Friday, January 28, 2011

Gabriel Wilensky - Holocaust Remembrance Day

International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust
27 January 2011

A timely reflection piece from Gabriel Wilensky. In particular, I found Gabriel's analysis of the term "liberation" thought provoking and stimulating.  I believe he is right in saying the Red Army did not intend to liberate Auschwitz, because they happened upon it simply because "it was in the way" of their advance through southern Poland.  Likewise, the Western Allies did not liberate other camps because that was their intention; in most cases they stumbled upon them or were directed towards them either by prisoners themselves or by the Germans.  Nuance in language is important.  It was good that the Allies did open the gates of the KL and free the prisoners, but it was not the primary purpose or task of the Allied armies to liberate the KL.  Nonetheless, among the Allied armies many ordinary soldiers discovered an extra-ordinary compassion when confronted with, what Wilensky quite aptly describes as, "the gates of hell." 

Opening the Gates of Hell

By Gabriel Wilensky

On January 27, 1945 the Red Army advancing in Poland arrived in a sleepy town called Oswiecim. Next to it, they found Hell. As they crossed the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau, they saw discombobulated walking skeletons staring at them with empty eyes. Emaciated corpses were strewn everywhere. The stench of death was overwhelming. Over a million people—mostly Jews—had been murdered there. Auschwitz was the largest and deadliest of the 20,000 concentration camps built by the Germans to create a new world order free of Jews and political dissent.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which occurs on January 27, was designated by the United Nations to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust. The date, which marks the day in which Auschwitz was liberated, was chosen as Auschwitz has become emblematic of the Holocaust. Of course one could ask the question of why the United Nations thought it necessary to select a new date, given that there already was another Holocaust Remembrance Day date which commemorates the revolt of the Warsaw Ghetto. But a more important question is what the meaning of the word liberate is in this context.

Obviously from a literal point of view the Soviet Army liberated Auschwitz, in the sense that prior to their arrival the prisoners lived and died under the German boot and after the Red Army arrived those that were still capable of surviving were freed. From this perspective it’s also valid and true to say the American Army liberated Dachau, and the British liberated Bergen Belsen. But I would argue that we need to qualify the word “liberated”, because what the Allied armies did was remove the German occupiers everywhere in their path. None of the Allied armies had as a military objective the liberation of these camps. None of them specifically sent troops in the direction of the camps with the objective of liberating the prisoners there. No, the camps just happened to be in their path. As a matter of fact, most of the Allied troops were understandably appalled by what they found, but they were surprised because they didn’t even know those camps were there and what they had been used for.

But this was not the case with the top military echelons, or of the highest political figures. Indeed, a long time before the Soviets arrived in Auschwitz a detailed report of the inner workings of the extermination camp was circulated in the Vatican, in Washington and London. A little over half a year before the liberation of the camp the Germans began the deportation and extermination of Hungary’s Jews. Many Jewish organizations pleaded with the Allied authorities so that they would bomb the railroad tracks going from Hungary to Auschwitz, and even the gas chambers. Churchill ordered his military to look into that very possibility, but was told that the railroad tracks and Auschwitz were outside the range of British bombers. The American Air Force gave similar excuses.

But the reality is that both the railroads and Auschwitz were indeed within range of American bombers already operating in Italy. As a matter of fact, the Americans had already photographed Auschwitz from the air and conducted several bombing raids of the German industrial facilities surrounding Auschwitz-Birkenau. Stray bombs actually fell in Birkenau. So, the American Air Force definitely had the capability of severely hampering the German deportation efforts from Hungary and even of destroying the gas chambers, thus severely hampering the German extermination effort. But saving Jews was not an Allied military objective, and neither the railroad tracks nor the gas chambers were bombed. As the American Air Force dithered, over 10,000 human lives were consumed in the flames of Auschwitz every day.

These facts should give us pause when we consider the meaning of the “liberation” of the concentration and death camps.

As the world commemorates International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27th, it’s also important to understand, and remember, what drove the Germans and their helpers in the various countries they invaded to perpetrate the Holocaust.

In Nazi Germany, the ancient hatred toward Jews had evolved into something secular and pseudo-scientific. This was something the post-Enlightenment, highly cultured German people could accept as a replacement for the ancient Christian anti-Judaism of their ancestors. By the time Hitler came to power German antisemitism was firmly grounded on the notions that Jews were racially inferior and for being a threat to Christian Germans and everything that was good. Ultimately, any message of hatred that conformed to the conception of Jews established by almost two thousand years of certain Christian teachings made sense and was acceptable.

