PIUS XII AND THE HOLOCAUST, Myth and Reality

By Jesus J. Chao

2 of 11

 

HISTORICAL FRAME: THE ROLE OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN EUROPE 1920-1945

ō     There are many questions about Pius XIIís Papacy.

Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli was elected Pope Pius XII on March 2, 1939 on the eve of World War II.

Does Pacelli or does the Catholic Church share any responsibility, by action, or by omission, for the Jewish Holocaust?  Was Pius XII the "Hitlerís Pope?  Was Pope Pius XII or The Catholic Church anti-Semite?  Was Pius XII "silent" during War World II while the Nazis were murdering the Jews, along with Catholics, gypsies and Orthodox Christians?  What was the role of the Catholic Church, the United States of America, England, France, the Red Cross, the Jewish organizations and any other religious and international organizations in trying to save the Jewish people from total extermination in the Nazi occupied nations?

Eugenio Pacelli was born in Rome on March 2, 1876, to an upper middle-class family of lawyers, which had been linked with the Papacy for over a century.  Of frail health in his youth but with a keen and brilliant intellect, Pacelli excelled in his studies becoming fluent in six languages, including the mastery of German and French.  Tall, slender and with great charisma, he was a man of great virtue, piety and spirituality. Pius XII did not fear criticisms, opposition, lamentation or accusation and proved to be a man of great personal courage. With a phenomenal capacity for work, his day stretched from 6:30 a.m. until past midnight with a short siesta at noon.

Pacelli was ordained as a priest on April 2, 1899 and in 1901 entered to work in the Roman Curia at the Secretariat of State. He would serve the Holy See under four Popes: Leo XIII, St. Pius X (1903-1914), Benedict XV (1914-1922) and Pius XI (1922-1939), for a period of 50 years, including his own pontificate (1939-1958). Before long, Fr. Pacelli was chosen to collaborate in the monumental task of the codification of church law. Centuries of church legislation were reduced to the Codex Juris Canonici.

While World War I was ravaging Europe, Pacelli, through his position in the Secretariat of State, was in contact with the innermost circles of the world diplomacy. He was involved in Benedict XVís international policies in search of the peace and humanitarian relief for the victims of the War.

ō     Bavaria in 1917

In 1917 the young Msgr. Pacelli was consecrated as Archbishop and chosen as Nuncio in Munich to the old court of Bavaria in the hopes that he could "help to end at the earliest moment the terrible struggle that appears increasingly a useless carnage."

The situation in Bavaria was chaotic. A Soviet Republic was set up which lasted for three bloody weeks, from April 7 to May 1, 1919, until the German troops defeated the Communist revolution. During that interlude, a band of armed hooligans took over the Nuncioís residence and attempted to ransack it. The Archbishop found them waiting for him upon his return. The armed men demanded the Nuncioís automobile. However, taken aback by the composure and dignity of Msgr. Pacelli, they took off.

The main task of the Nuncio was the negotiation of a Concordat with the Bavarian government. This accord was signed on March 29, 1924 after Archbishop Pacelli had already been transferred to the Nunciature of Berlin in 1920 where he worked in another Concordat. On August 13, 1929, the Prussian Chamber ratified the Concordat - an extraordinary diplomatic triumph for Pacelli to reach a Concordat with the Weimar Republic, the Protestant Prussia. At the time there were over 40 million Catholics living in Bavaria and Prussia.

ō     The Vatican was recognized as a sovereign state in early 1929

At the beginning of 1929, while Pacelli was in Germany, his brother Francesco, achieved on behalf of the Vatican a very important Concordat with the Italian government that settled the "Roman Question", ending the fifty-nine year conflict between the Italian State and The Church. As a result, the Vatican city-state was recognized as an independent state and Pius XII was going to be the first Pope since 1846 to begin his pontificate as ruler of a sovereign state. This meant that he could declare neutrality, which he did when the war broke out.

ō     Return to Rome, Pacelli is consecrated Cardinal and appointed Secretary of State.

On December 16, 1929, the Nuncio Pacelli was recalled to Rome and elevated to the Sacred College of Cardinals, and, on February 7, 1930, he was named Secretary of State. His departure from Berlin was a remarkable event. Enthusiastic crowds lined the way with torch lights and a warm speech by Cardinal Bertram who in the name of the whole German episcopate affirmed: "Your Excellency has succeeded in capturing popular affection." In 1932 Cardinal Pacelli concluded the Concordat with Baden, in 1933 with Austria, and in 1935 with Yugoslavia. The new Cardinal was already recognized and respected worldwide.

It did not take long for Pius XI to confront Benito Mussoliniís Fascist regime. The Encyclical Non Abbiamo Bisogno was published in 1931 strongly condemning the Italian Fascist doctrines. Secretary of State Pacelliís contribution was very important to this Encyclical. When the War broke in 1939, The Holy See tried unsuccessfully to keep Italy out of the War. On June 10, 1940 Mussolini entered the war in the side of Germany.

Dark clouds were extending throughout the world. The new Secretary of State would be involved in the 1932 publication of Acerba Nimis, an important document that dealt with the worsening situation in Mexico.

