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  • Crusade of Charity: Pius XII and POWs (1939-1945)
  • Frank J. Coppa
Crusade of Charity: Pius XII and POWs (1939-1945). By Margherita Marchione.(New York and Mahwah,New Jersey: Paulist Press. 2006. Pp. xx, 284. $19.95 paperback.)

Since the performance of Rolf Hochhuth's drama The Deputy in 1963, studies of Pius XII, pope from 1939 to 1958, have been decidedly partisan with a long list of detractors on the one hand and his defenders on the other. Both sides have often seemed more interested in denigrating or vindicating his actions during the course of the Holocaust than in ferreting out the truth. To complicate the picture, many of the positive or negative images have been drawn not by historians but dramatists, lawyers, and journalists. Part of this large and growing "historiography"has been catalogued in José M. Sánchez's Pius XIIand the Holocaust:Understanding the Controversy (2002) and The Pius War:Responses to the Critics of Pius XII, edited by Joseph Bottum and David G. Dalin (2004). William Doino, Jr., in "An Annotated Bibliography on Pius XII, the Second World War, and the Holocaust"(pp. 97-280) found in The Pius War, aptly notes that Sister Margherita of the Religious Teachers Fillipini is "among the most passionate supporters of Pius XII" and her prodigious effort is not "primarily a work of scholarship." [End Page 338]

The author of half a dozen volumes defending Pius XII, in Crusade of Charity, as elsewhere, the author readily acknowledges that she does not write from a detached perspective, "convinced that Pius XII was a wise and saintly man"(p. xvi). This apologetic tone leads one to hold suspect some of her important findings and presentation of material not readily found elsewhere. Her main focus here is on the work of the Vatican Information Office formed by this pope in 1939 to monitor and mitigate the suffering and separations provoked by World War II. Part of this vast correspondence has been drawn from the earlier printed eleven-volume Actes et documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la Seconde Guerre Mondiale (1965-81), but many more documents have now been made accessible by the Secret Vatican Archives. Some ten million wartime documents of the prisoner of war/missing person service presently available have been catalogued in two large volumes entitled Inter Arma Caritas:Uffizio Informazioni per i prigionieri di guerra istituto da Pio XII(Vatican City:Archivio Segreto Vaticano, 2004). The first volume includes an inventory of files and description of how the service operated; the second includes a selection of the millions of requests received, and in some cases the responses provided.

Many of the requests are written in Italian, German, or French, and Sister Margherita has translated and included some one hundred requests and responses. Her volume is divided into three parts:the first is on "Leaders of the Catholic Church"(Benedict XVI, John Paul II, and Pius XII[pp. 3-41]). Why the first two popes are included is not clear. The second on "World War II"(pp. 45-64) explores how and when the Vatican intervened on behalf of the families of prisoners and the dispossessed, and the concrete assistance provided. The bulk of the book is found in part three, "Requests for Vatican Assistance"(pp. 67-229), which provides a wide range of requests for papal assistance from Christians and Jews. In her "Conclusion"(pp. 230-241), Marchione returns to her apologetic mode noting that the millions of requests attests to "Their trust in the efforts of Pope Pius XII"(p. 230), and that "a grave injustice has been done to the memory of Pope Pius XII"(p. 240). This theme is reiterated in the Epilogue (pp. 242-248), concluding that "personally and through his representatives, Pius XIIemployed all the means at his disposal to save Jews and other refugees"(p. 248). An "Appendix"(pp. 249-259) contains additional pertinent Vatican documents, while the short annotated "Bibliography"(pp. 267-274), reflects her sentiments and assumptions.

Frank J. Coppa
St. John's University, New York


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