Pius XII and the Holocaust

Pius XII and the Holocaust: Understanding the Controversy

José M. Sánchez
Copyright Date: 2002
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt3fgpr8
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  • Book Info
    Pius XII and the Holocaust
    Book Description:

    In this highly accessible work, José M. Sánchez offers a new approach to the controversy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-2088-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Pope Pius XII has been dead more than four decades. His tomb, below the main altar of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, is the object of veneration by many. The cause of his sainthood continues to be advanced. When he died in October 1958, a generation of Catholics who grew to adulthood during his pontificate could not imagine another pontiff who would not have the lean, ethereal image that Pius projected. The two ubiquitous photographs of Pius—one in profile with hands in pointed prayer, the other taken from behind on the balcony...

  5. Chapter 1 A Political Papal Life
    (pp. 14-21)

    A pope is the leader of a religious institution and as such he is charged with the responsibility for the spiritual welfare of the faithful of that institution, a fact often forgotten in the historiographical controversy surrounding Pius. He was an intensely spiritual person. He wrote a number of major encyclicals dealing with spiritual and religious matters. He prayed constantly. Most of his working hours were given over to religious concerns, administering the institution of which he was the ruler. But of course, secular matters impinged on the religious, and it is to these concerns that this study of Pius...

  6. Chapter 2 Issues, Sources, and Papal Aims and Means
    (pp. 22-41)

    The critics of Pius’ behavior have cited a number of issues that they claim prove that Pius was either a moral coward or in favor of a Nazi victory. While the fact that Pius did not issue a clear specific protest against the killing of the Jews remains the paramount charge, these other issues, they argue, support their allegations.

    The first of these issues is his negotiation of the German concordat of 1933 when, as Cardinal Pacelli, he was the Secretary of State of the Holy See. Critics argue that he conspired to demolish the German Catholic Center Party in...

  7. Chapter 3 What Pius Knew about the Holocaust
    (pp. 42-46)

    An important question that influences both criticism and defense of Pius is, how much did he know about the Nazi killing of the Jews and when did he first find out about the systematic mass killings in the death camps? It is not a simple question, for, if he did not know, then he could not protest; and if he did know, how much did he know and when? Furthermore, a distinction must be made between the nonlethal and random persecution of the Jews and the systematic mass killings. Like everyone else in Europe, Pius knew that the Nazis were...

  8. Chapter 4 What Pius Said about the War
    (pp. 47-68)

    There have been any number of commentaries on Pope Pius’ public words on the war, but few have done so in the context of the actual events occurring when he delivered his addresses, encyclicals, and other discourses.

    The Pope had moral power, if anyone would respect it. He could condemn the war, and as could be expected, he did; but national policies greatly overrode papal concerns. There is no evidence that any person in political power paid any attention to papal statements, other than giving them lip service when it suited his aims. The Pope’s statements were heralded by journalists...

  9. Chapter 5 An Examination of the Reasons The Least Likely
    (pp. 69-80)

    On the surface, it would seem to be a simple matter to determine the reasons why Pope Pius did not issue a strong statement denouncing the German treatment of defenseless civilians, including the destruction of the Jews. Through the verbiage of papal rhetoric, one can clearly discern Pius’ fear that such a statement would expose the Jews and other victims of Nazi terror to worse harm. He confirmed this explicitly in private to confidantes. But one can detect inconsistencies in his statements, and he did not say things that critics say he should have said. Undoubtedly Pius had other reasons...

  10. Chapter 6 The Need for Protection of German Catholics
    (pp. 81-89)

    The history of Pope Pius’ relations with Hitler and his regime is clouded by controversy over the German bishops and their relations with the regime. This is a thorny issue that historians have sought to untangle, and their efforts at arriving at a consensus are little better than those concerning Pius and the Holocaust. The difficulty, for this analysis, is in working through the thicket of relations while keeping a focus on the Pope.

    Let it be said at the outset that the German bishops, always with some exceptions, were scarred by Bismarck’s Kulturkampf of the 1870s; they were particularly...

  11. Chapter 7 Vatican Diplomacy Has Always Been Cautious
    (pp. 90-96)

    It has been argued by Pius’ defenders that he was simply following papal tradition in exercising a cautious diplomatic policy during World War II, and in doing so he was, as Victor Conzemius says, “the victim of his own training, of the juridical structure of Catholicism, and of the existing conventions of accords between church and state.”¹ Conzemius goes on to argue that the problem with Pius was not his silence, but rather the efficacy of his diplomacy. This insightful observation brings up the question of the effectiveness of papal diplomacy in general.

    Diplomacy has a different and a wider...

