May 14, 2005


The Vatican's Sin of Omission (ARTHUR HERTZBERG, 5/14/05, NY Times)

LAST week, Pope Benedict XVI vowed to Rome's former chief rabbi that he would renew the Vatican's commitment to Catholic-Jewish dialogue. The statement, which came at the same time that Germany unveiled its new Holocaust memorial in central Berlin, was but one of several gestures the new pope has extended toward a receptive Jewish community. The Israeli government, the Anti-Defamation League and the European Jewish Congress have welcomed these overtures and urged Benedict to continue his predecessor's work.

But from my own experience as the chairman, more than 30 years ago, of the first international Jewish delegation to meet formally with a comparable delegation from the Vatican, I am far from certain that a new age in the Jewish-Catholic relationship has dawned. At that Paris meeting in 1971, we asked the Vatican to acknowledge that it had remained silent while Europe's Jews were murdered.

Strange sort of silence.

A Child of the Century (Ben Hecht)

The Reader's Digest Magazine broke the American silence attending the massacre of the Jews in February 1943. It printed my article called "Remember Us," based on Dr. Greenberg's data.

Reading it in the magazine, I thought of a larger idea and set out to test its practicality. Thirty famous writers (and one composer) were assembled at George Kaufman's house by my friend, his wife Beatrice. All had written hit plays or successful novels. Put their names together and you had the box-office flower of American culture. In addition to success, wit and influence, they had in common the fact that they were all Jews.

I had said to Bea that thirty New York dinner guests might save the surviving four million Jews in Europe. The first massacre scores had come in: dead Jews --two million; anti-Germany butchery protests--none.

I looked eagerly at the thirty celebrities in Bea's drawing room. Some were friends, some enemies. Some wrote like artists (almost), some like clodhoppers. Some were insufferably fatheaded, some psychotically shy. But such variation was unimportant. Bold, shy, Shakespeare or Boom McNutt--they had a great common virtue. They could command the press of the world.

What would happen if these brilliant Jews cried out with passion against the German butchers? If these socially and artistically celebrated Jews spoke up in rage at the murder of their people? How they could dramatize the German crime! How loudly they could represent the nightmare to America and the world!

When we sat with coffee cups, Bea said to me, "Why not talk to them now, before they start playing games or something?"

I recited all the facts I knew about the Jewish killings. I said I felt certain that if we banded together and let loose our talents and our moral passion against the Germans we might halt the massacre. The Germans now believed that the civilized world looked with indifference on their extermination of Europe's Jews. How could they think anything else? Had anybody (but the biased kinsmen of the victims) protested? Had England's great humanitarian, Churchill, spoken? Or our great keeper of the rights of man--Roosevelt? No, nary a word out of either of these politically haloed gentlemen. And out of that third champion of all underdogs--Stalin--no more hint of Jews than if they had all bowed out with Moses.

Consider (this was part of my speech to the thirty Jewish geniuses of New York City), consider what would happen to the Germans if they were to hear that their crime was sickening the world! If a roar of horror swept the civilized earth and echoed into the land that was once Goethe's and Beethoven's! Imagine the effect on the descendants of Schiller, Wagner, Kant, Hegel, etc., etc., were they to hear a universal shout go up! "You are not heroes. You are monsters."

And to back up my theory I wheeled out my sole exhibit--the King of little Denmark. Peter Freuchen, the writer and explorer, had told me the story. He had been in Copenhagen at the time the Germans announced they were going to "clean" Denmark of Jews. The King of Denmark, with the German heel on his neck, had answered that the Danes would never stand for this crime against humanity. He had put the yellow armband identifying Jews on his own sleeve and requested his people to do the same. They did. The Jews of Denmark went on living, protected by the moral passion of an otherwise powerless king.

I concluded with another argument. I said that an outcry against the massacre would have an important effect on the British. The British were not a bloodthirsty, murderous people. If they heard that millions of Jews had already been murdered, and that the Germans planned to kill the four million still left breathing in Europe, and that most of these still-breathing Jews could be saved if the ports of Palestine were opened, the British, fine, decent people that they were, would certainly not continue to collaborate with the Germans on the extermination of the four million surviving Jews.

There was no applause when I stopped talking. Not that I expected any. The authors of hit plays and novels are more interested in receiving applause than in giving it. But the nature of the silence was revealed to me when a half-dozen of the guests stood up and without saying "Boo" walked out of the room.