Elsewhere in Europe, particularly in the East where the genocide took place and where the Germans found no shortage of auxiliaries for the genocidal duties that took place there, the situation was different. None of the locals who willfully collaborated in the execution of the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question” had been brainwashed by Nazi racial propaganda. In those countries the locals hated Jews for the same reasons other Europeans had hated Jews for centuries: for killing Jesus, for desecrating the Host, for poisoning wells, for bringing about the Black Plague, for killing young Christian boys to extract their blood to make Passover bread, for being minions of the Devil, for being greedy money-lenders, and any number of other baseless accusations.

But it’s not enough to understand and remember what the motivation of the perpetrators was, because the perpetrators would have been unable to execute their monstrous deeds if it hadn’t been for the fact that the majority of the populations of the world had the choice of acting to stop the genocide and chose not to. Even though it’s true that some chose to remain silent bystanders out of fear of the Germans, many overcame the fear and acted to save people. We do not know with certainty why the American military authorities chose not to bomb Auschwitz, but we do know that many in the military establishment and the State Department were antisemitic and felt no compassion as millions of Jews were mercilessly slaughtered.

So, now that the world is paying attention to the consequences of this hatred when looking-in through the old electrified fence at Auschwitz-Birkenau, we should not forget where antisemitism came from, and recognize that despite the great progress in Jewish-Christian relations made since the Second Vatican Council, more work needs to be done.

Gabriel Wilensky

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ten Catholic Heroes of the Holocaust

Today marks the International Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust.  It is marked on 27 January because the Red Army liberated Auschwitz on this day in 1945.  Simon Caldwell's column is a reminder of the few Christians who did go the aid of their Jewish neighbours.

From the Catholic Herald (London)

There are many Catholic heroes of the Holocaust. Poland, a country which suffered grievously under the Nazis in the Second World War, for instance, alone produced more than 4,000 people who have been recognised as Righteous Among Nations by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance authority in Jerusalem.

Some of these inspirational figures have become world-famous because of their heroism. We only have to think of St Maximilian Kolbe, for instance, or Edith Stein or even Oskar Schindler.

Just over a year ago Pope Benedict XVI declared his predecessor, Pope Pius XII, to be Venerable, meaning the Church believes he lived a life of heroic virtue. Much of this was played out in the war years when the Catholic Church saved nearly a million Jewish people from the Holocaust, more than all the other international relief organisations put together.

Yet many Catholic heroes and heroines of the Holocaust today remain largely anonymous and unsung even though they some of them paid the price of their lives for their good works and their clear consciences.

To mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27 we take a brief glance at just 10 of them.

1. The nun

Agnes Walsh

Sister Agnes Walsh is one of just 13 British men and women to be honoured as a Righteous Among Nations, or Righteous Gentile, by Yad Vashem.

The Catholic nun was born Clare Walsh in Hull in 1896 and entered the Daughters of Charity in 1916, working first in Ireland and then in Palestine.

Following a fall she was sent to St Vincent de Paul convent in Cadouin in Dordogne, France, to recuperate and when war broke out she found herself in occupied territory.

In December 1943, during manhunts for Jews in the area, Pierre Cremieux, a French Jew, asked the nuns to hide his wife, seven-year-old son and four-month-old twins.

Sister Agnes, in spite of risks to herself if the Germans found out that she was English, pleaded with her superior, Sister Granier, to shelter the family until liberation.

The family stayed in touch with the nun after the war and their testimony led to her recognition by Yad Vashem in 1990 at 94. She died in 1993.

Curiously, in 2009 her name was the only one of the 13 to be omitted from a list of the rescuers, put together by the Holocaust Education Trust, who may be posthumously honoured by the British Government for their actions in saving Jewish lives. It was later included after The Catholic Herald alerted the trust to its error.

2. The French Carmelite

Jacques de Jesus

Fr Jacques de Jesus was a French Carmelite and headmaster of the Petit Collège Sainte-Thérèse de l’Enfant-Jésus. Born in Bunel in 1900 he died, emaciated and broken by tuberculosis, in Linz, Austria, in 1944 shortly after he was liberated from Mauthausen death camp, having been sent there for sheltering Jewish boys in his school. The priest’s story is recounted in Au revoir les enfants, Louis Malle’s classic movie of 1987.

The priest had turned the boys’ school into a refuge both for young men seeking to avoid forced labour in Germany and for Jews trying to escape the Holocaust. He enrolled three Jewish boys – Hans-Helmut Michel, Jacques-France Halpern and Maurice Schlosser – under false names, and helped to hide three other Jews – including two adults.

He did this by creating jobs for two them at the school and gave sanctuary to the third by arranging shelter for him with a local villager.

He was arrested by the Gestapo on January 15 1944 and the Jewish boys were transported to Auschwitz where they perished. Fr Jacques was honoured by as a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem in 1985.

3. The German priest

Bernhard Lichtenberg

Blessed Bernhard Lichtenberg was a German Catholic priest from Ohlau in Prussian Silesia who had served as a military chaplain in the First World War. He was 62 years old and the provost of the Cathedral of St Hedwig in Berlin when Kristallnacht, the notorious Nazi pogrom, convulsed Germany.

