Some Jewish organizations continue to state that the Catholic Church did not condemn Adolph Hitler’s reign of terror.

From England, Israel and the United States, three Jewish historians have refuted this distorted portrayal of world history: Martin Gilbert, Michael Tagliacozzo and David Dalin. All three have taken issue with Daniel Goldhagen, John Cornwell, James Carroll and other writers of the past century.

As I pointed out in my own books during the past decade, the charge doesn’t jibe with the record. Why would German leaders have said what they said about Pius XII if he wasn’t a thorn in their side? “The Pope has repudiated the National Socialist New European Order,” said the Nazis, “and makes himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals.”

When Pius XII learned about the Nazi roundup on Oct. 16, 1943, he immediately sent an official, personal protest through the papal Secretary of State Cardinal Luigi Maglione to German Ambassador Ernst von Weizsäcker. This protest was published in the Vatican’s official Actes.

The Pope provided false identification papers to potential victims. He ordered Vatican buildings, churches, convents and monasteries to open their doors and find hiding places for Jews and other refugees. Israeli Foreign Minister Golda Meir stated: “When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the Pope was raised for the victims.” Albert Einstein said: “Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing the truth” (Time Magazine, 1940).

How long will honest scholars condone statements by those who defame Pope Pius XII?

Today, even hardened detractors of Pius XII generally consider that, throughout the Second World War, the Holy Father was hailed as a towering moral hero in the face of cataclysmic terror: a man solicitous on behalf of Jews and Gentiles alike who worked tirelessly for peace. Through diplomacy, personal contact with heads of state, and the underground railroad, he protected the Jews and other victims of the Nazis in a way that no other leader with mighty war weapons could provide. His charity and love prevailed.

When Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli was elected to the papacy and became Pius XII March 2, 1939, Jewish newspapers in the United States, Canada, Great Britain and Jerusalem welcomed his election. When Italy’s anti-Semitic laws went into effect, Pius XII responded by appointing several displaced Jewish scholars to posts in the Vatican library. The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle (March 29, 1940), concluded that the Pope’s actions showed “his disapproval of the dastardly anti-Semitic decrees.” The Vatican protested the deportations of Jews.

After the Allies liberated Rome in June 1944, Pius XII protested the deportations of Hungarian Jews. The American Israelite (July 27, 1944) stated: “With Rome liberated, it has been determined, indeed, that 7,000 of Italy’s 40,000 Jews owe their lives to the Vatican.”

In the summer of 1945, 20,000 Jewish refugees from Central Europe presented the following petition to Pope Pius XII: “Allow us to ask the great honor of being able to thank, personally, his holiness for the generosity he has shown us when we were being persecuted during the terrible period of Nazi-Fascism.”

Pius XII was sympathetic to Zionism and the creation of a Jewish state, both before and after he became Pope. On July 30, 1944, Pius XII told the newly-appointed high commissioner for Palestine “of his intention not to interfere with the Jewish aspiration to create a national State in Palestine, saying that he was animated with great sympathy for the Jews.” (The Tablet of London, Oct. 25, 1958.) And in 1945, during a meeting with Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, Pius XII told his Jewish audience approvingly: “Soon, you will have a Jewish state.” (The Jerusalem Post, Oct. 10, 1958)

One wonders why The New York Times heralds books that cast Pope Pius as a racist and hypocrite. Compare New York Times book reviews, editorials and news articles that question Pope Pius’ respected reputation with Times articles and editorials that praised Pius’ efforts on behalf of the Jews. Stated a 1943 editorial: “This Christmas more than ever, the Pope is a lonely voice crying out of the silence of a continent.”

Testimonials abound.

In 1985, Cardinal Pietro Palazzini was honored by Israel’s Yad Vashem as a “Righteous Gentile.” He explicitly stated that Pius XII ordered him to save Jews. I interviewed him in 1995. His testimony is also clearly expressed in his memoirs (Il clero e l’occupazione di Roma, 1995).      

The Pope’s peace efforts, his denunciation of Nazism, his defense of the Jewish people, have been clearly documented. Recently Rabbi David Dalin stated that “to deny the legitimacy of the collective gratitude of Jews to Pius XII is tantamount to denying their memory and experience of the Holocaust itself, as well as to denying the credibility of their personal testimony and judgment about the Pope’s role in rescuing hundreds of thousands of Jews from certain death at the hands of the Nazis.”

Among countless other Jewish authorities, Pius XII received praise from Moshe Sharett, Israeli Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog, and Pinchas Lapide.

Testimonials of survivors of the Holocaust also make it perfectly clear that the Pope was not anti-Semitic or indifferent to the fate of the Jews and that he did everything possible to help them.

In a letter to me, dated June 18, 1997, historian and Holocaust survivor, Michael Tagliacozzo, clearly expressed his sentiments: “Pacelli was the only one who intervened to impede the deportation of Jews on Oct. 16, 1943, and he did very much to hide and save thousands of us. It was no small matter that he ordered the opening of cloistered convents. Without him, many of our own would not be alive.”

Again, Aug. 8, 2004, Tagliacozzo reiterated his convictions: “Even if gratitude was expressed directly to the Institutions who protected them, the merit goes to Pope Pacelli who, on Oct. 16, 1943, gave orders to open the doors of the parishes, convents and monasteries to save the Jews from deportation.”

Several years ago in an interview, Sir Martin Gilbert, perhaps the foremost contemporary Jewish historian, noted that “Christians were among the first victims of the Nazis and that the Churches took a very powerful stand.” After years of research that began in 1959, Gilbert wrote Never Again: The History of the Holocaust that contains an extraordinary chapter on Pius XII’s humanitarianism. Here, Gilbert thanks the Vatican for what was done to save Jewish lives.

Personally and through his representatives, Pius XII employed all the means at his disposal to save Jews and other refugees during World War II. As a moral leader and a diplomat forced to limit his words, he privately took action and, despite insurmountable obstacles, saved hundreds of thousands of Jews from the gas chambers. The Pope was loved and respected. Of those mourning his death in 1958, Jews — who credited Pius XII with being one of their greatest defenders and benefactors in their hour of greatest need — stood in the forefront.

Religious Teachers Fillipini

Sister Margherita Marchione, Ph.D., has written more than 50 books.

She lectures widely

in North America and Europe.