"Having spent twelve years as papal nuncio in Munich and Berlin before 1929, his personal knowledge of German Catholicism as well as his love of the German language and culture was unrivaled in the Roman hierarchy. Well informed about domestic conditions in the Third Reich, Pacelli had been the architect of the concordat in 1933 but had also played a role in formulating the 1937 papal encyclical. As pope, however, he sought to achieve a detente with Hitler in order to preserve the vital interests of the church in Germany.
At a meeting in the Vatican in early March 1939 with the German cardinals - Faulhaber from Munich, Bertram from Breslau, Schulte from Cologne, and Innitzer from Vienna- he emphasized that he considered the "German question" to be the most important one and that "he reserved its treatment" to himself alone. He further told the cardinals (also on 9 March 1939) that he had no intention of breaking with the Nazi regime, having earlier successfully persuaded Pius XI against precisely such a drastic step. Moreover, he forbade the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, from engaging in any further criticism of events in Germany. Such polemics had rarely mentioned the Jews, focusing rather on Nazi harassment of the church or disapproval of the "neopagan" aberrations of biological racism. Objections to German anti-Semitism before the war generally related solely to its violence and brutality, not to the intrinsic right of the state to discriminate against Jews. The "Jewish question" did not have any more priority for Pius XII and his closest collaborators than it did for the German cardinals. Hence it is no surprise that Pius XII's letters to them contain so few comments about the outrages committed against Jews.
Yet there was no lack of information on the subject nor of appeals to the pope for his intervention. Konrad von Preysing, the bishop of Berlin (the most perceptive and anti-Nazi of the front-rank German Catholics), wrote to Pius XII on 17 January 1941: "Your Holiness is certainly informed about the situation of the Jews in Germany and the neighbouring countries. I wish to mention that I have been asked both from the Catholic and Protestant side if the Holy See could not do something on this subject, publish an appeal in favour of these unfortunates." '
As with other appeals of this kind, the Pope felt unable or unwilling to respond. But a year later, a great deal more information was becoming available. In the Vatican as in other European capitals, knowledge was fast growing about the "horrible deportations" of Jews to the east. On 30 January 1942, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Maglione had commented to the British ambassador at the Vatican, Sir Francis d'Arcy Osborne, about a Hitler speech in which the Nazi leader had promised: "The Jews will be liquidated for at least a thousand years! "
Much more concrete information soon began to pour in to Rome from many sources. In March 1942, the Vatican received news from Giuseppe Burzio, its representative in Bratislava, that the deportation of eighty thousand Slovak Jews to Poland meant "certain death" for a large number of them. On 18 March 1942, Gerhart Riegner of the World Jewish Congress and Richard Lichtheim of the Jewish Agency sent a remarkably detailed report on the fate of the Jews in Poland and the rest of Europe which reached the Vatican through the Swiss nuncio in Bern, 'Filippo Bernardini. It spoke of more than a million Jews "exterminated by the Germans," pointing out that the old, the sick, women, and children were being systematically deported, a measure that clearly could not have been implemented for the purposes of forced labor. Then, toward the end of June 1942, the London Daily Telegraph began to publish a series of reports on the exterminations in Poland. These reports were summarized for the pope by Osborne, who continued to supply His Holiness with similar material from BBC broadcasts on a regular basis. On 30 June 1942, for example, Osborne passed on to the pope the following item: "The Germans have killed over a million Jews in all, of whom 700,000 in Poland. Several million more have been deported or confined in concentration camps." On 9 July, he reported the condemnation by Cardinal Hinsley, the highest ranking Catholic in Great Britain, of the "utter bestiality of German methods."
From the autumn of 1942, Osborne and the Vatican ambassadors representing Brazil, Poland, Belgium, and the United States began to pressure Pius XII to speak out on behalf of the mercilessly oppressed Poles and Jews. The Roman curia was upset at these moves, claiming that a public protest would only make the victims' suffering even worse and oblige the Vatican to condemn other atrocities besides those of the Germans. Moreover, so (Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal) Maglione argued, the massacres were still not verifiable as hard fact, and the pope had already deplored such actions in general terms. Furthermore, he made it clear that it was out of the question for the pope to condemn by name either Hitler or Nazi Germany.
These arguments did not overly impress President Roosevelt's personal representative to the pope, Myron Taylor. On 22 September 1942, in an interview with a top Vatican official, Domenico Tardini, Taylor spoke "of the opportunity and the necessity, of a word from the Pope against such huge atrocities by the Germans." Tardini privately agreed, even as he wearily repeated the standard refrain that Pius XII "has already spoken several times to condemn crimes by whomsoever they are committed." Such answers did not reassure the American or British representatives. Osborne, writing to British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden on 3 October 1942, noted with some irony and regret that the "occasional declarations in general terms do not have the lasting force and validity that, in the timeless atmosphere of the Vatican, they might perhaps be expected to retain.... A policy of silence in regard to such offences against the conscience of the world must necessarily involve a renunciation of moral leadership."
