Pius XII Saved More Jews Than Schindler
Interview with Historian Rabbi David Dalin of New York
You have labeled historians who have criticized Pope Pius XII as revisionists.
Today there is a new generation of journalists and experts determined to
discredit the documented efforts of Pius XII to save the Jews during the
Holocaust. This generation is inspired by Rolf Hochhuth's play "The
Vicar", which has no historical value, but levels controversial
accusations against this Pope. However, Eugenio Pacelli's detractors ignore or
neglect Pinchas Lapide's enlightening study.
[Lapide] was consul general of Israel in Milan and met with many Italian Jews
who survived the Holocaust. In his work, Lapide documents how Pius XII worked
for the salvation of at least 700,000 from the hands of the Nazis. However,
according to another estimate, this figure rises to 860,000.
Why, then, has there been this change in appreciation?
I call today's critics revisionists because they reverse the judgement of
history, namely, the recognition given to Pius XII by his contemporaries,
among whom is Nobel Prize [winner] Albert Einstein, Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog
of Israel, Prime Ministers Golda Meir and Moshe Sharett; and, in Italy, people
like Raffaele Cantoni, who at the time was president of the Italian Union of
Jewish Communities. But many articles published at different times in Boston's
Jewish Advocate, The Times of London, and The New York Times can also be
What did Pope Pacelli do for the Jews?
We have much documentation, which shows that in no way did he remain silent.
What is more, he spoke out loudly against Hitler and almost" everyone saw
him as an opponent of the Nazi regime. During the German occupation of Rome,
Pius XII secretly instructed the Catholic clergy to use all means to save as
many human lives as possible
In this way, he saved thousands of Italian Jews from deportation. While 80% of
European Jews died in those years, 80% of Italian Jews were saved. In Rome
alone, 155 convents and monasteries gave refuge to some 5,000 Jews. At any
given moment, at least 3,000 were saved in the papal residence of Castel
Gandolfo, being freed from deportation to German concentration camps.
For nine months, 60 Jews lived with the Jesuits at the Pontifical Gregorian
University, and many others were hidden in the basement of the Biblical
Institute. Following Pius XII's instructions, risking their own lives, many
priests and monks made possible the salvation of hundreds of Jewish lives.
But the Pope never publicly denounced the anti-Semitic laws and persecution of
His silence was an effective strategy directed to protecting the greatest
possible number of Jews from deportation. An explicit and severe denunciation
of the Nazis by the Pope would have been an invitation to reprisals, and would
have worsened attitudes toward Jews throughout Europe.
Of course one can ask: What could be worse than the extermination of 6 million
Jews? The answer is simple and terribly honest: the killing of hundreds of
thousands of other Jews. The revisionist critics of Pius XII know that both
Jewish leaders as well as Catholic bishops, who came from occupied countries,
advised Pacelli not to protest publicly against the atrocities committed by
We have evidence that, when the bishop of Munster wished to pronounce himself
against the persecution of the Jews in Germany, the leaders of the Jewish
communities of his diocese begged him not to do so, as it would have caused a
harsher repression against them.
Don't you think that the excommunication of Nazis would have helped?
Yes, I would like to think so and deep down I think that at least there should
have been an attempt to pronounce a papal excommunication. However, despite
these sentiments, the documents suggest that the excommunication of Hitler
would have been a merely symbolic gesture.
Would it not have been better than silence?
On the contrary. History teaches that a formal excommunication could have
achieved the opposite result. Father Luigi Sturzo and the former chief rabbi
of Denmark, for example, were specifically afraid of this. The Nazis
themselves interpreted Pius XII's Christmas 1942 address as a clear
condemnation of their regime and a demand in favour of Europe's Jews. The
anger among the Nazis could have elicited catastrophic reactions for the
security and fortune of the papacy itself in the years following the War.
A papal condemnation of the Nazis implied the well-founded and diffused
suspicion at the time that Hitler would have sought vengeance in the person of
the Pope himself, by attacking the Vatican. Rudolph Rahn, the Nazi ambassador
in Rome, confirmed the existence of these plans, which he himself helped to
In your writings, you propose a new historiography written by Jews on the
"Pius XII case". What do you mean?
I think the time has arrived on the Jewish side to get to work on a new
reconstruction of the relation between Pius XII and the Holocaust. This
reconstruction, closer to the facts, namely, of what Pius XII really did for
the Jews, would arrive at diametrically opposite conclusions to the gratuitous
ones of John Cornwell's book, "Hitler's Pope".
Pius XII was not Hitler's Pope, but the greatest defender that we Jews have
ever had, and precisely at the time when we needed it.
This new work of historiography should be based in the judgement that his
contemporaries made of the efforts, successes and failures of Pius XII, as
well as of the way in which the Jews who survived the Holocaust evaluated (or
revaluated) his life and influence in the succeeding decades.
Pope Pacelli was righteous among the nations, who must be recognized for
having protected and saved hundreds of thousands of Jews. It is difficult to
imagine that so many world Jewish leaders, in such different continents, could
have been mistaken or confused when it came to praising the Pope's conduct
during the War. Their gratitude to Pius XII lasted a long time, and it was
genuine and pro-found.
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