June 5, 2009


Pius XII was on the right side (Conrad Black, May 30, 2009, National Post)

When he was the nuncio in Munich, Pius XII, then Msgr. Eugenio Pacelli, witnessed the attempted putsch of Hitler and Field Marshal Erich Ludendorff in 1923, following which Hitler was sent to Landsberg Prison, where he dictated Mein Kampf to his acolyte, Rudolf Hess. Pacelli strongly disapproved of the Nazis and as Pius XI's secretary of state, he was referred to in high Nazi circles as a "Jew-lover." He and the pope ostentatiously left Rome during Hitler's state visit in 1936, and he wrote the encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge ( "With Burning Sorrow", titled in German to aim it directly at the Third Reich), which strenuously criticized German violations of the Concordat with the Holy See that Pacelli had negotiated, and of human and religious rights generally.

His elevation at the conclave of 1939 was widely seen as hostile to Nazi and fascist tendencies in Europe, and to Germany's pretense to being a bulwark against communism (a few months before the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact). Pius XI and Pius XII both publicly condemned Mussolini's imitative antiSemitic laws. Pius XII decried all racial oppressions and super-military barbarities, most famously in his New Year's message at the end of 1942, and strenuously urged the German government not to round up and deport Italian (and other) Jews. When this request was rejected by Wilhelmstrasse, on Oct. 16, 1943, Pius immediately ordered the religious institutions of Rome to take in and shelter all Jews. The entire population of 7,000 Jews was hidden from the Germans until they were driven from Rome.

This conformed with the policy he was already pursuing, in which all fugitives from Nazism were to be assisted. His eventual successor as Pope John XXIII, Msgr. Angelo Roncalli, then pro-nuncio in Istanbul, issued visas to all who asked for them, numbering many thousands.

In 1940, Albert Einstein defended the Roman Catholic Church as the only institution in Nazi Germany that "stood squarely across the path of Hitler's campaign for suppressing truth." Rome's chief rabbi, Israel Zolli, converted to Catholicism at the end of the war. Pius received delegations of death camp survivors who came to thank him for saving lives. The founders of Israel, including Chaim Weizmann, praised him repeatedly, and when he died, Israel's foreign minister, Golda Meir, saluted him for having spoken out when "fearful martyrdom came to our people." Among those who have described Pius XII as a "righteous Christian" is distinguished historian Sir Martin Gilbert, probably the world's greatest authority on the Holocaust and the official biographer of Sir Winston Churchill.

It has recently come to light that Pius thought Hitler might seize the Vatican and imprison him, as Napoleon detained Pius VII. In that event, Pius XII would have resigned and his successor would have been chosen in a conclave of those cardinals able to attend in a non-combatant, largely Catholic country, probably in Iberia or Latin America. It has taken a long time to sort out mistaken conventional wisdoms about the Second World War, such as the consistent canard of the Yalta Myth, that Roosevelt gave Eastern Europe to Stalin at that conference.

Not all the evidence is in on Pius XII. What can be said is that the extreme assailants are mistaken; he detested the Nazis, and called them "Pagans." He did not, however, subscribe to Roosevelt's view, expressed in their published correspondence, that Nazism and Soviet communism were equivalent evils. He thought communism more dangerous because it was more intellectually respectable and more antagonistic to Christianity than Nazism. He preferred Roosevelt and Churchill and de Gaulle, (but not Stalin), to Hitler and Mussolini, and did not share any of the Western leaders' hopefulness that any post-war accommodation with the Kremlin would succeed.

...for the Pope to demand apologies from Jewish leaders for the aspersions cast on Pius and the Church as a condition of meeting with them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 5, 2009 6:11 AM
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