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The Myth of Hitler’s Pope

An interview with the author, Rabbi David Dalin

Do you remember how you first became interested in the controversy about Pius XII’s actions during World War II?

I’d always heard about Pius XII, but in 2000 . . . I was asked to write a book review for The Weekly Standard. . . . At the time I knew relatively little about the subject. . . .this was shortly after the book by John Cornwall, Hitler’s Pope, had been published. I thought I would write a short book review, and I spent that summer just immersed in this. I came to the conclusion that really there had been a terrible historical injustice against Pius XII, and I wanted to make a small contribution in the book review to set the historical record straight.


And I want to come back to that, because I basically came first in that book review and then in this book to the exact opposite conclusion from John Cornwall the British journalist that Pius XII not only was not Hitler’s pope, but he was a great friend of the Jewish people at a moment in history when it really mattered quite a bit: World War II during the Holocaust years. So what started out as just a small book review ended up being quite a significant review essay . . . and that really motivated me-I got a terrific response; nothing I’ve ever written before has gotten as much attention-to try to write a book that would in some way also help to correct the historical injustice against Pius XII. The motivation was to set the historical record straight.

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posted August 10, 2005 at 11:00 pm

during the time in which they were hidden there, the Jews at Castel Gandolfo were even provided with kosher food, which is amazing, which is a tremendous kind of footnote to all of this.
This gels with another account I read elsewhere about Pius XII, who as an ordinary priest in Rome, sent some fine Italian oil to the Jews for Passover when they didn’t have any.

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The Anchoress

posted August 10, 2005 at 11:12 pm

I’ve had that article stored away on my desktop for two days meaning to get to posting it! Glad you did! :-)

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posted August 10, 2005 at 11:24 pm

I’m so heartened by this author, and others, writing about Pope Pius XII of happy memory. I came to a similar conclusion, in my own way, some years ago, and it has made me very angry, very hurt, to think such heroism had been mangled and twisted into something so opposite. What an injustice!

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posted August 11, 2005 at 12:30 am

It is no small puzzle to me how the myth of Pius as a jackbooted collaborationist thug manages to survive. There is a fictional play written by someone who was in no position to judge and a book written by a journalist with a taste for sensationalism. In contrast, there is the historical record, the praise of Jewish people from around the world, and Pius’ own statements.
It is a good day when the Venerable Pius XII is raised from the ashes of these lies. Rabbi Dalin is doing a great service to a great man.

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Donald R. McClarey

posted August 11, 2005 at 5:33 am

Rabbi Dalin’s book is great! I recommend it to everyone. The historical record in regard to Pius XII has never truly been in doubt. At the time, the Nazis knew the Pope opposed them, and the Allies and the Jews knew the Pope was their friend. Everyone knew this at the time. The current phony controversy has nothing to do with history and everything to do with current Culture Wars, especially that waged by vengeful ex-Catholics against their former Church.

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Lumen de Lumine

posted August 11, 2005 at 7:06 am

“They had a political agenda”

Lesenswertes Interview mit Rabbi David Dalin, Autor des neuen Buches The Myth of Hitler’s Pope…

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BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th)

posted August 11, 2005 at 8:50 am

Rabbi Dalin & Rabbi Pinchas Lapide (whose book THE NEXT THREE POPES & THE JEWS is a classic) are required reading for any Catholic who wishes to defend the reputation of the late Pope Pius XII from the Hitler’s Pope blood libel.

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posted August 11, 2005 at 9:00 am

Even if – and I don’t know this – Pius XII didn’t behave in every particular in the way that we now, with 20/20 hindsight, think he should have, I’m troubled by the use of this method of historical “analysis.”
We were not there, we did not, and now cannot, see Europe as Pius saw it, with its complex interlocking systems of hazards. It is clear that he did a great deal to help the Jews during the war years; it seems too much to ask that he should have, like Superman, saved them all single-handedly.
Like Donald, I suspect – and I think most fair-minded people would agree – this controversy has very little to do with Pius, and everything to do with people who really are on a crusade against the Catholic Church for other reasons entirely.

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Sandra Miesel

posted August 11, 2005 at 9:40 am

Those who argue that DA VINCI CODE is “just a novel” and therefore too unimportant to refute should contemplate the impact of THE DEPUTY, Rudolf Hochuth’s 1963 play that singlehandedly, overnight reversed popular perception of Pius XII. Of course this is an impact the chattering classes wanted to see but it was made by a work of fiction and only later by hostile histories. Hochuth is himself a Holocaust denier and supporter of David Irving. Oddly enough, his play attacking Winston Churchill simply failed and had no effect on Churchill’s reputation, an indirect confirmation that anti-Catholicism is behind the issue.
Cornwell is a lasped Catholic. It’s just my theory but I think he was made a great deal more hostile to the Church by the attitudes he saw in Rome while working on A THIEF IN THE NIGHT, his book about the death of John Paul I.

