Pope Pius XII and the Jews

The Catholic League is no longer just defending Pope Pius XII, but is actively promoting his beatification.

I’m revising a lecture on the Holocaust to present to my world religions class tomorrow night, and I came across my notes on one of the most important books on the subject, Saul Friedlander, Pius XII and the Third Reich: A Documentation (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966).

He surveys what was being published in Catholic sources at the time, as well as diplomatic communications.

Here’s a sampling.

The Jesuit periodical La Civilta cattolica gives us decades of documentation of church-approved antisemitism. Catholic World News says that it has “a uniquely authoritative status because– although it is not an official organ of the Vatican– all of the articles published in the magazine are approved in advance by the Vatican Secretariat of State.”

1880: “Oh how wrong and deluded are those who think that Judaism is just a religion, like Catholicism, Paganism, Protestantism, and not in fact a race, a people, a nation!”

1893: “[The Jewish nation] does not work, but traffics in the property and the work of others; it does not produce, but lives and grows fat with the products of the arts and industry of the nations that give it refuge. It is the giant octopus that with its oversized tentacles envelops everything.”

1897: “The Jew remains always in every place immutably a Jew. His nationality is not in the soil where he is born, nor in the language that he speaks, but in his seed.”

In 1922, it blamed “Jewish intruders” for the sickness of the world, especially for Communism.

In 1936 it said the Jews were “uniquely endowed with the qualities of parasites and destroyers,” and were to blame for both capitalism and communism.

In 1938 it wrote of “the Jews’ continual persecution of Christians, particularly the Catholic Church, and their alliance with Freemasons, socialists, and other anti-Christian groups.”

And in 1937 it referred to the “obvious fact that the Jews are a disruptive element because of their dominating spirit and their revolutionary tendency. Judaism is … a foreign body that irritates and provokes the reactions of the organism it has contaminated.” The solutions it recommended for this problem? “Segregation,” “expulsion,” and “destruction.” (79-83)

Similar statements were made in the 1930s and 1940s by Cardinal August Hlond of Poland and Bishop Ivan Saric of Sarajevo. The latter said in a 1941 article in his diocesan newspaper, “The movement of liberation of the world from the Jews is a movement for the renewal of human dignity. Omniscient and omnipotent God stands behind this movement.” (105)

Bishop Gregory Rozman of Slovenia urged his people to support the Germans. In November 1943 he said, “by this courageous fighting and industrious work for God, for the people and Fatherland will we, under the leadership of Germany, assure our existence and better future, in the fight against [the] Jewish conspiracy.” (106)

Cardinal Faulhaber in October 1943 said that “nobody in his heart can possibly wish an unsuccessful outcome of the war. Every reasonable person knows that in such a case the State and the Church, and organized society altogether, would be overturned by the Russian chaos.”

Archbishop Lorenz Jaeger also supported the war effort, saying as late as January 1945 that the alternatives were “liberalism and individualism on one side, collectivism on the other.” (133)

And what of the actions of Catholic officials after the war? One supporter of Nazism, Bishop Alois Hudal, did all he could to protect leading Nazis from prosecution for their crimes. He acknowledged that

after 1945 all my charitable work was primarily devoted to the former members of National Socialism and Fascism, particularly to the so-called “war criminals” … who were being persecuted … [who were, in his opinion] frequently personally completely without guilt. …[B]y means of false personal documents, [he] resuced not a few of them so that they could flee their tormentors to happier lands.”

And the names of some of those that Hudal and his fellow clergy thus protected? Adolf Eichmann, Klaus Barbie, Josef Mengele, and many others. Eichmann said, “I recall with deep gratitude the aid given to me by Catholic priests in my flight from Europe and decided to honor the Catholic faith by becoming an honorary member.” (175-176)

Klerusblatt, journal of the Bavarian priests’ association, said in 1934 that the Church would be happy to supply proof of Aryan ancestry to non-Jews. In 1936, it approved the Nuremberg Laws which were to “preserve and refresh the German blood” and to “eliminate the Jews as bearers of civic and political rights.” (60)

In Slovakia, the President was a Catholic priest, Msgr. Josef Tiso; several parliament members were priests. They gladly cooperated with the German campaign. Said Adolf Eichmann, “Slovakian officials offered their Jews to us like someone throwing away sour beer.”

The Slovak bishops in 1942 issued a pastoral letter defending the deportation of Jews.

