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  • A Moral Reckoning: the Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair
  • John T. Pawlikowski
A Moral Reckoning: the Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair, by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002. 362 pp. $25.00.

Daniel Goldhagen raises a fundamental moral challenge in this volume which no sensitive person, especially a Catholic, can ignore. Why did the Catholic Church not respond to Hitler's genocidal attack on the Jews of Europe with greater protest and compassion? He rightly argues that Christianity has presented itself as a religion of love. But any manifestation of this tradition of love and concern appeared to vanish during the Holocaust era, especially with regard to the Jews.

Regrettably, Goldhagen responds to this challenge with an analysis that is extremely weak in its use of primary and secondary sources and which is resplendent with totally exaggerated argumentation on almost every page. In short, this is one of the worst of the several books on the Holocaust to appear in recent years. Goldhagen's previous major work, Hitler's Willing Executioners, came in for significant scholarly criticism (and deservedly so), but it at least was based on a comprehensive analysis of sources.

In A Moral Reckoning Goldhagen shows a disregard (whether deliberate or uninformed) of important primary and secondary sources. In the first place, while criticizing the failure of the Vatican to open fully its World War II archives, something a number of Catholic scholars and bishops have urged and which in fact is beginning to occur, he fails to engage in any significant way the eleven volumes of documents released by the Vatican during the pontificate of Paul VI. Nor does he refer to the analyses of this documentation by the Jesuit archivists who assembled this material. One can surely critique the interpretations of this material by the likes of Robert Graham, S.J. and Pierre [End Page 147] Blet, S.J. But one cannot totally ignore this documentary evidence and their analyses (Blet's in particular) as Goldhagen does. One may find serious flaws in the way Graham and Blet have handled the evidence, as I personally have, but it cannot be dismissed out of hand.

Goldhagen also neglects other important material, relying instead on certain secondary sources which are more popular in tone and which have been shown deficient in many areas on the scholarly level. One such example is James Carroll's Constantine's Sword. On the primary source level, there are the important reflections of the late Gehart Riegner of the World Jewish Congress. Riegner was a central player in the international effort to save Jews, working out of his Geneva office. While Riegner's complete memoirs may not yet have been published when Goldhagen was at work on this volume, preliminary shorter versions have been out in published form for at least a decade. Riegner does not hesitate to criticize Vatican policies during the Nazi era. But he nuances his critique with examples of positive interventions (especially in Hungary) by Pius XII whom Goldhagen flays in a totally unbalanced way in this volume.

As for secondary material, little is made by Goldhagen of the perceptive writings of Canadian historian Michael Marrus on Pius XII and the Vatican during the Nazi period. For a serious scholarly work which Goldhagen no doubt considers A Moral Reckoning to be, to prefer the writings of a Carroll over a highly respected researcher on the era such as Marrus is a major drawback. Much like Riegner, Marrus does not let the Church off easy. But he is willing to give credit where credit is due. And he does not see any basis for the "conspiratorial" thesis regarding Pius XII which Goldhagen shares with John Cornwell in his equally superficial volume Hitler's Pope.

Finally, in terms of sources, Goldhagen is very critical of the Vatican document on the Shoah We Remember issued in 1998. There is definitely room for criticism of aspects of this document, something several Catholic scholars, including myself, have done. But Goldhagen shows no evidence that he is aware of a major symposium...


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