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 MitlaĆ¼fer, 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

1 comment:

  1. 1) "... 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."

    It would be interesting to know when this 'scandal' is dated. When is dated the first criticism of the Pius'silence?

    2) Dr. O'Shea, is it true that Pacelli worked also for a Concordat with Russia and that this concordat failed for Stalin's refusal to give to the Catholic schools the autonomy granted by Hitler?


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