Before I discuss the article, I will begin with a story from Australian literary history. In 1995 an unknown first-time author, daughter of Ukrainian immigrants, Helen Demidenko, was awarded Australia's premier literature prize, The Miles Franklin Award. The Hand that signed the Paper was supposedly the blended account given to Demidenko by her uncle "Uncle Vitaly" and told a shockingly frank tale of a Ukrainian family's life under Stalinist terror through to collaboration with the Nazis. At the heart of the tale was the revelation that Vitaly and his younger brother, Evheny were intimately involved in the Holocaust. Vitaly was a guard at Treblinka; Evheny was a member of Einzatsgruppen C and possibly active at Babi Yar.
Demidenko's book sold out in a matter of days. I bought a copy and found it riveting. I had been a student of Holocaust history for a number of years by 1995 and appreciated the frank writing that presented a story of collaboration that was consistent with what the historical record had told for several decades. The Hand the Signed the Paper received considerable acclaim as a searing recount of one of the worst episodes in modern history.
Shortly after the Miles Franklin Prize was given to Demidenko it was revealed that the author was really Helen Darville, daughter of English migrants, with no connection to Ukraine at all. The story was, from beginning to end, the fabrication of an English literature student at the University of Queensland. Darville initially claimed that she had sourced the material from Ukrainian migrants before finally admitting the story was just based on historical fact.
It would appear that Darville found her ethnic origins rather mundane and decided that adopting a Ukrainian persona would be more exciting. She has not been the first to do so. For decades there were people who hoped that Anna Anderson was really the Grand Duchess Anastasia, youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II and they refused to believe that she was the daughter of Polish peasants.
In 1995 the startling memoir Stoker was published. It told the story of Donald Watt, an Australian POW in Poland who claimed he had been sent to Auschwitz where he worked as a stoker in the crematoria alongside the Sonderkommando. The book was received with great fanfare and acclaim. Watt was invited by Jewish groups around Australia to tell his story. It was not long before historians began reading Stoker and asking serious questions. The summary of the investigation was that the story not only did not happen as Watt described, it could not have happened. (I suggest reading Professor Konrad Kwiet's analysis).
My point is that the creation or invention of a story however positive and edifying, whether done for the noblest of reasons or otherwise, serves only to muddy the waters and create confusion. When authors write fiction they do so to tell a story for the entertainment of their readers. They are not required to justify or qualify their writing. For historians the reading and writing process about the human story demands basic standards of verification, research and corroborative evidence. David' Kerr's article does not meet this criteria.
If this was a first year university student's essay on an aspect of the life of Pope Pius XII it would fail simply because there are no citations to refer the reader to sources, no corroborating evidence, and selective use of material that can and has been read in a number of ways. However, David Kerr's greatest omissions are the lack of context and the verification of his material through consultation with scholars. In less than 24 hours the story has been picked up by conservative Catholic news services around the world. I fear it will develop a life of its own and become yet another part of the "faction" that is so much apologia for Pius XII.
Just as Dan Brown did when he wrote the Da Vinci Code, certain pro-Pius XII fans have combined a certain amount of historical truth with fantasy to create a story that to the lay audience has all the veneer of accuracy. Holocaust denialists do the same.
My comments appear in RED.
By David Kerr, Rome, Italy, Nov 4, 2011 / 06:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).
The Jewish New Yorker who has made it his life’s work to clear the name of Pope Pius XII of being anti-Semitic believes the wartime pontiff actually went undercover to save the lives of Jews in Rome.Gary Krupp came across the evidence in a letter from a Jewish woman whose family was rescued thanks to direct Vatican intervention.
Who is this unnamed Jewish woman? Where did Mr Krupp come across this extraordinary find? Why, after sixty years, has this story finally emerged?
“It is an unusual letter, written by a woman who is alive today in northern Italy, who said she was with her mother, her uncle, and a few other relatives in an audience with Pius XII in 1947.”
Next to Pope Pius during the meeting was his Assistant Secretary of State, Monsignor Giovanni Montini, the future Pope Paul VI. “Her uncle immediately looks at the Pope and he says, ‘You were dressed as a Franciscan,’ and looked at Montini who was standing next to him, ‘and you as a regular priest. You took me out of the ghetto into the Vatican.’ Montini immediately said, ‘Silence, do not ever repeat that story.’”
