Martin Gilbert on the Vatican and the Holocaust

By Ted Belman

I received an email from a friend who is an adviser to the Vatican wherein he forwarded to me a newsflash from “Inside the Vatican”.

It contained an interview of Sir Martin Gilbert under the title “Distorted Shorthand”.

It was sub-titled A leading British historian, Sir Martin Gilbert, who is Jewish, weighs in on the Yad Vashem description of Pope Pius XII’s war-time role, calling it “distorted shorthand”

May 13, 2007 | 5 Comments »

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5 Comments / 5 Comments

  1. Ted,

    thanks for the reference of this famous article.

    In the light of all this it is very surprising to me to see Jews in Europe (and probably also in America and Canada) but also in Israel to praise the actual pope ratzinger and his dead predecessor woytila.

    It is amasing to see that so many of our Jewish brethren are so thankful to hear words of compliments on behalf of us Jews and to believe it without any critique. ALL popes are hypocrites.

    ratzinger and woytila (may their memory be erased – IMAH SHEMAM) are ugly anti-Semits. their own scripture discribes their character the best :

    “Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves” [matthew 7:15]

  2. Thank you soren for your answer and also for the autobiographical insides you gave intentionally. I wish you to continue to analyse your background and to investigate some more profound aspects of it.

    With regard to the Vatican, I agree with what you are saying. But I would like to go further and analyse the deeper reasons

    [a] of their opposition to Israel
    [b] of their hypocrisy

    I have some precise ideas. What are yours ?

  3. Thank you daniel for the time you put into your comment. The Vatican and Roman Catholicism are as dangerous to Israel as anyone in my opinion. Even the unbiblical antisemitic teachings of Martin Luther and other Protestants who still hold to the view that the Church is in place of Israel are holdovers from Catholic replacement theology. The Vatican loves to use pleasant sounding words like “peace” and “love,” but notice their words about Jerusalem, Islam, and doctrine. I came out of a Catholic background (also have family at the Vatican) and the Vatican is no friend of Israel or Jewry.

  4. Here are some facts I assembled from the web and arranged systematically:

    Eugenio Pacelli alias Pius XII

    1. “We Remember: Reflections on the Holocaust”

    1.1 Sources

    1.1.1 In an attempt to clarify the attitude of the Holy See during the Holocaust, the Vatican has brought forth a series of volumes entitled “Acts and Documents of the Holy See in relation to the Second World War.” These volumes provide invaluable information and copious correspondence between the Vatican and different clerical and political delegations.

    1.1.2 It is worth noting that this same publication was actually censored by the Vatican. Specialists have commented upon the conspicuous absence of certain letters and documents in the volume already published.

    1.1.3 At the request of Pope John Paul II, the Commission for Ecumenical Understanding Between the Vatican and the Jewish People edited a paper on the Holocaust titled “We Remember – Reflections on the Holocaust.” This 10-page document was published on March 16, 1998 ten and a half years after the the original assignment of the task. “We Remember” reflects the standard Vatican position vis-à-vis the Holocaust. The overall purpose of this document has been to perpetuate the image which the Vatican wishes to present to the world public. At the time of this article, it is the most significant single Vatican declaration pertaining to the Holocaust.

    1.2 Content

    1.2.1 The document reports in detail how Pius constantly condemned antisemitism, racism, and the deification of Hitler, as well as attesting to the actions taken by individual Catholics on behalf of embattled or threatened Jews. More than anything else, the authors remind us that Pius XII constantly intervened in a most personal matter on behalf of Jews in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Croatia [sic !]. To bolster this favorable image of Pius XII, innumerable letters from individual Jews are cited, thanking the Vatican for services rendered.

