By Fr. George Welzbacher
December 18, 2011
The Teflon Big Lie
The propaganda campaign against Pope Pius XII continues unabated, with no sign ever of coming to an end. The charge that, out of fear of the Nazis or even in allegiance to their cause, this pope turned his back on the Jews in their hour of greatest need is a charge that first saw the light of day during the closing months of World War II, courtesy of the Soviet Union's propaganda machine. Though in the pope's own lifetime the charge failed dismally to win favor with the public, a mere five years after the pontiff's death the Soviet slander was taken down from the shelf, dusted off, and, fitted out with brand-new clothes, to be reintroduced by a former bravo of the Hitler Youth, Rolf Hochhut, in the form of a play The Deputy (1968). This play, a grotesque and vicious caricature if ever there was one, proved to be spectacularly successful, produced in translation throughout the Western world. And the play's slanderous thesis has come to prevail as coin of the realm, though its counterfeit character has often enough been decisively exposed, most persuasively perhaps in the tribute offered to Pope Pius XII by Israel's president, Golda Meir, who with deep emotion on the occasion of his death hailed him as a courageous champion of the Jewish people during the darkest hour of their history, at a time when champions were scarce. President Meir's praise has been repeatedly validated in the published research of Rabbi David Dalin, and the Israeli diplomat Pinchas Lapide, and the Jewish-Hungarian journalist Jeno Levai, as well as in the scholarly writings of Ronald Rychlak, Ralph Mclnerny and Pierre Blet. Despite all of which, thanks to Herr Hochhut (whose subsequent effort similarly to defame Winston Churchill elicited widespread disgust) the Soviet charge now reigns supreme, vindicating the adage that, in the absence of proof, mere assertion, bold and brazen and shouted from the rooftops, works just fine.
Just in the last few weeks in two of the English-speaking world's more prestigious journals Pope Pius XII once again is harshly judged. In the latest issue of Commentary, (December 2011) Kevin Madigan, Harvard's Winn Professor of Ecclesiastical History, casually asserts that Pope Pius XII "never intervened vigorously on behalf of victims of the Shoah" [The Holocaust]. This despite the repeated (and well documented) appeals of Pope Pius on behalf of the Jews behind the scenes with the leaders of those countries where such appeals could be made with any hope of success, that is to say, not in countries conquered by Hitler, countries in which the papal writ no longer ran, but rather in countries like Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Vichy France (while it lasted) and above all else Italy, countries that were allied with Hitler and thus preserved a measure of autonomy. And after Italy lost its autonomy as the German army invaded the peninsula in the wake of the coup that deposed Mussolini, Pope Pius XII directed convents and monasteries throughout German-occupied Italy to open their doors, setting aside all canonical restrictions, to give shelter to the Jews, just as in the Vatican itself, as in its properties throughout the city of Rome and in the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, Jews found refuge, as they did in many a private home as well. Small wonder then that when Rome's Chief Rabbi, Israel Zolli, joined the Catholic Church AFTER the Allies had liberated Rome, when from such conversion no earthly advantage would be gained, he chose Eugenio for his baptismal name, Pope Pius XII's baptismal name. (The German army, of course, knew perfectly well what was going on during all of this time, but, wishing to offer no further provocation to a civilian population already near the flashpoint of rebellion, chose to look the other way, having enough on its hands in resisting the slow but relentless advance of the Allies as they slogged their way, up from the South, over one mountain range after another.)
All in all, most of Italy's Jews survived. And if the recurrent intervention of Pope Pius XII fails to qualify as "vigorous," one may be pardoned for wondering which dictionary it is that Professor Madigan consults.
