Saturday, June 30, 2012

John Cornwell reviews Robert Erikson's new book

It may come as a surprise to some that John Cornwell has modified some of his views on Pius XII since the publication of Hitler's Pope in 1999.  I read that work when it was released, before I had gotten very far in my own research on the pope.  Cornwell's writing appeared quite convincing, even to me - for which I have done considerable penance! - and reset the parameters of the debate over Pius XII's wartime and post-war role.  Hitler's Pope is a fundamentally flawed text, not least because of the assertions and suggestions of access to inaccessible archives in the late 1990s.  Cornwall's claims that Pacelli was Antisemitic are so lacking in any shape or form as to be unworthy of any serious comment.  

In 2004, chastened and stung by the avalanches of criticism and critique of Hitler's Pope, Cornwall said his position on Pius had changed.  In an article in The Economist titled "The Papacy: For God's sake" reviewing his biography of John Paul II, Cornwell said  that Hitler's Pope lacked balance.   “I would now argue in the light of the debates and evidence following ‘Hitler's Pope', that Pius XII had so little scope of action that it is impossible to judge the motives for his silence during the war, while Rome was under the heel of Mussolini and later occupied by the Germans.”  Five years later in his review of Kevin Spicer's Hitler's Priests: Catholic Clergy and National Socialism, Cornwell described Pacelli as a 

"an example of a "fellow traveller" who was willing to accept the generosity of Hitler in the educational sphere (more schools, teachers and pupil places), so long as the Church withdrew from the social and political sphere, at the same time as Jews were being dismissed from universities and Jewish pupil places were being reduced. For this he considers Pacelli as effectively being in collusion with the Nazi cause, if not by intent. He further argues that Monsignor Kass, who was involved in negotiations for the Reichskonkordat, and at that time the head of the Roman Catholic Centre Party, persuaded his party members, with the acquiescence of Pacelli, in the summer of 1933 to enable Hitler to acquire dictatorial powers. He argues that the Catholic Centre Party vote was decisive in the adoption of dictatorial powers by Hitler and that the party's subsequent dissolution was at Pacelli's prompting." (Quoted from the entry on John Cornwell, Wikipedia)

When I saw Cornwell's review of Robert Erikson's new book, Complicity in the Holocaust: Churches and Universities in Nazi Germany, I was a little reluctant to read on.  However, Cornwell's review is reasonable and within the range of general historical scholarship on the period.  I disagree with his assessment of the Reichskonkordat - it was Hitler who initiated the process, not Pacelli or Pius XI.  Cornwell's review is also tainted with blurred vision caused by hindsight.  To suggest that Pacelli could see where Germany was headed in 1933 or 1934 or 1935, or that he could envision the "Final Solution" before 1942 is simply not credible.  I also find his continued assertion that Pacelli was a "fellow traveller" with the Nazis unconvincing.

Let the reader be warned!

By Robert P. Ericksen
Published by Cambridge University Press, US$27.99
Reviewed by John Cornwell.
Professor Robert Ericksen is a Germanist historian who has spent some 30 years studying the role of the churches under the Nazis. His broad-brush treatment of the main German Christian denominations and the universities in this new work accords with the familiar view that the majority of pastors and teachers went along with the regime. He demonstrates, moreover, that their acquiescence was not so much for fear of the consequences of resistance, nor in support of Nazi ideology, but a tendency to drift with the tide.
For a Catholic reader, Ericksen’s study is of particular interest for his assessment of Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pius XII. Pacelli spent 13 years in Germany as nuncio from 1917 until being appointed cardinal secretary of state in 1930. An ailing Pius XI delegated to him the handling of German affairs. By the beginning of the war in 1939, Pacelli had been elected pope.
Pacelli is currently headed for beatification, and his devotees have been hard at work defending his reputation against allegations that he did not do enough to condemn the Holocaust. The danger of authentic papal history degenerating into hagiography is real and present; hence the independent viewpoint of historians like Ericksen is valuable.

