Monday, July 25, 2011

Article on Pius XII from David's Voice

This article appeared in the Cincinnati-based David's voice in their recent online edition.  It is an attempt to find a balanced way through an issue that for many has become a non-issue because of the constant campaigns of misinformation mounted by different groups with their differing agendas.  Regretfully, historical accuracy is often not on the agenda. 

The article can be found here:

On the article's content I have no passionate opinion, I have written it all before.  I salute the author's efforts at impartiality and attempts to get "the other side".  I'll leave it to the reader to determine what they think about it.

Monday, July 18, 2011

William Doino, Jews and Pius XII. More of the same.

William Doino is a well-known apologist for Pius XII who has written extensively on the subject for some years.  He is co-author of The Pius Wars (2004), along with Joseph Bottum and David Dalin.  The book is an anthology of works designed to disprove the critics of Pius XII.  It is a book that works on the premise that those who criticise Pius XII do so from less than honest motives, are historically limited and are driven by anti-Catholic agendas. 

In this latest article, journalist Marianne Medlin, declares that William Doino, "an expert on Pius XII" has discovered evidence of considerable Jewish support for Pius XII during World War Two.  One of the things that struck me immediately was the American-centred focus of the article.  Most of the news references come from US media sources.  Medlin records many comments from Doino but none, bar a few, are supported with any references or evidence.  This weakens her article and reduces it to a collection of unsupported sentences.  None of this helps historians or the historical process.

My comments appear in red.


An expert on Pope Pius XII says new discoveries show that the Jewish community strongly supported the pontiff for his stand against anti-Semitism and support for Jewish rights during World War II.

Researcher William Doino outlined evidence that he says makes it clear the late Pope “wanted to break down walls of anti-Jewish prejudice, not erect them.”

At no point in this article is this claim addressed beyond a bald statement.  Definitions are not made clear and the language belongs in the post-1960s civil rights era.  I would agree that Pius did not endorse prejudice against Jews, but to claim he wanted to "break down walls" is taking things a bit far.  There is no evidence that he objected to the anti-Jewish rants of Civilita Cattolica, which, as Secretary of State to Pius XI, he at least tacitly approved.  The Pope or his Secretary of State gave the final fiat  for the editorial content of the journal.  There is no way that Cardinal Pacelli could not have known of the Judeophobia written in Civilta.  There is also, no evidence that Pacelli protested the enactment of the 1938 Race Laws in Italy or, as Pius XII, asked for their repeal after the September 1943 armistice or June 1944 Liberation.

Doino shared his his findings exclusively with CNA, pointing to magazine articles from the 1930s that feature Jewish American veterans lauding Pius XII for his deep respect for the Jewish community and their customs.

In April of 1939, just one month after Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli was elected Pope, the U.S. Jewish Veteran magazine called the new Pope's leadership “a source of great satisfaction to Jews.”

Eugenio Pacelli was elected on 6 March 1939.  The paragraph above is dated April 1939.  Surely Doino had more examples than this?  The Jewish Veterans lauded Pius' election; why wouldn't they?  Pius XI and Pacelli had shown themselves staunch anti-Nazis and had a record of considerable opposition to Nazism.  However, if you go looking for public support for the Jews of Germany, named as either "Jews" or "non-Aryans", to use the official language of the 1930s-1940s, you will be hard pressed to find anything.  What is found are general references to victims of persecutions.

“Pope Pius XII is known as a staunch friend of Jews,” the veterans wrote, noting the success of his election despite the attempts by anti-Semitic Fascists to prevent it.

This shows more a lack of understanding on the part of the veterans than anything else.  Farinacci may have ranted and raved, but he had no influence on the election of the pope.  The last known secular interference in a papal conclave was the Austrian intervention during the 1903 election.

The March 1939 issue of the magazine also expressed the community's “fervent hope” that Pius XII would “have a long and successful reign; that he will fill the spiritual vacuum left by the decease of his predecessor, and that he too will be sanctified by the love of his fellow men.”

Doino, who has contributed extensively to an anthology titled “The Pius War: Responses to the Critics of Pius XII” (Lexington Books), said it has long been documented that Pius XII strongly opposed Fascism and Nazism and “abhorred anti-Semitism.”

All true.  This has been public knowledge for decades.

However, he said, “research in the last decade has revealed more.”

“Pacelli not only opposed racism and totalitarianism, but showed an express sympathy for the Jewish faith and practice.”

One example of this is how the late Pope made it a point to have kosher food prepared for Jewish guests at the Vatican “way back in the 1930s, when Catholic-Jewish relations were not nearly as developed as they are today.”