On 13 December 1942, Osborne angrily confided to his diary, "The more I think of it, the more I am revolted by Hitler's massacre of the Jewish race on the one hand, and, on the other, the Vatican's apparently exclusive preoccupation with the effects of the war on Italy and the possibilities of the bombardment of Rome. The whole outfit seems to have become Italian." The next day, he urged the Vatican to reconsider its duties "in respect of the unprecedented crime against humanity of Hitler's campaign of extermination of the Jews, in which I said that Italy was an accomplice as the partner and ally of Germany" On 18 December, he pressed Tardini hard to get the pope to say something clear in his upcoming Christmas Eve broadcast. The evasive reply suggested to Osborne "that His Holiness is clinging at all costs to what he considers to be a policy of neutrality, even in the face of the worst outrages against God and man, because he hopes to be able to play a part in restoring peace."
On 17 December 1942, the Allies themselves had issued a public declaration condemning the German massacres of the Jews, which Osborne promptly brought to the pope, hoping for an endorsement. The reply from Maglione was again negative, though he deplored the cruelties inflicted on innocent people. The Holy See, he explained, could only condemn atrocities in general, not particular crimes. Moreover, it was not in a position to verify Allied reports on the number of Jews who had been murdered and to know how reliable such estimates really were. This was a remarkably unsatisfactory statement, given the volume of increasingly detailed information that had reached Rome from a wide variety of sources during the past six months.
In the case of Slovakia, important knowledge had been made available fairly early by the Vatican's energetic representative, Giuseppe Burzio, and the Vatican had then indeed acted. Anti Jewish laws had been introduced almost immediately after Slovak "independence" had been declared on 14 March 1939. The fascist Slovak state was ruled by a cleric, Father Jozef Tiso, leader of the Hlinkova Garda (Hlinka Guard), but there was a pro-Nazi group in the cabinet' led by Prime Minister Vojtech Tuka and Alexander Mach, the interior minister. After September 1941, the Slovak government proceeded on its own initiative with the expropriation of Jewish property and then with deportations in March 1942. Initially, at least, the government enjoyed the tacit support of the Catholic bishops in Slovakia, who seemed to be concerned only with making sure that Jewish converts be granted appropriate facilities for observing their new faith."
The Vatican had protested against the planned deportations of Jews on 14 March 1942, expressing some astonishment that a nation supposedly committed to Catholic principles could act in this manner. The papal charge d'affaires (who had tried unsuccessfully to persuade the Slovak bishops to take a unified position against the codex of September 1941) now warned Tiso of serious consequences if he ignored the Vatican protest. On 23 May 1942, the Slovak government sent a chilling communication to the Vatican proudly defending its anti-Semitic policy: the mass deportation was "part of a much larger general plan" put into operation in agreement with the German government. "Half a million Jews would be transported to Eastern Europe. Slovakia will be the first State whose inhabitants of Jewish origin would be accepted by Germany." The very detailed elaboration of government policy that followed (transmitted by the Slovak representative to the Holy See, Karol Sidor) spoke of the imminent deportations of Jews from France, Holland, Belgium, Bohemia, Moravia, and the German Reich. The Slovak report announced that they would be settled in areas near Lublin, where they would be "under the protection of the Reich." This communication observed that Hungary, too, would be requested to deliver its eight hundred thousand Jews. While washing its hands of its own Jewish citizens, the Slovak government told the Vatican that the Germans had promised "that the Jews will be treated humanely."
Vatican Secretary of State Maglione seemed taken aback at the brutality of Slovak government policy and the continuing deportations, especially since Slovakia was a self-proclaimed Catholic nation and Tiso was an ordained priest, whose involvement in such massive crimes could after all compromise the honor of the Vatican and the church. On 13 July 1942, Maglione's top assistant, Tardini, pointedly noted: "It is a real misfortune that the President of Slovakia is a priest. That the Holy See cannot bring Hitler to heel, everyone knows. But who will understand that we cannot even control a priest."
