Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests

Hitler’s Pope? Not Exactly

The Anti-Defamation League is being relatively restrained in its current denunciation of Pope Benedict’s intention to see sainthood conferred on his predecessor Pius XII. The ADL is only “deeply troubled,” which probably translates as “rather annoyed.” Relax, guys! First of all, it’s none of our business as Jews to get involved in internal Catholic affairs when nothing urgent is at stake for us. Second, nothing urgent is at stake for us! On the contrary, there’s much to praise in Pius, who was pope during the Holocaust and has been accused of neglecting his obligation to condemn Nazism. I recommend to you my review of Rabbi David Dalin’s excellent The Myth of Hitler’s Pope: How Pope Pius XII Rescued Jews From the Nazis


I’m not sure it’s true, as Dalin argues, that Pius saved more Jews than any other Righteous Gentile in World War II.


But it seems fairly certain that he was, overall, a strenuous defender of Jews who saved tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands. While 80 percent of European Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, 85 percent of Italian Jews survived, thanks in large part to the Vatican’s efforts.

At Castel Gandolfo, the pope’s summer residence, 3,000 Jews found refuge — a fact never mentioned in Cornwell’s anti-Pius writings or in those of Susan Zuccotti. Kosher food was served there, and Jewish babies were born in the pope’s private apartment, which had been transformed into an infirmary. At Seminario Romano, another Vatican property, 55 Jews remained in hiding from the Nazis, and, notes Dalin, “observance of the Jewish dietary laws was not only permitted but encouraged.”


Dalin includes references to numerous papers from the Vatican, along with memoirs of Holocaust survivors and non-Jewish rescuers, showing that Pius directly ordered church representatives across Europe to hide Jews and provide other forms of material sustenance, including cash. In Hungary alone, 170,000 Jews evaded Auschwitz because of Pius’ personal intervention.

Another Righteous Gentile of the era, Angelo Roncalli, who saved thousands of Slovakian Jews by signing their visas for immigration to Palestine (he later became Pope John XXIII), explained that “in all those painful matters, I referred to the Holy See and afterward I simply carried out the pope’s orders.”


Yet the myth that Pius did little or nothing to help Jews or oppose Hitler persists. A purported smoking gun is a letter written by Pacelli in 1919, when he was papal nuncio to Bavaria, about the brief, Jewish-led communist uprising in Munich. A few lines refer to one Jewish communist as “pale, dirty, with vacant eyes, hoarse voice, vulgar, repulse, with a face that is both intelligent and sly.”

Anti-Pius writers assert that the text betrays hints of anti-Semitism. But as evidence, this is pathetic. The Bolshevik revolutionaries had threatened Pacelli’s life on various occasions. If he wrote something insulting about their leader, who can blame him?

Read the rest here.

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posted December 23, 2009 at 9:56 pm

Maybe Pope Pius was a savior of Jews like Rudolf Kastner was a savior of Jews?
That was more of a question than a declaration.

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posted December 23, 2009 at 10:43 pm

There are a couple reasons why people tend to be quick to blame the Pope, despite the fact that he (and the Catholic church, in general) was, in fact responsible for the rescue of a large number of Jews.
One reason is that there were, unfortunately, a number of powerful figures in the Catholic church who either endorsed the Nazis or saw the plight of the Jews as Divinely ordained (e.g. see This was the direct experience of many Jews and it is not surprising that the Pope was seen as endorsing these attitudes and policies.
A second issue is that many people, especially Jews, have an exaggerated idea of the power that the Catholic church held in Europe at the time. The truth is that the Catholic church was itself an embattled organization at the time, facing secular challenges from both the left (Communism) and the “right” (Nazism and similar fascist, nationalist movements). The Catholic church (in Western Europe) might well not have survived a direct conflict with Nazi Germany.
Perhaps the pope should have taken a stronger stance. Emotionally, I can certainly relate to this feeling. However, the pope also had a responsibility to the thousands of people who had committed themselves to the church (priests, nuns, etc.) whose lives would have been jeopardized in such a struggle. In my opinion, the pope, and the church as a whole, was struggling with an extraordinarily difficult moral dilemma, and like most groups in such circumstances, they had mixed success. It is disingenuous for people to look back and treat the situation as a simple, black and white, situation.