“The greatest tragedy of the Jewish nation lies in the fact of not having recognized the Redeemer and of having prepared a terrible and ignominious death for Him on the cross.”

They said,

“The influence of the Jews [has] been pernicious. In a short time they have taken control of almost all the economic and financial life of the country to the detriment of our people. Not only economically, but also in the cultural and moral spheres, they have harmed our people. The Church cannot be opposed, therefore, if the state with legal regulations hinders the dangerous influence of the Jews.” (64-65)

There were some who did speak loudly to defend Jews, notably the Church of Denmark (Lutheran) and the Catholic bishops of France.

There is not a single instance where the intervention of Christian churches led to the deaths of more Jews. And there are many well-known instances where interventions on behalf of Jews saved many lives….

The contemporaneous French bishops’ public protest of the deportation of Jews from France undermines any argument that the Church could have genuinely believed that silence in this context was golden. The French bishops’ protest did not lead to more Jews dying or suffering. This was clear at the time. On the contrary, their protests spurred Catholics, clergy and lay, to save Jews. (50)

In Denmark, the Lutheran bishops protested the planned deportation of the Jews, and had their letter of protest read in every pulpit on October 3, 1943. The result? The Danes worked tirelessly to protect the Jews and get them to Sweden. The Danish Lutherans said,

“Whenever persecutions are undertaken for racial or religious reasons against the Jews, it is the duty of the Christian Church to raise a protest against it….”

The Nazis did nothing to them. (50-51) 7,000 Jews were rescued — all survived the war. The Danes kept an eye even on those who were deported, and 90% of these survived the war, too.

The Orthodox bishops of Bulgaria denounced the German treatment of the Jews, too.

There is every reason to believe that these ecclesiastical protests helped to save Jews’ lives, and no reason to believe that they caused more Jews’ deaths. All the Jews living within the borders of prewar Bulgaria, for example, numbering fifty thousand, survived the war. These protests all occurred before the Germans began the deportation of Italy’s Jews. (52)

The Norwegian Lutheran bishops spoke out in 1942, and had their letter read from all pulpits, and had prayers said for the Jews in all churches; it was broadcast on radio throughout Norway and Sweden. They said, “To remain silent about this legalized injustice against the Jews would render ourselves co-guilty in this injustice.” The Catholic Church of Norway said nothing, and was concerned only about Jews who had converted to Christianity. Again, the Germans took no action against the protesting bishops. (53)

The Catholic Bishop of Trieste, Antonio Santin, denounced the Germans and urged that all Catholics help the Jews. The Germans did not punish him. He wrote to the pope, urging him to raise his voice in protest, too. He went to the Vatican to make the same plea. The pope said nothing. (53)

Cardinal Faulhaber protested the German euthanasia program in 1940:

“I have deemed it my duity of conscience to speak out in this ethico-legal, nonpolitical question, for as a Catholic bishop I may not remain silent when the preservation of the moral foundations of all public order is at stake.”

He branded the Nazis “murderers” for this action. Catholics protested Nazi support of dueling and of cremation (of the ordinary dead); they protested German attempts to remove crucifixes from schools in Bavaria. Did the Nazis retaliate against any of these? No. Did these Catholic leaders raise their voice in a similar manner for the Jews? No. (61)

Contrary to the myth that people didn’t realize what was going on, it is clear that the world knew what the Nazis were doing. The US Catholic bishops said on November 14, 1942, “We feel a deep sense of revulsion against the cruel indignities heaped upon the Jews in conquered countries, and upon defenseless peoples not of our faith.” Cardinal Hinsley in Britain said on July 8 on the BBC, “700,000 Jews have been killed since the beginning of the war. Of this we have clear and repeated evidence. Their innocent blood cries out to Heaven for vengeance.”

There is documentation of contemporaneous criticism of the silence of Pius XII, and of international attempts to persuade him to speak.

Harold H. Tittmann, US representative at the Vatican, to the State Department, August 3, 1942:

In recent reports to the Department, I have called attention to the opinion that the failure of the Holy See to protest publicly against Nazi atrocities is endangering its moral prestige and is undermining faith both in the Church and in the Holy Father himself. I have on a number of occasions informally reminded the Vatican of this danger and so have certain of my colleagues but without result. The answer is invariably that the Pope in his speeches has already condemned offenses against morality in wartime and that to be specific now would only make matters worse.

