Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Another "discovery" ... another Pius XII story ...

I have been spurred to action after reading the posts related to the latest “latest discovery on Pius XII” news.

One of the reasons you don’t find too many historians engaged in comment on these “news breaking events” is because it takes time to verify the claims, sort through the distortions, get timelines right and then go looking for the evidence.

I’ll work my way through this latest story. My comments appear in red.

Allies pressed pope to be silent on Nazis

May. 20, 2011

By Simon Caldwell, Catholic News Service

Simon Caldwell is well known in Pius XII circles. He has published a number of article on Pius related matters. I have had to cause to comment on Mr Caldwell’s journalism before.  In three posts in 2011 I criticised Caldwell for some pretty sloppy journalism. Facts did not seem to matter too much when reporting on Pope Pius XII. And some of the things that were published were simply wrong. Caldwell does not do his homework. In particular his reporting on the sensationalist piece of “faction” that Pius XII probably saved about 200,000 converted Jews was risible.
MANCHESTER, England -- U.S. and British diplomats discussed exerting pressure on Pope Pius XII to be silent about the Nazi deportations of Hungarian Jews, according to newly discovered documentation.

This phrase should set the alarm bells ringing. It has to be one of the most over-used clichés in journalism. Curiously we are never given the details of the archival repository or any indication of where this document can be accessed by historians.

The British feared that the wartime pope might make a "radio appeal on behalf of the Jews in Hungary" and that in the course of his broadcast would "also criticize what the Russians are doing in occupied territory."

Sir Francis D'Arcy Osborne, the British ambassador to the Vatican, told an American diplomat that "something should be done to prevail upon the pope not to do this as it will have very serious political repercussions."

Osborne's comments were made to Franklin C. Gowen, an assistant to Myron Taylor, the U.S. special representative to the Vatican.

Gowen recorded the conversation in a letter to Taylor, saying he had promised Osborne that he would bring his concerns to the "immediate attention" of the U.S. ambassador.

"It was understood that, pending your reaction, he would not take any steps vis-a-vis the Holy See," Gowen told Taylor.

In the letter, Gowen also said that Msgr. Domenico Tardini, the Vatican assistant secretary of state, had told him 10 days earlier that Pope Pius would not "make any radio appeal because if he did so he would, in fairness, to all have to criticise the Russians," a member of the Allies.

He said he withheld this information from Osborne in the belief that it would be best for Taylor to impart it himself following a meeting with Pope Pius scheduled the day after the letter was written.

There is nothing of great note here. It was well known among the Allies that the Pope’s fear of Bolshevism was greater than his loathing for National Socialism. Pius had remained publicly neutral throughout the war, refusing to condemn particular atrocities committed by either side. He knew of the mass murder of Jews “in the East”; he had first hand description of individual “actions” from Italian military chaplains; he had letters from bishops in occupied Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic States; he knew of the deportations from Germany; he received the complaints of Vichy French government officials who decried bishops who spoke out against the deportation of French Jews at French hands and the fate that awaited them. He knew. He chose to remain publicly silent on the individual crimes, speaking in generalities on the suffering inflicted on so many innocent people. He refused to be drawn into an Allied sponsored condemnation of Nazi crimes because he would then have to condemn crimes committed by members of the Allies, in particular the Soviet slaughter of Polish officers at Katyn in 1940.

As an Allied victory seemed more certain from late-1943 onwards, Pius grew increasingly concerned at the prospect of a Soviet dominated Eastern and Central Europe. The letter seems to be strange in its fear that Pius might speak outside of his customary generalities and actually name atrocities. He had not done so before, and there was no evidence he would do so, even after the liberation of Rome in June 1944. We know now that he did not speak in condemnation in any particular form until well-after the war.

The letter was dated Nov. 7, 1944, as the Nazis were organizing mass deportations of Jews from Budapest, the Hungarian capital, to death camps in Poland, Austria and Germany.

Let’s put some history in at this point.

The deportation of the Hungarian Jews commenced on 29 April 1944 and continued through until 7 July 1944 by which time an estimated 440,400 Jews had been transported. Most died in KL Auschwitz II (Birkenau). It was the most efficient act of mass murder in human history. The surviving Jews of Budapest lived in constant fear of the tottering Hungarian government. A German led coup in October 1944 gave the green light for the resumption of persecution. About 70,000 Jews were forced into a ghetto in Budapest. It was too late to send them to Auschwitz, the gas chambers had been cold since late October on Himmler’s orders, and with the Red Army now in the east of the country the only remaining option were the death marches west. These took place in November 1944 through to January 1945. Hungary surrendered in January 1945, but the Germans and their Hungarian collaborators continued fighting until the end of the war. About 225,000 Hungarian Jews survived the war. (The pre-war population was about 825,000)

The letter mentioned above may have believed the camps in Poland were still operating, but they were not.

Another matter. There were no “death camps” outside of Poland. The only non-Polish camps with gas chambers were at KL Dachau, near Munich, and Natzweiler, in Alsace. These facilities were never used. The gas chambers at Dachau were used as temporary morgues; a gruesome fact the liberating Americans were to discover in April 1945.

