Thursday, March 29, 2012

Slovakia marks 70th anniversary of Auschwitz transports

Earlier this week a special commemoration was marked in Slovakia.  On 25 March 2012 a special train travelled from Poprad Station in north-central Slovakia, close to the Polish border, to Auschwitz.  This blog has recorded the history of the Slovakian government's planned and executed deportation of Slovak Jews as seen from the perspective of Giuseppe Burzio, that charge d'affaires of the Holy See in Bratislava and recorded in ADSS.  This week's commemoration is a part of the ongoing healing process in Slovakia to recognise this ugly chapter in its national history. 
This report comes from the JTA agency in Prague.

Slovakia Marks 70th Anniversary 

of Auschwitz Transport

Slovakia sent a train from its Poprad station to Auschwitz to commemorate the first transport of Slovak Jews, in 1942.
Edita Grosmanova, a Slovak-Jewish concentration camp survivor, and outgoing Prime Minister Iveta Radicova were among the passengers on last Friday's train ride to Oswiecim, Poland, according to Slovak news reports. Some 1,000 Slovak Jewish women were sent to Auschwitz on March 25, 1942.
Grosmanova is the widow of the author Ladislav Grosman, whose book "The Shop on Main Street" was turned into an Academy Award-winning film in 1965 for best foreign-language film.
“If I were talking for 24 hours, it would not be even a percentage of the things that I have experienced," the Slovak paper SME quoted Grosmanova as saying, adding that "I ask all [people], especially the young ones, to talk, talk, talk.”
Approximately 70,000 Slovak Jews were deported to concentration camps during the war by the Slovak state, as the country’s wartime government is referred to typically.
“On March 25 [in 1942] at this station [Poprad], the Holocaust started here,” said Pavol Mestan, director of the Slovak-Jewish Museum.
Slovak cultural organizations and the country’s Evangelical and Roman Catholic churches also offered condemnations and apologies.

Edita Grossmanova, 

Poprad Station, 1942

Memorial Plaque, Poprad Station, 2002

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Seton Hall seminar: Pius XII, Axis Sally and the radio

When I read this article from the New Jersey Jewish News I was surprised at how obvious the whole issue of radio broadcasting must have been.  As the only readily available electronic means of mass communication the presence of the radio ensured the swift transmission of both authentic news as well as propaganda.  ADSS has many documents that refer to Vatican Radio and the fine line trod by its directors.  This article adds a new dimension looking at how both sides used the radio for dissemination of information.

Both sides used radio as wartime weapon.

