Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

Answering Questions And Charges

by Sr. Margherita Marchione, M.P.F.


An examination of the accusations against the Church and Pius XII by those opposed to the canonization of Edith Stein.

Larger Work

Inside The Vatican


68 - 74

Publisher & Date

Urbi et Orbi Communications, New Hope, KY, January 1999

One Of The Leading Scholars Of Pius XII's War-Time Role Is An Italian-American Nun Who Says She Would Like To "Set The Record Straight"

In September 1998, William Cardinal Keeler of Baltimore, anticipating strong Jewish reactions to the October 11 canonization of Edith Stein, issued a special advisory to American bishops urging that Jewish-Catholic discussions not only explore differences but move to a deeper theological level to sustain "the unending hope of dialogue between us, and the unending goal of reconciliation."

Deeper theological dialogue is certainly the goal. Yet it is also necessary that we address the anger and irritation that began to dominate media accounts of Catholic-Jewish relations during 1998.

When questions and allegations are not answered, the assumption is that the questions cannot be answered and that allegations are true.

In the following essay, Sister Margherita Marchione's intention is threefold: to give an overall account of the present situation, to touch on a few key issues, and to sum up the main charges and responses relating to Pope Pius XII. In some respects the essay is also a follow-up on Inside the Vatican's article "Defusing a Timebomb" in its December issue (pp. 16-19).

Sister Margherita is the author of more than 30 books, including a 1997 study of Pius XII and Italian Catholics under Nazi terrorism during World War II, Yours Is A Precious Witness (Paulist Press) a vital work of original research which has informed and opened many minds. Her latest book, Pius XII: Architect for Peace, will be published in the spring of next year. This magazine will have a second essay by her in our March issue.

Sharp criticism voiced by Catholic and Jewish leaders in recent months have reached the point where some angry Jewish rabbis are leveling charges of anti-Semitism and others are threatening to withdraw from further dialogue, while Vatican officials are bristling at what they regard as unprecedented and unwarranted Jewish interference in internal Church matters.

Where did this escalation begin? Some would say the 1987 decision to beatify Edith Stein was the starting point for these charges and counter-charges. But this is only partially true. Though the Stein decision did set off a number of outcries, they probably had a great deal more to do with real and alleged Catholic behavior during the Holocaust and with painful memories stretching back to earlier centuries of Christianity, than with the actual merits of Stein's case for beatification and canonization. Her life of heroic virtue tended to be ignored amidst the memory of issues that have always separated Christians and Jews — and to some degree will always separate them — such things as their differences on sanctity, martyrdom, sacrificial death, conversion, and Jesus Christ.

Although this article will touch on some of these long-standing differences, it does not pretend to offer answers about the relation of current events to past historical differences and wrongs. Such answers are now being debated by a number of historians and theologians.

Obviously if Edith Stein had been a Carmelite in Spain and had been killed by the Communists in that country, her beatification would not have generated the controversy it has. Because it was connected to the Nazi extermination of nearly 6,000,000 Jews, it was, especially for Jews, seen in light of the Christian-Catholic response to the Holocaust and other painful historical occurrences, the memory of which still hinders full Christian-Jewish reconciliation.

John Paul II was well aware that raising Sister Teresa Benedicta a Cruce "to the honors of the altar" would touch long memories and raw nerves. But he was convinced she should be so honored because he had closely examined her life and studied her mystical and philosophical writings. And, he thought, her life could give Catholics a new understanding of the horror of the Holocaust. Though born a Jew, Stein became a cloistered nun and mystic and in 1942, when taken from her convent, offered her life as a sacrifice for others, accepting death as she had several times said she would. Almost all who knew her testified to her extraordinary holiness.

However, because she had been born a Jew, always considered herself Jewish, and had died along with millions of Jewish victims, the Church's decision to single her out deeply disturbed Jews. They argued she was but one of 6,000,000 victims, killed simply because she was a Jew and therefore could hardly be claimed as a Catholic martyr. To honor her as "blessed" seemed to them another instance of Christian "triumphalism," maybe even an effort to Christianize the Holocaust. Some protested that in considering her sainthood the Church was implying that the Jew most worthy of honor is the one who is baptized. Devout Jews objected that she should not even be called Jewish because she was an apostate who, as soon as she became a Catholic, ceased to be a Jew according to rabbinical teachings. For more than 10 years, protests along these lines appeared in papers, journals and on television.