He responded to the atrocity by closing each evening’s Mass with a prayer for “the Jews and the other poor prisoners in the concentration camps”.

On October 23 1942 he also offered a public prayer for Jews who were being deported to the death camps of the East, urging worshippers to observe Christ’s commandment to “love their neighbour” specifically in relation to the Jews.

Blessed Bernhard was denounced to the authorities. He stood trial and was sentenced to two years of hard labour in Dachau concentration camp but died “on the way”. His tomb is in St Hedwig’s cathedral.

The priest was also a courageous critic of the Nazi euthanasia programme, writing in protest to the chief medical officer of the Reich.

He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on June 23 1996.

4. The Italian archbishop

Giovanni Ferrofino

Archbishop Giovanni Ferrofino, who died on December 21 2010 aged 98, was an Italian diplomat credited with helping to save 10,000 Jews by aiding their passage from Nazi Europe.

His mission, he claimed, came directly from Pope Pius XII who ordered him to ask the Portuguese president to grant visas for Jews seeking refuge in his country. He was then sent by to the Dominican Republic where twice a year he asked to obtain 800 visas for Jews to travel from the Portugal to the Caribbean country. This would happen through the Pope sending him double-encrypted messages which he would decode. He would travel for nearly two days with the nuncio, Archbishop Maurilio Silvani, to deliver the request by hand to the Dominican leader, General Raphael Trujillo.

Most of the thousands of Jews who successfully travelled to the Dominican Republic found sanctuary later in the United States, Canada, Cuba and Mexico.

Archbishop Ferrofino was a willing partner in saving Jewish lives but he believed most of the credit belonged to Pope Pius XII. In 2008 he recorded his written testimony of their joint enterprise, which has been sent to Yad Vashem.

5 & 6. The Polish couple

Józef and Wiktoria Ulma

Józef and Wiktoria Ulma were among those heroic Polish Catholics who paid with their lives for attempting to save Jews from the Holocaust.

From 1942 they sheltered the Szalls, a Jewish family of six, in the attic of their home in Markowa, in the south-east of the country, along with the two daughters of a Jewish neighbour. Their home was raided on March 24 1944 after the Nazis were tipped off by Włodzimierz Leś, a Ukrainian policeman who had taken over the Szalls’ property. As an example to Poles of the penalty for hiding Jews, the Nazis killed Wiktoria, who was heavily pregnant, and Jozef. Their six children screamed at the sight of their parents’ bodies and they too were butchered.

The Polish Catholic Church opened the cause for canonisation of Józef and Wiktoria in 2003. On the 60th anniversary of the massacre a stone memorial was erected in Markowa to honour the memory of the Ulma family.

The inscription on the monument reads: “Saving the lives of others they laid down their own lives. Hiding eight elder brothers in faith, they were killed with them. May their sacrifice be a call for respect and love to every human being. They were the sons and daughters of this land; they will remain in our hearts.”

7. The English Bridgettine

Mother Riccarda

Mother Riccarda Beauchamp Hambrough was an English Bridgettine nun who responded heroically to the secret order of Pope Pius XII for the religious houses of Rome to open their cloisters to Jewish fugitives from the Nazis.

Together with her abbess, Blessed Mary Elizabeth Hesselblad, a Swedish convert from Lutheranism, she helped to smuggle about 60 Jews into her convent, the Casa di Santa Brigida in the historic Piazza Farnese, when the Nazis began to round up the Jews of the city in October 1943 for deportation to the death camps.

Mother Riccarda was born Madaleina Catherine in London on September 10 1887 and was baptised in the Church of St Mary Magdalen, Brighton, at the age of four after her parents, Windsor and Louise, left the Church of England for the Catholic faith.

She was one of the first Sisters to join the newly established Order of the Most Holy Saviour of St Bridget and succeeded Blessed Mary Elizabeth after she died.

In July Pope Benedict XVI declared Mother Riccarda a Servant of God after initial inquiries revealed the extent of her charity towards those she gave sanctuary, with some Jews referring affectionately to her as “Mama”.

Blessed Mary Elizabeth, who was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2000, was in 2004 recognised as a Righteous Gentile on behalf of the work of all the sisters of Casa di Santa Brigida.

8. The Polish midwife

Stanisława Leszczyńska

Stanisława Leszczyńska was a Catholic midwife who worked in the “maternity ward” at Auschwitz concentration camp, delivering more than 3,000 babies in two years, half of whom were murdered by drowning in barrels while a further 1,000 died from hypothermia and malnutrition. The mothers were wanted for labour but the babies were considered to be useless.