"It looks like I struck out," I said to my hostess as the silence kept up.
Edna Ferber's voice rose sharply. "Who is paying you to do this wretched propaganda," she demanded, "Mister Hitler? Or is it Mister Goebbels?" Her query started irritated and angry talk. The anger and irritation were against me.

In the vestibule, Beatrice said to me, "I'm sorry it turned out like this. But I didn't expect anything much different. You asked them to throw away the most valuable thing they own--the fact that they are Americans."

How argue with Beatrice, a fine woman with as bright a mind and as soft a heart as anyone I knew? How convince any of her high-faluting guests that they had not behaved like Americans but like scared Jews? And what in God's name were they frightened of? Of people realizing they were Jews? But people knew that already. Of people hearing that they had Jewish hearts? What kind of hearts did they imagine people thought Jews had, non-Jewish hearts? Or did they think they would be mistaken for "real" Americans if they proved they had no hearts at all? Two of the thirty guests came into the vestibule to say good night to me.

"I thought I'd tell you that if I can do anything definite in the way of Jewish propaganda call on me," said Moss Hart.

Kurt Weill, the lone composer present, looked at me with misty eyes. A radiance was in his strong face.

"Please count on me for everything," Kurt said. (Hecht, Moss and Weill would cooperate in creating the pageant "We Shall Never Die" which was staged in Madison Square Garden. The three were joined by showman Billy Rose of whom Hecht writes "A third Jew soon joined us--Billy Rose. He needed no briefing. He came under his own steam, which was considerable.")

I am likely to sound rather immodest in this chapter, but truth is truth, and a man should not be afraid to speak it even if it embarrasses him. My activities quickly produced a new Jewish battle cry. And not only in New York but in Chicago, Boston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, San Francisco and even in London. This new Jewish battle cry was "Down with Ben Hecht." It came roaring from synagogue pulpits (reformed ones). It filled the Jewish press and the Jewish magazines. I can still see the headlines in the American Jewish Congress Monthly and other such periodicals. They identified me as the American Goebbels, as Hitler's Hired Stooge, as the Broadway Racketeer Growing Rich on Jewish Misery, and this and that.

The first Jewish outbursts against me remained, actually, unknown to me. I was too busy getting the pageant ready....

I first became aware that there was annoyance with me among the Jews when Rabbi Stephen Wise, head of the Jews of New York, head of the Zionists and, as I knew from reading the papers, head of almost everything noble in American Jewry, telephoned me at the Algonquin Hotel where I had pitched my Hebrew tent.

Rabbi Wise said he would like to see me immediately in his rectory. His voice, which was sonorous and impressive, irritated me. I had never known a man with a sonorous and impressive voice who wasn't either a con man or a bad actor. I explained I was very busy and unable to step out of my hotel.

"Then I shall tell you now, over the telephone, what I had hoped to tell you in my study," said Rabbi Wise. "I have read your pageant script and I disapprove of it. I must ask you to cancel this pageant and discontinue all your further activities in behalf of the Jews. If you wish hereafter to work for the Jewish Cause, you will please consult me and let me advise you."

At this point I hung up. When I informed Bergson of Rabbi Wise's fatheadedness, he answered moodily, "We'll have to get the spies out of our organization. There are obviously people among us carrying information and documents to the enemy."

I was confused by the word enemy. I had up to that moment been thinking only of an enemy with a swastika.

The Unsilent Pope: a review of Inside the Vatican of Pius XII: The Memoir of an American Diplomat During World War II. By Harold H. Tittmann, Jr. (William Doino, Jr. and Joseph Bottum, First Things)
Given Tittmann’s importance in the debate about the papacy during the war, these memoirs may be the most important document to be published on Pius XII in over twenty years. And they prove to be, far from an indictment, an overwhelming defense of the Pope and the Catholic Church. [...]

There are at least half a dozen major revelations in this memoir. Perhaps the most interesting comes when Tittmann relates his discussions with Joseph Mueller, the anti-Nazi Bavarian lawyer who served as a middle-man between Pius and the German resistance. “Dr. Mueller said that during the war his anti-Nazi organization in Germany had always been very insistent that the Pope should refrain from making any public statement singling out the Nazis and specifically condemning them and had recommended that the Pope’s remarks should be confined to generalities only,” Tittmann writes. To have this testimony from a leading member of the anti-Nazi resistance means that Pius XII’s conduct during the war was not due solely to his personal instincts but also to the explicit advice of the anti-Nazi resistance.

