Pius XII and the Jews
To the Editor:
I have read Guenter Lewy’s informative article, “Pius XII, The Jews, and the German Catholic Church” [February] with the greatest interest. Mr. Lewy has had access to sources hitherto denied scholars, and his work is an important contribution to the growing debate about the response of the Catholic Church to Hitler’s Germany.
Mr. Lewy’s contentions are substantiated by fact, but not always balanced by necessary historical qualifications. In dealing with the Weimar period, for example, it is necessary to recall that the political arm of German Catholicism, the Center party, played a principal part in governing republican Germany and that it often did so in loyal collaboration with the Social Democratic party, especially in the government of Prussia. The leaders of the Center party who in various posts and coalitions worked closely together with Jewish colleagues were not anti-Semites, at least never overtly. Before 1933, the Center party and the Catholic hierarchy repeatedly condemned the National Socialist movement, with the result that the Catholic population gave Hitler a much lower percentage of their votes than did the Protestants. It should be remembered that Germany was a Protestant country and that the political activities of the Protestant churches before 1933 contributed far more strongly to the failure of German democracy than did those of the Catholic Church. Only after Hitler had been brought to power, largely by non-Catholic votes, did the Catholic Church and the Center party, perhaps unduly mindful of the minority status of Catholics, accommodate to the new regime. Although after 1933 the dominant note was compromise and capitulation, the individual acts of courage and resistance, the priests who at one time or another were in prison, should perhaps be remembered with a little more generosity than Mr. Lewy showed in his article. The Gestapo certainly considered the Catholic Church as hostile or indifferent to the regime, and supervised it closely, as a recent historical study makes clear.
Finally it may be important to note that German Catholics themselves are at least seriously discussing the failures of German Catholicism. The astounding success of a short, incisive, and desperately honest book by a German Catholic, Carl Amery, Die Kapitulation oder Deutscher Katholizismus heute, may serve as encouraging evidence.
Department of History
New York City
To the Editor:
In what amounts to an incidental defense of Pius XII, Guenter Lewy . . . claims that “Given the indifference of the German population toward the fate of the Jews and the highly ambivalent attitude of the German hierarchy toward Nazi anti-Semitism, a forceful stand by the Supreme Pontiff on the Jewish question might well have led to a large-scale desertion from the Church.”
But it is not at all established that the German population was “indifferent to the fate of the Jews.” There was no possible avenue of protest. Since the only non-Nazi organizations tolerated were church organizations, a forceful stand by the Church could have turned it into a vehicle for expressing popular opposition. Only if the German population had been given an opportunity of protesting, could Lewy properly speak of “the indifference of the German population toward the fate of the Jews.”
The “highly ambivalent attitude of the German hierarchy,” which Lewy documents, was itself strongly encouraged by Rome. There is no evidence that Pius XII ever tried to change the orientation of the Church in any country in the direction of protesting Nazi measures. . . .
Where individual prelates did protest, Rome denied support. As the record proves, the Nazi Foreign Office made sure to ascertain the Vatican’s position before proceeding to thwart the efforts of these subordinate Church figures, courageous but standing alone. Their failure cannot be cited by the Pope (and Lewy) as tending to prove that a public protest would “make some things worse.” Pius XII did not only not protest publicly, he did not even bother to protest privately. Hochhuth, not Lewy, shows the greater insight. . . .
New York City
To the Editor:
. . . I always resented the use of the word “exterminate” in de scribing the murder of millions of Jews by the Nazis in Europe. The dictionary says that the word “exterminate” means “the complete, wholesale destruction of living things or beings, whose existence is considered undesirable.” That word was used by the Nazis to excuse their murder of the Jews, implying that they were merely killing vermin. I am glad that Guenter Lewy’s article uses the word “murder of millions of Jews.”
Laurelton, New York
To the Editor:
May I commend you for the publication of Guenter Lewy’s thoughtful and scholarly article. . . . German nationalism was, of course, closely associated with anti-Semitism in the interwar and especially Nazi years, and Mr. Lewy has carefully documented the underlying anti-Semitism of the Catholic Church in Germany. He has also distinguished the Church’s support of racial discrimination from any support of murder.
I do not, however, follow Mr. Lewy’s arguments so completely when he discusses the “moderate anti-Semitism so widely accepted in Vatican circles” as an influence upon Pius XII’s decision not to speak out forcefully against the Nazi murder of Jews. In this regard I should like to make four points, the first two dealing with interpretation and the second two dealing with documentation:
- The intervention of the Papal nuncios in Slovakia, Hungary, Rumania, and France referred to by Mr. Lewy was carried out on the order of the Pope in areas where there was still some chance that such intervention might be effective. This would seem to belie any basic anti-Semitism in the Vatican.
