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Theological Notebook: More Documents on Pius XII as an enemy of the Nazis

I once attended a one-day symposium of historians (not theological historians, but rather more specialists in European history, if memory serves) who were uniformly outraged at the books of pop history that were being published that were accusing the Pope during World War II – Pius XII – of being complicit in the Holocaust. The trend had actually started in the 1970s, if I recall the date correctly, with the accusation being made in a play, rather than by anyone claiming to be an historian as such, but it became a bit of an industry in the late 1990s. The gathering of historians with university positions who engaged in peer-reviewed research, on the other hand, were appalled at what they seemed to ably demonstrate to me was nothing more than a hatchet job against Pius, who had himself been honoured by the Israeli government for his work in saving Jews from the Nazi program. Writers like Cromwell, who argued that Hitler would have entirely cancelled his war and genocidal policies if only Pius had told him he was being naughty and that he ought to cut it out, seemed less than persuasive when their arguments and data were laid out. Dan Lloyd spotted this article as one more bit of public recognition that real history cannot accuse Pius in this way, and he suggested I post this in my journal. (This is, of course, not to say that many Christians didn't have an historical role in allowing an anti-Judaism in Europe to fester into the 20th century's anti-Semitism, but that's a different issue.)

'Nazi' Pope helped Jews flee Holocaust
By Malcolm Moore in Rome
Last Updated: 1:51am BST 31/03/2007
The Telegraph

Pius XII, the wartime pontiff often condemned as "Hitler's Pope", was actually considered an enemy by the Third Reich, according to newly discovered documents.

Several letters and memos unearthed at a depot used by the Stasi, the East-German secret police, show that Nazi spies within the Vatican were concerned at Pius's efforts to help displaced Poles and Jews.

In one, the head of Berlin's police force tells Joachim von Ribbentropp, the Third Reich's foreign minister, that the Catholic Church was providing assistance to Jews "both in terms of people and financially".

A report from a spy at work in the Vatican states: "Our source was told to his face by Father Robert Leibner [one of Pius's secretaries] that the greatest hope of the Church is that the Nazi system would be obliterated by the war."

La Repubblica, the newspaper that discovered the papers, said they were sent to the heads of the Stasi, after the Second World War.

The revelations they contain will help to clear the name of Pius XII, Eugenio Pacelli, who has long been criticised for turning a blind eye to the Holocaust. During the war, the British Foreign Office even described him as the "greatest moral coward of our age".

In 1999, John Cornwell's Hitler's Pope suggested that Pius XII, who had been the papal envoy to Germany before the war, was sympathetic to the Nazis.

In addition, an international Catholic-Jewish historical commission, set up by the Vatican, said it was clear that Pius knew of widespread anti-Jewish persecution. However, the commission was forced to disband before it finished its work, and one member said it had run up "against a brick wall" from the Holy See.

In his defence, the Pope always maintained he did not speak out further against the Nazis for fear of putting more people in danger.

Over the years more documents have come to light as the Vatican has opened its secret archives to scholars in an attempt to clear what it sees as a communist-funded smear on Pius's name.

Giovanni Sale, the author of Hitler, The Holy See and the Jews, said Moscow had deliberately funded operations to discredit the Vatican after the war. "I have said for 10 years that the Church fought the Nazis on all fronts," he added.
Tags: books, ethical, europe, historical, papacy, theological notebook

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