One of the best answers to those antagonists of the Church who claim that Pope Pius XII did not do enough to defend Jews during World War II is to look at the comments made by Jewish individuals and groups who were contemporaries of Pius, who paint a very different picture of the late pope than that fed to us by the anti-Catholic mass media. During Pius’ life, he received unqualified praise from all quarters for his powerful stand against totalitarianism and his personal efforts to protect Jews from the clutches of the Nazis. The following are only a few of the extant example of Jews praising Pius XII.
In a March 6, 1939 editorial, “Leadership for Peace,” the Palestine Post in Jerusalem said: “Pius XII has clearly shown that he intends to carry on the late Pope’s [Pius XI] work for freedom and peace… we remember that he must have had a large part to play in the recent Papal opposition to pernicious race theories and certain aspects of totalitarianism…”
Less than two months after World War II broke out, on October 27, Pius XII issued his first encyclical, Summi Pontificatus. On the same day, the New York-based Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the equivalent of the Associated Press, reported that, “the unqualified condemnation which Pope Pius XII heaped on totalitarian, racist and materialistic theories of government in his encyclical Summi Pontificatus caused a profound stir… Although it had been expected that the Pope would attack ideologies hostile to the Catholic Church, few observers had expected so outspoken a document…”
In a November 9, 1939 editorial, “Endowed with Reason,” the American Israelite in Cincinnati also discussed the encyclical. “In decrying totalitarianism, Pope Pius XII called the individual the end and the state the means of bringing out the fundamental equality of men because men are endowed with reason,” the editorial said. “This concept of democracy is reiterated in the Pope’s Encyclical, stressing again the inviolability of the human person as a sacred being…”
Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, upon Pius’s death in 1958, said: “When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade o Nazi terror, the voice of the pope was raised for the victims. The life of our times was enriched by a voice speaking on the great moral truths above the tumult of daily conflict. We mourn a great servant of peace.”
Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Isaac Herzog, sent Pius XII a personal message of thanks on February 28, 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 foundation of true civilization, are doing for us unfortunate brothers and sisters in the most tragic hour of our history, which is living proof of Divine Providence in this world.”
Israel Zolli, Chief Rabbi of Rome, “What the Vatican did will be indelibly and eternally engraved in our hearts…priests and even higher prelates did things that will forever be an honor to Catholicism.” Zolli later converted to Catholicism and took the Christian name Eugenio after the pope, who’s given name was Eugenio.
Einstein, Time magazine, December 23, 1940, pg. 38: “Being a lover of freedom, when the revolution came to 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 were immediately 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 then, like the universities, were silenced in a few short weeks…Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing truth. I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration because the Church alone had 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.”
In March of 2012, the Vatican Secret Archives released seven new documents pertaining to Pius XII and the Holocaust. One of these documents chronicles a Vatican sponsored visit to Italian internment camps and the grateful response of some of the inmates. In 1941 Pius XII sent a Vatican official, Francesco Borgongini-Duca to check on the welfare of Jews being held internment camps throughout Italy. In October, 1944 some former inmates wrote to the pope to thank him for his concern during their imprisonment: “While in nearly all the countries of Europe we were being persecuted, imprisoned and threatened with death because we belong to the Jewish people and profess the Jewish faith, Your Holiness not only sent notable and generous gifts to our camp through the apostolic nuncio…but also showed your fatherly interest in our physical and spiritual well-being. You intrepidly raised your universally venerated voice against our enemies – still so powerful at that time – to openly support our rights to human dignity. When in 1942 we were under threat of deportation to Poland, Your Holiness extended your fatherly hand to protect us and prevented the deportation of the Jews imprisoned in Italy, thereby saving us from almost certain death.”
These quote and many more like them are widely known, but the bottom line is that the accusation that Pius either did not speak out on behalf of the victims of Hitler, or that he actively abetted the Nazis, are falsehoods that were propagated after the end of the war. If we look at comments made during the war years, we see that Jews praised Pius unreservedly for his steadfast defense of the dignity of life.
For more information on Pius XII and the Holocaust, I recommend the following two books Pius XII and the Holocaust: Understanding the Controversy by Jose Sanchez. Another good book from a Jewish author (who also happens to be a former professor of mine) is The Myth of Hitler’s Pope by Rabbi David Dalin.
Phillip Campbell, “Jews Praise Piux XII,” Unam Sanctam Catholicam, August 30, 2012. Available online at http://unamsanctamcatholicam.com/jews-praise-pius-xii