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John Farrell

posted August 11, 2005 at 9:45 am

Donald and Nancy, right on. (Wouldn’t it be great if Mel Gibson produced a movie about him?)
Lapide’s book is indeed superb–and it’s by no means a blanket pom-pom job for the Bishops of Rome. Lapide was quite critical of the things he felt both Popes, Pius XI and XII could have done and didn’t. But the balance was a thorough appreciation for the man’s courage.

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Sandra Miesel

posted August 11, 2005 at 10:06 am

THE DEPUTY was written by Rolf Hochhuth. Sorry for mangling the name but regular readers are surely aware that I can’t spell.

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Der Tommissar

posted August 11, 2005 at 12:17 pm

Pope Pius XII was such a friend of the Nazis that Hitler had ordered an SS General to kidnap the Pope. Ok then.
Does anyone remember how back in the 70’s or 80’s there was this big thing about how when the Vatican records for the WWII era are finally taken from secrecy how bad the church will look?
I’m betting when it happens, the liberal slanderers will be the ones getting pwned.

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BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th)

posted August 11, 2005 at 12:21 pm

>THE DEPUTY was written by Rolf Hochhuth. Sorry for mangling the name but regular readers are surely aware that I can’t spell.
I reply: Great minds spell alike Sandra.;-)
Right on John Farrell. Toads like Cromwell have tried to paint Lapide as a “whitewasher” of Pius XII yet when I read his book he racks the Church over the coals for historic acts of anti-Semitism. If he was interested in a “whitewash” one wonders why he spared Pius XII but not the medievl Popes?

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posted August 12, 2005 at 1:34 am

I have little doubt that the “Hitler’s Pope” book was grossly unfair. I wonder if this is not going overboard in the opposite direction. Several things give me pause:
1. The claim that Pius saved more Jews than anyone on earth is dubious and misleading. It is based on the number of Jews saved by all Catholics, and even this seems to be established by subtracting the total number who escaped from the number saved by non-Catholics.
If the Pope is responsible for all the virtuous acts of Catholics, he is responsible for all their sins. To count one side of the ledger and not the other is deeply dishonest. To imply that Pius had as direct a role in saving those lives as Wallenburg or Schindler had in saving the lives they saved is deeply dishonest.
2. The certainty that speaking out would have cost more lives is unwarranted and disturbing to me. We don’t know. We simply don’t.
3. The fact that this Rabbi teaches at a Catholic theological school and is being published by Regnery, a highly ideological and not very well edited press, gives me a little bit of pause. It’s not a reason to disregard his work but it is going to make a lot of people skeptical.
4. I warn you, that the Chief Rabbi of Rome converted out of his admiration for Pius is not going win fans in the Jewish community. Here is the entry from Encyclopedia Judaica on Rabbi Zoller:

Zoller (Zolli), Israel (1881-1956), rabbi and apostate….from 1939, chief rabbi of Rome. At the beginning of September 1943, when the Germans entered Rome, he abandoned the community and took refuge in the Vatican. At the end of the hostilities he reappeared to assume his position as rabbi, but was rejected by the community because of his unworthy behavior at the time of the greatest danger. On February 14, 1945, he converted to Catholicism, taking the name of Eugenio Maria (in homage to Pope Pius XII) and returned to the Vatican.

Renouncing your faith and people–and Jews do see conversion to Christianity that way–right after 6 million of them were slaughtered while you hid in the Vatican, does not win admiration. Of course Pius is not personally to blame for Zoller’s actions. But he’s not really the guy you want to be citing as a reference.
5. It is wrong to use the death of millions as a club to beat your ideological opponents. But it also seems to me wrong to be so very lacking in doubt, so very certain that the Church did everything possible and the Pope did everything possible and the Jewish community should be planting trees in his honor and converting out of gratitude.
The rabbi at my temple in Boston (ooh, Boston, hiss boo), read this poem in a recent sermon on Darfur; it is a poem inscribed on the walls of Yad Vashem:

By leave of my eyes that watched the bereaving
Add cry after cry to my crushed heart’s burden,
By leave of my trust that taught me forgiving
Till the pall of days that seared beyond pardon,
I have sworn an oath: to remember each grieving,
To remember, never to harden.
Nothing, till ten generations give way,
Till soothed is the rankling, annulled each pain,
Till the rods that punished are purged away.
I vow that the dark wrath pass not in vain.
I vow that at dawn I never more stray.
Lest now I learn nothing, again.