By Robert Wiener

In a day-long program held March 15 by the Institute of Judeo-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University in South Orange, educators heard from two experts on wartime propaganda on the use of radio by America, its allies, and their enemies in the Second World War.
In the first of two speeches, Richard Lucas, a political scientist and freelance writer who lives in Short Hills, discussed “Berlin Calling — German Radio Broadcasts to America.”
“Axis Sally” was the stage name of two American-born women who broadcast pro-Nazi propaganda aimed at Allied troops and their families back in the United States.
The first was Mildred Gillars, who was born in Maine and studied at Ohio Wesleyan University before moving to Paris (where she had a relationship with a British Jew in 1931).
Three years later she moved to Dresden, where the Nazis give her a job on the radio.
“At first she was just spinning records and broadcasting to England and Ireland,” said Lucas. “Then she met up with Max Oscar Otto Koischwitz, a German-born American citizen who became a fulltime propagandist for the Nazis at Reich Radio in Berlin. He hired Gillars as an English-language broadcaster.”
Addressing American troops, Lucas said, Gillars “would say things like, ‘Boys, you need to throw down your guns and toddle off home. Instead of slaving in the hot sun, you should give up. It is better to be a prisoner.’”
“They would laugh at her,” said Lucas.
A second American-born woman also known as “Axis Sally” was Rita Zucca, who tried to appeal to American troops in Italy by playing American jazz records. After the war, she was found guilty of collaboration in an Italian military court. She was released after nine months of incarceration but was never allowed to return to the United States. She died in 1998.
Gillars was convicted of one count of treason for performing in a pro-Nazi radio drama. She spent 13 years at the Federal Reformatory for Women in Alderson, WV, and died in 1988.
Although Gillars insisted toward the end her life that she had “no idea what was going on” in terms of the Nazi “Final Solution,” Lucas argued, “There was no way she could not have known something was going on.”
Other American pro-Nazi broadcasters, including Frederick Kaltenbach, Robert Best, and Douglas Chandler, were found guilty of treason.
“They were some of the most virulent anti-Semitic broadcasters on Berlin radio,” said Lucas. “Chandler, Best, and Kaltenbach were motivated by pure anti-Semitism. That showed up in their broadcasts.”
In contrast, “Mildred Gillars was motivated by sheer opportunism and the sheer fact that she needed a job. The anti-Semitism took a back seat.”
In a separate talk, Holocaust scholar Laura Smith, who has a master’s degree from Seton Hall in Jewish-Christian studies, gave a mirror-image address, “Allied and Resistance Radio.”
After illustrating her talk with excerpts of dramatic radio addresses broadcast by British Prime Minster Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, she spoke of government-sponsored underground broadcasting by Dutch, French, and English resistance forces.
But Smith encountered criticism from some members of the audience when she spoke of the roles of Pope Pius XII and Vatican Radio in challenging the Nazis and the slaughter of the Jews.
“Vatican Radio began to broadcast anti-Nazi propaganda in earnest in 1940,” Smith said. “In January of that year, Pope Pius XII ordered reporting on conditions in occupied Poland, and a month later, a Catholic priest became the first broadcaster in the world to report on the detention of Polish and Jewish prisoners in sealed ghettoes.”
Vatican Radio reported, Smith said, that “Jews and Poles are being herded to separate ghettoes, hermetically sealed and pitifully inadequate.”
Because of such warnings, British and American newspapers credited the Vatican with sounding an alert about Nazi persecution of Poles and Jews as early as 1940. In July 1942 Vatican Radio aired a protest by French bishops of the execution of 13,000 Jews “and as a result, international media took note,” Smith said.
But according to her, perhaps no wartime broadcaster was as outspoken about the anti-Semitic acts of the Nazis as Monsignor John Maria Oesterreicher.
Oesterreicher, born a Jew in Austria, became a Catholic clergyman and founded the Institute of Judeo-Christian Studies at Seton Hall in 1953.
During the war, he broadcast while in hiding with the stated intention to “arouse repulsion for the injustice of Hitler’s rule and…encourage subjugated Austrians to resist Nazi occupation…including the persecution of Jews,” said Smith.
She said the monsignor broadcast one incident of an old Jewish man begging a Nazi border guard to let him escape, saying, “You, too, are a human being.” The Nazi replied, “I am not a human being; I am a German.”
Smith said in another radio broadcast, in 1940, Oesterreicher warned, “The Nazis want to transform the world into one big concentration camp.”
Challenged by an audience member who cited allegations that Pope Pius XII remained largely silent about, and perhaps even supportive of, Hitler’s Nazi regime, Smith called such accusations a “slippery slope.”
Oesterreicher, she pointed out, was “broadcasting anonymously,” she said, “not as a representative of the Vatican” so his warnings would not have been credited to the Church. But, having said that, Smith added, “I still don’t think enough was said and done” by the Catholic Church to fight the Nazis.
In response to another audience member’s claiming, “There is a feeling the pope could have done more,” Smith said, “Sure,” adding that archives have been discovered that have shown that if the Vatican had been more outspoken, it would have led to “more persecution.” The pope, she said, “was trying to walk that balance.”
“The question of Pope Pius XII is very complex,” said Father Lawrence Frizzell, who chairs the Jewish-Christian studies department at Seton Hall. “From our perspective, in hindsight, we think much more could have been done. I always say, ‘Did Pius XII do enough?’ Nobody did enough.”

Richard Lucas

Laura Smith

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Apologists' Pius Wars – the rest of us do history.

This post was prompted in part by the article written by William Doino in First Things which is a thinly veiled attack on the scholarship of Kevin Madigan, Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Harvard.  Somehow, I doubt Madigan has remained in his position for want of historical ability and skill.  Doino's article is a clever mix of slightly twisted fact with a heavy handed bashing of historians with whom he disagrees.  Doino engages in just enough smokescreening of historical fact to leave a lay audience seriously wondering if Madigan's take on the post-war trials and the Vatican's responses is a poor attempt at smearing the good name of the Catholic Church.  For the reader who wishes to make up their own mind, I suggest bypassing First Things and go straight to the books Madigan mentions - David Cymet History vs Apologetics and Gerald Steinacher Nazis on the Run. I have read Steinacher's excellent work and do not understand how Doino cannot accept the fundamental thesis, namely that elements within the Catholic Church were active in helping Nazi war criminals escape justice.  But that is part of what I believe is simply another form of denialism.

