New papers have revealed the extend of denial and equivocation by the Vatican over the Holocaust and the threat of the Nazis in the Second World War.
The main adviser to Pope Pius XII – dubbed “the Nazi Pope” by opponents because he tried to keep good relations with Adolph Hitler – expected Jews to stop complaining.
Monsignor Angelo Dell’Aqua feared angering the Germans by openly highlighting “the mistreatment to which the Jews are allegedly being subject”.
He said Jews “should speak a little less and act with great prudence”.
The papers also reveal how Pius XII had a direct communication with Hitler, through prominent Nazi Prince Philipp von Hessen, married to the King of Italy’s daughter – and after whom Prince Philip was named.
The papers are revealed in a book, David Kertzer’s The Pope at War, published on Tuesday in the United States.
They show Vatican documents released from 1965-81 did not fully reveal the extent of Dell’Aqua’s opposition to helping Jews.
The pope himself, formerly papal nuncio in Germany from 1917-30, Eugenio Pacelli, had condemned the Nazi party in 1935 as ““miserable plagiarists who dress up old errors with new tinsel.”
But once elected to the Holy See, to lead the world’s 400 million Cathlics, the pope
- Only spoke up for Jews who had converted to Catholicism
- Cancelled his predecessor Pius XI’s papal encyclical condemning Nazi antisemitism
- Refused to condemn the invasion of Poland
- Did not condemn Nazi anti-Jewish laws
- Did not mention the Jews or Nazis in his 1942 Christmas message
- Backed Croatian fascist Ante Pavelic, who was given refuge in the Vatican after the war
- Never excommunicated Catholic Nazis – Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels or Bormann
- Did not speak up publicly when more than 1,200 Jews living in Rome were rounded up on October 16 1943, deported to Auschwitz and gassed. Afterwards, the Vatican intervened to save 250 who it deemed were Catholic. Kertzer said: “For me, what this means is that the Vatican participates in the selection of Jews – who is going to live and who is going to die.”
- In 1940, he did nothing when the Chief Rabbi of Palestine, Isaac Herzog, asked him to intercede to keep Jews in Spain from being deported to Germany; or after a similar request for Jews in Lithuania
- When the head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Ukraine said 200,000 Jews had been killed, the pope quoted verses from Psalms and advised him to “bear adversity with serene patience.”
- When the French puppet Vichy government introduced “Jewish statutes,” the Holy See informed head of state Marshal Philippe Pétain that the Vatican did not consider the legislation in conflict with Catholic teachings, as long as they were carried out with “charity” and “justice.”
Pius XII was even told in 1942 by Monsignor Giovanni Battista Montini, later Pope Paul VI: “The massacres of the Jews reach frightening proportions and forms.” Instead, the pope spent much of the war focused on protecting German Catholics.
He did intervene in March 1939 to obtain 3,000 visas for European Jews to emigrate to Brazil after they had been baptized and converted to Catholicism. But 2,000 were later revoked, because of “improper conduct,” probably meaning they went back to practising Judaism once in South America.
After the German occupation of Hungary in March 1944, he repeatedly cabled to stop deportations of Jews – and they stopped that July.
But internal Vatican memos also say: “The Holy See has never approved of the project of making Palestine a Jewish home…[because] Palestine is by now holier for Catholics than for Jews.”
And the Vatican condemned the Nuremberg Trials as an un-Christian act of revenge.
Kertzer’s book is a follow-up to his The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe, which won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Biography.
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