Anyway, so I’m skeptical. I think in a subject as fraught as this one we should all be a bit skeptical of what the latest bestseller says, especially if the latest bestseller tells us exactly what we want to hear.

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Donald R. McClarey

posted August 12, 2005 at 5:29 am

“2. The certainty that speaking out would have cost more lives is unwarranted and disturbing to me. We don’t know. We simply don’t.”
Tell that to the Dutch.

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posted August 12, 2005 at 10:14 am

Oh yes, because certainly it is irresponsible NOT to give into the Nazis’ threats. It’s conclusively proven that that is the reason that the deportation rates were different. That’s exactly the attitude we take in the current war.
I’m sure the different deportation rate in Holland can have nothing to do with this:

Within a week after the capitulation Hitler put a fellow Austrian, Arthur Seyss-Inquart in charge of ruling occupied Holland. In some countries which the Germans occupied, such as Denmark and Belgium, the German Army took control of administrating the country with the local civilian authorities allowed more or less to run matters as they so had been doing. This was not the case with Holland. Hitler imposed on the country a civilian administration, Holland being run as if it were an incorporated province of the Third Reich. Consequently, the Germans were much more involved in the day to day administration of Holland than were in the other western European countries. It was the eventual plan of the Germans that once the War was over (and they, of course, had won), they would annex Holland as a formal part of Greater Germany. Of course, this was something which was never publicly expressed to the Dutch people.

Most of France of course was also run day to day by Petain.
Oh, and Pius must deserve all the credit for Italy’s lower deportation rate; it cannot be that Hitler left his allies alone till later on in the war and Italy’s government was less vicious than Hitler’s, and then Italy was the first country liberated by the allies. And nevermind what Bulgaria and Denmark managed to do, nevermind that Denmark had one of the lowest death rates although the king spoke publicly against the deportation (the stuff about him wearing the yellow star is apocryphal however).
Austria 50,000 27.0%
Italy 7,680 17.3%
Belgium 28,900 44.0%
Latvia 71,500 78.1%
Bohemia/Moravia 78,150 66.1%
Lithuania 143,000 85.1%
Bulgaria 0 0.0%
Luxembourg 1,950 55.7%
Denmark 60 0.7%
Netherlands 100,000 71.4%
Estonia 2,000 44.4%
Norway 762 44.8%
Finland 7 0.3%
Poland 3,000,000 90.9%
France 77,320 22.1%
Romania 287,000 47.1%
Germany 141,500 25.0%
Slovakia 71,000 79.8%
Greece 67,000 86.6%
Soviet Union 1,100,000 36.4%
Hungary 569,000 69.0%
Yugoslavia 63,300 81.2%
Nevermind that the highest death rate and by far the highest number of Jews killed (I mean as a % of the pre-war population) and the camps were located in Poland, a very Catholic country where the Church certainly did not do all that it could. (Of course, I would never be so stupid as to say that the failure of the Polish Church and of the Roman Church in giving orders to the Polish Church explains the high death rate there. The occupation was longer, the occupation was far more brutal, and there were more Jews to kill. But it didn’t help matters, and if the Pope could have influenced it–and I don’t know, I’m not the one claiming omniscience–it may have saved many people.

