Joseph Susanka of Inside Catholic posted about an account of Pope Benedict’s speech at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. Apparently, some Jews are upset that the Pope did not ‘apologize’ for the Church’s alleged complacency and indifference during the Holocaust. They also wanted the Pope to apologize on behalf of Germany, as a German.
These expectations, demands, and the outrage that follows when they are not met, are preposterous. Most of it revolves around the ‘Pius Wars’, claims that Pope Pius XII was either indifferent to, or worse, complicit in the Nazi genocide of the Jewish people. The historical record reveals the falsehood of this claim. How is it that in 1943 the following statement could appear in TIME magazine?
But no matter what critics might say, it is scarcely deniable that the Church Apostolic, through the encyclicals and other papal pronouncements, has been fighting against totalitarianism more knowingly, devoutly and authoritatively, and for a longer time, than any other organized power.
Pope Pius XII not only resisted Nazism, but also played an instrumental role in saving the lives of thousands of Jews from the Nazis. Because of the efforts of the Vatican, 80% of Italy’s Jews escaped death at the hands of the Nazis. Rabbi David G. Dailn in ‘The Myth of Hitler’s Pope‘ estimates (on the basis of what other Jewish scholars have attested) that Pius may have been responsible for saving the lives of up to 860,000 Jews -more than any other institution on the planet.
As he documents, many of the world’s Jewish political leaders, and indeed most people throughout the world, regarded Pius as a savior of Jews. For instance, in February 1945 Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog of Palestine stated:
“The people of Israel will never forget what His Holiness and his illustrious delegates, inspired by the eternal principles of religion, which form the very foundations of true civilization, are doing for our unfortunate brothers and sisters in the most tragic hour of our history, which is living proof of Divine Providence in this world.” (emphasis added by me)
And they didn’t forget – until a malicious and factually incorrect work of fiction, a play called ‘The Deputy’ by Rolf Hochhuth written in 1963, painted a different picture. Then everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, not only forgot, but remembered differently. For reasons I won’t speculate on here, unsubstantiated claims in a work of fiction were soon presented uncritically (and shamefully) as fact and a good Pope, who did more than most would have done given the circumstances he faced, became an object of shame and scorn. All of the good done by the Vatican, during the war, for Jews, and against the Nazis, was tossed down the Orwellian memory hole.
Pope Benedict’s recent remarks, furthermore, were sensitive and heart-felt enough. He ‘stopped short’ of an apology, as the article says, because he remained faithful to the historical truth. Pope Benedict has already expressed admiration for Pius XII. In a 2008 speech he said of him,
One understands, then, that wherever possible he spared no effort in intervening in their favour either directly or through instructions given to other individuals or to institutions of the Catholic Church. In the proceedings of your convention you have also drawn attention to his many interventions, made secretly and silently, precisely because, given the concrete situation of that difficult historical moment, only in this way was it possible to avoid the worst and save the greatest number of Jews. This courageous and paternal dedication was recognized and appreciated during and after the terrible world conflict by Jewish communities and individuals who showed their gratitude for what the Pope had done for them.
We Catholics can be proud of what the Church accomplished during the war. Getting to the bottom of it does require, thanks to official attempts at obfuscation through ridicule and hysteria, a bit of digging and searching. I truly hope that neither Benedict or his successors ever waver in defending Pius XII.