Born on March 2nd 1876, of an ancient Roman family that had for generations served the Holy See; in rural Viterbo, a small town north to Rome, Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Eugenio Pacelli, was to become the Pope to lead the Catholic Church through one of its most turbulent periods, World War II. He was trained in Diplomacy and Canon Law, was well read and experienced in global affairs. In 1929, the young Eugenio Pacelli was appointed secretary of state for the papacy and finally in 1939 he became better know to the world as Pope Pius XII.
During WWII Pacelli was seen as a heroic figure who saved countess Jews from certain death, but in recent years, more in-depth studies of the subject have seemed to bring up evidence to disrupt this image. The media in particular has been a major contributor to the accusations made to the Church of either helping the Nazi regime or of being quiet whilst aware of the Holocaust. But most of these accusations can easily be traced back to one original source, ‘the Deputy’1 a play better known to some as ‘the Representative’, which pictured Pope Pius XII as an insignificant and weak willed figure or as Newsweek writer describes him ‘a moral coward’2.
But was this Pope truly ‘a ruthless cynic more interested in the Vatican’s stockholdings than in the fate of the Jews’3? Or should he be seen as a diplomat trying to maintain and uphold peace? Countless books and articles have been written on the subject, but as more accusing evidence rises, more evidence on the counterpart is discovered. But can we ever reach a final verdict?
As times change and the past is seen more objectively, different views events are formed. In recent years, the Media has charged the Catholic Church of countless accusations regarding the Nazi regime and its anti-Semitic practices. The January 26, 1998 issue of the Time magazine claims that the Catholic Church apologized for “collaborating with the Nazis during World War II”4. But the accusations do not end there; even the Holocaust museum of New York condemns the Pope’s silence during World War II.
Award winning journalist John Cornwell, author of A Thief in the Night, Power to Harm and Hitler’s Pope, made countless allegations against Pope Pius XII and the Holy See. In one of his latest books entitled ‘Hitler’s Pope – the secret history of Pope Pius XII’, he accuses the wartime Pope of the following:
* That he was a secret anti Semite
* Made a cynical concordat with Serbia, which in turn triggered World War I
* Overlooking Nazi atrocities for fear of communism.
* Being so keen on signing the Reich Concordat, that he facilitated Hitler’s rise to power in 1933.
* Eliminating the Catholic Centre Party in Germany
* Refusing to support the Allies against Hitler
* Keeping silent in light of the situation
* And finally, allowing roman Jews to be sent to concentration camps
Many of these accusations can be traced back to a controversial, and polemical, play about the papacy of Pius the XII, entitled ‘the deputy’ or better known as ‘the representative’. The play debut took place in Berlin, in 1963, written by a young Protestant, left-wing West German playwright, Rolf Hochhuth, who depicted Pacelli as a collaborator to the Nazi Party and indifferent of the slaughter of the innocent people, taking place before his eyes; he condemned, as many other journalists have done since, his silence over the occurring issue. This play awakened much curiosity among scholars and journalists worldwide, and created a whole new, and negative, image of Pope Pius XII. Although the play, was purely fictional, and provided little or no valid historical evidence for the allegations against him, it sparked many questions and much suspicion.
John Cornwell, writer of the book Hitler’s Pope, The Secret History of Pope Pius XII makes countless accusations of Pope Pius XII’s actions. The writer, stresses the point that the concordat Hitler signed with the Vatican in 1933 bore the signatures of Cardinal Pacelli and Vice chancellor of the Reich Franz Von Papen, who later wrote the following:
“The Third Reich is the first power which not only recognises, but puts into practice, the high principles of the Papacy.”5
The concordat guaranteed Hitler Catholic Political inactivity, as part of Art. 32 of the signed concordat; so, where before there had been active resistance to Nazism on behalf of the Catholic Church, now it had become a passive struggle. Before 1933 Nazi officials were forbidden to take part in Holy Communion and other catholic rituals, as the ideals of Nazism went against those of the Roman Catholic Church, and it is believed by many that this resistance could have, perhaps even stopped the Nazi regime in its rise to power. Cornwell tells a story central to which, is the claim that Eugenio Pacelli, through Papal Nuncio to Berlin, assisted Hitler to power and destroyed a possible Catholic resistance in Germany, thus contributing to the fate of the Jews of occupying Europe.