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Donald R. McClarey

posted August 12, 2005 at 11:30 am

“Nevermind that the highest death rate and by far the highest number of Jews killed (I mean as a % of the pre-war population) and the camps were located in Poland, a very Catholic country where the Church certainly did not do all that it could.”
Katherine, a total of 6,544,000 Polish civilians died at the hands of the Nazis. Approximately 3,000,000 were Jews and 3,544,000 were gentiles, overwhelmingly Catholic. What more could the Holy Father do when Catholics were also being slaughtered in the millions?
As to the Dutch experience:
“In fact, many individuals and organizations involved in rescue efforts learned early on that public condemnations of the Nazis had terrible consequences. Inspired by Opere et caritate, the Catholic bishops of Holland published a letter on April 19, 1942, which was read in every Catholic church in the country. The bishops denounced “the unmerciful and unjust treatment meted out to Jews by those in power in our country.” In response, the Nazis made a special effort to round up every monk, nun and priest who had even a drop of Jewish blood. Some 300 victims were deported to Auschwitz and immediately sent to the gas chambers. Among them was Edith Stein, a Carmelite nun, philosopher and mystic, who has been beatified—and is scheduled to be canonized—by the Holy See.
The courage of Holland’s Catholic bishops and clergy is undeniable. But their heroism came at a terrible price: 79 percent of Holland’s Jews—110,000 men women and children were murdered, the highest percentage of any Nazi-occupied nation of Western Europe.
Pius learned an agonizing lesson from the experience of the Dutch bishops. He referred to the situation in Holland in a letter to Konrad von Preysing, Bishop of Berlin:
“We leave it to the [local] bishops to weigh the circumstances in deciding whether or not to exercise restraint, ad maiora mala vitanda [to avoid greater evil]. This would be advisable if the danger of retaliatory and coercive measures would be imminent in cases of public statements of the bishop. Here lies one of the reasons We Ourselves restrict Our public statements. The experience We had in 1942 with documents which We released for distribution to the faithful gives justification, as far as We can see, for Our attitude.”
And the Pope was not the only one who learned the lesson of restraint. The International Red Cross and the World Council of Churches in Geneva avoided making any statement that would obstruct their work or cause an increase in the sufferings of the victims—Jews, Slavs, Christian clergy, gypsies, homosexuals, Communists in retaliation for any public protest.”
Source: Pius XII and the Holocaust by Thomas Craughwell-
Your obvious fury against Pope Pius XII is misplaced.

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Tom Woods

posted August 13, 2005 at 12:25 am

To Katherine: For whatever reason, Rabbi Dalin’s book makes no reference whatever to Rabbi Zolli.
Yes, Rabbi Dalin teaches at a Catholic school, but I’m not sure what that is supposed to prove or, frankly, what difference it makes. Rabbi Dalin could find an academic post anywhere in the country on the basis of his scholarship, the entirety of which deals with Jewish history.

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posted August 14, 2005 at 3:45 pm

Just a few remarks regarding Katherine’s comments:
“Nevermind that the highest death rate and by far the highest number of Jews killed (I mean as a % of the pre-war population) and the camps were located in Poland, a very Catholic country where the Church certainly did not do all that it could.”
Well, it’s about as valid to complain about the Poles not saving enough Jews than complaining about the Jews not saving enough Poles would be. The Church in Poland was under direct persecution, as the Nazis wanted to destroy the “Intelligentsia” class of Poland and this included the clergy.
Katherine, you might be right that extermination policies started late in Italy, only after Mussolini had become Hitler’s puppet. This however cannot account for the vast difference to other countries.
As for the Dutch issue: yes, we can know why so many were deported from Holland and that the Church’s declaration played a large part. Why?
Well, the occupation government got wind of plans by the Catholic bishops and the leaders of the Protestant churh to simultanously issue a protest against the deportations. The Nazis ordered representatives of both denominations to come and threatened them to either desist from the declaration or face a massive deportation of Jews that had converted to either church. The protestant leaders gave in (which is understandable), but the Catholic bishops persisted and issued the declaration. And the Nazis remained true to their word and began a massive deportation of Jews of the Catholic faith, most notably Edith Stein (Saint Theresa Benedicta a Cruce) and her sister.

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posted August 14, 2005 at 4:42 pm

“I’m betting when it happens, the liberal slanderers will be the ones getting pwned.”
I think you should re-evaluate your world view. The Church is hated by people on the left and right. Indeed, the ones I’ve heard most often promote garbage like “Hitler’s Pope” are fundamentalist and evangelical conservatives who hate the Catholic Church with an ignorant and unbridled passion.

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posted May 31, 2006 at 7:14 pm

Yes, I agree. Pius XII was a great friend to the jews. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that the Cornwell book was meant to create another dialectic about Pius XII, something to clash against that tiny bit of truth that seems to be seeping out of the cracks of a history desperate to remain concealed.
He did it with the Yallop book, and I thought he was doing it again with the Pius XII book. Cornwell now tells us he doesn’t agree with his own book about Pius XII, and has decided to recant much of it. He’s ashamed, he tells us. Funny guy. Who would ever hire a guy like that to write a book, I wonder?
We are told that the Vatican hired Cornwall to write A Thief in the Night, the book about the “natural” death of JPI, but it wouldn’t seem natural to hire him to write this one, would it?
But I think that Pius XII was a pope that no one has ever even dreamed of, and we are not likely to find out anything more about him anytime soon since the Vatican continues to refuse to open its archives on this momentous time of history when more than 50,000,000 lives were lost in Europe.
Perhaps if another 50,000,000 are lost, someone still here may get a little curious.
Laura Yantsos

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