The Myth of Hitler’s Pope by Rabbi David Dalin, Regnery £25 Until 1963 Pope Pius XII was regarded as a defender of the Jews during the Second World War. In that year Rolf Hochhuth, a German playwright, wrote The Representative, a play attacking Pius for his alleged “silence” when the Holocaust was taking place. Other writers have followed suit, not least John Cornwell to whose much-publicised book, Hitler’s Pope, the title of this volume alludes.
The author is a professor of History and Political Science at Ave Maria University, Florida. His book, robust and polemical, cites much documentation to show that the thesis of Hochhuth and his supporters is untenable. Dalin argues that attacks on Pius’s reputation mask a hidden agenda: an attack on JudaeoChristian civilisation and in particular the Catholic Church. Professor Eamon Duffy of Cambridge has referred to the “repellently illiberal” stance of “angry liberals”. Cornwell is certainly a liberal in Duffy’s sense and Cornwell’s research on Pius XII is shown by Dalin to be selective and misleading. For example, the notorious photograph on the dust jacket of his book seems to show the Pope in full regalia being saluted by Nazi guards; in fact, it was taken in 1927, during the Weimar Republic, when Pacelli was papal nuncio, and not in 1939 as its caption states.
Dalin begins with a brief survey of the papacy’s historical attitude towards the Jews. Compared to the often lamentable record of other Christians, the popes emerge as philo-Semitic. Cecil Roth, the Oxford Jewish historian, was to write: “Only Rome ... is free from having been a place of Jewish tragedy.” In modern times, Pius X, Benedict XV and Pius XI followed this tradition in their public statements; indeed, Pius XI, who studied Hebrew with a rabbi, made the famous remark, “Spiritually we are all Semites.” What of the life and pontificate of Pius XII? He, too, studied Hebrew and had Jewish friends, notably the conductor Bruno Walter. Of 44 speeches he made as papal nuncio in Germany between 1917 and 1929, 40 denounced the emerging Nazi ideology. The Nazis regarded the then Cardinal Pacelli as “Jewloving”; Heydrich, the SS Commander, wrote that “the pope in Rome is a greater enemy of National Socialism than Churchill or Roosevelt”.
When Pacelli was elected pope in 1939 Dalin quotes further evidence for his continuing opposition to Hitler. When Mussolini’s Fascist laws forbade Jews from teaching, Pius XII promptly appointed several Jewish scholars to posts in the Vatican library. The Times of October 1, 1942 commented: “He condemns ... the persecution of the Jewish race.” Much of the historical record of Pius’s concern for the Jews comes from Jews themselves. Dalin again assembles much documentation, not least that researched by the Jewish diplomat and historian Pinchas Lapide in his book Three Popes and the Jews, published in 1967. Weighing all the evidence, Lapide calculated that “Pius saved at least 700,000 but possibly 860,000 Jews from death”. This massive relief operation was achieved largely through the Church’s own religious houses in Italy and through the papal nunciatures in other European countries. Convents, monasteries and presbyteries all over Europe opened their doors to Jewish fugitives; hundreds were hidden at Castel Gandolfo and in the Vatican itself. Einstein paid tribute to the Pope as early as 1940.
When Pius died in 1958 he was greatly mourned by Jews. Golda Meir, then Israel’s foreign minister, wrote to the Vatican: “When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the pope was raised for the victims.” With the wealth of such testimony, why has the notion that Pius XII was “silent” gained credibility? Possibly it has arisen because although he was eloquent in his actions, in his secret directives to Church personnel and in his communications with Allied diplomats he refrained from making public statements attacking Hitler during the war. Was such silence culpable, as Pius’s critics aver? The Pope’s reason, influenced by Jewish and other advisers, was that public statements by him would have increased the persecution of the Jews. This was exactly what happened in Holland when the Dutch bishops protested.
We live in an age when personal feelings and views have to be publicly declared at all times; not to do so is suspect – witness the public outcry at the Queen’s reserve on the death of the late Princess of Wales. Further, the particular horror and magnitude of the Holocaust has generated its own emotive response. Reading this book, I asked myself: what would Pope John Paul II have done in a similar situation? Well – he was in a similar situation, as “repre sentative” of the Church in Communist Poland when he was Cardinal Archbishop of Krakow. He had to deal with a harsh and repressive regime, always ready to crush opposition. Like Pius towards Hitler, Karol Wojtyla deliberately refrained from attacking the Communist regime directly, knowing full well the consequences; yet he is not judged a moral coward. When all the wartime archives have been sifted, history may yet be kinder to the reputation of Pius XII.
Dalin’s book concludes with a long section on a more sinister and not yet widely known affair: the close relationship between Hajj Amin al-Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, and Hitler. He met Hitler on several occasions (Pius always refused to do so), visited Auschwitz as the guest of Eichmann, made rabid, anti-Semitic broadcasts on German radio and called for the destruction of world Jewry. In 1946 he met the young Yasser Arafat in Egypt and the latter, who went on to lead the PLO for 40 years, became his protégé.
Much more research remains to be done on this long, chilling link between the Nazis and Muslim extremism.