DENVER (CNA) — An expert on Pope Pius XII says new discoveries show that the Jewish community strongly supported the Holy Father for his stand against anti-Semitism and support for Jewish rights during World War II.
Researcher William Doino outlined evidence that he says makes it clear the late Pope “wanted to break down walls of anti-Jewish prejudice, not erect them.”
Doino shared his findings exclusively with CNA, pointing to magazine articles from the 1930s that feature Jewish-American veterans lauding Pius XII for his deep respect for the Jewish community and their customs.
In April of 1939, just one month after Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli was elected Pope, the U.S. Jewish Veteran magazine called the new Pope’s leadership “a source of great satisfaction to Jews.”
“Pope Pius XII is known as a staunch friend of Jews,” the veterans wrote, noting the success of his election despite the attempts by anti-Semitic Fascists to prevent it.
The March 1939 issue of the magazine also expressed the community’s “fervent hope” that Pius XII would “have a long and successful reign; that he will fill the spiritual vacuum left by the decease of his predecessor, and that he too will be sanctified by the love of his fellow men.”
Doino, who has contributed extensively to an anthology titled The Pius War: Responses to the Critics of Pius XII (Lexington Books), said it has long been documented that Pius XII strongly opposed Fascism and Nazism and “abhorred anti-Semitism.”
However, he said, “research in the last decade has revealed more.”
“Pacelli not only opposed racism and totalitarianism, but showed an express sympathy for the Jewish faith and practice.”
One example of this is how the late Pope made it a point to have kosher food prepared for Jewish guests at the Vatican “way back in the 1930s, when Catholic-Jewish relations were not nearly as developed as they are today.”
Doino said that the Jewish Veteran articles are not unique and that many other Jewish publications offered comparable praise for Pius XII “before and during his papacy, and especially after his death.”
In July of 1944, shortly after the liberation of Rome, the American Jewish Congress publicly praised the Vatican for providing kosher food for Jews who were being sheltered in Catholic institutions during the German occupation of Rome.
Doino said that these findings should not surprise people since then-Cardinal Pacelli had intervened to block an anti-kosher law in Poland in 1938.
Had the legislation passed, it would have forbidden Jewish ritual practices and constituted a “true persecution for Jews,” Pope Pius wrote at the time.
“If you examine Pacelli’s life, you’ll find early friendships with Jewish schoolmates; an appreciation for Jewish theology; support for the Jewish community in America, when he visited in 1936; sympathy for the Jewish people in the Holy Land, and an openness toward their yearning for a Jewish state — long before Israel was established; and an affirmation of both Jews and Judaism,” Doino said.
Later in 1941, “just as the anti-Semitic persecutions were entering their worst phase,” Doino said, a Jewish refugee visited the Vatican and begged the Pope to intervene for his persecuted brethren who had been shipwrecked and imprisoned on a Fascist-controlled island.
Not only did Pius XII promise the young man his support, but said before a large audience that he was just as worthy as every other human being, and encouraged him to “always be proud to be a Jew.”
“The refugee was so moved by this encounter that he later wrote an unforgettable first-person narrative about it for the Palestine Post,” Doino recounted.
Later that same year, Pius XII published his first encyclical, Summi Pontificatus, which “condemned the evils of racism and totalitarianism, and similarly stressed the unity of mankind, expressing solidarity with non-Catholics as well,” the expert recalled.
Doino’s research surfaces just after the Israeli ambassador to the Vatican, Mordechai Lewy, aroused controversy in Israel and abroad by praising Pius XII for helping save Jews during the Holocaust.
In the wake of criticism from Jewish groups, the ambassador said on June 27 — days after his positive comments about the Pope — that his words were historically “premature.”
However, Doino expressed support for Ambassador Lewy and welcomed his remarks as an occasion for renewed dialogue on the issue.
He also said that he is looking forward to the public release of the Vatican’s remaining wartime archives.
Doino referenced “significant leads and discoveries” from “at least half a dozen top-flight Pius XII specialists who are engaged in historical research revealing Pius XII’s active support for the Jewish community, both before and after he became Pope.
“The idea that he was a self-enclosed Catholic leader, insensitive to Jewish concerns, is pure myth — an image that is thankfully being reversed by modern scholarship.”