On the Vatican’s early dealings with Adolf Hitler, Ericksen focuses on the negotiations for the Reichskonkordat, the international agreement between Hitler and Holy See, which began in March 1933 and concluded in July of that year. The treaty, which involved the German hierarchy agreeing to withdraw from all social and political action, was negotiated at the highest level between Hitler personally (through Franz von Papen, his vice chancellor) and Pacelli on behalf of Pius XI. Pacelli successfully negotiated not only greater control of Catholic schools by the bishops, but more places, teachers and school buildings. Ericksen notes that Hitler was meanwhile pushing through his Jewish business boycott and the Law for the Cleansing and Restoration of the German Civil Service. These measures meant the reduction of pupil and student places for Jews, and the nationwide expulsion of Jewish teachers, academics and scientists.
Ericksen fails, however, to stress a fateful moral connection. The German Catholic church, led from the front by Pacelli, was accepting ample benefits from the same source of power that was denying a range of social provisions, not least educational, to Jews.
A wide range of recent historical reflection on the Nazi period defines the predicament of those who received benefits from the tyrant, while remaining aloof ideologically, as that of the Mitlaüfer, fellow traveler. Historians have argued that German fellow-travelers among churchmen, judges and academics did more damage than card-carrying Nazi adherents. Fellow-traveling, they maintain, demoralized the opposition, scandalized the young, and gave comfort to the regime.
Recognizing the calamitous consequences of the Reichskonkordat, church historian Klaus Scholder and others have drawn attention to Hitler’s boast in cabinet in July 1933 that the treaty had given the Nazi regime credibility in the eyes of the world. For Pacelli, writing during the same week in the L’Osservatore Romano, the success of the treaty was the recognition by Hitler of the 1917 Code of Canon Law.
Pacelli’s aim in Germany during the 1920s had been precisely to bring the new canon law code (not least the decree that only the pope should nominate new bishops) into line with a new Reichskonkordat. Where Pacelli had failed with five Catholic chancellors, he reached agreement with Hitler within four months. The notion that Pacelli had sought the treaty purely to defend Catholic freedoms is therefore not entirely true.
No churchman found Hitler and Nazism more despicable than Pacelli, but it is surely crucial to understand the power politics that led Pacelli to accept benefits from Hitler, or, as Pius XI would put it, sup with the devil. Pope John Paul II’s refusal to countenance concordats with the communists may well have been based on his recognition of the dangers of fellow-traveling with the Nazis.
On the issue of Pacelli’s silence during the war, Ericksen believes that the jury is still out until the entire wartime archive is released for study. As I acknowledged in my 2009 edition of Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII, I am even more convinced, in the light of recent evidence, that he saw the danger of greater suffering for Jews and Catholics should he have spoken out. All the same, I would maintain that since his silence had given scandal, it was surely incumbent on him to explain his reticence when the pressures were lifted. This he never did.
Ericksen casts doubt, moreover, on claims that Pacelli saved hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives. He is not alone in suspecting that Pacelli’s hagiographers are giving him credit for deeds of courage performed by individuals lower down the hierarchal scale.
Enthusiasts’ appropriation of credit for Pacelli on this score may well prove hostage to historical scholarship’s fortunes in the long term. In any case, if Pacelli is to be praised for harboring many genuine refugees during the war, he should surely, by the same token, be held responsible for protecting the Nazi rat-run fugitives after the war. I suspect that credit for the former, and blame for the latter, are greatly exaggerated.

Robert Erikson

Thursday, June 28, 2012

"Blind Spots" - Kevin Spicer's review of Justus Lawler

In the May 2012 edition of Commonweal, Kevin Spicer reviews Justus Lawler's Were the Popes Against the Jews? Tracking the Myths, Confronting the Ideologues.  It is a measured, rational and fair review of a highly contentious and vexatious work.  I have made my own comments on this book and came to similar conclusions to Spicer.

Spicer observes that Lawler's determination to prove his underlying thesis, namely that the popes were defenders and champions of the Jews in the modern era, is so great, that whole swathes of history have been ignored, dismissed or trivialised along with the scholars who have worked in this field.  Lawler's reliance on authors whose work simply does not equal that of those he condemns further weaken an already flimsy argument.

I have kept my copy of Lawler's work on my shelf as a reminder of how powerful the narrative of polemical writing can be and how vigilant the historian must remain.

The review:

Were the Popes Against the Jews? Tracking the Myths, Confronting the Ideologues 
Justus George Lawler, Eerdmans, $35, 370 pp.

In his latest work, the scholar, translator, and editor Justus George Lawler poses the question in his title and answers it with a qualified yes, acknowledging that the popes were indeed against the Jews, specifically because of their alleged repudiation of Christ. "Their entire tradition," writes Lawler, "was built on the belief that Judaism prepared the way for Jesus and his message, both of which the Jews had rejected." This theological opposition, however, does not make the popes villains, Lawler insists, and does not justify the vilification heaped on them by authors who portray the Vatican as "disdainful, contemptuous, and vengeful toward Jews and their beliefs" - and who have been doing so ever since Rolf Hochhuth's controversial 1963 drama Der Stellvertreter The Deputy), which condemned Pius XII for a personal antipathy toward the Jews and apathy in the face of the Holocaust.

