Sunday, July 29, 2012

ADSS 5.140 Burzio's meeting with Tiso on the Povazcsa speech

Following from the last post, this is the account of Giuseppe Burzio's interview with Jozef Tiso where the priest-president gave his version of the speech he made at the consecration of the church in Povazcsa Bystrica.  At the heart of Tiso's ex tempore comments was the statement that Catholic social teaching and the social practice of National Socialism were compatible.  Burzio reported the conversation to Rome with the final observation that despite various interpretations of what Tiso may or may not have said and the appeal made by Bishop Michael Buzalka, the final outcome was not a happy one.

ADSS 5.140 Giuseppe Burzio to Cardinal Maglione

Reference: Report number 646 (AES 477/42)
Location and date: Bratislava, 12.11.1942

Summary statement: Regrettable comments made in an address of Jozef Tiso.

Language: Italian


In response to your dispatch number 7868/41 of 21 October 1941 (1) I have the honour to report to your Eminence the following:  President Tiso gave an address in Povazcsa Bystrica, in the diocese of Nitra, on Sunday, 7 September 1941 on the occasion of the consecration of the new parish church.

As is his custom, he spoke without having prepared a speech in writing.  The text was published by newspapers issued by the unofficial Slovak Agency which are sent in a separate envelope. I have added a literal translation of the offending part of the speech.

On 10 September, during an audience in relation with the promulgation of the Jewish Code, President Tiso pointed to the passage in his speech in Povazska Bystrica and said: “Today, newspapers highlighted my recent speech with appropriate comments that I had nearly decided to support that the principles contained in the encyclicals and the principles of National Socialism are identical.  I have only spoken of the social aspects of National Socialism and its practical application and, as regards the encyclicals, it is clear that I have referred only to the social aspects.  In short, I wanted to say the National Socialism has, in the social field, put into practice many of the principles contained in the encyclicals: it is only in this sense that I have spoken of an identity between them.  Moreover, Slovak National Socialism intends to implement social reforms in the spirit of the teachings of papal encyclicals”.

Faced with this explanation is the text published by the unofficial Slovak Agency, the genuineness of which cannot be reasonably doubted, since the speech was pronounced through the microphone and played back on film.

The day after the audience, I had the opportunity to read the whole speech of President Tiso and found another no less astonishing statement: “The encyclicals of the pope are just dogmatic or moral teachings which have supreme principals that the Pope leaves the application to the leadership of an individual nation according to the conditions of life of each of them”.

I spoke once with the Auxiliary Bishop of Tirnavia (2) who like many others who had noticed the statement.  He went immediately to the President of the Republic, and told him the sentence was incomplete, and told him that he remembered very well that he had said: “the encyclicals of the pope are not just dogmatic and moral etc.”(3)

This explanation can be accepted since it is common knowledge that reproductions on film can often have gaps.  Even so, the corrected phrase is not a happy one.

Cross references: 
(1) See ADSS 5.123.
(2) Michael Buzalka (1885-1961), auxiliary bishop of Trnava (Tirnavia); Paul Janatausch (1870-1947), Apostolic Administrator of Trnava (1922-1947) ADSS printed both names – I am not sure why.
(3) Emphasis added.

ADSS 5.123 Tardini and Vatican displeasure with Tiso in Slovakia

Priest-President Jozef Tiso had long been a source of embarrassment for the Vatican.  His clerico-fascism was contrary to the well-known positions on clergy involvement in politics.  In all the concordats signed between the Holy See and European states in the inter-war period, agreement was reached whereby the Church would not permit clerics to have any public political role.  Tiso was a glaring exception.

In September 1941 Slovakia promulgated the Jewish Code, a raft of anti-Jewish laws designed to accelerate the exclusion of Slovakian Jews from the economic, social and cultural life of the nation.  At the same time Tiso gave an address at the consecration of the renovated parish church in the northern town of Považscá Bystrica where he was alleged to have said that Catholicism and Nazism were compatible. These remarks were confirmed in a meeting 0n 21 October 1941 between the Slovak minister to the Holy See, Charles Sidor and Domenico Tardini of the Secretariat of State.  

Tardini immediately sent a message to Giuseppe Burzio, the Vatican's charge d'affaires in Bratislava, to verify the comments.  Burzio replied on 12 November 1941 effectively confirming the truth of the report (ADSS 5.140).  In note on Tardini's report written on 23 October, Giovanni Battista Montini wrote that Cardinal Maglione said that the Pope thought Tiso's name should be taken off the list of Monsignors.  It was about the extent of what the Vatican could do to show its displeasure at Tiso's "heresies".

ADSS 5.123 Notes of Domenico Tardini

Reference: AES 7883/41
Location and date: Vatican, 21, 23,10.1941

Summary statement: The Slovakian minister, Karol Sidor, denounces Nazi influence in Slovakia.

