The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Last-Modified: 2010 July 19 

SAN DIEGO, July 19, 2010 ( - Pope
Pius XII and the Catholic Church, and the cohorts of church
apologists today, often argued that the pope had to remain
silent about the mass extermination of Jews during the
Second World War in order to prevent an even worse assault
on Jews. 

The reality is that millions of Jews were
mercilessly murdered, including over 1000 from the pope's
neighborhood, while the Vatican largely looked the other
way. It's disingenuous to claim that the pope was afraid
that by speaking out on behalf of the hounded Jews things
would become worse. There was no way things could have been
worse; the Germans were killing about 10,000 Jews in
Auschwitz every day.and that was just one of the death
camps. They were not killing more because they did not have
the capacity. 

Nothing the Pope could have done or said would
have made that hell worse. Papal apologists often argue that
in Holland the church.s protestation against the deportation
of "non-Aryan Catholics" provoked the ire of the Germans,
who not only deported all the non-Aryan Catholics, but also
the Jews. But the example of what happened in Holland is
misleading, for two reasons. First, because the Church's
protest was about Jews that had converted to Catholicism,
that is, no longer Jews from neither a Jewish nor a Catholic
perspective, and second because the Germans would have
killed those converted Jews anyway. To the Germans a
baptized Jew was still a Jew, so the fact that the Church
spoke out did not precipitate their deportation: their
ancestry did.

Sometimes the argument is that the pope was trying to
protect the thousands of Jews under the protection of the
Church, in the various monasteries and convents in Italy.
But this is a weak argument to explain the pope's reticence
to confront the greatest crime in history, because even
though it.s very true that the Nazis would have likely
invaded the Vatican, raided all Church properties and
deported and murdered all Jews sheltered there, that would
have still been less than the number of Jews that the
Germans were killing in Auschwitz every day. The pope must
have asked himself the question of whether it was worth
risking those lives by clearly and forcefully admonishing
the faithful everywhere to refrain from participating in any
way in the "Final Solution", and yet he chose to remain
silent. Ultimately, he may have saved those few thousand at
the expense of several million.

The Church is the self-avowed protector of morals. Instead,
they proved to be the self-avowed protector of Vatican
interests. Maybe if the pope and the curia were so concerned
with their well-being and/or the consequences of them being
killed or kidnapped they could have moved to the relative
safety of London, Lisbon or New York and broadcast and
directed the faithful from there. They would not have been
the first government to do that, and it would not have been
the first time the papacy moved its seat elsewhere when
things got uncomfortable in Rome. But the pope was obsessed
with protecting Rome from bombardment. There's a reason why
the British ambassador to the Holy See, Sir Francis D'Arcy
Osborne, wrote: "I am revolted by Hitler's massacre of the
Jewish race on the one hand and, on the other, the Vatican's
apparently exclusive preoccupation . . . with the
possibilities of the bombardment of Rome.. Pope Pius was not
in good standing with the British Foreign Office in general,
actually, as after his meeting with Croatian mass murderer
Ante Pavelic in 1941 the Foreign Office described the pope
as "the greatest moral coward of our age."

If the Vatican had done the right thing and had acted
morally it would have forfeited its ability to protect the
Vatican and its treasures, its considerable economic
interests in Germany, its chance to be a peace broker, and
its ability to protect people, in what I believe was their
priority order. But the concept of charity and sacrifice is
not new to Christianity. There were thousands of Christians
across Europe, including many nuns, priests and other
members of the clergy, who displayed Christian charity and
helped Jews, sometimes even putting their lives at risk.
Many apologists for the pope believe that all this was done
at the behest and under direct instruction of Pope Pius, but
as far as I know (and of course I could be proven wrong)
there is no credible evidence of this. No, these people
acted out of their own volition. Sure, he may have opened
the doors of Castel Gandolfo and given shelter to 2-3
thousand Jews, but what about the other thousands of other
church properties scattered around Europe, including his own
1000+ room palace in the Vatican? What about the other six
million who were denounced, rounded up and killed by people
who never heard from their pope, their bishops, their parish
priests, or even by their military chaplains, that murdering
Jews was a crime and a mortal sin?

Even when the Jews of Rome were deported to their deaths in
Auschwitz the pope chose to remain silent.  He seems to have
made some private, ineffective attempt to prevent the
deportation, but he chose not to stand up and impose his
moral authority. As the German ambassador to the Vatican
Weizsäcker reported to his superiors, "Although under
pressure from all sides, the Pope has not let himself be
drawn into any demonstrative censure of the deportation of
the Jews of Rome." Even though ultimately this is just
speculation, I think that the pope could have stood in front
of the train carrying Rome's Jews as it was departing Rome
toward Auschwitz. Even if the Germans had forcibly removed
him from the tracks, the impression this symbolic gesture
would have had would have been so powerful that it would
have, if not halted the machinery of destruction, certainly
saved many lives and firmly and honestly cemented the
Church's moral standing. 

Gabriel Wilensky 

Six Million Crucifixions:
How Christian Teachings About Jews Paved the Road to the
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