Pope Pius XII: Misunderstood and Maligned (Part Two of Two)
"Pius XII? That is the only human being who has always contradicted me and who has never obeyed me." Adolf Hitler
Bishop Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, was Papal Nuncio in Bavaria from April 1917, and in June 1920, was also Papal Nuncio to the German Weimar Republic. Early in his Nunciate, in a private letter (November 14, 1923) to Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Cardinal Gasparri, Pacelli denounced the National Socialist (Nazi) Movement as an anti-Catholic and anti-Hebrew threat. He also remarked about Michael Cardinal von Faulhaber, Bishop of Munich (von Faulhaber had said at Advent 1933, "Let us not forget that we were saved not by German blood but by the blood of Christ!" Shots were fired through his study window in 1934, and a Nazi mob broke out the windows of his residence in 1938 because of his opposition to Nazism), had condemned persecutions against Bavarian Jews. During the 1920's and 1930's Pacelli succeeded in negotiating concordats with Bavaria, Prussia, and Baden, but, failed in negotiating with Germany. Pacelli was created a cardinal on December 16, 1929, by Pope Pius XI, and then on February 7, 1930, he was appointed as Vatican Secretary of State. Adolph Hitler did not come into power in Germany until January 30, 1933.
As Vatican Secretary of State, Pacelli made 42 speeches, and 40 of those were speeches that were in opposition to National Socialism. On April 29, 1935 four years BEFORE the war started, with an audience of 250,000 in attendance at Lourdes, France, Pacelli in a speech said that the Nazis “are in reality only miserable plagiarists who dress up old errors with new tinsel. It does not make any difference whether they flock to the banners of social revolution, whether they are guided by a false concept of the world and of life, or whether they are possessed by the superstition of a race and blood cult.”  Speeches Pacelli made in addition to private remarks and notes of protest sent to Berlin in his capacity as Vatican Secretary of State, earned Pacelli a reputation among the Nazis as an enemy of National Socialism. Pacelli recognized Hitler for what he was. So much so, that when a Sister asked Pacelli if there was not some good in Hitler, Pacelli said, “This man is completely carried away; everything he says and writes has the mark of his egocentrism; this man is capable of trampling on corpses and eliminating anything that is an obstacle. I cannot understand how there are so many people in Germany who do not understand him, and cannot draw conclusions from what he says or writes. Has any of them even read his horrifying ‘Mein Kampf’?” But, his most scathing denunciation of National Socialism was in Mit Brennender Sorge (With Burning Sorrow), addressed to the German bishops. Although this carried the signature of Pope Pius XI, Pacelli advised and worked with the Pope on this, and Pacelli wrote large sections of it himself. The main point was to urge German Catholics not to abandon their faith for the paganism of Hitler's German National Church. Yet, Pacelli and Pope Pius XI did not fail to attack the racism that was a fundamental mainstay of National Socialism, “Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the State, a particular form of State, or the repositories of power, or any other fundamental value of the worldly community... whoever raises these notions above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God.”
When Pope Pius XI died, the German and Italian fascists were not happy at the prospect of Pacelli being elected Pope, even though he had been the German Nuncio. They recognized him as an enemy of fascism, and indeed, there are some indications that Hitler may have tried to influence the outcome of the papal election in order to prevent Pacelli from being the successor. Hardly the reaction one would expect if Hitler deemed Pacelli as being favorable to National Socialism. Upon his election as Pope, the Berlin newspaper, Morgenpost said “The election of cardinal Pacelli is not accepted with favor in Germany because he was always opposed to Nazism and practically determined the policies of the Vatican under his predecessor.’ ”  The Nazis then used what they consider most vile to say against Pope Pius XI at his death, and also against the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pacelli. The Das Reich said, “Pius XI was a half-Jew, for his mother was a Dutch Jewess; but Cardinal Pacelli is a full Jew.” Once elected Pope, Pius XII spoke directly about the issue of anti-Semitism. "It is impossible," he said, "for a Catholic to be an anti-Semite; spiritually all of us are Semites". 