In an echo of the Hebrew midwives of the Book of Exodus who refused the order to put all newborn boys to death “because they feared God”, the pious Leszczyńska, from Łódź, Poland, risked her own life by refusing to participate in the infanticide, defying Dr Joseph Mengele to his face, prompting him to bellow angrily at her: “Befehl ist befehl” (an order is an order). But she bravely faced him down. Instead of taking a single life she was later able to claim that under her care not one mother or baby died.

Leszczyńska was sustained by her Catholic faith. She would make the Sign of the Cross and pray before each delivery and when she could she would baptise children before they were killed.

A cult dedicated to Leszczyńska has emerged locally since her death in 1974 and her Cause for canonisation has been introduced in the Diocese of Łódź.

A number of people have already attested to favours at her intercession, particularly in relation to childbirth problems, and she is seen as a patron of the pro-life cause.

9. The German student

Christoph Probst

Christoph Probst was a medical student, a father-of-three and member of the White Rose, a German anti-Nazi resistance movement, who was executed by guillotine at the age of 23 along with Hans and Sophie Scholl, a brother and sister, on February 22 1943. He converted to Catholicism in articulo mortis – at the point of death.

Born in Murnau am Staffelsee, Bavaria, he grew up in an agnostic household under a Jewish stepmother. He was inspired by the principle of religious freedom and was remembered by his sister as being strongly critical of Nazi ideas that violated human dignity.

He found like-minded individuals in the White Rose, a group which attempted to nurture opposition to the Nazis by circulating a series of six anonymous leaflets, which, among other things, condemned the persecution of the Jews as “the most frightful crime against human dignity, a crime that is unparalleled in human history”.

Probst was caught with a draft of the seventh leaflet, which he had written himself. It described Adolf Hitler as a murderer.

On the day of his execution at Stadelheim Prison, Munich, Probst called for a priest. He was baptised and made his Confession, telling the priest: “Now my death will be easy and joyful.”

His youngest child was just four weeks old at the time he was beheaded.

10. The Italian businessman

Giorgio Perlasca

Giorgio Perlasca was an Italian businessman who was asked by Angel Sanz-Briz, a Spanish diplomat, to run safe houses in Budapest in which Jews of alleged Sephardi (Spanish and Portuguese) origin could be sheltered with Spanish protective documents.

In November 1944 he posed as Spanish Chargé d’Affaires after Sanz-Briz was ordered by his superiors to get out of Budapest for his own safety. He took the Spanish name Jorge and in his new capacity (and of his own volition) issued in the space of 45 days 3,000 protective documents on the writing paper of the Spanish Legation.

When Hungarian Arrow Cross soldiers seized a group of Jews from a Spanish-protected house, Perlasca also bravely intervened, berating the commander and threatening to send a cable to Madrid reporting on the grave violation of Spanish rights that would have dire consequences for relations between the two countries and in particular for the officer concerned. All the captives were released.

Perlasca was one of the few neutral diplomats to remain in the city when Soviet forces drew near, working with Raoul Wallenberg to the 11th hour to save as many lives as he could.

Unlike Wallenberg, he was able to return home, where he rarely discussed his activities. He was, however, eventually decorated by the Spanish, Italian and Hungarian governments and honoured as a Righteous Among Nations.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Just a taste of what the historians are up against.

I have several "google alerts" on topics of interest to me.  They include "Pius XI", "Pius XII" and "Catholic Holocaust".  On average I get about five or six alerts every 24 hours.  Most are of minor relevance, but every now and again there will be an article, link or news report of serious news.  Among the hundreds of web sites that refer to Pius XII and what he did, or did not do, during the war are dozens of apologetic treatises written by people determined "to set the record straight".  Part of my research involves monitoring the alerts so I don't miss the important material.  Today I decided to take a look at the other kind and came across this link to "Pope Pius XII Greatest Friend of the Jews during the Holocaust" by Fr Bill McCarthy.

Bill McCarthy is a Catholic priest who belongs to the Missionaries of the Holy Apostles, a Canadian religious congregation founded in 1951.  Working the diocese of Hartford, Connecticut, he was written in the area of spirituality.  I can only hope that Fr McCarthy's religious endeavors are conducted with more rigour than this apologetic.  I also hope that the level of education offered at the Missionaries seminary is of a higher standard than this.

What follows is so inaccurate on every level that I can't even begin to correct it.  Had this been submitted by a university undergraduate I would have failed it.  I have copied it just as I found it on the web.  Point 9 is one of the most bald statements I have read.  Somehow I doubt Yad Vashem or the Chief Rabbi of Israel (there is no head Rabbi of Jerusalem) will be impressed.

Important Facts to be Remembered

1. Pope Pius XII did more than any other person to save Jewish lives during the
Holocaust, saving more that one million of them, 200,000 in Hungary, 50,000 in
Poland, 360,000 in Bulgaria, 250,000 in Rumania, 22, 000 in Slovakia and 120,000
in Italy.

