Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Galus Australia and Pius XII

On 20 May 2010 the Australian Jewish blog Galus Australia published an article entitled Jewish Knight Defends Pius XII.  In the days following there has been a lively and often heated discussion going on between several people notably Gary Krupp, founder of Pave The Way Foundation; Gabriel Wilensky, author of Six Million Crucifixions: How Christian Teachings about Jews Paved the Road to the Holocaust; Michael Hesemann, an independent historian in Germany, and a number of others.  It is a tribute to each of the contributors that each has remained polite and considered in their questions, positions and responses - a welcome relief when confronted with much online behaviour. 

However, I have observed a number of interesting things as I read through the comments.  At the time of writing this entry, there are 99 comments and it does not look as though the debate is anywhere near being over.

The first observation relates to documentation.  Documents tell historians a lot, and they can also conceal.  Documents cannot be examined in isolation - they did not originate in vacuums - they have contexts, and often the contexts are complex crossing several disciplines, languages, cultures, political and economic barriers as well as religious dimensions.  Since the ASV German files for 1922-1939 have only been opened since 2003, it is still too early to make anything approaching final judgement - something I fear is all too evident in some of the posts I have read.  Certainly the broad strokes appear fairly clear, but the details that are emerging also help clarify and illuminate.

One example.  The distinction between traditional Catholic anti-Judaism as expressed in the late Tridentine era (before the reforms of Vatican II) and racial based Antisemitism that enjoyed great popular and "scientific" currency from the early 19th century until its obscene apogee in the Holocaust.

No serious scholar asserts Eugenio Pacelli was an Antisemite.  He was not.  To claim he was is risible and contradicts the historical record.  However, to assert that Pacelli was immune to many of the cultural stereotypes about some Jews is also unsupportable.  There are occasions when Pacelli's diplomatic pose slips as he writes about the characteristics of the 1919 Munich revolutionaries, many of whom were Jews.  His distaste reflects a cultural hostility towards some Jews, not all Jews.  And in some of the 1919 reports sent to Rome describing the Bavarian Soviet, the nuncio does engage in using the Jewish-Bolshevik-Russian labels that were fast becoming accepted as fact by many right-wing Germans and others in Europe.

Another observation has to do with the questions related to context.  In many of the posts there is a fixation with one issue with scant regard to the surrounding issues.  To ask the question "How did Pacelli view Jews?" cannot rely on one or two documents. 

The question demands research into the situation in Germany at the end of World War One, the relationship between the Church and the Jews (if one can speak of such a thing), the perceptions of Jews within various Catholicisms, the German Catholic experience of the Kulterkampf and how that shaped attitudes towards authority and helped fashion the way German Catholics responded to government policy under the Third Reich, the attitude of the Holy See and its nuncios, and finally, Pacelli himself and how he viewed Jews as individuals, as a religious group and the reality of secular Jews.  It is terribly complex.  The simple statement "Pacelli was not anti-Jewish" is too bald.  It needs qualifying.  The documents emerging from ASV help us define Pacelli's attitudes to an extent; but we also rely on other sources as well.

I will not be joining in the conversation on Galus Australia - I don't have the time or energy.  I will stick to the steady plod through the documents and the steady flow of scholarly works that help place these documents firmly within their contexts.

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