    1.2.2 Publicly, the Pope stayed silent. Privately, Pius did instruct Catholic institutions to take in Jews. The Vatican itself hid 477 Jews and another 4,238 Jews were protected in Roman monasteries and convents.(21)[ Gilbert, Martin, The Holocaust, p. 623]

    1.2.3 Hence 5,000 Jews found asylum within the monasteries – and this does not justify the claim put forth in “We Remember”, which insists that the Vatican saved “hundreds of thousands of Jews

    2. “The Vatican and the Holocaust”

    2.1 The “International Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission” (ICJHC), a group comprised of three Jewish and three Catholic scholars, was appointed in 1999 by the Holy See’s “Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews”. In October of 2000, the group of scholars finished their review of the Vatican’s archives, and submitted their preliminary findings to the Comission’s then-President, Cardinal Edward I Cassidy. Their report, entitled “The Vatican and the Holocaust,” laid to rest several of the conventional defenses of Pope Pius XII.

    2.2 The preliminary report released by the IJCHC also asked the Vatican for access to non-published archival documents to more fully investigate the Pope’s role in the Holocaust. This request was refused by the Vatican, which allowed them access only to documents from before 1923. As a result, the Commission suspended its study in July 2001, without issuing a final report. Dr. Michael Marrus, one of the three Jewish panelists and a professor of history at the University of Toronto, expained that the commission “ran up against a brick wall…. It would have been really halpful to have had support from the Holy See on this issue.”(29)[ The Jerusalem Post. “Vatican Blocks Panel’s Access to Holocaust Archives.” By Melissa Radler. 7/24/01]

    3. Facts About Vatican and the Shoah

    3.1 The Pope and Germany

    3.1.1 The Pope was born in 1876 in Rome as Eugenio Pacelli.

    3.1.2 Pacelli lived in Germany from 1917, when he was appointed Papal Nuncio in Bavaria, until 1929, and regarded himself as devotee of all things German.

    3.1.3 In 1929 Pacelli became a cardinal and returned to Rome, where he was later appointed Secretary of State, in 1930. In this latter function, Pacelli’s actions regarding Hitler were controversial. Hitler took power on January 30, 1933. On July 20 that same year, Pacelli and German diplomat Franz von Papen signed the much-debated Concordat with Nazi Germany in 1933. The concordat granted freedom of practice to the “Roman Catholic Church”. In return, the Church agreed to separate religion from politics. This diminished the influence of the “Catholic Center Party” and the Catholic Labor unions. The concordat was generally viewed as a diplomatic victory for Hitler. [Berenbaum, Michael, “The World Must Know”, p. 40.]