The phenomenon of denialism is predicated upon the need to denigrate as fiction an historical reality.  It stems from a world-view that is fundamentally uncomfortable with empirical history, proven fact and the discipline of scientific rigour, which includes as part of its process, flexibility, reason, loyalty to the historical record and honesty.  In short, the denialist is at pains to prove by whatever means, that the received record is not only wrong, it is deliberately false and those who propose it are liars.

In recent years there has arisen a disturbing movement that seeks to apply the above criteria to the pontificate of Pope Pius XII.  Beginning from the premise that Pius is innocent of all charges levelled against him by those who hold that his war-time record is problematic, the apologists for the pope have conducted a campaign of misinformation, selective documentation, uncritical acceptance of all positive statements, regardless of the historical provenance of the statements, and uncritical rejection of all contrary positions.  And while some apologists may well act from honourable motives, chiefly a belief they are defending the integrity of the Catholic Church, it remains that their methods fail to meet even the most basic tests of historical reliability. 

It is also a matter of record that the centre of this movement lies in the English-speaking world, and in the United States in particular.  The group that has pushed the campaign into “top gear” has been Gary Krupp’s New York based Pave The Way (PTW).  What began as a genuine philanthropic effort to work for the resolution of differences between particular groups, has, in this instance, become the fundamentalist vanguard of a group of Jews and Christians determined to see Pius XII declared one of the “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem.  The parallel movement is to indirectly support the Catholic process of beatification that would see Pius declared “Blessed”, the penultimate stage before canonisation.

Indeed, much of the success of the Pius XII apologist movement has derived from sources close to and inside the Vatican.  Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI had given vocal support to PTW, which is consistent with their public statements praising Pius XII as a great saviour of the Jews during World War Two.  Senior curial officials, such as Cardinal Bertrone, have also lent considerable support to PTW, praised their work and written statements expressing the hope that their work would help promote the cause of Pius XII. 

Surrounding PTW, and not necessarily with PTW’s endorsement, is a gathering of extreme right-wing Catholic groups and individuals who have a very vocal agenda that does not hesitate to criticise anyone with whom they disagree, including bishops and theologians.  The CatholicLeague and EWTN are two groups who have regularly pilloried or down-played efforts by historians to research Pius XII and whose conclusions do not match their own, that is, that Pius is a saint.  Associated individuals such as William Doino, Ronald Rychlak, Margherita Marchione and David Dalin, are ideological allies of the larger groups and enjoy considerable media coverage of their platforms. Their understanding of history is reductionist – it is either white/true or black/false.  The nuances that form the greater part of the work of historians are not important. 

Despite their protestations of loyalty to the Magisterium and what they believe are the orthodox traditions of the Catholic Church, both organisations represent a small section of world Catholicism. And though the comments that follow are mostly directed at PTW they are applicable to the other groups mentioned above, and a considerable number that are not.

Groups such as these praise the work of PTW because it is an example of Jews speaking in favour of Pius XII.  This creates a very dangerous perception.  Who better to speak the “truth” about Pius than Jews?  If Jews are saying Pius rescued Jews, how can Catholics suggest otherwise?  Quite apart from the simple fact that the number of Jews actively involved in the study of Pius XII is tiny, it allows the perception to develop that there are Jews who are actively in favour of the canonisation of Pius.  This is not the stated position of PTW, but perceptions crafted by others often have an insidious power of their own to shape opinion.

The next crucial issue related to PTW lies in its presentation of the “facts” about Pius.

PTW has assembled an impressive collection about Pius XII from many different sources and invested considerable time, energy and funds in making this material readily available to anyone wishing to use it.  This is a generous act that should be acknowledged. 

However, it is the way the material is used that causes concern.  Gathering material is one part of the historical process; interpreting it is quite another.  PTW’s considerable archive on Pius XII lacks serious analysis.  Much of the material is already available in the public domain and has been analysed by historians.  And while there is always room for new analysis and interpretation, that work needs to be done according to the general accepted norms of historical research.  A lot of the material is “stand alone”, that is, it does not have corroborative evidence or contextual data to support the claims made.  An interview with an elderly Italian bishop who makes a series of claims to the effect that the pope ordered or attempted to get visas for Jews to enter a Caribbean country has to be supported with evidence from other sources.  There is no suggestion that the bishop is doing anything other than speaking what he believes to be the truth, but historians do not accord objective reliability to one source alone.