Refocusing the argument of his 2002 book Popes and Politics: Reform, Resentment, and the Holocaust, in which he defended the Vatican against such authors as James Carroll and John Cornwell, Lawler levels his attack this time against Brown University anthropologist David I. Kertzer and his bestselling 2001 book The Popes Against the Jews: The Vatican's Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism. Lawler directs his fire against not only Kertzer, but also those scholars - such as Kevin Madigan of Harvard Divinity School and John Pawlikowski of Chicago Theological Union - who dared to review Kertzer positively. The result, sadly, is a tedious, polemical, and often angry work.

At the heart of Lawler's disagreement with Kertzer is his rejection of the essential link between the theological anti-Semitism of Christian Scripture and tradition on the one hand and, on the other, modern racial anti-Semitism, which ultimately led to the Holocaust. Succinctly, Lawler sums up Kertzer's argument by stating: "No papacy, no six million," though he is careful to point out that Kertzer never actually spells out this equation so boldly. Lawler concurs instead with the official Vatican interpretation of the Shoah, restated most recently by Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, who asserted last fall, in an address to the Council of Centers on Jewish- Christian Relations, that "the Shoah cannot and should not however be attributed to Christianity as such: it was in fact led by a godless, anti-Christian, and neopagan ideology."

Lawler concedes that it is wrong to imply that "this distinction is exculpatory, since it is undeniable that Christian 'anti-Judaism,' while not a cause of modern racist anti-Semitism as such, certainly prepared for and sustained the forces of hatred that the latter unleashed." Yet the vehemence of Lawler's arguments in these pages shows that he does in fact want to exculpate the Vatican. He stoutly rejects Kertzer's portrait of a church busily perpetuating antiSemitism over the past two centuries. He challenges Kertzer's charge that the articles in La Civiltà Cattolica, an Italian Jesuit journal founded in 1850, directly represented the views of the papacy, particularly in several late nineteenthcentury articles containing anti-Semitic statements. Lawler argues that even if officials of the Holy See did review the journal's articles, such a job would have been relegated to lower-ranking subordinates. Kertzer disagrees with this interpretation - and is supported by none other than the late Pope John Paul II, who, in an April 22, 1999, address to the editorial staff of La Civiltà Cattolica, reviewed the history of the journal and its mission (quoting Pope Pius IX, who established it in 1866) "to defend 'the Catholic religion, its doctrine, and its rights with every effort and unceasingly.'" Speaking to the staff, John Paul II said that "the work accomplished by the journal continued to be appreciated and acknowledged by the Roman Pontiffs" down the decades, and called it "an institution [that] has always been placed at the service of the pope and the Apostolic See." Lawler might argue that the way the Vatican operates is a good deal more complicated than this papal boilerplate might suggest. Historically, however, La Civiltà Cattolica has been regarded as the pope's pulpit, and responsibility for what appears in its pages ultimately rests with the man who sits in Peter's chair.

Kertzer's lengthy quotation of John Paul II would seem to belie Lawler's complaint that Kertzer seldom quotes directly from statements of the papacy. Indeed, whenever Lawler attempts to take on the role of a historian, he fails miserably, committing outright misrepresentations of Kertzer's research. Take, for instance, his attack on Kertzer's treatment of the final European ritual murder trial, in Czarist Ukraine in 1913. Lawler accuses Kertzer of vilifying Merry del Val, the Holy See's secretary of state, by blaming him for withholding essential evidence that might have exonerated Mendel Beilis, a thirty-nine-year- old Russian Jew, when - according to Lawler - it was actually a Russian official who effectively thwarted the introduction of new evidence. Yet a quick glance at The Popes Against the Jews reveals that Kertzer does not vilify del Val, but in fact gives him the benefit of the doubt, highlighting the problematic role of Russian officials in what was clearly a complex situation.

I lack space to delve into Lawler's many other unconvincing critical readings of cases; the flaws in this work are too numerous to detail in one review. Lawler accuses Kertzer of over-relying on the scholarship of Giovanni Miccoli, a noted Italian church historian, claiming that Miccoli is "the source of almost every archival discovery or novel position in The Popes Against the Jews" While it is true that Kertzer has cited Miccoli's work, Lawler's serious charge appears groundless when one reviews Kertzer's citations.

Lawler ignores a lot. Throughout, his citations reflect a near-total unfamiliarity with current scholarly literature. He wastes a lot of time showing how Kertzer has influenced popular authors, such as Garry Wills, whose works hardly constitute serious scholarship in this field. He shows no evidence meanwhile of having read recent important works by Hubert Wolf Pope and Devil: The Vatican's Archives and the Third Reich) and Emma Fattorini Hitler, Mussolini, and the Vatican: Pope Pius XI and the Speech That Was Never Made), both of which vindicate Kertzer's interpretation many times over. Perhaps the saddest chapter is Lawler's final one, in which he cites the research of William Doino, a popular Catholic journalist, concerning a German Jewish refugee, Heinz Wisla, who received assistance from and obtained an audience with Pius XII in 1941. While the story of the pope's solicitousness toward Wisla is indeed moving, its significance pales in comparison to the history of modern Catholic anti-Semitism that Kertzer documents and the many broader opportunities for Jewish rescue passed up by the Vatican during the Holocaust.