Language: Italian

1. 21.10.1941.  The Slovakian Minister:

a) confirmed to me that Monsignor Tiso has, in a recent address, said that Catholic social doctrine is compatible with Nazism. (2)  The minister said he would send me the text.  I added that these appear to be heresies and I do not understand how Monsignor Tiso, a professor of theology, can say these things and expect people to believe it.

b) expressed wonder at my surprise at the attitude of Dr Tuka (3), the “super” Catholic and pro-Nazi.  The minister [Sidor] does not see how these two things (Catholicism and Nazism) are able to coexist.

c) admitted that the new measures against the Jews (4) are contrary to Catholic principles and recognises that this does not represent the sentiment of the population, but are the result of German impositions.

I added that the Holy See can only regret at what has happened.

2. 23.10.1941

After an audience with Cardinal Maglione, Giovanni Battista Montini wrote:

If it turns out that Monsignor Tiso is reported to have said is true (that Catholic doctrine and social teaching is compatible with the social theories of Nazism) (5), the Holy Father thinks Tiso’s name should be removed from the list of prelates with the title “monsignor”. (6)

Cross references: 
(1)  Josef Tiso, priest-president of Slovakia made the comments in an address on 07.09.1941 in Považscá Bystrica at the consecration of the renovated parish church of Our Lady of the Visitation.  Giuseppe Burzio, charge d’affaires in Bratislava, confirmed the remarks on 12.11.1941.  See ADSS 5.140.

(2)  Charles Sidor, Slovak minister to the Holy See (1939-1945)

(3)  Adalbert Tuka (1880-1946), President of the Council of Ministers 1939-1944.

(4)  The Jewish Code was published on 09.09.1941.

(5)  On the same day, 21.10.1941, a request for clarification of Tiso’s comments was sent to Giuseppe Burzio in Bratislava.(AES 7868/41).  He replied on 12.11.1941, report number 646; see note 1.

(6)   Tiso was named “papal chamberlain” on 21.11.1921 (Benedict XV) and he appeared with this title in the Annuario Pontificio 1922 (p 608).  The title must be reconfirmed at the accession of a new pope.  There was no confirmation either by Pius XI or Pius XII even though his name appeared in other editions of the Annuario, and he was accorded the title “monsignor”.  Tardini pointed this out to the Pope (AES 477/43).  I have not found any further indication that Tiso was stripped of his papal title.

ADSS 8.492 Notes from the Italian Embassy

In late September 1942, the Italian embassy to the Holy See passed on a report that it had received from the Italian embassy in Bratislava, Slovakia.  The report set out news on the deportation of the Slovakian Jews, but in particular focused on the anger in Catholic clerical circles towards priest-president Tiso's use of religious celebrations to make speeches on the anti-Jewish laws.  The Italian report summed up the reaction as - Tiso's speeches create confusion; who do Catholics believe - their pastors or the president?  That such as question was asked at all suggests that the answer may well have been that many Catholics were listening to Tiso.  

The report also refers to the Calvinist pastor of Nitra, László Sedivy, who had been arrested for continuing to baptise Jews despite formal warnings to stop the practice.  Tiso had said publicly that he did not believe in the sincerity of Jewish conversions or baptisms citing his experience as parish priest of Banovce (1924-1945) where he had not baptised one Jew, although he had the pleasure of receiving 18 Protestants into the Catholic Church.

Francesco Babuscio Rizzo, counsellor of the Italian embassy to the Holy See in Rome, passed on the report to the Secretariat of State.  At the end of the report is a note from Domenico Tardini with the words "See by the Holy Father".

ADSS 8.492 Notes of the Italian Embassy
Reference: No number, (AES 7165/42)
Location and date: Rome, 26.09.1942

Summary statement: Information on persecution of Jews in Slovakia, antisemitic speech of Tiso, provoked opposition among Catholic clergy.

Language: Italian

During the summer months the forced exodus of Slovakian Jews was held as planned by the Government and occurred without giving rise to unrest. (1)  From 25 March to mid-August about 70,000 people were deported.  Between 16,000 to 20,000 Jews remain in the country.  The number is comprised in large part of Jews exempted from the Law of 15 May of this year, namely that those baptised before 14 March 1939; who were married to a person belonging to the Aryan race before September 1941; and who are (temporarily) indispensable because of their occupations, have been granted exemption from deportation by the President of the Republic. […] (2)

Ecclesiastical circles have not welcomed the presidential statements.  They find it incomprehensible that Monsignor Tiso (3) could say that love itself is a divine commandment.  We are quite used to hearing praise of love of neighbour from the mouths of Catholic priests.  They criticise the President’s use of religious celebrations where people in large numbers are gathered to make political speeches and declarations of the kind, which they create confusion in the souls of the listeners, who do not know to give greater credence to their pastors or statements of the President.  Monsignor Tiso does not believe in the sincerity of the conversions of the Jews.  From his time as a parish priest in Banovce at the beginning of the antisemitic agitation, that is a period of eighteen years, there has not been one Jew who asked to be baptised, while he had the satisfaction of converting eighteen Protestants to Catholicism. Today there are many Jews from Banovce who ask for Baptism (4).  In recent times there have been mass conversions of Jews to Calvinism in NitraPastor [László] Sedivy was warned to stop the baptisms which he administered without subjecting the newcomers to any religious training and only for reasons of profit.  In the face of his refusal (717 baptism had been administered), he was expelled and taken into custody.