- If the German Episcopate’s resolute action in stopping the Nazi program of euthanasia was effective, it does not follow that Vatican intervention would have been effective in the case of the Jews in Germany or German-occupied territory. The clearest aim of Hitler we now know to have been the complete extermination of the Jews, and on this question he was totally committed.
- The reports of the Nazi ambassador at the Vatican, von Weizsaecker, must be used very cautiously and should not be quoted extensively without comment. He always reported to Berlin in such a way as to minimize Vatican opposition to Hitler and thereby to prevent any violent action against the Church in Germany. If Weizsaecker was no friend of the Jews, he did try to help the Christian churches, and he was so little trusted by the Nazis that Bormann and Himmler arranged to have him shadowed in Rome. All who have used the documents of the German Foreign Ministry for this period are aware of the efforts of the German’ representatives abroad to prepare their reports according to what they thought would be most favored in Berlin.
- Mr. Lewy mentions that some Catholic writers “have suggested that a public protest by the Pope would not only have been unsuccessful in helping the Jews but might have caused additional damage.” He might have gone further to point out that this is not merely an argument advanced on behalf of the Papacy in recent years but that it was the argument of the Vatican itself at that time. On October 6, 1942, Harold Tittmann, Myron Taylor’s assistant at the Vatican, wrote to Secretary of State Hull that “The Holy See is still apparently convinced that a forthright denunciation by the Pope of Nazi atrocities, at least in so far as Poland is concerned, would result in the violent deaths of many more people. Msgr. Montini [the present Pope Paul VI], however, stated to me that the time may come when, in spite of such a grievous prospect, the Holy Father will feel himself obliged to speak out.” Of course, as Mr. Lewy has shown, there were other reasons why the Vatican did not choose to speak out, but I do not think anti-Semitism should be included among them. The Jesuits in Rome have been cited in various places as being leading anti-Semites, and yet in this same dispatch Tittmann declares that his efforts to get the Pope to speak out against the murder of Jews apparently “are having the full and active support of the Jesuits.” And Montini has continued to state his case exactly as he did more than twenty years ago. Just before his election as Pope in 1963, he wrote a letter to the London Tablet in which he stated: “An attitude of protest and condemnation . . . would have been not only futile but harmful; that is the long and short of the matter.” Mr. Lewy may not agree with these arguments, but I think it would have been better if he had presented them as contemporary arguments of the Holy See and commented on them as such.
These criticisms may seem at first glance minor, but all of us interested in historical truth and accuracy must be concerned with such points.
William M. Harrigan
Buffalo, New York
To the Editor:
Guenter Lewy’s article . . . deserves high praise for directing our attention to where it belongs: the German Church. From some of the wilder charges in the wake of The Deputy, one might think that it was the Pope who stoked the fires of Auschwitz!
Yet, at the same time, the article is profoundly depressing and disturbing in its revelation of how easily the ecclesiastical mind is led to make peace with evil . . . in defense of institutional self-interest. The terrible image of the Vicar of Christ silent before the death agony of Roman Jewry . . . calls too vividly to mind that older image of martyrdom and expediency associated with Jesus and Caiaphas, “the high Priest that same year.”
Certainly Protestants can take no comfort from Mr. Lewy’s exposure of the moral bankruptcy which afflicted the Roman Catholic leadership in the face of the Nazi challenge. Indeed, one might argue that, except for the magnificent protest of the Confessing Church, the behavior of German Protestantism was much worse: nothing in German Catholicism can quite match the so-called “German Christian” movement.
Unwittingly, perhaps, Mr. Lewy has suggested a new and deeper basis for the Christian Church in its ecumenical search for unity: the common acknowledgment of shared guilt in mass murder, and a recognition of the subtle ways in which ecclesiastical concerns can betray the spirit of Jesus Christ. The history of Arab-Zionist relations would suggest that within the Jewish community, too, one can detect the seeds of that kind of prejudice which, directed against the Jews in Christian nations, helped prepare the climate for Nazism.
Finally, one cannot help but wonder if the Church has actually learned from this whole tragic experience, when one notes the triumph of “prudence” and “expedience” in the shelving of the Schema on the Jews at the recent session of the second Vatican Council.
(Rev.) Charles H. Whittier
Dover, New Hampshire
To the Editor:
. . . Guenter Lewy’s article . . . is an outstanding contribution to the clarification of the Jewish situation, as well as Catholic policy in Germany during World War II. I congratulate you for publishing this article at this particular stage.