In his first encyclical as Pope Pius XII, (Summi Pontificatus - On the Unity of Human Society - October 20, 1939) the pope made reference to the war specifically in several paragraphs (see paragraphs 23, 24, 30-32, 51, 60-61, 69-73, 77-78, and 107-108) and once again, the Nazi leadership was not happy with what was said. In Christmas addresses in December 1941 and again in December 1942, though not calling the Nazi government nor leadership by name, Pope Pius XII once again, condemned actions against any people because of race or blood. The people of that era understood who he meant, including the Nazis, and editorials in The New York Times praised Pope Pius XII as the “lonely voice in the silence and darkness enveloping Europe”. So-called historians, writers, and many of the general public will insist that this wasn't a significant address, yet, the Allies considered it significant enough to reproduce and drop hundreds of thousands of copies of it over Germany. Also understanding who Pope Pius XII meant was the various Jewish organizations in the United States, Canada, and Australia, who lauded Pope Pius XII for his address, and included their approvals in editorials of their respective journals.
The Reich Central Security Office of the Nazis did an analysis of Pius XII's 1942 Christmas address, and in it they said, “It is true, the Pope does not refer to the National Socialists in Germany by name, but his speech is one long attack on everything we stand for…. God, he says, regards all peoples and races as worthy of the same consideration. Here he is clearly speaking on behalf of the Jews.... That this speech is directed exclusively against the New Order in Europe as seen in National Socialism is clear in the Papal statement that mankind owes a debt to "all who during the war have lost their Fatherland and who, although personally blameless have, simply on account of their nationality and origin, been killed or reduced to utter destitution." Here he is virtually accusing the German people of injustice towards the Jews, and makes himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals.”
The bravery of the Holland Catholics in opposing their Nazi oppressors is without question. The bishops of Holland protested publicly, and the people of Holland paid dearly for it. Holland had the highest percentage of Jews (79%) murdered by the Nazis than any other nation in Europe. Over 110,000 Jewish men, women, and children from Holland lost their lives, including a notable Jewish convert to Catholicism who became a Carmelite Sister, Edith Stein, and the priest who delivered the letters to the Catholic bishops, Titus Brandsma. The results of what happened to the Dutch was a most agonizing lesson for Pope Pius XII. In a letter to the Berlin bishop, Konrad von Preysing, Pope Pius wrote , “We leave it to the [local] bishops to weigh the circumstances in deciding whether or not to exercise restraint, ad maiora mala vitanda [to avoid greater evil]. This would be advisable if the danger of retaliatory and coercive measures would be imminent in cases of public statements of the bishop. Here lies one of the reasons We Ourselves restrict Our public statements. The experience We had in 1942 with documents which We released for distribution to the faithful gives justification, as far as We can see, for Our attitude.”
Pope Pius was not the only one who learned a lesson about restraint. The International Red Cross and the World Council of Churches in Geneva never made any statements that might obstruct their work or increase the sufferings of the victims (Jews, Slavs, Christian clergy, gypsies, homosexuals, and Communists) by retaliatory measures for any public statements. Yet Pope Pius XII found it extremely frustrating, even heartbreaking to use restraint. He told Archbishop Giovanni Battista Montini (the future Pope Paul VI), “We would like to utter words of fire against such actions; and the only thing restraining Us from speaking is the fear of making the plight of the victims worse”.
As a matter of fact, Pope Pius XII was strongly urged by the bishops of Poland and other occupied countries to use restraint, as with each word from the Vatican, the oppression and persecutions intensified. Archbishop Sapjeha (Krakow) was sent messages from Pope Pius XII by way of a chaplain of a Maltese relief train. The Archbishop immediately threw all the messages in the fire, saying that if ever a copy fell into the hands of the Gestapo, they would kill all Polish priests. Also, a Jewish couple from Berlin who had been held in concentration camps and helped by Pius XII to escape to Spain said, “None of us wanted the Pope to take an open stand. We were all fugitives, and fugitives do not wish to be pointed at. The Gestapo would have become more excited and would have intensified its inquisitions. If the Pope had protested, Rome would have become the center of attention. It was better that the Pope said nothing. We all shared this opinion at the time, and this is still our conviction today.”