It is the word "one" that causes concern.  I have come across no reference to the pope providing kosher food to Jewish guests at the Vatican.  Apart from the well-known custom that the pope ate alone, both Medlin and, seemingly, Doino, appear not to understand what is required for the preparation of kosher food.  So unless the guests ate uncut, unpeeled fruit, served on pre-sealed disposable paper plates and drank water from pre-sealed paper cups, eating with the pope would have been difficult.

Doino said that the Jewish Veteran articles are not unique and that many other Jewish publications offered comparable praise for Pius XII “before and during his papacy, and especially after his death.”


In July of 1944, shortly after the liberation of Rome, the American Jewish Congress publicly praised the Vatican for providing kosher food for Jews who were being sheltered in Catholic institutions during the German occupation of Rome.

This may have been possible in a few instances, but highly unlikely.  And given the food situation in Rome under the German occupation, it would have been near impossible to observe kashrut.  The rabbis have always taught that the first responsibility of those under duress or persecution is the preservation of life.  Everything else is secondary.  The classic example of caring for someone in need is the ruling that it is permissible to feed pork to a woman in labour on Yom Kippur. (Babylonian Talmud, 82a Yoma) It is an exaggeration, and it is meant to be, but it conveys the point.  The preservation of life is the first duty.

Doino said that these findings should not surprise people since then-Cardinal Pacelli had intervened to block an anti-kosher law in Poland in 1938.

Had the legislation passed, it would have forbidden Jewish ritual practices, and constituted a “true persecution for Jews,” Pope Pius wrote at the time.

The document cited is a memorandum from Cardinal Pacelli to Cardinal Eugene Tisserant, Prefect for the Congregation for the Eastern Churches dated 21.05.1938.  Tisserant had asked Pacelli to seek the the intervention of Archbishop Filippo Cortesi (1876-1947), nuncio to Poland 1936-1947 to try and prevent the passing of a law before the Polish parliament that would ban the ritual killing of animals according to Jewish law. Pacelli informs Tisserant that he has done as requested.

In summary:  Pacelli passed on a request from Tisserant to Cortesi.  Nothing more.  This cannot be described as a defence of Jewish religious practice because it was not.

The document is freely available at Pave The Way. (You need to register - at no charge - for access to the documents).

“If you examine Pacelli’s life, you’ll find early friendships with Jewish schoolmates; an appreciation for Jewish theology; support for the Jewish community in America, when he visited in 1936; sympathy for the Jewish people in the Holy Land, and an openness toward their yearning for a Jewish state – long before Israel was established; and an affirmation of both Jews and Judaism,” Doino said.

Supporting documents are needed for these claims.

Later in 1941, “just as the anti-Semitic persecutions were entering their worst phase,” Doino said, a Jewish refugee visited the Vatican and begged the Pope to intervene for his persecuted brethren who had been shipwrecked and imprisoned on a Fascist-controlled island.

Not only did Pius XII promise the young man his support, but said before a large audience that he was just as worthy as every other human being, and encouraged him to “always be proud to be a Jew.”

“The refugee was so moved by this encounter that he later wrote an unforgettable first-person narrative about it for the Palestine Post,” Doino recounted.

Later that same year, Pius XII published his first encyclical, “Summi Pontificatus,” which “condemned the evils of racism and totalitarianism, and similarly stressed the unity of mankind, expressing solidarity with non-Catholics as well,” the expert recalled.

Summi Pontificatus was published in October 1939, not 1941.  The story of the young man presented at a papal audience is a touching scene that points to the Pope's compassion when confronted with a situation over which he had some control.  Who, after all, was going to interrupt a papal audience?  However, it is an isolated incident with no record of follow-up for the young man concerned.  Nor is there any other record of any similar event.

Doino's research surfaces just after the Israeli ambassador to the Vatican, Mordechai Lewy, aroused controversy in Israel and abroad by praising Pius XII for helping save Jews during the Holocaust.

In the wake of criticism from Jewish groups, the ambassador said on June 27 – days after his positive comments about the pontiff – that his words were historically “premature.”

However, Doino expressed support for Ambassador Lewy and welcomed his remarks as an occasion for renewed dialogue on the issue.

He also said that he is looking forward to the public release of the Vatican’s remaining wartime archives.

Doino referenced “significant leads and discoveries” from “at least half a dozen top-flight Pius XII specialists who are engaged in historical research revealing Pius XII’s active support for the Jewish community, both before and after he became Pope.”

I am curious to know who these "top-flight" specialists are.

“The idea that he was a self-enclosed Catholic leader, insensitive to Jewish concerns, is pure myth – an image that is thankfully being reversed by modern scholarship,” he said.

