Editor’s note: This commentary is in response to a commentary WorldNetDaily ran last week by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. As we noted in his commentary, historians are split on whether Pope Pius XII’s subdued response to Hitler and behind-the-scenes efforts helped save many Jews during the Nazi Holocaust, or whether his “neutrality” amounted to moral cowardice, costing many Jewish lives.
A rebuttal to the hyper hysterics of Rabbi Boteach’s article, “Pius XII: Collaborator and kidnapper” is simple: No good deed goes unpunished. And, apparently, a heroic deed will be punished with a vengeance.
The document Rabbi Shmuley waved under the nose of the gullible to support his claim of “kidnapping” against the pope has been proven as false as Dan Rather’s “memogate” paper.
Let’s take a look.
The rabbi’s libelous charge of Pope Pius XII’s “moral cowardice” for “having never once summoned the courage to condemn the Nazi Holocaust” is laughable when seen against comments by respected Jewish leaders of the war era. Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir gave a moving public testimonial to Pius XII at the United Nations at his death in 1958 – long enough after the war for facts to be known.
Boteach – who was not a witness during wartime – should read Meir’s comments for an authentic account of the courage of the pope. Here is a sample of her esteem for the pope, from her telegram to the Vatican at the death of Pius XII:
We share in the grief of humanity. When fearful martyrdom came to our people during the time of Nazi terror, the voice of the pope was raised for the victims.”
Pope Pius XII did more than any other man to save Jewish people during World War II. Across Europe, the Catholic Church – at the direction of the pope – maintained a network of hideouts for Jewish people in convents, monasteries, schools and orphanages. The papal summer residence, Castel Gondolfo, served as a sanctuary for Jewish escapees. The Vatican treasury was opened to ransom Jews in Italy – and more Italian Jews survived the war than Jews in other occupied countries.
Pius XII – not any Jewish person or organization – rescued hundreds of thousands of Jews, as many Jews themselves have attested. The timing of Boteach’s defamation is revealing. The Catholic Church is moving toward canonizing Pius XII, and the rabbi objects. One suspects that the real source of his ire is that no Jewish rabbi can claim the honor of saving so many Jews. The Catholic Church’s canonization of Pius XII makes that fact uncomfortably clear.
Recall the similar outrage from some quarters when Edith Stein – a Jewish woman who became a Catholic nun – was canonized in 1987. Stein, raised in an orthodox Jewish home, converted to Catholicism in 1922 after earning a Ph.D. in philosophy. The Church denounced the Nazi death machine. In retaliation, Catholics of Jewish descent, including Stein who would not hide behind her conversion, were gassed at Auschwitz( August 1942). David Novak, a professor of Jewish studies, wrote of Stein:
We need to give theologically cogent reasons for why we would have had to distance ourselves from her in life (as her pious Jewish mother did), and why we would have joined that segment of her family who chose not to attend her beatification.
So Jews regard Edith Stein as a Jewish apostate … We cannot avoid the question of apostasy because it brings us face to face with the rival truth claims our two communities [Christian and Jewish] make – to ourselves, to each other, and to the world … Edith Stein represents our impasse. She cannot be a bridge between Jews and Catholics because in this world one cannot be simultaneously both a faithful Jew and a faithful Catholic.
Some have resisted Catholic beatification of Jews and Catholics who were martyred during the war. They see these beatifications as a “Christianization” of the Holocaust. Shmuley Boteach appears to be among them.
Boteach ignored the reports of Jewish history, Jewish scholars and Jewish-managed newspapers at the time of the Holocaust. Had he done so, he would not have embarrassed himself or his people with his comical tantrum. Here is a sample of what Boteach failed to report:
- Immediately following the war, Rabbi Herzog of Jerusalem offered his “special blessing” to the Pius XII for “his lifesaving efforts on behalf of the Jews during the Nazi occupation of Italy.” At the close of the war, the chief rabbi of Rome, Emilio Zolli, inspired by the steadfast commitment of the pope, converted to Catholicism and took the name Eugenio in admiration of the pontiff. Zolli wrote: “No hero in all history was more militant, more fought against, none more heroic than Pius XII in pursuing the work of true charity, and this on behalf of all the suffering children of God.” (Emilio Zolli, “Before the Dawn,” New York: Sheed and Ward, 1954).
- Jewish physicist Albert Einstein said, “Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing truth.” (Time magazine, Dec. 23, 1940)
- Jewish scholar and Israeli diplomat stationed in Milan, Pinchas Lapide, drawing on Yad Vashem archives, found that the Vatican’s efforts saved 860,000 Jews – a figure that dwarfs the efforts of all other organizations or governments. (Lapide, “Three Popes and the Jews,” New York: Hawthorn, 1967).