So, Pope Pius XII, keeping in mind the necessity of restraint, continued to wage his resistance to the Nazis by working stealthily behind the scenes. He encouraged and instructed bishops, priests, religious, and the laity to work to save Jewish lives whenever and wherever possible. When the Germans occupied Italy, Pope Pius XII worked to ensure the safety of the Italian Jews. In fact, 80% of the Italian Jews were saved, as opposed to the rest of occupied Europe losing 80% of its Jews. When the Nazis first occupied Rome, there were 9,500 Jews, yet when the order was given to round them up, only 1,259 were found. The rest had found safety by Pius' orders at 155 churches, convents, and monasteries around Rome, as well as in the Vatican. The Pope's Palatine Guards went from 300 to 4,000, the additional guards all having the invaluable Vatican City passport. Of these 4,000 “guards”, about 400 were Jews, with 240 hidden in the Vatican itself.
Pope Pius XII began his work to save the Jews of Europe early, as early as when the war broke out in September 1939. When anti-Semitic legislation was passed in Italy, Professor Guido Mendes, a renowned lung specialist who was also a Jew, lost his position. In April 1939, he received an invitation to meet with the Pope in a private audience. Professor Mendes said, "Pope Pius XII ... offered to help me leave Italy and gain admittance to any country I chose," he told the Jerusalem Post in 1965. "When I mentioned Palestine, the Pope promised to intervene with the British authorities and secure a certificate of immigration. Montini (later Paul VI) dealt with the matter, and as a result my entire family arrived in Palestine in 1939."
Pope Pius XII also continued an emigration program established by Pope Pius XI, which helped Jews gain admittance to Brazil. From 1939 to 1941, 3,000 Jews reached the safety of South America through the direct intervention of Pius XII.
The Pope's actions regarding the Jews and Brazil was only the beginning. Between 1939 and 1944, Pius XII supplied passports, money, tickets and letters of recommendation to foreign governments so Jewish refugees could receive visas. Through Pius' efforts, another 4,000-6,000 Jews reached safety. Word of the Holy See's work to rescue European Jews found its way to the United States. On January 2, 1940, the United Jewish Appeal for Refugees and Overseas Needs in Chicago sent the Pope a contribution of $125,000 toward the Vatican's efforts to save "all those persecuted because of religion or race."
When 500 Jewish refugees who had tried to escape to Palestine by boat, were refused entry in every port they tried, they were captured by an Italian patrol boat. They were imprisoned on Italian controlled island of Rhodes until they could be turned over to the Germans. When Pope Pius XII found out about their situation, he contacted the Italian authorities, won the release of the refugees and oversaw their transfer to a hastily erected settlement camp in southern Calabria. Pinchas Lapide (Pinchas E. Lapide, author of Three Popes and the Jews was born in Canada and served during World War II with the 178th Transport Company of the 8th British Army. Later he emigrated to Israel, where he entered government service. He was deputy editor of the Government Press Bureau in the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, and was later appointed Israel's consul to Milan.) of the 178th Transport Company of the 8th British Army recalled: "That is where we found most of them, sound and thankful, on December 23, 1943, the day after our Palestinian unit landed at Taranto."
A few days later, Lapide and the 178th were met at Ferramonti-Tarsia near Cosenza by 3,200 Jews, the entire population of another settlement camp operated by the Vatican. The residents were refugees from Austria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, who had been saved by Pius XII's intervention. Their camp was under the protection of two papal emissaries who had set up a kosher kitchen for the residents and established a school for the children.
These are just a few examples of Pope Pius XII's efforts to save Jewish lives in occupied Europe, and to prove that his efforts were truly catholic (universal), when the Nazis were pursuing Palmiro Togliatti, Pietro Nenni and Giuseppe Saragat, all leaders of the Italian Communist and Socialist parties, Pius XII hid these men in the basement of the Basilica of St. John Lateran—the Pope's own cathedral.