This problem of establishing context, is consistent throughout much of the work of PTW with regard to Pius XII.  The New York Times is a valuable source, but it cannot stand without support from other sources.  There is a wealth of published and unpublished material from many archives that have helped the historian establish credible paradigms with which to examine Pius XII.  Establishing the conclusion before examining all the available material is a dangerous way to proceed, but this is what PTW has done on more than one occasion.

Historians are craftsfolk trained to study, interpret, analyse and record the human story.  They are a diverse group and see the world using multiple matrices.  The common thread that unites them is a process of scientific and disciplined treatment of evidence working towards a sustainable and honest conclusion.  Studying Pius XII and the history of the Catholic church during World War Two requires a familiarity in several disciplines that include, church history, diplomatic history, ecclesiastical diplomatic history, theology, the history of theology, Italian history, fascism, national socialism, German and European history, communism, military history, languages and so on.  The point is laboured to emphasise the complex layers that lie within any serious attempt to come to grips with any moment in human history.  Unfortunately, PTW has a history of relying on people whose historical credentials appear to be less than adequate.  This has been seen on several occasions over the last few years.

PTW’s reliance on historians of dubious academic qualification is a serious problem the organisation either does not appear to understand or is not willing to address.  In July 2011, Michael Hesemann PTW’s German representative, published the story that Pius XII was responsible for saving for 200,000 Jews after the November 1938 pogrom.  Quite aside from the fact that the number was simply impossible, there is not one shred of evidence to support it.  Hesemann used “newly discovered documents” from the Vatican archives to back his claims.  The problem lay in the simple fact that the “newly discovered documents” had been available in published form since 1972 in Actes et Documents Volume 6.

Another example were the claims made by the Israeli diplomat, Pinchas Lapide.  Lapide claimed that Pius XII was responsible for saving the lives of 860,000 Jews.  He provided no evidence to support this “fact”, yet it has entered into the mythology of Pius XII and is accepted uncritically.  PTW is by no means the only group that endorses Lapide’s story.

It is poor historical effort such as this that weakens PTW as a reliable agent in the study of Pius XII.  It opens PTW to criticism that it has an agenda more concerned with finding material that agree with its core aim, namely to see Pius XII named one of the Righteous.

Finally, it is important to recognise that organisations such as PTW enjoy no endorsement from mainstream historians in the fields of study mentioned above.  They have not published any academic histories, peer-reviewed journal articles or worked with any recognised tertiary institutions.  They have a large number of Pius apologists, fellow-travellers who see Gary Krupp’s organisation as a vehicle they can use to suit their own neo-conservative agendas, but no recognised historians from any creditable university or institute of higher learning.  That more than a few of these fellow-travellers appear to delight in publicly denigrating and sneering at qualified and trained historians further erodes their credibility.  PTW does not help in this regard because it does not appear to be willing to even entertain the possibility that Pius XII could have made mistakes or been quite simply wrong in some of the decisions he made or did not make during the war.  Such refusal to allow the possibility of error on the part of the pope does no service and prevents PTW from being taken seriously as a participant in the historical debate. 

Gary Krupp is an unfailingly polite and courteous man, unlike some of the more strident apologists who think a McCarthy approach to their version of history is appropriate, but his unwillingness to accept that there are points of view contrary to his own, that the record on Pius XII is far from complete, that historians are wrestling with the issues surrounding his papacy and conduct through the war, that his archive while impressive is lacking in serious analysis and historiography, that he is quite possibly being used by neo-conservative factions within the Catholic church to push their own world-view, will prevent him from ever being a serious contender in the work to establish the record on Pope Pius XII.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Pacelli supported Jewish homeland 1917 ... but what of 1944?

Earlier this month another cache of “recently uncovered” documents was “discovered.”  Zenit published an article describing the latest Pave The Way “discovery.”  Regular readers may be tiring of what is a regular pattern of behaviour on the part of PTW.  Announcements trumpeting new material from archives are part of PTW’s modus operandi and receive uncritical attention from conservative Catholic organisations, such as Zenit, which has close ties to the Legionaries of Christ, and sometimes from the mainstream media who see an opportunity for a “scoop”.  So what is it with this latest “scoop”?  It is really very simple.  Take a document out of context and you can make it say more or less whatever you like.  Put a context around a document and the result may not be what one would like, but it is more likely to be accurate history.  

