- Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust
The current desire of the Roman Catholic Church to canonize as saint Pope Pius XII has produced in its wake a flurry of publications, both pro and con, revisiting his performance during the horrendous period of the Second World War, and, in particular, his attitude and behavior regarding the fate of the Jews in the Holocaust of Shoah. That entire issue has been even further charged with the publication of John Cornwell’s (1999) Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII (New York: Viking Press). This present volume, edited by two well-known and well-respected scholars of the period, is the result of a meeting convened by them of the fifteen contributors at Kings College, Wilkes-Barre, PA, in April of 2000 “to assess the state of scholarship about Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust . . . without the hype surrounding John Cornwell’s intentionally provocative Hitler’s Pope or the polemical defenses of Pius” (p. 5). That they have succeeded admirably well and brought reasoned inquiry and civil discourse to what, at times, has been a tendentious confrontation, is a tribute not only to their own critical objectivity, but to the contributors as well, who, most assuredly and not unexpectedly, are not of a unified voice.
The book itself is divided into three parts (with the various contributors noted), preceded by both an Introduction and Chronology, and succeeded by a Postscript and Select Bibliography. “Part I: Exploring the Controversies Surrounding Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust:” Michael R. Marrus, John T. Pawlikowski, Eugene J. Fisher, Sergio Minerbi, and Doris L. Bergen. “Part II: Understanding the Man and His Policies:” Eva Fleischner, Gershon Greenberg, John Morley, and Richard L. Rubenstein. “Part III: Evaluating Pius XII and His Legacy:” Susan Zuccotti, Michael Phayer, James J. Doyle, John K. Roth, Albert Friedlander, and Carol Rittner.
In their Introduction, the editors ask the following questions: “how should the Vatican’s wartime policies be understood? . . . could Pope Pius have curbed the Holocaust by vigorously condemning the Nazi killing of the Jews? Was Pius XII really “Hitler’s pope,” as Cornwell contended, or has he unfairly become a scapegoat when he is really deserving of canonization as a Roman Catholic saint instead? . . . what implications flow from the legacy of Pope Pius XII and current interpretations of his true identity?” (p. 5). Three pages later, they provide the reader with some understanding of what is to follow by enumerating four “themes” which underlie the book itself: “(1) Pope Pius XII must be understood in his particular historical context; (2) Pius XII put the Roman Catholic Church—as he understood that well-being—first and foremost; (3) In [End Page 132] retrospect, Pius XII’s priorities—understandable though they are—not only make him an ambiguous Christian leader but also raise important questions about post-Holocaust Christian identity; (4) Jewish and Christian memories of the Holocaust will remain different, but reconciliation can continue to grow” (pp. 8–9)
Collectively, all of the contributions are extremely well-written and worthy of attention that cannot be provided in a short review, other than urging the reader both to read and study what each has written. Among the more important conclusions, at least according to this reviewer, are the following: Eugene Fisher’s contention that the “larger issue” is that of the “objective impact of Christian teaching on Jesus’ followers in their relations with their Jewish neighbors” (p. 74), a point well worth further exploration by both Jews and Christians; Sergio Minerbi’s argument that “[b]y failing to condemn Hitler publicly . . . the highest authorities of the Church sent out a message that the Jews were expendable” (p. 94); Doris L. Bergen’s stinging indictment of the failures of Christians in post-Holocaust genocides (p. 113); Gershon Greenberg’s assessment of Pius XII as one “fixated on ancient Jewry,” and, thus, unable to fully appreciate the contemporary plight and common humanity of the Jews under Nazi hegemony...