The "Shoah" Document

Throughout his papacy, John Paul II contemplated an official Church response to the Holocaust and to the failings of Christians then and throughout the centuries. To put such a response in historical and scholarly context, the Pope appointed a Pontifical Commission to investigate and report on this extraordinarily involved question. On March 16, 1998, after a decade of investigations and hearings, the commission published its findings. The document was entitled: "We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah." (Shoah, the Hebrew word for disaster or catastrophe, is the term many Jews now prefer to Holocaust.) The statement was composed by a group headed by Cardinal Edward Cassidy, and prefaced by a letter from John Paul II.

It was a considered and balanced report. It expressed deep sorrow and regret. It confessed fault on behalf of Catholics who had not responded courageously and in some cases had actually taken part in the persecution. It also drew distinctions between historical anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism, and more importantly, stressed the uniqueness of Nazi racial hatred — which it insisted was a product of modern paganism rather than Christian teachings. Then came the assertion that many Jews seem to have found most disturbing — it defended Pius XII's actions in the face of the Nazi extermination program.

The Jewish replies were wide-ranging, some balanced and appreciative, but most of them were critical. The critical tone was significantly magnified when the media most often quoted the harshest rejections. Typical among these was that of Jerusalem's Chief Rabbi, Israel Meir Lau, who dismissed the report as "too little and too late," and "not courageous enough." He claimed that among those carrying out the slaughter were a large number of "believing Catholics." Obviously such reactions stung Catholics. Already existing doubts about making any sort of public confession for past offenses seem to be confirmed by such rejections. Many Catholics were convinced that for some critics of the Church, as Professor Mary Ann Glendon put it, "no apology will ever be enough until Catholics apologize themselves into nonexistence."

Even though the commission's confession of fault for the sins of previous generations was not the same as a private confession before a priest, still its rejection ran counter to the whole idea of Catholic confession — where no sincere, heart-felt confession can be "too late." True, the sooner the better, but late is better than never. The important thing is to confess honestly. Thus, rejection of the Shoah confession was the same as calling it a false confession.

Further, accusations that large numbers of "believing Catholics" were among Hitler's murderers also ignored important truths. Only a badly formed conscience, perhaps twisted by fear, or ignorance, could have explained how even a nominally religious person might become deeply involved with the Nazis. Such a person would have to have been unbelieving or falsely believing.

As Professor Stephen Aschheim of Jerusalem's Hebrew University recently remarked in Washington, D.C., the Church never taught Christians to kill Jews. He added that even during severe medieval pogroms, Jews understood this and sought protection against murderous mobs from Popes and bishops.

As a matter of historical record, there were a number of Popes who issued papal bulls forbidding any Catholic from harming Jews, such as Calixtus II's Sicut Judaeis ("As for the Jews"), issued in 1120. The European record on the treatment of Jews over the centuries is admittedly grim, but it does not include the Church teaching Christians to kill Jews.

Contemporary Catholics, like members of Cardinal Cassidy's Commission, granted that many of their co-religionists were confused and cowed by Nazi power and failed to act as Christians, but they attribute this to "human weakness," to prejudice, envy, greed, indifference, and omnipresent fear. There is clear evidence, for example, that those "fallen away" Catholics actually involved in murder had already disowned the Church and its teachings. One dramatic instance is the nurse who administered the lethal injection to Fr. Titus Brandsma, an anti-Nazi activist beatified in 1984 by John Paul II. During proceedings leading to his beatification, the nurse came forward and reported that in her final conversation with the doomed man he tried to persuade her to accept his rosary. She told him that though she had been born Catholic, she had left the Church and no longer considered herself Catholic.

The last word on the role of religious belief in Nazi Germany has yet to be written. But from the evidence we have it is clear that among those few who heroically resisted Hitler, many did so because of deeply-held Christian beliefs. The anti-Nazi students who formed the White Rose Society, for example, made it clear that they found the courage to resist Hitler in their religious faith. The entire group was executed.

A recent comment by Former Mayor Ed Koch of New York, who is Jewish, is very similar to the much-criticized position of the Church's Shoah document: "Blaming Christians for the Holocaust would be as unjustified as holding Jews accountable for the death of Jesus. Individuals were responsible in both situations."