But Cornwell’s novel is perhaps a bit too synthesised. The author presents a ‘comic book’ approach to the issue, with the ‘good guys’ on one side, looking for restlessly for answers and the truth, and the ‘bad guys on the other’. But in doing so he delivers a closed argument based upon selective evidence. As a matter of fact he only ever quotes the negative documents against Eugenio Pacelli while avoiding mentioning numerous pieces of evidence in his favour, conveying a very bias message.
THE ISSUE OF THE REICH CONCORDAT
We must look back to Wold War I, when Eugenio Pacelli, was working, as a representative, Nuncio6, of the Vatican in Munich, to the German state of Bavaria. Although at the time Germany was a major ‘aggressor’, Pacelli was charged with the duty to present Pope Benedict XV’s peace plan to German leaders. Although this did not lead to peace itself directly, many of the ideas put forward in this plan, were a year on, used by Woodrow Wilson in his 14-points.
The Reich concordat was a legal document signed between the Vatican and the National socialist government of Germany, on July 20th 1933; Eugenio Pacelli, at the time Papal secretary of state, signed the document with the backing of the Pope Pius XI, who at the time was in power, and Franz von Papen. The Vatican, not trusting the German regime, signed this document to secure Catholic rights in Germany. The concordat allowed the Pope to introduce new laws on the German Catholic Church and gained special privileges for catholic schools in Germany, as well as the guarantee of establishing more catholic institutions. Pacelli also hoped that by signing this document, he could protect Catholics from Nazi persecutions. In exchange, the church would encourage Catholics and clergy to withdraw from politics. Meaning also to dissolve the, at the time, powerful catholic centre party. This practically cleared any opposition for the Nazi Party, leaving them free to pursue their policies.
The signing of this concordat it today described by many as controversial and some would say that this gave Hitler international acceptance, seeing as at the time of the signing, Hitler had already been granted dictatorial Powers through the Enabling act of March 23. But in sight of all this, the concordat was signed as both Hitler and the Vatican needed it. Although Hitler was willing to destroy the influence of Christianity in Germany, he kept in mind that the Catholics represented one third of the population, and proceed with caution to ultimately bring down the church under his power.
Through this document, the Reich guaranteed freedom of profession and public practice of Catholicism (Art. 1 of the Reich concordat). Information and instructions could circulate within Germany and be read to Catholics (Art. 4). And Art. 21 states that: catholic religious instructions in elementary, senior, secondary and vocational schools constitutes a regular portion of the curriculum, and is to be taught in accordance with the principles of the Catholic Church. In religious instruction, special care will be taken to inculcate patriotic, civic and social consciousness and sense of duty in the spirit of the Christian Faith and the moral code, precisely as in the case of other subjects.
And finally, Art. 32, stating: In view of the special situation existing in Germany, and in view of the guarantee provided through this Concordat of legislation directed to safeguard the rights and privileges of the Roman Catholic Church in the Reich and its component states, the Holy See will prescribe regulations for the exclusion of clergy and members of religious orders from membership of political parties, and from engaging in work on their behalf. Which meant that Hitler could finally eliminate his last major political opposition, in exchange for protecting Catholic interests under the Reich.
Concordats like these were meant to regularise the relations between the Holy See and the states, as well as protecting Roman catholic interests and providing technical procedures through which formal complaints could be made to the Reich by the Holy See, in fact between 1933 and 1939, Pope Pius XI made three dozen formal complaints, all formulated by none other than Pacelli.