Since he was asked what would qualify a person to pursue the objective by the Jews with the transition to Christianity since that this was not enough to discriminate against them, he answered that it was made out of pure speculation, that is, in the hope that the quality of baptism could be an element in the contribution towards a Presidential exemption.  […] (5)

Note of Domenico Tardini:

29.09.1942. From Commendatore [Francesco] Babuscio. (Counsellor of Italian Embassy to the Holy See)

Seen by the Holy Father.

Cross references: 
(1) See ADSS 8.298, 334, 343, 360, 382.
(2) Passages on Slovakian antisemitic propaganda and the 15.08.1942 speech of Tiso defending the racial laws has been omitted.
(3) Concerning the use of the title “Monsignor” and Tiso, see ADSS 5.123.
(4) Tiso was parish priest of Banovce from 1924 to 1945.
(5) Passages on “discrimination” omitted.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

James Felak on Pope Pius XII

There was a very interesting podcast produced on the Research on Religion site on 3 July 2012.  Tony Gill, professor of political science at the University of Washington, has been hosting the podcast since the northern autumn of 2009 and has covered a wide range of topics related to religion in all its expressions.  In this podcast he sits in conversation with James Felak on Pope Pius XII.

James Felak is professor Eastern European history at the University of Washington.  Felak is currently working on a history of the visits to Poland by Pope John Paul II.

I think Felak's discussion of the topic is very good.  He is clearly speaking for a non-specialist audience and is at pains to establish the appropriate historical contexts for Pius.  Gill is also a competent interviewer.  Between both men a fairly responsible and balanced view of Pius XII is reached.  There are some areas that I think could have been explored in greater depth, such as the possible reactions of Hitler to public protests either from the Vatican or other neutral organisations such as the Red Cross. Felak also points out the difficulties surrounding the role of historians with the use and abuse of documentation by both defenders and critics of the pope.  Nonetheless, Felak's examination of the impact of the 1960's anti-authority protests is compelling.

In a broad ranging sweep of issues, Felak comments on the historical contexts from the late 19th century through Italian history, fascism, the nature of the papacy, concordats, before moving into the specific issues surrounding the war and the Holocaust.  He comes out very clearly with the confronting question of "why, if you knew that bad things were happening, did you not speak out clearly?" and then proceeds to answer it.  I will not preempt Professor Felak by revealing his answer. 

The last part of the podcast treated the post-war years of Pius XII's pontificate including his role as a precursor of Vatican II.

The podcast can be accessed here.

Professor James Felak

Professor Tony Gill

Friday, July 13, 2012

George Mantello: The man who stopped the trains to Auschwitz

This is an amazing story worthy of a John Le Carre novel, except the story is true.

I came across George Mantello by accident - I had never heard of him. A little internet researching unearthed references to David Kranzler's book The Man Who Stopped The Trains to Auschwitz: George Mantello, El Salvador and Switzerland's Finest Hour, (2000, Syracuse University Press). Kranzler's research shed light on a very interesting moment in Holocaust history, namely the seemingly sudden about-face of a generally apathetic Switzerland in the summer of 1944. Linked to this is the sudden outburst of energy and protest shown by President Roosevelt, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Pope Pius XII.

Pius XII's telegram to Admiral Horthy on 25 June 1944 appealing for an end to the persecution based on religion or race, (Jews were not mentioned by name, but the reference could only refer to Jews) broke a pattern of public silence and non-intervention on the part of the pope. In his personal telegram to the Hungarian Regent, Pius does not mince his words. This was the first time the pope made such an extraordinary appeal to a head of state. What lay behind it? The more accurate question is :"Who lay behind it?"

John W. Lamperti is Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire. Lamperti has had a long interest in El Salvador and, in particular, the life of arguably, the least well-known Salvadoran, George Mantello. John willingly gave permission for me to publish his essay on Mantello here and I thank him for his generosity in helping make Mantello better known for the memory of this good man and of those he saved.

John's essay can be found on the "pages" section of the blog.

George Mantello, 1901-1992

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Robert Ventresca points to the complexities surrounding Pius

I have referred to Professor Robert Ventresca of University of Western Ontario in a previous post.  His work on Pius XII is balanced, critical and highly nuanced.  This interview came from Charles Lewis of the Canadian National Post.  Ventresca makes several highly significant points about context, points that have been argued on this blog since its inception.  I commend the interview.

