Holocaust Studies Refresher Course

“Learning About Atrocity,” an article by Richard Quinn, is historically inaccurate.

It ran in the Asbury Park Press this past summer, but it's like many articles of its kind. It describes how “a half-dozen New Jersey teachers listen to a woman talk about how frustration with the Roman Catholic Church affected life in 1940s France.”

The speaker explained how “anti-Church sentiment angered many who believed the Church didn't do enough to stop the mass killings of Jews and other groups.”

This is not true. Is New Jersey Holocaust selective? Does it include the Jewish testimonials about Catholics? Did this crash course in Holocaust studies include any of these following statements?

The Australian Jewish News (April 16, 1943) quoted Cardinal Gerlier, who strongly opposed the deportations of French Jews and sheltered Jewish children, as saying that he was obeying Pius XII's instructions by continuing to oppose France's anti-Semitic measures.

Catholic leaders protested against the maltreatment of Jews according to The New York Times. In a pastoral letter read from all pulpits of the Diocese of Toulouse in late August, Bishop Saliege denounced the Jewish persecution openly: “In the concentration camps in our diocese, horrible things are happening against the Jews, who are human beings like we are. Every imaginable cruelty is permitted against them. There are rights of man given by God to the human race which should not be violated. Jewish children, women and men are treated like cattle (Sept. 3, 1942, p. 5, col. 1).”

Letters and protests by the Catholic bishops in occupied France were read from Church pulpits urging Catholics to help persecuted Jews: “Many Catholic leaders in unoccupied France are sheltering children of Jews, and their defiance of orders to surrender them has brought about an open rift between the Vichy government and priests” (Sept. 9, 1942, p. 9, col. 4-5).

Early on, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, speaking at Lourdes as Pope Pius XI's delegate to France, for the closing days of the Jubilee Year honoring the 19th centenary of Redemption, described the Nazis as “possessed by the superstition of race and blood,” and declared that “the Church does not consent to form a compact with them at any price.” Describing the speech, The New York Times headlined its story (April 29, 1935): “Nazis Warned at Lourdes.”

In a report filed with the U.S. State Department in 1939, Alfred W. Klieforth, U.S. consul general in Berlin, after a three-hour meeting “to discuss the situation in Germany” described Cardinal Pacelli's views: “He opposed unilaterally every compromise with National Socialism. He regarded Hitler not only as an untrustworthy scoundrel but as a fundamentally wicked person. He did not believe Hitler capable of moderation, in spite of appearances, and he fully supported the German bishops in their anti-Nazi stand.”

On Dec. 25, 1940, The New York Times editorialized: “If the Pope [Pius XII] in his Christmas message had intended to condemn Hitler's system, he could not have done it more effectively than by describing the ‘moral order’ which must govern human society. The Pontiff pointed out that the foundation of the moral order is trust, ‘Fidelity in the observance of pacts.’ Without trust — and this war has demonstrated the truth of his words — the coexistence of powerful and weak peoples is impossible. The moral order cannot be based on hatred, on the principle that ‘might makes right,’ on ‘economic maladjustment,’ on ‘the spirit of cold egoism,’ which leads to the violation of the sovereignty of states and the liberty of their citizens. The moral order, in a word, is in complete contradiction to Hitler's order.”

Pius XII wrote his first encyclical in 1939. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency in New York reported (Oct. 27, 1939): “The unqualified condemnation which Pope Pius XII heaped on totalitarian, racist and materialistic theories of government in his encyclical, Summi Pontificatus, caused a profound stir. … Few observers had expected so outspoken a document.” The New York Times printed the entire encyclical which clearly condemned racism and totalitarianism.

Its reporter Anne O'Hare McCormick wrote: “The Bishops have taken the unusual step of circulating among the people the official protest they have addressed to the Government. … This confirms that the Catholic Church has followed the Jews as the scapegoat of the Nazis” (June 10, 1942).

Michael Tagliacozzo, a Jewish historian and eyewitness, wrote: “Pope 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.”

Throughout World War II, Pius XII continually condemned Nazi policies. He so provoked the Nazis that they called him “a mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals.”

All experts who witnessed that era agree that, if Pius XII had stridently attacked the Nazi leaders, more lives would have been lost. Robert Kempner, the American deputy chief of the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal stated: “All the arguments and writings eventually used by the Catholic Church only provoked suicide; the execution of Jews was followed by that of Catholic priests.”

Catholics were engaged in the greatest Christian rescue program in the history of Catholicism. Beyond doubt, Pius XII was a diplomat who steered a careful course through chaos. His many acts of mercy speak for themselves.

There is a current campaign underway to vilify Pope Pius XII, to divide Catholics, and to undermine papal authority. Catholics must confront the unjust and vindictive attacks on Pius XII, aimed at eventually silencing the strong moral voice of the Church in the person of the vicar of Christ, Benedict XVI.

By what right do some critics discount the testimonials of survivors and rescuers?

Religious Teachers Fillipini Sister Margherita Marchione, Ph.D., has written more than 50 books. She lectures widely in North America and Europe.