No.  I disagree with the last statement.  It is not based on any evidence, certainly none presented in this article.  Either Medlin has misquoted Doino, or Doino makes assertions that are simply not supported by any credible scholar.

If Marianne Medlin wishes to contribute to the debate on Pius XII I suggest she consult historians not apologists.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Miracle ... muddying the waters.

My intention in writing on this blog is to deal with historical matters related to the life and times of Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII.  The process undertaken for his possible beatification and canonisation are issues related to theology and religious belief, issues which of themselves are not unrelated to history, but which can take the focus away from scholarly research and the often painstaking business of piecing together an incomplete historical record. 

The alleged miracle attributed to Pius XII must not be interpreted as some sort of a sign that Pius' action or in action during the Shoah enjoys divine approval.  That would be obscene and a gross insult to the memory of those who perished.  Regretfully it appears that this is the interpretation given to the alleged miracle by many conservativee Catholics and is receiving an enormous amount of publicity on some of the major conservative networks.  A quick google of "Maria Esposito and Pius XII" recorded over 20,000 hits since the news broke around 3 July 2011.

Any talk of beatification remains premature until all the available records have been studied.  I have mentioned before that the study of the data includes the several millions of documents in the yet-to-be-released archives from Pius's pontificate 1939-1958.  And the Vatican archivist has recently stated that it will be at least another two to three years before this opening occurs -2013 or 2014. 

This article is from the Clarion Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, which of itself is an indicator of how far and wide this story has travelled.  Mississippi is very far from the Catholic heartlands of the USA.  It is well and truly in solid Southern Baptist territory.

Maria Esposito and husband, Umberto di Maio

Maria Esposito was ready to give up. Wasted away at 92 pounds, she couldn't bear another dose of chemotherapy to fight the Stage IV Burkitt's lymphoma that had invaded her body while she was pregnant with her second child.

But as she and her family had done since she was diagnosed with the rare and aggressive form of cancer in July 2005, Esposito prayed to the man who had appeared to her husband in a dream as the only person who could save her: Pope Pius XII.

Esposito survived, cured after a single, six-week cycle of chemotherapy - a recovery that, she says, stunned her doctors and convinced her that the World War II-era pope had intervened with God to save her.

Esposito's case, which the 42-year-old teacher recounted to The Associated Press in her first media interview, has been proposed to the Vatican as the possible miracle needed to beatify Pius, one of the most controversial sainthood causes under way, given that many Jews say he failed to speak out enough to stop the Holocaust.

Pius' main biographer, American Sister Margherita Marchione, has championed Esposito's miracle case and personally presented it to the Vatican's No. 2 official, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

Margherita Marchione

Pope Benedict XVI moved Pius one step closer to possible sainthood in December 2009 when he confirmed that Pius lived a life of "heroic" Christian virtue. All that is needed now is for the Vatican to determine a "miracle" occurred.

"I'm certain that inside of me there was the hand of God operating, thanks to the intercession of Pope Pius XII," Esposito said during a recent interview at her home in the seaside town of Castellammare di Stabia on the Amalfi coast. "I'm convinced of it."

Doctors and church officials aren't so sure.

Esposito's local bishop, Monsignor Felice Cece, summoned Esposito earlier this year to testify about her recovery to determine if indeed it was medically inexplicable, one of the key thresholds required by the Vatican to determine if a miracle occurred.

After consulting two outside doctors, Cece determined that Esposito could have been cured by even a single cycle of chemo and essentially closed the case.

But Esposito's supporters, led by Marchione, have gone over the bishop's head and are sending her full medical file directly to the Vatican's saint-making office for review.

"I was saved. I thank the Lord," said Esposito. "If he did something for me, then I now want to do something for him."

The Rev. Peter Gumpel, the Jesuit historian who has spearheaded Pius' saint-making cause for some two decades, said the case was under consideration but was noncommittal.

"We are at the very first preliminary stages of pre-investigation, and we are not even sure whether it will go ahead," he said, stressing that regardless the process is still years away from fruition.

The Vatican's saint-making process has long been subject to skeptics' doubts.

Some question, for example, whether the original diagnosis was correct for the French nun whose inexplicable cure of Parkinson's disease paved the way for Pope John Paul II's beatification. The questions surrounding Pius' possible miracle are just further evidence of the obstacles and deep theological, historical and political divisions that his cause has run into ever since it was launched in 1965.

Pius was pope from 1939-1958. Before his election he served as the Vatican's No. 2 and before that as papal nuncio to Germany. Given his deep involvement in the Vatican's diplomatic affairs with the Nazis, what Pius did or didn't do during the war has become the single most divisive issue in the Vatican's relations with Jews.