Taking another look at Pope Pius XII's 
actions during the Holocaust

Charles Lewis, July 6, 2012

Pope Pius XII reigned between 1939 to 1958, a period of catastrophic events. But history seems mainly concerned about his behaviour around the Holocaust. Pius has been accused of being a German sympathizer or at best failing to do his moral duty to help save the Jews of Europe by keeping silent. For others he was a saint who used his skill as a diplomat to save thousands of Jews from Nazi terror. But this week in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem, the world’s most foremost Holocaust museum, softened its criticism of the wartime pope, allowing that despite faults he did help save Jewish lives. The changes in an exhibit on the pope seem subtle, but given the divisions between Roman Catholics and Jews over Pius’ actions, even small changes are considered important. For example, Yad Vashem now acknowledges the 1942 Christmas radio message in which Pius speaks of “the hundreds of thousands of persons who, without any fault of their own, sometimes only because of their nationality or ethnic origin, have been consigned to death or to a slow decline because of their ethnicity.” The National Post’s Charles Lewis spoke to Robert Ventresca, a professor of history at King’s University College at University of Western Ontario in London, Ont., who is completing a biography of Pius XII called Soldier of Christ.

NP: What does the Yad Vashem decision signify?

 This rewording constitutes a minor diplomatic victory for the Vatican and the defenders of Pius XII insofar as it seems to correct what was considered to be the decidedly one-sided and inaccurate original description. I think that it’s unfortunate that this decision has sparked the predictable range of polarized opinion — such as saying the exhibit now vindicates Pius. I do think the new wording is remarkably balanced and nuanced not just about Pius but of the Church in general. It conveys clearly there is a range of opinion on this subject.

NP: When Pius died in 1958, he was widely praised by Jewish leaders, including Golda Meir, later Israeli prime minister. Then came Rolf Hochhuth’s 1963 play The Deputy, which vilifies Pius and started the decline in his reputation. Did anyone question his role before?

 There was a clear and consistent criticism of his policies, and especially of his diplomatic style and choices, beginning as early as 1939 and continuing through the war years and beyond. It’s important to stress that some of the strongest and most consistent criticism came from within the Catholic world. The lines of the debate have remained fairly constant over the years but intensified after The Deputy. There was the feeling that Pius as the Vicar of Christ was expected to raise his voice in protest. Even after the war, there were Catholics who wanted him to say something explicitly about what had happened to the Jews. The matter always comes back to the nagging doubts about what felt to many like excessive papal caution in the face of unspeakable atrocities.

NP: Was the Jewish leaders’ praise misguided?

 It was not so much misguided, as only partly informed, especially considering that when he died in 1958 the historical understanding about the Holocaust was in its early stages. It’s a matter of record that in the months after the war Jewish delegations went to Rome to thank the pope for what the Church had done on their behalf. But as we learned more about the Holocaust, it allowed us to approach the story of rescue with a greater degree of differentiation among the various layers of the Church. In effect, the pope’s indirect role in these efforts has receded into the background, while the courageous efforts of the Catholic rescuers on the ground have moved to the forefront.

NP: For most people Pius is either a saint or the worst sinner. What’s wrong with that analysis?

 The problem arises from the tendency to think of Pius XII the way he was presented in The Deputy — as “less a person than an institution.” Thinking of Pius XII that way works only if your intention is to render the man a myth, which can never correspond to the more complex reality of a man who struggled, often unsuccessfully, to reconcile his very human attributes and foibles with the demands of leading a global community whose self-ascribed nature and mission were not of this world. When we approach Pius XII as a person, we find a man of considerable talent, intelligence and imagination, who nonetheless often could not free himself from the norms and conventions of his upbringing and clerical training to grasp fully how the times in which he was living required an extraordinary courage and originality.

NP: So how do you see him after all your research?

 There are things about him that are so admirable, but other things at the end of the day that leave me ambivalent. There was an intelligence, an unmistakable spirituality, a keen mind at work. At the same time, he could be very narrow-minded and unyielding. [In terms of the Holocaust during and after] he could be excessively diplomatic rather than evangelical in his criticism. After the war he didn’t appear to want to come to terms with what happened and did not want broach the important question of the role of historical Christian anti-Semitism in leading to the Holocaust.

NP: Was he an anti-Semite?

 Much of what we say about Pius and the Jews has to be inferred. There is nothing I recall seeing in the way of a letter or an encyclical or speech that tells us much about what he thought about Jews and Judaism. He was a man of his times. He would have had an appreciation of the Jewish roots of Christianity and a great love of the biblical heritage of Judaism. But there would have been a certain measure of ambivalence, especially of Jews in the social and economic life of European societies. I don’t think he had any special appreciation of sense of duty toward contemporary Jews or Judaism. But he was not indifferent to Jewish suffering. He would have seen the suffering Jews as akin to the suffering of many others who were suffering as a result of destructive modern ideologies, including communism.

NP: What did he think of Nazis?

 I think he saw Nazism as a kind of heresy. He saw the nationalism and the racial theories incompatible with Christian teaching.

NP: Why couldn’t he have said just once directly the actions against the Jews were wrong and no Catholic should be a party to them?