Testimony from a Jew who lived the entire war in Germany and daily recorded his observations offers some support to the statements of the "Shoah" document. The diaries of Victor Klemperer (1881-1960) are just now being published. The first volume, I Will Bear Witness, has been hailed as the most thorough record we have by an intelligent, carefully observant victim of Nazi oppression. On January 10, 1939 Klemperer wrote: "Jews and Germans lived and worked together without friction in all spheres of life. The anti-Semitism, which was always present, is not at all evidence to the contrary. Because the friction between Jews and Aryans was not half as great as that between Protestants and Catholics, or between employers and employees, or between East Prussians, for example, and southern Bavarians, or Rhinelanders and Bavarians." Klemperer's distinction between various prejudices and frictions and virulent Nazi race theory approximates the one presented in the Shoah statement.

Cardinal Cassidy Responds

On May 15, 1998, Cardinal Cassidy appeared before Jewish leaders at the 92nd annual meeting of the American Jewish Committee in Washington, D.C. He strongly defended his commission's document, flatly rejected the change that Pope Pius XII did not do enough to help Jews during the Holocaust, and condemned such charges as unjust and false. "It is our conviction," he said, that in recent years the Pope's memory "has been unjustly denigrated" by "monstrous calumnies" which "have gradually become accepted as facts especially within the Jewish community." He insisted before this deeply involved audience that the "anti-Semitism of the Nazis was the fruit of a thoroughly neo-pagan regime with its roots outside of Christianity, and in pursuing its aims it did not hesitate to oppose the Church and persecute its members also."

On October 11, 1998, five months after the Shoah statement, the canonization of Edith Stein took place. If her beatification raised tempers, her canonization may be said to have caused a fire storm. The Tablet of London (November 7, 1998), implicitly comparing the smooth-sailing Jewish-Catholic dialogue to the unsinkable Titanic, saw Stein's canonization as a deadly iceberg. It claimed the effect of the canonization was "disastrous." Among examples of Jewish outrage cited was this: "The Board of Deputies of British Jews condemned the canonization in the strongest terms, after Jewish representatives had made angry speeches calling for the breaking-off of official Jewish-Catholic dialogue."

Emotions had also been aroused a month earlier, when the beatification of Alojizje Cardinal Stepinac, Archbishop of Zagreb during World War II, took place in Croatia, preceded and followed by more Israeli protests. Then came a report out of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to the effect that Pope Pius XII would soon be raised to the honors of the altar. This brought vehement reactions not only from rabbis and leaders of Jewish organizations but from Israel's ambassador to the Vatican, Aharon Lopez, who took the unprecedented step of telling Rome, in effect that it didn't know enough about Pius and should wait until feelings cooled, and historians could make a more informed judgment in, say, 50 years. A Vatican official quipped: "Why wait only 50 years? Five hundred years wouldn't be long enough for scholars to agree!"

In the midst of these exchanges, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to prevent the installation of the newly-named Greek Catholic Archbishop, Boutros Mualem, which was to take place in Haifa. He called Mualem too pro-Palestinian and demanded the Vatican appoint as archbishop a man he approved. He had conveyed this view to the Pope two months earlier but the Pope had said only the Greek Catholic synod had the right to name bishops — not an Israeli Prime Minister. Netanyahu eventually backed off and Mualem was installed on October 17.

In late October, the Vatican's foreign minister, Archbishop Jean-Luis Tauran, went to Israel seeking support for the proposal that sites holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews be protected by international guarantees. While there, he called Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem "an illegal occupation." [See Inside the Vatican, December 1998, pp. 18-21, for complete report. Ed.]

But a priest who lost relatives to Hitler's murderers, and who himself had to flee Germany, most forcefully expressed the Vatican's shock at the mounting criticisms by Israeli officials and leaders of Jewish groups, particularly their rejection of the Church's judgment on Pius XII. Fr. Peter Gumpel, S.J., the member of the Congregation for Saints in charge of Pius's cause, a man who has read everything there is to read about Pius, told journalists: "These attacks and insults are counterproductive. I would not be surprised if it led to a rise of anti-Semitic feeling. Many Catholics feel outraged. The call for such a postponement [of Pius' beatification] is nonsense and far removed from the competence of the ambassador. A beatification is strictly an internal affair of the Catholic Church." He also said that he wondered if the attack on Pius were not actually "an attack on the Catholic Church" and if that were the case then "unacceptable Jewish statements against Christianity" would have to be re-examined. The Chief Rabbi of Vienna, Paul Chaim Eisenberg, was quoted in the European press as saying Gumpel's remarks seemed to him an instance of "crude anti-Semitism."

