More Attacks on Pope Pius XII

Leaps of Illogic

Goldhagen has made a career out of erasing distinctions. Two years ago, he called down upon the entire Serbian people the guilt for the supposed mass murders that Milosevic seemed to have been responsible. In his famous book, he declared that the entire German population was essentially as guilty as Hitler.

Now he's made some other discoveries.

He's discovered that Christianity was anti-Jewish for its entire 2,000-year history.

He's discovered that the Catholic Church is — like the Protestant Churches and Islam — inherently committed to the belief that in religious terms, the Jews are in error. And — horrors — that the Catholic Church is not.

He's discovered that the Nazis hated Jews too — enough to try to kill them all.

So — hey presto — the Catholic Church must be considered culpable “for the Holocaust itself.”

Because — if it weren't for the Church — how would those dim Nazis ever 'invented exactly their murderous brand of anti-Semitism out of thin air?”

It's bloody suspicious, now you come to think of it.

Unfortunately, he's also discovered the long, tendentious, polemical books written by bitter ex-Roman Catholics like Garry Wills and James Carroll. In 24 interminable pages of The New Republic, he repeats at great length the arguments of these anti-Catholic polemicists, he suppresses any mention of the facts which complicate their arguments, he makes leaps of illogic that most undergraduates would never have dare to make — and in general makes a muddle of any attempt to sort out blame, judgment and understanding.

Let's be fair to Mr. Goldhagen. In his defense, he doesn't seem to have done a speck of original research. In fact, Goldhagen has made another discovery: He's discovered that if you ignore actually doing history, and merely compile summarize the polemics of others, no one will stop calling you an historian.

A Genuine Dimwittedness

For those who think this way about Christianity, implicating the Catholic Church in particular is crucial. It's not that Catholicism is all that powerful — but it is the only supranational Christian institution. If it can be successfully be associated with Nazism, then Christianity itself is irreparably tainted. That's why the German Protestants, who were certainly more Nazified than German Catholics, and by far more influential in the Third Reich, get their mysterious free pass.

For an uncomprehending and unsympathetic non-Christian like Goldhagen to lend himself to this effort is simply idiotic. To manufacture a seamless identity between anti-Jewish gentiles (and renegade Jews) and Christianity — well, it's precisely the same argument made against the Jews for their “responsibility” for Communism, and the mass murders — equally horrific — that attend upon it.

Goldhagen — who has made a career out of erasing the distinctions between moral monsters and ordinary people caught up in the grip of history — does us Jews no favor by it. It's one thing for Carroll to condemn, from what I can see, virtually everything about his religion — including the passion of the Christian Messiah and the symbol of the Cross itself. But Carroll — whom Goldhagen ludicrously calls “a devout Catholic” — is at least talking about his own church. He's somebody else's problem. Goldhagen, who is intellectually and imaginatively unable to comprehend the religion Carroll caricatures, is not a Christian, and would be well-advised to let poor Carroll sort it out with his own fellow-non-believers. Otherwise, he begins to throw charges about which are uncomfortably close to those which the Jewish people have suffered for centuries — not out of maliciousness, but from genuine dimwittedness which shines through every awkward, goofy sentence he writes.

For Goldhagen, there is only a dead end. In his blinkered view, one cannot be Christian without being anti-Jewish, and anything which white people who are anti-Jewish do is essentially informed by Christianity. That is all he feels one has to know, and all one can know. Poor Goldhagen lives in a closed world, at odds with reality, deeply incurious about Nazism, Christianity, human nature, history, and the history of the Jews. Goldhagen is the last person to undertake the task of telling Christians “what would Jesus have done” — because, poor fellow, he can't possibly have a clue.

This article reprinted with permission from Jewish World Review.

The Boss of All the Christians

Goldhagen lays out his argument like a prosecuting attorney (writing like a badly educated prosecuting attorney), not an historian who must account for all the evidence.

So here's just a few bits of evidence you won't find addressed in Goldhagen's article.

• Any consideration of why Catholics and the Catholic Church only — and not also Protestant Churches — should be held responsible for the holocaust.

• Any reminder that the Protestant Churches of Germany were equally — and in the view of most contemporary observers — much more supportive of the Nazis, and that the German state was traditionally Protestant rather than Catholic.

• Any account of how Vatican radio, under the direct supervision of Pius XII before he was Pope, gave sympathetic coverage to the plight of German Jews before the war, asking Catholics to pray for their welfare after the Nuremberg Laws, for example, and reporting the horrors of Kristallnacht.

• Any account of Pius XII's 1935 open letter to the bishop of Cologne, Germany, in which he declared that Nazis were “false prophets with the pride of Lucifer.” As David G. Dalin wrote in the Weekly Standard, 'That same year, he assailed ideologies “possessed by the superstition of race and blood” to an enormous crowd of pilgrims at Lourdes. At Notre Dame in Paris two years later, he named Germany “that noble and powerful nation whom bad shepherds would lead astray into an ideology of race.”

• Any account of how Pius XII — a not unprejudiced man — was nonetheless “widely lampooned in the Nazi press as Pius XI's “Jew-loving” cardinal, because of the more than fifty-five protests he sent the Germans as the Vatican secretary of state (Dalin).”