 That’s the nagging question. There was always this vague allusion to people who were targeted for no reason other than their ethnicity. After the war, for instance, he spoke directly about the persecuted clergy of Poland and the sad fate of German youth, but there is no explicit mention of what happened to the Jews. There it is. When we come back to the question of his relations to Jews, there remains many nagging questions. One of the problems I have with the certain defenders is that they don’t want to deal with the uncomfortable questions.

NP: But did he save Jews?

 There are some exaggerated claims made by certain defenders that Pius XII helped to rescued tens if not hundreds of thousands of European Jews, albeit indirectly through the work of papal institutions or other Catholic organizations and religious orders. These claims are not tenable in my view, nor especially instructive, since they would credit the pope with efforts that took place often without his specific knowledge, approval or encouragement This is not to say that his general policy, as well as the work of certain Vatican-related institutions in Rome itself with the Pope’s approval, did not help to save lives. Clearly, Pius XII knew of and approved of initiatives by his representatives or other Catholic individuals and institutions in Italy and parts of Europe to rescue Jews and other civilians. Near the war’s end, the Vatican itself boasted of having helped to save at least 6,000 Jews in Rome alone during the Nazi occupation. Some scholars put that number at closer to 4,000.
Then there is the case of high-level papal intervention with leaders in Hungary and Slovakia during the war to prevent the deportation en masse of tens of thousands of Jews. In the end, the Pope’s intervention was only partly successful, but undoubtedly his direct intervention helped to save lives, though it is difficult to say with great precision just how many.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Blogs on Pius XII & Yad Vashem at Catholic Herald

It might be a sign of my age or growing impatience at some of the journalism masquerading as history that appears. These two "contributions from the London Catholic Herald are among the better ones I have seen in the neo-conservative, apologist, "canonise him now" realms of cyber-space. That being said, I don't think either of them have much grasp of the complexities of either Holocaust and Jewish history, let alone Catholic history.

More on Yad Vashem's decision on Pius XII

While I applaud Yad Vashem for taking a significant step that recognises the developments in understanding Pope Pius XII and his role/s during the Holocaust, I am concerned that the step has been taken by apologists as a definitive act that means they have "won" the "battle" over the war time pope.  And this is the language they are using - "won", "battle", "victory" etc.  This is not how history is done.  The crowing by some in the "canonise him now" camp is, at present, so loud, that any attempt to conduct a rational conversation is all but impossible.

Historians are not interested in "winning victories".  We are interested in establishing as best we can the truth of a particular period in the human story.  For those of us who have spent years researching the years of the Holocaust there are no "simple" solutions.  As the news from Yad Vashem broke and the apologists began publishing "I told you so" style responses, I was reading my way through some of the documents in ADSS concerning the Jews in France in 1941 and 1942 and the involvement of the nuncio, Valerio Valeri, the secretary of state, Luigi Maglione, and through the notations indicating he had seen the reports, the pope.  It is here that that the hard slog work is being done.  

I have not read anything in the popular blogs or news services that would indicate any awareness of the extremely complex realities that confronted the pope and the Vatican during the war years.  And that worries me.  There were no simple answers; there were no simple problems - it was a complex situation that nearly beggars belief.  But this was the reality in which they worked.

One of the oft resurrected chestnuts involves Golda Meir's famous statement of condolence on the death of the pope in 1958.  Yes, the Israeli foreign minister made a profoundly moving statement expressing the gratitude of the Jewish people for what Pius did during the war years; however, I see and read nothing that points to any understanding of things that Meir would have known nothing about, such as the conversations held between the nuncio to France in the early summer of 1942 as the massive round-up of non-French Jews in France began. And it is difficult reading because of the diplomatic tight-rope that Valeri walked, that Maglione walked and that ultimately, Pius walked.  

How do you deal with statements in ADSS 8.449 where Pierre Laval, the vicious Jew-hating Vichy minister tells the nuncio that according to Otto Abetz, the de-facto German ambassador to France, it was for the pope alone to speak on the Church's response to antisemitic laws and actions, not the nuncio?  Why did Laval say that unless he and, presumably Abetz, knew that Pius would be extremely reluctant to speak publicly?  And on what was that based, if it was true?  The statement was made a month after the Dutch bishops' protest in July 1942 and at the time of the protest sermons of Cardinal Gerlier, Bishops Saliege and Theas (ADSS 8.452, 454, 463) and before the Brazilian ambassador's initiative among the allied diplomats in the autumn of the same year to get Pius to speak out clearly and condemn the murder of European Jewry.  The outcome of the Dutch protest was the round-up and deportation of "non-Aryan Christians" including Edith and Rosa Stein.  The outcomes of the French protests was the opposite.  The deportations continued but with significant passive and growing active resistance from the French and evidence of major hiding operations, especially in the unoccupied zone.  (See the work of Lucien Steinberg and Renee Bedarida as two examples)

What did Pius know?  All of the above.  He also knew of the actions of French Protestant Christians, especially the work of Pastor Marc Boegner. I believe, based on the evidence available so far, that as far as France was concerned, the actions of the local bishops - six out of a hierarchy of over 100 - was judged sufficient to let the Vichy regime know what the pope thought about the persecution of the Jews.  And given the reaction of both Vichy and the Germans, the statements appear to have had the desired effect.  It is a simplistic answer, but I lack time to go further.