The Vatican record in Croatia was particularly open to condemnation and much worse than in Slovakia because of the monstrous crimes committed by a piously Catholic regime, headed by Ante Pavelic, the leader of the Ustashe movement, which had come to power on 10 April 1941. Ustashe violence directed against the "schismatic" (i.e., the Orthodox Serbs), resembled a "religious crusade." The Vatican deplored preaching the gospel out of the barrel of a gun, but it also knew how proud the new regime was of its thirteen hundred year old links with the Holy See. The Croatian state had wasted no time in passing racial laws against the Jews-accomplishing in a matter of weeks (one month) what it had taken the Nazi regime years to achieve in Germany. As early as May 1941, Jews were being rounded up and sent to concentration camps. The Croatian archbishop, Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac of Zagreb, watched these events with anxiety and perhaps ambivalence. He approved of certain Ustashe actions, for example those against abortion and indecent advertisements, and he welcomed the intense public Catholicism of the new regime. At the same time he felt bound to protest the forced conversions of Serbs and the "brutal treatment of non-Aryans during the deportations and at the camps." Yet while he appealed to Pavelic for measures against Serbs and Jews to be "carried out in a more humane and considerate way," he did not challenge the racist policy as such. In this respect, Stepinac was acting consistently with the line adopted by Vatican officials during the Holocaust.
By October 1942, the Vatican had received reliable information on the massacres of Jews collected by Father Pirro Scavizzi (an Italian hospital-train chaplain), who reported to the pope that two million deaths had occurred up to that point. From this and many other sources (Allied, Polish, Jewish, and others) including its own nuncios, the Vatican knew by the late autumn of 1942 that the systematic killing of Jews was taking place all over Nazi-occupied Europe.
Eventually, in his Christmas message of 1942, Pius XII did say something. In one single sentence he mentioned that "hundreds of thousands of people, through no fault of their own and solely because of their nation or race, have been condemned to death or progressive extinction." As the British historian Owen Chadwick has observed, "the Pope was very careful to guard against exaggeration." Rather like the high officials of the British Foreign Office, "he thought that the Poles and Jews exaggerated for the sake of helping the war effort." Hence the numbers mentioned in his broadcast were far lower than the estimates in the reports which the Vatican had earlier received. Nor was there any mention of Nazis, Jews, Poles, or other particular victims.
The pope's general appeal to the world's conscience, while angering some and pleasing others, was well understood by at least one of the German bishops. On 6 March 1943, Konrad von Preysing evoked the message when writing to Pius XII, asking him to try to save the Jews still in the Reich capital, who were facing imminent deportation, which would lead to certain death. "Even more bitterly, the new wave of deportations of the Jews which just began in the days before 1 March, particularly affects us here in Berlin. Several thousands are involved: Your Holiness has alluded to their probable fate in your Christmas Radio Broadcast. Among the deportees are also many Catholics. Is it not possible that Your Holiness tries once again to intervene for the many unfortunate innocents? It is the last hope for many and the profound wish of all right-thinking people."
Pius XII's lengthy reply (dated 30 April 1943) covered many themes that had preoccupied him all through his wartime correspondence with the German bishops. He expressed his pain at the fierce Allied aerial bombardments of German cities and reported on Vatican efforts to secure information about German soldiers captured or missing in Russia. Pius XII did not directly respond to Preysing's appeal to speak out about the Jews. But he did articulate his satisfaction
at the fact that it was specifically Berlin Catholics who had
shown such fraternal love toward "the so-called non-Aryans" (Nichtariern) in their distress. He also wrote of the "charitable
action" of the Holy See on behalf of both "Catholic NonAryans" and those "of Jewish confession," emphasizing that the Vatican had spent considerable sums "for the transportation of emigrants overseas" (much of this money had come from American Jewish sources, which was not mentioned).
The pope also noted that while the Holy See expected neither heavenly nor earthly rewards for its humanitarian gestures, it had received "the warmest recognition for its relief work" from Jewish organizations. Pius XII even found a word of "fatherly recognition" for Father Bernhard Lichtenberg, a Catholic bishop who had been imprisoned by the Nails for his courageous sermons (in solidarity with the deported Jews) and who was to die on his way to Dachau shortly afterward. No less significantly, Pius XII told Preysing that he gave to his pastors at the local level "the duty of determining if and to what degree the danger of reprisals and diverse forms of repression ... seem to advise caution, to avoid the greater evil despite alleged reasons to the contrary" The pope felt that under wartime conditions he had to exercise great care in order not "to impose useless sacrifices on German Catholics, who are already so oppressed for the sake of their faith."
Perhaps in a delayed response to Preysing's appeal, Pius XII did allusively refer to the subject in an allocution to the cardinals on 2 June 1943. This was the second and last time that he would touch in public on what we now call "the Holocaust." "Do not be astonished," he said, "if we lend our ear with particularly profound sympathy to the voices of those who turn to us imploringly, their hearts full of fear. They are those who, because of their nationality or their descent, are pursued by mounting misfortune and increasing suffering. Sometimes, through no fault of theirs, they are subjected to measures which threaten them with extermination." This short section was suppressed by the Axis powers in their reports on the pope's speech, but Vatican radio did broadcast it to Germany, adding that those who make "a distinction between Jews and other men" were unfaithful to God and the divine commandments.