In the end, the problems with Were the Popes Against the Jews? amount to more than just faulty scholarship. At stake is something larger and more serious. From the turn of the twentieth century through the 1950s it was common to find Catholic commentary, both written and spoken, permitting assaults on "Jewish secularism" in defense of faith and society, while frowning on and condemning attacks against Jewish citizens based on racial antiSemitism. Such advice, however, was rarely sustained without some form of injury and violence against Jews. Yet Lawler appears to approve of such distinctions - as when he defends Pius XIs anti-Jewish actions while serving first as apostolic visitor and then nuncio to Poland from 1918 to 1921.

Lawler's work is the unfortunate product of an author who, determined to rebuff what he considers to be unfair and historically anachronistic attacks on the church, simply refuses to recognize the depth of complicity of the Catholic Church in the propagation of European anti-Semitism in all its malignant and annihilative forms. He is not alone; many in the ranks of those who write on this fraught topic share his refusal. Many, but by no means all. In 2010, David Kertzer brought an impressive array of scholars to Brown University to examine the legacy of the modern papacy in Europe. At this gathering, which I attended, it became clear that a new school of Vatican diplomatic history was surfacing, one guided by the resourceful and meticulous archival work of such younger scholars as Giuliana Chamedes of Columbia University, Charles Gallagher of Boston College, and Robert Ventresca of Canada's University of Western Ontario. Perhaps Justus George Lawler should follow their lead and visit an archive or two before he ventures to write again about this subject.

Kevin P. Spicer, CSC, is the James J. Kenneally Professor of History at Stonehill College.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

David Marx on Paul O'Shea!

David Marx has written a book review of "A Cross Too Heavy".  It is a positive assessment of my work, even if I think the reviewer has made me out to be more critical of Pius than I was.  Nonetheless, it is rather nice to read positive things about oneself!

ADSS 8.497 Note of Casimir Papee on massacres of Jews Poland

 While most of the posts on the deportation and murder of the Jews so far have focussed on the Slovakian Jews, the Vatican was also aware of the growing scale of murder of Jews across the rest of Europe.  Casimir Papee (1889-1979), the Polish ambassador, incarcerated with other Allied diplomats in Vatican City, received information from varying sources about conditions in German-occupied Poland.  This information was duly passed on to the Secretariat of State and from there it would have almost certainly been passed to Pope Pius XII.  

The Jews of Vilna had lived under the insecurity of German terror since the invasion in June 1941.  Except for a brief period of relative stability between January and March 1942, Vilna's Jews were gradually murdered or worked and starved to death.  By the time the ghetto was liqudated, nearly 40,000 Vilna Jews were dead.

Between 1920 and 1939 Vilnius / Vilna was a part of Poland.  During the war the city was occupied by Soviet forces, September 1939 - June 1941, German troops June 1941-July 1944, and returning Soviet forces in July 1944.  Shortly afterwards Vilna was declared part of the Lithuanian Soviet Republic.

The references to Warsaw confirmed what was known about the deportation of Jews to Treblinka that had commenced on 24 July 1942.  By early October 1942, 310,000 mostly Warsaw Jews had been murdered.  Papee sources were very accurate both in the number of Jews killed and the means of their deaths.

All this was adding to the pressure building up among many of the Allied diplomats who were urging the pope to make an unambiguous statement condemning the mass-murder of European Jewry.

Reference: Nr 49/SA/122 (AES 7258/42, orig)
Title: Note of Casmir Papee, Polish Ambassador to the Holy See
Location and date: Vatican City, 03.10.1942
Summary statement: News concerning the massacre of Jews in Poland.

Language: French


The massacre of the Jews by the Germans in Poland has attracted public notoriety.[1]  These slaughters are done in large groups, by various means, inter alia, by asphyxiation in buildings especially adapted.

1. According to information from a very reliable source it is confirmed that the ghetto of Vilnius, where there were originally 80,000 Jews, then reduced to 30,000 and finally to 12,000. (This fact was already known.) Around Vilna, Niemencyzn (village of 2,000 inhabitants), 600 Jews were killed; in Nowa Wilejka, 100 killed; in Ejsyzki 200 killed.

2. It is reported from another source the ghetto of Warsaw is methodically emptied. Part of this ghetto, known as “The Little Ghetto” is already empty. Each day groups of more than a thousand Jews are taken along by rail to Lublin, towards the East.  It appears, according to information coming from a citizen of an Axis state who had seen “from the edges”, that the Jews are initially concentrated in a camp, or they are put to death; it is, in any case, established that their families never hear of them again.  One expects that during the next months the entire Jewish population of the ghetto - comprising 300,000 Jews – will be deported, and that their dwelling places in this part of the city will be intended for Aryans.