Pius XII: A Brief Summary

If it were possible to give a thumbnail sketch of the opposing views of Pius, it might go like this: for traditional Catholics he was a good, wise, and holy pontiff. He acted with untiring devotion and courage to achieve peace, limit suffering, and hold together a Church, a country, and a continent threatened by the most destructive forces ever unleashed on the face of the earth. This view holds that all his crucial decisions were guided by his love of God and his fellow human beings, that he was ready to die to protect the defenseless, but that he was not willing to do anything that might cause additional innocent death. On the other hand, many Jews today see Pius as a figure of authoritative, aloof, indifferent clericalism, a man who controlled an extremely powerful Church in the hour of the greatest suffering of their people, and did not speak out in their behalf. Their claim is that he was cowardly "silent" when a dramatic act by him — say the excommunication of Hitler and any Catholic who served him — could have saved millions of lives.

It is here that we may begin the reason together. First, to suggest that something like resorting to excommunication would have done anything but enrage Hitler and cause additional suffering flies in the face of the reality of that time and historical precedents. Excommunicating Luther did not slow Protestantism, nor did the threat of it in recent centuries deter any king or emperor out to humble and loot the Vatican.

Even a pontifical excommunication against the Catholic powers of Venice (1606) achieved nothing except to demonstrate the uselessness of the act. Those who vest Pius's Vatican with the kind of power held for a limited period in the Middle Ages but never since, can support their argument only with weak analogies and improbable hypotheses. There seems little merit in revising history in order to malign a man with "what if" arguments. Pius made judgments and decisions based on his knowledge of the conditions of the times and after intense prayer and reflection.

For Catholics, the puzzling question is why the attack on Pius XII came so late. If he had been a man lacking courage, principle, and deep compassion as charged, why was he not condemned before, during and immediately following the war? It wasn't until several years after his death in 1958 that his vilification began. For nearly 20 years following the ouster of Hitler from Italy, world leaders, including Jewish leaders, had nothing but praise for Pius's efforts to help victims of war. Then, gradually, writers and historians became more and more critical of the Church's role from 1933-45. Granted, historical figures must be re-appraised by successive generations, but to be fair and accurate such reappraisals must be based on solid evidence.

Could centuries-old Western prejudice against the Church and its Popes have played a role in the negative reevaluation of Pius? It is certainly possible but difficult to prove. Deeply ingrained anti-Catholicism was surely revived by the seismic cultural shift that took place in the western world in the 1960s. The Sixties Revolt that perceived all institutions as instruments of repression against the freedom of individuals to develop their individualism without constraints, saw the Church as a prime institution of repression. Whatever the historical factor behind the attacks on Pius, the coming of the media age made the charges against Pius almost household words overnight. Television, with a few sound bites, a careful selection of images, and the comments of a few carefully-chosen "experts," generally hostile to the Pope, established in the younger generation's imagination, including that of Catholics, the notion of Pius as "silent" in the midst of the overwhelming human tragedy of Hitler, the notion of the Pope as an uncaring moral monster.

It is hardly accidental that that characterization of Pius XII is precisely the one created in 1963 by Rolf Hochhuth in his propagandistic play, The Deputy, which was performed throughout Europe and the United States in the mid-1960s. Once Hochhuth's imaginary Pope appeared, a depiction without solid factual support, Pius began to be almost everywhere reviled, even among Catholics who should have known better. This transformation occurred virtually without new evidence, with no damning facts, no smoking gun.

The "Silence" Of Pius XII

Though the villainous "silence" of the Pope was firmly established in the popular mind, the historical record shows that he was not silent, that both before and after he became Pope he strove against the Nazis, and above all, in season and out of season, painstakingly attempted to help all victims of war.

Eugenio Pacelli was almost universally recognized, especially by the Nazis themselves, as an opponent of Hitler, a tireless defender of the faith and seeker of peace, a comforter of the oppressed, a scholarly and saintly man.

Before he became Pope, Cardinal Pacelli, as Secretary of State under Pius XI, had the opportunity to observe the Nazis very closely and judged them to be totally anti-Christian. As early as Mein Kampf Hitler made it clear he would eliminate any and all who opposed him, the Jews as soon as possible, Christians more slowly.