More recently, his beatification case has become the symbolic battleground in the debate over the future of the Catholic Church.

Progressives are opposed to it because to them, Pius represents the church before the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Traditionalists and conservatives are in favor of it for precisely the same reasons.

The Vatican insists Pius used quiet diplomacy to save Jewish lives and that speaking out more forcefully against the Nazis would have resulted in more deaths. Critics argue he could have and should have said and done more.

"To talk about the pope as anything other than a moral coward as far as the murder of Jews of Rome is concerned is difficult for any of us who study what actually happened to take," said Brown University anthropologist and historian David Kertzer, author of a forthcoming book on Pius' predecessor, Pope Pius XI.

Despite opposition, Pius' cause is progressing at an impressive clip amid an increasingly concerted effort by Benedict and Pius' supporters to highlight his virtues and discredit his naysayers. Benedict himself recently extolled Pius as a hero during the war, saying he'd earned the "everlasting gratitude" of its victims.

Jewish groups and historians have argued for years that the Vatican had no business moving forward with Pius' beatification cause until the Vatican's full secret archive of his papacy is opened to scholars for independent research. That process is expected to take several more years.

"My position has always been to say - and I've said it to Pope Benedict XVI - that this is a matter that should be deferred until at least the generation of Holocaust survivors is no longer with us, so it's not as if rubbing the salt into their wounds," said Rabbi David Rosen, head of interfaith relations at the American Jewish Committee.

Last year, 19 Catholic scholars appealed to the academic in Benedict to give researchers more time to study the full archives. "The question isn't 'Did he do anything?' but whether he might have done more or sooner," said the Rev. John Pawlikowski, ethics professor at the Catholic Theologcial Union who co-wrote the letter.

Pius' supporters, however, are getting impatient. They charge that few scholars ever consult the 11 volumes of World War II archives that have already been released and put online, along with thousands of other documents, by a foundation headed by a Long Island Jew who admires Pius.

"It annoys me terribly that such an injustice is being done to such a great man, that he should be treated the way he is," said Marchione, the Pius biographer who is promoting Esposito's miracle case.

Sitting in her order's convent a stone's throw from the Vatican, Marchione said her religious congregation alone, on orders from Pius, sheltered 114 Jewish women at three separate convents during the Nazi occupation.

"I'm just tired of the whole thing that people can't go back to the documents that prove it and accept it as historical truth," she said.

For Pius' supporters, the hunt for a miracle is all the more urgent because he isn't a household name like Mother Teresa or Pope John Paul II. Esposito, in fact, said she had never heard of Pius until she fell ill.

Her husband, Umberto di Maio, said the family had been praying to John Paul II, who had died just a few months before, when Esposito was diagnosed in July 2005. But as di Maio recounts it, John Paul appeared to him in a dream and said he couldn't help Esposito but showed a photo of a slim, bespecled prelate who could.

Di Maio said he wasn't able to identify the priest until he saw Pius on the cover of a Catholic magazine a week later.

The family became convinced of Pius' intervention when Esposito's case was referred to a cancer specialist in Rome, an atheist who, after reviewing her charts, asked the family if they believed in God.

When di Maio replied they did, the doctor said: "Then pray, because she needs it," di Maio recounted.

Esposito says she and her doctors were stunned when her PET scan, which detects lingering traces of cancer, came out clean after her six-week chemo cycle at the Umberto I hospital in the southern city of Nocera, near Salerno.

Her doctor, she said, was flabbergasted: "'Do you see this? It's clean! How is it possible?'" Esposito recalled Dr. Alfonso Maria D'Arco, head of oncology and hematology at Umberto I, as saying.

"And spontaneously I said to him, 'Doctor, doctor, isn't it possible that it came from above?' " she said, pointing heavenward.

"No, no, no. Don't say shocking things," she said he responded.

"But for me it was a miracle, because it wasn't possible," she said, fighting back tears. "It wasn't possible. Not even they believed it in that moment."

D'Arco didn't respond to email requests for comment and couldn't be reached by telephone.

Dr. Ann S. LaCasce, an assistant professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School's lymphoma program and affiliated Dana Farber Cancer Institute, said Esposito's speedy recovery wasn't all that remarkable.

"Not surprising at all," LaCasce said after reviewing the protocol Esposito received. "The key is this aggressive, multi-agent chemotherapy regimen that she got. It doesn't sound like a miracle at all. She did great, as expected."

LaCasce, who said she treats four to five cases of Burkitt's a year, said the prognosis for the rare subtype of non-Hodgkin lymphoma is usually very good, particularly for children and young adults who can tolerate the high toxicity that the aggressive chemo entails.

"Burkitt's is a disease we like to treat because they do really well, they feel better so quickly," LaCasce said. "She was cured of her disease with the appropriate chemotherapy."

Esposito and her supporters, however, are undeterred. Just last week, she traveled to Rome to take part in a ceremony outside St. Peter's Square marking the anniversary of the day the city of Rome dedicated a piazza to Pius to thank him for having defended Rome from the Nazis.

Esposito says she wants people to know Pius not just for what he did for Rome but for her.

"I am here. I want to say I'm alive. I know what I went through and I assure you, it was really serious, something awful. Death was very close. And I am here."

Nazis on the Run - Gerald Steinacher

I am reading this fascinating book.  Steinacher is an historian who understands the importance of careful study and meticulous attention to detail.  His analysis of the material he worked with, from the many sources he consulted, is of the highest calibre.  I took my time to read the chapter on the Vatican very carefully.  I agree with the author that Pius XII played no role in helping war criminals, German, Croatian, Italian, or their collaborators escape Europe.  What he knew would have been filtered through the curia, and much of what the Roman curia knew was, in turn, filtered through numerous agencies operating throughout Rome and Italy. 

The movement of displaced people, returning POWs, former concentration camp victims and fleeing Nazis, ran into the millions.  There is no way that a completely foolproof screening system could be implemented.  However, as Steinacher points out in his extensive and painstaking research, some systematic checking could have, and should have been done.  The International Committee of the Red Cross has a particularly poor and apathetic history in this regard.  Regrettably, there were more than a few Catholic agencies whose record is as poor, if not worse.

From a teacher's point of view, I would recommend Steinacher's book as an example to students of how to use archives and how to piece together an often patchy and scattered historical puzzle.

Robert Gerwath's review is an accurate synopsis of the book.  I agree with his final statement that Steinacher has set the bar for future research in this area.

This review appeared in the Irish Times and was written by Dr Robert Gerwath the director of the Centre for War Studies at University College Dublin, Ireland.

HISTORY: Nazis on the Run: How Hitler’s Henchmen Fled Justice, By Gerald Steinacher, Oxford University Press, 416pp.

On July 14th, 1950, a German “technician” whose forged papers declared him to be “Ricardo Klement” arrived in Argentina. Despite his disguise, the Argentinean authorities were well aware that “Mr Klement” was, in fact, Adolf Eichmann, the man responsible for coordinating the eastward deportations of millions of European Jews to extermination camps during the second World War. Eichmann was not the only senior Nazi official who managed to escape prosecution by fleeing to South America: several other serious war criminals, including the former Auschwitz camp doctor, Josef Mengele, had similarly evaded justice and left behind their old lives for a fresh, care-free existence in the New World.

The story of fugitive “Nazis on the run” is not really a new one, but it has been subject to numerous elisions and distortions ever since it first came to the world’s attention in the 1960s. According to the most widely known conspiracy theory about the mass escape of Nazis to South America – first circulated by the Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal and then popularised by Frederick Forsyth’s best-selling thriller The Odessa File – these flights were organised by a secret society of ex-SS men named ODESSA (Organisation of Former SS Members), which paid for forged visas and travel costs with money stolen from their Jewish victims.

In his new book, Nazis on the Run , the Austrian historian Gerald Steinacher deconstructs this version of events. After six years of intensive research on the subject, Steinacher concludes that ODESSA never really existed as a centrally organised network. Instead, he offers a detailed and chilling analysis of the three organisations that were in fact largely responsible for facilitating the escape of German war criminals: the International Red Cross, the Catholic Church, and the American CIA. Steinacher emphasises from the start that the motivations of this unlikely coalition of escape route facilitators can only be understood against the backdrop of the start of the Cold War, during which Communism seemed a much more pressing problem than prosecuting former Nazis, however implicated they were in the Holocaust.

The CIA’s attitude towards ex-Nazis – and in particular to former SS “intelligence experts” – was essentially pragmatic: after Germany had been defeated and relations with the USSR had begun to deteriorate, the CIA was willing to give exit visas and new identity papers to middle-ranking Nazis in exchange for valuable intelligence information on the new Soviet enemy.

Even more intriguing is the role played by the Red Cross. In a genuinely fresh contribution to the subject, Steinacher establishes that the International Red Cross issued about 25,000 new identity documents to men whose past was often more than dubious. Although this assistance primarily came from individual Nazi sympathisers within the organisation, Steinacher argues that all senior members of the International Red Cross knew about the misappropriation of identity documents. In particular, he demonstrates that the two presidents of the International Committee of the Red Cross in the post-war decades, Carl Jacob Burckhardt, and his successor, Paul Ruegger, consciously decided to turn a blind eye to the frequent abuse of Red Cross identity documentation, largely because of their latent anti-Semitism and anti-Communism.

The Catholic Church’s involvement in the escape of ex-Nazis is, by comparison, well known. It has long been established that individual Nazi sympathisers within the clergy, such as Bishop Alois Hudal in Rome and the Archbishop of Genoa, Giuseppe Siri, actively supported the flight of Nazi war criminals. However, Steinacher disputes the Vatican’s insistence that these men were misguided black sheep within an otherwise unblemished institution.

Instead, Steinacher argues that the “aid programme” for ex-Nazis within the Church was systematic and intentional, and that it has to be understood in the context of the Catholic Church’s post-war crusade for a re-Christianisation of Europe.

Fearing the emergence of a “godless” Europe full of pagans and communists, the Church was willing to help Nazi war criminals – many of them lapsed Protestants who had left their church in the 1930s – if they converted to Catholicism. Steinacher’s argument that the Vatican pursued a systematic policy of “de-Nazification through conversion” to Catholicism is unlikely to gain him many friends in Rome, but he provides plenty of evidence for his theory.

Steinacher’s painstaking reconstruction of the main escape route (which led from Innsbruck across the Alps to Genoa or Rome) underlines the heavy involvement of the Catholic clergy. Along the way, numerous monasteries provided shelter for men on the run and 90 per cent of the Nazis that escaped used that route before they embarked on a passage to South America.

Argentina, in particular, became the preferred destination for Nazi refugees. According to Steinacher’s estimate, at least 350 high-ranking Nazis escaped to Argentina. The Argentinean dictator Juan Perón even hoped to attract up to half a million Germans after the war, notably military experts. New immigrants primarily had to fulfil two qualifications: they had to be skilled labourers or academically trained experts; and they were not allowed to be Communists. Ex-SS officers usually fulfilled both criteria. A Nazi past was not a requirement for an immigration visa to Argentina, but it was certainly no obstacle either.

Steinacher’s book focuses on Argentina, but it also offers intriguing new perspectives on other “safe havens” in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. The post-war journey of former SS colonel Walter Rauff, who invented the mobile gas vans used to kill thousands of Jews along the Eastern front, exemplifies the transnational dimension of Nazi escape routes: after the war, he was first hidden by Bishop Siri of Genoa, before fleeing to Damascus in 1947. In late 1949, he used Red Cross documentation to move to Ecuador, where he worked for Bayer pharmaceutical company. In the early 1960s, Rauff retired to Santiago de Chile, where he died peacefully in 1984.

North Africa and the Middle East also proved to be very popular destinations for ex-Nazis, most notably after the fall of Perón’s regime in 1955, which made Argentina a much less hospitable place for them.

At least three dozen Nazi refugees found a new home in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran, where active participation in the Holocaust was not always seen as a terrible thing. But there were also individuals who were not prominent Nazi perpetrators who found new lives abroad due to employment opportunities; one example being the Austrian engineer, Walter Hassler, presented in the book as an example of a skilled labourer in demand after the second World War.

During the war, the Nazis had established links with influential Muslim circles, including the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who actively supported the German crusade against the Jews. After the war, such connections continued. The former Nazi agitator Johann von Leers, for example, was recruited by Nasser to offer his “know-how” for anti-Israel campaigns sponsored by the Arab League.

Although much has been written in the past three or four decades about the escape of senior Nazi personnel from prosecution in post-war Europe, Steinacher’s book stands out as the first “total history” of this complex topic.

He uses a wealth of sources – memoirs, secret service papers, the files of the Red Cross and the Pontifica Comissione Assistenza – in order to substantiate his provocative but ultimately well documented claims. In so doing, he has raised the bar for all future studies on this subject.

Robert Gerwath

Friday, July 15, 2011

If it weren't so bad, I'd be laughing!

The Catholic League is at it again.  Publishing a book review is one thing, putting nonsensical comments to criticise the author of the book is quite another.  Bill Donohue has taken an axe to Bill Keller's review of John Norwich's Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy.  Quite apart from the content of the book, which I have not read, Donohue's critique hardly demonstrates a familiarity with history, especially of Pope Pius XII. 

Donohue resorts to the myth of the Israeli forest planted in honour of the pope for the 800,000 Jews he is supposed to have saved.  Let me say it again, loud and clear: there is no such forest; there has never been a forest planted in the name of Pius XII; and there will most likely never be.  The myth of the 800,000 begun by Pinchas Lapide has endured far too long.  It is well and truly time it was binned permanently!