 [1] Cf ADSS 8.493, 496.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Zenit interview with Gary Krupp - more claims

Zenit news agency, a well known conservative Catholic Rome-based media organisation published an interview with Gary Krupp, director of Pave The Way, in its 21 June 2012 edition.  The article only serves to demonstrate the ongoing reluctance of the conservative Catholic right to accept that there is more than one voice on the study of Pope Pius XII.  Krupp's latest claims are consistent with all the others he has made to date.  He has collected 76,000 pages of documentation and made it available on Pave The Way's website.  All good.  However, the other ongoing problem lies in the sleights of hand.  Much of the material has been available in the public domain for decades.  "Exciting" discoveries made by Pave The Way are usually shown to be something less than "exciting".  I have written entries on this blog over the last couple of years de-bunking many of the claims made by Mr Krupp, Pave The Way and their fellow travellers.  I do not intend to go into an in-depth analysis of the latest claims, except to ask a few questions:

1.  Where is the corroborative evidence for the claims?
2.  Where are the peer-reviewed articles in recognised journals?
3.  Where is the support from universities and institutions of higher learning?
4.  Where are the historians, academics and scholars from the mainstream universities?
5.  Why have no recognised scholars in the field of Pius XII study been part of Pave The Way projects?

I have said many times that Gary Krupp has done historians a great service in making this material available to us via his website.  I appeal, yet again, for Mr Krupp to allow us to do our job and record the history of Pope Pius XII as the material becomes available within all its manifold contexts.

Brian Freedman: Pius XII and "the other"

This is an interesting article written by Brian Freedman in the Jerusalem Post on 13 June 2012.  It points, yet again, the many levels of complexity surrounding any serious study of Pius XII, the Catholic Church and Judaism, Jews and the Holocaust.  The author is a graduate student studying at Hebrew University, Jerusalem and is active in inter-faith dialogue.  Freedman's conclusions are not new, but are, nonetheless, apt and timely - authentic dialogue is not served when hard truths are avoided.


If the Catholic Church and World Jewry were in a Facebook relationship, their status would doubtless read: “It's Complicated.”

This was never more evident than at a recent meeting in Jerusalem about Jewish-Catholic relations, in which a Swiss cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church addressed the issue along with two rabbis. But before putting in my two shekels, first a personal anecdote.

At dinner a few nights ago, a Catholic friend of mine put forth the following claim: the Jewish curators of Yad Vashem purposely tarnished the image of Pope Pius XII as revenge on the Catholic Church for its long and macabre history of persecuting Jews.

Any attempt to refute his claim would miss the point.

As Rabbi David Bollag said at the meeting on Jewish- Catholic relations, which took place on May 25 at the Jerusalem Center for Israel Studies: “The importance of the dialogue is to listen what the other side has to say.”

And so, after listening to my friend, I realized that he believes unequivocally that Pope Pius XII was a righteous man who did everything in his power to save Jewish lives during the Holocaust. Therefore, any claim to the contrary must be a malicious smear campaign against his virtuous pope.

It is therefore understandable that my friend, a religious Catholic, is indignant toward how Yad Vashem portrays Pius XII, under whose picture there is a caption that explicitly condemns the pope’s silence during the Holocaust.

One sentence reads: “Even when reports about the murder of Jews reached the Vatican, the Pope did not protest either verbally or in writing.”

It is not my intention to argue for or against the virtue of Pope Pius XII. Suffice it to say that it is a good example of the complex and mercurial relationship between Jews and Catholics.

ANOTHER MANIFESTATION of this controversial issue was witnessed in 2009 after current Pope Benedict XVI bestowed Pius XII with the title of “Venerable” which, according to the Catholic canonization process, declaimed his Heroic Virtue and moved Pius XII one step closer to sainthood.

Many leaders of prominent Jewish organizations were flummoxed, and some,including the president of the World Zionist Congress, the founder of Simon Wiesenthal Center and the chairman of Yad Vashem, were incensed. As they viewed it, it was an insensitive and provocative gesture that offends Jewish memory and, more importantly, living Holocaust survivors.

Other critics of this move said it was premature to grant Pius XII such an honorific because the documents in the Vatican Secret Archives that pertain to the life of Pius XII had not yet been opened. The Vatican releases documents 75 years after an event occurs, meaning documents about Pius XII will open in 2014.

This debate also takes place in scholarship. On one side, there is a book entitled Hitler’s Pope: the Secret History of Pius XII, which was written in 1999 by British journalist John Cornwell, whose general argument is that Pius XII could have done more to save Jewish lives.