    3.2 The Pope and the Jews

    3.2.1 The Silence The silence of the Vatican during WWII is irrefutable. In 2006, an Israeli scholar, Dina Porat, discovered correspondence between Haim Barlas, an emissary of the Jewish Agency sent to Europe to save Jews in the 1940s, and Giuseppe Roncalli, who later became Pope John XXIII. Roncalli expressed criticism of the Vatican’s silence during the war. In June 1944, Barlas sent Roncalli a copy of a report compiled by two Jews who escaped from Auschwitz documenting the mass murder at the camp. Roncalli forwarded the report to the Vatican, which had claimed it did not know about the report until October. Earlier, Roncalli had written to the president of Slovakia at the behest of Barlas asking him to stop the Nazi deportations of Jews. [Jerusalem Post, December 4, 2006] In the spring of 1940, the Chief Rabbi of Palestine, Isaac Herzog, asked the papal Secretary of State, Cardinal Luigi Maglione to intercede to keep Jews in Spain from being deported to Germany. He later made a similar request for Jews in Lithuania. The papacy did nothing. [Gutman, Israel, “Encyclopedia of the Holocaust”, p. 1136.] In October 1941, the Assistant Chief of the U.S. delegation to the Vatican, Harold Tittman, asked the Pope to condemn the atrocities. The response came that the Holy See wanted to remain “neutral,” and that condemning the atrocities would have a negative influence on Catholics in German-held lands. [Perl, William, “The Holocaust Conspiracy”, p. 206.] In late August 1942, after more than 200,000 Ukrainian Jews had been killed, Ukrainian Metropolitan Andrej Septyckyj wrote a long letter to the Pope, referring to the German government as a regime of terror and corruption, more diabolical than that of the Bolsheviks. The Pope replied by quoting verses from Psalms and advising Septyckyj to “bear adversity with serene patience.” [Hilberg, Raul, “Perpetrators Victims Bystanders”, p. 267] On September 18, 1942, Monsignor Giovanni Battista Montini, the future Pope Paul VI, wrote, “The massacres of the Jews reach frightening proportions and forms.” [Gutman, Israel, “Encyclopedia of the Holocaust”, p. 1137] Yet, that same month when Myron Taylor, U.S. representative to the Vatican, warned the Pope that his silence was endangering his moral prestige, the Secretary of State responded on the Pope’s behalf that it was impossible to verify rumors about crimes committed against the Jews. [Israel Pocket Library, “Holocaust”, p. 133; Gutman, Israel, “Encyclopedia of the Holocaust”, p. 1137] Wladislaw Raczkiewicz, president of the Polish government-in-exile, appealed to the Pope in January 1943 to publicly denounce Nazi violence. Bishop Preysing of Berlin did the same, at least twice. Pius XII refused. [Israel Pocket Library, “Holocaust”, p. 134] On October 16, 1943, the Nazis arrested 1,007 Roman Jews, the majority of whom were women and children. They were taken to Auschwitz, where 811 were gassed immediately. Of those sent to the concentration camp, 16 survived. [Perl, William, “The Holocaust Conspiracy”, p. 201.] The Vatican did not issue any formal condemnation, but Pope Pius did instruct the clergy to open the doors to all Jews seeking refuge. An inactive rather than proactive policy is Pius’ legacy, and while individual actions taken by the Pope were indeed laudable, they do not change the nature of his Papal reign: a reign of silence. The Osservatore Romano, never once specified the crimes of the Nazis and their allies.

    3.2.2 Official Allusions The Shoah, this scientifically organized genocide, which outdistanced all previous cruelty known to man in its scope and savagery, received but a fragmented echo in papal documents. The allusions to it that do exist are too cryptic and vague to constitute any strong body of opinion. Pius never once spoke publicly of either “Jews” or “Judaism”, he referred to the Jews without naming them. The prevailing tone of the Papal documents was cold and juridical – there was no hint of outrage. What merits our attention is whether this silence was the result of ignorance regarding the death camps, or whether the Vatican was privy to the facts.

    3.2.3 Individual Help Historians point out that any support the Pope did give the Jews came after 1942, once U.S. officials told him that the allies wanted total victory, and it became likely that they would get it. Furthering the notion that any intervention by Pius XII was based on practical advantage rather than moral inclination is the fact that in late 1942, Pius XII began to advise the German and Hungarian bishops that it would be to their ultimate political advantage to go on record as speaking out against the massacre of the Jews. [Israel Pocket Library, “Holocaust”, p. 136] In 2004, news was disclosed of a diary kept by James McDonald, the League of Nations high commissioner for refugees coming from Germany. In 1933, McDonald raised the treatment of the Jews with then Cardinal Pacelli, who was the Vatican secretary of state. McDonald was specifically interested in helping a group of Jewish refugees in the Saar region, a territory claimed by France and Germany that was turned over to the Germans in 1935. The Pope’s defenders cite his intercession on these Jews’ behalf as evidence of his sympathy for Jews persecuted by the Nazis. According to McDonald, however, when he disccused the matter with Pacelli, “The response was noncommittal, but left me with the definite impression that no vigorous cooperation could be expected.” [Peter Carlson, “A Diplomat’s Diary,” Washington Post, April 22, 2004] Pacelli did intercede in January 1935 to help the Jews, but only after McDonald agreed that American Jews would use their influence in Washington to protect church properties that were being threatened by the Mexican government. [Jewish Telegraphic Agency, April 23, 2004]