As Papal Nuncio, young Pacelli saw Hitler's efforts to control Christian churches and to make them support National Socialism. The Fuhrer's long-range design was to form his own national church after he had conquered his political enemies. He saw himself as following in Martin Luther's footsteps. By 1934, Hitler was openly attempting to Nazify the Protestant churches, saying, "I am convinced that Luther would have done the same thing and would have thought of a unified Germany first and last." He tried to subject all religions to state control, and Catholicism particularly angered him because its center of authority was in Rome, not Berlin.

Every Catholic in Germany was keenly aware that the elite S.S. would not even admit Catholics — only those who repudiated the Church. It was clear that loyal and dedicated Catholics were regularly being questioned, intimidated and imprisoned, even killed. In 1934, the S.S. murderered Dr. Erich Klausner, the head of Catholic Action in Germany. Catholics who would not disown Catholicism — even famous World War I heroes like Catholic Hermann Koehl, an air ace and the first man (with two others) to fly the Atlantic east to west — were fired from their jobs and treated as non-persons.

On August 11, 1935, observer Victor Klemperer recorded in his diary: "The Jew-baiting has become so extreme — there are the beginnings of a pogrom here and there and we expect to be beaten to death at any moment. Not by neighbors, but by purgers who are deployed now here, now there as the 'soul of the people.' Almost as wild agitation against 'political' Catholics." Catholics who lived their religion and resisted Hitler were labeled "political" Catholics.

One of the first clear signs of Pacelli's attitudes toward the Nazi is his 1937 contribution to Pius XI's strongly anti-Nazi encyclical Mit brennender Sorge ("With Burning Sorrow"). Drafted by Pacelli, printed in German, smuggled into the country and read in all German Catholic churches, the encyclical infuriated the Nazis and led to the imprisonment of many priests.

On March 3, 1939, correspondent William L. Shirer recorded in his famous Berlin Diary, "Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli is the new Pope, elected yesterday, and a very popular choice all around except perhaps in Germany." Nazis knew that the new Pope was a committed opponent.

On October 20, 1939, Pius XII issued the Encyclical Summi Pontificatus ("On the Unity of the Human Family") that was almost everywhere greeted as a denunciation of the Nazis. On October 28 of that year The New York Times carried a front-page article whose large headline read: "POPE CONDEMNS DICTATORS, TREATY VIOLATORS, RACISM; URGES RESTORING OF POLAND." The Times presented the Pope's statement as a powerful attack on totalitarianism and a clear expression of the pontiff's determination to boldly defend the rights of individuals and families and to fight the enemies of the Church. A Times writer saw the pontiff as an Old Testament prophet "speaking words of fire." The entire encyclical was printed on pages eight and nine of the paper.

In 1939, after the beginning of the war, when German Protestant and Catholic churches refused to pray for a Nazi victory, Hitler ordered over 700 German monasteries and convents closed. In one month, 60 Catholic priests were expelled from their parishes. The work of scores of other priests and pastors was halted by confining them to their homes or forbidding them to preach. Protestants, Lutherans, and Catholics resisted to the point of death. Pastor Martin Niemoller and Jesuit Rupert Mayer, among others, steadfastly opposed the Nazis and endured living martyrdoms. From the concentration camp in Sachsenhausen, Niemoller smuggled out his 1940 Advent message: "The Apostles have borne witness . . . In their strength let us go forward on the way in His footsteps, unconcerned with the censure of men, but with the peace of Christ in our hearts and with praise of God on our lips. So help us God!"

Again, the The New York Times of March 14, 1940 states: "Pope Is Emphatic About Peace: Jews' Rights Defended." Describing Pius XII's confrontational meeting with German Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, the story reads: "Twice in two days Pope Pius XII has gone out of his way to speak out for justice as well as for peace, and Vatican circles take this as an emphasis of his stern demand to Joachim von Ribbentrop, that Germany right the injustice she has done before there can be peace . . . It was also learned today for the first time that the Pontiff, in the burning words he spoke to Herr von Ribbentrop about religious persecution, also came to the defense of the Jews."

In 1940, in a letter to be read in all churches entitled Opere et Caritate ("By Work and by Love"), Pope Pius XII instructed the Catholic bishops of Europe to assist all people suffering from racial discrimination at the hands of the Nazis.

The same year Thomas Mann, the exiled 1929 Nobel Prize laureate in Literature, stated: "There can be no real peace between the cross and the swastika. National socialism is essentially unchristian and anti-Christian." On December 23, 1940, Time magazine's cover caption, "Martyr of 1940," was followed by the words: "In Germany only the cross has not bowed to the swastika."