On the other side, there is a book published in 2008 and written by German historian Michael Heseman, which bears the title The Pope who Defied Hitler: The Truth about Pius XII. In 2010, after gaining privileged access to Vatican archives, Heseman revealed that Pius XII, then a cardinal, requested that 200,000 Jews be allowed to leave Germany after Kristallnacht.

Another book, written by none other than a rabbi and historian, David G. Dalin, carries the title: The Myth of Hitler’s Pope: How Pope Pius XII Rescued Jews from he Nazis. The book was published in 2005.

The point is that the Holocaust remains an open wound in Jewish-Catholic relations, which explains clearly the reason Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, who is also the head of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with Jews, expended much breath on the issue during his 10-minute, prepared address on May 25 at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies.

On one hand, he said that the Catholic Church must admit that Christians were complicit in the perpetration of the Holocaust. However, he took great pains to renounce Adolph Hitler as a Catholic, thus isolating him as a pariah and doubtless not a representative of the Church.

More importantly, Koch noted that the Holocaust was a turning point in Jewish-Catholic relations, forcing the Catholic Church to reconsider its attitudes toward the Jews. This resulted in the Second Vatican Council, which took place from 1962-1965 and produced the document, Nostra Aetate, which was a manifesto for the Church’s new attitude toward non-Christian religions.

Among other noteworthy comments, it exculpates Jews from the murder of Jesus. It also recognizes the similarities between Jews, Muslims and Christians, as all being sons of God. In the spirit of this document, Koch notes in his address “Christianity couldn’t exist without its Jewish roots” and that “with Judaism, we have a relationship that we do not have with any other religion.”

He also admitted that there may be two parallel paths to salvation, and that the Jewish path may be just as legitimate as the Christian one.

RABBI DAVID Bollag, a senior researcher at the Institute of Jewish-Christian Research in Lucerne, Switzerland, was asked to respond to Cardinal Koch’s remarks.

In them two thing were apparent.

First was the refusal of Jews to disassociate the Catholic Church from the Holocaust. Bollag argued that there was a strong connection between the development of Nazism and centuries-old Christian anti- Semitism. He further argues that Nostra Aetate would not have been born had the Catholic Church not felt responsible for the Holocaust. The idea that the Catholic Church played a central role in the Holocaust reverberates in Jewish dismay at the sanctification of Pius XII and also Yad Vashem’s negative portrayal of him and the Catholic Church.

The second issue that was apparent was hypocrisy.

Bollag took advantage of his audience with the cardinal to air his consternation with the Catholic Church’s “Good Friday” prayer for the Jews.

Having undergone many revisions, the prayer in its most current version, as articulated by Pope Benedict XVI reads: “Let us also pray for the Jews: That our God and Lord may illuminate their hearts, that they acknowledge Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men.

Almighty and eternal God, who wants that all men be saved and come to the recognition of the truth, propitiously grant that even as the fullness of the peoples enters Thy Church, all Israel be saved. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.”

Bollag criticized this version as a major step backward in Jewish-Christian relations, as the prayer clearly exhibits a lack of respect for the Jewish religion. Bollag was suggesting the Church has not learned the lessons of the Holocaust, and that rather than extricating anti-Semitism from its roots, the Church through this prayer is actually disseminating anti-Semitism throughout the Catholic world.

Cardinal Koch responded to Bollag’s criticism, arguing that Bollag took the prayer out of its eschatological context. He said that the prayer refers exclusively to Judgment Day, during which Jewish tradition states that their Messiah will come and save them.

According to Koch, their Messiah, although currently unbeknownst to Jews, will actually be Jesus Christ, whom the Christian hope the Jews will accept at that time.

The hypocrisy in Bollag’s statement was revealed by an audience member, of which there were about 200.

The man rightly noted that the Jewish prayer of “Aleinu,” which is the second most recited prayer in Jewish liturgy after the Kaddish, is read in Israel with the following verse: “It is our duty to praise the Master of all to ascribe greatness to the Author of creation; who has not made us like the nations of the lands nor placed us like the families of the earth; who has not made our portion like theirs, nor our destiny like all their multitudes. For they worship vanity and emptiness, and pray to a god who cannot save.”

The audience member noted that in many American synagogues this verse is omitted, but he was pointing to the fact that both religions, Judaism and Christianity, are particularistic and view their path as the only path. It seems the only difference is that some Christians feel obliged to “save” non-Christians from deviating from the path, while some Jews view their religion more as an exclusive club. You want in, great! If not, it’s your problem.

In the end, it is my opinion that while I applaud Rabbi Bollag’ s call to “listen to what the other has to say,” each side must also engage in self-reflection and, in a sense, listen to what “his or her own side” is saying.