I regret, however, that Mr. Lewy has not made more clearly the important point regarding the Jewish statutes introduced by the Vichy Government in 1941. M. Léon Bérard was informed that the Vatican had no objection, from a theological point of view, to the introduction of racist legislation against Jews in France. The report by Monsieur Bérard, the Vichy ambassador at the Holy See, a résumé of his conversation on a very high level, made light of the friction between church and state in Italy on the subject of anti-Jewish legislation and even stated that “the rule which says that a baptized Jew is not always to be considered a Catholic pure and simple may not be the one which does the most damage to theology.” In other words, the Vatican was not very concerned with the fate of Catholics of Jewish origin.
Furthermore, the report stated that anti-Jewish legislation was not anti-racist because the Jews did not constitute a race but, rather, an ethnic group. It implied, therefore, that the Church’s abhorrence of racism did not extend to them. It emphasized that segregation of the Jews in ghettos and their separation from Christians was good Church policy, citing St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica. It practically brushed aside any “contradictions” between Church policy and anti-Jewish legislation. Pétain was assured that “we shall not at least be reprimanded for this statute of the Jews.”
In consequence of this report, the General Commission for Jewish Questions of the Ministry of the Interior of Vichy France issued on October 11, 1941, the following statement:
According to certain prejudiced rumors, the Vatican is said to have made reservations concerning those measures taken by the French Government with respect to the Jews.
We are in position to oppose a most formal denial to these allegations; from information obtained at the most authorized sources it results that nothing in the legislation designed to protect France from the Jewish influence is opposed to the doctrine of the Church.
The entire discussion concerning The Deputy lacks a most important aspect, the theological one. There is considerable reluctance, particularly on the part of Jews, to engage in theological debates. Nevertheless, the elimination of the terrible sin of persecution of Jews from the thinking and mores of Christendom will not take place unless the theological aspect is discussed. Perhaps the present situation presents the proper opportunity for such a discussion.
Abraham G. Duker
Director of Libraries
New York City
To the Editor:
. . . It is refreshing to see someone report on a highly controversial issue in the manner of Mr. Lewy. It would probably be shocking to discover how many experts have been expounding their views on the relationship of Pope Pius XII to Nazism in many leading publications, completely ignorant of the history of the German Catholic Church, and of its relationship to universal Catholicism. . . .
Howard Philip Blackman
Palisades Park, New Jersey
To the Editor:
To Dr. Lewy’s . . . very scholarly work . . . I should like to add a few points about the factors that were behind Pius XII’s silence:
- Pius XII knew that public statements by Roosevelt, Churchill, etc. warning that the murderers of the Jews would be brought to justice, had proved completely futile. High Nazi functionaries, as we know from the Nuremberg files, reacted to such warnings with comments like: . . . “I feel myself honored”; or “Put this in the files.”
- The Pope had met with only discouraging results in his numerous efforts to intervene on behalf of persecuted Catholic priests as well as on behalf of many Jews. Despite his efforts, more than 3,000 Catholic priests in Germany, Austria, Poland, France, and other countries were put to death by the Nazis, as is shown in the forthcoming study, “Chronicle of the Martyr Priests,” by Mrs. B. M. Kempner.
- The study will show further that besides Provost Lichtenberg, there were many other German priests who helped Jews to escape, gave them assistance in other ways, and preached openly against the Nazi doctrine. They were tried by the Nazi Peoples’ Court and either executed or sent to concentration camps.
- On learning of a possible public protest by the Vatican, Ribbentrop, who issued numerous deceptive answers to Vatican protests, sent his Ambassador Ernst von Weizsaecker a guideline on silencing the Vatican, as follows (telegram No. 181, dated January 24, 1943): “Should the Vatican plan to make a political or propagandistic statement against Germany, it should be made unmistakably clear to them that any worsening in relations would by no means work out one-sidedly to Germany’s disadvantage. It should be made clear that the Reich government has no lack of effective propaganda material and certainly could take adequate steps to counter effectively any strike against Germany attempted by the Vatican.”
- Among the measures scheduled to follow upon Hitler’s victory were the following: “every Catholic State must select its own Pope” . . . [and] “the Bishop of Muenster will go before the firing squad one day.” These and similar pronouncements by Hitler were noted by Alfred Rosenberg in his diary. . . . Similar threats are in Hitler’s Table Talk.
- Every propaganda move of the Catholic Church against Hitler’s Reich would have been not only “provoking suicide,” as Rosenberg actually stated, but would have hastened the execution of still more Jews and priests.
