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180 SHOFAR Winter 1993 Vol. 11, No.2 The Chief Rabbi, the Pope and the Holocaust, by Robert G. Weisbord and Wallace P. Sillanpoa. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1992. 231 pp. $34.95. Not long after American troops liberated Rome from the rule of the Nazis, the chief rabbi of the Jewish community of that Eternal City, Israele Zolli, converted to Catholicism, taking as his baptismal name that of the reigning pope (pius XII), Eugenio. This startling event is not well known, and very little has been written about it. This volume tries to fill the gap of knowledge here with more than modest success. The volume begins with a brief, adequate survey of the relation of the papacy to the Jews historically, up to the incumbency of Pius XII. The generally familiar story is nevertheless painful to read with its hatreds, pogroms, and Church silence and even active participation in the persecution ofJews. This is followed by two, more detailed, chapters on the controversial role which Pius played during the Holocaust. What -the head of the Catholic Church did and failed to do on behalf ofJews during that period is described with some evenhandedness, although the authors could hardly escape the conclusion which exposed the failure of Vatican policies to aid Jews during World War II. Next we read a biographical chapter on Rabbi 2olli, before his assignment in Rome. It seems he was not widely admired, with a "prickly personality," a man remembered as "cold, distant, unfriendly, unapproachable , overly concerned with money and insensitive to people." In their attempt to be fair, the authors caution us that these may be the judgments of hindsight by people who, after his becoming a Catholic, spat on the ground whenever his name was pronounced. What follows is a chapter on Zolli and the Holocaust. He apparently "compared himself with Jesus on the cross between two thieves. On the one side were the German persecutors and on the other the 'Fascist' Jewish leadership." Then comes our account of his baptism in 1945, which has been variously described as "a stab in the back," as an "unimaginable act of villainy," as an essentially negative move by one "changing his convictions according to circumstances," with words like "betrayal" and "desertion" also being offered. A penultimate chapter on the background, motives, and legacy of Zolli's conversion is where the biographers are on less certain ground. The former rabbi is said never to have renounced worldly pleasures, proved unduly materialistic, described as a "Marrano in reverse," etc. There appears to be too much speculation here, something that might be Book Reviews 181 expected in a chapter on motivation which goes beyond what the subject himself claimed caused his conversion-a new-found faith. An epilogue on Vatican-Jewish relations since the Holocaust does not render much praise for the former. Certain good words have been said and written and too little is noted about their positive impact, which is more powerful than the authors allow for. But the move to canonize Edith Stein as a Catholic Holocaust martyr (a nun who converted to Christianity and who was murdered at Auschwitz clearly because ofherJewish background) is properly questioned. So is the completed canonization of Father Maximilian Kolbe who died heroically at Auschwitz but did leave behind a legacy tainted with antisemitism. Why are these two the first to be made saints when others, particularly rescuers ofJews who are so deserving of at least consideration, are overlooked? Many of us Catholics ask such questions with great seriousness. The writers add to this the Auschwitz Convent controversy, the papal reception of Kurt Waldheim, the Austrian president, and then cannot help but wonder if Elie Wiesel's insight, that John Paul II wants to "dejudaize" the Shoah, is not on target. Given the subject matter, the book could hardly be uninteresting. Weisbord and Sillanpoa are careful not to sensationalize. While having a point of view, they nevertheless achieve a fair assessment of their subject. Still, there is a lot of conjecture in the volume. Words and phrases like "probably," "the evidence is skimpy," "it is possible," "might have come," "we can only wonder if," "almost certain," "perhaps," and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 180-181
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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