This is what led me not to dismiss outright my Catholic friend’s indignation at his beloved pope’s portrayal at Yad Vashem. While I believe the charge of deliberate besmirching is a bit far-fetched, it is entirely possible that the Jewish attitude toward Pius XII is jaundiced. Maybe when the Vatican archives open in 2014, Jews worldwide will do some self-reflection and reconsider their views on “Hitler’s Pope.”

The author is a master’s student at the Hebrew University, studying Islam and the Middle East. He also has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.

The Campagna Files revisited

A few weeks ago a colleague sent me a copy of an email that had been sent by a director of a New York organisation.  I will refrain from naming my colleague or the director and the organisation because I am still waiting for a reply to my request to discuss the issue that follows.

In mid-2009 Gary Krupp, founder of Pave The Way, invited me to read through the 2,300 pages of documentation from material from the archives of the Catholic diocese of Campagna in southern Italy related to the internment camp of the same name that existed in the town from 1940 until its dissolution after the Italian armistice in September 1943.  Krupp had come to the conclusion that the documents demonstrated that Pius XII was active in efforts to assist and rescue interned Jews.

I was asked to read and review the material and then write a report of what I found.  I did this and the report was published on the website of The Anti-Defamation League as well as on Pave The Way's website.  My conclusions were different to those publicised on Pave The Way. 

I have posted the report under the "pages" heading.

In May 2012 a colleague received an email from a New York organisation disputing claims made in my article.  There have been a number of conversations, but the original author has not contacted me.  I am not interested in escalating the disagreement, but I am concerned at a particular claim that I only made reference to fifteen documents.  How this person reached such a conclusion is beyond me.  I read every page of the Campagna files - it took nearly three months - and made notes throughout.  The article itself contains 78 specific footnote references to documents out of a total of 89.

A young graduate student from Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts, who has studied Italian internment camps, in particular, Fossoli, has written her own commentary on the article.  I am grateful for Alexis taking the time and effort to write.  I will leave it to the reader to make up their own minds.

Alexis Herr
Commentary on “Campagna: The Camp, the Bishop and the Archives”

Paul O’Shea’s article “Campagna: The Camp, the Bishop and the Archives” scrutinizes efforts made by Giovanni Palatucci (Franciscan bishop of Campagna in southern Italy) to assist Jews interned from 1940 – September 1943 in Campagna and asks how Palatucci’s work reflected upon Pope Pius XII. Palatucci attempted to help the Jewish interns where he could, which included communicating with foreign consuls, ambassadors, medical professionals, and police on their behalf. He kept the Vatican and other bishops appraised of his actions and requested whatever help they could provide. Palatucci’s correspondence with these various agencies and persons comprises a wealth of information of over 2,300 pages found in a monastery in Avellino.  The New York based Pave the Way Foundation announced the discovery of these documents and made them available on their website as “proof” that Pope Pius XII worked diligently to save Jews from Nazi tyranny. O’Shea’s examination of these documents wisely arrives at a different and more sound conclusion: “The letters tell us that the Pope not only knew of the suffering of Italian and foreign Jews, but that on at least two occasions, he acted to help alleviate their conditions. What they do not show is any pattern of action to help rescue Jews” (3).

Understanding the motivation behind Palatucci and other religious leaders’ decision to help Jews presents a challenge to historians. Scholars often try to use the actions of individuals such as priests or nuns as indicative of a wider Vatican plan to save Jews. Such minimal and polarized approaches fail to render any useful or historically verified conclusions without making erroneous concessions. The documents used for O’Shea’s article show one instance of a Bishop helping Jews and the Vatican providing financial assistance. The fact that this aid occurred prior to German occupation means that it was not in attempt to rescue Jews, and instead to help them.

Historical context proves a crucial tool when evaluating whether or not Bishop Palatucci’s assistance and the money the Vatican gave to the camp constitute “rescue.” O’Shea points out in his analysis that the camp functioned prior to Nazi occupation of the region and as such Jews interned in Campagna were not in immediate danger of deportation and annihilation.  Their internment signaled Fascist support of Nazi aims and compliance with the 1940 Fascist decree to intern Jews in Italy. Therefore, the assistance Palatucci provided during this period does not constitute rescue, as food, medical assistance, and the like, did not save Jews from Auschwitz. One could argue, however, that Palatucci’s efforts to secure visas for Jewish interns functioned as rescue. O’Shea’s article does not elaborate on whether or not Palatucci’s correspondence actually secured immigration opportunities. Further scrutiny of this point would benefit our understanding of Palatucci’s work with Jewish interns prior to German occupation.