Other revelations include the Vatican’s maintenance of “special accounts in New York banks” operated by Archbishop Spellman, as well as a “personal and secret account” for Pius XII (“about which Spellman knew nothing”), which the Pope “used exclusively for charitable purposes” during the war. Pius revealed the accounts to Tittmann in a “strictly confidential” meeting, after Roosevelt issued an executive order freezing American assets of hostile European countries. How much of this papal money was distributed to those persecuted by the Nazis is unknown, but Tittmann at least strengthens the testimony of Fr. Robert Leiber, Pius’ longtime aide, who told Look magazine in 1966: “The Pope sided very unequivocally with the Jews at the time. He spent his entire private fortune on their behalf.”

Tittmann provides, as well, new details of the Vatican’s anxiety over written documents that might expose the Pope’s anti-Nazi activities and collaboration with the Allies. “It was only rarely that records were kept by the Vatican officials of conversations the Pope had with his intimate collaborators or even with important visitors from the outside, such as ministers, ambassadors, or private individuals offering information or suggestions,” Tittmann writes. When the German occupation of Rome began on September 10, 1943, Nazi surveillance increased dramatically, and Pius’ secretary of state, Cardinal Maglione, quickly recommended that any compromising documents be destroyed. Tittmann notes: “At a meeting on September 14, the Allied diplomats decided to follow the cardinal’s advice by destroying all documents that might possibly be of use to the enemy. Osborne [British minister to the Holy See] and I had already finished our burning, and the others completed theirs without exception by September 23, when I reported to the State Department.” As a result, even the many official diplomatic documents which survive the war years represent merely a fraction of Pius XII’s activities. [...]

Discussing the charge that Pius went easy on Nazism because of his fears of Soviet communism, Tittmann insists that the Pope “detested the Nazi ideology and everything it stood for,” and he describes in fresh detail Pius’ intervention for an extension of America’s lend-lease policy to Russia, persuading the American Catholic hierarchy to soften its stand against the Soviet Union in order to serve a greater, and more immediate, cause—the defeat of Nazi Germany. “Thus Pius XII himself had joined the President,” Tittmann says, “in admitting that Hitlerism was an enemy of the Church more dangerous than Stalinism and that the only way to overcome the former was an Allied victory, even if this meant assistance from Soviet Russia.”

Although a strong admirer of President Roosevelt, Tittmann does not flinch from criticizing the Allies’ carpet-bombing of Italian cities and religious institutions (including the attack on Castel Gandolfo, where the Pope was sheltering thousands of refugees). Tittmann also reveals how Roosevelt, anxious to secure American Catholic support for the lend-lease program to Russia and eager for the Pope to intervene for him with the American bishops, wrote Pius a letter claiming that “churches in Russia are open”—and asserting his putative belief that there was “a real possibility that Russia may, as a result of the present conflict, recognize freedom of religion.” Obviously embarrassed by this, Tittmann quotes another State Department official who had been stationed in Moscow as saying “he could not understand how such a letter as the President’s could ever have been written in the first place in view of all the contrary information that was on file in the State Department.”

The End of the Pius Wars (Joseph Bottum, April 2004, First Things)
There was a curious moment during the exchanges about A Moral Reckoning in which Daniel Goldhagen appeared to admit that he had gotten the details wrong, but the point remained untouched. At one level, that makes no sense: He was writing an argumentative essay, after all, and if his evidence fails, so must his conclusion. But at another level, it makes perfect sense. However successfully the reviewers refuted the Pope’s detractors, the sum of all those well-publicized attacks, from Cornwell on, has had a tremendous impact on what people think—the tropes they use, the pictures they form, the things journalists think they can get away with saying, the images pundits believe will prove useful when they wish to strafe a particular target.

In the public mind at the present moment, there’s almost nothing bad you can’t say about Pius XII. The Vatican may end up declaring him a saint—the slow process of canonization has been winding its way through the Roman curia since the mid-1960s—but the general public has gradually been persuaded that Pius ranks somewhere among the greatest villains ever to walk the earth. Nearly every crime of the twentieth century seems to be laid at this man’s feet. Disapprove of the war in Vietnam? Well, according to a Ft. Lauderdale newspaper, Pius XII was “the main inspirer and prosecutor” of that war. Hate racism? An article in 2002 painted him as a slavering racist who mocked the Moroccan soldiers fighting for the Free French. Another had the young Pacelli denouncing black American soldiers for “routinely raping German women and children” after World War I.

