On the very first Christmas, a baby was born to an impoverished Jewish family in a stable in Bethlehem.

Yesterday, at the start of this year’s Advent — the penitential season during which Christians prepare themselves spiritually for their annual celebration of the birth of that Jewish baby boy — Pope Benedict XVI greeted pilgrims while standing beneath a statue of Pope Pius XII at Rome’s Basilica of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls.

Why is the Daily Blog highlighting this connection? Because it’s a timely reminder that during World War II Pius XII showed his love for the Jewish people to which Jesus belongs, by bravely standing up for countless thousands of other Jews who were facing death in Nazi Germany’s Holocaust camps.

The reminder is even more timely in light of the historically unfounded attacks on Pius XII’s wartime efforts to save Jews that have circulated again this fall.

Here’s what Connecticut Rabbi Eric Sliver recently told the Jewish Ledger about these calumnious claims against Pius XII:

“We studied the documents in the Vatican’s archives and had eye-witness interviews, and what we learned was truly world-shaking,” Silver told the Ledger. “There is nobody who did more to rescue Jews than Pius.”

Rabbi Silver responded to arguments made by some critics of Pius XII that there are gaps in the historical record regarding the efforts made by the Vatican to save Jews from the Holocaust.

“One problem for scholars and others looking at Pius’s legacy is the lack of clear documented evidence of his efforts to save the Jews,” the Ledger article notes. “With no records, it’s easy to point to what he didn’t do, says Rabbi Silver.”

“But my question is this: Does it take a rocket scientist to figure out why there is no paper trail?” Rabbi Silver said. “Rome was occupied by the Nazis, there were German spies in the Vatican, so what would have happened if they had found physical evidence of the pope’s actions? There is not a paper trail linking the Final Solution to Hitler. If you don’t want to give credit to the pope because there was no paper trail, you can’t blame Hitler for the Final Solution, because there was no paper trail there either.”

Rabbi Silver says his eyes were opened to the truth about Pius XII when he participated in a symposium in Rome in September, organized by the Pave the Way Foundation.

Reported the Ledger, “Silver says the symposium ‘completely turned me around. It turns out that Pius wasn’t a collaborator or in collusion; he didn’t keep quiet in exchange for the safety of Christians. In August 1942, the murders in the concentration camps were publicized, and the Allies did nothing. Anyone who wants to examine what Pius did or didn’t do needs to do so in the context of what others did or didn’t do, and for that you don’t need access to the Vatican archives.’”

— Tom McFeely