2. At the risk of losing his neutrality and the risk of his own life, he ordered all
Catholic convents, seminaries, monasteries, orphanages, and hospitals to be open
to hide our Jewish brothers and sisters.

3. In Rome occupied by Nazi troops, he harbored Jews within the Vatican itself
to the extent that the Nazi’s did in fact have a plan to invade and kill the Pope and

4. While secretary to Pope Pius XI, the future Pope Pius XII wrote an encyclical
letter warning the German people of the dangers of Hitler and Nazism. This letter
written in German was smuggled into Germany by Francis Spellman the future
Cardinal of New York.

5. Between 1936 and 1943 Pope Pius XII protested against Hitler and Nazism
over 60 times. After the Dutch hierarchy officially protested the arrest and murder
of Jews, Hitler retaliated so forcefully with the deaths of added Catholics and Jews,
that along with the Red Cross the Vatican realized that any future protests would
bring down fierce measures of Nazi retaliation. From that point on all help for the
Jews was carried out by the various underground organizations that were saving
the Jews by the tens of thousands.

6. When the head Rabbi of Rome had arranged significant funds as a ransom of
Italian Jews, it was Pope Pius XII who raised most of the ransom. The head Rabbi,
in fact, became a Catholic right after the war, taking the Pope’s own name.

7. Right after the war, the B’nai Brith Society named Pope Pius XII, Man of the
Year, and he was praised by every prominent Jewish leader from Golda Meir to the
head Rabbi of the United States.

8. When Adolf Eichmann’s diaries were released by the Israeli government on
March 1, 2000. Eichmann, unwittingly, exonerated Pope Pius XII for as Eichmann
wrote, Pope Pius XII “vigorously protested the arrest of Jews, calling for the
interruption of such action, otherwise the Pope would denounce it publicly.”

Further on he stated in his diary: “At that time, my office received the copy of the
letter, that I immediately gave to my direct superiors, sent by the Catholic Church
in Rome, in the person of Bishop Hudal, to the commander of the German forces in
Rome, General Stahel. The Church was vigorously protesting the arrest of Jews of
Italian citizenship, requesting that such actions be interrupted throughout Rome
and its surroundings. To the contrary, the Pope would denounce it publicly. The
Curia was especially angry because these incidents were taking place practically
under Vatican windows. But, precisely at that time, without paying any attention
to the Church’s position, the Italian fascist government passed a law ordering the
deportation of all Italian Jews to concentration camps.”

“The objective given and the excessive delay in the steps necessary to
complete the implementation of the operation, resulted in a great part of
Italian Jews being able to hide and escape capture,” Eichmann wrote. A good
number of them hid in convents or were helped by men and women of the

9. Since Pope Pius XII did so much more for his Jewish brothers and sisters than
any other person on the face of the earth at that time the largest monument for non
Jews should be erected at Yad Va Shem to Pope Pius XII. It would also be
wonderful if the head Rabbi of Jerusalem followed the leading of Pope John Paul
II should make a public apology of behalf of the Jewish people for any Jewish
negativity toward Pope Pius XII whom history will prove to be their greatest

Friday, January 14, 2011

ADSS 11 Document 333 Pius XII and Churchill

On Wednesday 23 August 1944, Prime Minister Winston Churchill had an audience with Pius XII.  The notes prepared for the audience were prepared by members of the Secretariat of State, in particular Monsignor Domenico Tardini.  Preparations had been underway since late July 1944 and most likely had gone ahead without significant involvement from the Secretary of State, Cardinal Luigi Maglione, who was seriously ill with a fatal heart condition. (He died on 22.08.1944 in Naples.) 

Topics prepared for discussion covered a wide range of issues: 

Part One covered Italy:  The current situation in Italy with an appeal for the preservation of the monarchy; Italian prisoners of war held in Britain, Egypt, Palestine and in the USA; the danger of communism in Italy; concerns about education; the status of the Lateran Agreements; respect for the religious sensitivities of Catholic Italy.

Part Two dealt with Germany, Poland, Spain, Communism and, curiously, Palestine. 

The notes prepared on Palestine are very interesting.  At the end of the document there is a note from Tardini written in March 1949 where is wrote that he remembered the audience well, but said that not all the topics were discussed.  He wrote: .  I well remember that the Holy Father did not speak on all the topics with Churchill.  But I do not know which were omitted. It seems to me that the arguments concerning foreign countries were treated, but those about Italy were left out.
It is not clear if Palestine was regarded as a "foreign country" or not.

What the historian learns from reading the section on Palestine is the wariness with which the Vatican still regarded the idea of the creation of a Jewish state.  The notes are unambiguous - the Vatican was opposed to what it described as "Jewish dominion in Palestine". 