If all that seems confusing and convoluted, it is.  And this is why I get concerned when I see blog entries such as the one that follows in the next post, that make things look so simple.  If only they were.  And just in case I did not make the point clear enough, the reference to ADSS is to published material, not material from archives that have not been released.  So, if making my way through the available material is so fraught with difficulty and lack of clarity, I doubt the release of archives in 2014 will necessarily make the matter that much clearer.

On a personal note.  I was one of the participants at the 2009 symposium at Yad Vashem to look at recent developments in the study of Pius XII and the Holocaust.  There were no raised voices.  There was a lot of shared opinion and discussion of new material from the archives.  There was a sense that we are moving forward.  I only wish that the apologists and their fellow-travellers would read what we have written, instead of believing every conspiracy theory that flies their way.  

The change of the text next to the portrait of Pius XII is indicative of historians doing their job well.  It is a slow process.

Bishop Jules Saliege 

Bishop Pierre Theas

Pastor Marc Boegner

All three were honoured by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Yad Vashem's mistake - Rabbi Yoffie in the Jerusalem Post

Rabbi Eric Yoffie is Emeritus President of the Union for Reform Judaism in the USA and a long-time significant promoter of dialogue, listening and understanding between the Abrahamic faiths.  He is a regular blogger for the Jerusalem Post  and Huffington Post.  Rabbi Yoffie posted this response to Yad Vashem's rewritten text for Pope Pius XII and the Shoah in The Jerusalem Post yesterday.

Yoffie's comments are representative of many people who share the frustration of many historians who are waiting for the opening of the archives for the war years, and I take his comments very seriously.  I do not agree with the oft-expressed hope or belief that the archives will tell us everything.  I remain convinced that the broad or big picture is known and has been known for nearly fifty years and made more clear through the publishing of ADSS.  The opening of the archives for the 1939-1945 war will add detail and nuance, but not, I believe, alter the generally accepted history of the period.  Nor will it silence those who indulge in conspiracy fantasies and the like, or those who believe Pius should be canonised by the Catholic Church without further delay.

Yad Vashem's mistake.

The following are some uncontested historical facts about the role of Pope Pius XII during the Holocaust:
Pius XII never condemned Hitler or the Nazis by name.
He never mentioned specifically the suffering of the Jews, though many people, both clergy and lay diplomats, pleaded with him to issue a public condemnation.
In October, 1943, the Jews were rounded up in Rome itself; the cattle trucks drove past St. Peter’s, with the tiny, shivering hands of the incarcerated children hanging through the slats. The Pope, sitting in St. Peter’s, still said nothing at all.
I mention these facts because I have just learned of the decision of Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum and Memorial, to change the wording of an exhibit on Pope Pius XII’s actions during World War II. The changes were meant to soften the criticism of the original wording, which was neither inaccurate nor overly harsh to begin with. 
We are all familiar with the arguments put forward to explain the behavior of the Pope: that he feared a furious reaction from the Nazis if he were to speak out publicly; that Nazi retaliation might have made things worse for the Jews; that church interests in Europe would have been harmed, surely a legitimate papal concern; that the Pope encouraged help for the Jews in secret, and that this help was forthcoming in innumerable cases.
I have done my best to understand these points. They are weighty arguments, and the history of the period is not simple. But I keep coming back to those Jewish children in Rome, being transported past St. Peter’s, and I simply cannot understand the failure of the Pope to speak out. This failure is a great moral stain that can never be wiped away.
I write as someone who is an enthusiastic advocate of Jewish-Catholic dialogue and cooperation, and as someone who believes—and has publicly stated innumerable times—that more progress has been made in Catholic-Jewish relations in the last 60 years than was made in the previous two millennia. Led and inspired by John XXIII and John Paul II, the Church has taken vigorous and daring steps to promote a new relationship with Judaism and the Jewish people. Indeed, I doubt if we could find any other example in history of a church initiating a process of such profound repentance, acknowledging the sins of its members over a 2000 year period against the practitioners of the religious tradition from which it sprang.
But I remember the words of my teacher and friend, the late Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg. Rabbi Hertzberg was both liberal in outlook and a fervent bridge builder; he believed that the values of the Jewish tradition and the realities of the modern world required that the Jewish people and the State of Israel cultivate strong relations with the Catholic Church, as well as with the Moslem world and all major faith traditions. Yet he was also a serious historian who had studied the actions of Pius XII during the Holocaust and had been repelled by them, and he had been infuriated by the refusal of the Vatican to open to scholars its archives of the period. 
By all means, he would say to me, let us look to the future and build strong ties with the Church. But, he warned me, let no one alter the historical record, and above all, don’t forget those children.
Rabbi Hertzberg, I believe, would not be pleased by the actions of Yad Vashem. If he were here, he would protest, and so do I.  

