Kingdom of Priests

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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