  12. Chapter 8 A Crisis of Conscience for German Catholics
    (pp. 97-102)

    One of the strongest arguments critics have made is that Pius did not protest against the Nazi terror because such a protest would have caused a crisis of conscience for German Catholics, forcing them to choose between their church and their state, and Pius did not want to take this risk for two reasons. If Germany’s Catholics responded to support a papal protest, then they would have had to face the overwhelmingly coercive power of the state. If they did not, then it would be a shattering blow to the Pope’s prestige, but worse, it would cause a falling away...

  13. Chapter 9 Pius Feared Communism More than Nazism
    (pp. 103-107)

    One of the most widely believed arguments about Pius and his alleged silence is that he viewed Communism as the greatest threat to Christian Europe and therefore saw Germany as a bulwark against the expansion of Soviet Communism. This is the central argument that Saul Friedlander makes. Acknowledging that he did not have all of the documents at his disposal at the time he wrote, Friedlander says that the German documents show that “Pius XII feared a Bolshevization of Europe more than anything else and hoped, it seems, that Hitler [sic] Germany, if it were eventually reconciled with the Western...

  14. Chapter 10 Pius Wanted to Serve as Mediator in the War
    (pp. 108-113)

    From he time of the loss of the Papal States in 1871, the papacy attempted to play a role in mediating conflicts between states. Leo XIII arbitrated a conflict between Germany and Spain in 1885 over possession of the Caroline Islands, thereby raising the international prestige of the papacy. During World War I, the Holy See followed a policy of neutrality in the hope of mediating the struggle.¹ In 1917 Pope Benedict XV offered a plan to end the conflict, but the Allies claimed his plan favored the Central Powers. Nonetheless, the precedent was established, and the young Pacelli, as...

  15. Chapter 11 A Papal Protest Would Have Made Things Worse
    (pp. 114-120)

    The most defensible reason for Pope Pius’ behavior is the best documented: that is, that he believed that a strong, direct protest against Nazi terrorism would simply make things worse for the persecuted people.

    The clearest document arguing this position is one by the Pope himself, to the College of Cardinals in his traditional patronal address on June 2, 1943, in the midst of the war, in which he said, “Every single word in Our statements addressed to the competent authorities, and every one of Our public utterances, has had to be weighed and pondered by Us with deep gravity,...

  16. Chapter 12 Pope Pius’ Personality
    (pp. 121-130)

    When Eugenio Pacelli was elected pope in March 1939, the universal comment in the press was that he looked just like what a pope should look like. His tall, lean body, his transparent skin, his piercing eyes, all gave him an aspect of ethereal sublimity that raised him above the body of mankind. The New York Times correspondent in Rome, Camille Cianfarra, quoted Henry Bourdoux on Pius: “He has the sublime greatness of a mortified, almost translucent body which seems destined to serve only as a cover for his soul.”¹ His appearance was compared with that of his predecessors: Pius...

  17. Chapter 13 The Effect of a Strong Protest Virtual History
    (pp. 131-136)

    What kind of protest could Pius have made, and what would have been the effect of a strong protest? The kinds of protest—excommunication of Hitler, interdict upon Germany, even a simple statement that killing Jews was immoral—can be explained and discussed. But the effect that any one of these would have had cannot be known with any certainty. Even an informed estimate of the effect can be no better than a guess; who, for example, could have imagined that Hitler would declare war on the United States after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and America’s attention was directed...

  18. Chapter 14 Pius and the Countries of German-Dominated Europe
    (pp. 137-171)

    It is a common fallacy to believe that the pope—any pope—has absolute control over Catholic clergy throughout the world. In the Europe of World War II, there were more than 600 bishops and 250,000 priests. Many of the bishops had not been chosen freely by the Vatican; in most cases, concordats had been concluded that gave the civil power some control over episcopal appointments. In all cases, the papal nuncios had great influence in selecting bishops. Pius knew only a few bishops well, probably the German ones better than others, for he had helped select some of them...

  19. Chapter 15 Conclusion A Pathetic and Tremendous Figure
    (pp. 172-180)

    In the fall of 1944, after the liberation of Rome by the Allies, Harold Macmillan, then the British High Commissioner on the Allied Advisory Council for Italy, paid an official visit to Pope Pius XII. He reported that he found “a sense of timelessness—time means nothing here, centuries come and go, but this is like living in a sort of fourth dimension. And at the centre of it all, past the papal guards, and the monsignori, and the bishops, and the cardinals, and all the show of ages—sits the little saintly man, rather worried, obviously quite selfless and...

  20. Bibliography
    (pp. 181-190)
  21. Index
    (pp. 191-197)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 198-199)