In that same Time cover story also appeared, from a Jew and an agnostic, one of the best known tributes to the spirit of Germany's Christians. It was a tribute by the renowned physicist Albert Einstein: "Being a lover of freedom, when the Nazi revolution came in Germany, I looked to the universities to defend it, knowing that they had always boasted of their devotion to the cause 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 Church," Einstein concluded, "stood squarely across the path of Hitler's campaign for suppressing the truth. I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration because the 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."

On December 25, 1942, The New York Times quoted the papal Christmas message and concluded in its editorial: "If a prominent personality who is obligated to the impartial consideration of Nations in both camps condemns the new form of Nation-State as heresy, when he accuses the expulsion and persecution of men for no other reason than their race . . . then this impartial judgment amounts to the verdict of a Supreme Court . . . This Christmas more than ever, the Pope is a lonely voice crying out in the silence of a continent."

Yet, on March 18, 1998, an editorial in the same paper can state: "A full exploration of Pope Pius XII's conduct is needed. He did not encourage Catholics to defy Nazi orders." One would hope that the Times's exploration would also include the wartime reporting and editorials of the Times itself. Or has the paper now discovered that he spoke, but did not say what they, living in a very different world, think he should have said?

Or, are they saying he should have demanded Germans rise up in rebellion — regardless of whether such demands caused hundreds of thousands of additional deaths, including Jews hidden in Catholic buildings?

We know with even more certainty what Pope Pius XII's secretary, Sister Pasqualina Lehnert, reported years ago — namely, that events in Holland in July of 1942 had a decisive impact on the way Pius confronted the Nazis. After the Dutch bishops had ordered all Catholic churches to read a strong denunciation of the Nazi deportation of Jews, the Nazis intensified their round up and specifically targeted Dutch Jewish Catholics (among them Edith Stein). [See Inside the Vatican, October, 1998.]

Fr. Gumpel, the leading expert on Pius, recently confirmed Sister Pasqualina's account, saying Pius was convinced that the bishops' protest cost 40,000 additional lives and that a protest by the Pope himself would have cost 200,000.

It is common knowledge that no broad actions involving Catholic churches in Rome are carried out without the Pope's approval. The historian Renzo De Felice lists, besides Vatican buildings, 150 convents and monasteries in Rome alone where Jews were hidden. Among the 12 volumes of Acts and Documents of the Holy See Relative to the Second World War, published from 1965 to 1982, there are four volumes dealing exclusively with the Vatican's work for the victims of the war, mainly Jewish victims. Included is the Vatican's correspondence with the world Jewish organizations who were appealing for help. One of these volumes alone has over 570 itms relating to attempts by the Vatican to assist Jews. [For a detailed account of Catholic assistance to Jews in Italy, see Margherita Marchione's book Yours Is a Precious Witness. Ed.]

On January 30, 1989, in a speech at the Bethesda Regional Library, Washington, D.C., Father Robert Graham, one of the four Jesuits who edited the documents, commented: "In reference to the deportation of the European Jews, nearly every world Jewish rescue organization at work in the field is represented . . . the World Jewish Congress (both the London and the Geneva centers), the American Jewish Congress, the Jewish Agency for Palestine, Agudas Israel, the Emergency Committee to Save the Jews of Europe, the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada. Prominent Jewish leaders who recognized the papal role included Rabbi Isaac Herzog of Jerusalem, Chief Rabbi Hertz of England, and the War Refugee Board, created by President Roosevelt to aid the persecuted Jews."

In his final summary at the end of the war (1945) the executive director of the War Refugee Board, John W. Phele, said: "The Holy See and the Vatican hierarchy throughout Europe were solicited time and again for special assistance both as a channel of communication to the leaders and people of enemy territory and as a means of rendering direct aid to the suffering victims of Hitler. The Catholic clergy saved and protected many thousands and the Vatican rendered invaluable assistance to the Board and to the persecuted in Nazi hands."

Many times during the horrors that befell Europe after the rise of Nazism in 1933, Pius XII faced agonizing decisions in his position as supreme pastor of the Roman Catholic Church. Guiding all his actions was the determination to serve God and those whose lives he could reach. Chief among the goals that he prayed and labored to achieve was peace. One action he was determined to avoid was anything that would cause more innocent victims; one action he was totally committed to carrying out was to be a universal pastor, to be a kind and loving father to all victims near and distant.

© Robert Moynihan

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