Giovanni Battista Montini (1897-1978) served in the Secretariat of State from 1922 to 1954. During the war Montini was one of the closest collaborators of Pius XII. When the Allies bombed Rome in July 1943 Montini and Pius XII were driven to San Lorenzo fuori le mura. This is well known. There is no evidence recorded anywhere, outside of this newly revealed account, that Pius ever left the Vatican in disguise alone or with any one else. The claim flies in the face of everything known about Pope Pius XII.
There are questions that come out of this story. Rome did not have a closed ghetto, unlike cities in Eastern Europe, so assertions of Pius "entering" the ghetto and taking someone "out of the ghetto" do not seem to make sense. What is meant here? Why did the Pope and Montini take someone "out of the ghetto" and into the Vatican when it was relatively easy for people to enter the Vatican? Given that the Jews of Rome were not confined to a ghetto, why was there a need to take someone out?
How was it possible that the Pope and one of his closest collaborators were able to leave the Vatican, cross the Tiber and enter the ghetto and apparently take a Jewish family out and bring them to the Vatican and no one has ever recorded anything about it?
When Montini, as Pope Paul VI, ordered a team of Jesuit historians to examine the files of the Secretariat of State during the war, why was this story not revealed? Pius had been dead for nearly ten years and Paul had publically defended Pius from accusations of silence. Why did he not reveal this story then?
Why is there no mention of this event in any of the memoirs of those who worked with Pius on a daily basis and at close quarters: Cardinals Tardini, Tisserant and Mother Pascalina Lehnert?
This story ranks on the same level as the Papal Order to open the convents. It is a good story, but there is no concrete evidence to support it.
Krupp believes the claim to be true because the personality of the wartime Pope was such that he “needed to see things with his own eyes.”
This seems to contradict what historians know about the pope. He relied on reports from others and did not need to go out and "see things." In fact between May 1940 and July 1943 the pope did not leave the Vatican at all.
"He used to take the car out into bombed areas in Rome, and he certainly wasn't afraid of that. I can see him going into the ghetto and seeing what was happening,” says Krupp.
There are two records of Pius going and seeing the damage caused by bombing: July 1943. Both occasions were spontaneous instances to go and be with the suffering people of his diocese. There is no record of Pius entering the ghetto - not since he was a boy. This is the stuff of fantasy. If there was any evidence of such an unparalleled adventure it would have been revealed well before now. The pope was such a public figure, even in the little city state of the Vatican that his movements were known at all times by at least a dozen people. Italian and German spies also kept track of papal movements as part of their work. If Pius left the Vatican in disguise, someone would have known about it.
Another aspect of this report is Mr Krupp's statement: "I can see him going into the ghetto and seeing what was happening." What was there to see? Italy had no closed ghettos - therefore there was nothing to see.
Krupp and his wife Meredith founded the Pave the Way Foundation in 2002 to “identify and eliminate the non-theological obstacles between religions.” In 2006 he was asked by both Jewish and Catholic leaders to investigate the “stumbling block” of Pope Pius XII’s wartime reputation. Krupp, a very optimistic 64-year-old from Long Island, N.Y., thought he had finally hit a wall.
“We are Jewish. We grew up hating the name Pius XII,” he says. “We believed that he was anti-Semitic, we believed that he was a Nazi collaboratorall of the statements that have been made about him, we believed.”But when he started looking at the documents from the time, he was shocked. And “then it went from shock to anger. I was lied to,” says Krupp.“In Judaism, one of the most important character traits one must have is gratitude, this is very important, it is part of Jewish law. Ingratitude is one of the most terrible traits, and this was ingratitude as far as I was concerned.”
Krupp now firmly agrees with the conclusions of Pinchas Lapide, the late Jewish historian and Israeli diplomat who said the direct actions of Pope Pius XII and the Vatican saved approximately 897,000 Jewish lives during the war. Pave the Way has over 46,000 pages of historical documentation supporting that proposition, which it has posted on its website along with numerous interviews with eye-witnesses and historians.“I believe that it is a moral responsibility, this has nothing to do with the Roman Catholic Church,” says Krupp, “it has only to do with the Jewish responsibility to come to recognize a man who actually acted to save a huge number of Jewish lives throughout the entire world while being surrounded by hostile forces, infiltrated by spies and under the threat of death.”
