The Catholic Historical Review 88.4 (2002) 796-797
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Les Papes, Hitler, et la Shoah, 1932-1945. By Marc-André Charguéraud. (Paris: Labor et Fides. 2002. Pp. 167. Paperback.)
In the increasingly contentious debate over Pius XII and the Holocaust, the chief issue has come to be where to place the emphasis on the reasons why the Pope did not speak out forcefully against the German destruction of the European Jews.
French author Charguéraud places most of his emphasis on the now traditional argument that Pius feared that a protest would cause more harm than good. It might have caused a schism within the German Church if he had excommunicated Hitler. Likewise a schism might have occurred in Croatia had he protested Pavelic's ruthless killing of Serbs and Jews. In both these cases, the author argues, a protest would have had no effect, for both regimes would have ignored the Pope. No protest, he says, would have stopped Hitler, and as for the argument that it would have at the very least informed Jews of the fate in store for them, he says that the Jews themselves did not believe the reports of the death camps. In the most controversial event of all, the roundup of the Roman Jews in October, 1943, Charguéraud argues that Pius feared that a protest would provoke a German invasion of the convents and monasteries that were hiding Jews.
These are all arguments that have been made before, and Charguéraud cites the most recent studies, all secondary, to prove his points, but he uses them selectively, taking some of the statements of two of the most recent critics, Michael Phayer and Susan Zuccotti, out of the context of the overall arguments of their books.
An interesting assertion he makes is that Pius was clearly on the side of the Allies, and the Germans knew it. The proof of this is to be found in the German responses to the Pope's statements: they always interpreted them as supporting the Allies,and they objected to his lack of neutrality, and at the same time, the Allies [End Page 796] always saw them as clearly condemning Germany. This would seem to obviate Pius' stated intention of remaining neutral so that he could mediate the conflict. As for the effect of any protest, Charguéraud claims that the Pope's detractors paradoxically exaggerate his moral power, and he says such a protest would have had no effect upon Hitler's maniacal obsession with ridding Europe of the Jews.
The first half of the book is given over to an analysis and defense of Pius XI's approach to the Nazi state, but there are no new arguments here, only the traditional ones that see him as a staunch defender of Christian values against the pagan ideology of the Nazis.
The book will take its place among those works defending the popes: unfortunately, it is more of a reaction to the criticisms of John Cornwell (Hitler's Pope) and his followers than an attempt to plumb the documentary evidence to set out a new hypothesis or confirm an established one. It appears to be designed for the popular market in France, and it makes no substantial contribution to the controversy that will probably not end in our lifetimes.
José M. Sánchez
Saint Louis University