Worse, he signed for the Vatican a hitherto-unknown “secret pact” with Nazi Germany in the 1930s. The Catholic hierarchy has suppressed all copies, so nobody knows what it said, but it must have been bad—although it scarcely seems necessary, since (a French author assured us in 1996) the Vatican and Germany began secretly working together all the way back in 1914 to bring about a German domination of Europe. Perhaps it doesn’t matter that this contradicts other theories floating around these days: that Pius XII was secretly working with Mussolini to achieve an Italian domination of Europe, for instance, or that he was secretly plotting with hard-line anti-Soviets to make the Protestant United States and Great Britain the world’s great powers. The point is that there is simply no depravity one can put past the man. He suppressed the anti-Nazi encyclical that Pius XI on his deathbed begged him to release. He was deeply implicated in the German’s massacre of 335 Italians in the Ardeatine Caves. He expressly permitted, even encouraged, the S.S. to round up Rome’s Jews in 1943.

At the root of all this lies the fact that Pius XII was, fundamentally, a follower of Hitler, a genocidal hater of the Jews in his heart and in his mind, and once we recognize him as a Nazi who somehow escaped punishment at the Nuremberg trials, we can see the origin of all the rest. He was Hitler’s Pope, in the title of John Cornwell’s book. The Holocaust happened Under His Very Windows, in the title of Susan Zuccotti’s. Pius XII represents the highest pitch of Papal Sin, in Garry Wills’ title. Modern times is defined by The Popes Against the Jews, in David Kertzer's--and just so nobody misses the point, the drawing on the dust jacket of Michael Phayer's book features a Nazi with whip and a Catholic priest standing on the body of a Holocaust victim.

Meanwhile, the Times of London named him “a war criminal” in 1999. The next year the television program 60 Minutes insisted there was “absolutely” no difference between the writings of Pius and the writings of Hitler. Daniel Goldhagen called him a “Nazi collaborator” who “tacitly and sometimes materially aided in mass murder”—which was relatively mild compared to Goldhagen’s other description of the Pope as a willing servant of “the closest human analogue to the Antichrist” and a man whose Church’s two-thousand-year history is nothing but preparation for the Holocaust’s slaughter of the Jews.

Forget the often-denounced “silence of Pius XII” about the Holocaust. Pacelli didn’t just accept Hitler; he loved the Nazi leader and agreed with him about everything. Did you know that shortly after World War I he gave the starving Adolf Hitler money because he so much approved the young man’s ideas? (This, by the way, is from a book that also reveals how Pius XII was merely the puppet of his Vatican housekeeper, Sister Pascalina.) Perhaps avarice to increase Vatican finances is what made him force reluctant Swiss banks to confiscate Jewish accounts. But only enduring belief in Nazi ideas can explain why Pius was the chief funder and organizer of the Ratline that helped hunted Gestapo agents escape to South America after Hitler’s defeat.

Regardless, the Pope was manifestly an anti-Semite of the first water—John Cornwell declared his views “of the kind that Julius Streicher would soon offer the German public in every issue of his notorious Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer”—except when Pius is said to have merely allowed Hitler free rein, accepting the murder of the Jews as the price to be paid for getting Germany to war against the greater menace of the godless Communists in Soviet Russia. These notions are not necessarily contradictory. In a 1997 essay, the widely published Richard L. Rubenstein concluded: “during World War II Pope Pius XII and the vast majority of European Christian leaders regarded the elimination of the Jews as no less beneficial than the destruction of Bolshevism.”

All of these claims are mistaken, of course—and more than mistaken: demonstrably and obviously untrue, outrages upon history and fellow feeling for the humanity of previous generations. But none of them are merely the lurid fantasies of conspiracy-mongers huddled together in paranoia on their Internet lists. Every one of these assertions has been made in recent years by books and articles published with mainstream and popular American publishers.

And when we draw from them their general conclusion—when we reach the point at which Rubenstein, for example, has arrived—then discourse is over. Research into primary sources, argument about interpretation, the scholar’s task of weighing historical circumstances: All of this is quibbling, an attempt to be fair to monstrosity, and by such fairness to condone, excuse, and participate in it. After printing the opening salvo of Goldhagen’s offensive against Catholicism, the publisher of the New Republic announced that Pius XII was, simply and purely, “a wicked man.” And once one has said that, one has said all that needs to be known.