Does this latest "discovery" prove Pacelli to be in favour of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, and thus acting contrary to Benedict XV and Pius XI's statements?  Based on my reading of the texts, I think the answer is "no".  And then there is the document found in ADSS 11 which makes for very disturbing reading.  If Pacelli was disposed to supporting a Jewish homeland in 1917 and 1925, he had changed his mind by 1944.

The article from Zenit with my comments inserted in red:



Foundation Continues to Unearth Testimony That Pius Was in No Way 'Hitler's Pope' No serious historian asserts this.  To keep using the epitaph “Hitler’s Pope” is now a distraction and appears to be a tool used by apologists to mask their inability and unwillingness to recognise that the truth about Pacelli is to be found in via media, through serious critical and contextual scholarship.

NEW YORK, MARCH 8, 2012 ( An organization researching the history of Pius XII's relationship with the Jews says that a series of documents recently uncovered show a pattern of direct actions by Archbishop Eugenio Pacelli (the future Pope) that culminated in the establishment of the modern State of Israel. This is simply historically inaccurate.  To suggest that Pius XII’s actions as nuncio to Germany (1917-1929) provides a direct link to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 is absurd and totally lacking in credibility.  I doubt very much if David Ben Gurion would agree with such a statement.

The New York-based Pave the Way Foundation explained that in 1917, Archbishop Eugenio Pacelli met with Nahum Sokolow, president of the World Zionist organization and arranged for Sokolow to meet with Pope Benedict XV to discuss a Jewish Homeland. In a passionate report, Sokolow wrote of his audience on May 12, 1917:

“I was first of all received by Msgr. Eugenio Pacelli, Secretary for Extraordinary Affairs, and had a few days later a long conference with Cardinal Secretary of State Gasparri. Both meetings were extraordinarily friendly and positive. I don’t tend towards credulity or exaggerations and still I can’t avoid to stress that this revealed an extraordinary amount of friendship: to grant a Jew and representative of Zionism with such a promptness a private audience which took so long and was of such a warmth and took place with all assurance of sympathy, both for the Jews in general and for Zionism in special, proves that we don’t need to expect any obstacles which can’t be overcome from the side of the Vatican. The Pope asked me, ‘Pacelli told me about your mission; do you want to tell me any more details?’" (File A 18/25 in the Main Archive of Yad Vashem)
A statement from Pave the Way further noted: On November 15, 1917, Nuncio Pacelli acted on a urgent request for his intervention from the Jewish community of Switzerland from what was feared would be an Ottoman Massacre of Jews of Palestine. Pacelli asked the German government, who was allied with the Ottoman Turks, for protection for the Jews of Palestine. Pacelli was successful in gaining promised protection of the Jews from the German government “even with the use of arms.”
The citation is accurate.  However, there is need for context.  Pacelli was Secretary of the Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, the Vatican equivalent of the Foreign Office and responsible for overseeing the Vatican’s relations with sovereign states, monitoring the work of papal representatives and keeping the Secretary of State, Cardinal Gasparri informed and “up to speed”.  His role was not one of creating, but executing policy.

In 1916 Benedict XV had made a plea for the protection of Armenian Christians undergoing appalling persecution at the hands of the Turkish government.  He had also written a letter in February 1916 that was published in the Jesuit journal, Civilta Cattolica, where he denounced any form of persecution against Jews.  What made this published letter so interesting was that it appeared in Civilta, a journal that was more used to publishing viciously anti-Jewish material. 

Nahum Sokolow, (1859-1936), secretary general of the World Zionist Congress, visited Rome to ask for papal support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine.  Granted an audience, Benedict’s seemingly favourable response was a significant break from papal attitudes towards the idea of Jewish home in Palestine.  However, after the announcement of the Balfour Declaration in November 1917 and then the exclusion of the Holy See from the 1919 Versailles Peace Conference, Benedict’s attitude had reverted to the traditional suspicion of Jewish intentions in Palestine and a thinly veiled hostility towards the idea of creating a Jewish state.

Pacelli met with Sokolow again on Feb. 15, 1925, and arranged another meeting with Cardinal Pietro Gasparri on the subject of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. In 1926, Pacelli urged all Catholics to join the pro-Palestine movement in Germany with such notable members as Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, Konrad Adenauer, and Fr. Ludwig Kaas.