Both Hitler and Pacelli saw the Reich Concordat as a victory on their part, but the signing of the concordat did not mean the supporting or the approval of National Socialism, as Pacelli clearly stated in an article for l’Ossservatore Romano on July 26th and 27th. But on the other hand, the Concordat prohibited the involvement of clerics in any political activity (Art. 32 of the Reich concordat), weakening the church’s power, especially against the rise of Hitler’s regime.
For every witness and piece of evidence Crowell represents in his book, dozens can be found on the other side. In fact Pius XII was neither silent nor inactive during this period of hatred. In fact although many are sceptic of this, Pacelli drafted a book originally written by Pope Pius XI condemning Nazism as un-Christian7. This document, was then secretly taken to Germany, printed in German and read in Roman Catholic ceremonies. The Nazis responded by confiscating all copies and condemning many Catholics.
“The voice of Pius XII is a lonely voice in the silence and darkness enveloping Europe this Christmas… he is about the only ruler left on the Continent of Europe who dares to raise his voice at all… the Pope put himself squarely against Hitlerism… he left no doubt that the Nazi aims are also irreconcilable with his own conception of a Christian peace. (…) This Christmas more than ever he is a lonely voice crying out of the silence of a continent… Pope Pius expresses as passionately as any leader on our side the war aims of the struggle for freedom when he says that those who aim at building a new world must fight for free choice of government and religious order. They must refuse that the state should make of individuals a herd of whom the state disposes as if they were lifeless things.”8
It was through his 1942 Christmas message, that he became “the first figure of international stature to condemn what was turning into the Holocaust (…) he denounced the persecution “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 progressive extinction.”9 Both the above contemporary sources portray Pope Pius XII as a hero, for speaking out when the world remained quiet.
We must remember that the holocaust was not only anti-Semitic, but also anti Christian, after Hitler revealed his true intentions and the Church opposed his doings. According to the December 23, 1940 issue of Time magazine, the famous Albert Einstein said:
“Being a lover of freedom, when the revolution came in Germany, I looked to the universities to defend it, knowing that they had always boasted of their devotion to the cause of truth; but, no, the universities immediately were silenced. Then I looked to the great editors of the newspapers whose flaming editorials in days gone by had proclaimed their love of freedom; but they, like the universities, were silenced in a few short weeks (…) Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing truth. I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom. I am forced thus to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly.”
It is ridiculous to believe that one man alone could have prevented the Holocaust; that one mans decisions or path of action could possibly have changed the course of events in this case; “the Holocaust is a story with many victims and not too many heroes. I think we are naive if we think one more hero could have stopped It.”10.
But to what extent exactly did Pius XII remain silent in view of these atrocities being carried out? In 1940, he condemned the Nazi exportation of Jews from German-occupied France, also imploring his Papal nuncio in Paris, to protest against “the inhuman arrests and deportations of Jews from the French occupied zone to Silesia and parts of Russia.”11
What most scholars argue is that if Pius XII had spoken out more publicly or, had he taken more drastic measures or a stronger stand against Hitler and his Regime, the atrocity that was the Holocaust could have been minimized or altogether prevented, and many Jewish lives spared. What they fail to recognize is that by taking a stronger stand against the issue, involved facing the harsh consequences, which could have taken place following any condemning action, protest on behalf of the Vatican.
SAVING THE INNOCENT (DEFENCE)
“The Holocaust was an obscene period in our nation’s history. I mean in this century’s history. But we all lived in this century. I didn’t live in this century.”12
The holocaust, or Sho’ah, is often described as ‘the systematic, state-organized persecution of Jews and other targeted groups by the Nazi state and its collaborators’. This process, initiated by the leader of the Nazi party Adolph Hitler himself, slaughtered over two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population, as well as millions of gypsies, homosexuals, soviets, polish citizens, handicapped and Jehovah’s witnesses. People were purely persecuted for racial reasons, as few represented any threat to Hitler or the Nazi regime; nor was there much economic gain from this. It was merely an attempt to fulfil Hitler’s ideals of a ‘master’ or ‘dominant’ race.
