Hitler's Pope: Christianity Response on Ask the Rabbi
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Hitler's Pope

I have heard many Jews blame the Holocaust partly on the silence of the Pope (and Catholics in general). Wasn't this silence just an effort to preserve their own lives in the face of the inevitable destruction by Hitler? Remember that Jews were not the only targeted race. I think an apology should come from the Jewish people for starting an offensive attack on other religions who have the right to self-preservation.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

This is obviously a sensitive topic. The book "Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII," by John Cornwell, a Roman Catholic journalist, is highly critical of the pope. Some of Cornwell’s charges have been challenged by critics. But for the most part, the basics are as follows:

Pope Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli) during World War II met with Hitler several times. Pacelli first agreed to help Hitler in 1933, when as a Vatican diplomat he promised Hitler he'd disband a German Catholic political party in a deal that protected the Vatican's rights in Germany. When he did, millions of Catholics joined the Nazi Party. Without Pacelli's contribution, Hitler might never have come to power or been able to press forward with the Holocaust.

When Pius became Pope in 1939, he knew about Hitler's plans for a "Final Solution" and was begged repeatedly by bishops in Germany, even by an emissary from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, to use his authority to condemn Nazi atrocities. But he said nothing, and never acted to stop Catholic clergymen who collaborated in racial certification to identify Jews before they were sent to death camps.

The only denunciation Pope Pius XII made during the war was a bland Christmas Eve radio message in 1942 that did not mention Jews, but merely mourned the plight of "hundreds of thousands who, without any fault of their own, sometimes only by reason of their nationality or race, are marked down for death or gradual extinction."

One papal report about the "Jewish Question," written under Pope Pius XII's authority, says the Jews were responsible for their own fate: "Blinded by their dream of worldy gain and material success," they deserved the "worldly and spiritual ruin" that they brought down upon themselves.

When the Nazis invaded Rome in 1943 and moved to deport 1,000 Jews who lived near the Vatican, the German ambassador in Rome, fearing a backlash from the general Italian population, pleaded with the pope to issue a public protest. He did not. And the Roman Jews were sent by cattle car to Auschwitz.

Pius had a record of anti-Semitic feelings. In a letter he wrote in 1919, he described a group of Jews in Munich as "Jews like all the rest of them... pale, dirty, with vacant eyes, hoarse voice, vulgar, repulsive, with a face that is both intelligent and sly."

Records also show that the Vatican arranged for the safety in Brazil of a few thousand Jews who had converted to Christianity. When they discovered that most of the conversions were fake (in order to escape the European inferno), the visas were repealed.

During the Holocaust, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Yitzchak Halevi Herzog tried twice to meet with the Pope to beg his intercession. Twice he was refused. After the war he was granted an audience. He begged the Pope to return Jewish orphans in monasteries to their people and relatives as their parents surely would have wanted. Pope Pius XII refused.

The author Cornwell was given access to secret church files because he had initially planned to defend the pope against these charges. But after studying Pius XII's own files and depositions taken under oath 30 years ago to support his eventual canonization, Cornwall said he was left in a "state of moral shock." As noted earlier, some of his conclusions have been challenged.

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