Pope Benedict is on a whirlwind tour of the Middle East and stopped in Israel where he gave a speech lamenting the horrific loss of life in the Holocaust at a memorial devoted to that atrocity.
It should be as simple as that, but some Israeli critics are now ripping the Pope for not apologizing for the Holocaust and for failing to mention that it was Germans (the Pope is German) who perpetrated the slaughter. Some days you just can’t win.
In fact, the Pope has mentioned Germany’s role in previous speeches, so I’ll leave that criticism where it belongs: in the dustbin. The more disturbing thing to me is the people who expected an apology on behalf of the Catholic Church.
I’ll be perfectly clear about this: When it comes to the Holocaust, the Catholic Church has nothing to apologize for. The slander of Pope Pius XII as being some sort of willing accomplice to the German death machine is just that: a slander. It was first perpetrated in a KGB-produced play called “The Deputy” and has been accepted as truth by a media too lazy to check the historical record and by active enemies of the Church ever since.
It is claimed that Pius never spoke out against the Nazis. This is simply not true. He spoke out early and often. While well-heeled European and American intellectuals were expressing admiration for the policies of the new German Chancellor, Pius was denouncing him. In 1937, Pius denounced the Nazis as “un-Christian” in a document that was smuggled into Germany and read from the pulpit in Catholic churches. He was seen at the time as being one of Hitler’s strongest and most vocal critics.
In 1941, the New York Times wrote a Christmas Day editorial that stated:
“The voice of Pius XII is a lonely voice in the silence and darkness enveloping Europe this Christmas. . . . He is about the only ruler left on the Continent of Europe who dares to raise his voice at all.”
As the Times praised the Pope (probably the last time the Times has ever praised a Pope), the Pontiff was denounced by none other than Josef Goebbels for taking the side of the Jews.
When the Germans occupied Rome, Pius instructed the clergy to do everything they could to protect Jews. Throughout Rome convents and monasteries sheltered Jewish refugees…all at the insistence of the Pope. The Papal residence at Castel Gandolfo held up to 3000 Jews at any given time. Thousands of Jews were saved because of the Pope’s direct action and orders.
It’s estimated that up to 80% of the Jews in Europe were killed by the Nazis. It’s also estimated that 80% of Italian Jews managed to escape the death camps. Why? Because the Pope and the Church were sheltering and hiding them from the cold grasp of the SS.
It is true that the Pope did not denounce the anti-Semitic laws that Germany had passed. It is not true that his refusal was based on his own anti-Semitism. His refusal was because he feared a greater reprisal. Jewish leaders specifically asked Pius not to protest for fear of a blowback. In German-occupied Holland in 1942, Catholic leaders publicly denounced the Nazis and were paid back by the Germans tearing apart Catholic schools, convents, and monasteries and sending to the camps any Jew who had converted to Catholicism. When Pius XII found out, he withdrew a letter condemning the Nazis that he was going to have published in the Vatican newspaper.
It is also true that the Allies pressured the Pope to sign a document protesting the Holocaust and that the Pope refused to do it. What is less commonly known is that the Pope refused to sign it unless the document also condemned the slaughter of Jews happening in Stalin’s Russia. Since Russia was a member of the Allied nations, the document was passed without the Pope’s signature.
The Church issued false birth certificates to thousands of Jews and disguised others as nuns and priests, allowing them to escape scrutiny by the Nazis. It’s estimated that the Catholic Church saved from 700,000 to 850,000 Jews from extermination.
Following the war, Pius was praised by Jewish leaders as disparate as Albert Einstein and Golda Meir. He was also publicly and loudly thanked by Jewish leaders in America, Turkey, Italy, and other nations.
There’s plenty more evidence that should forever bury this outrageous calumny. But that would require actual effort on the part of a media all-too-willing to disparage a Pope.