Via Media

Via Media

Blind Eyes

posted by awelborn

An article, originally from the NYTimes, about Allied awareness of hints of the Holocaust

The report is haunted by what-ifs, tantalizing hints, desperate pleas, heroic rescues and by what, in retrospect, can seem like bureaucratic indifference.

It also offers a revealing exchange involving Pope Pius XII, who some historians say did not use his influence to halt the killing of Jews. The conversation, relayed by an Ecuadorian envoy, was between the Vatican ambassador and Marshal Henri-Philippe Pétain, the French collaborationist leader. In July 1942, Pétain said he was consoled that the pope approved his policy of deporting Jews. The ambassador corrected him, saying, "The Holy Father does not approve."

In a subsequent meeting, the ambassador delivered the pope’s personal appeal to stop the persecutions, but, the report said, Pétain agreed "only to limit the ongoing deportations to foreign Jews living in the occupied zone of France."

Could the intelligence, properly interpreted, have saved lives?

"There’s a narrow window in which intelligence would have played any kind of role," Hanyok said, "but we didn’t see what was happening."

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posted August 3, 2005 at 12:07 am

The book “The Myth of Rescue” by William Rubenstein makes the point that in the general atmosphere of WW11 the Allied leaders did about as much as they could to rescue the Jews. This was a time when close to a million Leningraders were starved and pummeled to death by the Nazis in their infamous seige. Millions more like the fellow soldiers of Solzhenitsyn were never from again. I certainly wish that more was done to save the Jews, but in our own age we have watched with indifference over live television the genocide of 2 million cambodians not to mention biafrans, timorese, sudanese christians and 800,000 tutsis. What is the excuse of our age? Antisemitism needn’t be invoked as to the reason why more Jews were not saved, inertia alone would suffice.

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posted August 3, 2005 at 9:13 am

*roll eyes*
There were plenty of reports about what was going on, and many of them appeared in the New York Times. I know this because I worked on the papers of a Quaker aviatrix (Ruth Rowland Nichols — neat lady). Since she was part of the Society of Friends’ social justice group (I forget the name), she had tons of pre-war clippings on these issues. The Allies may not have had the full scoop, but they did in fact know plenty.
The big problem is that many people thought the stories were just propaganda. Remember, the post-WWI disillusionment had been fed by the discovery that some atrocity stories were made up. There were plenty of people who believed it was all just lies and exaggerations by the Allies or the Jews or the arms merchants (or the arms merchant Jews, for the anti-Semite crowd). And then, of course, there were many people who really didn’t care as long as the Nazis were ‘just’ killing Jews. (Or Catholics, or gypsies, or handicapped people, or Slavs, or….) Finally, though, there is the logistical consideration — even if the Allies knew everything, exactly what could they do about it at that point in the war? Lots of second-guessing we can do about that, but hard to say, since we weren’t there and they didn’t have the advantage of hindsight.

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posted August 3, 2005 at 11:01 am

The criticisms of what the Allies could have and should have done, or tried to do, during the Holocaust are well-known– though I believe that W. Rubenstein’s book, The Myth of Rescue, should be read as a corrective to exaggerated notions about what the Allies actually could do during those tragic days. But the big revelation in this story, buried deep within it, is that it confirms that Pius XII directly intervened to protest the persecution of Jews in France, via his nuncio, Valerio Valeri. During the War, the NY Times–then quite more respectable than it is today– ran these two headlines: “Pope is Said to Plead for Jews Listed for Removal from France” (August 6, 1942); and “Vichy Seizes Jews, Pope Pius Ignored” (August 27, 1942). For years, detractors of Pius have questioned these reports, suggesting there is no “hard evidence” that the Vatican ever intervened for Jews in Nazi-occupied France. Now we have that evidence. I should also point out that a September 11, 1942 dispatch from the British MInister to the Vatican (Frances D’Arcy Osborne) states: “The pope today confirmed for me that the nuncio at Vichy had protested against persecution of Jews in France.” (British Foreign Office, document 371-32680). Evidence also exists that the pope expressed the same views to President Roosevelt’s representative, Myron Taylor; see “Pope has Long Talk with Taylor: Move to Aid Jews in France Seen,” NY Times, September 20, 1942, p.1). This is but one of many examples of a papal intervention for persecuted Jews, interventions well reported at the time, even as they may not be well known today–especially by people who speak foolishly, unjustly and innacurately of a “silent, inactive” wartime pope.

