The dishonest story of Pope Pius XII being "Hitler's pope" for not doing enough to protect Jews in the last war has surfaced again. It does not reflect well on the people who spread it.
Cardinal Pacelli served as Pius XII from 1939 to 1958. He recognized Hitler as a threat to German culture and as early as 1921 was criticizing the Nazis. Professor Ronald Rychlak documents that between 1917 and 1929, 40 public speeches made on German soil by Pacelli before he was Pope contained attacks on National Socialism. As Pope he pressed hard for peace, declaring that "Nothing is lost by peace but everything may be lost by war." He devoted his first six years in office to bringing relief to the suffering plus bringing as many Jews as possible to freedom. Thousands of Jews were housed in Church buildings in Rome even after the Nazis occupied the city in 1943.
These were only a few of the hundreds of thousands that the Church saved from Nazi killers. In 1967 Israeli diplomat Pinchas Lapide estimated that Pope Pius XII was "instrumental in saving at least 700,00 possibly as many as 860,000 Jews from death at Nazi hands." To put these numbers in perspective consider that the Nazis had 8,300,000 Jews under their control; 6,000,000 were killed leaving 2,300,000 survivors. If we take Lapide's lowest figure, the Pope was instrumental in saving 30% of the Jews who survived the Holocaust.
Catholics too, were targets of the Nazi killing machine. At Auschwitz, 3,000,000 Polish Catholics were murdered, including thousands of priests, 20% of Poland's clerical class (“priest swine,” as the Nazis called them). It needs to be added that papal diplomacy and underground assistance were more effective in saving Jewish lives from the Nazis than they were at saving Catholic lives from the Communists in Soviet Russia.
After the war Soviet Communists began the disinformation campaign against the Church. Pope Pius was the leading anti-communist leader in the world. Hating him and the Church was as much a part of Soviet Communism as hating Jews was part of Nazism. But as Rabbi David G. Dalin notes in his authoritative article in the Weekly Standard, "Pope Pius XII and the Jews," this communist big lie was appropriated by "lapsed or angry" Catholic writers as "simply the biggest club available for modernists to use against traditionalist Catholics." He continues:
But Jews, whatever their feeling about the Catholic Church, have a duty to reject any attempt to usurp the Holocaust and use it for partisan purposes in such a debate particularly when the attempt disparages the testimony of Holocaust survivors and spreads to inappropriate figures the condemnation that belongs to Hitler and the Nazis…. “The Talmud teaches that whosoever preserves one life, it is accounted to him by scripture as if he had preserved the whole world." More than any other twentieth century leader, Pius fulfilled the Talmudic dictum when the fate of European Jewry was at stake. No other pope has been so widely praised by Jews and they were not mistaken. Their gratitude, as well as that of the entire generation of the Holocaust survivors, testifies that Pius XII was genuinely and profoundly a righteous gentile.
Further testament to Pius' moral stature is the fact that the Chief Rabbi of Rome chose to convert to Catholicism after the war. Obviously conversion involves more than the example of one man. Nevertheless the example of a good man can have an impact, and the example was there.
February 9, 2005