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posted December 24, 2009 at 3:03 pm

As you’ve written, Esau represents Rome and Christianity. Rabbi David Lapin writes ( that in Esau’s soul there is a need to “interface with the general world.” Esau, Rabbi Lapin argues, is good at marketing and politics because Esau can be sly and deceitful. These qualities can be bad but can also be used for good. Pope Pius XII probably recognized the need for slyness and deceit in dealing with the powerful Nazis and Fascists in the 1930s and 1940s. This is certainly one reason the pope and the Roman Catholic Church were able to rescue so many Jews. Another line from Rabbi Lapin: “For Yaacov [Jacob] to retain his purity, he needed Eisav [Esau] to manage their interface with the general world. For Eisav to retain a sense of higher meaning in his life, he needed to support Yaacov and take his spiritual guidance from him. Then, there would have been wholeness; there would have been peace. But Eisav chose to compete…”

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posted December 24, 2009 at 5:39 pm

On a slightly unrelated note, the scholar Robert Eisenman says that St. Paul is related to the Herods, therefore, Paul is an Idumean, a descendent of Esau. This might explain why rabbinic literature identifies Rome and Christianity with Esau.

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Voice in the Crowd

posted December 26, 2009 at 8:11 am

A few more historical comments on Pius XII’s efforts to aid and save the Jewish people during their darkest hour to get rid of this anti-Catholic and revisionist history. Many of these quotes were contemporary to the time and are made by prominent Jewish leaders:
Pinchas Lapide (Israeli consul in Milan and Holocaust survivor) declared in 1967 that Pius XII “was instrumental in saving at least 700,000, but probably as many as 860,000 Jews from certain death at Nazi hands.”
Albert Einstein quoted in Time magazine (12/23/1940): “Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing truth. …The Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom. . . . I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel great affection and admiration …and am forced thus to confess that what I once despised, I now praise unreservedly.”
The New York Times editorial (12/25/1942) stated: “The voice of Pius XII is a lonely voice in the silence and darkness enveloping Europe this Christmas… He is about the only ruler left on the Continent of Europe who dares to raise his voice at all.”
In 1958, Golda Meir sent her condolences on Pius XII’s death: “We share in the grief of humanity. …When fearful martyrdom came to our people, the voice of the Pope was raised for its victims. The life of our times was enriched by a voice speaking out about great moral truths above the tumult of daily conflict. We mourn a great servant of peace.”
The Chief Rabbi of Rome, Emilio Zolli, stated: “Volumes could be written on the multiform works of Pius XII, and the countless priests, religious and laity who stood with him throughout the world during the war.” “No hero,” he said, “in all of history was more militant, more fought against, none more heroic, than Pius XII in pursuing the works of true charity . . . and thus on behalf of all the suffering children of God.” Zolli converted to Catholicism afterwards and took Pius XII’s name in reverence to him.
Rabbi Isaac Herzog, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, wrote in a letter (1945) to the future John XXIII: “The people of Israel…will never forget what His Holiness and his illustrious delegates, inspired by the eternal principles of religion, which form the foundation of true civilization, are doing for our unfortunate brothers and sisters in the most tragic hour of our history, which is living proof of Divine Providence in this world.”
The London Times (10/1/1942), explicitly praises Pius XII for his condemnation of the Nazis. “A study of the words which Pope Pius XII has addressed since his accession…leaves no room for doubt. He condemns the worship of force and its concrete manifestations in the suppression of national liberties and in the persecution of the Jewish race.”
Moshe Sharett, Israel’s second Prime Minister, spoke at a personal meeting with Pius XII: “I told [Pius XII] that my first duty was to thank him, and through him the Catholic Church, on behalf of the Jewish public for all they had done in the various countries to rescue Jews…We are deeply grateful to the Catholic Church.”
Dr. Raffael Cantoni, future President of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, stated: “…six million of my co-religionists have been murdered by the Nazis, but there could have been many more victims had it not been for the efficacious intervention of Pius XII.”
From the Catholic League’s Web site:
“In Rome, 155 convents and monasteries sheltered some 5,000 Jews throughout the German occupation. No less than 3,000 Jews found refuge at one time at the Pope’s summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, and thus, through Pius’ personal intervention, escaped deportation to German death camps. Sixty Jews lived for nine months at the Jesuit Gregorian University, and many were sheltered in the cellar of the Pontifical Bible Institute. Pope Pius himself granted sanctuary within the walls of the Vatican in Rome to hundreds of homeless Jews.”

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posted December 26, 2009 at 7:19 pm

Lazer A – that is one of the more fair assessments I have seen.

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posted December 26, 2009 at 11:52 pm

Is this Pope Pius XII giving a heil Hitler salute?

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posted January 11, 2010 at 1:24 am

“The Anti-Defamation League is being relatively restrained in its current denunciation of Pope Benedict’s intention to see sainthood conferred on his predecessor Pius XII. The ADL is only “deeply troubled,”
They may have loosened their restraints here:
Excerpt: “O’Shea concluded that “to use the Campagna files to suggest that Pope Pius XII was active in attempting to rescue Jews is to demand something the historical record cannot sustain.”

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