Figures are not clear, but the Popes ‘silence’ is said to have saved about 860,00013 Jewish lives, either by issuing them fake baptismal certificates of by hiding them within the safety of the Vatican. Despite various and numerous accusations, evidence remains that this pope saved hundreds of thousands of innocent Jews throughout the holocaust. He also globally recognized to have spoken out against the Nazi regime both before, and after, assuming the role of leader of the Church, especially by Nazis themselves.
When Pope Pius XII learned about the atrocities taking place within Europe, he urged Bishops to do all they could to oppose Hitler and the Nazi Party. In fact it was through his representatives in Europe, that he was able to create a rescue system capable of saving hundreds of thousands of lives around Europe. He also consciously ordered all Catholic convents, monasteries, orphanages and monasteries, to open their doors and hide any Jews escaping persecution, risking losing his neutrality and his life.
Pope Pius XII was a diplomat. His job as pontificate was to maintain the peace. He was not a radical preacher. He was well aware that he needed to keep the Vatican neutral territory in order to save the lives of Jews seeking asylum and protection. The Catholic Church was and still is a very influential power worldwide. It is powerful and effective, none the less it is made up of men, prone to mistakes like any other. The accusations made against Pope Pius XII remain, till today, unfounded and weak. Could Catholic inactivity and silence have saved 860,000 lives? No one person, Hitler accepted, was responsible for the Holocaust. And no one person, Pius XII included, could have prevented it. In choosing diplomacy over protest Pius XII had his priorities straight. “It’s time to lay off this pope”.14
Finally, as Margherita Marchione rightly observes in her book in defence of Pope Pius XII, the popular accusation regarding the infamous silence supposedly carried out by the wartime Pope Pius XII, seems to only concentrate on him, when other organisations, such as the Red Cross, which also knew of the Nazi atrocities, did not speak out for precisely the same reasons as the Vatican. So truly this leads us to question, whether the allegations are merely part of a broader trend within our society, which is wanting to discredit the Catholic Church.
Perhaps the mistake in the judgement of Pius XII is due to the fact that researchers have been to occupied in searching for reasons why Pacelli did not do more to save innocent lives, forgetting, in the process, to acknowledge his honourable works for peace and salvation.
Eugenio Pacelli often described as a member of the ‘Black Nobility’; a group of aristocratic families of Rome came from a respectable but modest background. At the age of 23, when he ordered as a young priest, he perused further studies and was later, in 1939, elected head of the Catholic church and became better knows as Pope Pius XII. In 1933, Hitler gained power as head of the Nazi party and lost it by 1945, only 12 years. And yet by the end of this regime, Europe had been plunged into a global war and over 30 Million people died, over 6 million of which, Jews; men, women and children; who were systematically and efficiently slaughtered for no other reason than that they were Jews. But what impact did this Pope have on this massacre of innocent people? As Newsweek writer Kenneth Woodward correctly explains:
“During the second world war, Pope Pius XII was lauded for his singular efforts to halt the carnage. And for years after, he was praised for the church’s efforts in saving an estimated 700,000 Jews from the Nazi death camps (…) Recently, however, a neat bit of revisionist history is now blaming the wartime pope for failing to stop the Holocaust from the Vatican. In choosing diplomacy over protest Pius XII had his priorities straight”
Many would think in that Pope Pius XII remained silent in the face of the holocaust, some might say that it was because he a coward15, or because it was in his best interest, some would even say he was pro German or pro Nazi even. But like many events in history, the evidence can be approached from different angles and seen from different points of views.
One cannot avoid asking oneself the common question ‘what if’. What if he has raised his voice or taken a stronger stand against Hitler’s views? Would the events of history have taken a different turn? But what most of us tend to forget when analysing such evidence is that these were men and Pacelli’s silence did indeed help to save many Jewish lives.