Rabbi Eric Yoffie


Monday, July 2, 2012

Some light relief - "True" Catholic

The internet is an amazing place.  It is also a rather strange place where some of the odder inhabitants of the globe congregate online to vent their collective spleens over what they perceive as the ills of the world.  Pius XII has a small number of spleen venters on a web-based discussion board called "True Catholic", which is on the same level as the word "Pravda" (Russian - the truth), where truth is whatever the board members decide what it is.  There a few contributors who try to inject a level of logical and rational thought, but they tend to be howled down.

I discovered that I had been the focus of their attention over the last few days after a contributor had made positive comments about something I had said.  Among the regular posters who enjoy posting some of the most ridiculous comments about me are a Catholic priest (!), an expatriate opera singer, Martin Cooke, who calls himself "Exy", and a person called "John".  "John" laments that he does not know who I am.  The very, very, very patient posters called "Faz" and "Clara" have tried to help the above mentioned posters in learning something about me, but to no avail.  Evidently the publicly available material on me and my work has not made it to the True Catholic part of cyber-space.

If a reader would like to descend into the depths of this particular nether-world, this is the portal. You have been warned!

Pius XII and Yad Vashem - 2

This is the second article related to the change in the text alongside the picture of Pius XII at Yad Vashem.

Tom Segev's article marks an important step forward in our study of the pope . The last paragraph is also a warning that needs to be heeded by people of good who are keen to see the hsitorical record of Pius clarified.

Pius' role in the Holocaust deserves more scrutiny

The new captions at Yad Vashem send a clear message to the incumbent pope: Do not glamorize Pius XII before the Vatican reviews and publishes all documents concerning his activities during the Holocaust.

From the beginning, the Yad Vashem Museum was created to reflect Israel's official concept regarding the Holocaust, and obviously it serves as a justification of Zionist ideology and of the need to establish the State of Israel and guarantee its security. Almost sixty years later, the new museum, which opened in 2005 and was inspired by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, presents the original political foundations in a new style: less indoctrination and more room for various points of view regarding numerous subjects, some of them sensitive and controversial.

At the entrance the visitor is greeted by an old clip of Jewish children in the Ukraine singing "Hatikva," the national anthem. The visit ends with the establishment of the State of Israel. Still, one notable difference is that the Arabs are no longer presented as Nazis: the placing of the 1941 photo of Hitler meeting the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem is no longer as accentuated as before. The museum has also adopted a neutral stance concerning the Nazi-established "Jewish Councils," otherwise known as Judenrat. The visitors can now draw up their judgment of the councils based on their activities in both the Warsaw and Lodz ghettos. The impression now is that the Judenrat leaders too, were victims of the Holocaust. Formerly, they were all considered villains.

One of the striking differences concerns the museum's depiction of Rejso, Israel Kestner, one the leaders of Hungarian Jewry. In 1955, an Israeli court ruled that Kestner had "sold his soul to the devil" after he was accused of being a Nazi collaborator. He was murdered two years later in Tel Aviv. Now, Kestner's contacts with the Nazis are depicted as praiseworthy actions that saved Jews. The change is due, partially, to the fact that Kestner's friend, Yosef "Tommy" Lapid, served as Yad Vashem's chairman. The wording under Kestner's photograph – as in all other captions in the museum – is formulated in an extremely cautious manner, weighing the meaning of every single word. The English version is slightly more positive than the Hebrew.

Many captions were dictated by diplomatic sensitivity, so as not to cause tension with foreign states. The lines dealing with the question of why the allies didn't bomb Auschwitz are more restrained than the more explicit criticism of the same issue in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The new captions dealing with Pope Pius XII, are 'cleaner,' and reflect a measure of openness and recognition of different opinions. Pius XII now receives a parcel of textual 'discounts': the new wording stresses the fact that the Reichskonkordat with Germany was signed before he was appointed, and deletes the former declaration that the accord was signed "even at the price of recognizing the Nazi regime." It does not mention that Pius XII shelved the prepared draft of an encyclical condemning racism, colonialism and anti-Semitism, drafted for Pius XI. If the Pope actually shelved such an encyclical, there's no reason to ignore it. The mention of his 1942 Christmas address and his appeals to the leaders of Hungary and Slovakia are relevant. Pius XII actually gains some points due to the detailed controversy surrounding his term.

Still, he isn't portrayed as a righteous man, but the issue calls for more study. Politically, the new captions send a clear Jewish and Israeli message to the incumbent pope, German-born Benedict XVI: Do not glamorize Pius XII before the Vatican reviews and publishes all documents concerning his activities during the Holocaust.

Tom Segev

Pius XII and Yad Vashem

I am grateful to Philip Bliss in Melbourne for alerting me to this breaking news.  (I had only received a headline alert as of this morning.)

