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April 01st 2008 print

Hal G.P. Colebatch

The Myth of Hitler’s Pope


The Myth of Hitler’s Pope: How Pope Pius XII Rescued Jews from the Nazis by Rabbi David G. Dalin


Rabbi David Dalin, a professor of history and political science, and the splendid Regnery publishing house, have done a great service in producing this book. Meticulously detailed, it completely destroys the myth that Pope Pius XII was pro-Nazi or did less than his utmost to save Jews from the Nazis, and pays tribute to what he actually did. Its wealth of information, much previously unknown, has been praised by commentators like Mary Ann Glendon, Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard University, who has said:

“David Dalin’s search for the truth about Pope Pius XII led him to the discovery that the tragedy of the Jewish people has been shamelessly exploited by foes of traditional religion. With righteous indignation, Dalin sets the record straight, documenting the dishonesty of Pius’s leading attackers and demonstrating that the wartime Pope was a friend and protector of the Jewish people in their hour of greatest need.”

Rabbi Dalin commences with the words:

It is ironic that sixty years after the Holocaust—with anti-Semitism virulent among Islamic fundamentalists and growing rapidly among secular Europeans—that the left-liberal media in the West has tried to blame Pope Pius XII (and even the Catholic church as a whole) for anti-Semitism.

No-one believed this at the time. From the end of World War II until at least five years after his death in 1958, Pope Pius XII enjoyed an enviable reputation among Christians and Jews alike …

He points how the campaign of vilification against the Pope began with the play The Deputy, by German Rolf Hochhuth (later a close friend and defender of David Irving, and the subject of a limerick in Robert Conquest’s The Abomination of Moab), and made into a Hollywood film, Amen, in 2002.

Rabbi Dalin is also scathing of the book Hitler’s Pope, by John Cornwell, pointing out that even the cover photograph (approved by Cornwell) is viciously dishonest in its inference: it shows the future Pope Pius XII, then Cardinal Pacelli, a Vatican diplomat, leaving a reception in Germany given by the pre-Hitler President Paul von Hindenburg, in 1927, six years before Hitler came to power. He is dressed in Vatican diplomatic regalia, which could easily be confused with Papal garments, and is being saluted by two German soldiers in distinctive German steel helmets. It is not possible to see the uniforms and insignia of the soldiers clearly, and though they were actually soldiers of the Weimar Republic they could be taken for soldiers of the Third Reich. Dalin quotes the historian Philip Jenkins:

The casual reader is meant to infer that Pacelli is emerging from a cosy tete-a-tete with Hitler—perhaps they have been chatting together about plans for a new extermination camp? … Perhaps photographs do not lie, but this particular book cover—offered in the context it was, and under the title Hitler’s Pope—comes close.

(The picture can be seen at John Cornwell’s Wikipedia entry.) To compound this, the caption on the English edition claims the photograph was taken in Berlin in 1939, when Hitler was in power—a falsehood without any qualification whatsoever. Rabbi Dalin’s dissection of both these works leaves them without a shred of credibility. The film Amen is also totally false, presenting as fact incidents which never happened—anyway it was a box-office failure. Dalin documents how the left-liberal media has been quick to publicise, generally uncritically, the myth of “Hitler’s Pope”, but has generally denied even mentioning the scholarly works written in the Pope’s defence.

In fact the Pope never met Hitler, and when Hitler visited Rome in 1938, Pius very publicly snubbed the Nazis by leaving for Castel Gandolfo.

Rabbi Dalin has collected many eyewitness accounts of how Pope Pius XII and the Vatican were directly responsible for sheltering thousands of Jews in the Vatican and in church properties in and about Rome, as well as 3000 in Castel Gandolfo. As a result about 85 per cent of Rome’s Jews were saved from deportation and murder. This was despite the fact that Rome was first under the Italian Fascist regime, and then Nazi military occupation, making the Pope in the Vatican a virtual prisoner (though some of the German officers appear to have given clandestine help and warnings). In the case of Slovakia alone, the Pope’s moral pressure on the government was, according to the French Jewish scholar Leon Poliakov, directly instrumental in saving about 20,000 Slovakian Jews.