PTWF learned of the existence of one very interesting document, still unpublished, which may show Pius XII’s attitude about a Jewish homeland. In 1944, Pius XII opposed the general feeling of his Secretary of State, when he responded to Monsignor Domenico Tardini’s written warning against helping the Jews establish a homeland. Pius XII wrote by hand, “The Jews need a land of their own.” This document is in the closed section of the Vatican Library and will not be available until the archives are fully open.  How can PTW make a statement about a document that has not been released?  It is at this point that I direct the reader to an earlier post I made on ADSS 11.333 where the 1944 negative attitude towards a Jewish state was made very clear by the Vatican to Winston Churchill.

The foundation explained that researchers have also uncovered the 1946 speech Pius XII delivered to a delegation of Arabs who came to Rome to dissuade the Pope from endorsing a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
“Uncovered” is something of a misnomer.  The delegation was received on 3 August 1946 and the account can be found in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis (the official Vatican commentary) for 1946 from page 322. 
 Pius XII ended the meeting leaving the Arab delegation greatly disappointed by clearly stating, “As we also condemn several times in the past, the persecution that fanatical anti-Semitism unleashed against the Jewish people.”

According to research by the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, it was Pius XII who “paved the way” for the Catholic Countries members of the United Nations to positively vote in favor of the partitioning of Palestine in November 1947.
This is not what the Wallenburg foundation says.  They point out that it was the efforts of Angelo Roncalli, later John XXIII, and the Vatican’s Domenico Tardini that were instrumental in helping to encourage the predominantly Catholic states of Latin America to vote in favour of partition.  Selective mis-quoting of publicly available material does PTW no favours. We have uncovered news articles about the Vatican encouraging Spain to recognize the Jewish state in 1955.

I have deleted the last paragraph which describes the supposed relationship between Pacelli and Guido Mendes and Pacelli’s familiarity with orthodox Jewish life and practice.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Genocide and the Church/es

Racism, Genocide and Holocaust Seminar
Monday, 26 March 2012
Sydney Jewish Museum 0900-1600

I will be presenting at this seminar.  This is part of the presentation.  Other references will be made to resources that are linked on the homepage of the blog.

Genocide and the Church/es.

Type in the words “genocide and church” into Google and look at the results.  My initial search scored 23.9 million hits with these words.  And many of the results focused on recent genocidal activity in Rwanda, possibly the first genocide of the digital age.

How to proceed with such an unwieldy topic?

There are some basic definitions that need to be made in order to address the topic.  The most important one is the word “church”.  We must have a clear working definition in order to avoid the pitfalls arising from generalization and misinterpretation.

The word “church” is a Christian term, deriving from the Greek εκκλησία, meaning “assembly” or “congregation” and is applied to any liturgical gathering of Christians, the formal structures or institution of the Christian people/s and the theological and religious beliefs that flow from it.  From earliest times there has been a religious profession of faith in one church, but a lived experience of many different ways of being that one church. 

Given its size and global spread, the term “church” is often, in the popular imagination, equated with the Catholic Church, and in particular with the Roman Catholic Church, the largest body within the Catholic family of churches.  Historically, it has often been difficult for those with a limited understanding of the realities of the different variants within Christianity to discern with accuracy just which part of the Christian Church, which denomination, which cultural variant of a denomination and whether people acting or otherwise were clergy or laity.  The potential for confusion is, I hope, self evident.

If we are able to discern which part of the Christian church/es we need to examine, we can then proceed to distinguish the differences between the institutional forms of the church/es and those who claim adherence to them in varying degrees of intensity.  It is historical fact that many anti-Christian leaders have used Christian religious language to persuade the Christian leaders to support aspects of policy.  Hitler’s “professions” to the Catholic and Lutheran bishops in early 1933 are one typical example.  It is also historical fact that the institutions of the church/es and their leaders are as susceptible to the ebb and flow of economic, social and political movements as the rest of the human society.  By their own self-definition, the church/es claim a divine mandate and reliance on the grace of God, but this is interpreted through very human agencies, and mistakes are made – sometimes with horrific consequences.

The history behind this topic is, quite, simply, enormous and goes beyond anything I could hope to cover in a short essay.  What I propose is to make several points and then provide directions for further reading.  If one begins with an idea of the huge scale behind the questions, then one will move carefully.  If students are led to discover that the involvement of Christians and aspects of Christian church/es is complex and tangled, it will be a step towards creating a more inclusive and authentic narrative.