Some scholars argue that religious leaders helped Jews out of a desire to convert them to Catholicism and therefore they view Catholic assistance as anti-Jewish. O’Shea’s examination of the vast fund of documents, however, did not alight any plan conspired between the Pope and the Bishop to convert the Campagna Jews.  O’Shea found a few references in the Campagna documents that mentioned Jews considering conversion, which may speak to Catholic proselytizing from Palatucci, but the documents themselves do not reveal an intentional plan to lure Jews in with aid and then manipulate their conversion. O’Shea posits during this period (prior to the September 1943 German occupation) that the “assistance for the Jews came primarily from the local bishop who needed no reminder from Rome to ‘do good and avoid evil’” (20). He arrives at the conclusion that the Vatican gave money to assist Jews at the camp and Palatucci worked to assist them as well out of a desire to “do good.”

A lesser historian might manipulate and misread these actions by the Vatican and Palatucci as grounds for evidence of a long-term plan by the Vatican to save Jews. Using the same evidence, Palatucci and the Vatican’s operations could also be interpreted as a Church stance against Fascism and/or Nazism. To do so, however, would be to ignore the numerous other instances of priests and the Vatican acting counter intuitive to such a claim. History is full of examples of priests and bishops behaving good and bad. To simplify the Vatican’s policy towards Jews during World War II to Palatucci’s and the Vatican’s assistance to Jews in Campagna would not only be simplistic, it would be ignorant. O’Shea and I clearly agree on this point. Using sound and fair judgment, O’Shea does not ignore the assistance Palatucci and the Vatican provided the Jews in Campagna. And, he does not claim that this assistance should be deemed rescue.

Italian religious leaders who attempted to rescue or assist Jews during the German occupation faced many dangers and at times lost their lives in the pursuit of helping others. Stories of nuns and priests hiding Jews and escorting them to safety through the Alps dominate the scholarship of Italian wartime history. Don Giovanni Tavasci, for example, helped shuttle those targeted for internment through the Italian-Swiss Alps prior to his arrest and subsequent internment at the deportation camp Fossoli di Carpi in northern Italy. Along with Tavasci, nine other priests’ decision to uphold Christian values in the face of adversity landed them in Fossoli di Carpi. Palatucci and the Vatican’s choice to provide aid to Jews in Campagna prior to occupation did not incur the same threat as the actions of those who assisted Jews post-September 1943. Palatucci’s actions focused on helping, not saving Jews.

The Campagna documents intersect with two explosive themes of Italian Holocaust history: the so-called “brava gente”, or benevolent Italians, and the debate surrounding Pope Pius XII.  For the past ten years, scholars have endeavored to correct the misinterpretation that all Italians tried to rescue and save Jews during the Holocaust. Stories of priests and nuns helping Jews weigh heavily in the “brava gente” dialogue and often contribute to the boisterous debate over historical interpretations of Pope Pius XII. Overall, there is a tendency amongst scholars and the general public to congratulate individual actions of resistance and rescue as representative of Italians and the Church as a whole. The impulse to point to the actions of one individual as reflective of the Vatican is irresponsible and does little to advance Holocaust scholarship. O’Shea conclusion is therefore important because it provides a clear reading of the available source material. In this instance, the facts show that Vatican and Palatucci did something and that something was not rescue. 

Alexis Herr

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Pius XII and related news.

Some interesting news items from around the world on related issues to Pius XII.

Emeritus Professor Ira Sharkansky from Hebrew University writes on FDR, the Vatican, and the Roman Catholic Church in America, 1933-1945, edited by David B. Woolner and Richard G. Kurial (Palgrave: 2003) in the San Diego Jewish World.  It is an interesting article on a book that has been around for nearly a decade.  Sharkansky points out, yet again, how important getting history into context in the work of those of us concerned with describing and interpreting the past.

Ira Sharkansky

In the ongoing discussions between the Vatican and the ultra-traditionalist Society of St Pius X, Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews and a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith made it clear that acceptance of all the teachings of Vatican II is essential.  One of the areas of great concern where statements made by the SSPX leadership that some elements of Vatican II were optional, including Nostra Aetate which repudiated centuries of Judeophobia, supercessionism and the charge of Deicide against the Jews.  Cardinal Koch stated without ambiguity that acceptance of Nostra Aetate was mandatory if any reconciliation with the Church was to take place.  It has been a matter of public record that the SSPX has held a controversial position on Jews and Judaism including the presence of the Holocaust denialist, Richard Williamson who has made statements accusing Jews of deicide.

Cardinal Kurt Koch

And finally, Ed Michaels from Texas, has penned a thoughtful reflection on the difficult question of the moral responsibility of Pius XII during the Holocaust.  He reaches his conclusion via several paths exploring the dilemmas confronting the pope and Catholicism, and while the final assessment is negative, it is one that Michaels has reached through a serious look at some of the complex issues.  I found Michaels' line of argument sound and ethical.