Thus while the Pope denounced and worked against Nazism, he was in a hideously difficult position in that more outspoken activity could lead to greater reprisals against the innocent. I was surprised that Rabbi Dalin did not quote the case of Edith Stein, though this was very much to the point: Edith Stein (now canonised) was a Jewish-born convert, a Carmelite nun and an outstanding philosopher and theologian. During the Nazi occupation of Holland she was in a Dutch convent. The Dutch Bishops’ Conference had a public statement read in all the churches of the country on July 20, 1942, condemning Nazi racism. In a retaliatory response on July 26, 1942, the Reichskommissar of the Netherlands, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, ordered the arrest of all Jewish-born converts to Catholicism, who had previously been spared. Stein and her sister Rosa, also a convert, were captured and shipped to Auschwitz, where they died in the gas chambers a few days later. 

The Pope’s anti-Nazi statements and activities, up to the very limit that he could press them, are a matter of record. These included the encyclical Summi Pontificatus, issued shortly after the outbreak of war, and a number of homilies, and he gave bishops instructions to help all victims of Nazism. Early in the war he stated that the Nazi atrocities in Poland affronted the moral conscience of mankind, leading the New York Times to declare: “now the Vatican has spoken with authority that cannot be questioned, and has confirmed the worst intimations of terror that have come out of the Polish darkness”. In Britain the Manchester Guardian called Vatican Radio “tortured Poland’s most powerful advocate”. In 1940 Albert Einstein, a Jewish refugee from Nazism, said: “Only the Catholic church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign … I now praise [it] unreservedly.” On July 3, 1943, Judge Joseph Proskauer, president of the American Jewish Committee, declared:

We have heard … what a great part the Holy Father has played in the salvation of the Jewish refugees in Italy, and we know from sources that must be credited that this great Pope has reached forth his mighty and sheltering hand to help the oppressed of Hungary.

Rabbi Louis Finkelstein, the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, stated: “No keener rebuke has come to Nazism than from Pope Pius XI and his successor Pope Pius XII.” Dalin has documented many other contemporary tributes from Jewish leaders of different countries, including Isaac Herzog, Chief Rabbi of Israel: “The people of Israel will never forget what His Holiness and his illustrious delegates … are doing for our unfortunate brothers and sisters in the most tragic hour of our history, which is living proof of Divine Providence in this world.”

The Pope’s Christmas messages were clear condemnations of Nazi attacks on Jews, to the fury of the Nazis. There were even Nazi plans to kidnap the Pope, which Hitler discussed in July 1943, and Mussolini said the Pope was “ready to let himself be deported to a concentration camp rather do anything against his conscience”. It is extraordinary that this overwhelming evidence has been not merely overlooked but actually suppressed.

Before the war, when the Italian Fascist regime began implementing anti-Semitic legislation and driving Jews out of universities, the Pope saved Jewish academics by giving them posts at the Vatican or helping them escape to America.

This book also illuminates a little-known aspect of history: from very early times Popes including Gregory the Great (590–604) protected Rome’s Jews and denounced anti-Semitism in general. Even the “Borgia” Pope, Alexander VI, had a notable record here, creating the first Chair of Hebrew at the University of Rome and frequently entertaining the Chief Rabbi at the Vatican. He created a safe haven for Jews fleeing persecution in Spain and Portugal.

Rabbi Dalin also shows that the religious leader who was the greatest enemy and persecutor of the Jewish people in the Second World War was in fact the Mufti of Jerusalem, who was in constant touch with the Nazi leaders and a friend of Himmler, and whose constant urging upon them of a policy of extermination may well have been crucial in bringing about the decision to proceed with the Holocaust—the decision was made at the Wannsee conference, two months after the Mufti’s initial meeting with Hitler.

Adolf Eichmann’s deputy, Dieter Wisliceny, said at the Nuremberg trails that the Mufti was “one of Eichmann’s best friends and had constantly incited him to accelerate the extermination measures”. On a visit to Auschwitz he told the guards at the gas chambers to “work more diligently.” Among other activities he recruited a Muslim SS unit, the “Hanjar Troopers”, who murdered 90 per cent of Bosnia’s Jews as well as, while the going was good, countless Christians. He made regular broadcasts on Berlin radio, exhorting his audience to “Kill the Jews wherever you find them.”

Rabbi Daniel Lapin, President of Towards Tradition, writes of this book:

Courage is contagious, so clutch this book close to your heart. Righting great wrongs requires great courage, and that is what The Myth of Hitler’s Pope delivers. With devastating effectiveness, Dr Dalin exposes their motives and subdues the assailants who with rashness and folly attempt posthumously to assassinate Pope Pius XII. This restoration of a good man’s good name is a mitzvah—a Jewish good deed.