G. Dalin (REGNERY, 209 PAGES, $27.95)

AS A HISTORIAN OF THE HOLOCAUST, I frequently receive requests from Jewish educators, seeking support for grant applications for their Holocaust programs. Almost all these applications include a sentence about how the new program will inform students that the Pope, and the Vatican, "did nothing" during the Holocaust to help Jews.

The most recent such portrayal reached me while I was writing this review. It is part of a proposal to a major Jewish philanthropic organization, and contains the sentence: "Also discusses the role of the Vatican and the rabidly anti-Semitic Pope Pius XII, who were privy to information regarding the heinous crimes being committed against the Jews, and their indifferent response."

That the Pope and the Vatican were either silent bystanders, or even active collaborators in Hitler's diabolical plan-and "rabidly anti-Semitic," as stated above-has become something of a truism in Jewish educational circles, and a powerful, emotional assertion made by American-Jewish writers, lecturers, and educators.

David G. Dalin, professor of history and political science at Ave Maria University, Naples, Floridaand an ordained rabbi-demonstrates in his recent book, The Myth of Hitler's Pope, that this is a false and distorted portrayal. He also shows its long pedigree, starting more than 40 years ago, in 1963, with Rolf Hochhuth's play The Deputy. Although that play was fiction, it was widely regarded as based on fact in its strident assertion of the moral cowardice and silence of Eugenio Pacelli, who in 1939 became Pope as Pius XII.

Since Hochhuth's play, this theme has become commonplace. John Cornwell, a Roman Catholic, in his book Hitler's Pope (1999) blamed Pius XII not only for silence, but for active collaboration with the Nazi regime. Jewish writers have understandably been shocked by the reiterated assertion of papal refusal to help Jews at their time of greatest need. Daniel Goldhagen's book A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair (2002) portrays Pius XII as part of a wider Roman Catholic anti-Semitic tradition that permeated the Church's teachings and was integral-in Goldhagen's wordsto the very "genesis of the Holocaust."

Dalin takes issue with these critics of Pius XII. Building on earlier documented defenses of Pius XII, including Ronald J. Rychlak's detailed study Hitler, the War, and the Pope (2000), he builds a powerful case for Pius XII, suggesting that the desire of Pope John Paul II to canonize Pius need not have been offensive-or insensitive-to Jews, as it was widely portrayed.

THE HISTORICAL RECORD is clear. There can be no minimizing the horrors of those manifestations of Christian anti-Semitism that were a curse in the story of Nazi-dominated Europe. The Polish villagers who murdered their neighbors in Jedwahne had been churchgoers all their lives. The Roman Catholic priests who, on many documented occasions, turned their flocks against the Jews throughout Eastern Europe were ordained in the rites of Rome. The Slovak leader, Father Jozef Tiso, who asked the Germans to deport his Jews to German-occupied Poland and to slave labor-and death-was an ordained priest.

But, as I myself pointed out in my book The Rightearn: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust (2003), there was another side to this coin. In France, leaders of the Roman Catholic clergy were outspoken in their condemnation of the deportations. In Italy, churchmen across the whole spectrum of Roman Catholicism. including leading Jesuits, saved Jews from deportation.

Many hundreds of Polish priests and nuns are among more than 5,000 Catholic Poles who have been recognized by the state of Israel for their courage in saving Jews.

Where does this leave Pope Pius XII, the object of so much published hostility, and the main figure in Dalin's short but powerful book? …