So, too, in the November 28 edition of the [London] Times Literary Supplement, Timothy Snyder, a professor of history at Yale, imputes to Pius XII, if somewhat more obliquely, the same do-nothing policy vis-á-vis the Jews. In an otherwise fascinating review of a new biography (in Polish) of Jan Karski, the Catholic hero of the Polish wartime resistance and a passionate spokesman on behalf of Poland's Jews, Professor Snyder offers a another condescending evaluation of Pope Pius XII. Summarizing Mr. Karski's incredibly high-risk but amazingly successful journey through German-dominated Europe in late 1942 to bring to the Polish government-in-exile (established in London) detailed eye-witness evidence of the Nazis' implementation of a plan to annihilate the Jews, and noting that Mr. Karski, a devout Catholic, had sought and obtained the relaying of this report to high officials at the Vatican, Professor Snyder sneers: "Polish diplomats did inform Pius XII, but to no avail." [Emphasis added].
Mr. Karski's report was conveyed to the Vatican in mid-to-late October, 1942. Two months later, on Christmas Eve, in a radio broadcast to the world, Pope Pius XII, speaking with admirable courage from Vatican City, a tiny enclave carved out of the capital of a nation allied with Hitler's Reich, revealed to the whole world that, even as he spoke, "HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS" were being "PUT TO DEATH, for NO fault of their own, for no reason other than their RACE" [in Italian: stirpe]. [Emphasis added].
Everyone knew who it was of whom he spoke. Given Hitler's notorious hatred of the Jews, an obsessive hatred that ever since the 1920's had been central to his program for Germany's "regeneration"--a program by the way, that Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, as papal nuncio to Germany's Weimar Republic in the years following World War I, lost no occasion TO DENOUNCE in speech after speech-and given the fact further that, in the Europe of 1942, with German armies encamped from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to Leningrad and Moscow, the only European power CAPABLE of organizing murder on so vast a scale would have been the Third Reich-in view of such realities the only logical conclusion that could be drawn as one listened to the pope that Christmas Eve would be that the agents of such mass-production murder would have to be the Nazis; and their victims, if not exclusively, would be first and foremost the Jews.
Pope Pius, of course, could not publicly name names without providing the Nazis with a splendid pretext for unleashing upon the Third Reich's Catholics what would surely have been, as directed by Joseph Goebbels, a cunning, vicious and perhaps generally successful propaganda blitz, with subsequent persecution of those German Catholics who still maintained allegiance to a Church that had been plausibly presented as having slandered the German people. But the message was clear. Thus on Christmas Day, 1942, the leading editorial in the New York Times praised Pope Pius for having exposed to the world a previously hidden but monstrous crime of the Nazis, hailing him as "a lonely voice crying out in the silence of a continent."
Jan Karski's report to the Vatican had been made-how did that go again-"to no avail?" Really?
Mr. Karski's mission, however, was indeed pursued "to no avail" with respect to the rest of the West's leaders. In Great Britain his interventions with high officials on behalf of the Jews were met with a shrug of the shoulders or with outright disbelief. Deeply disillusioned, Karski secured passage to America. There in 1943 President Roosevelt granted him an interview, but again nothing came of it. On his own initiative Karski continued to share his knowledge of the "Final Solution" with any major official and shaper of public opinion who was willing to listen, including the Jewish-American legal scholar Felix Frankfurter, who wore the robes of a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and who, like the others, remained unconvinced. Perhaps the lingering myth (that the horrors of World War I ought to have utterly discredited) to the effect that the trajectory of modem history had been one of undeviating progress made it difficult to accept that in the twentieth century a major European nation could be guilty of what would later be described as genocide. (In 1942 and '43 the word itself did not yet exist). Perhaps, too, some recollection of the allies' own gross misrepresentations in their World War I propaganda campaigns may have contributed to the skepticism with which Jan Karski's accusations were received. In any event, the only prestigious leader in the Western World who DID take seriously Mr. Karski's revelations, confirming previous rumors, about what was going on in occupied Poland and WHO DID WHAT HE COULD TO MAKE THIS MURDEROUS ENTERPRISE KNOWN WAS THAT "LONELY VOICE CRYING OUT IN THE SILENCE OF THE CONTINENT."
"To no avail?" Well, ultimately, perhaps yes. But blame for such failure cannot justly be imputed to Pius XII.
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