It was here that the Pius War was lost—and lost for what I believe will be at least a generation—despite the victories of the reviewers. The question of “why now?” is an interesting one. Philip Jenkins understands it as not particular to Pius XII at all, but merely a convenient trope by which American commentators express what he calls an entirely new form of anti-Catholicism. Others see it in a continuum of more old-fashioned American distaste for the Whore of Babylon that dwells in Rome, spinning Jesuitical plots. Ralph McInerny linked it darkly to contemporary hatred of the Church’s stand against abortion. Noting the predominance of a certain sort of Catholic author in these debates, Justus George Lawler suggested the root lay in a “papaphobia” that has turned against the entire idea of authority. David Dalin argued that it was finally about John Paul II: an intra-Catholic fight over the future of the papacy, with the Holocaust merely the biggest club around for opponents of the current pope to use against his supporters.

All of these are quite interesting. None are quite persuasive. What the real cause may be, I cannot decide for myself. But it is into a world of public and scholarly opinion formed by books like Hitler’s Pope that every new attempt to consider the issue must enter. Relatively mild efforts to praise the Pope (such as José Sánchez’s Pius XII and the Holocaust in 2002), like relatively mild criticism (such as Martin Rhonheimer’s November 2003 essay in First Things), are as clueless about the situation in which they appear as the proverbial visitors from Mars. Indeed, there is something willful and maddening in their tone of Olympian detachment. In a world of imbalance, what but pressure on the other side can restore the balance that a true scholar is supposed to love? I am convinced that we will not achieve anything resembling historical accuracy until all present views have been cleared away—and thus, that the job for every honest writer who takes up the topic now is to correct the slander of Pius XII.

Pope or Pilate?: The dispute over the wartime papacy of Pius XII -- whether he was a saint or Nazi stooge -- is about to heat up (James Murray, February 15, 2003, The Weekend Australian)
THIS weekend the Vatican opens its archives on its relations with Germany from 1922 to 1939, which will perhaps help to explain the enigma of Pope Pius XII, hailed a saint by some and condemned as "Hitler's pope" by others.

Pius XII was the Catholic Church's representative in Bavaria from 1917 to 1929. He then became Vatican secretary of state until his election as pope in March 1939, six months before the outbreak of World War II.

Hero to his supporters, silent compromiser to his detractors, it's estimated he helped 860,000 Jews escape Nazi liquidation. The chief rabbi of Rome became a Catholic at the end of the war as a tribute to the Pope's interventions and Israel awarded him its highest honours. But after the 1963 staging of a controversial play, Rolf Hochuth's The Representative, Pius XII's failure to protest publicly against Nazi persecution of Jews became a recurring criticism, particularly among Jewish and anti-Catholic apparatchiks. [...]

Jewish historian Jeno Levai records that the future Pius XII, while still Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, sent 60 notes to Hitler, up to the outbreak of war, to protest against the persecution of the Jews.

Speaking to 250,000 pilgrims at Loreto, Italy, in 1935, he said: "The Nazis are really only miserable plagiarists who dress up old errors in new tinsel. It does not make any difference if they flock to the banners of the social revolution, whether they are guided by a false conception of the world and of life, or
whether they are possessed by the superstition of a race and blood cult."

The Nazis had no illusions about the pope's attitudes. Reinhard Heydrich, Himmler's deputy, said of Pius in 1943: "We should not forget that in the long run the pope in Rome is a greater enemy of national socialism than Churchill or Roosevelt."

What is at stake, however, is not the question of the pope's attitude but whether his fairly consistent silence was tolerable from a leader of a worldwide institution with adherents in countries of varying political ideology.

Was his silence a result of cowardice or wisdom? Was it simply a desire to keep the church inviolate from attack, or an opportunistic delay to see which of the belligerents won in the end?

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 14, 2005 12:00 AM

Statements are statements. The reality is that he failed to police his own flock, his own hierarchy. By leaving Stepinac as a cardinal and Tiso as a monsignor, rather than excommunicating both, he made it very clear to the millions and millions of ordinary Catholics who collaborated with Hitler that participation in the Holocaust was no big deal.

You want to make him a saint, fine. Just don't expect me or any other Jew to have any respect for that decision.

Posted by: bart at May 14, 2005 7:18 PM