Recently I received a letter from a convert to Catholicism. She went on a field trip with her daughter's 8th grade class from a Catholic school to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, California. She wrote:
"I was shocked and offended when a film shown to our students said that none of the churches helped the Jews and even the Pope and the Vatican did nothing!
"I wrote the museum with documentation stating that this information was not true and would they please change the film. I also asked the teacher if I could speak to the class and correct this information. She said I could submit the info and she would make sure it was okay.
"So, I gave her a lot of information. I told her I just needed 10-15 minutes to explain why the Pope had to do what he did secretly; that the Chief Rabbi of Rome converted after the war and took the Pope's baptismal name as his own at baptism. And I wanted to tell the kids a couple of the stories about how Catholics rescued Jews so they would not feel ashamed of their Church and their Faith. The teacher called me stating that the principal of our Catholic school and our priest said I could not present this information because the Church says Pope Pius the XII and the Catholic Church were just bystanders!
"It took my breath away. Catholics who would rather believe lies about our Church and the Vicar of Christ!"
In an effort to counteract the inaccuracies of some historians, I have gathered documentation that proves how outrageously incorrect are the misrepresentations about Pope Pius XII's so-called "silence" and "anti-Semitism." In my book, Did Pope Pius XII Help the Jews? (Paulist Press, 2007), I proved that Pius XII was neither silent nor anti-Semitic. Just consider the testimonials of Jewish leaders of his day thanking him for his efforts, and the gratitude the 5000 Jews saved during the Nazi occupation of Rome evince for the Pope. They understood that the Pope had to be prudent while moving behind the scenes to protect as many Jews as he possibly could. Had he taken a more public and provocative stand, he would have infuriated Hitler and invited Nazi retaliation against the Vatican; thereby endangering the lives of thousands of Jews who, at his direction, were hidden in 155 convents and monasteries in Rome alone.
In reality, Pius XII was a saintly man, a man of peace and compassion. He strongly condemned strongly the anti-Semitic persecutions, the oppression of invaded lands and the inhuman conduct of the Nazis. He was a champion of peace, freedom, human dignity. He encouraged Catholics to look on Christians and Jews as their brothers and sisters, all children of a common Father. For his part, Pius was totally committed to playing the role of universal pastor, the kind and loving father to all victims, regardless of their religious background.
According to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, "Pope Pius XII avoided dramatic public confrontations in order to spare both Jews and Catholics more dire persecution, and to protect the Church's ability to work behind the scenes." As the Vatican moves toward announcing the beatification of Pope Pius XII, some prominent American-Jewish leaders continue to request that the Church should desist from that long-overdue action, insisting that Pius was guilty of not doing enough to prevent Hitler's genocide of Jews during the Holocaust.
Even putting aside the impertinence of people from outside the Catholic faith like Abraham Foxman, executive vice president of the Anti-Defamation League, or Seymour Reich, past chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, presuming to dictate to the Vatican whom the Church can or cannot beatify, the charges they levy against Pius XII are simply untrue. In reality, the wartime pope did far more to save Jews than did other leaders of the day: including people like Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, who, unlike Pius, had enormous military assets at their command. Yet for some incomprehensible reason, it is Pius, the only world leader who made sustained efforts to save Jews during the Holocaust, who is scapegoated for the world's failure to act forthrightly in the face of evil.
Many people who dedicated themselves to the cause of rescuing Jews during those terrible years paid tribute to the efforts of Pius XII. For example, John W. Phele, executive director of the US War Refugee Board, wrote just after the war ended in 1945; "The Catholic clergy saved and protected many thousands and the Vatican rendered invaluable assistance to the Board and to the persecuted in Nazi hands." As noted, renowned Jewish contemporaries of Pius XII strongly defended him — among them, Israeli Foreign Minister Golda Meir, who wrote after Pius' death in 1958; "When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the Pope was raised for the victims." Nor can Albert Einstein's statement to Time Magazine in 1940 be ignored: "Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler's campaign for suppressing the truth."
Jewish historian Pinchas Lapide tells how Pope Pius XII sent his Papal Nuncio in Berlin to visit Hitler in Berchtesgaden to plead for the Jews. That interview ended when Hitler smashed a glass at the Nuncio's feet. From Hitler's reaction, the Pope was convinced that public pronouncements would have sealed the fate of many more Jews. Indeed, after this incident, Hitler, who often raged against the Pope to his henchmen for protecting Jews, conceived a plot — fortunately never realized — to kidnap Pius XII from the Vatican to Germany.
Frankly, I am at a loss to understand why modern Jewish leaders like Foxman and Reich are so ready to disregard the testimony of great predecessors like Golda Meir and Einstein, who went out of their way to praise Pope Pius XII. Whatever the reason, I implore Jews of good will and open minds to take another hard look at the evidence concerning the wartime Pope. If they do, I am convinced that they will come to the same conclusion that I have; that Pius XII is blameless of the charges against him. Indeed, Pius deserves to be acclaimed as a "Righteous Gentile" for his courageous efforts that saved thousands of Jews from certain death, rather than being scorned as a moral failure unworthy of beatification.