(Dr.) Robert M. W. Kempner
Formerly U. S. Deputy Chief of
Counsel at the Nuremberg
War Crimes Trials
To the Editor:
. . . In the interest of further documentation of Mr. Lewy’s fine article, I should like to add the following observations. Mr. Lewy writes: “On September 7, 1938, during a reception for Catholic pilgrims from. Belgium, Pius XI is said to have condemned the participation of Catholics in anti-Semitic movements and to have added that Christians, the spiritual descendants of the patriarch Abraham, were ‘spiritually Semites,’” and he adds, “But this statement was omitted by all the Italian papers, including L’Osservatore Romano, from their account of the Pope’s address.” It happens that I was in Italy that summer . . . doing research at the Library of Forli, and I recall distinctly seeing the Pope’s declaration headlined in at least one newspaper: “Spiritualmente siamo semiti” (“spiritually we are Semites”). I think the newspaper must have been L’Osservatore Romano, since, at that time, it was the only one in Italy that could be counted on to record the facts of Mussolini’s anti-Semitism. I recall, too, seeing huge headlines in the Italian press proclaiming angrily (and falsely) “Noi non Imitiamo nessuno” (“We imitate no one”). This was in answer to Pius XI’s suggestion that in his anti-Semitism Mussolini was imitating Germany . . . quoted in L’Osservatore Romano of July 30, 1938. . . .
Since Mr. Lewy refers to Don Sturzo’s Nationalism and Internationalism in a footnote (78), he might have listed the declaration Pope Pius XI added to a Decree of the Holy Office of March 25, 1928, in which he openly decried anti-Semitism: “Moved by the spirit of charity, the Apostolic See has protected the people [of Israel] against unjust persecutions, and since it condemns all jealousy and strife among peoples, it accordingly condemns with all its might the hatred directed against a people which was once chosen by God, that particular hatred indeed which today commonly goes by the name of anti-Semitism.”
It should be noted, too, that the Vatican openly defied Mussolini’s dismissal of Jewish professors from the universities by inviting outstanding scholars to carry on their work in the Vatican Library. The eminent mathematician, Tullio Levi-Civita . . . was among those who found refuge in the Vatican. . . .
Mr. Lewy’s article confirms my conviction that, since Pope Pius XII was dealing with a madman, Hitler, an open condemnation from the Pope would have led to greater madness and greater bloodshed. Moreover, had the Pope made a declaration, exactly what would the great powers (who, unless all intelligence had broken down, certainly knew of Hitler’s crimes against the Jews) have done to stop the psychopath? When have the declarations of a Pope made any impression on the modern world in practical terms? . . .
Did Pope Pius XII’s message to the world on the vigil of Christmas 1941, some two weeks after Pearl Harbor, in which he recalled . . . the Christian principles at the basis of the relations between nations, . . . restrain the victors, Christian and non-Christian, from slicing up Germany and Poland . . . . or depriving the Baltic countries of their independence? . . .
Does anyone seriously think that any pronouncement by the Pope would have kept the United States from dropping the atom bomb on Japan, not once but twice . . . especially since the Vatican had been so strenuously criticized in 1942 for establishing diplomatic relations with Japan? . . . .
Finally, did any nation stop piling up nuclear weapons after Pope Pius XII’s dramatic warning to the world, and his graphic description of the horrors of a nuclear war (made, I believe, sometime in the 1950′s)?
So much for any practical results that a Papal denunciation of Hitler’s crimes against the Jews might have brought . . . Pope Pius XII, weighing both sides, decided in conscience to remain in suffering silence. He may have made the wrong choice, since he was a human being like the rest of us. There is no evidence, however, that he was a coward or that he acted in gross self-interest.
The accusation is sometimes made against Popes Pius XI and XII that, fearing Communism, they favored Fascism everywhere and on every occasion, and that “In Italy, as in Germany,” as I. F. Stone wrote, “Catholic anti-Fascists were sacrificed for a concordat with the dictatorships.” But in the modern world . . . concordat is the only method available to the Vatican for coming to agreements with the modern state. The Vatican is willing to make a concordat with any state in order to protect the religious rights of the faithful anywhere. If it was unsuccessful in making a concordat with Russia, it was not for lack of trying, nor was it the fault of the Vatican. One remembers, for example, the attempts made by Pope Pius XI in May, 1922, to come to an agreement with Russia. The Pope even sent a Pontifical Delegation to the Bolshevist Delegation headed by Chicherin at the International Conference in Genoa to ask for religious liberty for everyone in Russia. The mission failed. Pope Pius XI was criticized and the ecclesiastic pomp of his delegation was even ridiculed. . . . According to today’s press, the Vatican is now, forty-two years later, still trying, unsuccessfully, to come to an agreement with the Kremlin over religious freedom.
Angeline H. Lograsso
Department of Italian
Bryn Mawr College
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania