Pope Pius XII — A Righteous Gentile

Pius XII was pope during the Second World War, when Nazi rule was responsible for the Holocaust, the extermination of up to 6,000,000 Jews in concentration camps.

Off and on there have been attempts by a variety of authors to criticize Pius XII for not having done enough to defend the Jews; or to claim he had been Hitler's pope, anti-Jewish himself, who turned a blind eye because he was more frightened of Communism than Nazism.

Last year a Jewish rabbi from the US, David G. Dalin, published a powerful book The Myth of Hitler's Pope showing how Pius was instrumental in saving about 500,000 or more Jews. This number is taken from Martin Gilbert, Churchill's official biographer. Oskar Schindler the German Catholic industrialist hero of the film Schindler's List saved 1,200 Jews.

The book sets the record straight, reveals facts and figures that were missed or ignored, and spells out the ideological motives of some of Pius' critics, who only emerged twenty years after the War. He also identifies a true source of bitter anti-Semitism which has been ignored by Pius' critics.

Earlier in his life when Pius XII had been Vatican representative (nuncio) to Bavaria in Germany. 40 out of his 44 speeches denounced Nazism.

Later as Vatican Secretary of State (prime minister) he made 55 protests to the Nazis.

In 1940 Albert Einstein said that only the Catholic Church, not the newspapers or the universities, stood squarely across Hitler's campaign against truth and freedom.

As pope during the war Pius worked under terrible constraints. When the Dutch bishops in 1942 spoke out against the deportation of Jews there were savage reprisals. Eventually 79% of Dutch Jews were exterminated, the highest percentage of any European country. Jewish leaders themselves did not want Catholic bishops or the pope to be too explicit in their condemnations.

While it is true that Pius never formally excommunicated Hitler everyone knew who were the perpetrators of the human rights violations he condemned. He also provided on different occasions money and passports to help the Jews and supported the hiding of thousands in Catholic houses and convents. Nearly 5,000 Jews were saved in Rome alone with hundreds hidden in the Palazzo San Calisto, where I now stay on my visits. The Vatican saved 25% of the Slovak Jews and prevented the expulsion of 170,000 Hungarian Jews. And still Pius is criticised as anti-Semitic.

However there was one cleric who fits that bill, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who established an alliance between radical Islamic fundamentalism and the Nazis. He went to live in Germany in 1941, met Hitler many times and approved the Final Solution, the extermination of the Jews. He broadcast regularly on German radio and even visited Auschwitz.

Pope Pius XII might or might not be canonised, but he was a righteous gentile. The real enemies of the Jews were elsewhere.

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