ō     Hitler takes power over Germany

On January 30, 1933, the German President Hindeburg appointed Adolph Hitler as Chancellor. Since the elections in March 1933 the Nazis were the lawful government of the German people. With the help of the Nationalist allies they had a majority, though small, in the Reichstag. The Enabling Act, passed by the Reichstag, made them rulers with extraordinary powers and without a possibility of change for four years. Very soon, the Nazi regime was to become a brutal totalitarian state destroying the parliamentary democracy. It was the beginning of the end for the Weimar Republic.

According to Fr. Peter Gumbel, S.J., a prestigious historian with open access to the Vaticanís archives; even before the Nazis came to power, the German Bishops had already condemned the National Socialist Movement and prohibited Catholics from being associated with it or voting for it. On January 30, and on the March 5, 1933ís elections, virtually all the Catholics voted for the "Zentrum" Christian party, well-known for its opposition to Hitlerís party.

England, France and Italy recognized the new German regime immediately and proceeded to sign what was called the "four countries pact". Later, on July 20, 1933, the Holy See signed a Concordat with Germany.

ō     Cardinal Pacelli visits United States in 1936

On October 1936, Cardinal Pacelli visited the United States where he stayed for one month and was accompanied in an 8,000-mile trip by his friend, Msgr. Spellman, then the Auxiliary Bishop of Cardinal OíConnor, Archbishop of Boston. The future Pope visited twelve of the sixteen ecclesiastical provinces, talked with seventy-nine bishops, visited religious institutions, colleges, hospitals, seminaries, and received honorary degrees from four universities. Before leaving Cardinal Pacelli had lunch at Hyde Park with President Roosevelt. This was the prelude of a long personal relationship and of cooperation between the Holy See and the U.S. One of the earliest fruits of that friendship was an innovation in American diplomacy. In the first year of the war, Myron C. Taylor was named "Special Representative of the President to the Vatican" in spite of strong Protestant opposition. As soon as Pacelli was elected Pope, he appointed Bishop Spellman as Archbishop of New York and later as a Cardinal. Spellman became a most trusted conduit during the years of collaboration between Pius XII and President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

ō     The Third Reich gets ready for war- Hitler annexes Austria

On March 1938, Hitler annexed Austria. When Cardinal Innitzer bade the FŁhrer a public welcome and urged the Austrians to vote for the Anschluss, he was summoned to Rome where he was made to sign a retraction. Pius XI and his Secretary of State left no doubt about their understanding of the rising malady that was going to imperil the very existence of a civilized Judeo-Christian Europe. In Germany thousands of Catholic priests and laymen were imprisoned or taken to concentration camps for opposing the Nazi regime. Among them there were the Jesuit Alfred Delp and the famous Protestant theologian Bonhoffer, a real martyr and witness of the anti-Nazi resistance.

During the few months between his election as Pope and the beginning of the World War II, Pius XII worked fervently to avoid the catastrophe, but not in the spirit of appeasement. The Vatican opposed the 1938 Munich agreement in which Britain and France cowardly sacrificed Czechoslovakia to the Nazis. Also, at the end of the War, The Holy See strongly opposed the Western democraciesí betrayal of the Eastern European nations at the Yalta and Postdamís accords where half of Europe was delivered unto slavery to the Sovietsí rule as mere spoils of war.

ō     With the invasion of Poland by Germany and the Soviet Union, World War II begins.

The Hitler-Stalinís pact started War World II with the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. Pius XII strongly denounced Polandís invasion and proposed a peace plan. The attack was aimed to annihilate the most faithful and loyal Roman Catholic nation in the World. Both dictators shared a pathological hatred against Catholics. The Nazis ravaged half of the country and the Soviets the other. There was a systematic extermination of the intelligentsia. Warsaw, the capital, was targeted to be erased from the map. Ten million Poles fell prey to the Soviets. The Baltic Republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were delivered to Stalin as part of the war booty and annexed to the Soviet Union. The Poles courageously tried to resist the craven double attacks of Nazi Germany and the Communist Soviets. Hundreds of thousands of Poles were sent to Soviet concentration camps. At the Pawiak prison in the heart of the city, the Nazis put 130,000 Poles to death. Not too far away were the infamous death camps of Treblinka, Madjanek and Auschwitz.

 

1. Pius XII and the Holocaust, Myth and Reality

2. Pius XII & the Holocaust - Historical Frame

3. Pius XII and the Holocaust - 1933

4. Was Pius XII "Hitler's Pope"

5. Were Pius XII and the Church really silent during the Holocaust?

6. The Allies were slow in responding to the Pleas of the Jews

7. Pius XII - The forgotten victims of the Holocaust

8. The Rescue of the Jews: The Holy See made every possible effort to help the Jews

9. Pius XII and the Resistance

10. Pius XII- Allies slow in responding to the pleas of the Jews

11. Pius XII - Conclusion

 

Copyright © 2000 Jesus J. Chao

Printed on June 13, 2001 by Leap of Faith- www.faithleap.org  with Permission from Mr. Jesus J. Chao.

 

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