The major Israeli daily, Haaretz published two articles in the last 24 hours on Yad Vashem, the national Holocaust Memorial and Museum in Jerusalem.  Since 2007 there has been a diplomatic push to have the text below the picture of Pius XII changed.  I saw the image of Pius and the text when I visited Yad Vashem in 2009 as part of the International Symposium on Pius XII and the Holocaust.  I remember standing before the image and text and thinking that it was a   very blunt, but also thinking that it could only be changed if there was a greater study done on the man and his times.  This is what has happened.  

I applaud Yad Vashem for continuing to undertake serious historical study on the role of Pope Pius XII in collaboration with historians around the world in order to reach an historically satisfying position.  The journey is not over, but the changing of the text points to the slow process that historians engage in and to the high value placed on historical honesty over ideology and polemic.  There will be people who will say the changes are not warranted or that they are insufficient; and they are entitled to their opinion. However, history deals with the truth of the past, not wish lists or imagined and hypothetical cases.  The text under Pius' portrait may change again when the archives for the war years are opened.  In the meantime, we will continue to research, read and study.  This is a wonderful example of historians at their best.

The 2007 image of Pius and accompanying text.

From Haaretz, 1 July 2012:

Yad Vashem is due to unveil a new wall text on Sunday describing the
actions of Pope Pius XII during World War II, softening a previous
message which stated that the head of the Catholic Church had not
protested verbally or in writing to the murder of Jews by the Nazis.

The initial wall text sparked a diplomatic incident in 2007. The new
wall text still blames Pius XII for the fact that the Church did not
intervene on the Jews˙s behalf at the time. But it paints a more complex
picture of his conduct and contains veiled criticism of the Vatican for
refusing to open its archive to allow historians to scrutinize the
actions of the Holy See during the war.

In April 2007, the papal nuncio to Israel, Antonio Franco, refused to
take part in the Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony because of the wall
text, installed when the new Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum opened
in 2007. Yad Vashem said the wall text would be changed only if the
Vatican opened its archive to researchers, and if subsequent research
revealed new information about the actions of the Holy See during the
war. Franco did eventually attend the ceremony.

The old wall text, entitled "Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust", read:
"Pius XII˙s reaction to the murder of the Jews during the Holocaust is a
matter of controversy. In 1933, when he was Secretary of the Vatican
State, he was active in obtaining a Concordat with the German regime to
preserve the Church˙s rights in Germany, even if this meant recognizing
the Nazi racist regime. When he was elected Pope in 1939, he shelved a
letter against racism and anti-Semitism that his predecessor had
prepared. Even when reports about the murder of Jews reached the
Vatican, the Pope did not protest either verbally or in writing.

"In December 1942, he abstained from signing the Allied declaration
condemning the extermination of the Jews. When Jews were deported from
Rome to Auschwitz, the Pope did not intervene. The Pope maintained his
neutral position throughout the war, with the exception of appeals to
the rulers of Hungary and Slovakia toward its end. His silence and the
absence of guidelines obliged Churchmen throughout Europe to decide on
their own how to react."

The new wall text is headed: "The Vatican and the Holocaust." It notes
that it was Pius XII˙s predecessor, Pius XI, who signed the Concordat
with Nazi Germany. It reiterates the fact that Pius XII did not sign the
Allied declaration but mentions that a few days later, during a
Christmas radio broadcast, the Pope mentioned "the hundreds of thousands
of persons who without any fault on their part, sometimes only because
of their nationality or ethnic origin have been consigned to death or
slow decline." The wall text notes that Pius XII did not mention the
Jews specifically.

The new wall text also mentions the Pope˙s nonintervention during the
deportation of the Jews of Rome to Auschwitz in contrast to his appeal
for the Jews of Hungary and Slovakia, and uses the term "moral failure"‚ 

which the previous wall text did not.

"The Pope˙s critics claim that his decision to abstain from condemning
the murder of the Jews by Nazi Germany constitutes a moral failure: the
lack of clear guidance left room for many to collaborate with Nazi
Germany, reassured by the thought that this did not contradict the
Church˙s moral teachings, it reads.

"It also left the initiative to rescue Jews to individual clerics and
laymen. His defenders maintain that this neutrality prevented harsher
measures against the Vatican and the Church˙s institutions throughout
Europe, thus enabling a considerable number of secret rescue activities
to take place at different levels of the Church.

Moreover, they point to cases in which the Pontiff offered encouragement
to activities in which Jews were rescued. Until all relevant material is
available to scholars, this topic will remain open to further inquiry",
the wall text concludes.

"In my opinion, the connection between the Vatican and rescue activities
remains to be proven. I do not see that this has been proven yet", said
Prof. Dan Michman, director of Yad Vashem˙s International School for
Holocaust Studies. Yad Vashem added there had been no negotiation or
coordination with the Vatican regarding the wording of the wall text.

Michman said the wall text was changed in response to additional
research after the Vatican allowed scholars to examine documents dating
up to 1939, and in response to questions by visitors to the museum.

The second article in Haaretz will follow in the next post.