    3.2.4 The Vatican’s Justifications The Vatican officially puts foreward that publicly denouncing the Nazi’s actions would have been useless. – Regarding this first point, it was absolutely indispensable from a moral point of view. It is rather simplistic to assume that Vatican actions alone could have “saved the Jews” more than the entire allied coalition – but it is certain that, by his relentless silence, Pius XII forfeited his self-declared role as the moral conscience of humanity. The second official argument put foreward by the Vatican is that it would have worsened the victims’ predicament. – Regarding this second point, it is hard to imagine a worse plight for the victims than that which they suffered. Pacelli was elected Pope on March 2, 1939, and took the name Pius XII. As Pope, he had three official positions. He was head of his church and was in direct communication with bishops everywhere. He was chief of state of the Vatican, with his own diplomatic corps. He was also the Bishop of Rome. In theory, at least, his views could influence 400 million Catholics, including those in all the occupied eastern territories – the Poles, Baltics, Croatians, Slovaks and others. [Perl, William, “The Holocaust Conspiracy”, p. 197] The Vatican argues that neutrality had been obtained, ostensibly, to grant the individual Churches in the countries in conflict, the greatest leverage and freedom with which they could act. The hard heart of the matter is, this political neutrality soon extended to the moral sphere as well. In reality, this conciliatory policy of reserve served so as not to offend the German population, in the event of Germany assuming a hegemonic position in post-war Europe. In a September 1940 broadcast, the Vatican called its policy “neutrality,” but stated in the same broadcast that where morality was involved, no neutrality was possible. [Perl, William, “The Holocaust Conspiracy”, p. 200] This could only imply that mass murder was not a moral issue. However, in May 1940, the Pope gave early support to the allies: He received information about a German plan, Operation Yellow, to lay mines to deter British naval support of Holland. Pius XII gave his permission to send coded radio messages warning papal nuncios in Brussels and The Hague of the plot. The German radio monitoring services decoded the broadcast and went ahead with the plan. [Gilbert, Martin, “The Second World War”, p. 59] This papal intervention is surprising due to the Pope’s persistent claim of neutrality, and his silence regarding almost all German atrocities. The Pope finally gave himself a reason for his consistent refusals to make a public statement in December 1942. The Allied governments issued a declaration, “German Policy of Extermination of the Jewish Race,” which stated that there would be retribution for the perpetrators of Jewish murders. When Tittman asked Secretary of State Maglione if the Pope could issue a similar proclamation, Maglione said the papacy was “unable to denounce publicly particular atrocities.” [Hilberg, Raul, “The Destruction of the European Jews”, p. 315] One reason for this position was that the staunchly anti-communist Pope felt he could not denounce the Nazis without including the Communists; therefore, Pius XII would only condemn general atrocities. [Gutman, Israel, “Encyclopedia of the Holocaust”, p. 1137; Hilberg, Raul, “Perpetrators Victims Bystanders”, p. 264]

    3.3 A Well Informed Pope

    3.3.1 Widely differing historians of the Vatican’s role during the Holocaust have concluded that the Vatican was quite aware of the turn of events

    3.3.2 Throughout the Holocaust, Pius XII was consistently besieged with pleas for help on behalf of the Jews.

    3.3.3 He had clear evidence of Hitler’s violations of human rights from the earliest stages having received incessant appeals on the part of victims – and governmental agencies – pleading with him to raise his voice against injustice

    3.3.4 Pacelli lived in Germany from 1917, when he was appointed Papal Nuncio in Bavaria, until 1929. He knew what the Nazi party stood for, and was elected Pope in 1939 having said very little about Adolf Hitler’s ideology

    3.3.5 One of the principal sources of information was the Vatican’s own diplomatic corps in France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Rumania, Spain, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, Albania, Bulgaria, Turkey, the United States and Great Britain

    3.3.6 Five German intelligence agencies operated against the Holy See, a fact which attests to its importance as an information source

    3.3.7 the infrastructure of the Vatican allowed it to overcome those difficulties

    3.3.8 the Vatican was capable of gathering information – not that it actually did so

    3.3.9 diplomatic allies reminded the Pope constantly that Vatican prestige would suffer greatly if he continued to remain mute on Nazi atrocities