Rome had been liberated by the U.S. Fifth Army the previous June and, with the Vatican behind Allied lines, the pope had more freedom to speak out.

But as the head of a neutral state, he understood that he could not condemn the war crimes of one side without condemning those of the other.

However, on Nov. 19 -- less than two weeks after Gowen wrote his letter -- the Vatican joined the neutral states of Spain, Portugal, Switzerland and Sweden to appeal to the Hungarian government to end the deportations.

The British Jewish historian Sir Martin Gilbert, an internationally recognized expert on the Holocaust, said in his 2002 book, "The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust," that at that time the Catholic Church in Budapest was hiding 25,000 Jews in homes and religious institutions.

There is nothing new here. All this is well known.

Simultaneously, the Red Army of the Soviet Union was advancing westward across Europe and killing and raping many innocent people as it was driving Adolf Hitler's armies into retreat.

This is somewhat hysterical. The sweep west by the Red Army was dramatic, but until the Soviets reached the borders of the Reich in late 1944 the behavior of the Russians was not particularly brutal or savage. Yes, there were atrocities committed, but the focus of Soviet rage was reserved for Germany. Once over the borders, the restraint of the Red Army was lifted and the horrific rape, looting and pillaging of the Reich began. And while it easy for us to gasp, the fact that over 20 million Russians had died between 1941-1945, should give us pause to at least acknowledge in realistic terms that the Russians had suffered terribly. Of course this is not to justify what was a crime; but let the knowledge of that crime be tempered with context and the truth that after the initial outburst calmer heads prevailed.

Gowen's letter was made public for the first time by the New York-based Pave the Way Foundation, which is conducting research into the actions of Pope Pius, assisted by a U.S. Catholic lawyer, Ronald Rychlak; German historian Michael Hesemann; and a journalist, Dimitri Cavalli. These three men have no formal historical qualifications. Hesemann’s specialty is the study of UFOs.

Gary Krupp, president of the foundation, told Catholic News Service in a May 18 email that the Allies feared any condemnation of Josef Stalin's armies "would work against the unified war effort of the Allies."

He said the letter is significant because it showed the pressures that confronted Pope Pius, who has been criticized for his alleged silence in the face of the Holocaust.

"The simple reality, which seems to be ignored by many critics, is that the Vatican was a neutral government that used its neutrality to save thousands of lives," said Krupp, a U.S. Jew from New York.

Gowen's letter was found by Rychlak among Taylor's documents and has been posted on the Pave the Way Foundation website.

This is a very common media response by Pave The Way. Much declaration about a text, but little to no contextual analysis and no detail on the source of the document, where it was found, its provenance etc.

The other fact remains that all the detail discussed above is well known in historical circles. Yes, it is an interesting piece of material, but does it add to the body of knowledge that already exists? The answer is, I fear, no.

Another letter made public by the foundation discusses help for Jewish fugitives, with Osborne telling Harold Tittman, another of Taylor's aides, that it must be destroyed because it might endanger the life an Italian priest who was rescuing Jews if it fell into enemy hands.

This strikes me as a tad too convenient. Again, where is this document, who learned of its existence and how, and what is its context?

It was dated May 20, 1944, barely three weeks before Rome fell to the Allies and, according to the Pave the Way Foundation, shows how the work of rescuing Jews was conducted in secrecy, with most documentary evidence of such activities destroyed almost instantly.

No serious historian disputes the fact that the Vatican was engaged in rescue and hiding operations throughout Rome between 9 September 1943 (when Italy signed the armistice) and 5 June 1944. However, the role of the Pope remains unclear because the relevant documents are still under embargo.

At the end of this, the known position accepted by historians “of the middle” remains unchanged. Pius XII did do something to help the Jews of Europe, limited as it was. A survey of the Brazilian visa episode demonstrates this. He was not immune to the suffering he saw and learned of. However, the question remains whether he did all he could, based on what we know of the limited documentation. It is my opinion based on what I have studied over the last 12 years or so, that Pius was a good man who did what he believed he could, but was limited in his vision of the world and the Church to such an extent that opportunities for visible and clear leadership were often passed over. When faced with the tragedy that befell the Jews of Rome in October 1943, he failed.


  1. Hi,
    excellent blog! on a slightly different question, Guido Knopp, Hitler's Holocaust, p245 states that in the summer of 42, Pius told the College of Cardinals "Jerusalem has responded to His call and to His grace with the same rigid blindness and stubborn ingratitude that has led it along the path of guilt to the murder of God." Ian Kershaw recommends the book, do you know if the quote is authentic?

  2. Personally, I would doubt the authenticity of that quote, because in 1942, Israel as a Jewish state did not even exist, and Jerusalem was not a Jewish capital, but a city in (misnamed) British-Occupied PALESTINE (a named derived from the idolatrus Philistines whom the ancient Israelites had at one time driven from that land). Because of these things, that quote sounds inauthentic to me, because it is anachronistic. Since when has the Church hierarchy in recent centuries ever referred to Jewish leaders, collectively, as "Jerusalem"? I have never heard it used, nor read any documents where the Jewish people and leaders are referred to as "Jerusalem." This is odd.


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