Did the Wartime Catholic Church Help Save Jews?
Through popular opinion it is continuously claimed that the Catholic Church did not do enough to save Jews during World War II. Some even claim that the Church idly looked the other way or worse actually conspired to be in cahoots with the Nazis and their atrocities. Amongst these accusations the finger is pointed menacingly to the late Pope Pius XII. His accusers state that he was silent about the persecution and slaughter of the Jews. They thus accuse him of being a coward. But where does the evidence reside? Did the Pope ever speak out against the Nazis and for the "voiceless", the tormented, those who had no other voice to speak out for them? Where was the Church?
One does not have to delve far to uncover some rather startling evidence which the critics seem to blatantly ignore in their denunciation of the Pope. The truth seems to seep out with the sands of time. But records show the truth can be reclaimed. Even more striking is that this evidence comes from Jewish and secular sources. The famous Albert Einstein was a Jewish refugee from Germany. He declared emphatically in the December 1940 issue of Time Magazine that he once despised the Catholic Church. He asked where the universities and editors of free-speech were during the victimization of the Jews; that it was only the Catholic Church that "stood squarely across the path of Hitler's campaign for suppressing the truth." He then revealed that the Church he once despised he "now praises unreservedly".
But was Albert Einstein an isolated case of a Jew defending the Catholic Church for the saving of Jewish lives during the Second World War? In 1943, Chaim Wiezmann, the future President of Israel wrote, "The Holy See is lending its powerful help wherever it can, to mitigate the fate of my persecuted co-religionists."
But was Chaim also duped by what the Catholic Church did to help or save Jews? No there were more upholders of the truth of what actually happened. Rabbi Isaac Herzog, the Chief Rabbi of Israel overwhelmingly supported the actions of the Pope. He expressed his heartfelt appreciation when he said, "The People of Israel will never forget what His Holiness and his illustrious delegates, inspired by the eternal principles of religion, which form the foundation of true civilization, are doing for our unfortunate brothers and sisters in the most tragic hour of history, which is proof of Divine Providence in the world."
Pinchas Lapide, the Israeli historian and diplomat to Milan in his book "Three Popes and the Jews" claimed that Pius XII was instrumental in saving at least 700,000 Jews. But the fact that such a leader of the Church helped saved Jews does not stop there. The actions of the other leaders of the Church must not be discounted. Rabbi David Dalin, a Jewish scholar uncovered fascinating truths regarding the actions of the Church during the merciless mass slaughter by the Nazis. While the Italian Jews were not deported until 1943 Rabbi Dalin reveals that Cardinals, Bishops, and the laity sheltered Jews after this time. As for the Pope, he opened the doors of the Vatican to hundreds and 3,000 were sheltered at the Pope's summer residence, Castel Gandolfo.
It is widely claimed that Pope Pious XII was silent about the deportation of the Jews from throughout Europe. Even an article on Hubpages makes this statement. But the Pope angered both Mussolini and Hitler. The London Times on 1 October 1942 revealed that since Pope Pius' accession he "condemns the worship of force and its concrete manifestations in the suppression of national liberties and in the persecution of the Jewish race." In June 1942, upon the mass deportations of French Jews the Pope instructed his Papal Nuncio in Paris to protest to France's Chief of State against "the inhuman arrests and deportations of Jews from the French occupied zone to Silesia and parts of Russia." What was the effect of such a protest to the Nazis? Lapide reveals from the minutes of a top level meeting held on 26 July, 1943 that Hitler openly discussed invading the Vatican. Moreover the Pope's life was in grave danger. Ernst von Weizsacker, the German Ambassador to the Vatican warned the Pope of a plan to kidnap him. Rudolf Rahn, the Nazi Ambassador confirmed the kidnap plot and that several German diplomats tried to prevent it. Does such a plan suggest the Nazis were happy with Pope Pius XII?
It is claimed that the Pope should have done more to prevent the widespread slaughter of the Jews. But the Dutch bishops at the Pope's encouragement spoke out consistently - especially against the "unjust treatment meted out to Jews" in July 1942. The result of the letter which was read out in every parish in Holland was devastating. The rage of the Nazis was cataclysmic. As a result more Dutch Jews were slaughtered than in any country - 110,000 or 79% of all Jews under countries occupied by the Nazis. Clemens August von Galen, the bishop of Munster, Germany also wanted to speak out against the Nazis but Jewish leaders begged him to refrain fearing ghastly consequences.
It must not be forgotten that the Nazi SS despised Catholics. They hated Jews first and foremost. Their vehement hatred placed the Jews on the top rung of the ladder of despite. The next rung was reserved for the Catholic priests. Even the Bishop of Luxembourg was sent to Dachau. The clergy were termed by the SS as "schweinerischen Pfaffen (priest pigs)" They were constantly beaten. If they were caught carrying out their priestly duties they were sentenced to death.
One of the most heroic acts performed at Auschwitz was by a Catholic Priest, Maximillian Kolbe, who Pope John Paul II canonized. St. Maximillian sacrificed his life for another prisoner of war, offering to take the place of a family man condemned to death. The Commandant contrary to his sadistic nature, instead of sentencing them both to death accepted St. Maximillian's request. When they were, as the guards put it, drying up like tulips, instead of sounds of cursing the guards heard hymns and prayers to both Our Lady and to Jesus Christ coming from the cells of the condemned men and also those cells close to St. Maximillian.
It has been asked by critics where God was during the Nazi atrocities. One need not look far, for the Catholic Church and other Churches were living the faith and reaching out to the helpless. In fact Lapide highlights the fact that the Catholic Church saved more lives than all the other churches, institutions and rescue organizations combined.
Upon Pope Benedict's visit to Auschwitz he was criticized for not apologizing on behalf of the Catholic Church for Catholics and specifically his predecessor, Pope Pius XII turning their backs on the Jews. But should Pope Benedict XVI apologize on behalf of the Catholic Church for inaction? I think the evidence speaks for itself.
Brendan Roberts is a New Zealand based author of three books. His second, Born to be Free depicts the account of St. Maximillian Kolbe's self sacrifice and is available in the US. His next book, "Crusades Rediscovered: In the Light of Human Sexuality and Our Creator" will seek forgiveness for the sins of the Crusades perpetrated by members of the Catholic Church, with research from Byzantine (Orthodox Church), Muslim and Crusader sources depicting the evil perpetrated by all sides in the conflict. You can also view his website www.godfact.com for his books, articles and MP3 talks.