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Pius XII Saved More Jews than Schindler, Rabbi Says

In an interview with historian and Rabbi David Dalin, of New York, he sets the record straight on Pope Pius XII.
by Staff Writer | Source:

RIMINI, Italy, AUG. 28, 2001 - What does New York Rabbi David Dalin think of Pope Pius XII?

"The Jewish people had no greater friend in the 20th century," says the historian.

According to Rabbi Dalin, who last Wednesday addressed the meeting organized by the Catholic movement Communion and Liberation, "during the Second World War, Pius XII saved more Jewish lives than any other person, including Raoul Wallenberg and Oskar Schindler."

Q: You have labeled historians who have criticized Pope Pius XII as revisionists. Why?

Rabbi Dalin: 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.

Q: Why, then, has there been this change in appreciation?

Rabbi Dalin: I call today´s critics revisionists because they reverse the judgment 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 perused.

Q: What did Pope Pacelli do for the Jews?

Rabbi Dalin: 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.

Q: But the Pope never publicly denounced the anti-Semitic laws and persecution of the Jews.

Rabbi Dalin: 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 the Nazis.

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.

Q: Don´t you think that the excommunication of Nazis would have helped?

Rabbi Dalin: 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.

Q: Would it not have been better than silence?

Rabbi Dalin: 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 favor 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 forestall.

Q: In your writings, you propose a new historiography written by Jews on the "Pius XII case." What do you mean?

Rabbi Dalin: 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 judgment 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 profound.

Reprinted with permission from Zenit. All rights reserved. Original in Italian; translation by ZENIT 

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