Furthermore, if Boteach had been more responsible in what he wrote, he would have read the headlines in Jewish publications of the time before he attacked Pius XII and insulted a billion Catholics:
- Jewish Advocate, Boston, Jan. 26, 1940: “Vatican Radio denounces Nazi acts in Poland”
- The New York Times, Christmas Day,1941: “The voice of Pius XII is the only voice in the silence and darkness that developed in Europe this Christmas … He is the only ruler left on the continent of Europe who dares to raise his voice at all.”
- Canadian Jewish Chronicle, Sept. 4, 1942: “Laval spurns pope; 25,000 Jews in France arrested for deportation.”
- Jewish Chronicle, London, Oct. 29, 1943: “Jewish hostages in Rome: Vatican protests.”
In addition, Rabbi Boteach might have read the Vatican encyclicals (official teaching) condemning the policies used by Nazis. The 1937 “Mit Brennender Sorge” (With Burning Sorrow) was to be read in every Catholic Church. It makes clear that one cannot be a Catholic and follow Nazi policies. Vatican radio and newspapers repeatedly denounced the Nazi racial policy. Some have argued that the Vatican ought to have spoken more forcefully, more specifically to Hitler’s regime. Others – including Jews – agree that the Vatican stopped just short of provoking Hitler to worse reprisals against Catholics and Jews.
Minus tanks, planes, bombs and an army, what precisely do Boteach and his ilk imagine the Vatican might have done against a war machine? The methods open to the pope were limited and these he used to the fullest. The rabbi never mentions the cost paid by over a million Catholic lives. Do only Jewish lives matter? In Shmuley’s view, only Jews can be victims of the Holocaust.
Shmuley ignored what the Jewish director of the International Affairs Department for the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, Dr. Joseph L. Lichten, wrote:
Three thousand Catholic priests were murdered by the Nazis in Germany, Austria, Poland, France and other countries; Catholic schools were shut down, Catholic publications were forced out of print or strictly censored, and Catholic churches closed.
Lichten affirmed, “The possibility of a public statement from the Vatican moved German Foreign Secretary Joachim von Ribbentrop to wire von Weizsacker on Jan. 24, 1943:
Should the Vatican either politically or propagandistically oppose Germany, it should be made unmistakably clear that worsening of relations between Germany and the Vatican would not at all have an adverse effect on Germany alone. On the contrary, the German government would have sufficient effective propaganda material as well as retaliatory measures at its disposal to counteract each attempted move by the Vatican.
In 1942, the Catholic clergy in Amsterdam did denounce Nazi mistreatment of the Jews. The result was a vicious deportation of Dutch Jews – 90 percent of the Jews in Amsterdam were murdered. Following this incident, Jewish authorities believed that an another attack by the Vatican against the Hitler would further endanger the lives of Jews. Cynics have suggested that the Vatican kept silent in order to protect Catholics. Wiser heads understood that reprisals against Christians necessarily meant that escape routes for Jews would be lost since it was Christians who organized and maintained these routes.
Instead of a responsible investigation, Boteach relies on a much-debunked piece of character assassination by John Cornwell, “Hitler’s Pope.” Recently even Cornwell himself is backing off his fantastic deceptions. Worse, Shmuley’s other source, Robert Katz, has been convicted of criminal slander, according to Ronald Rychlak.
Professor of law at the University of Mississippi, Ronald Rychlak, investigated the revisionist claims against Pius XII, including Cornwell’s fraudulent construction of quotes out of context. Professor Rychlak used a legal methodology: Would there be sufficient evidence to convict the pope of collusion? Of complicity? The result is Rychlak’s meticulously researched book, “Hitler, the War and the Pope.” Rabbi David Dalin of New York, a former professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, said of Rychlak’s book, [It is] “the best and most careful of the recent works, an elegant tome of serious, critical scholarship.”
What did Rychlak’s legal research uncover? That Eugenio Pacelli, Pius XII, did indeed save Jewish people using diplomatic and practical means to hide thousands of refugee Jews.
When asked about the aid that Pius XII gave to the Jews, Rabbi Dalin replied:
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 the 2001 interview, Rabbi Dalin reviewed Lapide’s work with Jewish survivors. He explained:
In Rome alone, 155 convents and monasteries gave refuge to some 5,000 Jews. 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.