Here is Donohue's review:


There was a book review in yesterday’s New York Times by Bill Keller, executive editor of the newspaper, of Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy, by John Julius Norwich. Catholic League president Bill Donohue comments on it today:

It’s hard to say who is dumber—Bill Keller or John Julius Norwich. But to say that Pope Urban VIII imprisoned Galileo and banned all his works is without doubt the voice of a moron: Urban VIII lauded Galileo’s work and showered him with gifts and medals. Furthermore, Galileo was never imprisoned; he was put under house arrest in an apartment in a Vatican palace, with a servant.

Similarly, to say that Pope Pius XII was an enabler of fascism is libelous: no one in the world did more to save Jews and undermine Hitler than Pius XII. That is why the Israelis planted 800,000 trees in his honor, one for every Jew he saved.

Keller is right to say that Norwich is “no scholar,” and he is doubly right to say that he is “selective about where he lingers.” Where he lingers is in the mythical world. Any author who wants to be taken seriously does not offer an entire chapter about some alleged historical figure whom the author reluctantly admits never lived. But that is just what he did by offering up fairy tales about “Pope Joan.”

Naturally, Keller says the bishops blamed “the libertine culture” for the “scourge of pedophile priests.” But the “blame Woodstock” explanation originated with the New York Times, not the bishops, and the scourge he mentions is homosexuality, not pedophilia. So he is twice wrong.

It is not surprising that the book ends by begging the Catholic Church to accept homosexuality and women priests. That is what these people live for. But since neither Keller nor Norwich is Catholic, why should they care? They care because the Church does not entertain their trendy ideas about sexuality, and it never will.

Contact Bill Keller:

For another take on the book, I offer the editorial reviews and plaudits as recorded on Amazon.

Praise for John Julius Norwich

“As a historian, Lord Norwich knows what matters. As a writer, he has a taste for beauty, a love of language, and an enlivening wit. He contrives, as no English writer has done before, to sustain a continuous interest in that crowded history.”—Hugh Trevor-Roper, author of The Last Days of Hitler and The Golden Age of Europe

“Norwich is an enchanting and satisfying raconteur.”—The Washington Post

“He has put readers of this generation more in his debt than any other English writer.”—The Sunday Times (London)

“Norwich is a historian of uncommon urbanity: scholarly and erudite but never pedantic. His style is as graceful and easy as it is knowledgeable.”—Los Angeles Times

“[Norwich] is certainly the English language’s most passionate and dedicated chronicler of [Venice’s] extraordinary history.”—The Seattle Times


With the papacy embattled in recent years, it is essential to have the perspective of one of the world’s most accomplished historians. In Absolute Monarchs, John Julius Norwich captures nearly two thousand years of inspiration and devotion, intrigue and scandal. The men (and maybe one woman) who have held this position of infallible power over millions have ranged from heroes to rogues, admirably wise to utterly decadent. Norwich, who knew two popes and had private audiences with two others, recounts in riveting detail the histories of the most significant popes and what they meant politically, culturally, and socially to Rome and to the world.

Norwich presents such brave popes as Innocent I, who in the fifth century successfully negotiated with Alaric the Goth, an invader civil authorities could not defeat, and Leo I, who two decades later tamed (and perhaps paid off) Attila the Hun. Here, too, are the scandalous figures: Pope Joan, the mythic woman said (without any substantiation) to have been elected in 855, and the infamous “pornocracy,” the five libertines who were descendants or lovers of Marozia, debauched daughter of one of Rome’s most powerful families.

Absolute Monarchs brilliantly portrays reformers such as Pope Paul III, “the greatest pontiff of the sixteenth century,” who reinterpreted the Church’s teaching and discipline, and John XXIII, who in five short years starting in 1958 “opened up the church to the twentieth century,” instituting reforms that led to Vatican II. Norwich brings the story to the present day with Benedict XVI, who is coping with a global priest sex scandal.

Epic and compelling, Absolute Monarchs is the astonishing story of some of history’s most revered and reviled figures, men who still cast light and shadows on the Vatican and the world today.

Now, of course, I am curious to read the book.  Perhaps, Donohue has really done Lord Norwich a service.  After all, with a review such as the one that has appeared on Catholic League's website, who could resist the urge to buy and read?

Latest news on opening of the Archives of Pius XII

The Vatican Information Service reported on 5 July 2011 that the process of cataloging the papers related to the papacy of Pius XII was nearly completed.  The announcement was made during a press conference for an exhibition from the ASV that will open in early 2012.

Another report on the same press conference appeared in the Washington Post.  It contained several comments that are not found in the Vatican report.  The most curious comment regarded Bishop Pagano, the senior archivist, who said that historians could look forward to some "juicy" documents. The reader is invited to look them up.

Archives from the Armenian Genocide (1915-1922) will also be made available.