This is an ahistorical argument. Pinchas Lapide's assertion is totally unfounded and has no historical foundation at all. I have written on this before. Pave The Way has an impressive library but has not demonstrated an ability to critically analysise much of it. Assertions made regarding the number of Jews supposedly rescued by Pius show a serious lack of scholarship that is not accepted by historians. Curiously, Lapide's number has risen from 860,000 to 897,000.
Krupp explained that Pope Pius used the Holy See’s global network of embassies to help smuggle Jews out of occupied Europe. In one such instance, the Vatican secretly asked for visas to the Dominican Republic– 800 at a time – to aid Jewish rescue efforts. This one initiative alone is estimated to have saved over 11,000 Jewish lives between 1939 and 1945.
How was Pius XII able to "smuggle Jews out of occupied Europe"? This is not clear. German policy towards Jewish emigration changed over the years prior to and during the war. Emigration was not stopped until July 1941 when the decision to murder all the Jews in the German sphere of influence was made. Some Jews escaped occupied Europe through one or other of the German allies such as Hungary and Slovakia, but these were very few. The Dominican Republic issued 5000 visas for Jewish refugees from Europe between 1940 and 1945. 645 Jews made it to the Dominican Republic, but several thousand others survived because they held the visas.
Closer to home, the convents and monasteries of Rome neutral territory during the war were used as hiding places for Jews. Krupp speculates that the wartime actions of Pope Pius XII, whose birth name was Eugenio Pacelli, can be further understood in the light of his own personal history. His great boyhood friend was Guido Mendes who hailed from a well-known Jewish family in Rome. Together they learned the Hebrew language and shared Shabbat dinners on the Jewish Sabbath.
There is no evidence that Pacelli knew Hebrew or that he participated in shabbat dinners. This would have been unthinkable for someone raised in a religiously devout and conservative Tridentine Catholic home.
Later, upon his election to the papacy in 1939, A.W. Klieforth, the American consul general in Cologne, sent a secret telegram to the U.S. Department of State explaining Pope Pius’s attitude towards Nazism in Germany. The new Pope “opposed unalterably every compromise with National Socialism,” Klieforth wrote, after a private chat with the pontiff in the Vatican. The two men had got to know each other during Archbishop Pacelli’s 12 years as nuncio in Germany. Pope Pius, explained Klieforth, “regarded Hitler not only as an untrustworthy scoundrel but as a fundamentally wicked person,” and “did not believe Hitler capable of moderation.” Hence he “fully supported the German bishops in their anti-Nazi stand.”
This is all well known.
Krupp describes the reputation of the wartime Pope as both glowing and intact until 1963, when German writer Rolf Hochhuth penned his play “The Deputy.” It portrayed Pope Pius as a hypocrite who remained silent about Jewish persecution.
The Pave the Way website carries evidence from a former high-ranking KGB officer, Ion Mihai Pacepa, who claims that the tarnishing of the Pope’s reputation was a Soviet plot. Krupp explains how the communists wanted to “discredit the Pope after his death, to destroy the reputation of the Catholic Church and, more significantly to us, to isolate the Jews from the Catholics. It succeeded very well in all three areas.”But he also firmly believes that a fundamental revision of Pope Pius’s wartime record is now well underway. “The dam is cracking now, without question,” he says.
Ion Mihai Pacepa's story has never been corroborated. His story ws effectively debunked by Thomas Brechenmacher in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, "Hochhuths Quellen. War der 'Stellvertreter' vom KGB inspiriert?", (April 26, 2007)
Ironically, perhaps, Krupp says he meets more resistance when he speaks at Catholic parishes than in Jewish synagogues. “Many Jews,” he explains, “have been extremely grateful, saying, ‘I’m very happy to hear that. I never wanted to believe this about him,’ especially those of us who knew him, who were old enough to know him.
I do not dispute the noble aim of Pave The Way, but I disagree with the methodology that flies in the face of reliable and reputable scholarship. The claim that Pius XII disguised himself as a Franciscan friar to leave the Vatican secretly to go to the Rome ghetto to rescue a Jewish family has no substance.
My response to this article drew on my own research into Pius XII conducted over the last fifteen years and from sources I found in the public domain on the internet.