Rabbi Dalin’s comments echo those of the director of the Jewish Rescue Committee, Dr. Rafael Contoni:
The Church and papacy saved Jews as much and in as far as they could save Christians. There would have been many more victims had it not been for the efficacious intervention of Pius XII.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach might have consulted Richard Breitman, a Jewish historian at American University cleared to research OSS documents from the war era. Breitman said:
In general, the Germans considered the pope as an enemy … The Nazis had spies in the Vatican. Among their dispatches deciphered by our espionage one spoke of an Allied plan to disembark in Sardinia, another of the departure of a diplomatic train with Jews on board, transported from Rome to Spain. Only the Vatican was up-to-date, the Nazi ‘moles’ told Gen. Karl Wolff, SS chief in Italy. Berlin distrusted the pope and the Vatican, because it knew they hid Jews.
Rabbi Boteach clutches a supposedly “new finding” from an unidentified archive in France. This “finding” purports to be a Vatican directive that prohibits the return of Jewish children who had been baptized Catholic. It is not an authentic document – the supposed letter is suspicious on several counts. It is in French, rather than Italian; it is not signed; it is not on official letterhead; it is not in the normal “Vatican language” used for binding directives.
Nonetheless, Boteach attempts to bloody the memory of Pope Pius XII with his assertion that this document shows that the pope “kidnapped” Jewish children. Boteach is his own worst enemy – has he read of King Solomon? Two women came to the king with a claim to the same baby. Solomon quickly determined that the true mother was the one who would allow the other woman to keep the child rather than permit the king to halve the baby in two.
The only reason that this supposed French document has any plausibility at all is because it was known that the Church rescued Jewish people – children and adults – by issuing Catholic baptismal records so that persons might pass Nazi scrutiny. Thus, Boteach inadvertently concedes that the Church saved Jews – he is simply apoplectic that orphaned Jewish children might be raised Catholic. Who is the bigot?
The truth, as we know from authentic documents, is that legitimate family members later claimed some children. One of those documents reads:
After all, even those children who may not have been baptized and who may no longer have relatives – they having been entrusted to the Church that took them under its wing – cannot now, as long as they are not in a position to decide for themselves, be abandoned by the Church or given to those who have no right to them.
Those who had no right included suspicious agencies and individuals whose motives were unclear. In some cases, the Church refused to hand over children to agencies that asked for them. Authentic documents instructed Catholic authorities of the time to determine any claim for a child on a case-by-case basis.
As we see even now, tragically, in Southeast Asia, not all who come with a claim for children have charitable motives. What howling we would have from the Shumleys of the world had the Vatican carelessly released Jewish children to such horrors.
Could it be that the timing of Rabbi Boteach’s charges point to a second purpose in hurling hateful claims against Pius XXII?
Pope John Paul II has repeatedly called the Jews “our elder brothers in the faith.” In the state of Israel, the few remaining Christians lead a precarious life. Pope John Paul II seeks to work out some accord for the protection of Christian religious freedom.
In 1993, the Holy See and the state of Israel entered into a negotiation known as their Fundamental Agreement. Article 3 reads:
The State of Israel recognizes the right of the Catholic Church to carry out its religious, moral, educational and charitable functions, and to have its own institutions, and to train, appoint and deploy its own personnel in the said institutions or for the said functions to these ends. The Church recognizes the right of the State to carry out its functions, such as promoting and protecting the welfare and the safety of the people. Both the State and the Church recognize the need for dialogue and cooperation in such matters as by their nature call for it.
The Fundamental Agreement was not enacted into Israeli law, thus its provisions are not enforced. When members of the Likud party tried to attract Arab votes in Nazareth by sacrificing Church property, the Vatican raised a worldwide plea.
Recently, renewed negotiations on the Agreement unexpectedly fell apart when an accord on remaining issues neared a consensus. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., requested that Prime Minister Sharon’s office return to the negotiations, and they have. Until the Agreement becomes part of Israeli law, Catholic properties (schools and churches) that have been confiscated or maltreated have no legal representative, no defense in Israeli courts.
Shmuley writhes over things Catholic. His professed affection for evangelical Christians – whose unequivocal support of the state of Israel serves his purposes – is not extended to the Vatican. Why? The Vatican supports the legitimate rights of Christians, Jews and Palestinians. Is that the rub?
The Church looks with sorrow on any and all mistreatment of peoples. The situation between Jews and Palestinians in Israel defies simplistic categorization – or simplistic solutions. The Church insists that even the despised Palestinians (some of whom are Christians) must be treated with respect.
Mary Jo Anderson is a contributing reporter to WorldNetDaily and a long-time reporter for the Catholic magazine, Crisis.