Commentary Magazine


Pius XII

To the Editor:

Two of the letters that Kevin Madigan answers in his recent exchange with critics [“Controversy,” January] make erroneous statements about my own work on Pius XII and the Holocaust. I was not involved in this exchange on Mr. Madigan’s earlier article, “What the Vatican Knew About the Holocaust, and When” [October 2001], and would therefore like to set the record straight.

My book, Under His Very Windows, is not, as Michael Novak would have it, an “indictment of the wartime Pope.” I did not attempt to put Pius XII on trial, nor did I declare him guilty or not guilty. The book is a work of history, examining whether Pius XII and his assistants at the Vatican Secretariat of State did as much to help Jews in Italy during the Holocaust as papal apologists maintain, or as little as the most hostile critics claim. Apologists have been disappointed that I found little evidence of direct papal involvement in Jewish rescue. Critics have disagreed with my discussion of certain diplomatic interventions by the Vatican on behalf of European Jews. The issues are complex, and often must be treated in shades of gray.

Michael Novak is also mistaken in writing that I was forced “to make several emendations and retractions” in a televised debate on this subject with Ronald J. Rychlak. Mr. Novak provides no examples, nor could he. The statement is simply untrue.

Ronald Rychlak, in his own letter in the January COMMENTARY, writes that I “found much oral testimony” that Pius XII instructed Catholics to help Jews fleeing the Nazis during the German occupation of Italy. This too is wrong. As my book makes perfectly clear, I found no reliable testimony to that effect. With one highly dubious exception, the men and women of the Church who were directly involved in Jewish rescue in Italy did not claim to have received a papal directive. Some actually denied it.

Mr. Rychlak likewise asserts that I can only be satisfied with written evidence. That is not the case. But if oral testimony is to be credible, there must be reason to think that it was actually given by individuals directly involved in Jewish rescue, and that it has not been distorted, misquoted, or misinterpreted for ulterior motives. In addition, it should be consistent with other confirmable data. To date, these standards have not been met.

Susan Zuccotti
New York City

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