From ADSS 11.333:


1. The Holy See has always been opposed to Jewish dominion in Palestine. Pope Benedict XV laboured efficaciously so that Palestine might not become a Jewish State. In fact:

a) from the historical point of view it would be an error to wish to bring peoples back to territories where they had been... 2000 years ago;

b) from the geographical point of view it would be impossible to gather all the Jews into an area so restricted as Palestine;

c) from the religious (the most important) point of view, Palestine is a Holy Land not only for the Jews, but to a far greater extent for all Christians, and especially for Catholics. To give it to the Jews would be to offend all Christians and infringe upon their rights.

2. It is, however, to be noted:
a) that, naturally, the Holy See has nothing against the constitution of a home for Jews elsewhere;

b) that under the present circumstances the Holy See does not advance any objections to the continual dispatching of Jews to Palestine at the present time, as that is justified by the dangers to which Jews are exposed in various countries.

Quite apart from traditional Christian Judeophobia, something Pius held to and can be found clearly in the 1943 encyclicals, Divino afflante spiritu and Mystici corporis, the last part of 2 (b) is astounding.  In August 1944, the pope had known of the mass killing of the Jews for over two years - for almost the same amount of time that Churchill had also known (although I believe Churchill had known for longer).  The blandness of the phrase "the dangers to which Jews are exposed" is staggering.  Rome had been free of fascism and the Germans for over two months; there was no danger in speaking plainly.  On 25 June 1944 Pius had written to Admiral Horthy appealing for an end to the transportation of Hungarian Jews.(ADSS 10.243)

We are being beseeched in various quarters to do everything in our power in order that, in this noble and chivalrous nation, the sufferings, already so heavy, endured by a large number of unfortunate people, because of their nationality or race, may not be extended and aggravated. As our Father's heart cannot remain insensitive to these pressing supplications by virtue of our ministry of charity which embraces all men, we address Your Highness personally, appealing to your noble sentiments in full confidence that you will do everything in your power that so many unfortunate people may be spared other afflictions and other sorrows.

The only large number of people suffering in Hungary in the summer of 1944 were the Jews. Pius' inability to speak clearly and name the victims, when there was no diplomatic or political reason preventing him is one of the major areas that historians are working on.  I hope the archives can shed light on this.  It is also one of the areas where Pacelli's defenders tend to spend a lot of time creating a series of mental gymnastics to try and defend what they believe was a defensible position.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Vatican and the Holocaust

This news item was emailed to me this morning.  I won't comment until I learn more about the content of Gary Krupp's presentation.  However, there are a number of concerns I have with the announcement.  Just what does "The illumination of Gary Krupp's perspective" mean?  Is the National Press Club unaware of the historians involved in the study of Pius XII?  Do they know nothing of the published material that has been available for years?

The final worrying thought comes from the line: "will speak about the Vatican, the Holocaust, and whether Pope Pius Xll was Hitler's Pope or actually a Jewish savior".  Having read more than a few of Pave The Way's claims, I am worried about what the presentation will deliver to a lay audience.

The Vatican and the Holocaust

WASHINGTON, Jan. 11, 2010 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/

The National Press Club Events Committee will present the second program of its series on the role of religion in the press on Wednesday, Jan. 12 at 7 p.m.

Gary Krupp, founder of the Pave the Way Foundation, also known to the world as one of the only Jews to be Knighted by two Popes for his work in improving nonsectarian relations between the faiths, will speak about the Vatican, the Holocaust, and whether Pope Pius Xll was Hitler's Pope or actually a Jewish savior.

The illumination of Krupp's perspective will help reporters in their own coverage of the Vatican and stories regarding the Papacy. Krupp will help reporters understand the background of the topic in order to help them expand current coverage.

The program will run from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesday January 12 in the conference rooms at the National Press Club.

Please RSVP by January 11 at Reservations can also be made at

The event is free for NPC members. Non-members must pay $5 in advance or $10 at the door.

The National Press Club is located at 14th and F Streets, NW, one block west of Metro Center. For more information about the Club and its programs go to


The National Press Club is the world's leading professional organization for journalists. Founded in 1908, the Club has 3,500 members representing most major news organizations. Each year, the Club holds more than 2,000 events including news conferences, luncheons and panels, and more than 250,000 guests come through its doors.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Cross Too Heavy - Palgrave edition to be published

In the middle of 2010 I signed a contract with Palgrave-Macmillan for the publication of a revised edition of "A Cross Too Heavy".   Publication is expected around March-April.

The Australian edition was published by the Sydney publishing house, Rosenburg in 2008.

Since then there have been a number of significant events related to Pius XII that warranted a revised edition.  The general thrust of the book has not changed, but I included more comment on the Vatican's reluctance to view critical material on Pius and its equal reluctance to face up to some of the serious questions historians have been, and continue to ask, about Pacelli.  I have also included comments on the neo-conservative groups (Catholics and Jews) who are hell-bent on seeing Pius XII canonised with no concern for historical process.