What does the Church teaches about genocide?

The Hebrew Bible is held as sacred text by Christians.  The prohibitions against unlawful killing – murder – are valid and without exception.  Exodus 20.13: “You shall not murder” and its repetition in Deuteronomy 5.17 are unambiguous; murder is wrong and a direct violation of God’s will for humanity.  And lest there be any sense that the prohibition could be conditioned by cultural or social norms, the scriptures have multiple references to the care and protection that must be afforded to the stranger and alien (e.g. Deut 1.16-17, 24.17-18, 26.5-11).  The evangelist Luke has Jesus tell the parable of the Good Samaritan which makes it beyond doubt that all people are neighbours for the Christian; it is immoral and unethical to not go to the help of someone in need. (Luke 10.25-37)

The high ethical principals contained in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament have never changed.  That parts of the Christian church/es and many Christians have not abided by them is a cause for serious reflection.

John Paul II & Benedict XVI

Pope John Paul II (1920-2005) publicly spoke about the culpability of many Catholics who remained silent or were part of the machinery of the Holocaust in his letter “We Remember – a reflection on the Shoah” (1998).  In 2000 he led a service of repentance in St Peter’s Basilica within the Mass asking for forgiveness for the sins of Catholics against Jews throughout Christian history.  Perhaps lesser known were his constant appeals for the end of genocidal killing in other places.

1. Condemnation of the killings in Bosnia during the 1992-1995 war and “ethnic cleansing” 

2.  Condemnation of the killing in Rwanda on 27 April 1994.  John Paul was the first world leader to use the word “genocide” to refer to the murders. 

3. Condemnation of the Armenian genocide in November 2000. 

The weakness in John Paul’s condemnations lay in refusal to accept that the Church itself was responsible in any way for the killings, only members of the Church.  The stories of professional religious people including nuns, ordained ministers including at least one Anglican bishop, and several priests, engaged in genocidal activity make for disturbing reading.   

And there is no shortage of material on line and in print that has attempted to grapple with the issue.  

However, I argue that despite the theological nuances over institutional and individual responsibility, the clear papal condemnation of genocides since the Holocaust are positive steps and point to the Catholic church’s preparedness to speak out and speak out loudly.  It is a significant movement from the guarded and extremely cautious approach of Pius XII during the 1939-1945 war.

Benedict XVI has had a troubled record on sensitivity to genocide.  Comments made during his visit to Brazil in 2007 suggested a lack of awareness of the brutal reality of the conquest of Latin America and the destruction of indigenous civilizations. 
Reaction from indigenous groups was understandably less than impressed with Benedict’s Euro-centric world view.  The current pope has also refrained from using the word “genocide” with regard to Armenia.


The Christian church/es are complex realities with equally complex histories.  That some Christians participated in genocidal activity is undeniable.  It is also undeniable that some Christians took seriously their call to be neighbour to the people they saw in need, and were prepared to risk their own life to try and help.  Looking at human history and our blood-spattered record of treating each other, perhaps we should study not only why genocides occur, but why do some Christians seek to prevent them, others participate and most are somewhere on the sidelines.

For information about the Seminar please contact the Museum: +61 2 9360 7999 or email via the website:

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Lux in Arcana - The Vatican Archives Exhibition

Lux in Arcana is one exhibition I would dearly love to see, but Australia is not called “Down Under” for nothing!  On Wednesday 29 February, a six month exhibition of a selection of texts from Archivio Segreto Vaticano went on display in Rome’s Capitoline Museum. Amongst documents which include the Bull of Excommunication of Martin Luther, the appeal from the English Parliament for the Annulment of Henry VIII’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon, a letter from St Teresa of Jesus and the transcripts of the interrogations of the Knights Templar, there are several documents from the archives of Pius XII.  It is these that are of particular interest to me.

Reading the news reports on the exhibition several things stand out. 

Firstly, there is the general level of ignorance in the mainstream media about the archives.  They are not “secret” in the sense of hidden or deliberately withheld.  The Italian word “segreto” can be translated to mean “private”, which is what in fact, they are.  The ASV is the private or personal archive of the pope.  The terminology is understandably confusing, but a simple question seeking clarification would remedy the confusion, a point made by one of the exhibition organisers, archivist, Pier Paolo Piergentili, author of TheVatican Secret Archives (2009).