From VIS:

The Vatican archives for the period of World War II and the pontificate of Pope Pius XII will be ready for scholars’ scrutiny within 2-3 years, according to the prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives.

During a July 5 press conference—called to announce plans for a public exhibition of treasured documents from the archives, Bishop Sergio Pagano told reporters that the task of sorting and cataloguing thousands of documents from the pontificate of Pius XII will soon be completed. At that point, he said, the Pope will decide whether or not to open the archives for public inspection.

Jewish leaders have pressed for the prompt release of files from the World War II era, saying that a thorough inspection of the Vatican records could resolve questions about the efforts by Pope Pius XII to oppose the Nazi regime and spare Jews from the Holocaust. Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have indicated that they, too, hoped that the documents could soon be released. But Vatican archivists have said that the sheer volume of material makes it difficult to respond quickly to requests for access.

Bishop Pagano revealed that the Vatican archives also important documents on the genocide of Armenians under Ottoman rule in the World War I era. These documents, which will soon be published in a single volume, cause an irrepressible sense of pain and horror,” Bishop Pagano said. The reports of inhuman brutality, he said, “make me ashamed to be a man.”

Pope Pius XI's German-Jewish archeologist

This "good news" article was recently posted on the London based Independent Catholic News service.  A fuller version of this article can be found in L'Osservatore Romano.

I found it interesting that the ICN article does not record the fact that shortly after the war, the Jewish-born Speier converted to Catholicism.  It does not detract from a story that points to a very early conviction on the part of the Vatican, that Germany after 1933 was not a good place for Jews.

From ICN:

The story of a Jewish archaeologist whose life was saved by the Pope during World War Two was recently told in the conservative Milanese Catholic daily Il Foglio.

Hermione Speier, a Jewish German was invited to Rome in 1934 by Pope Pius XI, to re-order the photographic archives of the Vatican Museums. She was the first female staff member to work at the Vatican, and her arrival is said to have caused a quite a stir.

Speier stayed in Rome after the death of Pope Pius XI in 1939, and continued to work under his successor, Pope Pius XII.

When, in October 1943, Nazi began their fiercest attacks on the Jewish community of Rome, Speier was moved to the Catacombs of St Priscilla on the via Salaria, to stay with the nuns there.

The director of the house, Msgr Giulio Belvederi, nephew of the Pontifical Master of Ceremonies Respinghi, arranged to bring her there. The hiding place was extremely secure: in the event the house was taken over, Speier and the other ‘evaders’ could escape through a secret tunnel near the catacombs, just as persecuted Christians did centuries prior.

She retired in 1967. Looking back on her life she said she had loved her work with antiquities and equally loved the people that she met in the course of her work. Among her most distinguished publications are those of a horse-head from basement rooms of the Vatican Museums (in Lippold (ed.) Die Skulpturen des Vaticanischen Museums, 1956) and the excavations at the Basilica of St. Peter (in Herbig (ed.) Vermächtnis der Antiken Kunst, 1950). In addition, she was also editor of a four volume authoritative guides to the public collections of classical art in Rome.

Hermione Speier died in Montreax in 1989, at the age of 91.
Hermione Speier 1898 -1989

In conversation with Dennis Prager

I am a bit late in posting this latest entry.  There was a technical hitch as I attempted to post on 30 June.  After that I had to leave things until I returned from a short vacation.  I've also got to work my way through a very full in-tray of emails on various Pius related news topics, including the miracle attributed to the pope.

Let me start with the topic from late last month.

At 0220 Australian Eastern Standard Time, on Thursday 30 June, I was the guest of Dennis Prager during his broadcast from Los Angeles.  I had been approached by a member of his team and asked if I would agree to an interview.  It was a great experience.  Dennis is a consummate gentleman and professional.  He asked me questions and allowed me to answer them without interruption.  In the world of live-to-air broadcast that is a mark of very gracious host.

Dennis made some very positive remarks about my book, describing it as balanced and in search of the truth, not an agenda. 

The major drawback with doing any form of interview is the lack of time to develop a point or points beyond introductory remarks. Nonetheless, Dennis' well-thought questions took us across some of the major issues to do with Pius XII and what he did or did not do during the war.  I will leave it to the reader to listen to the podcast available on the Prager website.


At the end of the interview, Dennis asked me to sum up what I believe is the case about Pius XII:  he was a fundamentally good man, who made some terrible mistakes. 

It is the work of the historian to keep looking at the evidence we have, to search for what we don't have, and to wait for what we will have - when the last archives are made available.  And the work of the historian is helped with the assistance of good journalism that seeks to understand the truth.  Thanks Dennis.

Dennis Prager