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Mike Petrik

posted August 3, 2005 at 12:11 pm

The fact that Pius tried to intervene on behalf of the Jews using diplomatic channels is plainly inadequate, Hitler’s pope failed to use the Holy See’s political independance to declare war against Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, notwithstanding the strategic attractiveness of Vatican City’s location in the center of Italy. Obvious cowardice. After all, what good are the mighty Swiss Guards if you aren’t going to use them?

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posted August 3, 2005 at 1:39 pm

Dear Mike, The pope used far more than diplomatic means to oppose Hitler. Pius XII–at great risk to himself and the universal Church–engaged the anti-Nazi Resistance, and involved himself in a plot to overthrow Hitler (which may have succeeded and saved countless lives had not the Allies gotten cold feet; for details, see The Conspiracy Against Hitler in the Twilight War by Harold C. Deutsch (1970)). The Vatican’s opposition to Italian Fascism is well-documented in Daniel Binchy’s classic work, Church and State in Fascist Italy (1941); and, more recently, Inside the Vatican with Pius XII: The Memoir of an American Diplomat During World War II by Harold Tittmann (Doubleday, 2004.)Both before and after he became pope, Eugenio Pacelli (Pius XII) condemned anti-Semitism, Hitler, Nazism and racism–publicly and privately– to anyone who would listen. The Jewish community hailed him at the time for doing so. These facts are copiously documented in “The Pius War: Responses to the Critics of Pius XII,” edited by J. Bottum, et al. (Lexington Books, 2004), and “The Myth of Hitler’s Pope” by Rabbi and historian David Dalin, which has now become the number 1 Catholic bestseller on In his very first encyclical, Summi Pontificatus (October, 1939), issued soon after WW II began, Pius XII took his stand. The next day, the above-the-fold heaadline in the New York TImes read: “Pope Condemns Dictators, Treaty Violators, Racism; Urges Restoring of Poland,” and described the message of the encyclical: “It is Germany that stands condemned above any country or any movement in this encyclical–the Germany of Hitler and National Socialism.” (NY Times, October 28, 1939). Far from being Hitler’s Pope, Eugenio Pacelli was one of Hitler’s greatest enemies.

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Donald R. McClarey

posted August 3, 2005 at 2:13 pm

Mike, if you had your tongue thrust any further in your cheek, it would be tearing through the skin!

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Donald R. McClarey

posted August 3, 2005 at 2:21 pm

“Finally, though, there is the logistical consideration — even if the Allies knew everything, exactly what could they do about it at that point in the war? Lots of second-guessing we can do about that, but hard to say, since we weren’t there and they didn’t have the advantage of hindsight.”
True Maureen. Frankly I doubt there was much that the Allies could have done. With all her power, America couldn’t stop the Japanese from starving and murdering wholesale American POWs. The Soviet Union had the largest army in the history of the world and the Soviets could not prevent millions of Soviet POWs being murdered by the Germans. The tracks could have been bombed to the death camps, and the death camps themselves could have been bombed. However, I assume that the Germans would simply then have built the death camps underground, or heavily camouflaged them, as they did with many of their factories which continued to produce huge amounts of munitions until the end of the war, despite an unprecedented bombing campaign that reduced most German cities to rubble.

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Mike Petrik

posted August 3, 2005 at 9:35 pm

My cheek is justly sore as penance for unintentionally giving William heartburn.
Please know that I agree completely with your post.

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Momma K

posted August 4, 2005 at 6:23 am

An excellently reviewed new book it out (haven’t got it yet–darn)
The Myth of Hitler’s Pope by Rabbi David Dalin.

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posted August 4, 2005 at 9:52 am

“Frankly I doubt there was much that the Allies could have done.”
Except, of course, what they did, which was to beat the Hun as quickly as they could.

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posted August 4, 2005 at 1:28 pm

Dear Mike, Thank you for the clarification about your comments. I suspected they were tongue-in-cheek, but many of Pius’s detractors do make silly arguments which they think serious. Thanks, too, to Donald M’s wise post–

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