The volume of documentary material, both primary and secondary, continues to grow, as does the war against myth, rumour and untruths.  To date there has not been one piece of evidence, read within its appropriate context/s, that has called for a drastic revision of what mainstream historians hold; points that I set out in the first post on this blog in May 2010.

When the 1939-1958 archives are opened in 2013 or 2014, I hope that I can look at another edition that will take me through to the end of the war years.

For the meantime I continue to work on my reading and translation of Actes et Documents.  It is a slow task.  So far I have re-read my way through 8 of the 11 volumes.  At present I am half way through Volume 11 - the "general" war from January 1944 to May 1945.

Ironically, if Pius XII's more vocal defenders had bothered to read the entire collection, they would be forced to blunt some of their more strident claims.  But I don't see a change until Rome adopts a more mature attitude towards history and historians.
Pius XII
by Catherine Harry 2010
Used for the cover of the new edition.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Kevin Spicer's article in Religion Dispatches - excellent read.

As usual Kevin Spicer writes clearly and with simplicity.  His review of "Light of the World" focuses on Benedict XVI's ambivalent attitude towards history.  One the one hand he is an articulate, precise thinker and theologian who understands the whys and wherefores of human history.  And then on the other hand, he can have, as Spicer writes, blind spots.  Pius XII, the Holocaust and recent German history is a major blind spot. 

The pope's reliance on amateur historians to give him data on Pius XII is cause for serious concern.  It is something about this otherwise highly intelligent man that I simply do not understand. 

Spicer says it the way it is:  the so-called historical advisors are people who say what Rome wants to hear.  They manipulate the evidence to suit their neo-conservative agenda and are so convinced of what they have "discovered" that their approach is not historical but more of a crusade.  I have pointed out some of the outrageous claims of Hesemann etc on this blog, and I suspect I will continue to do so for a long time to come.

Spicer's article in Religion Dispatches (16 December 2010) is an excellent essay. 

Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times

Peter Seewald and Pope Benedict XVI

Ignatius Press (2010)

Ignatius Press made history last month when it published the English version of a recent interview with Pope Benedict XVI. Although German journalist Peter Seewald had twice before interviewed Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, such an interview with a reigning Pope is unprecedented. The evident trust between the two men produced a frank and revealing portrait, much of which was eclipsed by Benedict’s statement about the morality of condom use regarding HIV, the meaning and implications of which were the subject of much debate. Lost in that media frenzy were, among other things, the Pope’s perspectives on the often tense relationship between Jews and the Church.

Early on, Seewald quotes the conservative Jewish philosopher, Bernard Henri-Lévy, who asserted that “as soon as the subject turns to Benedict XVI ‘prejudices, dishonesty and even outright disinformation dominate every discussion.’” While acknowledging that he has often been misunderstood and misinterpreted, Benedict’s responses in Light of the World reveal a precise academic mind, trained to recognize the slightest nuance and to make even more subtle differentiations in his responses. Such distinctions are often challenging to follow, even for the most informed scholar, and helps illustrate, perhaps, why he has so often been misunderstood.

At the same time the interview reveals that the Pope can speak quite clearly on certain issues, particularly those involving Church doctrine. When questioned, for example, about the reauthorization of the use of the Good Friday service that contains a prayer for the conversion of Jews (and his subsequent rewording of it), the Pope responded:

I altered the text in such a way as to express our faith that Christ is the Savior for all, that there are not two channels of salvation, so that Christ is also the redeemer of the Jews, and not just of the Gentiles. But the new formulation also shifts the focus from a direct petition for the conversion of the Jews in a missionary sense to a plea that the Lord might bring about the hour of history when we may all be united.

Such a statement seems to negate the first covenant, concluded between God the Father and Abraham, which remains salvific for Jews. It also dashes the hopes of many that Pope Benedict would continue in the direction of John Paul II and work toward acknowledging the Abrahamic covenant as salvific for Jews apart from Christ.

While Pope Benedict’s relationship with Jews has not been an easy one, Peter Seewald points out that:

Israel Singer, at the time President of the World Jewish Congress [sic], stated that, already during this tenure as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Ratzinger had articulated the underpinnings for the rapprochement between the two world religions. Singer went on to add that you had ‘changed the two-thousand year history of relations between Judaism and Christianity’ for the better. You were the first Pope to invite a rabbi to address a synod of bishops. You halted the beatification process of a French priest who was alleged to have made anti-Semitic speeches. You have visited more synagogues than all of your predecessors in the papal office.

Despite the glowing praise, events have shown on numerous occasions that Pope Benedict has ignored the intrinsic connection between Christian anti-Semitism and Nazi racial anti-Semitism, identifying the latter solely with modernistic neo-paganism as though it had no other roots in Christian history. Even when Seewald poses a question about German responsibility for the Holocaust, Benedict fails to address it directly:

As you have indicated, in Germany we have a complex, contradictory, and dramatic history. A history full of guilt and full of suffering. But also a history with human greatness. A history of holiness. A history of great intellectual achievement. In that respect there is not simply one German charism.