    3.3.10 independent Jewish agrupations inundated the Vatican with bulletins describing in detail the precarious situation of European Jewry

    3.3.11 “Gerstein report“. Kort Gerstein infiltrated the upper echelons of the SS, and was thus able to document and denounce the crimes he witnessed first-hand. After personally watching Jews gassed in 1942, Gerstein requested an audience with the papal nunciate in Germany…and was rejected

    3.3.12 He then completed a lengthy written testimonial, which he handed over to the Archbishop of Berlin, pleading that it be forwarded to the Pope himself. The Pope himself, while remaining, as usual, silent on the matter, never denied having received the report.

    3.3.13 the papal nunciate in Berlin, Monseignor Osbourne, was able to inform Cardinal Maglione, the Vatican secretary of state, of Hitler’s notorious speech in Wansee in 1942

    3.3.14 In May of 1943, the Vatican Secretary of State understood the situation well enough

    3.4 The Pope and Global Policy

    3.4.1 The Church his fear of producing a schism in the Catholic Church between the Vatican and its German representatives As soon as he was appointed Pope, Pacelli did speak out against the 1938 Italian racial laws that dealt with mixed marriages and children of mixed marriages.(3)[ Gutman, Israel, Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, p. 1136] However, he issued no such condemnation of Kristallnacht (the night of broken glass) which occurred in November 1938, and which recent evidence shows he was informed of by Berlin’s papal nuncio.

    3.4.2 Nazism and Communism Pius XII never once emitted an explicit and unequivocal condemnation of Hitler’s military aggression, nor was there ever any mention of the atrocious acts committed by Nazi occupation forces and their accomplices in the august opinion of humanity’s highest religious court, the aggressor remained forever anonymous Nor should it be forgotten that the Catholic Church has never excommunicated Adolf Hitler. Pius perceived Nazism as a barrier to the spread of the Russian Bolshevik regime Nor was the Vatican blind to the fact that the Nazi party had come to power democratically in Germany, nor that 22,000,000 Germans were Catholics or that 1/4 of the SS, as well as the highest cadres of the Nazi Party – including Hitler himself – were among those same 22,000,000 While the Roman Jews were being herded into the cattle cars headed for Auschwitz in October 1943, Cardinal Maglione reminded the German ambassador that the Vatican had been “quite prudent in all respects, so as not to provoke the slightest impression that she was prejudiced with regard to Germany during this terrible war.” The top priority of the Vatican was to reinforce its links with its most fervent supporters, even when they included die-hard Nazis the Vatican had decided on “maintaining diplomatic presence and relations with Germany and all other states above and beyond the use of Vatican diplomacy as a moral and humanitarian agent on behalf of the Jews [sic !]” Nor should we stand amazed at Pius’ rejection of the US request to condemn Nazi war-crimes, as the Pope insisted that he could not denigrate the Nazis by name any more than he could do so to the Russians, something which the Soviet Union’s war-time allies would not have desired. The Vatican’s interest in upholding the Concordat with Nazi Germany in 1933, which protected its properties and auxiliaries in Germany, played an important role in Pius’ foreign policy. It was the fear of losing those same privileges specified in the Concordat which catalyzed Pius’ policy of non-intervention in Nazi affairs. And this despite repeated Nazi violations of that same pact: hundreds of Catholic priests were sequestered by the Nazis, while 127 Catholic clergy were sent directly to the death camps; more than 200 Catholic journals ere prohibited for expressing anti-Nazi sentiments, while Church property was confiscated. It is self-evident that, from Pius’s perspective, concern for Catholic priorities took precedence over moral imperatives. This is particularly blatant in Pius’ non-position on the racial purity laws of the Third Reich, since the Vatican did take both Hitler and Mussolini to task for what it considered to be a flouting of Catholic doctrine inherent in the Nuremberg code; there was, however, no mention of concern for the physical or moral survival of the Jews. Although these pseudo-biological laws were indeed denounced by the Vatican – re: the papal encyclical “Mit Brennender Sorge” in 1937, as well as formal denunciations of Mussolini’s racial purity laws of 1938 – the basis of such condemnation was always theological rather than humanitarian, as this fake biological code contradicted sacred Catholic precepts of baptism, matrimony, and the definition of who was or was not a Catholic. Vatican’s official policy: neutrality at all costs (in order to garantee assurance of the institutional interests of the Catholic Church in a politically dangerous world) However, the claim that the Vatican needed to remain neutral in the war has also been refuted in recent years. In January of 2001, a document recently declassified by the U.S. National Archives was discovered by the World Jewish Congress. The document was a report in which Monsignor Giovanni Battista Montini, Pope Pius XII’s secretary of state, detailed and denounced several abuses committed by the Soviet Army against German inhabitants of the Soviet Union. The report was widely viewed as demonstrating that the Vatican had no compunctions about speaking out against atrocities, even when doing so would violate neutrality.

