Friday, May 7, 2010

Hubert Wolf "Why did the Pope keep quiet about the Holocaust?"

Newspapers whether in print or electronic form create "hooks" to grab and keep the reader's attention.  In this case, my attention was well and truly grabbed by this rather dramatic headline.  This article appeared in the latest online edition of the US magazine Foreign Policy.  According to Wikipedia, Foreign Policy  describes itself as “a daily web magazine that is a must-read for anyone who cares about international affairs, … indispensable, insightful and as diverse as the subjects it covers, … serious but never stuffy.”

The magazine certainly lives up to its claims in this article. 

Hubert Wolf (b 1959), is a priest of the diocese of Rottenberg-Stuggart and a published historian who since 1999 has been on the faculty of Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität in Münster.  He has also worked in the archives of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (Holy Office / Inquisition) as well as in the Secret Archives (ASV).

In 2008 he published "Papst und Teufel"  which will be released in English later in May under the title "The Pope and the Devil: the Vatican's archives and the Third Reich".

This article has an odd title considering most of it centres on the famous bishop of Münster, Clemens August Graf von Galen (1876-1946). 

And while this is interesting, it is the claim in the opening paragraph that I find disturbing:

How much did the Catholic Church hierarchy know about the Holocaust as it was happening? And why didn't it speak up? With the opening of the Vatican archives from the World War II years, we can finally explore these heated questions -- and German historian Hubert Wolf has dug through the files to find damning evidence that Pope Pius XII, known to critics as "Hitler's pope," made a conscious decision to pass on the issue, leaving it up to his bishops in Germany to protect the Jews and Catholics who were being killed. Even when directly confronted with the growing enormity of the situation, as in this story of a German bishop who did stand up for his morals, the pope avoided public action.

Firstly, the "Vatican archives from the World War II years" are not opened and will not be for at least another three years.  Secondly, I find it hard to believe that a scholar of Wolf's standing would have "dug through the files to find damning evidence" that Pius XII "made a conscious decision to pass on the issue, leaving it up to his bishops in Germany to protect the Jews and Catholics who were being killed".  Thirdly, I suspect that the editors of Foreign Policy thought it in keeping with their mandate to never be "stuffy" to play loose with the historical record. The readers of Foreign Policy deserve better.

Whatever one's position on Pius XII it must be, at least, based on the historical record and intellectual honesty.  If Hubert Wolf did not know of the introductory paragraph the editors have a moral imperative to clarify the ambiguity.  As the article stands it is an interesting piece on the Lion of Münster, but none of the war references are new - they have been in the public domain for decades, including the published documents of Acts and Documents of the Holy See (ADSS).

One last comment.  The cover of the English translation features a photo of Eugenio Pacelli during his time as Nuncio to Germany (1917-1929) entering the Presidential residence in Berlin.  It is similar to the image used on the cover of John Cornwall's 1999 "Hitler's Pope".  This is a not-so-subtle form of mischief making.  As any Year 12 history student would be able to say, the Nazis did not come to power until January 1933 when Pacelli had been gone from Germany for over three years.  Why use an irrelevant picture if not to sensationalise?


Fortunately the editorial review found on Amazon gives a more hopeful synopsis of Wolf's book. I have ordered it and look forward to reading it.







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