• Any awareness that not only Catholic Christians but also Protestant Christians, Orthodox Christians, and atheists tended unfairly to blame the Jews for Bolshevism, because so many Jews were prominent in the Russian Revolution and in the government which followed.

• Any suggestion that when the Pope condemned the Nazi sway of terror over the occupied Poland — calling them to account for their barbaric treatment of civilians — that he might have meant Polish Jews as well as Polish Christians.

Goldhagen says that Pius XII's 1939 encyclical against the Nazis “was not a general condemnation of Nazism” and its condemnation of racism did not help the Jews. But he doesn't mention that it seemed anti-Nazi enough for the Allies to risk the lives of airmen to drop printed copies over Nazi Germany as propaganda, and for the New York Times to hail it. Sorry, your holiness. By Goldhagen it wasn't good enough.

Goldhagen says that Pius XII intervened only to save Christians, not Jews. But as Dalin tells it, “when French bishops issued pastoral letters in 1942 attacking deportations, Pius sent his nuncio to protest to the Vichy government against 'the inhuman arrests and deportations of Jews from the French-occupied zone to Silesia and parts of Russia.' Vatican Radio commented on the bishops' letters six days in a row-at a time when listening to Vatican Radio was a crime in Germany and Poland for which some were put to death. (“Pope Is Said to Plead for Jews Listed for Removal from France,” the New York Times headline read on August 6, 1942, and editorialized “the pope put himself squarely against Hitlerism.” “Vichy Seizes Jews; Pope Pius Ignored,” the Times reported three weeks later.) In retaliation, in the fall of 1942, Goebbels's office distributed ten million copies of a pamphlet naming Pius XII as the “pro-Jewish pope” and explicitly citing his interventions in France.”

In spite of all this, Goldhagen says — again and again and again — that “Pius XII never privately instructed [the catholic clergy] to do whatever they could to save Jews. He did not protest or instruct others to do whatever they could to hide Jews [from German deportation] including from his own city, [anybody? anybody? anybody?] Rome.” But beginning in October 1943, Pius did just that. In Rome — that's where the Pope lives — 155 convents and monasteries sheltered 5,000 Jews. Pius XII's own summer residence sheltered 3,000. As Dalin puts it, “Sixty Jews lived for nine months at the Gregorian University, and many were sheltered in the cellar of the pontifical biblical institute. Hundreds found sanctuary within the Vatican itself. Following Pius's instructions, individual Italian priests, monks, nuns, cardinals, and bishops were instrumental in preserving thousands of Jewish lives. Cardinal Boetto of Genoa saved at least eight hundred. The bishop of Assisi hid three hundred Jews for over two years. The bishop of Campagna and two of his relatives saved 961 more in Fiume. Cardinal Pietro Palazzini, then assistant vice rector of the Seminario Romano, hid Michael Tagliacozzo and other Italian Jews at the seminary (which was Vatican property) for several months in 1943 and 1944.”

It's not simply facts that are ignored. Goldhagen is incapable of accounting for the complexity of world politics and the nature of religion itself. He declares, for example, that a non-anti-Semitic Catholic Pope would have ordered his priests not to confess a single member of the German army and civil population. He suggests that, barring this order, the priests became “partners in this mass murdering onslaught.

That those who actually conducted the mass killing of Jews could have made an honest confession — could be regarded as practicing Catholics at all — is, of course, impossible.

There are real questions here, of course. If Pius had acted differently, could more Jews have been saved? Could Pius have acted differently? Was he as good as he should have been? Was he as wise or courageous as he should have been? These are all perfectly arguable questions — and not one of them can be answered using Goldhagen's bulldozing approach. And the same questions could be asked of FDR, Churchill, and Rabbi Stephen J. Wise. That these questions can be asked does not suggest that these gentlemen were complicitous or sympathetic with the Nazi war against the Jews. But Pius XII — who was surrounded by German power — is held to a higher standard.

Still, do Goldhagen's lack of learning and his inability to think or sort out evidence have any more than academic consequences? I think so.

Here's the danger. Goldhagen is, as usual, quoting the egregious James Carroll here, but he endorses this ridiculous and badly-expressed sentiment: “The German people [during the Holocaust] maintained their ostensible Christian identity — which is why the question about … acquiescence in genocidal crimes is a question about the content of that identity.”

In other words, Christianity leads inexorably to the Holocaust — it caused it.

Never mind that Hitler and his minions despised Christianity and plotted against it, never mind that there was a deeply anti-Christian impulse in central German government since the founding of the German state, never mind that Pius XII told his people that Hitler was the Antichrist. In the view of Goldhagen and the wacky Catholic Carroll, there's something inherently Christian in being a Nazi. As Garry Wills likes to say in his risible book Papal Sin, the Nazis who conducted the holocaust were “persecuting Christians.”

Why is Nazism Christian? Um, well, because Nazism occurred in Germany, which was a mainly Christian country. And look — the only people through history to oppose the Jews were — people who weren't Jewish! And the Pope — he's the boss of all the Christians, isn't he? And Pius XII was Pope when the Holocaust took place.

It looks ridiculous put this way — but that, in essence, is Goldhagen's argument.

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