Only on 2 June 1945, before the Sacred College of Cardinals, did the pope feel free to fully unburden himself and call things by their proper names. The pope now claimed to have foreseen the disaster of National Socialism "when it was still in the distant future, and few, We believe, have followed with greater anxiety the process leading to the inevitable crash." He pointed out that "the Church did everything possible to set up a formidable barrier to the spread of ideas at once subversive and violent." In no way had the concordat implied "any formal approval to the teachings or tendencies of National Socialism."' He recalled how the 1937 encyclical had boldly exposed Nazism as "an arrogant apostasy from Jesus Christ, the denial of His Doctrine and of His work of redemption, the cult of violence, the idolatry of race and blood, the overthrow of human liberty and dignity" This sharp drawing of the lines in 1937 had opened the eyes of many, though regrettably not of all, Catholics. There were some, he admitted, who had been "too blinded by their prejudices or tempted by political advantage" to oppose National Socialist ideology with sufficient vigor.
But the pope's own record after the German military occupation of Rome in September 1943 also left something to be desired. More than one thousand Roman Jews (out of a population of eight thousand) were deported to AuschwitzBirkenau from under the windows of the Vatican, so to speak. True, there were also Roman Jews who were hidden in monasteries, convents, and even in the Vatican itself. But it is not clear how much Pius XII had to do with the rescue actions or whether he directly approved them.
On 16 October 1943, the SS and German military police surrounded the Roman ghetto, rounding up and transporting Jews to the Italian Military College-less than half a mile from the Vatican. The same morning, the pope ordered Maglione to summon the German ambassador, Ernst von Weizsacker. The cardinal told Weizsacker how "painful beyond words it is for the Holy Father that here in Rome itself, under the eyes of the Common Father, so many people should be made to suffer uniquely because they belong to a certain race." Maglione appealed to the ambassador's "tender and good heart-to try to save these many innocent people" invoking his sentiments of humanity and "Christian charity." He also suggested that "the Holy See did not want to be put in a position that forced it to protest," if the German deportations continued. In such a case, "it would have to trust for the consequences in the Divine Providence." Most remarkable of all was Maglione's admission that "the Holy See had been prudent enough not to give to the German people any impression of having done or wanting to do anything against Germany during this terrible war." Neither Pius XII, Maglione, nor any other high Vatican officials wanted a rupture with Nazi Germany.
Pius XII's refusal to make a public denunciation of the Roman razzia (roundup) was no different from the position he had adopted when vast numbers of Jews had been deported from across Europe in 1942 or murdered in Russia, the Ukraine, and Poland. Had such a protest been made, it is quite possible that more Catholics might have helped to rescue Jews in occupied countries or that more Jews might have fled in time from their Nazi hunters. Nor did the Vatican oppose discriminatory laws against Jews or the social segregation that resulted, even as the Holocaust was raging in the heart of Europe. In the autumn of 1941, a report by the French ambassador to the Holy See, Leon Berard, confirmed to Marshal Henri Petain that the Vatican had no objection to Vichy's draconian anti Jewish statutes, provided that the French government acted with "justice and charity." The pattern in Croatia, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and other countries that passed anti-Semitic legislation was almost always the same. Vatican objections were rarely directed against the principle of discrimination per se, though it did object to violence, murder, and racist assumptions about baptized Jews that conflicted with Catholic doctrine or church prerogatives. As late as August 1943, the Jesuit Father Pietro Tacchi Venturi observed that according to the principles and traditions of the Catholic Church the Italian anti Jewish laws had "dispositions that should be abrogated but contain others worthy of confirmation."
Such hesitations and ambivalence cannot be divorced from the deep suspicion in which the church still held the Jews, a distrust that the unfolding Holocaust was unable to significantly dent. They were still identified theologically as a "deicide" people in most Catholic minds; they were seen as being linked with the forces of liberation, Freemasonry, rationalism, and secularism in the democratic west and with a dictatorial and ruthless Bolshevism in the east. The Jews embodied in Catholic tradition a secular "modernity" that was considered inimical to the ideals of Christian society and its vision of redemption. The churches, both Catholic and Protestant, were unable-with a few honorable exceptions-to shake off the age-old "teaching of contempt" toward the Jews, though they neither conceived, collaborated in, nor approved of the Holocaust. To quote Emil Fackenheim, the "Final Solution" was the result of "a bi-millennial disease within Christianity itself, transmuted when Nazism turned against the Christian substance.)
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