As noted earlier, however, Benedict can be quite clear on some issues, showing at times a keen awareness of the subtleties of Jewish-Christian dialogue. In response to a question about Pope John Paul’s referencing of Jews as “our elder brothers,” Benedict explains:

The phrase ‘elder brothers,’ which had already been used by John XXIII, is not welcome to Jews. The reason is that, in the Jewish tradition, the ‘elder brother’—Esau—is also the brother who gets rejected. One can still use it, because it expresses an important point. But it is true that they are also our ‘fathers in the faith.’ And this way of putting it illustrates perhaps even more clearly the character of our relationship to each other.

Still, in regard to what may be the most contentious issue of all—the beatification process for Pope Pius XII, who reigned during the Holocaust—Benedict replies:

Actually, the recognition of heroic virtue, which, as you have already said, is not an assessment of his political and historical achievements as such, had already been worked on for two years. At first, I did not grant my signature, but I ordered an inspection of the unpublished archival records, because I wanted to be absolutely sure. Obviously it was impossible to evaluate the papers, of which there are hundreds of thousands, in a rigorously scientific manner. But it was possible to reconfirm our original impression of the whole and to see that the records confirm the positive things we know, but not the negative things that are alleged.

The question then arises: Who has been taking on this research in the Vatican Secret Archives? Earlier in the interview, Benedict admits that he “cannot read all the newspapers and meet with an unlimited number of people. But there are, I believe, few people who have as many meetings as I do. Most important of all to me are my meetings with the bishops from all over the world.” It’s doubtful that the bishops today or in the past have provided the Pope with extensive insight on the historical record of Pius XII.

Benedict does offer light on who is helping to influence Pius’s beatification process, telling Seewald that: “It just recently came to light that Pacelli [Pius XII], already as Secretary of State, had written to all the bishops of the world in 1938, instructing them to take pains to ensure that visas were generously granted to Jews emigrating from Germany. For his part, he did all that he could to save people.”

Such a reply reveals that Benedict has been listening to the historians associated with Pave the Way, an organization founded to “promote tolerance between religions,” and run by Gary Krupp, a retired medical equipment dealer* determined to have Pius XII canonized. Dr. Michael Hesemann, an independent historian from Germany who previously produced several works on UFOs, is one of the organization’s primary researchers. Back in July Hesemann claimed that he had uncovered a document proving that Eugenio Pacelli, as Papal Secretary of State, encouraged Catholic bishops to assist Catholics of Jewish heritage with obtaining Visas following the horrors of Kristallnacht (1938).

Dr. Paul O’Shea, a historian from Australia and author of A Cross too Heavy: Eugenio Pacelli, Politics and the Jews of Europe 1917-1943, has clearly refuted Hesemann’s assertion and demonstrated that the document Hesemann claims is new has been available to researchers for years. Needless to say, O’Shea’s balanced work on Pacelli has been generally ignored by the Holy See as have the works of Michael Phayer, Susan Zuccotti, and Hubert Wolf. Instead, the Holy See seems to favor only those historians who shine a positive light on Pius XII.

Unsurprisingly, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have honored Krupp for his work in Jewish-Catholic relations by first naming him a Knight Commander in the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great and then awarding him a Silver Star of this order.

Back in 2003, Pope John Paul II also honored Sister Dr. Margherita Marchione, a sister of the Religious Teachers Filippini, with the papal award Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Cross for her research on Pius XII. Despite earning a doctorate from Columbia University, Marchione’s works often reveal little concern for historical method as she blatantly twists the historical evidence in defense of Pius XII. Likewise, the relator of Pius XII’s cause and professor emeritus of the Gregorian University, Father Peter Gumpel, S.J., uses lawyer and amateur historian Ronald Rychlak as a historical consultant.

It’s difficult to take Pope Benedict seriously, then, when he makes this concluding statement on Pius XII: “The decisive thing is what he did and what he tried to do, and on that score we really must acknowledge, I believe, that he was one of the great righteous men and that he saved more Jews than anyone else.”

Recalling his meetings with the victims of clerical sexual abuse, Benedict said: “Actually I could not say anything special at all to them. I was able to tell them that it affects me very deeply. That I suffer with them. And that was not just an expression, but it really touches my heart. And I was able to tell them that the Church will do everything possible so that this does not happen again, and that we intend to help them as well as we can.”

Unfortunately, despite the Church’s role in producing and tolerating centuries of Christian anti-Semitism neither Pope Benedict nor any Pope before him has said the same to Jews.

*Gary Krupp was initially identified as a medical equipment salesman.