Secondly, there is the oft repeated assertion that the Vatican has been engaged in “covering up” unpalatable aspects of its past – ancient and modern – and this exhibition is an example of greater transparency!  Journalist, Charlie Angela, needs to do some research.  After making the "revelation" that the Catholic Church put Galileo to death (he died in his bed in Florence at the age of 77) because he “discovered that the earth revolved around the sun” (with no apology to either Aristotle or Copernicus), she appears to go on to assert that the exhibition is in part a response to the child abuse scandals and that the Church is doing all this to appease public opinion “who want the Church to reveal all its secrets”.  This is not journalism worthy of the name and the Daily Mail were Ms Angela’s report was published should be ashamed. 

Thirdly, the customary positions taken on Pius XII remain alive and kicking.  The media, it seems, has little or no interest in acknowledging the realms of gray about the war-time pope.  The old chestnut of “wait until the archives are opened and all shall be revealed” still attracts attention.  No acknowledgement was made of the work that has been done so far, or to at least recognise that the exhibition makes new assertions regarding Pius XII.

Fortunately the European Jewish Press has a more nuanced approach.  I have copied the relevant section and made notes throughout the text.

The documents are part of an unprecedented exhibition in Rome of rare Vatican archives spanning centuries of history and include a report from a papal envoy on the conditions inside seven internment camps in southern Italy.   
There are many documents found in ADSS that record visits made by the Italian nuncio, Francesco Borgongini Duca to internment camps throughout southern Italy.  The internment camp at Ferramonti Tarsia in Cosenza operated between June 1940 and September 1943.  The nuncio visited the camp on 31 August 1941 (ADSS 8.142) and maintained contact throughout the rest of the war. (See ADSS 8.294, 329, 335, 371, 471; 9.55).  The nuncio was also involved in interventions on behalf of converted and stateless Jews throughout Italy at times, in order to prevent their possible deportation into German hands. (See ADSS 6.13,18, 22, 32, 246, 247; 8.473; 9.57, 122, 146, 228)
Another document is a letter from a formerly interned rabbi in 1942 who thanks the then head of the Roman Catholic Church for sending aid to the camp including clothes and linen. 
Letters of thanks are found throughout ADSS.  They came from individuals, families and communities across Europe, the UK (ADSS 9.346) and even Uruguay (ADSS 9.364).  The Church, in the person of the pope, was thanked for efforts made on behalf of the Jews of Europe.  Most come from after the summer of 1941 when news of the mass murder began to reach to the world at large. (This is a sample: ADSS 8.495 – Rabbi Freiberger, Zagreb, 30.09.1942; ADSS 9.52 – Rabbi Alexander Safran, Bucharest, 15.02.1943; ADSS 10.226 – the Jews of Rome, 10.06.1944, 10.288 – Jewish families in Rome, 05.08.1944. The archives of the internment camp in Campagna also contain a number of letters of thanks from internees expressing their thanks to the pope for material help.
A third document is from former Jewish detainees who met with the pope for an audience in 1944 and expressed their gratitude for his support. 
They said the pope had sent "substantial and generous gifts and demonstrated his keen and paternal interest in our physicial, spiritual and moral wellbeing" and said he had saved them from the threat of deportation to Poland in 1942.   
The Vatican's second in command, Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, visited the opening of the exhibition on Wednesday and said he had been most struck by the documents relating to the papacy of Pius XII.   
Bertone said the documents were part of efforts for "historical truth", adding: "The research on the period of Pius XII has so far generated more than two million files and information about prisoners of war". 
The head of the Vatican archives, Sergio Pagano, also said the full archive from Pius XII would be made available "within one or two years".   
"The final decision however depends on the pope," he told reporters.   
Another document included in the exhibition is a letter from the nuncio to the Netherlands, Paolo Giobbe, dated 18(?) September 1945 informing Rome of the death of Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) and her sister, Rosa.  The video on Rome Reports was too faint for me to read the text in its entirety.

While the selection of documents is interesting, it breaks no new ground, but reinforces what has been known from the available material that Pius XII was not inactive in working to provide help where he could.  It is also imperative to remember that the Secretariat of State, the nuncios and other Vatican diplomats acted in the pope’s name, so many of the letters of thanks are expressed to the pope because people may not have known who was directly responsible for getting the relief to the camps.  Thanking the pope was a natural thing to do, and Pius should be credited for this basic “work of mercy”.  It is also important to recall that the most work of this kind was done in Italy where Pius had greater ability to act.