Yesterday the Brazilian Ambassador to the Holy See called on me to inquire whether I would be prepared to join in a concerted (not collective but rather simultaneous) démarche to persuade the Pope to condemn publicly and in specific terms the Nazi atrocities in German-occupied areas. Monsieur Accioly said that he had already received the necessary instructions from his Government for him to take part in such a démarche and was endeavoring to enlist the co-operation of the representatives of Great Britain, Poland, Belgium, Yugoslavia and as many Latin American countries as possible. The Belgian Ambassador has already agreed and the British Minister and Polish Ambassador are telegraphing for instructions. … (118)

Secretary of State Cordell Hull replied on August 4:

In the event the Brazilian Ambassador endeavors to have the Pope publicly condemn the Nazi atrocities in German-occupied areas, and you are informed of such action, you are authorized to make an independent but simultaneous approach to the Vatican Foreign Office and to point out the universal condemnation of these cruel and inhuman actions by the Hitler forces and the universal condemnation which has been reflected in the expressions of all free peoples at these incredible horrors. You may also point out the helpful effect of a similar condemnation on the part of the Pope in bringing about some check on the unbridled and uncalled for actions of the Nazi forces. (119)

August 18, Sumner Welles, Undersecretary of State reported a conversation with the British Minister:

The Minister stated that the British Minister at the Vatican had been authorized to make simultaneous approaches to the Cardinal Secretary of State with other representatives of the United Nations, upon the initiative of the Brazilian Ambassador, to urge that the Vatican do what might be possible publicly to condemn the assassination and abuse by Germany of innocent persons in occupied territories. I told the Minister that the American representative, Mr. Tittmann, had already been authorized to the same effect. (119-120)

September 14, Titmann to Cardinal Maglione:

In accordance with instructions received from his Government, the Chargé d’Affaires of the United States to the Holy See has the honor to call the attention of His Eminence the Cardinal Secretary of State to the cruel and inhuman treatment by the Hitler forces of the civil populations in areas occupied by the Germans. He desires to point out that these incredible horrors have been universally condemned and that this universal condemnation has been reflected in the expressions of all free peoples.

The Chargé d’Affaires has also been authorized by his Government to point out the helpful effect that a similar condemnation of these atrocities by the Holy Father would have in bringing about some check on the unbridled and uncalled-for actions of the forces of the Nazi regime. (120)

September 26, Myron C. Taylor to Cardinal Maglione:

“1) Liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto is taking place. Without any distinction all Jews, irrespective of age or sex, are being removed from the Ghetto in groups and shot. Their corpses are utilized for making fats and their bones for the manufacture of fertilizer. Corpses are even being exhumed for these purposes.

“2) These mass executions take place, not in Warsaw, but in especially prepared camps for the purpose, one of which is stated to be in Belzek. About 50,000 Jews have been executed in Lemberg itself on the spot during the past month. According to another report, 100,000 have been massacred in Warsaw. There is not one Jew left in the entire district east of Poland, including occupied Russia. It is also reported, in this connection, that the entire non-Jewish population of Sebastopol was murdered. So as not to attract the attention of foreign countries, the butchering of the Jewish population in Poland was not done at one single time.

3) Jews deported from Germany, Belgium, Holland, France, and Slovakia are sent to be butchered, while Aryans deported to the East from Holland and France are genuinely used for work. …

More follows, including information about the transportation of Jews in cattle cars. He asks if the Vatican has received other information, and says,

“I should like to know whether the Holy Father has any suggestions as to any practical manner in which the forces of civilized public opinion could be utilized in order to prevent a continuation of these barbarities. (121-122)

October 6. Tittmann tells the State Department that “The Holy See is still apparently convinced that a forthright denunciation by the Pope of Nazi atrocities … would only result in the violent deaths of many more people.” He suggests that he thinks “the controlling” motive “is his fear that … the German people, in the bitterness of their defeat, will reproach him later on for having contributed, if only indirectly, to this defeat.” (123)

On December 17 the Allies declared:

The above-mentioned governments and the French National Committee condemn in the strongest possible terms this bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination. They declare that such events can only strengthen the resolve of all freedom-loving peoples to overthrow the barbarous Hitlerite tyranny. They reaffirm their solemn resolution to insure that those responsible for these crimes shall not escape retribution and to press on with the necessary practical measures to this end. (124)

December 24, 1942, Tittmann to Hull:

In a recent conversation with the Cardinal Secretary of State I referred to the Joint Declaration of the United Nations on the mass extermination of the Jews in German occupied countries and asked him whether there was not something Holy See could do along similar lines. He replied as before to the effect that Holy See was unable to denounce publicly particular atrocities but that it had frequently condemned atrocities in general. He added that everything possible was being done privately to relieve the distress of the Jews. Although deploring cruelties that have come to his attention he said that Holy See was unable to verify Allied reports as to the number of Jews exterminated et cetera.