    3.4.3 Zionism and Judaism As the security of the Jewish population became more precarious, Pius XII did intervene the month he was elected Pope, March 1939, and obtained 3,000 visas to enter Brazil for European Jews who had been baptized and converted to Catholicism. Two-thirds of these were later revoked, however, because of “improper conduct,” probably meaning that the Jews started practicing Judaism once in Brazil. At that time, the Pope did nothing to save practicing Jews.(4)[ Gutman, Israel, Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, p. 1136] There were papal interventions on behalf of former Jews converted to Catholicism , as opposed to those Jews who maintained their own religious beliefs. In 2005, the Italian daily, Corriere della Sera, discovered a letter dated November 20, 1946, showing that Pope Pius XII ordered Jewish babies baptized by Catholics during the Holocaust not to be returned to their parents. [Jerusalem Post, (December 4, 2006)] The Pope’s indifference to the mistreatment of Jews was often clear. In 1941, for example, after being asked by French Marshal Henri Philippe Petain if the Vatican would object to anti-Jewish laws, Pius XII answered that the church condemned racism, but did not repudiate every rule against the Jews.(16)[ Gutman, Israel, Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, p. 1137] When Petain’s French puppet government introduced “Jewish statutes,” the Vichy ambassador to the Holy See informed Petain that the Vatican did not consider the legislation in conflict with Catholic teachings, as long as they were carried out with “charity” and “justice.”(17)[ Perl, William, The Holocaust Conspiracy, p. 200] The Church also answered a request to save 6,000 Jewish children in Bulgaria by helping to transfer them to Palestine. At the same time, however, Cardinal Maglione wrote to the apostolic delegate in Washington, A.G. Cicognani, saying this did not mean the Pope supported Zionism.(26)[ Gutman, Israel. Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, p. 1138] The commission also revealed several documents that cast a negative light on the claim that the Vatican did all it could to facilitate emigration of the Jews out of Europe. Internal notes meant only for Vatican representatives revealed the opposition of Vatican officials to Jewish emigration from Europe to Palestine. “The Holy See has never approved of the project of making Palestine a Jewish home…[because] Palestine is by now holier for Catholics than for Jews.” Some Catholic higher-ups violated this position of the Vatican by helping Jews to immigrate when they were able to; most did not. Similarly, the attempts of Jews to escape from Europe to South America were sometimes thwarted by the Vatican. Vatican representatives in Bolivia and Chile wrote to the pontiff regarding the “invasive” and “cynically exploitative” character of the Jewish immigrants, who were already engaged in “dishonest dealings, violence, immorality, and even disrespect for religion.” The commission concluded that these accounts probably biased Pius against aiding more Jews in immigrating away from Nazi Europe. Petain asked for the benediction of the pope with regard to the anti-Jewish measures which the Vichy quisling government have taken. The pope pius XII gave him the bendeiction citing “saint” Thomas Aquinas who wrote that “the Jews are condemned to perpetual slavery”. Thus the anit-Jewish measures were justified by the Pope.

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