The record of the Pope's words and actions during the war "The Acts and Documents of the Holy See Relative to World War II" fills ten volumes. Perhaps some of those who are so willing to write such anti-Pius XII lies, are so willing to read and believe them, should actually try reading these ten volumes and learn what actually took place instead of creating their own versions of events to suit their own whims.
When countless others worked to save Jewish lives from the Nazi death machine, they did so silently. No one, not Oscar Schindler, Corrie ten Boom, Raoul Wallenberg, nor others who worked to save Jewish lives, stood on a soap box denouncing Nazi atrocities, nor did they spit on these murderers they found so repulsive. To have done so, would have meant an end to what they could do to save lives. Yet, people who should know better, even people who were survivors or descended from survivors, have forgotten or have not bothered to look at and learn from the truth!
So, you may ask...why didn't Pope Pius XII himself, make known to the world, what he did, and how and why he did it? Why? Because he was at peace with God, and his conscience was clear before God. He knew what efforts he had made on behalf of those suffering in Europe, and when one is at peace with God, no explanation to man is necessary.
Below are some of the statements of appreciation for the efforts Pope Pius XII and the Catholic Church made by various figures who lived during those horrible years we call World War 2:
"Allow us to ask the great honor of being able to thank personally His Holiness for the generosity he has shown us when we were persecuted during the terrible period of Nazi Fascism." -Petition of 20, 000 Jewish refugees from Central Europe to Pius XII, Summer 1945
"In the most difficult hours which we Jews of Romania have passed through, the generous assistance of the Holy See...was decisive and A, salutary. It is not easy for us to find the right words to express the: warmth and consolation we experienced because of the concern of the Supreme Pontiff, who offered a large sum to relieve the sufferings of deported Jews, sufferings which had been pointed out to him by you. after, your visit to Transnistria. The Jews of Romania will never forget facts of historic importance." -Chief Rabbi Alexander Saffran of Bucharest, Romania, to Msgr. Andrea Cassulo, papal nuncio to Romania, April 7, 1944
"The people of Israel will never forget what His Holiness and his illustrious delegates, inspired by the eternal principles of religion which. form the very foundations of true civilization, are doing for our unfortunate brothers and sisters in the most tragic hour of our history, which is living proof of divine Providence in this world." -Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog of Palestine, February 28, 1945
" When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the pope was raised for the victims. The life of our times was enriched by a voice speaking out on the great moral truths above the tumult of daily conflict. We mourn a great servant of peace." -Golda Meir in a cable to the Vatican expressing condolences. at the death of Pius XII, 1958
"The Church and the papacy have saved Jews as much and insofar as they could Christians. Six million of my co-religionists have been murdered by the Nazis... but there would have been many more victims had it not been for the efficacious intervention of Pius XII." -Dr. Raphael Cantoni, a leader in Italy's Jewish Assistance Committee
"Being a lover of freedom, when the revolution came in Germany I looked to the universities to defend it, knowing that they had always boasted of their devotion to the case of truth: but no, the universities immediately were silenced. Then I looked to the great editors of the newspapers, whose flaming editorials in days gone by had proclaimed their love of freedom. But they, like the universities were silenced in a few short weeks. Only the Catholic Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler's campaign for suppressing truth. I had never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration, because the Catholic Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom. I am forced thus to confess, that what I once despised, I now praise unreservedly." -Albert Einstein in Time magazine, December 1940
 Robert Graham, S.J., ed., Pius XII and the Holocaust (New Rochelle, New York: Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, 1988), 106.
 Joseph Lichten, “A Question of Moral Judgment: Pius XII and the Jews,” in Graham, 107.
 Pinchas E. Lapide, The Last Three Popes and the Jews, p. 118.
Copyright © 2005 Steve Smith. All rights reserved.
Click Here for Part One of Pope Pius XII: Misunderstood and Maligned