Since 1963, when Rolf Hochhuth first staged his compelling drama, "The Deputy," the words "Pope Pius XII" and "silence" have been linked to the tragedy of the Jewish Holocaust.
Despite ten published volumes of documentation which definitely prove that the Holy See was actively and aggressively working to address a host of plagues that were unleashed with Hitler's blitzkrieg of Warsaw, this, play has created the widespread impression. that. the: wartime Pope not only said nothing, but did even less in confronting the horrendous evils that . were visited upon European Jewry by the Nazi's "final solution".
Too may people have forgotten that Hochhuth's dialogue between Pius XII and the fictional Jesuit priest, who insisted that the Pope act more decisively, was the creation of a fertile artist's mind. The play remains engaging drama but, it also remains poor history.
Does anyone really think , that if Pius XII delivered a resounding condemnation of the Third Reich from the balcony of St. Peter's that Hitler would have shriveled in fear, abandoned his theory of Aryan superiority and ceased his unrelenting destruction of Jews, gypsies and homosexuals - as well as his planned subjugation of the Slavic people?
When the Dutch bishops, at the Pope's prompting, did publicly condemn the Nazi's anti-Jewish policies in a letter read at all Masses in their occupied country, it had exactly the opposite effect., The roundup of Jews immediately well as his planned subjugation of the Slavic people?
When the Dutch bishops, at the Pope's prompting, did publicly condemn the Nazi's anti-Jewish policies in a letter read at all Masses in their occupied country, it had exactly the opposite effect. The roundup of Jews immediately increased, in speed and number. The bishops' letter succeeded as a moral manifesto but it proved disastrous to Dutch Jews.
The Church has never elected a perfect pope. In fact, we have elected some very bad ones. The personal character and legacy of past pontiffs are legitimate concerns for historians.
As such, the question, "Did Pope Pius XII do enough to save the Jews?" remains a fair question.
It is a fair question to ask of the Roosevelt administration which did nothing when boa ts filled with Jews fleeing Hitler were refused admittance to the US . and turned back to sea.
It is a fair question to ask of the 'Allied strategists who did not bomb the railroad tracks that led to the camps and the crematoria.
In a published. study some 15 years ago, the same question was raised by American Jews about themselves and the candid answer was, "We could have done more."
If history proves that more could have been done by Pius XII, that judgment will not eradicate the positive efforts that he did exert in addressing the Holocaust. Roosevelt's reputation is still intact. The Allies' reputation remains untarnished. A historical question of this magnitude, however, must be raised in its proper context, not with the 20-20 vision of hindsight. What did the Pope and the Holy See actually do?, What were the options? What would be their probable effect? Would it help? Would it exacerbate the situation? I These questions are essential if the historical analysis is to be complete and fair.
Part of that same history, however, must include the unsolicited appreciation of the Pope's efforts on behalf of the Jews voiced by many Jewish leaders immediately after the war and at the time of his death in 1958.
The negative reaction of many Jewish organization leaders to this week's release of ."We remember: A Reflection on the Shoah," was much too swift and quite unfortunate. (See page 7.) The text, with its ringing condemnation of anti-Semitism, is more important than The negative reaction of many Jewish organization leaders to this weeks release of "We remember: A Reflection on the Shoah," was much too swift and quite unfortunate. (See page 7.) The text, with its ringing condemnation of anti-Semitism; is more important than any footnote that quotes Golda Meir's words of praise for Pius XII.
The important challenge of that document is what it asks Catholics to do. We are asked to repent rather than apologize.
An-apology is insufficient. It is too easy, costs nothing and even f smacks of self-righteousness.
Instead the Pope calls Catholics to repentance, not for the sins of others now gone, but for the evil of anti-Semitism which, like a contagious fatal virus, sadly endures.
That should be the focus and topic of our on-going dialogue.
Write to: Fr.
Vincent A. Lapomarda (email@example.com) with comments or questions.
Last updated November 11, 1999 Copyright © 1997-98, College of the Holy Cross