There are rumors to the effect that the Pope in his Christmas message will take a strong stand on this subject but I am afraid that any deviation from the generalities of his previous messages is unlikely. (125)

The Pope on Christmas issued a statement which contained a general reference to “hundreds of thousands of people who, through no fault of their own and solely because of their nation or their race, have been condemned to death or progressive extinction.” (131)

Ten days later, Wladislaw Raczkiewicz, President of the Polish Government in exile, wrote to the Pope that the Polish people “implore that a voice be raised to show clearly and plainly where the evil lies and to condemn those in the service of evil.” (132)

Tittman wrote to Hull on January 5, 1943, about a meeting he had with the Pope. The Pope felt

…he had spoken therein clearly enough to satisfy all those who had been insisting in the past that he utter some word of condemnation of the Nazi atrocities, and he seemed surprised when I told him that I thought there were some who did not share his belief. …

He explained that when talking of atrocities he could not name the Nazis without at the same time mentioning the Bolsheviks and this he thought might not be wholly pleasing to the Allies. He stated that he “feared” that there was foundation for the atrocity reports of the Allies but led me to believe that he felt that there had been some exaggeration for purposes of propaganda. (134)

9 thoughts on “Pope Pius XII and the Jews

  1. The “proof” offered by the Catholic League against this type of alleged “smear campaign” is weak at best.

    Think of what might have been if Pius XII had the courage of conviction that JPII had regarding communism!! I don’t think that Pius XII should be canonized and sincerely hope that Benedict XVI feels that way too.

  2. Hey Jake; I looked at Dalin’s book. He’s only really got one chapter on the issues, and he doesn’t deal with any of the documentary evidence (in particular, the diplomatic exchanges); nor does he deal with the fact that when church leaders spoke out, in the vast majority of cases the Nazis were foiled.

  3. yet there are 2 sides to every story, for example yes it is true that clergy aided the Nazi ‘Rat Line’ yet many clergy and religous aided Jewish refugees, there were many who did not fall for the anti-Semitism you mention. Most of the Anti-Semitic quotes were from central and eastern European bishops, cultural circumstances could account for that. I mean account for that by the way, NOT excuse that. Perhapse it is not the time to beatify Pius, but why rule it out? The path to sainthood is not an easy one, it does not mean that someone is pure and sinless (only Our Lord!) it means very often that they struggle, Pius obviously strugled.

  4. “Account for that”? Not quite. Klerusblatt is Bavaria. La Civilta Cattolica is in the Vatican. There are other Germans. In fact, the common thread is that they are all in Nazi occupied territory. Why didn’t Pius reprimand them? Why did they keep publishing? Why did Vatican offices become a pipeline of safe conduct for Nazis to the west. These are all aspects of the Pius problem.

  5. Pope Pius could no more speak out against the Nazis than Pope John Paul II could speak out against communism, and for much the same reasons.

    There would have been reprisals.

  6. You’re not paying attention. This post gives plenty of examples where lots of church leaders spoke out against the Nazis without reprisals.

    And John Paul II did indeed speak out against communism. He did it as a bishop and as pope. That’s one of the hallmarks of his papacy. And he, too, did it without reprisals.

  7. What could Pope Pius have done?

    As Stalin said ‘How many divisions does the Pope have?’

    What would have been the result of Pius speaking out?

    Rudolf Hoess , the Catholic commandant of Auschwitz, would have switched off the gas chambers.

    The very next day, he would have been rounded up by the Gestapo and the Nazis would have appointed a non-Catholic to run Auschwitz.

    How would that have helped the Jews?

  8. You obviously haven’t read what I wrote. He could have done as the Catholic bishops did when the Germans began a euthanasia program. They protested, the Nazis backed down.

    He could have done as the Danish Lutheran bishops. They called on Lutherans to rescue Jews, and they did, and all Jews were removed from Denmark and there were no repercussions.

    You are in the world of hypotheticals when there are plenty of real life examples of what happened when brave people stood up to evil.

    Problem is, Pius just never got angry about what the Nazis were doing to the Jews–just as John Paul II never got angry about what priests were doing to little boys.

    So they both stayed silent.

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