Friday, April 4, 2014

Susan Zuccotti, Père Marie-Benoît and Jewish Rescue 2

In the last post I made reference to a problem that emerged during the publication of Actes et Documents, in particular, the interpretation given to the work of Padre Benedetto during his time in Rome under the German occupation.

There are concerns raised about Volume 9 of ADSS - Victims of the war January 1943 to December 1943.  Padre Benedetto's concern was for the truth to told, without varnish or adornment.  The declared intention of the editors of ADSS was to set out a sample of the archival material from the ASV to give as clear a picture as possible of the war time activities of the pope and the Holy See.  

However, if Susan Zuccotti is correct in her reading of the material that she has examined, the editors may well have attempted to give as positive "a spin" on the activities of the Holy See as possible, even at the risk of creating a measure of distortion.  This is a far cry from creating a falsified history, but it is, nonetheless, a timely reminder of being aware of one's own biases.  

I find Zuccotti's reading of the material convincing, if only because Padre Benedetto had nothing to gain by making it clear that he and his rescue operations were in no way dependent on the Vatican, either in manifest support of rescue or in material aid to assist in rescue.  This conclusion also sits in continuity with other accounts of Vatican reluctance to become actively involved in the dynamics of rescue for fear of imperilling "Vatican neutrality".  Again, this in no way suggests Pius XII did not know what was going on in "his own backyard" but it, once again, is consistent with his pattern of behaviour - quiet, discreet approval for rescue, but without any direct engagement with the Vatican on any level.

Zuccotti's words summarise the situation best - from pages 222-23:

"Père Marie-Benoît demonstrated his commitment to truth in the historical record again sometime after 1975 when he wrote a private letter to correct errors in volume 9, published that year, of the Actes et Documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la seconde guerre mondiale (ADSS), a collection of Vatican diplomatic documents from the war years.  Several of the points he made have already been discussed: that Jewish leaders in France in June 1943 had not had time to prepare a statement for the pope about everything they knew about the Holocaust; that he had discovered that he been sold fraudulent documents in Rome in October 1943 and had gone to the police himself’ that the Vatican was not involved in Delasem’s securing of loans in lire against deposits of the Joint in London at the end of 1943 and into 1944; and more. (n36)

"It is not certain to whom Père Marie-Benoît sent these corrections.  The copy of the letter in the Capuchin archives in Paris is a first draft.

"Probably he was writing to the editors of the ADSS.  But his overall points were clear.  First, he wrote, all historical details were important and efforts should always be made to avoid or correct errors.  Second, he detected an overall purpose in the errors of ADSS – that of presenting his rescue activities as dependent upon the Vatican. That claim was false.  “I received no mission from the Vatican,” he wrote, just as he had written for Israel in 1961that “I and the true heads of Delasem did not receive any sum from the Vatican”. (n37)  But why was he so anxious to make this clear?  He explained: “I have a tree planted in the alley of the Righteous at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.  This tree does not only represent me; it also represents the courageous Jews with whom I fought and without whom I would not have achiever a great deal.  I want to name principally: Joseph André Bass, Maurice Brener, Angelo Donati, Stefan Schwamm, Settimio Sorani, Giuseppe Levi, Aron Kasterstein [sic].  It is their memory and in their name that I wish to speak.” (n38)

Despite all this, ADSS still remains arguably the best resource we have at the present for our understanding of the actions of Pius XII and the Holy See during the war years.  This will remain so until the opening of the archives for Pius sometime in the, hopefully, near future.

The previous post is the Youtube video of Zuccotti's September 2013 presentation on Padre Benedetto at Casa Italiana at NYU.

Dr Susan Zuccotti

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