Thursday, 24 December 2009

Pius XII and the Nazis

I distrust and despise the zestful trendies, articulate and polemical who make a name for themselves and lots of money by writing faction – calumnies on historical figures such as Pius XII who are safely dead. Such is the nature of our society that there are plenty of people who will eagerly lap up such rubbish. They would rather believe a lie because it fits with their outlook and makes them feel smug than the boring truth. 

People say that Pope Pius XII did not speak out enough against the Nazi persecution of the Jews. This criticism sits well with today’s exhibitionist-moralists, whose idea of protest is to wear a band on their wrists to protest against slavery to show how nice they are, or to march in democratic countries dressed up as a polar bears.  Their other comfort gesture  is to apologise for something for which they had no responsibility and which happened a long time ago. They are stuffed with cant and hypocrisy. 

So what did they expect would have happened if the Pope spoke out against Nazi atrocities? An appearance on a Berlin  chat show to be interviewed by a Nazi equivalent of Jeremy Paxman? 

The Pope had to be very careful about when to speak out. He saw that every time there was a protest, the Nazis adopted even harsher measures. So what would protest achieve? Far better to work below the radar and provide practical help. 

On occasion, he did speak out. In response to the Pope’s Christmas message of December 1942, the Reich Security Main Office sent a telegram to all representatives in countries where there were Catholic populations. 

‘In a manner never known before, the Pope has repudiated the National Socialist New European Order. Here in this declaration he has virtually accused the German People of injustice to the Jews and has made himself a mouthpiece for Jewish War Criminals. 

When Pius died in 1958, many world famous Jews made their tributes: 

Golda Meir, later to become Prime Minister of Israel: “We share the grief of the world on the death of His Holiness Pope Pius XII. During the 10 years of Nazi terror, when our people passed through the horrors of martyrdom, the Pope raised his voice to condemn the persecutors and to commiserate with their victims”. 

Naham Goldman, President of World Jewish congress ‘with special gratitude we remember all he has done for the persecuted Jews during the darkest period of their history’. 

Chief Rabbi of Rome:  ‘More than anyone else, we have had the opportunity to appreciate the great kindness filled with compassion and magnanimity that the Pope displayed during those terrible years of persecution and terror. 

Earlier Albert Einstein (died 1953) had said that ‘only the Catholic Church protested against the Hitlerian onslaught on liberty. Up until then I had not been interested in the Church, but today I feel a great admiration for the Church, which alone has had the courage to struggle for spiritual truth and moral truth. I am forced thus to confess that what I once despised, I now praise unreservedly’ 

Proper historians like Sir Martin Gilbert, who himself is Jewish and has has praised Pius XII’s efforts to save Jews and says that Pius personally saved more Jews in Rome (percentagewise) than was saved in any other capital city under the Nazis, except Budapest, which was also a Papal initiative. 

For example, when the Germans had occupied Rome except the Vatican, Pius was informed in the early hours of one morning that 8000 Roman Jews would be rounded up the next day and deported. He immediately arranged as many as possible to be spirited away and hidden in convents and monasteries and in the Vatican itself. Just 1000 Jews were eventually deported to the death camps. 1000 too many, but 7000 were saved. 

The Pope’s summer residence at Castel Gandolfo was turned into a sanctuary for refugees during the war, including scores of Jews. Pius’ own bedroom was converted into a makeshift nursery, and some 40 babies were born there. A June 1944 article in the Palestine Post records a group of Jews who had taken shelter in Castel Gandolfo passing on their thanks to the Pope. 

The Pope had placed his housekeeper, Sr. Pasqualina Lehnert, in charge of the Vatican storerooms during the war, and personally directed her to drive trucks with food and other supplies out to religious houses around Rome where Jews were being sheltered. 

Sir Martin Gilbert says that Nations continually rewrite history to fit in with their current fears and perspectives, but there is such a thing as true history. The interview with Sir Martin Gilbert can be accessed here. It's a long interview but worth listening to carefully. It is very rewarding to hear the measured tones of an expert in his field, without polemic. 

He also mentions the role of the Polish nation and the number of Catholics who were executed by the Nazis for trying to help their Jewish compatriots. 

New York Jewish businessman and philanthropist Gary Krupp, who says he grew up “hating” Pius XII, has emerged as a passionate defender of the pontiff once famously excoriated as “Hitler’s Pope.” 

“It’s our obligation to recognize somebody who saved more Jews than all the other world leaders and religious leaders combined,” Krupp said in an interview with NCR. “This man should be raised up as righteous among the nations, not demonized." 

American Rabbi David Dalin has proposed that Yad Vashem recognize Pius as “righteous among the nations. 

People say that the Holy Father should have waited until the archives had been opened to satisfy the critics. Would they have ever been satisfied? Probably not. Once a head of steam has been generated in a protest, it’s almost impossible to relieve the pressure.  There is too much amour propre invested in it for the supporters ever to admit they were wrong.