GEMMA GRANT challenges the common perception that Pope Pius Xll was indifferent to German atrocities during WW2, arguing that the evidence points to a very different Pontiff
“A Vicar of Christ who sees these things before his eyes and still remains silent because of state policies, who delays even one day…such a pope…is a criminal.”
So spoke the young Jesuit, Fr. Fontana, the main protagonist in Rolf Hochhuth’s play, The Representative. The play aimed to destroy the good name and character of the saintly, Pope Pius Xll.
The drama, first performed in Berlin in 1963, and later that year in London, was avidly received. Although Hochhuth was a young boy during the Nazi occupation of Rome, his critique led many writers, historians and literati to gladly mount the anti-Papal bandwagon.
The severe criticism of Pope Pius Xll contained within the play, and expounded upon, saw the welcome publication of John Cornwell’s book, Hitler’s Pope, that crept its way onto the book shelves some thirty years later. The book, based mostly, as has been reported, on secondary sources rather than primary, presents not historical fact but rather anti-Catholic sentiments.
The Pope has been depicted by one Jewish critic as ‘coldly aloof and removed from the real world’. Even the German Ambassador to the Holy See commented on the fact that Pius seemed more interested in preserving Vatican neutrality than denouncing publically the deportation of the Jews of Rome.
However, under closer scrutiny, a vastly different picture emerges. A diverse pletora of historical documents have been carefully studied. What they reveal is a humanitarian Pontiff walking a tightrope over turbulent waters threatening to drown not only Jewry, but all and any European country that stood in its way.
To National Socialism, no mere pope would hinder their desires to conquer Europe or thwart their plans to implement what emerged as the ‘final solution’ – the extermination of the Jews.
With the Nazi occupation of Rome in 1943, one of their first acts was to paint a demarcation line around the Vatican to remind the Pope of where his tenuous power ended.
With diplomatic skills and keen intelligence, the courageous Pontiff played one of the most difficult poker games in history. How to win with a losing hand.
One of his many acts, was to use the universal Church to help the persecuted in a thousand different ways. It has been verified by a Russian Jew and historian, Leon Poliakov that Pius hid Jews in convents, churches and his summer residence, Castle Gandolfo.
Leading by example, this activity spread throughout the Catholic dioceses of Europe. Poliakov was in no doubt that Pius issued secret instructions urging the national churches in Hungary, Slovakia and elsewhere to intervene discretely on behalf of the Jews.
Poliakov cites German diplomatic sources that claimed cessation of the deportation of Jews from Slovakia in the summer of 1942, was attributed to Vatican pressure. It is widely acknowledged that Pope John XXIII, in his role as Archbishop of Istanbul, helped rescue thousands of Jews from the Nazis.
This, he confirmed, was done on the explicit orders from Pope Pius Xll.